By Tom Krattenmaker
This is not a column dedicated to bludgeoning those unmoved by liberals’ warnings about climate change. It is an invitation to people, especially Christians, to think about what’s happening to the water, and what will happen to us if there’s not enough of it to go around.
For whatever reason, 58% of California is in “exceptional drought,” which is even worse than “extreme.” Also in the headlines: a tap-water drinking ban in Toledo, Ohio, precipitated by Lake Erie algae blooms that researchers attribute, in part, to warmer temperatures.
These and similar phenomena are more than a boutique concern for silly liberals. If you care about life — and I know you do, especially if you’re a Christian who believes in the sanctity of life — please pay attention to what is happening with the water.
In California’s Central Valley, the rich bounty of agricultural products is in jeopardy as the water becomes scarcer. People are rightly worrying about what they are going to drink if the drought goes on. If this isn’t a “life” issue, it’s hard to say what is.
The United Nations “Water for Life” campaign warns that water scarcity is one of the main problems staring down the world of the 21st century. “Even without climate change,” says Peter Brabeck, the chairman of Nestlé, “we are running out of water.”
One of the environmental movement’s biggest mistakes has been to give the impression that enviros care more about old trees and rare animals than human beings. That problem, thankfully, is being remedied as a new ethos in the movement connects the dots between a healthy environment and the viability of human life.
Meanwhile, more theologically conservative Christians are breaking out of an old “lordship over the earth” way of thinking and embracing “creation care” as a religious imperative, notes Christian Piatt, author of the new book postChristian. Typifying this evangelical ethic is ministry leader Randy Alcorn, who touts his anti-abortion commitment but adds, “I am also concerned about the welfare of the environment God has entrusted to our care, in which … human lives are also at stake.” Alcorn’s statement appears in Gardening Eden, a book by evangelical Michael Abbaté.
Nothing against polar bears, but it’s not about them primarily. The issue is the life-threatening impact on human beings as parts of our habitat become less able to support human life.
Water has deep resonance with Christians. That includes the spiritual “living water” of Christ as well as the actual stuff, which many missionary travelers help secure through well-digging in less developed countries.
Fish likewise feature in the Bible — and in today’s climate analyses. Warmer ocean waters, in tandem with overfishing and seawater acidification, threaten this important source of food. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the changes will likely “increase the vulnerability of human societies, by affecting income, employment and food security.”
When the weather goes wild, people die. The science does not back the oft-made connection between climate change and the severity of the tornadoes we have endured in recent years. But the IPCC says climate trends will likely supersize tropical cyclones in the future, taking wind speeds and rainfall levels from bad to worse. It hardly needs to be pointed out that the coastal zones, vulnerable to typhoons, tend to be high-population areas.
Lately, because of political controversies and headline-grabbing court cases such as the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, the public’s view of evangelical reverence for life has been reduced mainly to fetuses and fertilized eggs. In truth, evangelicals are addressing myriad threats to life, from poverty and slavery to genocide. If the life movement can devote itself to fighting these, can’t it also confront the threat to our life-giving water — and compel the small- and large-scale actions that will conserve it for human beings today and tomorrow?
I have been around enough Christians to know there is room in their hearts, and on their agenda, for this life issue, too.
Tom Krattenmaker is a Portland writer specializing in religion in public life and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors. His most recent book is The Evangelicals You Don’t Know.