Did you ever hear the one about the man in the storm who prayed to God to save him?
When the floodwaters approached and his neighbours offered him a ride out of town, he refused, saying “God will save me.” When the waters rose around his home and the police came to fetch him in a boat, he refused, saying “God will save me.” When his house was under water and the coast guard came by helicopter to pluck him from his roof, he refused, saying “God will save me.”
Then he prayed a final time… and drowned.
Arriving in Heaven, the man demanded an explanation. God replied, “Son, I sent you a car, a boat, a helicopter and you refused every one. How else was I going to save you?”
That hundreds of innocent people died from floods, fires, and storms in 2017 – in spite of their best efforts to find safety – is not a joke. It is a human tragedy that words cannot assuage.
Nevertheless, the moral of the story holds true for society at large. Although we are accustomed to calling deadly storms “acts of God,” the hard truth is they are fast becoming acts of humankind – the predicted result of our longstanding addiction to carbon-emitting, climate-changing fossil fuels. Never was this more true than in the year 2017. Let me explain.
According to the natural order of things – God’s created order, if you will – storms like Hurricane Harvey just don’t happen on planet Earth. From the dawn of human life until our time, humankind was largely “protected” from natural disasters by a stable climate, as Earth maintained its radiative balance by reflecting much of the sun’s warming rays back into space through a healthy atmosphere.
When temperature swings of more than 2-3 degrees Celsius did occur – long before human civilizations, and far slower than we see today – the effects were nothing short of catastrophic, causing mass extinctions and sweeping alterations of land and sea.
Now we appear to be knee-deep in a catastrophic change in global climate that is speeding up extinctions to at least 1,000 times the historic rate and bringing winds and rains, droughts and heat waves, wildfires and crop failures the likes of human beings have never seen before.
And this time, the joke’s on us.
Like the man who refused to be saved, we too have been refusing to heed the warning signs and change course. For decades, climate scientists have applied God’s gift of knowledge and observed that warming temperatures brought on by human greenhouse gas emissions cause more water to evaporate from the oceans, increasing by as much as 71 percent the amount of atmospheric moisture waiting to fall as rain.
The warming oceans also function as an “engine” for hurricanes, turning tropical storms into Category 4 and 5 events, according to complex statistical analyses tying climate change to specific weather events. Indeed, twelve of the thirteen costliest hurricanes in American history have occurred since 2004 and National Geographic pegs the cost of climate change in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year.
Since 2016 alone, the United States has experienced six deadly 1,000-year floods and data from the US Geological Survey suggest Hurricane Harvey may have been a 500,000-year event (not just because it junked some 500,000 cars). The same trend applies to raging forest fires that now consume 5,000 times more land in the Pacific Northwest than a generation ago, as well as other catastrophic weather events. The costs around the world are far greater still.
With the recent release of a massive scientific report from 13 federal agencies citing humans as the dominant cause of climate change and resulting weather extremes – in direct contradiction to President Trump and his political appointees – 2017 may just be the year when God’s “warnings” finally got through.
The real question is this: Will 2018 be the year when Planet Earth turned the page from chaos to can-do?
Good news abounds. Clean technologies that combine earth’s natural endowments of sun, wind, and water with human ingenuity are now the cheapest forms of energy on earth, capable of meeting 100% of our needs - if only politicians would stop giving billions in taxpayer-funded subsidies to the same fossil fuel companies that fund their own campaigns.
Dozens of countries around the world now generate the majority of their electricity through through solar, wind, and hydro, and the United States has ample capacity to do the same. Meanwhile, the world’s top emitter of fossil fuels, China, is now the world leader in solar, with around 50 gigawatts of solar installed in 2017 compared to 2.5 gigawatts globally a decade ago.
What’s more, an increasing number of countries have also committed to phasing out gas-powered transportation in favour of emissions-free electric vehicles. And families across the United States are “voting with their dollars” to live fuel free, saving thousands of dollars annually by combining rooftop solar with air-source heat pumps, batteries, and an electric car.
But let us make no mistake: the time to move from chaos to can-do is quickly running out. We may have forever forfeited our ride out of town. The waters may even be too high for a police boat to save us. But the helicopter still hovers overhead – if we will but grab the rope and pull together to create a safe and sustainable future for our kids.