Saturday, February 5, 2011

What about Global Warming?

While dealing with controversial matters, such as gun control last time, here is another subject worth considering: what should we think, and do, about global warming?
The other night I listened again to the Mark Levin Show on my way home from Kansas City. Among other things, Levin (b. 1957) made fun of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for having to close early and open late recently after a heavy snowfall in Washington, D.C.
The EPA, as you know, is the government agency that deals with various environmental matters, including climate change. But Levin was positive that the recent D.C. snowstorm was a clear indication that there’s no such thing as global warming. He charged that the endeavor to reduce greenhouse gases and other environment-friendly activities are just part of “the leftist agenda,” which is pursued regardless of what we are experiencing.
Levin even went so far as to say he was forming a group called Americans for Carbon Dioxide. Why? "If we can warm up the world some," he said, “it’ll reduce our use of fossil fuels” and also it will help those who are “suffering through the snowiest January in history” (which seems to have been the case for New York).
More recently, there has been a huge snow storm/blizzard move across the nation. So many people, no doubt, think this is a strange time to talk about global warming. But that is not necessarily so.
According to the National Climatic Data Center, “the 2010 Northern Hemisphere combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the warmest year on record.” And according to the National Geographic website, “Scientists now believe that most of the planet’s warming in the last few decades has been due to our emissions of greenhouse gases [mainly carbon dioxide].” 
(The National Geographic Society is one of the largest non-profit scientific and educational institutions in the world. It was founded in 1888 and now has about 8.5 million members. Its motto is “Inspiring people to care about the planet.” I have long liked the National Geographic magazine, and now I am particularly interested in the work done at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., as my oldest granddaughter is a fulltime employee there.)
I don’t know about you, but I am more inclined to believe what I hear from the EPA, National Geographic Society, and the World Health Organization (WHO) than from a ranting talk-radio host such as Mr. Levin.
But why bring up this topic of global warming? Why is it so important? Here is just one very important reason: the WHO says, “The global warming that has occurred since the 1970s was causing over 140,000 excess deaths annually by the year 2004.” At this point, most of those deaths are in the poorer countries of the world, but should be not be concerned about them?
People like Mark Levin may make fun of the problem and say it is just part of the “liberal agenda” and so is of no concern. But global warming is not only a political issue. It is a human issue, a matter of life and death. And it will, unfortunately, likely become more and more of a life and death issue in the years ahead.


  1. Back when Coca Cola capitalized on a series of ads anthropomorphizing polar bears drinking cokes after a hard day in their winter playground, I wrote this seemingly dated poem.

    Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?

    Did Coca-Cola know
    something we didn’t know
    when they launched
    their polar bear ad campaign,
    happy bears savoring

    the refreshing taste of bubbly
    Cokes after a day on the slopes?
    Was their subliminal message
    Al Gore’s global warning,
    threat to Arctic playgrounds,

    bears forgoing juicy seals
    for commercial handouts,
    environmentalists buying ice
    chests for the Arctic
    like so many bird feeders

    in urban yards? Were
    those bears duped by the sound
    of effervescent fizz? Acoustical
    disorientation, not unlike
    the distortion of their inner

    extensometers when they first
    caught the high frequency
    of greenhouse emissions, heard
    what they did not understand
    of the drought of seals.

  2. I am pleased that Rosanne shared her intriguing poem with us.

    Also, I received this e-mail from a Thinking Friend:

    "Funny you should mention this. Yesterday afternoon I listened to 'Science Friday' on NPR. There, they had a segment on global warming. They interviewed Kerry Emanuel, a Professor of Atmospheric Science at M.I.T. (and an avowed Republican).

    "Emanuel had nothing good to say about those who deny global warming, and much evidence to support his position.

    Here is the URL:"

  3. Global warming deniers are so stuck in the American snow that they have missed the ecological disasters striking Australia, most recently a storm more powerful than Katrina. However, a whole long list of issues are in denial, from evolution to Obama's birth in Hawaii.

    If, as I suspect most readers of this blog agree, global warming is real, an especially strange case of denial is in the fate of New Orleans. America is pouring billions of dollars into rebuilding the failed levees of New Orleans, as if an engineering fix will ultimately do any good. All the levees are doing is trying to get New Orleans back to level 3 hurricane protection, while the hurricane scale goes up to 5. Indeed, the Pacific storm that hit Australia would have been a level 5 hurricane if it had slammed into New Orleans instead. Also, the city is literally built on proverbial sinking sand. So now we add in the rising oceans forecast by global warming. We should be trying to save Baton Rouge instead!

    Denial is such an universal human characteristic. Perhaps we should all just sit down in sackcloth and ashes, and start over. We have stressed out our environment, over-populated the earth, created a financial system that just blew up in our faces, and may well again, and tolerated a world political system that is incredibly dysfunctional. Which takes us to the incredible people of Egypt who are trying desperately to set their corner of that system aright. So what excuse have we, not to do the same?

  4. My esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky, who to our benefit makes a brief comment on almost every posting, wrote in an e-mail,

    "Levin and his ilk seem to think that anything they say is okay, but people who listen to talk radio aren't very discriminating, so that makes what happens there dangerous. I'm glad you are speaking out."

  5. By far the predominant greenhouse gas is and always has been water vapor on this planet.

    To look at the science of climatology one should seriously consider all of the current models, theories and hypotheses (there are several - including a new one I just saw last month involving the magnetosphere). Good science and method is needed rather pet or political theories. Don't dismiss any until they are disproven.

  6. Very interesting reading your posts on GW...
    also your friends posts..
    what happened in your life Leroy that turned you to LIBERAL so-called Christianity? do you belive in the word of God today? is it just a story ? Is God Dead in your heart ? what is your view of teaching we had from Dr. Dowdy @ SW
    you are a LOOONG way from his belief system as I read... What about the second coming of JESUS?
    your Quote "I have no doubt that the earth will still be here in 2100, but what about the human race? Will there be a U.S. presidential election that year? Will the Summer Olympics be held? Will there be as much resemblance between 2100 and 2000 as there was between 2000 and 1900? " can you not see that this world is on a
    slippery slope ? the prophecy of last days has NOTHING about the USA in it !! it will be run over and gone during the Trib. or do you not believe that will be?? IF we ever meet face to face I would like you to tell me what changed you !! You never stood up in class a denied the scriptures a SW!!I pray for you, we do not have a lot of years left in this world, we may not SEE JESUS in the clouds as living persons BUT WE WILL see him as the dead in CHRIST rise FIRST
    What does IN CHRIST really mean to us????

  7. You’ll get no argument from me on global warming (or the less threatening “climate change”) as a crucial issue for humanity today. But I wanted to hear more; I wanted you to take that next step: the theological reflection. As you said, “global warming is not only a political issue.” It is also a theological issue. I think everyone who calls this planet home has an ethical responsibility to do their part to reduce their environmental impact, their “carbon footprint.” But people of faith are imbued with a special call to be good stewards of God’s creation. Even a cursory reading of the creation stories makes it abundantly clear that humanity is entrusted to “keep” (Gen. 2.15)—-to preserve or maintain; to watch over and defend; to take care of, to tend; to maintain in a good, fitting, or orderly condition—-all that God created.

    My aside rant: Why are self-described evangelicals and conservative Christians so hesitant to champion environmental justice as a biblical imperative? Understanding humanity’s responsibility for all that God created does not require any hermeneutical gymnastics; both creation narratives are rather straightforward on that point. Even the literalists should get it, although I guess from that perspective, God’s intention there is only directed [literally] to one man (as, in Genesis 2, Eve hasn’t been created yet). I suppose that let’s everyone else off the hook, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, as I reflect on human responsibility and creation, I am drawn to some of the texts on theo-ecology; personally, I am reminded of Rosemary Radford Ruether’s _Gaia and God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing_ (1992). After considering the creation stories, she next considers the “religious narratives of world destruction” (flood stories, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic stories) and then the “new narratives of world destruction.” Here she moves much closer to a consideration of “global warming.” [She doesn’t use this term. Though the term was coined in 1975 by Wallace Broecker, it still was not commonplace in 1992 when _Gaia and God_ was published. She does, however, use the phrase “climate changes” though not in the same way we use “climate change” today as a prescribed dynamic.]

    Reuther discusses some modern realities (“new narratives”) of our “actual destructiveness of the earth and its beings.” She looks at: (a) population growth and poverty; (b) food production and feeding the human population; (c) energy, climate, and pollution [here she most directly addresses climate change]; (d) species extinction; and, (e) militarism and war. These are “accumulating crises” and they are “interconnected” for Reuther; I think a stronger case, however, should be made for the interstructured impact each of these has on the other. Each is contributing to a vicious cycle, perpetuating and worsening the other.

    These crises are all dynamics directly affecting global warming; they are social determinants of climate change. From a social perspective, each, at its core, addresses sustainability. From a pastoral perspective, each, at its core, is about relationality. Each is a crisis of relationship—-relations between and among humans, relations between humanity and God, and the relations between humanity and creation. Thus, each is a deeply theological crisis.


  8. (continued)

    As I consider Reuther’s list (which I am connecting directly to her “narrative of ‘world destruction’” via global warming) from a social perspective, I feel myself somewhere on the spectrum between intimidated and overwhelmed. It is a daunting task to consider a solution—or solutions—to such reciprocating problems. How can I make an impact on population growth? [Okay, that one’s actually pretty easy for me!] But how can I realistically affect food consumption or the global transport of certain meats, fruits, and vegetables? Or our dependence on fossil fuels? Or the deforestation of the rain forests? Or “preemptive” wars in the Middle East and South Asia? Ugh!

    But as I consider these crises from a pastoral perspective, I find myself much more hopeful. For if each is grounded in relationships, then I can affect change. I can take seriously the beatitudes and the commandment to love one another and be intentional in my relationships with “the poor” and those with substandard living conditions. I can be (and am) intentional in addressing locally the concerns of the illiterate, the malnourished, the chronically ill and those without access to medical care… thus impacting poverty and its negative impact on sustainability and, ultimately, the environment. I can be intentional in how I relate to others in ways that impact each of these crises and, ultimately, the environment.

    [In this regard, I think the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is on to something with the “Climate Change Justice and Health Initiative.” They make a direct connection between environmental health and personal health, including issues of access to food and food sustainability, for example, and the larger issue of global climate change. See _Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good_, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2001) and their initiative’s website, “Faithful Stewards of God's Creation: A Catholic Resource for Environmental Justice and Climate Change” at: ]

    Yes, there are tangible, practical things I can do in my daily life which will impact my lifestyle but will also impact my “carbon footprint.” [I like to think I’m already doing a pretty good job there.] But, more importantly, I am learning there are relational things I can do which will have a bigger impact. How I choose to be in relationship with others isn’t single-handedly going to reverse the ecological and environmental damage we’ve witnessed for the past 50+ years (per the graph on Leroy’s blog); I’m not quite that naïve. But as a pastoral theologian, if I am right in how I read the eco-theology of Reuther and others as primarily a relational concern, then I can make a positive impact—albeit a small one—in how I choose to be in relation with all of God’s creation. [Reuther ultimately argues for covenantal and sacramental traditions as ways to affect the “healing” of the planet; her language of covenantal “right relations” would correspond to my use of a relational pastoral theology.]

    This may sound Pollyannaish, but what is the alternative? To do nothing? No.