The bell is about to toll on climate change, as the United Nations warned the world that we have less than a decade to meet an essential goal of the Paris Climate Agreement: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
English Poet John Donne (1572-1631) wrote his most famous line in his poem Devotions upon Emergent Occasions: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” For the global community, the bell is about to toll.
Donne wrote those words in 1623 after falling ill with a fever. Recovering from what he thought might be his demise, the poet captured the frailty of life and the need to appreciate the gift of each day.
That famous line does not stand alone, however. The lines preceding it provide critical context as humans grapple with their place in the world. While Donne struggled with his own mortality, the poet conveyed the symbiotic relationship with his fellow humans.
The longer prose reads: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
The poet’s haunting words 400 years ago should echo in our ears, minds and hearts today. António Guterres, the U.N. General Secretary, said, “The climate time-bomb is ticking. Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast.”
The report states that “concentrations of carbon pollution in the atmosphere are at their highest level for more than two million years, and the rate of temperature rise over the last half a century is the highest in 2,000 years.”
The report, released on Monday, concluded “that to stay under the warming limit set in Paris, the world needs to cut 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035, compared with 2019, adding a new target not previously mentioned in six previous reports issued since 2018.”
The report comes after the Biden Administration approved the Willow oil drilling project in Alaska. Environmentalists critical of the project accused the administration of betraying a campaign promise made in 2020.
In light of the U.N. report, the administration’s approval of the project now looks like a failure of bold leadership regarding climate change. The world must awake to hear the bell tolling as a climate catastrophe looms.
The words of climate activist Greta Thunburg come to mind: “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So, instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.”
With climate catastrophe less than a decade away, leaders must implement strategic actions alongside their hopeful rhetoric. Words alone will not save us from the dire consequences of climate change.
While developed countries with resources will adapt to the pending climate emergency, many others worldwide do not possess enough resources. In other words, millions of people in poorer countries will suffer the most from global inaction.
Jesus once said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:45). If the world fails to address climate change, sending the future into an irreversible downward spiral, then we have failed “the least of these,” and we have failed our Creator.
Good Faith Media is assembling Good Faith Advocates on April 6 at 2:00 p.m. ET (1:00 p.m. CT) to discuss the significance of ecological justice against the perils of unconstrained capitalism.
Our guest will be Joerg Rieger, who holds the Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair in Wesleyan Studies and is the founding director of the Wendland-Cook Program in Religion and Justice at Vanderbilt University.
Rieger is the author and editor of hundreds of articles and books, holding both a Ph.D. and Th.M. from Duke in theology and ethics. His most recent book is Theology in the Capitalocene: Ecology, Identity, Class, and Solidarity.
With the pending climate crisis quickly approaching, GFM’s Good Faith Advocates network is ready and willing to put actions behind our words. To join Rieger, myself and other advocates for this informative and inspiring webinar, you’ll need to register here. The webinar is free.
As the clapper of the bell begins to swing, let’s remember the wisdom of former U.S. President Barack Obama: “We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.”
CEO of Good Faith Media.