“You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn—and I would heal them.” Matthew 13 14-15
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its Synthesis Report of its sixth assessment (AR6)[i] It should have been at the top of the news everywhere, but it was not. The constant barrage of attention-grabbing news headlines with violent, distressing, or random content makes it almost impossible to grasp what’s most important. It makes it hard to “see the forest for the trees.” But if the forest is dying there will be no trees, as is happening here in the Zombie forests[ii] of California, due of course, to climate change.
In the movie “Don’t Look Up,” filmmaker Adam McKay uses the metaphor of a world-destroying comet to parody how policy-makers and the media downplay the imminent threat of climate catastrophe. Jennifer Lawrence plays a doctoral student who discovers a massive comet headed straight for Earth, and Leo Di Caprio plays the scientist who confirms her discovery. Together they do everything they can to awaken people to the threat. The response of the US president, played brilliantly by Meryl Streep, is to “sit tight and assess,” and finally to support a billionaire entrepreneur’s high-tech (market based) money-making scheme. They go directly to the press but the talk show host, played by Cate Blanchett, ignores the danger, trivializes the topic, and dismisses the Jennifer Lawrence character for desperately sounding the alarm.
Film maker Adam McKay describes his motivation for producing “Don’t Look Up” by pointing back through geological time to the asteroid that many scientists say is responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs and many other species. He says, “[Climate change] is the biggest story in human history, and arguably the biggest threat since the Chicxulub comet 66 million years ago.”[iii]
Is this an exaggeration? Climate scientists today are sounding the alarm. According to the IPCC’s AR6 report:
“Human-caused climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. This has led to widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people. Vulnerable communities that have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.”[iv]
“In this decade, accelerated action to adapt to climate change is essential to close the gap between existing adaptation and what is needed…Emissions should be decreasing by now and will need to be cut by almost half by 2030, if warming is to be limited to 1.5°C. [v]
According the IPCC’s press release, “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all…The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years.”[vi]
Last November, in his opening plenary remarks at COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez summed up our situation: “The clock is ticking. We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing. Greenhouse gas emissions keep growing, global temperatures keep rising, and our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.” He added, ‘We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”[vii]
Many of us in the global North are privileged enough to be able to find ways to insulate ourselves (temporarily) from the reality and impacts of climate change on our lives and hope that the fires and floods don’t come for us. We might tell ourselves that there’s nothing that we can do, or we might feel we are doing our part because we recycle or don’t fly or are vegan or have an electric car, or we might hold out hope for the next technological fix or the next billionaire entrepreneur to save us. But these responses are inadequate in light of the existential threat we face. These are all forms of denial, because they enable us to pretend that life will continue go on as is has before. They are ways of saying, “Don’t look up.”
In many parts of the world, people don’t have that luxury, because extreme weather is destroying their homes, their crops, their livelihoods, and even their very existence as a people (as with island nations). Our young know that climate change is upon us and accelerating, and that they and their descendants will disproportionately bear its escalating burdens long after those who have presided over the current fossil-fuel intensive global system are gone.
Clearly, powers very much like the dominating powers of Jesus’s age, continue their death-dealing work today. Creation itself is being crucified. As William Stringfellow said, “The work of the powers in the Fall is the undoing of creation.” This becomes ever-harder to ignore as temperatures rise, weather extremes multiply, and ecosystems that sustain life are progressively unraveled, putting an ever-greater strain on our corporate-dominated capitalist global empire, leading to rising epidemics of poverty, violence, and misery.
This post is an invitation and a challenge to readers to come out of denial and face the extremity of our situation. The season of Lent is a fitting time for this, for it is God in Christ, immanent as well as transcendent, who suffers in and through us and all creation. We are approaching Holy Week, and we know that Easter is coming. Yet we cannot bypass the cross to get to resurrection.
As we walk with Jesus through the painful events that led to his death, in retrospect we can see, like the Gospel writers, God’s divine presence and providence in these events. But it’s important to look at these events in context, for it was not God but the rulers of his age who “crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8). In other words, it was the dominating powers of his day—the Roman Empire and the elite religious establishment that collaborated with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem who found Jesus to be subverting the existing establishment. For that, he was killed.
In An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow speaks of the moral impoverishment that afflicts us as we relinquish our human responsiblility to the powers. He says, “I mean by `moral impoverishment’ what the Bible often cites as hardness of the heart” or as the impairment or loss of moral discernment; the incapacity to hear, though one has ears; or to see, though one has eyes… I refer, thus, not so much to an evil mind as to a paralyzed onscience; not so much to either personal or corporate immorality as to a social pathology possessing persons and institutions; not so much to malevolence, however incarnate, as to the literla demoralization of human life in society.” It is not so much that there are evil people running things, but that things are running on automatic according to the institutional imperatives in a global system that is working against life. “Don’t look up,” encouraged by the dominating powers that benefit from the current system, is a way to avoid facing the truth or feeling the need to respond.
As people of faith and followers of Jesus, how do we collaborate with the rulers of this age, that is, the interlocking network of institutional powers that makes up today’s global empire? How can we withdraw our support?
First, we must open our eyes and look up—to see what the scientists are showing us. We must open our ears and hear the cries of people suffering on the front lines of climate change. We must open our hearts to understand, process, and grieve what is at stake: the integrity and continuation of the interdependent community of life that has evolved here on Earth, life as we have known it, the creation that God calls “good.”
Second, we must recognize that the damage being done to creation is not the result of natural evolution or human history. Rather, it is the result of policies developed by wealthy and powerful individuals and the dominant institutions of our time, supported by those of us who tolerate and accept this system. We can break out of this complicity by naming, unmasking (exposing), and engaging these powers and by pointing in a new and life-sustaining way of being in the world.
Third, even as we reflect on and grieve the painful realities of our time, Christ’s risen Spirit is alive and active in our world today on behalf of life, and as we experience and recognize that activity we are invited to participate. The global movement for climate justice is one such expression of the Spirit’s power. Bill McKibben said, “The best way to counter organized money is with organized people.” People who have the courage to look up.
This is the sixth post in a Lenten Series, “Creation, Cross, and The Powers.” The other posts are as follows:
- Creation, Cross, and The Powers.
- Extraordinary Temptations
- The Spirituality of an Epoch
- Creation: Moving from Awe to Lament to Resistance
- Banking on Our Future as Demythologized Exorcism
- Don’t Look Up
- Care Enough to Weep
- The Death of Jesus in Context
- Resurrection and New Creation
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[i] “AR6 Synthesis Report, Climate Change, 2023,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/syr/
[ii] “Mapping California’s ‘Zombie’ Forests,” Elena Shao, New York Times, March 6, 2023,
[iii] “Climate Scientist and Netflix ‘Don’t Look Up’ director talk comet metaphors and global warming,” Elizabeth Howell, Space.com, May 11, 2022, https://www.space.com/dont-look-up-climate-change-comet-metaphore-scientist-praise
[iv] “Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report,” Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, March 20, 2023,