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Is Gratitude the Key to the Earth's Future?

Evangelical scientist Kathryn Hayhoe gave a Ted Talk on climate change that has received almost 4 million views. This scientist’s argument for a solution to climate change, ironically, had very little to do with science. She said, “We don’t need to talk about the science. We’ve been talking about the science for over 150 years. In the 1850s scientists discovered that digging up and burning coal and gas and oil produces heat-trapping gases that is wrapping an extra blanket around the planet. It’s been 50 years since scientists first formally warned a U.S. president of the dangers of a changing climate, and that president was Lyndon B. Johnson.” Science is not the problem, nor will it bring us the solution.

I agree with Hayhoe that the solutions to the problems of the earth’s environment are not scientific, though the “presenting problems,” as doctors say, are scientific in nature— rising global temperatures, ocean levels and CO2 levels. The solutions are grounded in an ethic of gratitude and come from an ancient prophet. Listen to what Jesus had to say, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not so or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Mt. 6:26). Jesus used the same logic in describing the “flowers of the field, that neither labor or spin” (v 28). It was a broadside assault against the human tendency to accumulate more and more in order to build a fortress of personal security. He is proposing the Kingdom of God as superior to the Kingdom of Consumerism. The problem isn’t so much that we have things or need things. Jesus said God knows we need these things to live. The problem is that the acquisition of things becomes life’s pursuit rather than pursuing the kingdom of God which is nourished by gratitude.

We have 150 years of science that teaches unequivocally that the earth is getting hotter, it’s driven by humans, and ultimately it is dangerous to our existence. What we lack is a sense of gratitude for what God has given us and a sense of sufficiency in those gifts. The evidence for this is found in our garages, storage units, landfills and oceanfills (Microsoft doesn’t understand I’m coining a new word here). The pursuit of excess possessions far beyond anything we actually need has serious ecological consequences.

Perhaps this season of pandemic, which has actually been a period of revitalization for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, can chasten our hearts and desires. We don’t have to be thankful for 250,000 American lives lost to CoVid, or for the millions who have become unemployed. But perhaps we can be grateful for what is, what we do have and cease our strivings for what more we can have. Therein lies the answer to the problems of the earth and the problems of all creatures of our God and King.

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