Climate Change and Repentance
Living with my son Joel, I regularly get briefed on the marvels of engineering.
Joel is always reading about the construction of the tallest building in New York,
the city built on man made islands in Dubai, or the newest electronic gadget in popular science mag.
Recently Joel told me another incredible engineering feat: the Excavator 293.
It’s a bucket and wheel excavator used in strip mining that can move a football field swath of earth
three feet deep in one day.
It’s the largest land vehicle on earth, with a chassis that is over 50 yards wide.
I thought of the Excavator 293 when I heard the Gospel lesson this week:
“Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.”
Luke is quoting the prophet Isaiah here, about an engineering project of God.
At this time, the people of Israel had been had been conquered, their city and homes destroyed.
They were forced into exile, walking almost 500 miles over rutted trails to Babylon.
They had only the clothes on their backs, and many died along the way.
It was a trail of tears.
But God had a plan in mind.
After 50 years, God would bring the people back to their own land.
Only this time it would be an easy trip—
God would build a road, filling in the potholes, and taking the mountain passes.
“Every valley would be filled and the mountains made low; and the rough ways made smooth.”
Roads were good news.
By Luke’s day, however, roads had taken on another connotation.
The Romans were famous for building roads.
It allowed for the swift movement of armies and connected the parts of the far flung empire.
Roman roads revolutionized the possibilities for ‘keeping the peace’.
They were equally effective in promoting economic prosperity and sending troops to quell rebellion.
To the early Christians, roads could be good news and bad news.
I think that’s how it is with most of our technological advances.
That excavator’s ability to modify the environment is also good and bad.
It is an example of awesome engineering, but strip mining is devastating to the landscape.
Whole mountain tops are sheered off;
chemicals leach into area water sources and head waters are covered with fill;
non-native grasses replace the trees that once covered the mountain,
biodiversity plummets, and the entire ecosystem is affected.
To top it all off, the mineral typically mined in this fashion is coal, one of the dirtiest forms of energy.
Worldwide, coal supplies 30 percent of energy use and is responsible for 44% of global carbon emissions.
CO2 is the greenhouse gas responsible for what scientists have documented again and again:
our earth is warming at unprecedented levels.
This trend is changing our global weather patterns, creating increasing numbers
of superstorms and catastrophic weather events.
It’s changing our growing seasons, and making rainfall unpredictable and changing planting zones.
Even the coastlines of the continents are changing, especially in low lying or island places.
Already communities from Solomon Islands to Alaska are in the process of relocating
and according to Time magazine, some 250 million could be displaced in the next few decades
if current trends coninue.
That is why negotiators from 195 countries from around the world have been meeting in Paris this week
for climate talks.
Their goal is to cap the increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius,
which scientists believe would limit the most catastrophic consequences.
The goal of this meeting is to get countries to commit to reducing their own carbon footprint,
slowing the growth of carbon emissions overall.
This will be harder to do for countries that are in earlier stages of economic development;
it is likely there will be both private and governmental funds set aside for aiding these countries.
China became the world’s lead emission in 2007, replacing our own nation as top emitter.
In 2013, China accounted for 28% of the world’s CO2.
However, the US is the number two emitter.
We are responsible for 14% of global carbon emissions.
On a per capita basis, we top the world, each American producing 17 metric tons of CO2 a year,
compared to 6 tons for the average Chinese.
Clearly our own country needs to do its own work on this issue which affects the entire planet.
In a country where 25% of the population doesn’t believe climate change is happening,
some politicians are openly opposing the methods of co2 reduction,
and where there are seemingly more immediate dangers like terrorism and gun violence,
this is an uphill battle.
Which brings me back to the Gospel reading and the road.
The road was a metaphor for God’s salvation.
God intervened for the Israelites in Isaiah’s day, and now God was doing it again.
John the Baptist was the one who prepared the road
making crooked things straight and rough places level.
John’s engineering tool was repentance.
He called people to change their ways to get in line with God’s coming kingdom—
the new world order based on God’s saving grace that would come in Jesus.
It was an uphill battle for John, too.
Have you read what he says? We will hear it next week. But here’s a taste:
You brood of vipers! Who warned you from the wrath to come?
Bear fruits worthy of repentence! Even now the axe lies at the root of the trees
every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire!
You’d think with a presentation like that that John would be out there in the wilderness alone.
But people came to him in droves.
They heard his message of life change, and the embraced it.
They took a deep look at the way they were living their lives, and they repented,
They changed their ways.
I believe repentance is the spirit we need to bring to the issue of climate change as Christians.
Our nation has benefitted from unprecedented use of natural resources in its development.
We were able to build our economy not only on coal, but on the vast land of our nation.
Now as Christians living in the richest nation in the world, we have a responsibility
to lead the way to a more sustainable way to live and develop.
This will mean that all of us have to repent and change our ways.
Changing little things, like more efficient lightbulbs and programmable thermostats
and also changing some big things, like supporting public policies that create an economic incentive
for companies to factor caring for the environment into their bottom line.
It may be a new idea for some that Christians might lead the way to a more sustainable future
but a group called Interfaith Light and Power has been working on this for decades.
It’s an ecumenical advocacy group from many religions that shapes public policy
and educates faith communities on how to live more gently on the planet.
Our own congregation 5 years ago participated in an energy audit with other Newington houses of worship
sponsored by this group.
We made some of the recommended changes for our facility, but could still do more.
The first step in repentance is always prayer.
There is no other issue that affects all of us, no matter our political stripe,
where we live or how much money we make.
Our planet is our only home, and the science is clear—our actions are having an alarming impact.
We need to pray on this to keep it in the front of our minds when so many other world
and local problems press in.
We need to pray for the summit in Paris, and for the political will to make changes.
And as always, change begins at the local level.
We need to pray about how we as individuals, families, and communities
can reduce our carbon footprint.
We need to pray that the excellence in education and ingenuity that helped America win the space race
and develop the internet be trained on this problem.
The welfare and lives of our grandchildren is at stake.
John came proclaiming a baptism of repentance—
that life change brought salvation.
May we, like the crowds who came to John at the Jordan, repent and change our way of life
that the world might indeed be saved.