As an irregular parishioner of a Columbus, Georgia Unitarian Universalist church--better symbolized by a question mark than a cross--I keep an open mind about whether an ultimately benevolent deity rules our universe. But I've long noticed (and climate's increasingly dire effects on the Bible Belt make it only clearer) that whatever god or goddess reigns in glory doesn't spare the stupid. Especially the arrogantly stupid.
Atlanta, Georgia, just after its capture--will climate outdo Sherman?
(image by The Library of Congress)
But will the Bible Belt notice? Or will it take the climate equivalent of Egypt's ten plagues? Because they've started arriving here. And according to the same climate-science models that have uncannily prophesied their arrival, many more--something like ten raised to a "higher power"--are on their way. And as those same "climate prophets" further admonish, the plagues' number and severity depend heavily on how soon we repent of our pigheaded wallow in climate sin. For even at the irksome risk of confirming modern science, God seems very willing to send the plagues.
Probably that's a good thing. Because it gives us all a chance to repent of our fossil-fuel folly before being pitched headlong into climate hell. But will we? A lot depends, as it did for Babylonian king Belshazzar, on whether we learn lickity-split to read God's "handwriting on the wall." For God, as with Belshazzar, is none too obvious in His climate clues, and may force us to consult a long-belittled foreigner, like that uppity Hebrew Daniel--or modern climate brainiacs--for an "insider's" perspective. And, like latter-day Belshazzars, we face a savagely sharp learning curve to decipher God's troubling wall scrawls and repent.
But, reverting to Pharaoh's plague-riddled Egypt, one thing is extremely clear: faced with our stiff-necked sinfulness, God seems very willing to rapidly up the climate plague ante. Perhaps there's no better example--of both God's enigmatic climate signs and His readiness to up the climate ante--than the freak two-inch snowstorm that just wreaked a week of climate hell on Atlanta.
See, in reproving Bible Belt climate reprobation with a freak snowstorm, God's being almost perversely cryptic in His climate wall-writing. A snowstorm? When those godless "lib-ruhls" are always flapping their jaws over global warming? Doesn't this reassure us the climate's actually getting cooler?
Well, no! And this is where God's subtlety--and climate science's--mock man's stiff-necked simplemindedness. See, contrary to denier conspiracy theories claiming "lib-ruhls" replaced talk of "global warming" with "climate change" because warming wasn't occurring, scientists, who in fact never dropped talk of global warming, took to speaking more frequently of climate change to avoid potential misunderstandings of how the warming would take place. Make no mistake: planetary warming as a global, worldwide phenomenon is happening, as affirmed, for example, by the vastly greater recent number of record high temperatures compared to record lows. But as a local weather phenomenon, global warming by no means rules out unseasonable cold snaps--and heavy snow. But aside from widespread higher average temperatures, what it means for climate overall is that, based on a more energy-charged atmosphere, local weather will get more extreme. Which unfortunately includes not just record-shattering hot spells and droughts, but polar vortexes and freak snowstorms in the Deep South. Like unwelcome locust swarms.
Which brings us to our second biblical parallel: the ever-worsening plagues. The recent Atlanta snowstorm is an almost perfect handle for getting a grip on this. See, in the low-elevation Deep South, where accumulating snows are pretty rare events, it makes perfectly good business sense not to invest too much public money in plows, salt, and the other means of snow preparedness that so heavily tax Northern budgets. But the inevitable result is an embarrassing--to say the very least--lack of preparedness when a rare snowstorm does hit. That's why Southern schools and businesses close down for days for snowstorms that would scarcely be a blip on Yankees' radar.
Now, at least while the Earth's climate was somewhat normal, the frequency and severity of such storms could be roughly gauged, and recovery needn't be long and devastating. But everything's "changed, changed utterly," as the poet Yeats once wrote (of the 1916 Irish Easter revolt), given a climate increasingly "on steroids." Unless we're detached enough to applaud God's grandeur in cataclysmic natural disasters with unprecedented human suffering, I doubt we'll be spouting Yeats's follow-up line: "A terrible beauty is born." Though the terrible part is something we should count on.
Just imagine that the two-inch snowstorm that recently paralyzed Atlanta had dropped twelve or twenty-four inches. And imagine further that, instead of such a storm occurring roughly every three or five years, it came chaotically, perhaps in two or three consecutive years, then not to recur for fifty. Along with a steady uptick of the more probable Deep South extreme weather, like heat waves, droughts, and floods. Particularly in the more unprepared-for events, like the snowstorms, the financial costs, along with the death and injury toll, could be catastrophic. For a city like Atlanta, rather like Mother Nature's version of Sherman's March.Just as certain biblically oriented minds perceive in Sherman's March God's horrifying punishment for slavery's inhuman sin, I hope they'll come to see in potentially cataclysmic weather God's equally frightful punishment for the arrogant, heedless sin of climate-change denial. For in global warming, the prophecy of the world ending by fire may strangely be fulfilled. But on the way to humanity-ending climate Armageddon, the suffering and death toll from chaotic, unanticipated extreme weather (as previewed in miniature in Atlanta) will prove almost unthinkable. And who among climate-change deniers--or among any of us--is so righteous as to arrogantly presume we'll be raptured away from the rapidly approaching armies of climate Apocalypse? Now marching our roads in double-time.