Last night, some students gathered to watch "An Inconvenient Truth." I had heard about it from seeanew and was quite interested in seeing it; but I had no expectations about how it would affect me. To be truthful, I was a bit concerned about how well I would be able to follow it and how well any of the students would describe the visual portions. This distracted me from anticipating the experience of viewing the documentary itself or preparing myself adequately for my reactions.
Much of the film was easy to follow without assistance. It is Al Gore presenting findings regarding global warming that have been collected over the years and discussing their significance. However, this dialogue is accompanied by visual aids and images that are extremely powerful. For the person who can see them, I think it must be extremely moving. For me, with description, it was terrifying and humbling. Melanie did a good job of putting in words what she was seeing--she had not seen the film yet. A few things struck me, and I am glad that Melanie was describing.
- Pictures of glaciers that are half the size now that they were 20 years ago.
- Pictures of various mountains normally covered with several feet of snow year-round, now with little to no snow.
- Pictures of glaciers now turned to lakes (one student commented, "It's more beautiful now.")
- Polar bear drowning because of swimming long distances with no ice to rest on.
- footage from Hurricane Katrina: storm hitting the shore with audible sounds; scenes from the Super Dome in which you see people lying around in body bags and there is a baby crying in the background; someone on a phone trying to get help...
- description of land that will be under water if the ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica break and fall into the ocean: Florida, Manhattan, San Francisco Bay, Calcutta, other very large cities. One student said casually, "What happens to Indiana?" The implication was clear: this doesn't affect us. Her comment was followed almost immediate, as if Gore read her mind, by his discussion of the implications of this. "We know the impact of hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees. Think of the impact of millions of them."
* Description of ice-melting process that occurs under the ice because of the warming sea water rather than over it because of the sun hitting it.
- Description of trucks driving over the permafrost to get to oil wells in Alaska and number of days per year that the permafrost is drivable: once 260, now 75.
- Discussion of impact of precipitation changes on land in the Sahara desert: there are big cracks in the land because it is so dry.
- Discussion of cyclical patterns of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the earth's atmosphere each year: "It's as if once each year the earth breathes in and out." ... And the carbon dioxide level is building.
I had a discussion in my theology class recently about some passages that make reference to the rocks "crying out" if people do not praise God and to the mountains and hills singing and trees clapping their hands... People like to take this stuff as pure metaphor: rocks and hills don't have voices, and trees don't have hands. But I have always felt that nature is alive. Certainly it doesn't have cognitive ability; but it's all the same physical substance that I am, and there is something communal about this. I don't worship it; but I was made from it and I was given the breath of life from God. I share community with both God and nature. And God entrusted humankind with the care of the earth. Not only this, but He said, "Rule over it and subdue it." This inclines me to think that the earth was wild with abundant praise before humans could live on it. I am only beginning to think about this, so my thoughts are likely to mature and change over time. It was a "baby earth." Humans had the special privilege of bringing it to maturity, participating in God's communal act of creation, even while we were part of that creation! And what have we done?
I have felt the pain of cracked skin in the winter, tried to treat it with water... You don't treat cracked skin with water. You treat it with lotion. It's a process that takes time. I also know what it feels like to be unable to breathe... The earth is essentially suffocating in its own gases. Is this how we care for what God has created and called good: by killing it? It was never meant to be this way!
We talk about not having money to do anything about this problem, even citing "helping the poor" as one reason. I believe it was Melanie who pointed out that "the poor" in other countries live off the earth when there is no other way to live. We are not helping them by killing the earth that provides their food. We are hurting them. But more importantly, we in America really do very little to help the poor, even in our own country. We blame them for their problems, call them lazy while we spend our "hard-earned money" for things that will perish. I am as guilty as the next person. I go out and eat at Bob Evans because I had a bad day. The next person buys a six-figure or multi-million-dollar beach-front home--and rebuilds it when the hurricane tears it down because "gotta have a place to go relax." That six-figure investment could do untold amounts of good for "the poor" in the person's preferred location. Of course, it might mean relaxing at home once in a while--something people complain they never have time to do anyway.
Someone actually said, "There were hardly any hurricanes this year." It almost seemed as if the fact that we had a light year negated everything that was presented in this film. In the discussion accompanying the footage of Katrina, Gore talked about how it went over Florida as a category 1 storm and then intensified quickly once it got into the warm Gulf of Mexico. I talked afterward about being in Florida during the fall of 2004 and how Charley intensified by 40 or 50 MPH winds in just two hours. I've never heard of anything like that in my life! It shook me to the core because at that time it was still supposed to hit Tampa Bay directly. I grew up with hurricanes; but I've never seen them come one after another after another as they have in recent years. If we have had a quiet year, I say praise the Lord for hearing our prayers! We could not have taken another year of this! That lull should never be cause for assuming that all is fine. The fact is that we have a mandate and we have forsaken it. Whether or not Al Gor has every little factoid straight, each person who takes an honest look could find areas in life where there is unfaithfulness in caring for the earth and elements of creation and in relating to other beings--human and animal. Where does the healing begin? I can tell you where it doesn't begin. It doesn't begin by assuming that none of this affects Indiana. If the earth can praise, it can beg for mercy; and I think that it does.