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Thursday, November 1, 2012


Photo: South-facing shores of Rhode Island after Sandy. With permission of RI DOT
We have described Sandy in many ways. She was a tropical storm; a hurricane; a monster storm; a super storm; a Frankenstorm; and a killer. She was also unique.

Four days before the storm made landfall, meteorologists seemed to have run out of adjectives and words of warning to describe what was happening and what was about to come. After Sandy punched her way into and across the mid Atlantic—then spending days pin-wheeling in a thousand-mile rotation of cloud and rain—folks on the Weather Channel could only repeat the same inadequate words to describe the unspeakable.

As I write, the news form New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Tennessee, and corners of my home state of Rhode Island continues to provide hurricane-force winds of grief. Here at home, I and many Rhode Islanders were spared the worst, but some 20,000 in the Ocean State are still without power and many have lost homes. Elsewhere in the Northeast and around New Jersey’s ground zero, the amount of loss and human suffering is suffocating.

The question being bandied about now, of course—as it was even before the storm made landfall—is if Sandy is a symptom of things to come. Is this the new normal? Was Sandy made bigger, odder, and more powerful because of more moisture and heat in an altered atmosphere?

I’ve noted before that weather is not climate, so to say that Sandy was caused by climate change isn’t appropriate. But then, storms like Sandy do fit a profile of weather in an age of climate change—and, if so, the impact on human beings is something that Catholic ecologists, and all those of good will, cannot ignore.

And so a few thoughts:

From a visceral vantage—and as foolish as this will sound—as I watched images of a flooded New York City, I could not help but think of the motion picture The Day After Tomorrow. That 2004 movie was certainly more amusement than science. But something of the tone of the movie affected me in similar ways as when I witnessed the reality of this past week. Perhaps I am attracted too much to blockbuster dramatics, but The Day After Tomorrow (and here, the trailer) engenders a few similar, primordial feelings as did the real world in the wake of Sandy.

My more rational side was startled by how the flood maps of post-Sandy Manhattan looked much like surge-projection maps of Rhode Island shores, which were produced for an in-house training on sea-level rise and climate change.

That all said, voices have already been heard telling us that man must retreat from the shores. I will not say they do not have a point. In places in Rhode Island, what was property last week is now a beach, which begs the question, how do communities allow a family to build in what is now the mean high-tide level? Still, telling people to adhere to new coastal realities is easier said than done—especially when real people with real attachments to their homes, neighborhoods, and livelihoods haven’t quite absorbed the losses they’ve just been dealt. Perhaps the environmental prophets among us might wait a bit and use the time to find charitable ways of saying what others might be processing but are not willing to admit: Sandy will have sisters and brothers.

To have such a storm hit the week before a much-debated presidential election has many wondering about Sandy’s impacts to the political landscape. All I wish to repeat is that the Republicans will be hurt—and are being hurt—by their anti-ecological platform. While I will be voting for Mitt Romney because of the foundational issue of human life, his stance on climate change and environmental regulations could certainly cost him a few electoral votes—especially from battleground states like Ohio that have many voters angry over the effects of fracking.

The most important thing to say now—especially on this Feast of All Saints—is that we must pray for and give to those in need. Per St. Paul, debates about climate change and Frankenstorms can amount to nothing but the noise of resounding gongs and clashing symbols if we do not have love.

In the days and years to come, Catholics who teach ecological truths would do well to reflect on and keep close the words that St. Paul wrote to the seaport city of Corinth. His words—rooted in the truth of the Risen Christ—are crucial if we are to create a climate of truth, faith, hope, and an authentic love of neighbor:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Of these words, I think these especially must be the motto of Catholic ecologists, especially when faced with growing, deadly empirical evidence of climate change: love does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

May we, too, rejoice not in the sufferings of others because it proves our theories, but in the truth that will help us all understand and adapt to what is changing around us. Indeed, we must rejoice in seeking truth together about new ways to build our communities, to work, and to consume so that, in protecting the globe, those not yet born may not have to struggle to describe increasingly hostile weather.

1 comment:

  1. Charles Richard Patenaude, Jr.November 2, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    While I agree with much of what is stated here, I must also say, with all due respect, that I believe that one must not vote for a candidate, especially for the office of President of the United States, on one issue..and one issue only. One must consider ALL the issues presided by both sides. There is good and bad on both sides of the ticket. I do have my 'reservations' regarding abortion, but I will not vote pro-life and sell climate change, the economy, help to the poor and gay rights down the river over one issue and one issue only. I will be voting for President Obama. (Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.)


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