A Wedding on the Edge of the Rising Seas

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.

Beautiful Key West, facing  an ominous future

Beautiful Key West, facing an ominous future

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?

The Keys from space: dry land is dwarfed by its enormous reefs

The Keys from space: dry land is dwarfed by its enormous reefs

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.

2 thoughts on “A Wedding on the Edge of the Rising Seas

  1. andrew

    Thanks, John, for a poignant post about where we are & where we’re heading. You spur me to plead, & pray harder, for guidance as to the proper responses to climate change, for people like me, a Christian concerned about the environment & its continued ability to meet the needs of “the least of these my brethren.”

    So as to minimize my environmental impacts (esp. but not limited to GHG emissions), I already take most of the obvious actions on a personal level: I’ve cut my annual car driving to about 500 miles, give about 40% of my income to Samaritan’s Purse, have (what I consider) few possessions & purchase few new ones, eat very little meat, & so on. I also regularly mention the dangers of climate change to folks at my church & others, as well as the benefits of reducing, recycling & reusing. I’m considering stepping up my advocacy of bicycling in my small city.

    However, most of my actions meet with resistance, & I’m sad to say the resistance is strongest among church-goers. They usually tolerate my efforts to treat the earth kindly, but strongly oppose changing their own lifestyles or voting so as to prioritize environmental needs. I don’t know of anyone else who is foregoing big houses or vacations in faraway destinations for the sake of reducing CO2 emissions. I’ve heard most of what might be called the “standard” counter-arguments from fellow Christians:
    1. The earth is not warming
    2. Technology can save us
    3. We can’t do anything about the warming
    4. The warming will not be so bad
    5. We should prioritize the present needs of the poor over
    6. …
    These arguments are “standard” in the sense that everyone—Christians and others—make them. Much information is available for refuting these arguments, so even non-climate-scientists like me could counter them fairly well if they were the true reasons for people’s actions that affect the environment. However, according to what many Christians say, we hold a few other reasons for living as we please:
    1. The earth stands firm, so God would not allow us to make it uninhabitable (Ps 96:10)
    2. It’s all going to burn anyway (2 Pet 3:10)
    3. As long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night (Genesis 8:22)
    4. We shouldn’t worship the creation (Rom 1:25)
    I’m confident that you & I know these are mis-applications & misinterpretations of Scripture, & ignore a much more extensive set of admonitions to care for our planet. Maybe you would agree with me, then, that many 21st Century Christians are following some patterns of previous generations, in misusing Scripture to justify doing what we want to do with respect to such issues as slavery (Eph 6:5-8) or personal health (1 Tim 4:8) (& yes I have seen your post about “Gullible Press Brands Evangelicals as Climate Deniers” & the subsequent discussions, which seems to suggest climate science denialism is common among the general Evangelical population). In light of these tendencies & arguments of our brothers & sisters, though, how do we most effectively & obediently act & speak, so as to preserve the planet for current & future generations?

    Again, I appreciate your thought- & prayer- provoking comments.

    1. John Elwood Post author

      Andrew: Thank you for your thoughtful response, and your question. I am inspired by all you have attempted to do to live simply and generously. Thanks for setting an example for the rest of us. As to your question, none of us can really have an answer for anyone but himself. But I would offer this little morsel: Faith in a good and sovereign God means that we act in love and obedience, with little or no regard for the success of our efforts. If we find sustenance in success, God-fearing environmentalists will starve, or sink into depression. If we find sustenance in worship and obedience, then we will be joyful in our hope — not in our terrific results.

      And one other small item: I’ve often found that resistance and opposition are often initial reactions of people who are under-exposed to novel ways of thinking, or who are threatened by the uncertainties of change. If we interpret these reactions as a fully considered, permanent position, we don’t allow for natural processes to run their course. After defending the status quo, however, a friend of yours might just say to himself: Andrew believes this; Andrew’s no fool, in my experience; I wonder if maybe that’s not so crazy after all; maybe I’ll listen to the BBC or NPR and see what others have to say … etc. Before you know it, you’d think that they invented the whole idea. At least, I’ve found that to be true as often as not.



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