As I write this, Tropical Storm Barry is barreling down on New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, triggering collective and painful memories of the destruction and death wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. A week doesn’t go by without breaking news of new peer-reviewed scientific research outlining mounting and dire concerns correlated to unbridled global warming.
Erupting climate change places further unbearable burdens on migrating refugees fleeing national and regional crises around the world. Wildfires across the west are fueled by persistent and stagnant high-pressure ridges in the jet stream resulting in long-lasting droughts. And when it does rain, fattened atmospheric rivers dump torrential downpours resulting in massive mudslides and erosion of the ground beneath foot.
Also, rising global temperatures exacerbate access to clean water and breathable air necessary for the survival and well-being of many of the world’s marginalized and oppressed human populations. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if one morning we woke up and read across the front-page headlines of some prominent and bold newspaper: “Humanity Placed on Endangered Species List, Due to Human-Caused Climate Change.”
If that were the case, humanity would be added to an already alarming and increasing list of endangered fellow earthlings. Just during the past couple of years, species added to the endangered list include snow leopards, rhinoceros, elephant seals, narwhals, polar bears, giraffes of Kenya and Tanzania, American pikas, musk ox, coral, Asian elephants, orange-spotted filefish, monarch butterflies, Adelie penguins, mountain gorillas, North Atlantic cod and golden toads.
While adding humanity to such a grim list might be horrifying, it would not be surprising. Such a sobering addition, adding humanity to the list of endangered species list, might even spur massive actions to mend and cure the raging and metastasizing of climate change.
Individually, many of us are increasing our efforts to reduce the ferocious power of runaway climate change. We are driving smarter and more fuel-efficient electric and hybrid vehicles. We are changing our diets with more sustainable and nonmeat food choices. Increasingly through bipartisan political advocacy, we are demanding an end to politicians raking in millions of fossil-fuel lobbyist dollars. There’s also a novel idea to plant a trillion trees.
While technological advances continue in the availability and cost-saving effectiveness of renewable energies, we must remember that humanity cannot burn our way out of climate change – combustion technologies such as fracking and biomass incineration will only increase air pollution levels.
Scripture and climate change
There’s a haunting passage in Scripture that comes to mind every time I read or hear about some new report on human-caused climate change: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:20-22).
In reading this passage, my sympathy for the groaning of creation finds way to moments of earnest praying:
I say a prayer in hopes that positive intentions result in resolved actions, and that calloused hearts are renewed and rekindled.
I lift up a prayer for the snow leopard, and a prayer for the golden toad.
I say a prayer for the mighty rhino, and a prayer for the shimmering North Atlantic cod.
I pray, too, for the majestic Asian elephants, and for all the monarch butterflies fluttering through and through.
I pray for the mysterious narwhals, for the rare polar bears and for the mountain gorilla.
And I pray for its human cousin, too. Amen.
Such praying is pointless, however, if we don’t critically examine and reshape the institutions and policies that continue to propel runaway climate change.
Even political advocacy and lobbying for climate change mitigation is of little avail if innovative green policies and courageous platforms are left unimplemented on the drawing boards of blue-ribboned committees and nonprofit panels.
For prayers to transform the world we live in, prayers must rise from sincere hearts ready to practice what we preach.
Effective and effectual praying is an attitude of determined action whereby we adjust our living and thinking. We pray aloud (and out loud) to arouse and awaken those who are slumbering and drifting off into the illusion that all is right in the world.
Awaken our souls, O sage spirit of creation, Amen.
We are committed to inclusive and progressive Christianity by doing social justice, environmental faithfulness, interfaith collaboration and spiritual formation.
The Rev. Dr. Chris Breedlove is senior pastor at Foothills Congregational Church, 461 Orange Ave., Los Altos. For more information, visit foothills-church.org.