Houston Chronicle op-ed
Melanie Scruggs, Texas Campaign for the Environment
There is an old joke about the man in a flooding house who prays for rescue. As the water rises, firefighters come by in a rowboat and offer to help him out. He says, “No, no, I’m waiting for God to rescue me.” A while later, the water is higher and a motorboat comes. He tells them, “No, no, I’m waiting for God to rescue me.” Finally, the water is up to his roof and a helicopter offers help. “No, no, I’m waiting for God to rescue me,” the man says. The water keeps rising however, and the man drowns.
In heaven now, the man asks God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?”
“What are you talking about?” God asks. “I sent two boats and a helicopter!”
This joke is not only appropriate in light of the historic rain and flooding we have seen in Houston lately, but in light of another man of prayer’s recent statements on a likely contributor to this exceptional weather: Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change. The man in the joke thought his solution would come miraculously, but it came instead from conscientious neighbors working for the common good. Many Texans seem to believe that we will be magically delivered from the consequences we are already facing as a result of our unrestrained consumption and waste – record droughts, record floods and more violent tropical storms. In truth, it is the leadership of thousands of activists working in our community that offers real hope for our future.
Pope Francis’ encyclical is important, but it is only the latest statement from a faith leader urging action on climate change. Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu and Protestant leaders – including the Southern Baptist Convention – have said that climate change is a moral issue, and failure to act to mitigate it is a moral failing. Somehow, however, Texas politicians – usually not too shy about mixing religion into their politics – have not gotten the message. Some climate change denialists with whom I have spoken in Austin have even suggested that God would not allow climate change to destroy our wasteful way of life!
The notion that God will bail us out of the consequences of our own bad decisions is not one taken seriously by any religion I am familiar with, and as a pastor’s daughter, I am confident that I never learned that one in Sunday school. Instead, the Bible and many scriptures from other faiths are full of stories of otherwise decent, even holy people making selfish decisions they repeatedly have been warned against and facing inevitable consequences as judgment. They can be forgiven, they can be healed, and they can repent and take instead a different path. But as long as they persist in their destructive behavior, there is a price to be paid.
Those of us working to build a more sustainable and just society across Texas are leading the way, however, to avert disaster and save lives. We are working to put Houston on a path to zero waste by advocating a long-term plan to expand recycling and composting programs all over the city. We are lobbying to defend our renewable energy portfolio standards. We are educating and protecting communities that live closest to polluting facilities. We need to be doing even more, and collaborating more. Some of needed changes may be uncomfortable, but doing the right thing often is. Many Texas politicians, however, would rather pretend as though the problem does not exist than make any changes necessary to address it.
Flooding and miraculous rescues, it turns out, are no joke. A climate warming out of control is one where floods, droughts, powerful storms and other costs to human life and civilization become increasingly unavoidable. We would do well to heed Pope Francis’ pleas, and be the people piloting the figurative rescue boats and helicopters, not those refusing help when we need it most.
Scruggs is Houston program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment.