"Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment, and damages society."
Caritas in Veritate, June 2009.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Warmer climates, bigger blizzards, more suffering.
It's all about the timing.
On Thursday, my diocesan newspaper ran my column on climate change and what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as “the energy problem” (Caritas in Veritate, §49). In the column, I implore my fellow Catholics—clergy and laity—to heed the science and embrace the moral implications of a warmer climate.
The next day, the Blizzard of 2013 hit Rhode Island. As I write this on the night after the storm,
many thousands in my state and many more
thousands across New England are without
power—and the temperatures tonight will hover around ten degrees Fahrenheit.
For critics of the science of climate change—most especially
non-scientists—this blizzard and bitter cold offer proof against the
theories of a warmer globe. Their logic is similar to that of Christianity’s
critics, who point to perfectly happy, healthy, wealthy, attractive atheists to
demonstrate that one does not need God to live well.
In both cases, people miss the point. And they see only
what they wish to see.
Science tells us that the atmosphere now holds greater amounts of thermal energy because of the presence additional
heat-retaining “greenhouse” gases, like carbon dioxide, which comes from burning fossil fuels and other factors. This retention of thermal energy will only increase as we pump more carbon into the atmosphere. This does not imply
that the planet will never again see temperatures below the freezing point of water. But it does mean is that the atmosphere will (and does) hold more energy and
moisture—which both have to go somewhere.
As seen below, the Blizzard of 2013 shows that when tropical systems of
wet, warm air intersect with very cold arctic air, the resulting “bombogenesis”
(yes, that’s a meteorological word) creates strong winter storms that release
the tropical moisture in intense bands of snow. Likewise, the tropical thermal
energy breaks free as it collides with colder air. This creates high,
There’s more, I’m sure. Please share any resources that you
know of in the comments below.
For now, as those of us with electricity and heat read these
reports, let us pause and pray for those in the dark bitter chill of New England—those who wait in anguish as crews restore main
distribution lines that went down in last night’s storm. And indeed for all
those affected everywhere by more powerful storms, let us pray this prayer, adapted from a prayer for bad weather.
Father, all the elements of nature obey your command. Calm
the storms that threaten us and turn our fear of your power into praise of your
goodness. Protect and bless all those suffering from the effects of storms and bless
and strengthen all workers struggling to restore power, light, heat, and hope. Grant
this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
UPDATE: Here's what the blizzard looked like as it began moving off shore early Saturday.