By Steven Charleston
I do not remember when I first heard the old saying that everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it. It is just one of those truisms that seems to have always been there. Until now.
Now we are not just talking about the weather. We are, in fact, doing a great deal about it. We are changing it. And not in a good way. The recent national experience of fire storms in California, drought in Georgia, floods in the Midwest and record heat in New England reminds us that climate change is not a myth, but a formula. With a grim mathematical precision we are mutating our weather patterns into new and unstable combinations. The disasters we have witnessed so far are only the first products of that deadly equation. There is much more to come.
Of course, we have heard those predictions before. For many years now scientists and environmentalists have been sending up flares to warn us about how our behavior was impacting the world around us. For just as many years, most of us ignored those warnings and went about business as usual. Now we are paying the price. But before we spend too much time with self recrimination, we should glance at the global clock ticking loudly in the corner. We are close to midnight when it comes to reversing our situation, but close is better than being there, being at the point of no return. We still have a chance, if we choose to take it.
Will it require whole cities burning down or drying up to motivate that choice? Do we have to lose Atlanta or San Diego to get us moving on environmental action? As people of faith, those citizens in the larger society who profess to have a spiritual motivation built in, now is our chance. We are the people who are supposed to listen to the prophets. We are the community that is already organized to not only offer pastoral care to those hurt by disasters, but equally ready to advocate on their behalf. We have the vision of a holy creation and the network of local ministers to turn that vision into action.
While many, if not most, of us have waited until the evidence of global climate change has literally fallen on us, we have an opportunity now to redeem ourselves by using the resources at hand to do something about it. We have been changing the weather for the worst, not we can start changing it again for the better. Slowing down the effects of global warming is possible in the short run. Stopping it altogether is even possible in the long run. We have the ability to act if we choose to do so. And there are few communities better positioned to make those moves than the people of faith.
Will we stop talking about the weather and do something about it? Will the church lead the way? Will we finally muster the national willpower to put our prayers to work on the environmental agenda that is so obviously staring us in the face? Personally, I believe that we will. As much as the disasters sprouting up around us create a climate of fear and loss, they create opportunities for mission and witness. Our finest hour as the people of God is at hand. This is our moment, our chance. The choices we make will determine future in a way that our ancestors could never have imagined. We have an historically grave responsibility, but one that God would not have called us to if we were not up to the task. The destruction we see around us is not an accident. But then, neither is the fact that you and I have been placed here to do something about it.
The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS’s Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.