While faith and reason are challenging us to be good stewards of God’s beautiful creation locally, viewing the documentary, “The Human Element,” by James Balog, regarding national and world climate, I am concerned about the health of all people, especially the poor.
Balog has traveled the world using time-lapse photography to photograph some shocking environmental changes in God’s creation. In California, he captured the huge winds driving the wildfires, showing them uncontrollably creating tornadoes within the fire. Afterward, he photographed the destruction of thousands of acres of forests and vegetation so that when the rain comes in rainstorms, mudslides destroy the landscape. Thousands of homes, wildlife and human lives also were destroyed. Wildfire smoke alone contributes to the deaths of 17,000 Americans annually. Firefighters said that these fires are increasing in number, intensity, size and frequency, unlike the past, changing the precipitation patterns. These fires are burning all year long, covering thousands of more acres each year, creating extreme heat, dry terrain, more fires, and increasing carbon in the atmosphere.
Balog also filmed glaciers melting into the oceans, causing monumental abrupt changes in the landscape. Increased melting raised the sea level. He captured the rising water invading the Eastern and Gulf coasts of the U.S. where smaller towns are being abandoned, waterfront jobs and careers lost, and families needing to relocate without financial means. There is a projected rise in sea level of 5 to 24 inches by 2050.
Measuring the amount of air for breathing in the atmosphere, he discovered that the air is very thin, is being polluted by refineries and traffic using fossil fuel energy: methane, ethanol, and other gases, which produce carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, has reached its highest level in over 800,000 years. Because these gases trap heat, the annual average global temperature is increasing and will continue to increase. Also, chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and hydrocarbons forming ozone radiate heat. This contributes to the temperature of the Earth and is harmful to us. Air pollution is the major environmental risk, causing 800,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Filming the destruction of coal mining, in which his father was involved, he recognized the benefits from coal, and now, oil and gas. However, these fossil fuels also have brought death to families. They contribute to increasing the annual average temperature of the Earth. Todd Staples, the president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, agreed that fossil fuels contribute to global warming and stated that they are committed to lowering carbon emissions.
While there has always been environmental change, Balog’s time-lapse photography shows how quickly it is now taking place and that it is becoming more unpredictable and turbulent. The reality of the recent freeze demonstrated this unrestrained, intense force of nature. While wind/air, water, Earth and fire are forces of nature making these changes, we human beings also are adversely affecting these four elements and human lives.
In Texas this year, we have experienced 22 weather and climate disasters, which are affecting all of us but more so those in poverty. The story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4: 9-11) tells us that we are our brother’s keeper. Jesus confirms this when he says we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mt. 27: 37-40). Moreover, Gen 2:15 implies mutual responsibility between us and nature. Climate is a common good meant for all and must be preserved by all. We must use only what is needed to be sustained and protect the Earth for future fruitfulness. The recent deep freeze and COVID 19 have demonstrated that we are all connected and need each other to be sustained in life. Whether we are saved from destruction depends on all of us working together to benefit all of us. Solutions are to follow.