Once upon a time people believed the earth was flat; that you could sail to the edge of the sea and fall off. But scientists discovered the earth was round. Brave men like Christopher Columbus who believed the scientists ventured into the unknown and discovered a whole new world. Scientists have continued to learn how this world works and brave men have continued to venture into new territory that scientists have discovered. In 1961 and the years following some of these brave men ventured into orbit. For the first time humanity could see the truth that scientists had taught: the earth really was round.
Once upon a time people believed that only the gods controlled the forces of Nature. That if you wanted the sun to shine, the rain to fall, and the harvests to be plentiful you had to sacrifice to multiple deities. That the large bones in the rocks were those of giant humans, trolls, and dragons. As scientists dug down and began to uncover layer by layer, piece together bone to bone, they began to discover a time when the world was very different than what we see now. They discovered that the earth went through very warm times and very cold times. That biological development flourished and changed corresponding to cycles of warmth and cold. And that there were times of rapid change when many species went extinct. When the scientists looked closely at the evidence, they found instead of giants, trolls and dragons, six time periods of flourishing life, each period dominated by species of a more sophisticated biology, each time period ending in the mass extinctions of life and variety. Each time period except for the last flourishing, our time period.
Our time period has been one of learning how the world works. Scientists have applied reason and new tools to understanding the forces of Nature. They discovered how they could predict solar and lunar eclipses, sun spots, and that adding carbon dioxide from fossil fuels to the atmosphere would change how warm the planet was. They learned to harness the forces of electricity and magnetism and put them to work predicting the weather. And in 1961 scientists and astronauts over came the force of gravity and began exploring space, first with men on the moon, later with satellites in orbit and flung to the far reaches of the solar system.
Once upon a time people used to use the planets moving amongst the constellations to predict their future. Scientists in their quest to understand the natural forces and expand their knowledge of how the world works to how the universe works, ventured into the unknown with satellites and discovered that the round blue earth is most likely the sole oasis of life in the solar system. They discovered that the morning star, otherwise known as the planet Venus, was a carbon dioxide induced oven. They found that planet Mars, on the other hand, had a scarcity of carbon dioxide which led to large polar ice caps. Each planet or moon was either too warm or too cold for life as we know it. The guiding morning star that navigators used to use to chart their way to the new world now guided scientists to new realizations about the future of the earth. When scientists looked back at home they realized that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was critical to the thriving of life and that we were changing those levels quickly without thought of our future or the future of life on this planet.
For the first time in the history of life, life was witnessing the earth's climate changing. Scientists who studied the stars saw the same danger for earth as scientists who studied the rocks. Changing the carbon dioxide levels was changing the climate quickly from cool to warm; the same phenomena that caused multiple extinctions before. Scientists began to watch what happened in the fossil record play out in real time before their eyes.
For the first time in the history of life, life is forcing the climate to change. Humans are forcing extra carbon dioxide into the air by burning fossil fuels. With increasing carbon dioxide, weather is becoming more extreme. Times of extreme heat heat are becoming more frequent. The times between rain are becoming longer and less seasonable. When rain does fall, it comes in greater quantities. And the storms that bring the rain are becoming more violent. As the earth's average temperature increases, dry places are becoming more dry, wet places are becoming more wet, and frozen places are thawing. There is no precedent for how quickly humans are changing the climate.
While there is no precedent for how quickly humans are presently changing the climate, there is plenty of precedent for how humans have responded to the effects of past climate change. In our brief history on earth we have seen small variations in climate which have caused droughts and severe winters. These trends devastated crops and pasture lands upon which we have been so dependent. As a result there were mass migrations, increased conflict, starvation, and epidemics. Since the last climate variation the human population has expanded exponentially, our weapons have become more deadly, our borders more rigid, and our food distribution more inequitable. The potential for deadly conflict and suffering has multiplied.
Our vulnerability to climate change has increased as well. Large populations live in areas that potentially will be covered when ice from glaciers, Greenland, and Antarctica melt. We are reducing and polluting our water reservoirs both on the surface and underground that could help us manage long dry spells. We have destroyed many wetlands that are nurseries for sea life and protect in-land fields from tidal surges that come with the more frequent and intense storms.
Our food supply is vulnerable to climate change because we have applied industrial methods to such a degree that we have depleted the earth's ability to produce thus putting at risk that which we have worked so hard to provide. We have over fished the seas, over grazed our pastures, our soils have eroded away from our fields, our fertilizers have contaminated our water ways and have created dead zones in the sea, our herbicides and pesticides affect our own health while at the same time contributing to evolutionary processes that are creating super bugs and super weeds able to withstand our lethal soup. The vast expanses of a single crop are a highway of food to new chemically resistant plagues and pestilence. Even without climate change our food supply is vulnerable. With it, the potential for crop failure and suffering has multiplied to become a certainty.
At the heart of our forced climate change is our economic system. The economic system that sent explorers to the new world and men to the moon, is the same system that is burning fossil fuels and forcing our climate to change. The globalization that began in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue is the same globalization that creates large world wide monopolies; large monopolies which are inflexible to change and reduce citizens' options; large monopolies which control prices, wages, and politicians; large monopolies which cannot survive without tax advantages and subsidized fossil fuels.
At the heart of our economic system is a marketing engine that leaves us dissatisfied with what we have and who we are. We have been lead to believe that there is something better just over the horizon and in our drive to get to the promised land we leave behind a wake of destruction and debris. And because we do not value what we have, we risk falling off the edge of the world and loosing it all in a global catastrophe that threatens every life on this planet.
This earth is the promised land, an oasis of life light years from any other possibility. We have eaten from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and are witnessing our own fall. We have made ourselves into gods controlling the forces of nature. But we are gods full of pride and greed, bringing about our own self destruction. Our only hope is to humble ourselves before the Creator of the universe, the one eternal god who made everything and seek forgiveness. We must repent of our ingratitude and begin caring for all of his creation. We must use the good we have learned to build places of grace for every kind of creature; sanctuaries that are resilient to catastrophic climate change. We must return our planet to being an ark of life amongst the planets. We must open our arms wide to embrace the weakest members of society. Only then we will become resilient to Siren call of marketing that drives us to our destruction. And only in that embrace we will we find the love and forgiveness and healing our hearts seek. In that embrace we will become a whole people and whole planet.
If we have the courage to become humble and change, we will be embraced by our Creator. If our hearts become full of thankfulness and our hands become generous, we will become secure in the future uncertainty. And if we give grace, we will become a holy people in a Promised Land.