Spring is a time of rebirth, renewed vitality and hope reborn, especially for the gardeners amongst us. Nothing can revive one’s spirit more than seeing the greening of the Earth, especially after two years of COVID-19.
Nowadays, however, sustaining hope is a tough challenge. Droughts, floods, forest fires, heat waves that kill hundreds — these extreme weather events make all too real what climate change actually means. Meanwhile, like a battering ram, a stream of expert reports underscores the urgency of the climate crisis. By now our eyes almost glaze over at the litany of doom.
Yet a line in one recent report, by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, caught my eye:
Today’s children who may still be alive in the year 2100 are going to experience four times more climate extremes than they do now, even with only a few more tenths of a degree of warming over today’s heat. But if temperatures increase nearly 2 C from now, they would feel five times the floods, storms, drought and heat waves.
This warning was anything but abstract to me, and likely to you as well. I thought of the world to be inherited by my daughter and children she may have.
In her recent course Eco-Anxiety and Biblical Wisdom, theologian Sylvia Keesmaat asked, “What is it to walk forward into the future with grief in one hand, and possibility in the other, and to live within that tension?”
It’s a question that calls to all of us. We can start looking for answers in the roots of our faith. In her course, Dr. Keesmaat underscored how the biblical story is wrapped up with our care or abuse of the Earth. This is vibrantly apparent in The Green Bible, an NRSV Bible translation in which all the references in Scripture referring to the natural world are printed in green ink — and there are an amazing number of them! We tend to forget that God chose to place the first humans in a garden, “to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for a gardener. Just an accident? New Testament scholar N.T. Wright thinks not. In John for Everyone, he writes, “This is the new creation. Jesus is the beginning of itº the new Adam, the gardener, charged with bringing the chaos of God’s creationº into fruitfulnesss.”
Another important step is to learn to love that piece of creation where we live. We can learn — and tell our children and grandchildren — about local birds, plants, trees and flowers, and spend more time outdoors enjoying nature with them. Falling in love with God’s magnificent creation has never been more vital. In our conversations with the younger generation, we can weave in information about the challenges we face and action ideas. In Peterborough County and the Kawarthas, where I live, populations of some birds such as Canada Jays have declined sharply as a result of climate change, says naturalist and author Drew Monkman. Meanwhile, the number of very hot days (over 30 C) has increased from an average of 14 each year in the 1990s to 25 or more in recent years.
It’s easy to feel despondent about the fate of the Earth. When I find myself feeling that way, I cast my mind back to my childhood in Halifax. For over 250 years, residents and businesses dumped raw sewage into Halifax harbour, so that on some days, this pollution meant that my friends and I couldn’t swim at a local beach. “It’s contaminated,” we were told, as if that sad situation resulted from some immutable law. Finally, about 15 years ago, the sewage was cleared up. “There was no political will (before),” a resident told The Globe and Mail when the cleanup deal was reached. “The only reason we got the cleanup is because of the citizens (who) kept the pressure on.” Thus pushing for action by government and industry is another key message for our children and ourselves.
All over the world, children and youth are leading the way in demanding the radical changes needed to protect creation. As I write this, youthful climate advocates are organizing a rally through the global “Fridays for the Future” climate change movement. Led by activists as young as age nine, Peterborough’s rally will encourage elementary school students to take action.
The hour is late. Can we change course in time?