What is Earth asking of us? Understanding the impact of climate change

By Sharon Zayac, OP (Springfield)

In spite of the many valiant efforts by environmental organizations, grassroots groups, and committed individuals, Earth’s temperature continues to rise. On May 9, 2013, CO2 levels reached their first-ever daily average of 400 parts per million. E5 tornadoes spin with more frequency and increased size in the U.S. Midwest. Meteorologists predict an especially violent hurricane season this year. Last year’s moderate and extreme droughts that covered most of the U.S. are replaced this year with torrential rainfalls and floods.

And still there is great reluctance to use the words climate change in our national media—until very recently. No glaring headlines, though. No mention of the climate ramifications of fracking, or the Keystone XL pipeline, or agribusiness as usual. No articles stating what we might do to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Perhaps the point is beyond moot. An article appeared on page two of our newspaper speaking to the plans being made by New York City, Miami, Bangkok, Rotterdam and other cities around the world to protect their citizens and infrastructure from storm surges, rising sea levels, vast migrations of people, and other consequences of climate change.

We jumped from rare, if any, mention of global climate change in our newspapers to working plans to build defenses against its effects. Of course, such plans require tremendous resources, billions of dollars, and a massive collaborative effort within and among the various countries. And, of course, it means that those countries that do not have such resources are left absolutely vulnerable to the heat, the water, the crowding, the lack of supplies and food, and all else that comes with an atmosphere in overdrive. We speak of places like Bangladesh, but we would do well to ask what it might mean for some areas in our own country. Our federal response to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina was less than salutary.

There is no point in railing against all the lost opportunity to take what would have been reasonable steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. There isn’t much point, either, in fussing at the recalcitrance of our U.S. Congress to accept climate reality and take the appropriate actions long outlined by reputable scientists. Frustration and finger-pointing are getting us nowhere, except in deeper and hotter water, literally.

So, what do we do, both personally and collectively? What is Earth asking of all of us? More specific to us Dominicans, what is Earth now asking of the Order? We have heard this last question more than once. Some of us heard it back in June of 2006 when we gathered at Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey. Later that month, a larger group of 50+ gathered several miles away to consider the same. We came at the invitation of Sister Margaret Ormond, OP, then International Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International. In her invitation to the second gathering, she wrote, “Hurricane Katrina has everything in it we need to know about the future.”

The question “What is Earth Asking of the Order?” was raised again at the first Dominican Sisters Conference Convocation in early October 2012. This time 645 of us grappled with it after Sisters Margaret Mayce, Lucianne Siers and Pat Daly presented the order’s overall work of justice in the context of climate change “because climate change affects everything else.”

In January of this year, that context was confirmed in the North American Dominican Justice Promoters Call to Justice 2013-2014. “In solidarity with our sisters and brothers around the world, and recognizing the need to address the global impact of climate change and its ramifications for all justice issues, we commit to study, advocate and act in the following areas…”

What is Earth asking of us? Commitment? Action? Persistence? Conversion? Humility? Justice? What is our response?

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., we are living in the “fierce urgency of now.” At no other time in our species’ history have we been given a mandate of such planetary proportions. It compels us to know ourselves, our greater planetary self, and in that knowing take up the work, in whatever fashion we are most impassioned, that will bring healing and help restore right relationship. That is no little task. But it is the one task ultimately worthy of all we have to give to it.