The news about hurricane Irene was urgent and uncompromising on Thursday last week. The airports might be closed, public transit systems might shut down, and people living in coastal communities should evacuate. I was facilitating the Intercultural Competency Training for the Virginia Theological Seminary all week. I had planned on returning to southern California on Saturday morning. Heeding the warning of the impending destruction of the storm, I changed my flight to return Friday night. I said goodbye and left the participants of the training in the hands of the capable local Kaleidoscope Institute facilitators. Then I struggled through Friday afternoon traffic to arrive at Dulles Airport 3 hours early. I entered the airport with thousands of others who had the same idea to escape the path of the storm. Even though the lines were long, there was a calm and orderly mood in the air as we moved through the security rituals - all liquids in zip-loc bags, shoes off, belt off, computer out, x-ray machine, etc. At one point, everything stopped and someone told the long line of people that there was a security breach and we had to wait until it was “cleared” before we could continue. The people around me began friendly conversations while we waited. We knew the rituals that we had to follow were there to get us through to “safety.” The ordeal of my escape from the storm continued with mechanical problems on the first plane we boarded, and we had to get off with all our belongings, and march over to another gate. While waiting to board a second time, I witnessed an arrest of someone across from the gate. After getting on the plane, the flight crew worked hard to make room for security personnel who needed to be on board before taking off. When the plane finally took off, we breathed a sigh of relief – we had escaped the danger and were heading home. I arrived in LAX after midnight and got home at around 1 am in the morning.
When there is a forecast of potential destruction, we are more than willing to follow whatever prescribed rituals, knowing that they are there to help us get to safety. In the Exodus story in the Bible, God gave Moses and Aaron the prescribed rituals in preparing the last meal (the Passover) before their escape from the oppression of slavery. (Exodus 12:1-14) They followed the rituals and they were safe, and thus started the long journey ahead (40 years) out of the land of Egypt toward the land flowing with milk and honey. This ritual beginning was not just for the present generation; the hardship they would endure were sacrifices they made so that future generations could be free.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, climate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate Change may result from:
- natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun
- natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation)
- human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g. deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)
According to NOAA (National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) data, the Earth's average surface temperature has increased by about 1.2 to 1.4ºF since 1900. The warmest global average temperatures on record have all occurred within the past 15 years, with the warmest two years being 1998 and 2005. Most of the warming in recent decades is likely the result of human activities. Other aspects of the climate are also changing, such as rainfall patterns, snow and ice cover, and sea level. From heat waves to melting glaciers, the signs of a changing planet are documented in an EPA report presenting 24 indicators of climate change. Some of these are: Average sea level worldwide is projected to rise up to two feet by the end of this century. This rise would eliminate approximately 10,000 square miles of land in the United States. Glaciers around the world are shrinking, and the amount of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has decreased since the 1970s. Hurricanes in the Atlantic are likely to become more intense as ocean temperatures increase.
I have heard the warnings of climate change (formerly called global warming) for over a decade and yet, I have encountered people who did not heed these warnings, and some even claim that this warning is a hoax. While we are good at responding to imminent danger like hurricane Irene, why are we not more responsive to the long-term warning of climate change? Is it because the change was so small that we don’t think that it is real? Of is it because we think the change is so slow that it is not going to impact our lifetime?! Hurricane Irene perhaps is the warning of the warning of climate change. We need to move out of the short-sighted thinking and concern ourselves more with the long-view impact of climate change. We need rituals that we can practice knowing that in doing them, we begin the journey that prepares the way for future generations’ sustainability. Sustainists think long term as we act in the present. We think forward in providing a sustainable future not just for the next generation but the next 10 or 100 generations. Like the Israelites following the prescribed ritual on that fateful night of Exodus, we need to find the right rituals and practice them in order to prepare for the long journey ahead to reverse climate change so that there will be greater hope for a sustainable future for generations to come.
The EPA website listed the following 5 areas we can to do something to help prevent further climate change:
Invite members of your community to come together to explore how they can create new “rituals” that individuals and groups can practice according to the 5 areas listed by the EPA.
Reflection Questions for Proper 18 (Year A)
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
Save the date: March 14-18, 2012
Come to Los Angeles to study with The Sustainist:
Face to Face
Seeing and Hearing Each Other.....Knowing God
Creative Liturgy & Music
for a diverse and changing world
An ecumenical gathering of church leaders to create worship experiences that are authentic, relational and missional.
March 14-18, 2012