Tag Archives: sea level rise

The Water Will Come

Climate change is already costing the world dearly. But it is not just money that will be lost.

Also gone will be the beach where you first kissed your boyfriend; the mangrove forests in Bangladesh where Bengali tigers thrive; the crocodile nests in Florida Bay; Facebook headquarters in Silicon Valley; St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice; Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina; America’s biggest naval base in Norfolk, Virginia; NASA’s Kennedy Space Center; graves on the Isle of the Dead in Tasmania; the slums of Jakarta, Indonesia; entire nations like the Maldives and the Marshall Islands; and, in the not-so-distant future, Mar-a-Lago, the summer White House of President Donald Trump. Globally, about 145 million people live three feet or less above the current sea level. As the waters rise, millions of these people will be displaced, many of them in poor countries, creating generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.

The real x-factor here is not the vagaries of climate science, but the complexity of human psychology. At what point will we take dramatic action to cut CO2 pollution? Will we spend billions on adaptive infrastructure, to prepare cities for rising waters – or will we do nothing and wait till it’s too late? Will we welcome people who flee submerged coastlines, and sinking islands – or will we imprison them? No one know how our economic and political system will deal with these challenges.

Jeff Goodell: The Water Will Come  http://amzn.to/2z50Jtq

How Our Coasts Will Disappear

They say that doom and gloom is sure-fire method of driving away readers. But if sea levels are rising, as seven in ten Americans acknowledge, then it’s worth asking just how – and when – my favorite coastal spot might be gone. Believe me, I know you’d rather not wade into this swamp. But it’s important. Please, take a second to look.

Just this August, Louisiana suffered historic flooding, causing more than $10 billion in damage, 80 percent of it uninsured. It was dubbed the most destructive storm to hit the country since Super Storm Sandy.

Hardly a month later, another storm barely grazed the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, and left behind comparable damage, still being assessed in the range of $6-9 billion.

Big storms, no doubt. But here’s the thing: Neither one involved a hurricane making landfall on U.S. soil. Louisiana merely suffered from an intense rainstorm. And American Easterners nervously watched an advancing hurricane’s trail of destruction and death in Haiti, but breathed a sigh of relief as it sliced eastward into the open Atlantic.

Still, the storm wreaked many billions of dollars of damage, and more than fifty fatalities.

Of course, these storms produced the usual claims and denials about the connection to climate change, as always. But more instructive to me was the picture of what coastal inundation will look like in an age of climate chaos. Here’s why:

For the large majority of Americans who accept the findings of climate science, I suspect we tend to view sea-level rise as a linear phenomenon. Mapping websites abound where you can zoom in on your home, select a hypothetical level of ocean rise, and see whether you’re safe or not. For Louisiana, here’s what it looks like for two feet, well inside many estimates for the current century.capturelouisiana

Look! The blue incursions make New Orleans look pretty dicey, but Baton Rouge and Lafayette are still okay, right? And here’s a look at the Carolinas at two feet. Sure, the Outer Banks, Charleston and Wilmington are all gone, but Goldsboro, Wilmington and Raleigh are pretty good.capture

Okay, admittedly it’s bad, but we can find a way to manage, right?

Actually, no, we probably can’t. Here’s why: These maps may be accurate, for what they’re being asked to do. One a calm, sunny day, the communities shown in the green may be, in fact, above water. But take a look at what happened during the Louisiana non-hurricane – before any further sea-level rise at all:

picture1

Lafayette was inundated. Baton Rouge was a virtual island, with flooding on all sides. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, was it? New Orleans would slip away first, and Mardi Gras would set up shop Baton Rouge. Except Baton Rouge was flooded out first. (And that’s with today’s sea levels, not an extra couple of feet.)

The Carolinas tell a similar story. After Tropical Storm Matthew slipped past, Goldsboro and Lumberton – each about 80 miles inland from the Atlantic beaches – were completely awash, together with hundreds of other inland communities.picture2

For nearly ten years now, we’ve been warning our fellow beach-lovers: Visit as often as you like, enjoy the sun and surf. But please, please, don’t invest the nest egg in sea-side property. Even now, that’s probably sound advice. But the picture is actually much worse. In a world of increasingly dire climate chaos, you’re hardly safe in low-lying inland communities either.

What should you do? Well, what if we started by living like people who understand that the future of our world, and especially our children’s, depends on lower carbon emissions. Cut our carbon footprint, and offset what we can’t cut.

But whatever our individual efforts, there are many things that we can only accomplish together — as a country, or as an entire world. We can each drive smarter, but most of us can’t develop our own electric car. We can insulate the house, but most of us can’t build our own wind farm. These things depend on concerted national action. So find out what your Congressional representative is doing about climate change. And look at where the Presidential candidates stand.

The consequences of ignoring climate change may seem to be a long way off. But for many on our lowland coasts, they’ve already arrived.

Imagining a World With No Future

I remember a couple of years back seeing the trailer for Interstellar, an earth-exodus sci-fi thriller. The film starred Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and a host of other luminaries. But it was the 21st century setting of the film – a dying world facing the extinction of all plant life from an unnamed blight – that intrigued me most.

Like almost all people who take today’s environmental crisis seriously, the specter of ecosystem collapse – and even of existential threats to our own species – constantly haunts the shadowy margins of my consciousness. The spectral appeal of the film was strong, but still no match for the drone of daily routines that normally crowd out interesting films. Interstellar came and went, without me.

Well, I finally got around to seeing it a couple of nights ago. To break up day/night-long flight to Nepal – where I am currently attending a conference of South Asian Christian church leaders engaged in ecological ministry – I finally took the time. And sure enough, the movie’s story-line confronted me with an imponderable challenge: How could anyone manage life in a world with almost no plausible future beyond one’s own lifetime or maybe their children’s’?

Last night at the opening dinner of the Nepal conference, I was confronted with a dystopian nightmare eerily similar to Interstellar’s fictional crisis. And it wasn’t a movie. With my plate filled with rice, dahl and curry, I took a seat across from a Bangladeshi man named Manna (I’ll skip his full name for this post). Manna works with an international faith-based NGO in Southeast Asia.

Eventually, the conversation turned to Manna’s home in coastal Bangladesh. Yes, he confirmed, the sea levels are rising at an alarming pace. Farms in his home are becoming too salty to produce food. Fish farms are suffering mass die-offs as freshwater ponds turn to sea-water, until the monsoon flushes them fresh again. Groundwater tables are falling rapidly as communities drill for fresh, clean water. Coastal mangrove forests are succumbing to rapid climatic changes, leaving the low-lying Ganges River delta defenseless against storm surges from tropical cyclones.

Bangladeshi communities caught between flooding rivers and rising seas

Bangladeshi communities caught between flooding rivers and rising seas

“You cannot invest for the future under such conditions,” Manna told me. “Everyone knows what is coming.” But still, he told me, many people cannot afford to think even several years ahead.

Manna is not saying anything more than what countless scientific studies have already established: Bangladesh and its 160 million human souls are facing the irresistible advance of the sea over large expanses of their country. The culprit? Thermal ocean expansion and melting land ice in a world choking on the exhaust from the global industrial behemoth.

Scientists are still working on the expected pace of the rising seas, with new studies raising the prospect of rapid coastal inundation far more severe than previously thought. But Bangladesh illustrates the maddening complexity of the problem: Long before the dry land slips beneath the waves, freshwater sources are fouled; farmland is poisoned by salt; and capital investment moves to higher ground.

But there’s a personal word in what I hear from Manna: There is a clouded future for my hometown, my family, my people. You can’t plan for the long haul here. There is little to leave our children in this place. In effect, we have to find somewhere else to start over.

So, what stories do you tell yourself in Manna’s Bangladesh to hang onto hope? What do you say to the mother of a newborn child, nursing the hope of a new generation? What do you tell your young people about the value of industry and honest work? What do you tell investors looking to create value in their communities?

The movie, Interstellar, is just a story. For those of us who feel relatively secure in our brief time and place, it offers the thrill of an existential peril that we don’t actually have to  face ourselves. It’s entertaining, in a way, isn’t it?

But what if that were the world we really lived in? What if there simply was no reliable future in our cities, counties and states? What if broad swaths of our entire country saw little option but eventual flight?

And to flee – where? In a world increasingly absorbed with fear and hatred of The Other, where could we hope to find welcome and shalom?

And since most of my readers are from North America, let me ask one more question: If we were Manna’s Bangladeshi countrymen, what would we want to say to people in the consumerist world of the West?

That’s what I’m here in Nepal to listen for. If I can, I will bring you their voices over the next couple of weeks. I hope you will find the time – and the human compassion – to hear their voices.

Suppressing the Truth in Florida

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” The Wizard of Oz

Generally, history has not been kind to authorities who knowingly suppress the truth. If suppression results in oppression or injustice, we feel anger. But in nearly every case, we react with scorn.

That’s why last week’s revelation that Florida’s GOP Governor Rick Scott has forbidden state agencies to use the words “climate change” and “global warming” has attracted more ridicule than indignation. Scott’s “I-am-not-a-scientist” approach to climate science has provided ample fodder for the country’s comedians. The Twitter hash-tag #Scottaway has gone viral. But now we have the words of his General Counsel Larry Morgan, warning state employees to suppress established science: “Beware of the words ‘global warming, climate change and sea-level rise’….”

Small-minded officials, in the service of powerful polluters, who sacrifice their children’s futures for the benefit of wealthy donors?

Oooo. Yuck.

Governor Scott’s gag order on science burst into the news this week, when a number of Florida news outlets tracked down Florida scientists and officials whose reports were censored to redact virtually all references to climate change.

Gov. Scott, widely reported to have censored science reports in Florida

Gov. Scott, widely reported to have censored science reports in Florida

Florida is the country’s most climate-vulnerable state, with all of its barrier islands and 30 percent of its beaches threatened by sea-level rise in the next 85 years. In just the next 33 years, much of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are projected to be inundated by rising seas – plus virtually all of Monroe County, home of the Keys and the Everglades. And globally, Miami ranks #1 among cities projected to suffer monetary losses from rising seas, according to the OECD. And so the censorship was widely seen as both ridiculous and incredibly dangerous in this state.

The governor’s staff has denied the reports, but increased scrutiny is unearthing a flood of very detailed reports, plus many whispered accounts of intimidated employees cowed into compliance under the threat of termination or de-funding of entire offices and programs.

The governor himself has become famous for dodging the question of manmade climate change. When asked about it by a reporter from The Miami Herald, Scott offered a familiar response: “Well, I’m not a scientist,” he said, echoing John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal and many other GOP politicians.

So last year, a group of Florida’s leading climate scientists publicly offered to educate Scott, then locked in a tight reelection battle with former governor Charlie Crist, who took climate change very seriously during his time in office. Under intense media pressure, Scott agreed to give the scientists thirty minutes of his time.

“This is not complicated,’’ said David Hastings, professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College, before the meeting. “We teach this to 18-year-olds every year and I’ve been doing it for 25 years. It’s not hard science.”

One by one, the scientists used their precious half-hour to give Scott the barest summaries of their disciplines, ranging from the changing composition of the earth’s atmosphere, to the melting of the polar ices sheets, rising sea levels, dying coral reefs and alarmingly acidic oceans – all linked to the burning of fossil fuels.

And they warned of the cost of inaction: “The longer you wait the cost of the solution goes up about 40 percent a decade.”

By all accounts, the meeting did not go well at all. University of Miami geologist Harold Wanless remembered that Scott “spent ten minutes doing silly things like prolonged introductions,” which reduced their time to speak to about 20 minutes. “He said thank you and went on to his more urgent matters, such as answering his telephone calls and so on. There were no questions of substance.”

I hope we don’t miss how incredible this is. The governor of the most climate-threatened state in the country doesn’t know enough to act on climate change. So his state’s scientists band together to teach him. In response, he doles out 30 minutes of his precious schedule, and then filibusters one-third of it, cutting deeply into a meeting that was impossibly short to begin with.

Could there be a clearer way for the governor to say: I don’t know, and I don’t WANT to know?

But if the scientists made no progress with Scott, evangelical pastor Rev. Mitch Hescox couldn’t even get his foot in the door. Hescox, the President of Evangelical Environmental Network, brought a petition signed by 60,000 Christians, urging fellow evangelical Scott to take action to protect Florida from the threat of climate change. But Hescox was sent away without even the courtesy of an audience.

The charlatan "wizard" in L. Frank Baum's classic "Oz"

The charlatan “wizard” in L. Frank Baum’s classic “Oz”

Scott, it happens, is one of a handful of climate deniers who openly profess faith in Jesus Christ, while promoting policies which suppress the basic knowledge necessary to care for God’s creation. Some of these even cite their Christian faith as the reason for their denial of climate science. And to Christian earth-keepers, this makes our skin crawl.

To our many friends who are becoming disaffected with the anti-science voices that are being dressed up these days as “American evangelical Christianity,” we beg you to consider: There are more than 2.1 billion Christians in the world today; only about five percent of them hail from the US; almost all of them come from countries where the science of climate change is accepted as fully reliable; the vast majority face very tangible climate threats, including droughts, flooding, rising sea levels, ocean acidification – and social upheavals which arise from these ills. And even here in America, there are numerous evangelical declarations that affirm the importance of creation care, and call Christians to action against climate pollution. And only one takes the position of the climate denial politicians. What you hear from the religious talking heads on American cable news channels has precious little to do with the global Christian church, which understands the perils of environmental abuse with first-hand clarity.

In our experience, the world’s Christians watch with near disbelief as American politicians cite the Christian scriptures as the skin-deep rationale for their heart-deep collusion with wealthy polluters, inflicting severe harm to the world’s poorest communities.

Consider GOP Senator James Inhofe, the inventor of the “greatest hoax” narrative of global warming. A professing Christian, he cites this verse as his favorite premise for denying that human actions can change the world’s climate: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). In context, God makes this promise in the aftermath of the story of the great flood, as he makes a new covenant “with every living creature” never again to destroy the earth by a cataclysm of judgment.

Perhaps serious theologians might debate the possible meaning of this passage. But surely no scholar thinks it means that climates never change: that the Little Ice Age of the 17th Century (which killed roughly one-third of the planet’s humans) could never have actually happened; or that the Earth did not warm since the last great Ice Age; or that there would have to be a “seedtime” in Antarctica; or that equatorial regions would have to have a “summer and winter;” or that the world cannot have warmed by 0.9 degrees Celsius during the last century. And certainly, no scholar believes that a passage like this negates the natural laws that God has set in motion, like the workings of greenhouse gases that warm and protect the planet when in balance, and cause climatic chaos when thrown out of balance.

Sen. Inhofe throws a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that climate science is "the greatest hoax"

Sen. Inhofe throws a snowball onto the Senate floor to prove that climate science is “the greatest hoax”

Senator Inhofe, we beg you to refer us to a single biblical scholar who affirms your narrative.

But back in Florida, suppression of the truth is much less bombastic, and more insidious. Gov. Scott never says why he shuts his eyes to climate science. No silly speeches warning of massive hoaxes by corrupt scientists. He just makes sure his administration suppresses climate science, and intimidates experts who rely on state funding.

By the end of this century, most of South Florida will be uninhabitable. The Keys will be gone; Sanibel-Captiva and much of Ft. Myers will be abandoned; the Everglades will be open water; what remains of Miami will be a narrow sliver of land frequently inundated by periodic storms. Those who remain in the state may well remember that they once had a governor who suppressed the one discipline that might have saved their state.

But, alas, he was not a scientist.

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  (St. Paul, Romans 1:18)

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.

Why Miami is Doomed

“People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:27

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me news of an amazing transaction. In Miami, a waterfront downtown 1.25-acre lot had sold for the amazing price of $125,000,000. That’s one-hundred twenty-five MILLION dollars. For a little over an acre of land.

Miami 1.25 acres sold for $125 million

Miami 1.25 acres sold for $125 million

Now, if you’re in London, New York or Hong Kong, you’re used to this kind of thing. You know: location, location, location. But Miami is different. Yes, it’s the Magic City, and awash with money from all over the Americas and Europe, fueling enormous real estate, banking and (sadly) drug transactions. But increasingly, people are coming to terms with the fact that that Miami is living on borrowed time. And the time is beginning to look really, really short.

Oh, no. Not another doomsday scenario! Has this thought crossed your mind?

Well, we’ve been talking about Miami’s last days for several years now. But with the passing of time, the most serious doubts have been removed. We’ve learned that Miami is the world’s #1 loser to sea-level rise over the balance of this century, with more than $400 billion of assets exposed to projected sea levels at present. But recently, the evidence has mounted that Miami will succumb long before the tides inundate the city.

Here’s why Miami is headed the way of Atlantis:

  • Global sea levels are rising faster than anyone expected, and will, within decades, inundate much of south Florida.
  • More severe storms are projected for the region, with higher and higher storm surges, aggravating the impact of sea-level rise.
  • Miami suffers from fatal geology: a porous limestone ridge beneath the city permits salt water to bubble up through “swiss cheese” rock formations beneath the ground, making dikes and levees useless.
  • The topography is flat and low, with much of the most expensive infrastructure right on the waterfront. Even Miami’s enormous nuclear power plant is vulnerable to storm surges today.
  • And the city’s freshwater supply is protected by flood gates that are also just barely above high tide at today’s levels, let alone in coming decades as polar ice continues to melt.

These factors make Miami “ground zero” for climate change. That’s why Harold Wanless, chairman of University of Miami’s department of geological sciences has said flatly: “Miami, as we know it today, is doomed. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.” Continue reading

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.