Dec 08, 1999
Ten years ago I wrote a book called The End of Nature, which was the first book for a general audience about the question of global warming. At the time, climate change was a hypothesis. By burning fossil fuels and thereby emitting great quantities of carbon dioxide, human beings would trap heat near the planet's surface, changing its weather. A strong hypothesis, but a hypothesis nonetheless. The appropriate response to that hypothesis was more study, general concern, and the beginning of modest action in the event that the hypothesis was correct.
The taxi's motor died three times as the driver wound his way around the fallen trees and through the flooded streets of Havana. He was trying to get me back to my hotel before the worst of October's Hurricane Irene hit Cuba's capital. Each time the decrepit Lada—a Soviet version of a small Fiat—stalled, I climbed out to push it out of the deep water. And each time help appeared. Anonymous volunteers waded into the choppy waters, heads bowed against the gale, to help push the Lada to dry land.
A hundred years ago many Christians envisioned Christianity winning acceptance among every country and people of the world. As it turned out, this century has seen a drastic erosion of Christianity in the very centers from which it launched its missionary activity—namely, in Europe and North America. That erosion has been hastened by—among other things—two world wars and the unleashing of the atomic bomb.
Recently I met someone who had been to South Africa to witness the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He had all the usual admiring things to say about it, with one new piece of information. All of the members of that commission are ill in one way or another, he said. No one has survived the process with his or her health intact. While a physician might come to a different conclusion, this observer—who happens to be a priest—is pretty sure he knows why the commissioners are all ill. The things they have heard have made them sick.