Preach-In on Global Warming
Aiken Unitarian Universalist Church
February 10 2013
Are you ready to tell your children they were born a generation too late? That there is nothing you can do to fight the destruction of the earth’s climate?
This is the way Javier Sierra begins his article “Were Your Children Born a Generation Too Late?”…and I must admit, it is a startling thought. Only…it is something that has crossed my mind before, and I have even said aloud to my oldest granddaughter, “When you get older, maybe you and your sisters and your cousin should consider not having any children.” She was shocked and asked me why I would say such a thing. And I replied, “because the world is going to be in such bad shape, it would be unfair to subject your children to that.”
And I do believe that, and how can I keep quiet when my grandchildren - as parents - would be subjecting their children to living in a world where global warming has destroyed much of the ecosystem that we happily enjoy now?
Yet, how can I not be aware that I am asking them to forego reproducing, to make that kind of sacrifice? Having children is one of the most beautiful, fulfilling things we as humans can do. It is something I struggle with as I assess the century to come.
To recognize that children born ten or twenty years from now will as adults have a much harder life – and maybe a very much poorer quality of life – may lead some people to make exactly that choice.
And we do – in the West – have that choice, but many people in poorer countries, whose high child mortality rates and whose need for enough willing workers to contribute to a family’s basic living, may not be so lucky.
Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers (New York: Grove Press, 2005), says
“we are the generation fated to live in the most interesting of times, for we are now the weather makers, and the future of biodiversity and civilization hangs on our actions.” (P306)
What a heavy responsibility weighing on our shoulders! It may well be that we humans only have a few years left in which to turn things around, so that our planet will remain habitable for our grandchildren’s children.
Climate change is a pressing matter that is also an ethical, moral, and spiritual issue for each of us to consider today. Because today across this country, ministers are holding a Preach-in for Global Warming, sponsored by Interfaith Power and Light, an organization that provides environmental justice resources to congregations in 40 states. I first became acquainted with this group’s Georgia chapter when Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was released in 2007, and Interfaith Power and Light sponsored congregational film screenings and discussions. You may recall that Al Gore won a Nobel Peace prize for his work, although his book and subsequent film were criticized by the right-wing, and his statistics and claims of a global warming crisis were condemned.
Diverting the urgent need to act by attacking the messenger – the logical fallacy called ad hominem – has no doubt had an effect on America’s failure to create a coherent and effective environmental policy. And religious leaders – even Richard Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals – have been urging the government to act. This morning, I want to ask you to remain hopeful, even in the face of denial and inaction by those who have the power to turn around the crisis that awaits should we do nothing.
I. global warming facts
So, let me give you four basic facts as offered by the Environmental Defense Fund’s website:
1. There is scientific consensus on the basic facts of global warming. The most respected scientific bodies have stated unequivocally that global warming is occurring, and that people are causing it.
2. Scientists are certain that the Earth is warming, and has been for 100 years.
3. Human activity is causing the Earth to get warmer. Only CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions from human activities can explain the observed warming now taking place on Earth.
4. The effects of warming can be seen today, through disappearing habitat, shrinking arctic sea ice, and extreme weather.
II. Storm Nemo
It’s ironic that many ministers in the northeast US who were planning a Preach-In like this one have had to cancel their services because of Storm Nemo this weekend! On Friday night a message went out from Interfaith Power and Light, that their prayers go out to all of those along the path of the storm, many of whom are still recovering from the effects of Superstorm Sandy; this morning we join our prayers to theirs. But it also pointed out that this is a teaching moment for us all:
“Nemo was a massive, possibly historic storm, or to use the Weather Channel’s language ‘epic.’ It dumped more three feet of snow in New England, underscoring the amplification effect of climate change. Forecasts warn of significant, widespread damage throughout the region, parts of which are still coping with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.” (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/article.html)
The email mentioned the “somewhat counter-intuitive nature of the public’s understanding of the relationship between extreme winter weather and global warming”, and asked that we be prepared to explain the links between this storm and global climate change.
So here goes:
“The past few years have been marked by unusually severe extreme weather characteristic of climate change. Global warming puts more energy into storms. Storm surge now rides on sea levels that have risen over the last century due to global warming. This amplifies flooding losses if and when a surge strikes. Storm surge now rides on sea levels that have risen over the last century due to global warming.
Nemo is part of the larger trend. In the last century, we have witnessed a 20 percent increase in the amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest rain and snow events, directly tied to climate disruption. The Northeast has been particularly vulnerable, experiencing a dramatic increase in one-day precipitation extremes during the October to March cold season.
Coastal flooding has also become more common as climate change drives sea levels higher. Off-shore water temperatures are higher than normal right now, adding to the potential for heavy precipitation by feeding Nemo with additional moisture.” (IPL email 2/8/2013)
And that ends the weather segment of the sermon!
A statement from a meeting in Doha of the World Council of Churches (www.oikoumene.org) two months ago starts with this exclamation: “The world cannot wait – climate change is happening!”
It’s worth reading a segment of this statement to get a sense of the urgency felt by this worldwide fellowship of churches, because it brings up another potentially life-threatening effect of climate change:
“As people of faith concerned for our sisters and brothers, we come to Doha extremely worried about food security as the severe shortages in crops face us with the prospect of horrific humanitarian crises that should be avoided. The present situation at world food markets, exemplified by sharp increases in wheat, soybean and corn prices compels leaders to act urgently to be sure that these outstanding high prices do not drive into an appalling scenario, harming tens of millions.”
The statement goes on to acknowledge that there is only a handful of nations who are large producers of staple food commodities – and this past year’s severe drought in two of them, the US and Russia, sent grain prices skyrocketing.
“Time has arrived,” the WCC says, “to promote more sustainable and climate resilient food production to urgently make more food available to sustain the human family especially in the most vulnerable societies, ill prepared to deal with food scarcity. Moreover, diversion of food stock for non-food purposes and financial speculation are unethical and immoral.”
We’ve seen how oil prices and the housing market have been manipulated for financial gain in the recent past – none of us would be surprised to see market speculation and other immoral tactics if food becomes another commodity of great value.
The WCC calls attention in this document to the ‘Principle of Intergenerational Equity’ that declares "the Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind."
Back to the idea that we hold the future for our children and their children, and “that our generation is probably the very last generation having it in our hands to still limit global warming to less than 2ºC while future generations won’t have this freedom of choice but will have to adapt to climate patterns we have left to them.”
“The World Council of Churches believes that the whole Earth community deserves to benefit from the bounties of creation. Faith communities are addressing climate change because it is a spiritual and ethical issue of justice, equity, solidarity, sufficiency and sustainability.”
V. Rebecca Parker – loving our neighbor
And not only that…it’s an issue of love. In this month associated with love, and a month when we in the Aiken UU church stand on the side of love, we emphasize the love we have for our congregation and our wider community through our acts of justice and equality – Grace Kitchen, the Black History Parade, the Welcoming Congregation service.
Rebecca Parker, in her book Blessing the World: What Can Save Us Now (Skinner House, 2006), says that what we are doing here in this church is what the world needs to do – have a ”spiritual and practical revolution that embodies love for neighbor and the world through sustaining structures of care and responsibility” (145).
How can we afford to wait until we face an emergency in dealing with climate change, instead of beginning now to prevent the worst of it? As ‘weather makers,’ to use the words of Tim Flannery, we can turn to each other for the solution.
The Rev. Roger Bertschausen urges us to consider a ‘spiritual approach to global warming’ and says that maybe “part of the answer to the profound challenge of global warming is community. Maybe we need to figure out how in this world crowded with six billion people we can truly connect with other people. Maybe we need to turn to the people around us and get to know them. Maybe we need to realize we’re in this together.
And not just the people right around us we’ve turned to, but even the people way on the other side of the world. Experiencing connectedness with those around us is only significant if we also understand that the connectedness goes far beyond our small circle. Maybe with a deeper sense of community we’ll realize that we have enough.
We don’t need more cars, more electronic gadgets, more this, more that to be happy—especially when we realize that all too often our “more” is the direct result of other people’s “less.” (https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:TXwwxIX7xCwJ:www.fvuuf.org/index2.php?option%3Dcom_docman%26task%3Ddoc_view%26gid%3D26%26Itemid%3D208+global+warming+and+spirituality&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESh5dRnXHYuMsDG8fAiXk393M4K_XqeNqBxINfWMkhWl_JR_Cj3zA27x6MQ0UMKoUitwQlKVMzPxjgkMy-V9D1V3aFf43Ci-8_z8KhRRYkAg9aauoxZr6GuVaNPNN1dTfrzH37mU&sig=AHIEtbTXeE-5yhcPz2TM9Xn412P8zz4bJw )
Rebecca Parker reminds us that reverence is a form of love, and describes it as “a response to life that falls on its knees before the rising sun and bows down before the mountains” (146).
We can start to be reverent by living our first and seventh principles, to affirm and promote the worth and dignity of each person, and the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part. We see those principles written around us in this sanctuary, in our hymnals… and it is too easy to say ‘of course we believe those things’. Living them is a much harder thing to do!
We can begin by lessening our carbon footprints in the ways our children were looking at doing in the Time for All Ages. We can begin by telling the leaders of this city, this state, this country, that we want more, faster action to save our planet.
VI. Spiritual approach to GW
A spiritual approach to global warming, then, takes on urgency, but also meaning, as an act of reverence. This sanctuary for us is one place where we contemplate the reverence that we pay to those things, beliefs, and values we hold dear. But it’s out there where we – with our children and grandchildren - need to make a difference, because, as Mark Belletini’s “Communion Circle” meditation reading makes clear, “everything, for good or ill, is part of the shared whole.”
May we be the ones who make it so, Blessed Be, Amen.