Do we really need to pray for disaster?

Posted on May 27, 2010


The poles are melting.  Greenland shedding ice.  Antarctica chip-chip-chipping away.

Just last year, after several years of drought and a season of record-breaking temperatures, hundreds of people died by wildfire in Australia.

Today a glistening, amorphous death washes on New Orleans shores (symbol of our addiction to oil) and five years ago that city almost drowned.

Only seven years ago, tens of thousands of people died in a heat wave in Europe.

Glaciers are retreating worldwide.  Lakes Chad, Victoria, and Tanganyika are drying up.  Dry places are becoming drier, and wet places are becoming wetter.  Spring comes earlier year by year, and the summers burn hotter as the decades pass.

The oceans are slowly turning to acid.

It’s like a grotesque, overwrought disaster movie, on a scale so large that it’s beyond comprehension.  If it was a movie, the director would personalize it.  He or she would have you cheering for the dog.

But it’s not a movie.  There’s no dog to cheer for.  No heroes.

Instead, the world slips down an oily ramp into an environmental abyss, and the denial machine grinds on and on.  It grinds up the truth, it grinds down our will to act.  And the success of the denial machine is found in the fact that nobody in power (and none of us who put them there) are willing to do anything to even slow down the slide.

Tomorrow, yes, tomorrow.

According to a poll taken in 2009, most climate scientists don’t think the world has the political will to do what needs to be done to save the planet from disastrous warming.  The results in Copenhagen show they were right to be cynical.  And recent political attacks upon scientists in the United States show that perhaps they weren’t cynical enough.

Two degrees of warming—what we hope to hold it to if all goes right—will be difficult, but our present civilization should survive it.  And, yes, two degrees is possible if we had the determination to act, act meaningfully, on a global scale.

Four degrees of warming, though, is more likely given the present state of political inertia.  The only thing which could save us from ourselves—cross your fingers, knock on wood—is a major disaster, a disaster traceable to global climate change.  Something to cattle-prod us into action.  Something to make us take seriously the most dangerous threat facing humanity today.

Or ever.

Has it really come to that?  Must we really pray for disaster?  Pray for something bad?  Pray for flood or storm?  Pray as if our children’s future, as if our grandchildren’s future, mattered?

Because disaster, disaster on a major scale, may be our only hope to ensure a decent life for our grandchildren and the generations that come after.

Because if disaster is what we need to wake the world up, then disaster is necessary.

Could that be true?

Reason and scientific evidence are evidently failing.  The politics of denial are sapping our will to fight back.

Do we require a disaster to wake us up?  Is that what it will take?

If so, we’ll need another prayer.

A prayer it isn’t us, or ours, who have to be scapegoated by disaster in order to make the world listen.