Mournful Land and a Common Hope
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon
The scripture text this morning is from
the prophet Hosea, but I'm going to hold off on that and share it with
you just a little bit later.
As some of you know, for the last
couple of weeks we have been featuring stories, video testimonies, from
members of the church reflecting on the importance of the church in
their families, the meaning of faith, and their thoughts on
stewardship. As part of our annual campaign on the theme 'Common
Hope, Common Trust'.
I had planned for this morning to have
a video related to stewardship of the earth, featuring Al Gore.
But Al didn't show up in time (!), for me to do the editing work that I
needed to do in order to present that. But I do have some other
things that I want to share.
Interfaith Power and Light is a
national organization that arranged with Paramount Pictures a special,
exclusive showing of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth"
during the month of October, as part of the spotlight on global warming
being conducted by the Interfaith Power & Light group. How
many have see that movie? So quite a few of you have already seen
it. We're going to have an opportunity to see it here this coming
At any rate, there are 11 congregations
in this area that are joining together as part of this effort, and we
held a press conference over at First United Methodist church on
Thursday to talk about that. Rather than just tell you about it,
I'd like to show it to you (broadcast on KVAL T.V. in Eugene):
Global warming is one
of the most serious challenges facing us today, according to the Union
of Concerned Scientists. But not everyone agrees -- the Cooler
Heads Coalition calls the risk of global warming 'speculative'.
However, the federal government says there is 'certainty' that human
activities are rapidly adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and
that these gases tend to warm our planet. It is an issue that
global religious leaders are now preaching to their congregations.
Reverend John Pitney
drives his electric vehicle to the First United Methodist church every
day. It's his way of helping the environment and spreading the
word about global warming. "People are stopping me all the
time to ask me questions about it, so I have wonderful conversations
about how to take care of the world". Now, he's joining
leaders of nearly a dozen local congregations in one united
warming is not just a numbing scientific reality, but one of the most
serious moral, ethical, and religious matters of our time on this
It's part of a
national interfaith effort. "We're gambling with life as we
know it". Uniting Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists and others with a common belief to correct
environmental sins. As part of this effort, local churches and
synagogues will be airing the move "An Inconvenient
Truth". The first showing will be here a St. Jude's this
The Al Gore
documentary spells out the science and predictions about man's impact
on the ozone layer, heating up the earth. The movie has drawn
praise as brilliant, and criticism as alarmist. But these
religious leaders say the issue transcends politics.
"I would say it equals and goes beyond any other catastrophe that
we have experienced in the history of the human race".
They plan to sign a
covenant to practice what they preach. Temple Beth Israel uses
solar panels, St. Jude's switched to low-voltage fixtures, others
switched light bulbs and turned down thermostats. And of course,
Reverend Pitney on his drive to reduce greenhouse gases, small steps
with a global goal: "It's our chance to mobilize and take
decisive action together on behalf of God's creation".
I offered to drive up in my Toyota,
1987 van with a hole in the muffler, but somehow they didn't think that
would add to the message that we wanted to convey J.
We were looking for 20 to 30 seconds,
and they gave us over two and a half minutes on the 6:00 o'clock
news. We felt pretty good about that.
Global warming, as I think most of you
by now should know, is a theory that carbon dioxide emissions are
creating a 'greenhouse effect' that is trapping more and more of the
sun's energy in the earth's atmosphere, thereby warming it up. Al
Gore talks about this in that movie, "An Inconvenient Truth",
explains it quite well, so that it's easy to understand. I thought
I'd do my Al Gore imitation here, since I couldn't get them to give me
the movie. If you've seen that movie, you know that it's a
glorified, very well-done PowerPoint presentation with his Apple laptop
computer. I've got mine here, so I'm doing my best to follow in
his footsteps. He almost got elected president of the United
States, I almost became rich & famous . . . . . oh well.
So there's the theory. The
question in everyone's mind is: how real is it? Can we be
sure? Do we really know? What certainty is there? And I'd
like to show you then, since I don't have Al, this HBO special -- a
number of scientists who talk about precisely that:
You should care about
global warming, because it's going to remake the face of the
earth. The average person can just sort of start to sense the
changes, but scientists can see the whole picture. We're headed
toward a completely different world than the one we're used
I'm often asked what
the extent of the scientific consensus is around global warming.
I'd put it at 90-95%.
It's getting warmer,
the storms are getting stronger, the glaciers are melting. And
the plants and animals are changing as you'd expect when it's
warming. It's getting pretty hard to say anymore 'this is all
together an accident of nature'.
The changes due to
global warming are already visible, even to the average man in the
As one local scientist put it, the
debate is over. The only issue is how severe the impact will be,
and what can we do about it.
The effects of global warming are
numerous, and I'm not going to go through all of those, instead I'd just
like to highlight one example. At a City Club meeting last year,
we heard a local climatologist talk about just the impact on the
snow-pack here. We can expect a 50% reduction in the snow-pack in
the Cascades. So think about the impact in terms of water
availability and power generation. The Russell's were in Peru
earlier this year and brought back pictures of the glaciers that are
receding in the Andes, and heard reports about all of the people in that
area that depend upon the water from those glaciers and the expect that
those glaciers will likely disappear during this century.
And so scientists in that HBO special
talk about the impact of the glaciers in Alaska:
In Alaska, there are
about 2,000 large glaciers. More than 99% are currently melting,
retreating, and shrinking.
The last time we had
a complete melting of glaciers on the Juneau ice field was probably
5,000 or more years ago. So this warming trend we're seeing is
We're standing on the
shore-line of Mendenhall Lake. Behind me is Mendenhall
Glacier. 70 years ago, I would have had 150 to 200 feet of ice
above my head, because where I am right now would have been under
the glacier. And the retreat that you're seeing took place in
the lifetime of my parents.
There's nothing as
simple as two photographs, taken from the same location, where you can
see physical changes to the surface of the earth.
We will make the
political debate of 'is climate changing?, how is climate
changing?' We can show you unequivocal visual documentation that
the earth's surface is changing.
Mendenhall Glacier in
Mendenhall Glacier in
What we're seeing is
melt-water, cold melt-water, that's just been converted from solid ice
to liquid water. Each year, the amount of melting is increasing.
The water from the
melting of this glacier ice ends up in the global ocean, and the sea
If all the glaciers
in Alaska were to completely melt, the sea level would go up less than
1 foot. But, if you melt Greenland, the sea level will go up
more than 20 feet. And if you were to melt all of Antarctica,
the total result would be a sea level rise of more than 240
feet. We'd see total inundation of coastlines around the
So scientists are pretty much in
virtual agreement that the cause of this global warming is the burning
of fossil fuels -- oil, gas, coal, and the like. Oddly enough,
that means that the solution to this problem is within our reach.
The United States
uses more energy, by far, than any other country in the world.
America has about 5% of the world's population, and it adds about 25%
of the carbon dioxide. When you put a molecule of carbon dioxide
in the atmosphere today, because it came out of your tailpipe or your
chimney, it stays in the atmosphere for something like 100
We're already committed
to a certain amount of warming. But the future lies largely in
our hands, it's under our control. Whether we get a modest
warming that we can adapt to, or whether warming gets out of
control. To stabilize the climate, we'll need to cut emissions
by something like 80%. But it doesn't have to be done
overnight. We can do it gradually over the course of this
I don't think
American's lack ingenuity or innovation, I think we really thrive on
that. And given such a challenge, I think we can reinvent
ourselves in a way to be really extraordinary.
I think it could
really renew the United States' ability to lead the world
technologically. And by the way, the time from the Wright
brothers first flight to Neil Armstrong setting foot on the surface of
the moon, was only a little over 60 years.
So if we think about what we have
achieve in those 60 years technologically, and we think about the
possibilities of what we could achieve in the next 60 years if we put
our minds to it.
Astrophysicist Brian Swimme says that
we need to think in terms of mass extinction. For most of human
history, where we were completely unaware that anything like that was
possible. When scientists found the first dinosaur bones, they
assumed that they had to be bones of creatures that existed perhaps
somewhere else on the earth that had not yet been explored. It's
only been recently that we have become aware that the extinction of the
dinosaurs occurred about 65 million years ago and at the same time we're
becoming aware that thousands and thousands of species are becoming
The American Museum of Natural History
did a survey of biologists in the United States and discovered that 70%
of biologists believe that we are in a period of mass extinction.
And so Swimme says this is not a technological problem, but
fundamentally it is a spiritual problem. The materialism of
Western culture, built around individualism and accumulation of 'stuff',
is literally destroying us. Swimme says:
necessary for us to understand is that at the root of things is
community. We came out of community, so how can we organize our
economy so that it is based on community and not on
accumulation? How can we organize our religion to teach us about
community? And when I say community, I mean the whole earth
community. That is the ultimate sacred demand".
And I think that's what we seek to
teach here. He continues:
"Darwin shows us
that everything is kin. Talk about spiritual insight --
everything is kin at the level of genetic relatedness. So let's
build a civilization that is based upon the reality of our
With all of this in mind, I want to
share with you now the prophetic word that comes as quite a challenge to
us, from the prophet Hosea, in the 4th chapter where we read:
Hear the word of the
Lord, O people of Israel;
for the Lord has an indictment against the
inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
2Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.
4Yet let no one
and let none accuse,
for with you is my contention, O priest.
5You shall stumble by day;
the prophet also shall stumble with you by night,
and I will destroy your mother.
6My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.
Maybe that's why so many religious
leaders are coming forward in this time to speak out on this
We are all related. Earth, the
birds of the air, the fish of the sea, human beings and God. And
because of our neglect of this knowledge, our relatedness, we risk not
only ourselves, but as the prophet says, we risk those we love
most. Our family, our parents, our children, and even the animals
of the earth. Therefore, we have not just a responsibility to do
something, we have a mandate from God to do something. To get our
heads out of the sand and to stop this destruction before it is too
So what do we do? Where do we
begin? Here are a few ideas:
We just have to live
smart, and stop trying to get away with 'bigger, bigger, bigger'
because you just can't keep doing that forever without having mother
nature last. When you buy a refrigerator, look at the label,
calculate the electrical costs. If it's $50 more, but it saves
you $20 a year, you're going to get your payback so fast -- you can't
get that kind of money in a bank.
When you walk out of
the room -- do you turn the light out? Do you ask your kids to
turn the light out? When you buy a car, does it have to be 8,000
pounds? How 'bout a 3,500-pound hybrid? It's a great car,
it works well, and when the gas lines come when we get shortages,
you'll be very happy you can go 500 miles on it and only have to pay
$30 and not $80 for your tank of gas.
Every year cars and
trucks emit about 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, global
warming pollution, in the United States. That's more than most
countries emit from all sources combined -- from electricity, from
cars, from industry. If we could shift to hybrids, we could cut
that in half.
I love that first guy, he reminds me of
a younger Einstein with his hair sticking out -- how can someone look at
him and not think immediately this guy knows what he's talking about?!
The Interfaith Power & Light group
was formed to help us to think and to organize as faith
communities. To work together to discover and to renew our
relationships with the earth, utilizing our religious convictions as a
basis for action.
I invite you to hear now how one priest
in California talks about just that -- about how her faith informs her
and has led her to establish a new group who organize and mobilize our
and sisters, my name is Sally Bingham. I'm a priest in the
Episcopal diocese in California. I'm also the founder of the
Regeneration Project, which is a ministry devoted to deepening the
connection between ecology and faith. We're committed to
transforming the way religious people think, feel, and respond to one
of the greatest problems to ever confront God's creation -- global
I don't teach the
science of global warming. I don't debate its causes. I
believe the scientists are the true prophets and I take their word
that global warming is a very real problem, with negative impacts so
severe it's hard to imagine them. I believe them when they tell
us that global temperatures will rise more than 8 degrees over the
next 100 years. I believe that we humans have developed an
unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels like oil and coal. And that
burning them is upsetting the balance of nature by putting too much
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And I believe that it's up to
us to take a leadership role in reversing that trend.
And by 'us', I mean
all of us who take to heart the commandments to love God and love our
neighbors as ourselves. It's a matter of faith, it's a matter of
conscience. Because we were created in the image of God, we have
a special responsibility. Some call the subject of this
'responsibility environmental justice'. I call it the proper
religious response. All three monotheistic traditions hold that
there is a covenant between God and humans, and that we are stewards
of God's creation and are called to care for it.
In practical terms,
loving God and loving God's creation means protecting the world around
us. It means preserving living creatures and ecosystems, not
destroying them. And loving your neighbors as yourself means not
polluting your neighbor's air. It means thinking about the
impact of your behavior on those around you, and making choices
The good news is that we can make a
difference, and that we have more power to change the way things are
than we think we do (Sally Bingham again):
Who can we count on
to alleviate all the difficult problems caused by global
warming? The answer to that question is: look around
you. Literally, look around you.
Right now, wherever
you're watching this presentation, you're probably in the company of
others in your faith community who share your belief in God.
They believe in loving God and God's creation, and in loving your
neighbor as yourself. And don't forget the group around you
includes you -- me, us. And you're not the only ones receiving
this message -- it's being circulated across the country. If
every person who professes to love God and creation takes this message
to heart and commits to reducing their own energy use, more than 150
million Americans would be working to make change happen. We can
lead this movement.
So we represent a
powerful force. We represent enough people to make significant
reductions in fossil fuel consumption and pollution levels. And
significant increases in the use of renewable energy sources.
And we have the capacity to exert a lot of influence on our policy
In the eyes of many,
it's people of faith who are called to take on this enormous
So the challenge is before us as people
of faith to take on this responsibility. And Friday night we'll
have the opportunity to view that movie "An Inconvenient
Truth" and to engage in dialogue afterwards to talk about the
things that we can do.
I would invite you to join with us at
that time and to join with thousands of others in the churches,
synagogues, and temples across the country as together we explore the
ways that we can find a solution. To put our minds and our faith
to work for the sake of the earth and the future of our children.
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