Many of our neighbors in Long Beach and East Atlantic Beach, NY have experienced natural disasters in the past. As we anticipated the impact of Hurricane Sandy neighbors discusses their experience of Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and Hurricane Irene that hit just last year. In offering their experience they were telling other community members what can be generally expected as we were awaiting Sandy’s landfall. I will not forget the expression from one of my long established neighbor who remarked, “I have never seen this happen before,” just as the unprecedented surge was beginning to enter our block.
For many of us who live in by the Ocean throughout Hurricane Sandy was a wake-up call. In the aftermath of the hurricane many of us would look upon the devastation and the mass erosion and considered the sustainability of our community. While many of us focused on rebuilding our homes and our community we also began asking questions and sharing concerns regarding these unusual weather patterns and the reality of climate change. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s concern is one that is shared by many of us, “part of learning from this is the recognition that climate change is a reality… extreme weather is a reality. It is a reality that we are vulnerable.”
We know that for decades now the scientific community has raised this concern and with the amazing weather patterns of the past couple years this consensus is growing. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy a number of articles have been written that consider this question in light of this experience. Here are a few well analyzed articles:
- Listening to Hurricane Sandy: Climate Change is Here – Bloomberg
- Are Humans to Blame, Science is Out – NY Times
- In Hurricane Sandy’s Fury, The Fingerprint Of Climate Change – Huffington Post
This emerging scientific consensus has made its impact on developing positions and reports. The American Metrological Society has recently updated their position on the causes and concerns of climate change and the American Security Project, a bi-partisan national security think tank, has released their Climate Security Report addressing security concerns based on climate change. This consensus suggests that the slightest increase in ocean temperature and water vapor creates an environment for a more active and aggressive hurricane season. Climate change causes this increase by creating a warming environment due to added greenhouse gasses that acts as an atmospheric blanket that keeps warmer air in, think of it as added insulation. This is what is called as the greenhouse effect. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and the science of climate change suggests that our increase emission of carbon dioxide (automobile and factory emissions) has increased our greenhouse effect.
Early this summer I recall hearing about the dramatic loss of the Greenland ice shelf. NASA had offered some unsettling satellite images that showed this dramatic deterioration. Throughout the summer I remember thinking and commenting with my neighbors how much unusual overcast, cloud coverage and humidity we had. After seeing this NASA report I was of the opinion that this dramatic loss of the Greenland Ice shelf was directly related to what we are experiencing. I continue to wonder how much that affected the increase of Hurricane Sandy’s strength and size.
The melting of the ice shelf is causing our sea level to increase. As our ocean water warms it expands, causing the sea level to rise even further. The storm surge that we experienced this year was unprecedented. Certainly we had to contend with the untimely fact that the Hurricane hit when the moon was full and high tide which was responsible for the storm surge that we had. But these other factors suggest that we need to prepare for storm surges to be generally more powerful than they were once experienced.
This is all part of our new reality. This the reality that many of my neighbors expressed when they realized that what we were experiencing no longer resonated with what had been considered typical.
A Catholic Concern:
This new reality leads to concerns like the one expressed by Governor Cuomo above. Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his 2010 World Day of Peace message to the ecological responsibility that our Christian faith tradition calls to. In “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation” Pope Benedict reminds us
Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees”, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development. #4
“The Church has a responsibility towards creation,” this was the message that Pope Benedict XVI offered us in his encyclical “Charity is Truth.” Our Church urges us to recognize that this concern is a moral concern and not a philosophical one. As we can see from the quote above, the Catholic concern for the environment is interrelated to the moral imperative that we call the “right to life.” Here in the United States our Bishops have put forward a document that calls us and our political leaders to engage in the dialogue over climate change and to address the following:
- Engagement with international negotiations and development of treaties
- To contribute “to the sustainable economic development of poorer nations”
- To “recognize the seriousness of the global warming threat and to develop effective policies that will diminish the possible consequences of global climate change.” This would include:
- “To undertake reasonable and effective initiatives for energy conservation and the development of alternate renewable and clean-energy resources.”
- To develop domestic policies that offer incentives to corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to assist industrial sectors and workers especially impacted by climate change policies.
For those of us who live by the sea shore we have the added wisdom of our own experience where we can testify to the gravity of this Catholic concern. If others continue to suggest that we can remain indifferent as we argue the details of climate change we can stand by our Church in taking our responsibility towards creation.
Catholic Climate Covenant:
The communities by the sea shore will have to discuss and address the details for how our communities will be able to respond to this new reality as we move forward. However our Catholic Church offers a suggestion for all of us to consider as we respond to the realities of climate change and environmental degradation.
It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our life-style and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view. #11
In all the parishes throughout the world we are invited to respond to this consideration. This response needs to be considered with all due seriousness. We who live by the sea shore are now familiar with the threat of violent weather, but this is a danger that threatens everyone. Here in the United States our Catholic Church has developed a program and a campaign that we could consider participating in. The Catholic Climate Covenant offers many resources for us to consider in lowering our climate footprint. It begins by offering us the “St. Francis Pledge to Care for Creation and the Poor.” Through this site pledgers are given the resources to pray and learn about this moral concern. The site also offers others resources on actions one can take to alter our lifestyle and to advocate on these issues. The website also offers advice for parishes, schools and communities to take steps in making some creative changes that help us adopt an ethic of Christian simplicity and protect our world from climate change. Here is a great video offered from the Catholic Climate Change on the effects of climate change and our Catholic moral responsibility on this issue. I invite all parishes to use this video as they engage their parish community on this issue.