In August, 2016, Bill McKibben wrote a piece for the New Republic entitled “A World at War,” explaining the ways in which climate change is a war that is attacking our human society at every level. He said the only hope was to mobilize ourselves like we did for the World War 2.
As I read it, I thought that Hurricane Sandy should have been our “Pearl Harbor moment.” I hoped that the 2012 superstorm would be the wake-up call to shake the scales of denial from our collective eyes and spur us to mobilize to fight climate change.
It was not to be.
We continued with fossil fuel business-as-usual. In fact, a year after McKibben’s article, we have a climate-change-denying president who has delivered on his promise to undo countless environmental regulations and pull our country out of the Paris Climate Accords. And he has installed a rogue’s gallery of environmental criminals within his cabinet to dismantle every possible protection against ecological felonies.
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In July, New York magazine published “The Uninhabitable World” by David Wallace-Wells. He laid out the worst-case scenarios from climate change. In response, environmentalists debated the use of fear tactics for climate communication. Some argued that such doomsday messages can undermine our efforts and cause people to resist or even deny the danger at hand.
That argument seems quaint now. In light of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and the sheer onslaught of raging fires, floods and catastrophic weather events across this planet in just the past two months, the debate about the messaging regarding climate communication seems a moot point.
Here’s what I’m starting to realize: We’re long past the possibility of mobilizing ourselves to combat climate change. Even the Great War metaphor is wrong. The problem with the WWII comparison is that the metaphor positions us as “the good guys” who swept in and took care of those evil Nazis and the empire of Japan.
But we’re not the good guys this time. We’ve been the arrogant rogue nation for decades now, insisting that we can have our way with the planet, while others bear the brunt of the cost. Imperial America has muscled its way across the Earth: digging, drilling, fracking, pipelining and toxifying the water, land and air along the way.
I fully admit that I have enjoyed my fossil-fueled lifestyle, and have not done enough to call my country to account. So when I think about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma — the largest, most devastating superstorms ever experienced in the U.S., both dropping within weeks of each other — I cannot help but think of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The planet is sending us a direct message: surrender. We are not going to win this war on the climate. It has already won. There is no fighting back. We must humble ourselves and agree to the terms of surrender.
Nature is giving us a Potsdam Declaration that demands the complete disarmament of our fossil-fuel industry and the unconditional surrender of our imperialistic economy. And as with the ultimatum of that historic declaration over 70 years ago, we are being promised “prompt and utter destruction” if we do not surrender.
I expect to receive a barrage of negative pushback for having the audacity to suggest something so “unpatriotic.” But let me be clear: I love this country. Nevertheless, I love this planet more.
And as a Christian, the words of Jesus keep echoing in my mind: “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:24-25).
In other words, to save this country, we must surrender to a higher calling of humility, obedience to the dictates of God’s creation, and radical focus on rebuilding a just and equitable society and economic infrastructure focusing on “the least of these” — those who have suffered under our oppressive reign.
I, for one, am willing to surrender. I want us to survive. I want peace with this planet.
Leah D. Schade is a professor at Lexington Theological Seminary and author of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.