Elizabeth Kolbert, for the New Yorker, is one of our best writers on climate change. Her story this week, "The Siege of Miami", hits the high points Eye On Miami has been exploring for years: Dr. Harold Wanless, chair of the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami, Dr. Philip Stoddard, Mayor of South Miami, the King tides pushing higher and higher each year, and climate change deniers like US Senator Marco Rubio who would be president or at least a very highly paid commentator for Fox News.
Reading the New Yorker sent me back to posts I wrote from Greenland in the summer of 2013. For EOM readers and our new followers, here is a link to those posts in one place.
My visit to Greenland was a life changing experience. What was so impressive? That epochal changes to all our lives -- humanity, really -- are happening in a majestic place in nearly total silence except for the sound of glaciers calving miles away, echoing like cannon blasts and sending, minutes later, tiny tsunamis along the mirror still surface of coastal waters.
Although the media generally agrees that the leadership of the GOP are climate change deniers, in fact within the top ranks of the GOP, there is no denial about climate change anymore. Climate change denialists have faded away like Saddam's soldiers putting on civilian clothes to fade into the crowd that turned against them.
In the United States, on issues of climate change, we are in that moment where the tides are shifting, when there is no particular current to give direction to the flow of thought. In the past year, President Obama decided that climate change would be a legacy issue. He drew lines on issues like carbon emission regulations through executive action that were instantly opposed by the fossil fuel industry and their hacks in Congress; GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and former House speaker John Boehner (there is no indication that Paul Ryan, the current speaker, will be any different).
Many have observed, like former top NASA scientist James Hansen, that the decades lost since climate change became an apparent, imminent threat, will cost civilization dearly. But these are big thoughts and people who are struggling in rush hour traffic to get to work, or to keep newspaper readers subscribing to newspapers, or eyeballs glued to TV sets, don't necessarily wake up thinking about civilization.
Over the weekend, I was thinking about how history will view our generation; the post-war baby boomers. We judged our parents' -- the one that survived and defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II -- as the greatest generation. Just the other day my son, in his thirties, remarked how his grandfather had grown up traveling by horse and cart in Hungary and before he died had experienced the information revolution.
I believe the claim will be made in the future that ours -- measured, not by seventy five or eighty or ninety years but by the four hundred years since the birth of the Industrial Revolution -- was the generation that risked humanity for the convenience of mobility, for the aspirations of self-improvement through consumption. Our generation will be known as the one that did not ask ourselves rigorously enough, what freedom really meant.
The pressure of this question exists below the surface. It is certainly not addressed by any of our politics. Pope Francis, through his recent encyclical "Laudato Si", has come closest.
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.About "sin", I'm not so sure. What I am certain about is fear. At their core, people are very afraid by the changes -- not just the climate -- that have fundamentally altered the prospects for Americans. Our politics -- especially Republican politics -- have congealed around the business of fear. The best way to face massive uncertainties on the climate where science is illuminating the distress ahead is with an open heart and empathy for our neighbors who are less well-off and less secure than we are, even here in Miami.