The Planet is Burning

By the Rev. Dr. John Leech

The planet is burning. I have that on good authority. The secretary general of the United Nations said so, in his annual state of the planet address. And his report was based on the best available science. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has been providing the science to policy makers and the public for years. You can read the reports for yourself or listen to the scientists – some of the best are right here in Tucson, at the University of Arizona. So there are the facts. The hard physical facts.

Now what are we going to do about it? That is the soft side of the issue, the hard to measure side, except perhaps for sciences like sociology. It is values, culture, beliefs, ethics, morals, and religion. 

So it seems like we’ve come to the right place, if we are contemplating climate change as people of faith. As a community of believers, we hold these values to be self-evident, and well worth repeating. Our life is a gift from God. All that is, is a gift from God. We are called, as all human beings are called, to enjoy the earth – as all our fellow creatures are, but beyond that to care for the earth. We have as human creatures a unique consciousness, an awareness, not only that we are creatures – and we rejoice in that – but that we have the joyful burden of responsible creaturehood. Beyond stewardship we are called to full participatory partnership with God in the care of creation.

Now how do we do that, right here on the local level? We each of us in our abundance and scarcity, aware of our independence of will and our total dependence on the Creator for all that gives, sustains, and fulfills life – we can do and act and advocate and take on practical personal, communal, and congregational, national and international, public, political, nonprofit and voluntary association, and for profit (as we do well by doing good) business: we  can make a difference. Let’s get started. Let us look at what we are doing already – individually, and together. 

And so I’ll tell a story for you who know the limits of your means. There was an energy crisis. But I was in college. And I saw my neighbor Kevin returning to the dorm, strolling across the quad. And I called out to him,

— Kevin. There’s an energy crisis.

— Yeah, John.

— But we don’t have cars. We can’t drive slower. What are we going to do?

— Well, John, I’m walking slower, and I’m talking slower, and I’m …

   … thinking slower.

See? You can always do something. But thinking faith may tell us more is needed now than simple self-control. My friend Roger the Arctic explorer, that is, the physical oceanographer of the Arctic Ocean, has been for many years traveling to the North Pole. In addition to my letters to Santa, he has been carrying measuring instruments, and measuring and reporting on physical changes in the composition of the ocean: temperature, pressure, salinity. And by now you have probably learned what he and his fellow scientists have seen and heard directly and have written home about. 

Open water where once there was solid ice. Great glaciers melting and calving icebergs into the sea. Those icebergs are made of fresh water. And that ice, melting, plunges into the sea a cold stream of fresh water forming and moving between Greenland and Canada, pushing the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream south, and weakening the current. This means that particular places like Europe and the Isles of Ireland and Britain will be getting colder water than they have enjoyed for, oh, thousands of years, or before people learned to make fire or chip rocks for tools. So things are changing in a big way. And there is no planet B. And Mother Nature bats last. 

Is this the ball game? Not yet. There is hope. We can do something about it. And if we don’t – the next generations coming up are going to make sure we hear about it. But we will be able to see for ourselves – if we’re spared. So go forth, enjoy the earth, and take care of the planet. It’s the only home we’ve got.

The Rev. Dr. John Leech is Priest Associate at the Church of  St. Matthew, Tucson and is a member of the diocesan Creation Care Council.  This article was published previously in the Arizona Daily Star in the Keeping the Faith section.