I assume you were as relieved as I was when the world didn’t end on May 21. Christian-radio mogul and numerologist Harold Camping spent $100 million on advertising to herald the occasion. And now that the date has passed without incident, he’s reset the ETA to Oct. 21. Mark your calendars!
Meanwhile, residents of Joplin, Mo., may be wondering if the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse decided to give them a preview in the form of a tornado that took at least 125 lives, with 1,500 people missing (at press time), and leveled nearly a third of the city.
I can’t be the only person who wants to know what the deal is with the weather. Matters rapidly have gone from bizarre to tragic. Not only has this been the deadliest tornado season since 1953, but this spring has seen record flooding on the Mississippi, and the state of Texas and the entire Colorado River Basin are undergoing the worst drought in decades. And that’s just in the U.S.
Whenever a natural disaster hits, someone inevitably preaches that God is punishing us for our sins—as though the Weather Channel has supplanted the Archangel Gabriel as God’s messenger on Earth. This instead of praying for the souls of the departed or for the well-being of survivors. Such talk, the reading of divine retribution in a thunderclap, strikes me as the most dangerous, primitive sort of demagoguery: “Burn the witch!”
To be honest, I too blame the weather on foolish human behavior. But let’s face it: The big sin of present-day Homo sapiens isn’t the breach of a Bronze Age mandate on sexual intercourse. It’s the reckless consumption of fossil fuels, despite the known consequences. God isn’t punishing us with freak weather. We’ve brought the storm upon ourselves.
Some people like to treat inconvenient truths as a matter of personal faith, as when speaker of the house John Boehner tap-danced around the question of President Barack Obama’s birthplace and religion. When pressed, he equivocated: “I believe that the president is a citizen. I believe the president is a Christian. I’ll take him at his word.”
By invoking belief, Boehner treated facts as a matter of personal judgment. But you can’t choose whether or not to believe in a fact. Some things just are. The denial of reality is at best a function of immaturity and at worst a form of insanity.
Climate change is regularly the subject of such slippery treatment. Earlier this spring, the House of Representatives voted down a resolution that stated, “Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.”
The House of Representatives may have refused, 240–184, to endorse the EPA’s climate-change findings, but all the votes on Capitol Hill can’t undo the evidence.
What makes the science of climate change reliable? The fact that scientists don’t claim infallibility. If that sounds like a contradiction to you, allow me elaborate: Nearly the entire scientific community agrees about climate change, but as a group they also have the wisdom to admit what they don’t know. In science, no conjecture stands without proof, and proof results in theories, not truths.
Ergo the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s May 12th cautionary response to widespread speculation that climate change is causing the uptick in tornado activity. In its statement, NOAA cited research including the following assertion from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: “There is insufficient evidence to determine whether [climate change] trends exist in … small-scale phenomena such as tornadoes, hail, lightning, and dust-storms.”
An article on the Forbes magazine website took NOAA’s statement as proof that there’s no connection whatsoever: “Climate Change Unlikely Factor in U.S. Tornado Spree,” the headline read. But the good old Capitalist Tool completely missed NOAA’s point. Scientists aren’t saying that there’s no connection. They’re saying that there’s “insufficient evidence” to say so with absolute certainty. Just give them time.
Forward-looking states such as Florida and cities such as Chicago are already taking measures to adapt building codes and other practices to the new reality of extreme weather. The nation’s moral codes, too, must be revised. Good behavior in the 21st century should be defined in part through one’s willingness to adapt to life without oil, coal, and natural gas. For architects, that means designing buildings to consume as few resources as possible and with as little impact on the environment as possible. An ethical practice, in other words, is a sustainable practice.
Firms can sign up for the 2030 Challenge to work toward achieving carbon neutrality. Individual practitioners can take the LEED-AP exam. Owners and developers can commit to monitoring their buildings’ performance. Manufacturers can submit their products for third-party testing. And policy makers can support legislation to move the marketplace in the right direction.
We know for a fact that the climate change poses a clear and present danger. I pray that humanity will do the right thing.