The National Catholic Review
Kyle T. Kramer
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Here in rural Midwest farming country, I can offer two observations about this summer’s historic drought and heat wave. First, the drought made for a lot of work. We spent countless hours hauling a 400-gallon water tank around our farm, for example, trying to keep hundreds of new tree plantings alive—even as our water-supply pond began to look more like a puddle than a pond.

The work has nonetheless failed to alleviate a great deal of suffering and loss. Two-thirds of our newly planted trees have died. And in one blistering day we lost almost half of our laying flock. Even Fluffy the Roostery Chicken, a hardy and beloved old rooster, died in my daughter’s arms, despite her desperate attempts to save him with cool washrags. There were so many dead birds that I dug a mass grave for them with a tractor.

Our friends and neighbors have fared little better. Several farmers I know are hoping for 30 bushels per acre on corn ground that usually yields 180. A nearby organic dairy farmer sold off many head of cattle and sheep because his pastures burned to a crisp and he has to stretch his hay supply as far as possible. Some of his remaining cattle are showing ribs.

In my presentations as a climate ambassador for the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I have been hesitant to link particular extreme weather events, like droughts or floods or hurricanes, directly to climate change. And as a farmer, I hate to complain about weather. Good years come, and bad years come. But many prominent and respected climate scientists, like NASA’s James Hansen, have stated recently that this year’s extreme weather was not merely nature’s occasional fluke. The odds are utterly overwhelming that it was caused or at least intensified by the excessive amount of carbon dioxide human activity has put into the atmosphere.

In regard to climate change, I often feel we are living through a post-modern, slow-motion iteration of the fall of Adam and Eve. In the biblical account, the serpent promises them godlike powers if they partake of the forbidden fruit. After their transgression, God banishes them from Eden, and their life beyond the garden gates includes burdensome toil, as well as enmity and suffering.

One could argue that until very recently in human history, we still lived in Eden, at least in terms of climate. It seemed impossible that human activity could ever alter global environmental conditions. Then we discovered fossil fuels, which gave us power that seemed almost godlike.

If fossil fuels are our forbidden fruit, and if a planet on whose predictable climate we could depend was our version of the original garden, then we will soon be very far east of Eden. The activist and author Bill McKibben pointed out in a recent article that to keep climate change within tolerable limits, human beings may burn no more than 565 billion tons of carbon between now and 2050. Unfortunately, we are on track to blow through that 565-gigaton limit by 2016. And why stop there? Worldwide, energy companies currently have 2,795 gigatons of carbon in proven reserves, more than five times the safe limit.

Perhaps this cruel summer has simply beaten me down, but at this point I have little hope that we will kick our carbon addiction in time to prevent major climatic changes. I think we can expect even more work and woe, those same two curses that befell Adam and Eve. We experienced both on our farm during this year’s drought and heat wave. But the real victims are and will continue to be the world’s poor, who are the least responsible but the most vulnerable.

I would like to approach this crisis as neither a “doomer” nor a denier, but with clear-eyed Christian realism. Scripture and history witness to a God who continually brings a greater good out of any evil that humans unleash. Might we one day describe the now-unfolding climate crisis as “O happy fault,” the way we sing about the original Fall in the “Exsultet” at the Easter Vigil? It is hard to imagine, but eminently worth hoping for. Perhaps this crisis is humanity’s perilous passage through our collective adolescence, from immaturity to hard-won wisdom. Might it lead us to a more mature and responsible, though much chastened, way of belonging benignly in God’s creation? The garden is lost to us now, but I have to hope that God’s redeeming love never is.

Kyle T. Kramer is the author of A Time to Plant: Life Lessons in Work, Prayer, and Dirt (Sorin Books, 2010).

Comments

Stanley Kopacz | 9/16/2012 - 11:17am
It's amazing that science, deified when it gives us fun and profit, is ridiculed when it calls us to a mild austerity.  If human sinfulness is so impervious to simple scientific fact, what hope is there to avoid this catastrrophe.  The appearance of reflexive thought on our planet is causing a crisis perhaps like that caused when microscopic organisms began producing oxygen, a poison to existing life.  Will transformation be wrought from this crisis as well?
CHARLES KINNAIRD | 9/15/2012 - 4:30pm
I appreciate Mr. Kramer's hope for a new wisdom to emerge from our current fault. I fear that we will have to hit the wall before we human beings will change the way we abuse our resources. E.O. Wilson once wrote a white paper posing the hypothesis that homo sapiens might be a suicidal species - I hope he is wrong. Our hope may be in catastrophe, if that catastrophe does not render our garden uninhabitable. Maybe then we can turn toward wisdom.
Lisa Weber | 9/14/2012 - 10:58pm
I agree that it is unlikely that people will change their consumption of fossil fuels enough to avoid the changes associated with global warming.  I don't know what to do about it, though.
6466379 | 9/14/2012 - 5:00pm

The growing season of 2010 into the  Fall, produced an abundant crop of large, luscious looking acorns, followed by a severe Winter that deposited   five feet of snow in NYC, larger amounts north and west of the City.


 The growing season of 2011 into the   Fall, produced a meager crop of acorns, very small in size, followed by an unusually mild winter. A snowfall towards the end   of   October   gave the  false impression that we were in for a whopper of a winter, but in reality only a few inches of snow accumulated all season long and  some plant-life  even flowered  in February.


The growing season of 2012 is coming to an end and this year the acorns, like the previous year are small and of depleted quantity. Does this mean that we’re in for a mild winter like 2011?   Or, do the size and quantity of acorns mean nothing at all winter-wise? It would seem so if predictions of up-and-coming Global winter weather are correct. A hard winter for the U.S. and Europe is being predicted, based on melting Artic ice, which will somehow bring lots of snow and cold.  Sounds contradictory to the inadequately informed, like me, so I wait.


Of course, I do personally believe that natural predictive signs of the type of weather, or climate change to expect, abound throughout creation. Like the size and quantity of acorns predictive of the kind of winter in store in a given year? Or melting Artic ice? Jesus too, pointed to natural predictive weather related  signs  and climate change indicators,  talking about “red sky” and “wind direction” signaling meteorlogical   variables.  As son of the Creator and also having a hand in it himself, Jesus certainly is a trustworthy observer!


So, what am I trying to Say? I’m trying to say somehow,  that Global Warming is not a disaster, but simply a somewhat  cyclical event, connected to temporary climate changes and related to “unnaturally natural” weather patterns. Many others think the same way, including a sizeable number of reputable scientists, who do not talk loud enough. As always “he who talks loudest gets heard!” Thus, the “other side” gets heard and their voices are prevailing.


Is humanity a part of the problem? Considering that we add nothing to  creation   that is not already there as solids, liquids, or gaseous, since whatever materially emanates from us comes from creation,  the answer is “NO.” Maybe the earth is warming from the inside out by natural causes, not the other way around? To this   add forest fires, fires in general, increasing  volcanic eruptions, saline evaporations from oceans and seas, even increasing release of methane gas  from  animate creation, particularly from “we the people!” whose numbers are ever increasing despite all the wars and rumors of wars that permeate our culture of death, punctuated by the abortion industry. And “YES” to a degree, the  excessive  burning of fossil fuels, which releases into the atmosphere material not new  to the earth, but in greed-oriented amounts, may have  some kind of damaging environmental effect.


 If the latter is true,  then Global Warming is not just  an ecological problem but a moral one too! Does the Gospel contain the “good news” about  who said, (maybe Galileo said it?) “The Bible doesn’t tell you how the heavens go” that is, it is not a scientific textbook, but rather “how to go to heaven,” namely the Bible is a moral guide.


Well, might it be that the Bible (the New Testament) does tell us how the “heavens go” by providing moral insights on how to avoid the Capital Sin of Greed, thus helping to remove Global Warming as a man-made environmental threat, at least to some degree?  A ponderous thought pleading for additional ponderous thinking.