Climate Hope Shines in Dark Times

Eiffel Tower during climate talks. The energy efficient bulbs are powered in part by wind and sun.

The Eiffel Tower’s energy efficient bulbs are powered in part by wind & sun.

Spiritual Sunday

Madeleine L’Engle channels John the Baptist’s prophetic voice in this Advent poem, written while the Vietnam War was still underway. Unfortunately, it’s as relevant now as it was then—perhaps more relevant as human-caused climate change is increasingly making its presence felt. We still have fires, especially in the drought-ravaged west, and drownings, especially in countries with low-lying coastal areas. The song birds are still falling, the sea birds and fish are still dying (overharvesting and increasingly acidic oceans will do that), and children are still choking (especially in China’s polluted air).

But at least there’s a glimmer of light, what with the world’s 195 countries miraculously coming together to sign yesterday’s landmark climate accords (after 20+ years negotiation!). Yes, I know it’s not all that environmentalists wanted. The plans put forward will not prevent a disastrous two degree Celsius rise in global temperatures, and there’s much in the agreement that is voluntary. The Marshall Islands may not survive.

Nevertheless, acknowledging the problem is an important first step, and there will be five year follow-ups. With the world focused on the problem, we may see dramatic technological breakthroughs that will lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. There may be momentum towards something even better.

Advent is a time of despair and a time of hope, which pretty much captures how many feel about the new accord. But contra the poem, at least the world has “wakened.” Maybe the Eiffel Tower, blazing in all its glory to signal the deal’s signing, can stand in for Bethlehem’s star.

Advent, 1971
by Madeleine L’Engle

When will he come
and how will he come
and will there be warnings
and will there be thunders
and rumbles of armies
coming before him
and banners and trumpets
When will he come
and how will he come
and will we be ready

O woe to you people
you sleep through the thunder
you heed not the warnings
the fires and the drownings
the earthquakes and stormings
and ignorant armies
and dark closing on you
the song birds are falling
the sea birds are dying
no fish now are leaping
the children are choking
in air not for breathing
the aged are gasping
with no one to tend them

a bright star has blazed forth
and no one has seen it
and no one has wakened

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