How do you talk about Climate Change, God, and Stewardship to graduating high school students?? To not lecture them, freak them out, or bore them to tears? Carefully and thoughtfully.
Last night I was the featured speaker for a baccalaureate ceremony at St. Cecilia’s Church recognizing our graduating high school seniors. What follows is my talk.
This message is about gifts, responsibility, and hope. From Luke (12:27), “Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them.” Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. Hmmmm. Think about that line. When I read that, I think how beautiful nature is and that you can’t replicate it. We can take photos of nature. Paint nature. Record the sounds of nature. But when it comes right down to it, we can’t recreate nature’s magnificence. And from Timothy (4:12): “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers.” Be an example for the believers. We’ll get back to that powerful line later.
And then we have these lines from Genesis after God had created the heavens and earth, the atmosphere and oceans, animals and fishes, trees, plants and livestock, and humans: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning. And God rested on the Seventh Day, greatly pleased with all he had created. This beautiful planet is a gift. Let’s not forget that.
We’re taught as children to take good care of gifts received from others. But sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we break the rules. I remember as a nine-year old being scolded by my mother for destroying a beautiful glass watch given to me by my Aunt Libby. Aunt Libby was my dad’s older sister. I loved Aunt Libby, but my curiosity for how the watch operated was too great to overcome, and try as I may to carefully unlock its inner contents, it was only when I took a hammer to the glass cover that I could peer inside at the watch’s shiny metallic interior. Back in the old days, there were no electric watches. Nearly everything was spring powered. My actions satisfied my immediate desire, but rendered the watch useless. It was with shame I told my Aunt what happened to the watch when she asked how I liked the gift she’d given me. She smiled and nodded, though her eyes showed disappointment.
Have you ever had a gift that you damaged? Perhaps a toy you took apart, or something you were careless with? A bicycle left outside in the rain. A cell phone with a screen broken from being dropped one too many times? We receive so many gifts in our lives, and sometimes we fail to care for them. Many things we don’t even realize are gifts. Like this beautiful planet we live on. I often wonder how well we are caring for planet Earth, and would God be pleased?
Pope Francis recently spoke about climate change to a huge crowd in Rome. He said, “Safeguard Creation, because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!” Our pope continued: “Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.”
God gave us this beautiful, beautiful planet as a gift to care for. And we have a responsibility to care for that gift now and for generations to come. You have a responsibility to care for our planet. I have a responsibility to care for our planet. We all have a responsibility to care for the planet. To speak up when others threaten to harm it. And it’s not always easy to do the right thing. To go against the flow.
You are graduating from high school. Congratulations. Your elementary school days are long gone. Some of you will go off to college. Others the military. And still others to work. Regardless of your path, this chapter of your life is closing. You are high school graduates. Young adults. And with graduation comes new responsibilities, one of which is to care for the Earth—a beautiful, beautiful gift from God.
In case we haven’t noticed, the Earth needs some serious loving. Our climate is changing from burning too much oil, coal, and natural gas. We consume more than we should, and we don’t always think how our lifestyles affect the Earth. Every thing we do has an impact on this planet. The food we eat. The way we commute to work or school. How we power and heat our homes. The people we elect to lead us. When you stop and think about it, every choice we make impacts the environment to some degree.
I’m concerned about the dire predictions for our planet’s future if we fail to act soon and aggressively. 97.8% of climate scientists say humans are altering the Earth’s climate. In fact, scientists now refer to the present as the Anthropocene, a geologic period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased over 50% in the past 150 years. Sea level is rising. The arctic ice sheet is melting. Our weather is more extreme, and many species of living organisms are threatened with extinction. I’m not here to depress you but to remind you that God’s gift, the Earth, needs to be taken care of. Now. Not later.
A few years ago I felt a call to use my gifts to help others understand Climate Change. Perhaps that was God’s plan for me all along. To study science as a graduate student and work as an oceanographer and later in my career, an educator. My concerns for the future planet your generation inherits, and the generations that follow, motivated me to take action. I want future generations to experience the beauty of nature as I have. Lush green forests. Crisp autumn days. Trout surfacing on the Schroon River. The flitter of a hummingbird drawing nectar from flowers, or the fresh powder of a new snow. These are things worth saving. My stewardship is to present the facts about climate change to general audiences as a Climate Reality Leader. By helping people understand what climate change is and how the worst-case scenarios can be prevented, I am taking responsibility for my part in preserving God’s beautiful creation. I encourage you to consider how you can be a good steward to the Earth. How you can fight climate change. How you can help educate others. Each of you has special and unique gifts and talents. Use them to make a difference.
I encourage you to look at this challenge with hopefulness and resolution. To remember God’s creation can heal itself with proper care and attention. And to know you are connected to something bigger. God is present. He has your back. Returning to Luke, (4:12 ): “Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but be an example for the believers.” You can be the example to others so we can stop climate change, make our air and waters cleaner, and restore the Earth’s beauty. Peace.