Tag Archives: Ed Brown

Why I Am Devastated by the Election

Reverend Ed Brown is a preacher. And a good preacher knows how to tell a story.

The former missionary to Pakistan is now in the business of caring for God’s creation, and mobilizing the Christian church to join him. And to help us understand the world we now live in, he asks us to imagine ourselves as the crew of a passenger liner at sea, many days from the nearest shore. We all have important jobs to do. Some of us prepare delicious food for the restaurants on board. Some of us manage entertainment for our passengers. Some run children’s programs for families on the trip. Some keep the toilets working. Still others provide medical care to the sick on board.

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“I have some sobering news…”

We are all busy with our callings, and each of them is vital to the success of our voyage, and even the safety of the thousands of passengers under our care.

But on this particular morning, the captain calls us all into a meeting on the ship’s bridge. His expression today is grave.

“I have received some sobering news from the chief engineer today,” he begins. “None of us should panic, but I need you to listen carefully to every word he tells us.”

The engineer steps forward, and lays out the story: During the night, there was an accident in the engine room, and the ship is taking on water. The pumps are running at capacity, but we are not keeping up. The ship is already riding lower in the water. More can be done, but we need everyone’s help for the survival of the ship. He lays out the plan in detail. It calls for our best efforts. If we all play a role, we can make it safely back to port.

“You still have your own jobs to do,” concludes the captain. “Children still need to be cared for. Meals still need to be prepared. Sick passengers still need medical care. But now, you must do your work with this in mind: It will all be for nothing unless we pull together on the engineer’s plan. The voyage, our passengers, and even our own lives hang in the balance. We can spare no effort.”

Rev. Brown’s story is, of course, the story of manmade climate change and Christian mission. Some of us are called to care for the aged. Some are called to relieve hunger. Others provide clean water; or teach children; or reconcile those in conflict. Others, perhaps, are more like the passengers – until now, mainly focused on our own vacation, leisure and appetites.

But whatever we’re doing now, runaway climate change threatens to sink all of our efforts. The hungry, the thirsty, the children, those fleeing conflicts – none will be spared if we don’t rise to the challenge.

But like the ship’s crew, we have a plan. In fact, the whole world has come together and agreed on a response to climate pollution. It’s called the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 195 nations of the world have all agreed to it. It’s designed to assure that global temperatures don’t rise more than 2 degrees Celsius from those that sustained our parent’s world. Despite an ambitious start, we’re told that it’s not quite good enough to get us there. We’ll have to come back with even more creativity and resolve if we want to keep our planet below that perilous heat threshold.

But let’s go back to the ocean liner. Let’s imagine that the crew had some doubts about the captain’s plan. The entertainment director never had much trust in captains anyway. And he certainly had no time for boring engineers with their oily coveralls and dire warnings.

“The leak is a hoax,” he begins whispering to his shipmates. “We’re being led by stupid, stupid people. I could make this voyage really great, but we need to make some changes at the top.”

And next morning, we wake up to find the entertainer in command on the bridge, and the captain confined to his quarters below deck. The ship is just beginning to list slightly to starboard, but the casino and nightclub are packed. Everyone’s having fun. We’re no longer headed back to port. The children under our care run and play, unaware that the engine room is now almost flooded out.

And that’s the story that began to unfold last week, when voters in the world’s richest and largest economy chose a climate change denier as captain of their ship for the next four years. He has promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement; to forbid the EPA from regulating CO2 as a pollutant; to abandon the Clean Power Plan; to construct new pipelines to increase the flood of Canadian tar sands crude – the world’s dirtiest oil – through the American heartland to export terminals on the Gulf; to increase fracking for natural gas; to reverse the long-term decline of coal extraction and burning.

ship-21And in case there’s any doubt about how serious he is, he’s appointed one of the most notorious climate change “hoaxers” to lead his transition team at the EPA. The rest of the world has begun to ask if it’s possible for worldwide climate action plans to survive under such an assault. Some are talking about slapping carbon tariffs on anything imported from the US. Others are calling us a “rogue nation,” like North Korea.

Me, I’m watching the children play on the ship’s pool deck. Look! There are my little granddaughters! And my daughter-in-law rocking her new baby! They’re so beautiful. They’re so beautiful. My eyes moisten.

Suddenly, I grab for a rail to catch my balance. The ship is now listing harder to starboard. The little ones don’t notice yet. Ice cream is being served. With sprinkles.

February Smashed Global Heat Records: But What Does That Mean?

You’ve already seen the news. February was a record month for global heat. It followed the hottest January on record. Which followed the hottest year (2015) on record. Which follow the previous hottest year (2014) on record. Etc. Etc. Etc.

So, maybe we think: A bunch of scientists are sifting through data from all over the world, and we’re supposed to be alarmed at a few more degrees of heat? Seriously, what does this mean to us? Well, let’s see if we can distill this down to a few key points.

First, these records are not flukes or outliers. Global data has been kept for 137 years. Of all the Februaries over that time, this one ranked #1, unseating last February, the former hot-weather champion.

Picture2Worse, it wasn’t just the hottest February. It was the hottest month ever, compared to 20th century averages. And the prior record had just been set only two months earlier, in December.

Worse yet, it continued a ten-month string of record-hot months. Yes, February was the hottest of all 137 Februaries. But January was also #1 for all Januaries. And they were preceded by #1 records in December, November, October, September – and all the way back to May 2015. Something like that has never happened before. Doubters will tell us “The climate always changes!” Not like this. Not always in one direction. Not in lockstep. We’re seeing something frighteningly new.

Second, did you notice the amount of warming? For all land and ocean surfaces, the earth was 1.21oC (or 2.18oF) above the 20th century averages. You may recall that the nations of the world just agreed in Paris on efforts to limit global warming this century to no more than 2.0oC, and to make every effort to keep it below 1.5oC, to spare our fellow humans from the Philippines, Bangladesh and island nations from being inundated by rising seas. Well, already, we’ve experienced a month within a whisker of breaking that 1.5oC threshold.

Worse, if we look at land surfaces alone (where most of us live) the average global temperature was 2.31°C above the 20th century average. Two-point-three degrees. That’s territory we’re not supposed to see in our lifetimes, or even our children’s. But it just happened.

Third, the heat was just about everywhere. Record heat took hold across much of South America and southern Africa, southern and eastern Europe, around the Urals of Russia, and most of Southeast Asia stretching to northern Australia. Here are some examples:

  • New Zealand had its second warmest February and second warmest month of any month since national records began in 1909, at 2.2°C above long-term averages.
  • In Venezuela and Colombia, the heat was about 3.0°C higher than average.
  • Germany ran 3.0°C above average and Austria was a whopping 4.1°C hotter than average.
  • Speaking of whopping, Alaska reported its warmest February in its 92-year period of record, at 6.9°C higher than the 20th century average. That’s not a typo. Six-point-nine degrees Celsius, or 12.4° Fahrenheit. That’s more than the difference between the last Ice Age and today’s world.

Fourth, all this heat is destabilizing the Polar regions dangerously. For starters, this winter marks the lowest sea ice coverage ever measured in the Arctic. It’s way less icy than 2012, the previous record year for summer Arctic ice melt. That means that this summer and fall there will be less ice to start with, and the seasonal warmth will have an easier time melting what remains there. Not only that, but less winter ice mean less bright, reflective snow surface, and more deep blue, heat-absorbing water to soak up the sun’s heat, which will warm the region even further.

Sea IceBut an even greater concern is now emerging in the southern Pole, with new warnings about the instability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. About the size of Mexico, the ice sheet could raise sea levels by 12 feet or more if it becomes destabilized. Many of us took some comfort in believing that while this will occur in a warmer world, humanity and the rest of creation would probably have hundreds of years to adapt. But new research from scientists at Penn State and UMass now projects that continued greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting heat could disintegrate the West Antarctic sheet in only decades. That would mean that coastal cities like New York, Boston, Miami and New Orleans would be largely inundated during the lifetimes of children born today, with further sea-level rises of one foot per decade thereafter.

But it’s not hotter EVERYWHERE. And that’s actually alarming. There’s one spot on earth where it’s not getting warmer. It’s Iceland, and the North Atlantic Ocean. See that spot of blue on the map? In a warming world, it was cooler there all last year, and in each of several years before that. That region has always been warmed by tropical ocean currents (called thermohaline, or the Gulf Stream) carrying equatorial waters northward along the US East Coast to Iceland, before they dive to the ocean depths and return southward. Scientists have long believed that fresh meltwater from Greenland could slow down the Gulf Stream, trapping hot water off the US coast, and chilling the northern seas.Picture1

So what’s the big deal? A little warmer here, and little cooler there? Actually, it’s a very big deal. Warm coastal waters off the American East Coast are what gave us Super-Storm Sandy, but that storm happened when the oceans were cooler than they are today. And warm Icelandic waters have given Northern Europe the benign climate it has enjoyed for millennia. Tinker with the Greenland Ice Sheet too much, and we’ve got something much worse than a few more feet of sea-water on our hands.

Final thoughts from a Christian thinker: So before we hand these climatic records off to the statisticians for filing, maybe we could take a minute to consider where we stand in history. Two centuries after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, we’ve pumped eons’ worth of carbon – long hidden deep within the earth – back into the atmosphere. As a result, we’re seeing the early results of our planetary carbon experiment: a consistent record of global warming; heat growing at an ever-faster pace; not just here and there, but spread all over the map; and destabilizing the Polar ice sheets, which are raising sea levels and threatening coastal communities. And we’re even seeing signs of disruption in planet-regulating systems like the Gulf Stream.

“Where is God in all this?” asks Christian author Rev. Edward Brown, in his landmark book, Our Father’s World. “God would not allow us to destroy his creation, would he?”

Well, yes he might, concludes Brown, noting that within his sovereignty, God allows us humans a shocking amount of latitude in what we do with our lives – including what we do with his creation. “If we choose to destroy our home,” says Brown, “God will not stop us. Unless, that is, God were to step into history the way he usually does, through human beings who have aligned their lives with him and who are committed to accomplishing his purposes in their own small histories.”

Brown reminds us of God’s answer to Israelite prayers from the misery of slavery in Egypt: “I have heard them crying out…. So I have come down to rescue them” (Exodus 3:7-8).

Phew! So maybe God will rescue our injured planet, just like he did in Exodus! But Brown demands that we read on: “So now, go” he tells Moses, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

Go? Who, me? How? What can I do? “I will be with you,” says God to Moses, words taken up again by the resurrected Christ more than a thousand years later: “Go…. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Do you think maybe it’s time for God’s people to hear that call once again?

If Climate Change Is So Bad, Won’t God Step In and Stop It?

The outlook for a world disrupted by too much climate pollution is grim. Researchers speak freely these days of a sixth “mass extinction event,” like the one that doomed the dinosaurs. Others depict a world awash with climate refugees, fleeing from drought, famine, resource conflicts and rising sea levels. Military commanders warn of political instability and conflict on an unmanageable scale.

Most of us shy away from these nightmares, not because we necessarily discount the risks, but because the nearly inevitable human reaction is a numbed sense of avoidance and paralysis. It simply must not be true, and if it is, there must be something less depressing to occupy my thoughts at this moment.

But for Christians, we have to ask: What about God? Where is he in all this? We sing and believe that “his eye is on the sparrow” – surely the future of his creation is in his hands, not ours? God would not allow us to destroy his creation, would he?

A remarkable answer to this question comes from Rev. Ed Brown, author of the excellent book, “Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation.” In fact, the question posed above is framed by Brown himself. Here’s a bit of his answer:

“If we choose to destroy our home, God will not stop us.

“Unless, that is, God were to step into history the way he usually does, through human beings who have aligned their lives with him and who are committed to accomplishing his purposes in their own small histories. Remember God’s invitation to Moses in Exodus? God said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out … and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them’ (3:7-8).

“And then the clincher: ‘So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ When God wants to do something in the world, he does step in, but he does it through people.”

Christians wrestle long and hard with the meaning of God’s sovereignty in his world, and meaningful answers can hardly be reduced to short sound bites. But surely Brown is on to something. And for those addicted to New Yorker cartoons (like me), maybe here the theological debate is best framed with a chuckle, and then a renewed commitment to learn, pray and act.

New Yorker Magazine, January 2016

New Yorker Magazine, January 2016

And if you’re wondering about ways to do that, you might want to take a look here.