Earth Notes: Climate change

By Rev. Robert Plaisted

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? That classic paradox dates back at least to the ancient Greek philosophers. The historic solution has been that an irresistible force and an immovable object cannot exist in the same space and time; therefore, one or the other must give way.

Hurricane Florence has been battering the Carolinas with howling winds and record flooding, acting very much like an irresistible force. Still, some foolish people tried to pretend they were immovable objects, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. When the hurricane was still hundreds of miles from the coast, Pat Robertson, a veteran fundamentalist huckster of magical thinking, decided to demonstrate the “power of faith.” Preacher Pat solemnly stretched out his hand over the ocean (like Charlton Heston in the movies) and commanded the hurricane in the name of Jesus, to stop, back up, and go away. To the surprise of no rational person, the hurricane paid no attention to his medieval incantations.

In that same vein, a few years ago Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma (of snowball-throwing fame) claimed in a speech that “God is still up there!” He said climate change can’t be real because only Almighty God can make Earth’s climate change. Sadly, millions of Americans believe that stuff.

You weren’t imagining that the past summer here in Maine was the hottest and most humid since weather records have been kept. Old records for the number of days over 90°F and dew points above 70°F were broken back in August. Hot, muggy air persisted longer into September than in any year within memory. Meanwhile, the western states have been burning for months while the south, midwest, and east coast have been flooded with frightening regularity. Within the last 12 months, the United States has been hit by three hurricanes in which rainfall was measured in feet, not inches — Harvey in Texas, Olivia in Hawaii, and Florence in the Carolinas. That’s never happened before.

Behold climate change, big, brutal and getting worse every year. You can pay heed to it if you’re wise; you can deny it if you’re foolish, but you can’t make it go away by reciting magical incantations disguised as prayers. It will begin to go away if we stop polluting the atmosphere with carbon, but that process will take a long, long time. That’s the good news. The bad news is really bad. Our great-grandchildren 150 years from now will face exponentially more brutal weather conditions than we face today, provided human life still exists that far in the future. Earth’s climate system has been destabilized, and the longer we rely on magical thinking while denying science, the more disastrous the future of the human species will become.

The Carolinas are close to the epicenter of fundamentalist Protestantism, so many people probably believed Robertson’s “Elmer Gantry” routine rather than the National Weather Service. Sadly, some may even have lost their lives by trusting this charlatan. People have the choice to believe religious hucksters, or to believe science. Those who peddle superstition instead of facts have become a clear and present danger to the human species.

Since the Religious Right was founded in the 1970s, “conservative” Christians have squandered all their moral authority by trading cheap faith for cheap political power. Right-wing Protestants and Catholics alike have become wholly owned subsidiaries of “conservative” politics. Will anyone in the Carolinas learn a lesson from seeing Robertson’s carnival sideshow fail dismally against the force of nature? Perhaps a few will, but likely only a few. Bad ideas die hard.

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