It is always safe to open a conversation with a discussion of the weather. It’s called breaking the ice. On a recent call with a friend in Adelaide, Australia, I inquired about the weather and learned that Australians have added new colors to their TV weather maps in order to accommodate their new range of temperatures—watch out for pink! The Australian continent is literally burning up.

Here in the United States, 2012 was the hottest year on record, with 362 record highs and zero record lows set. The Northeast is still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, the Southwest from a prolonged drought. In my home state of Kentucky we have experienced a dramatic and unprecedented series of destructive tornadoes.

The climate around the globe is changing. Over the past several decades the arguments about this new reality has shifted from one of denial—i.e., that climate change doesn’t exist—to “it exists but isn’t caused by humans,” to “it might be the result of human activity, but we can’t fix it,” to “we can fix it—but we can’t afford to.” And so society has chosen to go about business-as-usual despite having reset the thermostat on the planet.

There are many excuses for our inaction—some made by conservatives, some by liberals, some by the rich, others by the poor. One irony we are learning, however, is that arguments made by the rich can quickly change once they are hit with a flood or drought.

The calling of the ministry I work for—Blessed Earth—is to get people in the church to not only love the creator, but to care for creation. Over the past decade I have been granted unbelievable access to the Church across the theological spectrum—access that one of my board members says is a “miracle.” I am inclined to agree because this access continues to grow despite my having made every theological and liturgical mistake imaginable. I have dipped when I should drunk, drank when I should have dunked, sat when I should have stood—and stood when everyone else kneeled. At Abilene Christian University I ended a sermon by saying that in heaven most of us will be out of work, but that the good news is that “the band plays on.” This sounded reasonable to me—and probably those sitting behind me today—but not to the denomination I was preaching to, as they do not use instruments as a matter of doctrinal belief.

In sum, the knowledge I have of the church has been hard won.

I’d like to look at a few of the reasons we in the Church have not been more upset about the current state of deferred maintenance on the planet—and to suggest ways in which we can become part of the solution. First, the environmental movement has failed to engage most of us and the millions of others in church today—including mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelicals. Some of that has been unintentional—but some has been otherwise. Irrespective, we are all on this planet together. The Bible says that God makes the rain to fall on the wicked and the just alike. Here are some of my thoughts on the current state of environmental affairs in the church.

Unlike many environmental problems we have faced—and have even met successfully—climate change is only understood though the lens of science, and science doesn’t work for everyone. Knowing the parts per million of CO2 has little impact on the calculus of the human heart—even of the hearts of the most educated and intelligent. The concentration of CO2 has doubled in the last two centuries, but this does not resonate with most of us. What does a CO2 level of 300, 4, or 500ppms mean if one doesn’t know that there are 210,000 parts per million of oxygen?

When I practiced medicine, I treated a Nobel laureate whose adrenal glands had just failed. Despite their importance to our lives, the average person has no idea where their adrenals are—and if you don’t, I’m happy to tell you that he didn’t either. We do not remember science and math which has gone unused in our daily lives. Regardless of what our algebra teachers said, we do need to know how to set up a quadratic equation to buy candy. Science has its limitations.

I was in a church in New Hampshire several years ago and was asked what I thought about climate change, and my questioner added, “Because I don’t believe in it.” A woman in the same group had said she thought that the earth was 6,000 years old, give or take a decade. I don’t think we would have gotten anywhere if I had started talking about Boyle’s gas laws and the dissolved CO2 in 100,000-year-old ice samples. But, when we talked about the lack of snow to plow, lost jobs at the ski resort, and how maple sap was flowing a month earlier, then we got somewhere.

In the Church, it matters what language we use; we are a people driven by God’s narrative and story. Everybody remembers the story of Jonah, not the Book of Numbers.

When people try to convince us about the Biblical mandate to care for creation, it is not enough to proof text the verses about Joseph, which deal with a failure of the rain and the ensuing climate change. Instead, the story comes alive when we look at the true account of a man named Joe who is in jail in Memphis for assault and attempted rape. He is from a dysfunctional family, his mother is a thief, and his father has children by four different women. His brothers hate him for his flashy wardrobe—and his ability to read dreams. This story of Joseph in Egypt is the Biblical precedent for working with a government to enact a 20% conservation tax—while getting a leg up on foreign competition to boot!

I believe that another reason that we have tuned out on climate change is the sheer number of end-of-the-world stories we are exposed to. The world was supposed to end with Y2K, yet nary an ATM hiccupped. We have lived through flesh eating bacteria, and traffic jams hawked as “Carmageddon.” We have faced fiscal cliffs and we have come to the end of the Mayan calendar, yet here we are. End-of-the-world scenarios make for good headlines, but so many of them has lead to a “crisis” of exhaustion.

One of the most serious obstacles to progress is lack of confidence in the future and the general state of malaise that accompanies it. This is equally true for both atheists and people of faith.

I was traveling on a plane several years ago when we ran into storms. They seemed to cover the entire Southeast. Our plane went up, then down, was diverted, landed at a small airport, refueled and then went back up again. Like other Canterbury trips, ours inspired people to tell their stories. The man next to me was a civil engineer that had worked all over the world on water issues.

He told me about South American countries that depended on glaciers for over 90 percent of their water supply. The glaciers were melting—and this meant that not only would they be out of water but their hydro-electric energy would be erased as well. He was working on the problem. Glacier National Park in the US would have to change its name in the next 30 years, he informed me, because they would no longer have any glaciers.

I had a great time listening to my engineer seatmate. Eventually he asked me what I did for a living, and my guard must have been let down because without thinking I told him the truth. I said that I was a Christian writer. “But you seemed so smart!” just came out of his mouth, and he leaned away from me. “Do you write those end-of-the world, Left Out books?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “I write about the Bible and taking care of the environment.”

We fell back into talking. When I left out my beliefs and my work with the church, my IQ rose again. And then I asked what he thought was going to happen in the next hundred years.

He said when the glaciers in the Northern hemisphere melted, the ocean level would rise. He brought up other environmental challenges that would affect water, like mountain top removal. The BP spill that would stain the Gulf of Mexico dark red with oil sludge had not yet occurred, but he did talk about fish-die off and ocean dead zones.

He told me of friends that were air quality experts who warned about air pollution and particulate matter that makes the sun dimmer in the day. When combined with light pollution, particulate matter keeps half the people on the planet from seeing the Milky Way at night. Noise pollution is making us—and wildlife—deaf. There is no way humanity is going to make it, he said. But after a few million years things will get back to normal, he reassured me.

The Bible doesn’t say ocean levels rise—instead it talks about the islands sinking, which I would submit is the same thing. It doesn’t use the term “mountain top removal”—but Jesus did said that the mountains would be laid low, the oceans would turn red, the sun would grow dim, and the stars would fall from the sky. He didn’t call it “noise pollution,” but Jesus did talk about a time when the nations would have cities roaring like the oceans; I challenge you to stand in the middle of a city listening to the 60db background level of noise with your eyes closed and not hear something that sounds like the ocean roaring. How bizarre it must have seemed to his listeners when Jesus said that the nations would be perplexed about the changing of the tides, but to us it sounds like a headline from a world climate summit. He warned his listeners 2000 years ago of earthquakes in strange or diverse places, and we are the first generation with the technology to cause them.

Much of Jesus’ apocalyptic language can only be understood through an environmental lens. Like all the prophets before him, Jesus does not forecast to discourage but to call us to repentance. What are we to do when we see these signs? Are we to give up—run and hide or throw in the towel? No—just the opposite. “Don’t let me catch you sleeping,” he warns us.

One of the biggest obstacles has been our failure to think that people on the other side have any intelligence. Wasn’t the man on the plane talking about the same thing as the Christians he thought were stupid? His language was scientific while mine was biblical, but the effect on life on earth is the same.

The children who will be born a hundred years from now do not care about nuances of language. They need the people of today to stare into the future and to care. The church has much to offer which government and science cannot. We—not they—own the language of sacrifice, forgiveness, simplicity and restraint.

For those who would give up on all of humanity—either from scientific or religious despair—I wonder: have you ever held a child while it was sleeping, seen the sun rise, looked into a fire on a snowy night, thrown a stick and had a dog chase it, or been transported to heaven while listening to music or watching Shakespeare performed? God is always setting before us a choice—and he asks us to choose life. That may involve biking to work, or putting solar panels on the roof, or turning down the heat. It may mean working with people with whom we are diametrically opposed. But in a few years the one question your grandchildren will ask is, “What did you do about climate change? What choices did you make?”

The jury is still out. In the name of God, I pray that we choose life!

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