Sports fans have a kind of religion. With great devotion, Red Sox fans and Cubs fans watched and waited until the curses on their teams were eventually broken. The admirable faith — endurance, really — of Cleveland baseball fans surpasses all reason in their annual exercise of hope and despair.
Like all quasi-religions, baseball only offers us distraction. But this is no time for distraction. Back in 1988, James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist, testified before Congress of a disastrous warming trend caused by human activity. He was mostly dismissed. Today, Dr. Hansen at age 82 says that we are “damned fools” for not acting upon warnings over climate change.
I believe his use of the word “damned” is not simply for color. There is something of irretrievability in that word: “Abandon hope, ye who enter here!” We are close to the gate of no return.
On Oct. 4 of this year, Pope Francis published a second encyclical on the climate. He offers this grim assessment: “I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point.” (Laudate Deum, 2).
I began by talking about the national pastime, a spectator sport which demands a willingness to say over and again, “Wait ‘til next year.” When it comes to combating climate change, however, it is not a game, and there is no waiting for next year. It requires what the first Francis (of Assisi) called “blessed impatience.”
Here is a moment in the game that requires the attention of all who care about the future of Connecticut. Back in 2004, state legislators, both Republican and Democrat, agreed to join a coalition of the country’s smoggiest states, all adopting an identical program of stronger-than-federal clean air regulations. This year, continuing to match that joint program means setting standards that slowly phase in sales requirements for new zero-emissions cars.
Transportation is responsible for the largest share of Connecticut’s planet-warming emissions — this policy is necessary to strike at the heart of the problem. Significantly, these regulations will also improve our air quality, which continues to fail the air quality standards set forth by the U.S. government. Sadly, our poor air quality is matched by some of the highest asthma rates in the nation. Transitioning to zero-emission cars and trucks will improve our air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect public health.
Gov. Ned Lamont and DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes have a clear mandate to implement this measure, subject only to review by a Regulation Review Committee which reviews procedures, not legislative intent. Anyone who is in the game, anyone who recognizes the urgency of the crisis, must welcome such measures now. We cannot rely on magical thinking, or wait for some future season when we will at last be ready. If we fail to take the challenge seriously, what will we say to our children, to our society, and to our God?
Baseball is a pastime. Combating climate change is not. It startles me to express this: I recognize that for what remains of my earthly life, I must be in this game. I must talk, write, invest time, and make decisions that may seem at first sight against my best interests. It is a calling, a religious obligation. I can’t wait for next year, and I have to take it personally.
Pope Francis, again: “…I cannot deny that it is necessary to be honest and recognize that the most effective solutions will not come from individual efforts alone, but above all from major political decisions on the national and international level. […] Yet what is important is something less quantitative: the need to realize that there are no lasting changes without cultural changes […] and there are no cultural changes without personal changes.” (Laudate Deum, 69, 70)
May we all be blessed with holy impatience. May we all be in the game, not sitting to watch others play it out. May we all refuse to wait ‘til next year.
Rev. Robert Washabaugh is the reverend of Saints Peter & Paul Church and Saint Mary Church in Norwich.