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I am my sister’s keeper

13 March 2015

ONE of my sisters lives near me in California, where she has a small vineyard. As a farmer, she is concerned about our prolonged drought, and the warm temperatures that cause what little rain we have had to evaporate. Our weather just now is lovely, but it bodes ill.

My other sister lives in Oklahoma, where we grew up. Lying in "Tornado Alley", Oklahoma has always had unpredictable, sometimes violent, weather. In recent years, however, extremes have intensified: she is currently enduring days of ice and severe cold, although winter there would normally be yielding to spring now.

Her climate troubles are superficially the opposite of ours, but scientists tell us that they are directly related. The high pressure system that is keeping California dry is also pushing the Pacific storms north, where they cross Canada and turn south to make life miserable in central and eastern North America.

It is not news that climate change connects us all. For years, I have known that good rains in California tend to coincide with drought for friends in Australia, but, as my family experience this interconnection so directly, the idea becomes a tangible reality.

More positively, California has a record of trying to remedy the pollution that exacerbates climate change. It wasn't to save us from drought, as no one then understood the connection. It was prompted by the immediate challenge of unbreathable air in parts of Los Angeles and the central valley. There was some outrage in the US when California set its own strict limits on automobile emissions, but the market here was large enough to ensure that car-manufacturers complied. And our standards gradually spread to other parts of the country. Where problems are interlinked, solutions have to be, too.

The difficulty lies in motivating people to act. A recent poll in The New York Times (1 March) found that a key factor in support for environmental legislation was whether people saw climate change as a moral issue. The American public does increasingly see the danger as real. This is true even among Republicans, although it has not yet moderated the party's political rejection of the whole concept of global warming. Since Evangelicals are a powerful component of the Republican party, perhaps the key would be a new recognition on their part that those who are suffering most from the change are, if not our immediate kin, none the less the very sisters, brothers, and neighbours that all Christians have been enjoined to love.

The Revd Dr William Countryman is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

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