December 2, 2012
Luke 21: 25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves” (Luke 21:25).
“Another flood is coming
though not the kind you think.
There is still time to sink
– Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Junkman’s Obbligato”
In his book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough, New Planet (2010), Bill McKibben summarized the strange weather patterns of recent years: “One hundred eleven hurricanes formed in the tropical Atlantic between 1995 and 2008, a rise of 75 percent over the previous thirteen years.” He also cites the National Center for Atmospheric Research as saying that not only are the storms more frequent, they are packing a much bigger punch. In the summer of 2008 “meteorologists watched in amazement as Tropical Storm Fay crisscrossed Florida a record-breaking four times” before it broke up.
The storms are fed by a rise in sea levels, which are in turn fed by colossal melting of the Arctic ice sheet. The graph to the right shows the monthly mean sea level at Sewells Point, VA from 1928 to 2006 (Virginia Institute of Marine Science). The data speaks for itself. This year, in the space of a mere five days, from July 8 through 12, Greenland lost 97% of its surface ice sheet, a five-fold increase from the 1990s (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory) – see satellite photo, left for a “before and after”.
In the Gospel reading for this week, the Lukan author talks about signs of the End Times. The descriptions are meant to instill fear and wonder into the hearts of listeners (who, in the early Christian communities, believed that the Second Coming of Christ was at hand): “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). According to commentator Walter Wink, this is an example of Apocalyptic writing, which focuses on the “unveiling” of the final end of the earth, “Apocalyptic has abandoned hope, and looks for divine, miraculous intervention” (“Apocalypse Now?”).
According to Wink, apocalyptic writing is double-edged. On one hand, it is meant to convey finality – that the End is near and all hope in the future is lost – only God can save us now. On the other hand, apocalyptic writing has a grain of hope in it: “The positive power of apocalyptic lies in its capacity to force humanity to face threats of unimaginable proportions in order to galvanize efforts at self and social transcendence. Only such Herculean responses can actually rescue people from the threat and make possible the continuation of humanity on the other side” (ibid.)
Perhaps now is the time for a good dose of apocalypse. As I write this, 200 countries have assembled in oil-rich Doha, Qatar, to discuss solutions to the problem of Climate Change. Already, there is frustration. Christiana Figueres, one of the principal organizers of the talks, says ““I don’t see as much public interest for governments to take on more ambitious and more courageous decisions.” Without a conviction that the life of the planet is at stake – which it is – there will be no action in the immediate future. Based on the mounting evidence, the time for apocalypse is here. If we wait until it is convenient to talk about Climate Change, until everyone is in agreement that Climate Change exists, it will be too late. It may already be too late.
Some outrageous solutions for the delegates in Doha (and the citizens of their countries) to contemplate might be:
1) Cease all wars immediately.
2) Forgive all Third World debt.
3) Channel the “peace dividend” into the international Green Climate Fund.
4) Make preservation of Creation a central government priority at all levels.
Yes, these solutions are impractical and apocalyptic. Then again, so is life on an extreme planet of storms, droughts (see “Wake Up, All Creation is Groaning”) and floods.