Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Luke 17:27
I am stuffed from too many hors d’oeuvres. Barbara is nursing sores from all that dancing. Our hearts are warm from celebrating the marriage of one of our favorite young women – she still calls us “Uncle John and Aunt Barb” after many years of surrogate family life. And in my heart is the image of a contented friend, basking in happiness as his daughter begins a new life with a young man he has learned to welcome as a son.
The setting was fantastic. On a beach, in one of our favorite getaway spots – Key West. Lovely harp music. A gorgeous bride. Gaff-rigged schooners plying the waters in a fresh breeze just offshore. Vows and rings exchanged on the sand.
When we received the invitation, my first thought was: I know this place! That very hotel, that little pebbly beach! That end of raucous Duval Street! Those gorgeous sunsets! That lovely island!
But my second thought was this: Maybe this will be the last time – one last visit to Key West, while we still have it.
Because, of course, Key West is doomed. Just like all the rest of the Keys. Nothing can now stop the thermal expansion and melting of polar ice sheets which will force the abandonment of this lovely place during the lifetime of this bride and groom.
We can hope for the survival of the massive coral reefs that dwarf these tiny islands, with their bustling communities of billions of creatures. But even that is in doubt, as the world’s oceans absorb more and more carbon from the choked atmosphere, creating an oceanic flood of carbonic acid, which undermines coral and reef health.
No evidence that any of the other guests are aware of any of this this. Many are here for the first time. They don’t notice how much things have changed, even in the couple of decades since we first saw this place. Those waters that used to flow well below street level, now lapping just below the curbs at high tide. That little beach, where I expected the vows to be exchanged, now disappeared beneath the waves. The new “beach?” A little patch of sand spread next to the poolside bar, safely protected from the rising waves by sea walls sea walls and rock levies.
For most of the guests, this is the new baseline. A beach-less island where waters encroach on the town’s infrastructure on sunny, calm days. Maybe it’s always been this way? Who knows?
And yet the evidence is everywhere. Of course, not on the ubiquitous hotel-lobby flat screens, where Fox News holds court. But the rest of the world’s new outlets told us just yesterday that 2014 was, as expected, the hottest year ever recorded on Earth, since measurements began more than a century ago. And while it’s a global record, it only just edges out 2010, and 2007, and 2005. In fact, ALL of the last 16 years are among the top 19 hottest global years ever recorded.
And all that heat is warming the oceans, and melting the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica, which hold enough water to raise sea levels by more than 200 feet. Not surprisingly, the seas are rising fast – much faster than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned over the years. In fact, oceans are rising about 60 percent faster than projections. About two or three feet will be enough to finish off Key West, and that will likely happen well before the end of this century.
And the reefs which sustain these islands? Acidic ocean waters – often called climate change’s “evil twin” – are eating away at them at an alarming pace. In the Caribbean, approximately 80 percent of coral reef cover is now dead, victim to the warmer waters of a changing climate, overfishing and pollution. And yes, with oceans now 30 percent more acidic than they were in 1980, corals face more and more difficulty in building their exoskeletons, which form the backbone of these reefs.
These patterns are occurring all over the world. In 2012, 2,600 of the world’s leading marine biologists came together to issue a “state of emergency” for the world’s coral reefs, upon which the entire ocean ecosystems depend. They noted that 3 billion humans depend on marine ecosystems and biodiversity for their livelihoods – roughly half of humanity. And without the reefs, those humans face an increasingly uncertain future.
But the news didn’t stop with record heat and acidic oceans. The screens in the hotel lobby also didn’t think it newsworthy that just Thursday, an international team of 18 experts issued a new warning that climate change and high rates of extinction of animals and plants have pushed the Earth into a danger zone for humanity’s survival. In fact, of nine crucial “planetary boundaries” considered vital to human survival, four have already been crossed, and the remaining boundaries are in danger.
I strongly suspect that no one in this lovely wedding had any inkling of this alarming report. It is, you know, only a bunch of scientists telling us how and why our species could well be facing extinction.
So, we are glad to have come to the Keys one last time. We thank God for our dear friends, and their daughter’s lovely wedding. We pray for this beautiful new family, and all the good that may come from their union.
And yet, we recognize that every good thing happens in a context. This wedding, on an island that is becoming less and less hospitable to human habitation with the passing years. All terrestrial life, in a world whose climate patterns are unraveling at a pace seldom seen in the geological record. Marine life now struggling to deal with rapid warming and drastic shifts in ocean chemistry.
Are we again seeing the days of Noah, as suggested in Jesus’ warning printed above? If so, it will not be due to lack of notice. Virtually all of the world’s scientific disciplines warn that we are flirting with danger, both for ourselves and those loved ones who will follow us. Even now, there is time to salvage much of the damage we are causing. But we will have to look beyond beautiful seaside weddings, like this one, to the rising waters just barely beyond.