I came across a devastating article in the New York Times this week. The title of the article—”Postcards from a World on Fire”—is enough to arrest your attention and send cold water down your spine. The article—which is better consumed on-line than in the print edition because of the powerful visual imagery and often heartbreaking sound bites that accompany it—gives a country-by-country account of how the climate crisis impacts our lives now. It is ironic that this comprehensive documentary was released in the same week that huge tornadoes struck the American South and Midwest, killing scores and wreaking untold economic destruction.
The Times article quickly shatters two myths: first, that climate change is a future concern. The climate crisis is here and now. It has been created by humanity’s greed and indolence and it is irreversible and unescapable. We must acknowledge it and do all we can in ways large and small to slow the pace of change. We must also be aware—as in so much else—that, while we are all impacted, it is the marginalized among us who will suffer the most from its effects. A warning: reading this article from beginning to end in one sitting can be overwhelming. The problem seems so vast and so multi-faceted that there seems little we can do as individuals to stop the encroaching tide of the planet’s demise.
When I was a seminarian, part of my field education was to serve on the preaching circuit in small—mostly urban—churches that were unable to afford full-time ministers. Like my fellow students (yes, they were all “fellows” then), I developed a stock sermon that I would pull out and preach again and again. My standard fare was based on the words of the prophet Amos, “because you trample on the poor…you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine” (Amos 5:11). While the thrust of my sermon focused on economic injustice, the first line borrowed a challenge from the fledgling environmental movement: “Scientists tell us that we have about eight years before the earth runs out of resources…”
In the initial years of my ministry (remember, this was back in the early 1970’s), I began to view these words as hyperbolic. It is not that I ever regretted saying them to those small, struggling congregations; I just began to question their accuracy. Now—as the current Times article makes abundantly clear—these words formed a clear wake-up call—one that we as a people (and, mea culpa, I as an individual) have largely failed to heed.
The intent behind the Times article is that we have been like the proverbial frog in slowly boiling water. Incremental changes in temperature—literally and figuratively—have failed to capture our attention or catch our imagination. And the water in which we’ve been swimming is now close to the boiling point.
The second myth exploded in this article focuses on the worldwide nature of this phenomenon. Though it is true that the marginalized will suffer most, the country-by-country exposé illustrates that everyone is affected. Reading the article stops the heart as the impact of climate change is revealed in so many ways, from spruce trees dying in Germany to a thousand glaciers disappearing in Tajikistan to the danger of collapsing dams in China to sandstorms in Sudan and the thawing permafrost in Russia.
If there is good news in any of this, it is that scientists and journalists have stopped couching this deeply ominous news in euphemistic platitudes and have begun telling it like it is. The very last of the post cards is a video created by the Times Editorial Board (if you experience nothing else from this article, scroll to the end for this brief video. It pulls no punches and contains a call to action that admonishes, “limit the problem, mitigate the damage.” The crisis is more than any one of us—any individual, company or country—can solve alone. We must launch a global effort divorced from both national or geopolitical agendas anywhere for the survival of humankind everywhere.