Early in January, I took my kids to our local indoor ice rink to skate. The place was packed, and people were frustrated. All too soon we were shooed off the ice to make way for an afternoon hockey game. The one-hour public skate was clearly not enough to meet the community’s need. It wasn’t until we got home that we realized the rink was packed because nobody was able to skate outside.
In our part of the world, it’s not uncommon for a park to have an outdoor ice sheet; for families to flood a part of their yard; or for frozen ponds to be a pressed into service as hockey rinks.
This year, none of that has worked. It simply hasn’t been cold enough. Now we rely on refrigeration.
When a river floods that doesn’t flood very often, when a forest burns hotter or more quickly than expected, when a storm brings more wind and rain than usual, when a drought doesn’t seem to end, when ponds don’t freeze, we ask, “Is this climate change?” And inevitably the meteorologists stumble and stammer and try to explain concepts that don’t fit into sound bites.
The meteorologists know that people want a definitive answer, even though it’s not possible to attribute individual weather events to climate change. People want an answer because the want to muster more support for their politics. The story of climate change in Anglophone North America is a story of disagreement and partisanship.
Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian climate scientist living in Texas, often explains the impact of climate change on the weather by saying that it’s like playing with unfair dice. In the board game of weather and life, we’re now more likely to roll harmful numbers.
The UK-based website Carbon Brief has a useful map that links severe weather events around the world to formal studies exploring the relationship of these events to climate change. Zoom in on North America and you’ll see references to the British Columbia floods of 2021, the rains from Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019, the Alberta wildfires of 2016, the many California wildfires in recent decades, the relatively recent reduction in the flow of the Colorado River, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and many, many other devastating weather events.
When we put it all together, it’s clear that the dice are not rolling like they once did. The weather in North America is more charged with extremes. We’re losing more than traditions like outdoor skating.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed more than a dozen Christian leaders to find out what barriers were preventing their communities from doing more to care for God’s creation. A few said their community didn’t see the connection between caring for people and caring for their natural home. A few said that, with declining church participation, they didn’t have the energy or the resources to take on anything new. What almost all of them said, however, was that caring for creation was seen as a divisive political issue.
Climate change is impacting our world, but many leaders are hesitant to get engaged.
Part of the reason creation care, including responding to climate change, is so contentious is that many North Americans are still coming to terms with their history. A recent paper published in The Lancet Public Health posits that the Global North is responsible for 92% of the world’s excess CO2 emissions. It’s hard for us to know how to respond to such an indictment, and so we obfuscate, deny and fight back.
Yet it is here, in the face of injustice and complacency, that our Anabaptist theology and practices press us to engage.
Anabaptists join other Christians in believing that the creation story implies that the role of human creatures is to care for and to preserve God’s creation. Our Anabaptist theology prompts us to be moved to action by the suffering caused by our nation’s wealth and runaway consumption.
We pray for a movement of God’s Spirit that will make plain the divisive tricks of the evil one and call our communities to repentance, to turn from harm-inducing greed to shalom-generating care.
This article appeared in Mennonite World Conference’s Courier.