It's been a historic year for weather. Floods along the East Coast. Wildfires and drought in the southern Plains and Southwest. Tornadoes across the Midwest and Deep South. A paralyzing blizzard. Entire communities, like Joplin, Mo., devastated. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and disaster relief organizations stretched thin. How do we explain so many record-breaking events?
How we understand the Earth says a lot about how we understand God. Both are mysteriously powerful and, at times, inexplicable. Many people believe disasters are unrelated, unpredictable and unpreventable. Some attribute weather patterns to luck, Mother Nature or God's judgment. After all, extreme weather is nothing new.
But evidence is growing that our weather -- thus, our world -- is changing. Last year, the U.S. experienced an all-time record 81 disaster declarations. We've already had that many this year. Damage from this year's 10 major disasters has cost us $35 billion and 700 lives, not counting Hurricane Irene, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We've always had extreme weather, but never this much.
Years like 2011 may be the new normal. Climate change does not totally trigger any extreme event, but climate change does increase the odds for extreme weather. "There's really no such thing as 'natural' weather anymore," climate scientist Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois said recently. "Anything that takes place today in the weather system has been affected by the changes we've made to the climate system."
We are partly to blame, not God. It's time to confess the harm we're causing God's good Earth. Let's name our wrongs, repent and be freed to do less harm to creation. If we do not change our negative impact on the Earth, it will continue to change our weather, and us.
Christians are really good at helping people in need. Disaster relief organizations like Mennonite Disaster Service do incredible, necessary work that changes lives. As disasters become larger and more frequent, disaster relief organizations increasingly need our support.
What if we put as much energy into changing our destructive habits as we do into helping people affected by disasters?
As followers of Jesus, we believe God will one day fully restore creation to the garden-like state God established in the beginning. So why clean up creation now? Because God has assigned us to be caretakers of land, air, water and all living organisms. We need to join God in environmental reconciliation by adjusting our habits, our public policies and our understanding of how the world works.
There's a lot we still don't know. Though advancements in science and technology are accelerating at unprecedented rates, we have more questions than ever. Questions, however, are good and necessary for a robust theology. Questions also help us unearth new scientific understanding.
The Earth we inhabit seems frightfully different from the one Adam and Eve enjoyed. Severe weather disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people, who have contributed the least to the changing climate and are least prepared to deal with these changes. As stewards of creation, we must change our fossil-fuel-hungry habits so Earth can be restored.
The question of what Earth will look like for our children isn't just up to God. It's up to us.