We humans have always been fascinated by the possibility of changing the weather.
Nearly every ancient civilization had weather gods — the Romans, Greeks, Aztecs, Maori and Canaanites. Sacrifices were offered to fertility gods to bring rain and harvest. Even the early church gets in on this, celebrating an ancient prophet who could control the weather through prayer. (James 5:17)
But we can’t actually do that, can we? We can’t change the climate!
There’s open debate today about the possibility of human-generated climate change. Which sounds like a preposterous idea; as preposterous as gods in the sky who reward us with rain when we placate them with treats.
So let’s set that question aside and ask ourselves a smaller question, “What are some examples of human impact on the environment?” How have we changed the planet we live on?
Here’s a small list of examples through history.
- Anyone ready to visit Chernobyl or Fukushima? Or grow tomatoes again in Palomares, Spain?
- Seeding clouds to produce rain (Yes, we actually do this. Remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics?)
- How about a tasty drink from the dangerously contaminated Detroit River?
- Live in a city? Yeah, it’s hotter there because cities are urban heat islands
- Light pollution can be seen from space
- We once removed all the wolves from Yellowstone, and changed its landscape
- Remember the hole in the ozone from our addiction to chlorofluorocarbons? Yea, we created then later reduced that.
- Ever seen The Grapes of Wrath? The dust bowl was created then stopped by farming practices
- How about a passenger pigeon, ever seen one of those? No one has since we purposefully wiped them out in 1914
- Vietnam is suffering historic drought from upstream dams
- Oh, speaking of Vietnam, remember the time we used Agent Orange to burn down forests the size of Maryland?
- Did you know Houston has an Air Quality Index and sometimes demands all school students remain indoors?
- Excessively high cancer rates in Fallujah due to American use of depleted uranium in our weapons.
- Species extinction of large mammals by colonists in Indigenous lands
- Remember the time we bred Chihuahuas from wolves? Sure, it took a couple thousand decades. But Chihuahuas — from wolves!
- The 2010 BP Oil spill in the Gulf. Shrimp and crabs have still barely come back from the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska 27 years ago
- And let’s not overlook Houston’s annual problem with 100 year floods; done in part by development and paving prairies.
Yes, these are staggering and unquestionably observable examples of the profound impact that humans have had on environments.
But certainly we can’t change the climate, right? We don’t have the power of the gods or the prayers of Elijah, do we?
The climate is just another part of our environment — like air, water, land and living organisms. All of which we’ve totally messed up! How on earth can we draw an artificial line between air and stronger winds, water and more or less rain, radiation and higher temperatures? If the actions of the few could do the amount of damage in those examples, it seems likely to me that the actions of many have changed the climate.
I’m profoundly aware God didn’t stop us from doing those horrible things. And both my theology and my science lead me to believe s/he won’t stop us from even greater harm.
Texas Monthly magazine says, “Texas Tech’s Katharine Hayhoe is one of the most respected experts on global warming in the country. She’s also an evangelical Christian who is trying to connect with the very people who most doubt her research. Too bad the temperature keeps rising.” Read her story here.
This one’s on us. And it’s up to us to fix it. That to me is why this is such a profoundly Christian issue, and why World Environment Day is such a deeply Christian holiday.
Let’s get after it. After all, our neighbor depends on our creation care.
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church: The Church of the Sermon on the Mount and writes at blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared. He tweets @thepeacepastor and is on Facebook.