Monday, February 7, 2011
Climate change and other crosses
The funeral for my mom’s Aunt Rose took place four days after a major winter storm and two days before another. It was a bright morning, but a cold, blustery one—a harsh way to say a goodbye to a strong, feisty, faith-filled woman. Rose fought cancer on and off for fifteen years, and she never flinched at a doctor’s bad news.
A week after the funeral, her daughter-in-law summed it up best: this woman knew how to carry her crosses.
While I drove my mom in the funeral procession through streets narrowed by large heaps of snow, it occurred to me that Rose’s determination to face difficult truths stood in contrast to those who find humor in news of climate change—which, I admit, seems easy to do in the midst of a snowy winter’s single-digit temperatures.
I’ve been studying the science of climate change as part of a project at work; the more I probe, the more I wonder why more of us aren’t concerned. Yes, we know from last year that some climate researchers made phony claims for fame and fortune. But when entire agencies like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and even NASA are sounding alarms, it’s tough to hide.
What’s unfortunate is that too many of us minimize a science that’s so massive in scope. We often confuse weather in one corner of creation with real, worldwide trends in climate. Or we misinterpret “global warming” to mean that Earth is uniformly increasing its temperature everywhere at the same time. Such thinking doesn’t do justice to the vast planetary complexities of atmospheric and oceanographic mechanics, nor does it factor in the evidence all around us.
For instance, the Audubon Society is recording shifts in the migratory patters of numerous species of birds; Japanese scientists found coral reefs relocating to cooler waters; meteorologists are cataloguing increased intensity of precipitation events in some areas while others go dry.
Then there’s the news from NASA—an agency that knows a thing or two about planets—that “global sea levels have increased about 6.7 inches in the last century,” and that in the last decade the rate of this increase nearly doubled that of the previous hundred years. The agency reports that “all three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880—most of this warming having occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.” When compared to solar output, which has dropped through the 2000s, NASA reports that surface temperatures nevertheless continue to rise.
But is all this really proof that man-made pollution, like carbon dioxide, is a factor? Yes. “Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s oceans have been increasing since 1750, and are currently increasing about 2 billion tons per year. This has increased ocean acidity by about 30 percent.”
All this is just highlights; there’s much more at http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence. But my point here isn’t about science. It’s about what it means to be human.
Visiting my mom’s Aunt Rose in her nursing home these past few months, she never once complained about the reality she faced, about the changes occurring in her body. She didn’t deny them, even when she felt strong. As she told my mom once, “I’m just waiting.” And wait she did—with relish.
But unlike cancer, we can control the pollutants threatening our planet. Their effects can be mitigated, even undone. And we don’t have to wait. For the good of generations not yet born, we should learn some lessons from my grandmother’s sister Rosie—two tough women if ever there were. Like Rose, we should face our problems, carry our crosses, accept the truths before us, do whatever is needed to be done and, most importantly, do it all out of love for God, his creation and for each other.