Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Monday, January 21, 2013

Climate Chaos on Martin Luther King’s Day

Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, the great Baptist pastor who led the Civil Rights movement when I was a child; King, who peaceably organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott against entrenched racism; King, who thrilled and inspired a generation with his “Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; King whose government subjected him to FBI surveillance and harassment as a subversive for much of his life; and King, who finally laid down his life in the path of an assassin’s bullet, following his master in sacrifice for others.

Today, there’s a beautiful monument in memory of Dr. King along the Tidal Basin in Washington. It’s one of my very favorite places. Just last week, Barbara and I had the chance to visit it once more. We walked in silence along the granite wall inscribed with his writings and speeches. We spoke very little, as we took in the beauty and gravity of this great soul:

  • "Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
  • "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."
  • "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
  • "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

January forsythia at MLK Memorial

We had a long drive ahead of us, so after our brief rendezvous with greatness, we hurried between the massive granite blocks toward our waiting car. But on the plaza leading from the monument, we were confronted with a sight that stopped us cold. The plaza was lined with forsythia bushes, those showy, sprawling yellow shrubs that brightly announce the arrival of spring. They bloom in Washington around March 15th. But there they were, bright and yellow, less than two weeks after the New Year, announcing something much more sinister: the ongoing saga of climate chaos.

The same day, Russians were enduring a freak winter storm, beyond the memories of even the most frost-hardened Muscovites. 12,000 snow removal trucks vainly plied the streets of Moscow, but traffic hardly moved for days.  The MKAD, Moscow’s major traffic artery, was jammed for 13 kilometers going nowhere. And this followed a coldest-ever December for Russia, with temperatures falling to 58 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

So it looks like 2013 is beginning much like 2012 and 2011, both of which brought us records of extreme weather, drought, wildfires, flooding, rising food prices and hunger across the globe.

And this brings me back to Dr. King. He knew that – despite crushing setbacks – time was ultimately on the side of justice. “No lie can live forever,” he said. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

Moscow freak storm: Signs of what's ahead
But time is almost certainly not on the side of those who struggle to protect the creation from climate chaos. As we pass tipping point after tipping point, there are fewer and fewer hopes of returning to the world into which we were born, a world capable of sustaining its billions of human souls and more than a million living species.

But perhaps this will be the year our nation rises to meet the challenge of a climate system on steroids. If so, it will happen because we demanded that our leaders take action. Maybe this would be the time for you to make your voice heard. Why not start the year by telling your congressional representatives how you feel? It’s easier than you probably think. Take a moment, click here, and let them know what you’re thinking.

“Not only will we have to repent for the sins of bad people,” wrote Dr. King, “but we also will have to repent for the appalling silence of good people.”

Thanks for reading, and for speaking out, good people. And may God bless you.

J. Elwood

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