"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding." This verse found in the Book of Job (Job 38:4), has been running through my head as I sweat through these infernal first weeks of August in Washington, D.C.
I have been convinced of the gravity of global warming for a long time, but there's nothing like 100-plus degree weather to bring it home. What if this is only a foretaste of the future? Is this the picture of all future summers — out of control wildfires, sweltering temperatures, monster storms churning in the oceans?
Most of us learned how nature works in school or from our parents and grandparents. We were taught that heat makes water evaporate and cold turns it into ice; that bees are important because they not only make honey but also pollinate flowers; that caterpillars enter a cocoon and come out as butterflies.
At some point we also learned — either from a biology teacher, a parent, or an often misinformed friend — about the amazing process of procreation and the miracle of life. But few of us went on to learn a lot more about science. Beyond the introductory level, physics, chemistry, biology and math remained great mysteries for many of us. Astronomy and meteorology at best were words for crossword puzzles.
Which is why it's taken us so long to wake up to the danger of global warming.
It happened gradually, so it was hard to notice as it was going on — human beings have changed the earth. We have drained wetlands, plowed grasslands, even filled in a swamp to build the nation's capital. We have cut down enormous forests to grow cereal, to feed cows, to make cheap burgers to clog our arteries and to give ourselves killer heart attacks. We have pumped up fossil fuels from the bowels of the earth to refine into gasoline, to run our cars and trucks and create exhaust that produces global warming.
Now we are facing the consequences of an altered environment.
The people who really know, the scientists who specialize in global warming, tell us we have a scant 10 years to turn this around. The alternative is far scarier than anything Stephen King can come up with.
The glaciers are already melting much faster than anyone predicted. The consequences are unimaginable. I was born on an island in the Caribbean Sea. That island may disappear as sea levels rise. What will happen to its 10 million inhabitants? Should we take Hurricane Katrina as an urgent warning lest we live to see tragedy of New Orleans repeated over and over?
We have altered the foundation of the earth, its atmosphere. We must take immediate action to reverse the process. Come November, I will not vote for anyone who does not have a serious commitment to reversing global warming, who does not intend to demand that the United States join forces with the international community and sign the Kyoto Treaty that requires countries to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
I do not want to hear from my Maker, "Where were you when ...?"
The Rev. Mari E. Castellanos is minister for the United Church of Christ's Justice and Peace Action Network.