THE BLOG
09/13/2007 04:45 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

God Grant Us the Wisdom to Act in Time

Narsasuaq, Greenland -- The bright blue icebergs that dot Eric's Fjord don't calve from a local glacier. They have been carried by ocean currents from the East Coast of Greenland all the way to this southwestern inlet where Norse settlement of Greenland began. Leif Erickson was seeking this harbor when he was blown off course to Newfoundland and "discovered" America. In summer, the icebergs from East Greenland sometimes pack the fjord and interfere with navigation. But in the winter -- until recently -- the fjord froze solid, making it Greenland's winter highway system for sleds and snowmobiles. In the last decade, however, the ice has softened and local residents are trapped in the dark polar nights in their little villages, unable to reach the outside world, visit their friends, or often get medical attention.

On this day, blue ice still glitters against green fields through the observation windows of our ship as Patriarch Bartholomew solemnly closes the six-day Symposium. As he speaks, I am struck by the varied journeys that brought people here to contemplate the fate of the climate. There is, for example, Massoumeh Ebtekar, one of the Iranian students who seized the US Embassy, and later became Minister of the Environment in the Khatami government. Now serving on the Teheran City Council, she watches as the current Iranian government, filled with hardliners, tries to roll back Khatami's environmental legacy. Svend Auken, former Danish Environment Minister, who worked closely with the Sierra Club and other NGOs to strengthen the original Kyoto Protocol, is now witnessing the new Danish government slash spending on environmental protection. Vandana Shiva, from Dehra Dun, India, is striving to undo the India-US nuclear agreement that she sees as a stalking horse for American nuclear manufacturers. Cardinal Emeritus Theodore McCarrick, representing the Vatican, spent most of his life in the parishes of the poor, in both Central America and Harlem, and sees climate change first and foremost as a threat to his flock and an affront to his denomination's mission to the weak. Jens Hansen, from the University of Aarhus, was here to report on his new findings that, across the Arctic, Inuit and other indigenous women are having twice as many girls as boys, probably because of very high levels of PCB pollution from emissions further south concentrating in the Arctic. Antonio Nobre, a biologist from Brazil, sees in climate change a huge threat to the biodiversity of his beloved Amazon, but also sees saving the Amazon as a way of curbing global warming.

Addressing the assemblage, the Patriarch is direct. He says climate change is our time's "kairos", a Greek term for a moment of eternal consequence. He compares this juncture in time to the other great kairos events in Christian history: for Paul, his conversion; for Mary, the Annunciation; for Christ, the crucifixion. A kairos, he says, makes its own demands: demands we are not free to ignore. We do not have time, he warns, to balance the need for action against its possible risks. "The sea is warming, the ice is melting, and the catastrophe already visiting the Arctic will not stop here."

He closes: "God grant us the wisdom to act in time."