Twelve-year-old Galib Mahmud had to get to school. There was just one problem. The streets in his hometown of Dhaka, Bangladesh were flooded. While flooding in Bangladesh is a normal occurrence, last summer the flooding was extreme, causing $6.7 billion in damage in Bangladesh alone and resulting in over 2,000 deaths across the region. Although it was dangerous, Galib waded to school in his crisp white shirt through waist-high dirty water, carrying his shoes and books in a bag above his head.
Young Anna Nangolol lives in northwest Kenya, one of the harshest landscapes on the planet. For generations, her nomadic tribe had been well adapted to its arid home. That’s changed over the past 30 years, however, when the droughts have been relentless and dangerous. The herds they depend on are reaching the tipping point of their existence. Anna and millions of other Kenyans are in need of food aid because of the extreme drought.
Extreme. Dangerous. These are words that fit a growing global problem — climate change — that I believe is already bringing extreme flooding, extreme drought, extreme weather events of various shapes and sizes. With these extremes come dangers.
Jesus said in the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew that what we do to "the least of these" we do to him. That’s how profoundly he identifies with the poor and their plight. It is because he came to bring the abundant life for everyone that he has a special concern for those at the bottom.
Jesus is extreme in his concern for the poor. Today Jesus Christ looks at us through their eyes, through the eyes of Galib and Anna. What we do to the least of these through global warming we do to Jesus.
As someone who has confessed Christ to be my savior and lord, I look at global warming not as an "environmental" problem, but as an opportunity to love my lord by loving what he loves, by caring for everything he created. We call it creation-care.
Climate change is not creation-care. Nor is it some abstract theory. It is now a reality that brings death in its wake. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 160,000 people die each year due to the direct and indirect impacts of global warming. (That's as many as have died in the recent tsunami, which has rightly generated an outpouring of support from around the world.)
And the impact of global warming will get much worse as the century progresses. Millions could die. God's other creatures will suffer as well. A report in Nature magazine suggests that up to 37 percent of God's creatures will be on the road to extinction because of climate change by 2050, their songs of praise to their creator snuffed out forever.
On Wednesday, much of the developed world takes an important first step to address global warming as the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate treaty, goes into effect. The United States, however, is not participating. While I believe President Bush cares about the plight of the poor, this is not reflected in his climate policy. As a country, and as the world's No. 1 source of greenhouse gases, America needs to do much more.
In the absence of federal leadership, many states and businesses have stepped up to help. California has recently issued regulations requiring a 30 percent reduction in global warming pollution from vehicles by 2016. (However, it needs to withstand court challenges and receive a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency.)
Eighteen other states have requirements for electricity to be produced by renewable energy. DuPont and BP have made major efforts to reduce their emissions and are saving millions in the process.
Many individuals are also doing their part to reduce their global warming pollution by such activities as driving fuel-efficient vehicles and taking public transportation.
Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joseph Lieberman and others are pressing for passage of the Climate Stewardship Act, which would reduce U.S. emission of heat-trapping gases and be an important first step by the federal government to address our role in climate change.
All of these efforts are good for Galib and Anna. And they also help pave the way for our eventual re-entry into the international process.
For many of the world's poor, this century will be a dark night. Yet Psalm 30:5 says, "weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."
Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D. is the executive director of the Evangelical Environmental Network. The organization is the sponsor of the "What would Jesus drive?" campaign.