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A Superheated Choice

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Message Brad Wolf

Change in Average Temperature.svg.
Change in Average Temperature.svg.
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I once thought I would have time to write a book of my own path, my meandering journey of life's vistas, dirt roads, and dead-ends. I would write this in common with others similarly situated, those for whom the road was not made straight but which each of us had, inadvertently, made crooked. But there is no time for such a sojourn now. The house is on fire and we barely have time to pray. We must leave our belongings and gather bread for the journey. The clock has stopped.

An entire swatch of the world ten degrees north and south of the equator will be uninhabitable by 2050. Hundreds of millions of people will migrate, desperate for food and water. Most will head north where land is more plentiful. Seas will swallow coastal cities and island countries will vanish. On much of the land left, the extremes will rage drought and fire, hurricanes and floods.

The days ahead will be daunting, destructive like no others. This rare earth, alone in our galaxy supportive of life, is changing, not at glacial speed but at human speed. Twenty-first century speed. Time is against us. We cannot escape in the eternal. We must face the temporal, the time we created. This moment is our doing, these elements our creation, this broken, burning world ours to fix.

We have been hard at work drilling for death, exhuming fossils for fuel and burning them for a century and a half. We have taken the prehistoric dead from the earth's tomb, the liquified dead, and turned it into a lethal stew. Land, water, and skies have been the vessels for our waste. And now, and now the planet has overheated and is tossing us about. We burnt off and belched our luxury without regard. Now, we must find a way forward.

Opportunities for goodness will abound. An abundance of need will confront us with every step. We can, if we choose, set down ourselves and embrace the other, because the other the sick, the starving, the homeless, the dying will be everywhere. Border walls, armies, gated communities, private security must give way to this man-made onslaught. We cannot light the fire and then trap the victims inside the burning building. We cannot escape what we have done. The only way out is to walk through the fire together. It is the least we can do.

This is not a dead-end, but perhaps a Death Valley. Life is going to change for us all. Not everyone will make it to the other side. I have always slept in the comfort of the First World, the moneyed-West, living in comparative luxury while the rest of the world burned. I have never known hunger or want. I meandered while so many others died. Of course, I protested, volunteered, donated, empathized, and prayed, but they are crumbs from the table when the earth is falling into the sea. Truly. The check has come due. This is not about payback for past sins, but bare-knuckled facts. Actions, and inactions, have consequences.

In the roiling years ahead, the bread to be gathered will have to be for everyone, the loaves multiplied and split, the life-giving waters shared. It will be time to take our faith from the pulpit and put it into real and painful practice. We may lose everything we once valued, everything we have known. A century that began with planes flying into buildings will, before it reaches its halfway mark, have continents on fire, submerged cities, a scorched bread basket.

Many will turn to their religion, read and re-read spiritual texts, and perhaps find solace. The Bible is replete with stories of flood and fire, some parable, some literal. The times ahead will be no parable. When we are on the run from fire and flood, when our beds, bank accounts, and homes are lost, we will need to hang on to our humanity. This is a war of weather launched by the modern world. The historically poor and starving nations may, understandably, be wrathful and warlike. They who have always known suffering will endure yet more. The poor always bear the brunt while the wealthy go free, but in the days ahead, not necessarily so. Climate could be the great equalizer.

To hang on to our humanity while the world burns will mean to live the works of mercy on a global scale, to take in all those we left behind while our factories ran, our furnaces raged, our cars fumed, and we swam in style. It's going to mean giving it all up for others. It's going to mean, for the first time in human history, seeing and treating the entire world as one family.

The alternative, the just as likely, is that we continue to see others as the "other" and devolve into chaos and ruin, war and famine. This has, in fact, been most of our history. It will be difficult to avoid. We are notoriously selfish. It is this selfishness we will have to put down, to choose family over famine, the works of mercy over war. I would rather spend my last breath feeding than fighting.

A theologian may say we are about to be cleansed by fire. Or perhaps to experience, as Thomas Merton wrote, "Mercy within mercy within mercy." Yes, possibly both, but such theological explanations seem inadequate, or at least ill-timed, to the moment. Perhaps because theological explanations so often seem just that, explanations in theory after the fact. This superheated world requires that theory, and theology, be put into practice. And now. We need to gather up our good in abundance. The days ahead will ask us to choose. My meandering journey, our meandering journey, is about to run out of road.

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Brad Wolf is a former lawyer, teacher, and community college dean. He has an MFA in Creative Writing and is co-founder of Peace Action Network of Lancaster. He is active with World Beyond War, The Beatitudes Center for Nonviolence, and The (more...)

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