Whenever talking heads and political pundits start debating climate change, I honestly wish that I could turn the clock back one year and a few days to when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast. Rush Limbaugh and other climate change deniers would likely be saying drastically different things if they had spent a few days here with us in Far Rockaway, NY. They would have trouble explaining the fact that in this New York City peninsula where I live and pastor a church, the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay had not met in over 50 years, but that is exactly what they did on October 29th, 2012.
I would invite them to read climatologist Dr. Kevin Trenberth's article, Hurricane Sandy mixes super-storm conditions with climate change, in which he says that "the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change" is "the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be." I would invite them to listen as I advocate within my church and community for environmental stewardship, which, in my opinion, means that we have to be faithful with the earth that God has given us. Finally, I would invite them to walk through my "hood" to see homes still abandoned one year later, families still displaced one year later; a community devastated and families still fragmented one year later. These are the human and communal costs of our continued faithlessness – the effects of what Christians call sin – to our inattention to, and destruction of, our environment and planet.
I would ask these know-it-all pundits, who lack any scientific credentials but still claim to have expertise by virtue of the large audiences they regularly misinform, to walk the streets of my community and see that their continued denial of this issue often gives credibility to those who sit in seats of power. Their words and influence provide justification for holding back funding to reduce climate change and mitigate its impacts on vulnerable communities that await the next inevitable "natural" disaster. I would ask them to talk to the everyday people who have been affected by this issue, without the cameras, without the promise of a ratings boost, and on our terms. They need to hear the voices of everyday Americans who, one year and six days ago, may have had no knowledge of the science of climate change, but now have experienced its reality. We have been not just affected, but devastated by it.
It would be my hope and prayer that contact with those who have experienced Hurricane Sandy would have a profound influence on Rush Limbaugh and others who recklessly deny climate change because it confirms their ideology and advances their agenda, even though it denies the facts and comes at such high costs. I hope that it would open their eyes and allow God to change them, like my experience has changed me. Seeing my home and church destroyed has changed me. Being homeless for nearly 6 weeks changed me. The process of fundraising to rebuild has changed me because I thought that we (my family, my church and my community) would get adequate assistance from our government in order to restore our lives to the way that we lived prior to Sandy.
Unfortunately, the voices of these naysayers have been just as loud as (and in Limbaugh's case, louder than) the voices of those crying out for help. We cannot continue to deny the facts of our carbon footprints, overuse of global resources and continued, inexcusable lack of action on climate change. We need to not just slow down, but reverse the effect we have had on the earth and its climate.
The bible tells us, "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1). It is now time for those to whom God has given stewardship over this creation to take a stand and realize that we must care for it – not with denial or irresponsible sensationalism, but with prayer, research, discussion and faithful stewardship. Let us respect the overwhelming body of scientific research – 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is real and we are the primary cause. It's time to listen to those scientists and to the everyday Americans in communities like mine whose lives have been and will be forever changed by our impacts on the climate.