Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ringing the bell: Sounding the alarm on climate change

On Sunday, we joined a world-wide effort to bring attention to the issue of global warming. After our worship, we rang our bell 350 times (well, more than that -- a lot of people wanted to ring the bell). The photos on this page were taken by Dudley Rochester -- thanks Dudley!

Our Green Team created a mural the length of the church nave with photographs of the earth "our fragile island home," interspersed with biblical verses and prayers.

We asked parishioners to file past the mural silently, in prayer, before going to the narthex to ring the bell. Many, many did -- and it was a powerful experience.

Meanwhile, in the parish hall, we asked people to write letters to our elected leaders expressing concern about climate change. We did not endorse any specific legislation, and we did not seek to engage in a scientific debate.

What we ask is that all of us take seriously our responsibilities as stewards of the earth, and that we repent collectively of the collective sin we bear for polluting this good earth. And we ask that our repentance include actions individually and as a community to save the earth, including urging our elected leaders to act with wisdom and regard for the whole earth, and not act out of greed or short-term economic or political gain.

We got a fair amount of attention. St. Paul's was the subject of a front-page story Saturday in the Charlottesville Daily Progress, which you can read by clicking HERE. One of our local television stations also covered the event.

I've been asked about why the church is involved in what looks like a political issue. It is true, climate change is a loaded political issue, with Democrats, Republicans and various other interests looking to score points, raise campaign contributions, and not necessarily do anything constructive. It feels as if there is nothing very Godly about any of it.

It is precisely into those places we are called to go as people of faith.

The church from time-to-time must make a prophetic stand to those who hold power: the leaders of the nations. This is one of those times. We share a common fate on this planet, and the Bible calls us over and over to speak the truth to those in power: God gave us this earth, it is ours for only a short time, and ours to give to our children and their children's children. We are called to leave this earth better than we found it, and so far our generation has fallen woefully short. Our calling leads us inevitably into the corridors of power.

To not speak up about the sin of global warming endangers our soul, and endangers the lives of millions who are the most vulnerable in this world.

Our stance and actions are not done alone, nor done in a vacuum. The Episcopal Church maintains an advocacy office in Washington D.C., and our church has taken a consistent stand that global warming is real and that our elected leaders need to act. You can learn more about the Episcopal Church Public Policy Network and our stand on global warming by clicking HERE.

The Anglican Communion, of which we are the one and only branch in the United States, recently issued a statement on global warming in advance of the upcoming Copenhagen meeting of world leaders on climate change. The Anglican Communion states the case powerfully:
From all points of the globe we point to the reality of climate change and to the very serious effect it is already having upon our people; from severe weather events, to prolonged droughts, major floods, loss of habitat and changing seasons. Many of our peoples no longer have access to drinkable water, many of our farmers are no longer able to grow crops, and many of our peoples suffer from diseases which in the past have not affected us in our homelands. Sadly many of our peoples are now on the move in the vain hope that they might find another place to live, given the place of their birth can no longer support them.
Our faith and our ancestors have always taught us that the earth is our mother and deserves respect; we know that this respect has not been given. We know that like a mother the earth will continue to give its all to us. However, we also know that we are now demanding more than it is able to provide. Science confirms what we already know, our human footprint is changing the face of the earth and because we come from the earth, it is changing us too. We are engaged in the process of destroying our very being. If we cannot live in harmony with the earth, we will not live in harmony with one another.

You can read the full Anglican Communion statement by clicking HERE. A summary of the Anglican statement can be found by clicking HERE.

Finally, I've been asked is recent days about where to find understandable scientific information about climate change, and how to find out what is known and unknown about the human impact on the climate. The best single source I have seen is a website maintained by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. You can see the EPA website by clicking HERE. A thumbnail from that website includes this:

What's Known

Scientists know with virtual certainty that:

  • Human activities are changing the composition of Earth's atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
  • The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
  • An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7°F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
  • The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
  • Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.

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