Tag Archives: Katharine Hayhoe

How Do We Pray When It’s Too Late?

We have been praying.

We have prayed for Kenyan farmers and Sudanese pastoralists beset by the onslaught of advancing deserts and permanent drought. We have prayed for Bangladeshi delta dwellers facing encroachment from rising seas. We have prayed for Filipinos in the path of the most destructive coastal storm ever to make landfall in recorded history. We have prayed for Texans and Californians locked in the grip of the worst fire seasons in memory. We have prayed for Gulf Coast survivors of repeated 100-year storms and devastating oil spills. We have been praying and praying.

And some of us have gone beyond praying for victims, but for the causes of their suffering. Some have prayed for a global awakening to the peril of our abuse of the Creation; for resolve to limit our use of fossil fuels; for a change of heart from powerful people who resist climate action. And some have prayed for specific struggles, like resistance to toxic mountaintop-removal coal mining, mercury poisoning from power-plant smokestack emissions, or the newest carbon menace currently being developed in the Canadian tar-sands fields.

Some of us pray because we believe that the Creation that we love has a chance to recover, if only we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by cutting our use of fossil fuels.

But today, our prayers have been met head-on with a crushing blow. We read of the “collapse” of one of Earth’s three massive ice sheets. In this case, “collapse” means the now-irreversible slide toward certain disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which will add 4 more feet to the inevitable rise in sea levels in a warming world.

“This is really happening,” said Thomas Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research. “There’s nothing to stop it now.”

And evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe added in comments today in an interview with Alexei Laushkin of Evangelical Environmental Network: “These glaciers are melting from the bottom now. It will take time, but these glaciers will now melt. We can’t stop them.”

Unstoppable. Add those 4 feet to the approximately 3 feet of sea level rise widely believed to be “baked in” to the balance of this century, plus the alarming trends in the Greenland ice sheet, and there’s no longer any question about the inevitable result for millions of human souls.

Miami: the world's #1 economic loser to sea-level rise

Miami: the world’s #1 economic loser to sea-level rise

New York, Boston, Miami, Norfolk and New Orleans – all significantly flooded or scarcely recognizable. Kolkata and Mumbai, Guangzhou and Shanghai, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, London and Amsterdam, Lagos and Alexandria, Dhaka and virtually all of Bangladesh – with exposed populations of more than 100 million people, not counting the additional billions who will likely be forced to migrate because of related failures of infrastructure.

So now, how do we pray? God, don’t let this happen? We’ve enjoyed our consumption-fueling carbon binge, but now, please stop its effects on us and our children?

I don’t find this narrative in the Bible, or anywhere in the history of redemption for that matter. I can’t recall God altering the laws of nature on a global scale because you or I don’t like the consequences of what we’ve done – or what our parents have done. People prayed all over the world in the 1600’s for safety and sustenance, but global climate chaos (cooling, in that time) still wiped out as much as one-third of humanity. I can’t believe that it’s unfaithful to doubt whether the laws of physics will be rewritten simply because of my really earnest prayers.

Perhaps it’s time for praying people to begin to recover the prayer of lament. More than one-third of the Psalms cry out in lament. Psalm 42 is a familiar one, among many: “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, Where is your God?”

And then there’s the book of Lamentations. If you’re at all like me, you might even have difficulty finding it. But if our church hymns or worship songs are mainly of the “Victory-in-Jesus” variety, it may do us good to find it more often: “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed” (Lamentations 1:16).

What’s the point of lament? If you’re wondering this, it’s little wonder: Our prevailing theology today is rooted in the idea that God’s kingdom is progressing everywhere, as is our sanctification. The gospel working in us has made us better, somehow. If we’re Americans, our exceptionalist mythology adds to it the remarkable notion that we can overcome virtually anything because we’re special. And if we’re Evangelicals, perhaps we add to these notions the call that we should take all this triumphalist energy to some poor corner of the world that desperately needs us and our message, and then all will be well – or at least better.

But as we read the Gospels, this illusion is rudely interrupted by Jesus the Christ himself. St. Mark’s gospel gives us this synopsis of his very first sermon: “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe….” Repent?  The first thing the Bearer of “good news” has to tell us is that we need to repent? Little wonder that these words don’t mean much to us: We haven’t been weeping. We can handle it. All things are possible. It’s never too late.

But now, we’re confronted with those dreaded words: Too late. We can’t make it all better. Whatever prayer we pray, whatever new laws we pass, whatever votes we cast – West Antarctica is collapsing, and the seas will rise in an unstoppable tide.

How to pray? How to pray when it’s too late?

Perhaps our prayers can be informed by this modest proposition: Yes, it’s too late for West Antarctica, and for the children of people living on today’s low-lying coastal regions. But it’s not too late for anything. Sure, West Antarctica’s collapsing glaciers hold enough ice to raise sea levels by 4 feet. But the rest of Antarctica holds enough ice to raise sea levels by more than 180 feet. And the world’s most imperiled ice sheet on Greenland could account for another 23 feet.

Perhaps it’s obvious to us all. Our prayers of lament will only lead us to repentance, and real repentance is always active. Pray. Pour out grief for what is lost. And then do everything we can to salvage what can still be protected.

“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” Psalm 137:1-3.

For a thoughtful meditation on the role of lament in God’s kingdom, please visit Sojourners website for a powerful article by Soong-Chan Rah. 

Climate: Neutralizing Christians with a Veneer of Controversy

“Don’t believe those climate change alarmists! Because three percent of climate scientists think they’re wrong!”

Hmm. That wouldn’t make a very effective PR campaign, now would it? That’s why you never hear those words from Fox News, the WSJ, or the radio talk shows. It’s always “a growing number of scientists” or “thousands of scientists and doctors….”

About a week ago, we ran an article written by two evangelical climate scientists urging Christians to confront the threat of manmade climate change as a core faith issue. Days earlier, Thomas Ackerman and Katharine Hayhoe had published their article in the online evangelical journal, Christian Post. They wrote:

“We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.”

I felt relieved: real, leading Christian climate scientists telling their faith community the widely-understood facts about climate change. Maybe this would clear up the confusion that so many American evangelicals feel about climate science – confusion that seems to prevent us from acting to protect the creation.

But my relief was short-lived. Just days later, the Christian Post followed up with a rebuttal article, written by two other climate scientists, denying much of what Ackerman and Hayhoe had just told us. Not only that, they challenged them to a formal college campus debate, something that politicians do; scientists usually just produce research refuting the errors of their colleagues.

But to laymen like us, the tit-for-tat left many wondering whom to believe. Some credible scientists tell us that we must act to reduce greenhouse gases driving climate change. But then some other credible-sounding scientists come along and tell us just the opposite. Not exactly what we need to motivate a call to arms, is it? Maybe we should just do nothing, till this “controversy” is resolved.

And that’s a pity, because that’s just what most of climate denial is all about. You create the sense that this issue isn’t yet resolved, and so laymen like us will remain frozen in our tracks – worried, but not willing to act, especially if it might involve sacrifice. It worked for the tobacco industry for decades. Now it’s working for fossil fuels.  Continue reading

Why Do American Religious Bloggers Deny Climate Science?

 

I’m sitting next to a madman.

No, really. From his perch at the next coffee shop table, he rails aloud at an unseen adversary: “I’m speaking to you in the language of reason, logic and common sense! But to you, it might as well be Swahili!”

His long grey beard and shoulder-length hair fit well with the nonstop Jeremiad. You’d think he’d eventually tire, but the filibuster goes on and on. I relax for a moment while he visits the restroom. But then he’s back, and the tirade resumes. “If it weren’t for premarital relations, we wouldn’t even be here!! … Martin Luther King should have kept his mouth shut!!” Or whatever.

I don’t hear much logic, or much reason. But he does.

Funny, but at the same time, I’m reading comments in the Christian Post in response to the excellent article written by evangelical climate scientists Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman. The scientists wrote to rebut the bizarre assertion by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh: that you can’t both believe in God and believe the findings of climate science.

The article is great, as was an earlier rebuttal by Christian pastor Mitch Hescox. But the comments are – for the most part – simply unbelievable. To me, they might as well be Swahili. Maybe my friend at the next table could help me understand. Here’s a sampling:

Comment A: 98% of people who hold to the view of manmade global warming voted at least one time for Barack Obama. I would be surprised if the contributors of this article are not in [that] category. Which makes me wonder why they are even allowed to contribute. Perhaps, they feel the need to just to stir up controversy, instead of Godly edification.

Translation: Even though I don’t know anything about other people’s votes, you don’t have to take evangelicals seriously if I can drop the hint that they might have voted for a presidential candidate that I don’t like – even if he claims faith in Christ, belongs to a Christian church and ran first against a non-church-member and then against a committed Mormon. And the Christian Post shouldn’t even allow scientists to speak up if they agree with the 97 percent of their colleagues who accept mainstream views of manmade climate change.

Continue reading

Evangelical Scientists Answer Rush Limbaugh on Climate Change and Christian Faith

BY KATHARINE HAYHOE AND THOMAS ACKERMAN

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words, that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.

Specifically, during a recent segment on his radio show Limbaugh stated, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”

Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.

We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.

Picture3From the very beginning of the Bible, the goodness of God’s Creation and God’s love for people is front and center. In Genesis, humans are tasked with stewardship of the earth and its creatures. The Psalms praise the beauty of the earth. The gospels exhort us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The epistles emphasize the importance of caring for those in need. It is hard to read through Scripture and not be convinced that caring for people and for the environment in which we live is part of our vocation as humans. It is something we are called to do in order to live faithfully in the world.  Continue reading