[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori opens the May 1-2 “Sustaining hope in the face of climate change” gathering in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Episcopal Church and the Church of Sweden. The full text of her statement follows.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
The idea of changing climate elicits grief in many people, as well it should. That grief finds expression in many of the classic ways that we respond to all kinds of loss. Some simply can’t imagine that it’s real – and there are still more than a few climate deniers out there. Some try to find someone to blame, or shift it away from themselves: they say things like: ‘A bunch of crooked scientists cooked this up to keep themselves in research funds’ or, ‘It’s not my fault, and I will not be responsible!’ Some people are angry enough at the very idea that we might all share some responsibility that they flaunt their wastefulness or charge others with political manipulation of the media. And some get so depressed that they simply leave the conversation – ‘there’s nothing I can do, so why should I try?’
People of faith know another response, particularly in this Easter season.
The evidence of climate change due to human behavior is quite literally undeniable. And the evidence leads to models and predictions which are becoming clearer about the extent of the impact we are likely to experience.
Atmospheric warming is leading to greater variability in climate as well as more extreme climatic events. Floods and drought will continue to become more common, and storms more intense. We will see more wildfires, rain-induced floods, heat waves, and tidal surges. Water for drinking and irrigation will be in short supply in areas that used to have plenty. Aquifers will be depleted. Food crops will become more difficult to grow in areas of historic cultivation. We will see disease outbreaks in human beings and in food crops as environmental stress increases. Disease organisms are likely to migrate toward the poles as temperatures rise, and naïve, unexposed populations will be newly affected – malaria and their mosquito vectors are a good example. The lack of resistance will mean higher death and debility rates in human beings, livestock, and cereal crops. Large numbers of species will become extinct – a trend we can already see developing – and the reduction in diversity will mean both lower ecosystem resilience and greater outbreaks of weedy or opportunistic species.
The oceans are already experiencing the effects of increased atmospheric carbon. Acidification from dissolved CO2 is straining the ability of organisms to lay down carbonate shells and skeletal structures – corals and many planktonic organisms, in particular. They are often significant primary producers at the base of the food chain; and as a result, we will see reduced fisheries productivity, as well as stressed and shrinking populations of sea birds and mammals.
Can you hear the hoofbeats of the four horsemen of the apocalypse? We know that famine, drought, and pestilence often lead to conflict and war. The ensuing death and destruction are immense and tragic. We have choices in the face of the doom and gloom before us. We can choose to ignore those hoofbeats, or we can remember who we are, whose we are, and why we are here. Our shared credo affirms that we are children of God, made in God’s image, and created for right relationship with God, one another, and all creation.
Those horsemen are driven by the ancient demons of individualism, materialism, and selfishness – what today we often call consumerism. All of them feed on a self-focused fear of scarcity. The beasts of war can become vehicles of peace and justice when we ride to the aid of another, remembering that we belong to one another. We do not exist alone; ultimately we will all thrive or die together. The stuff that so many of us are so urgently accumulating will not save us, make us whole, or heal the emptiness within us. The stuff that consumes us will eventually also consume many of the other parts of creation – and quite literally burn it to a crisp.
The developed world’s drive to consume more and more diminishes our own lives – even at the level of the time and energy we put into finding stuff to buy or working to pay for it. It soon becomes time stolen from the possibility of healing, like the time that could be spent building deep and meaningful friendships with God and neighbor. Each consumptive act puts more carbon into the atmosphere as factories and engines churn out commodities to be bought and sold.
Yet people of faith know another response than futility, particularly in the face of Easter resurrection. There is still enough health in us to remember that we are claimed by one who reminds us that we do not live by bread alone. We are made whole in loving God and neighbor and not ourselves alone.
We are gathered here today and tomorrow to learn about the realities of climate change, and to discover ways we can ride to the aid of others, responding to the disaster already emerging.
Christ is risen, and the body of Christ is being raised and inspired, God-breathed, to become leaven and spirit in the world around us. There is indeed abundant hope that the body of God’s creation might also rise – renewed, redeemed, and made whole. May we be made Christ’s passion, God’s hands, and Spirit’s breath to make it so.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!