Hurricane Irene and Climate Change

There is plenty of debate about how, if and in which way Hurricane Irene is related at all to climtae change. This plays directly into my Master’s Thesis, where I make the distinction between physical climate change and the idea of climate change.

Let me use the example of Hurricane Irene, which landed on the East Coast of the USA in August 2011, to illustrate the difference between physical climate change and the idea of climate change. In the aftermath of the hurricane’s devastation several sources such as news outlets[1], nature writer Bill McKibben and Governor of Vermont Pete Shumlin made claims that climate change had caused the hurricane and that there was a relationship between the two. Bill McKibben said “Irene’s got a middle name, and it’s Global Warming”[2] while Governor Shumlin claimed there is a “relationship between climate change, fossil fuels, our continuing irrational exuberance about burning fossil fuels, in light of these storm patterns that we’ve been experiencing… We didn’t used to get weather patterns like this in Vermont. We didn’t get tropical storms.”[3] In response to these claims two environmental bloggers, Andy Revkin and Roger Pieke Jr. [4] commented that these claims were premature and painted a different picture of the events. What we see in McKibben’s and Shumlin’s comment are descriptions of physical climate change (in the case of Shumlin not even that, he merely describes weather, not climate, while McKibben does use data from a meteorologist) interspersed with a heavy ideological narrative of how climate change is connected to these weather phenomena. The responses of the bloggers both attempt to deal specifically with physical climate change using climate data and academic studies and avoid meddling in an ideological narrative, though they probably do have their own ideas about climate change. These studies present in fact a downward trend in hurricane landfall in the U.S. due to wind shear[5] and a long history of hurricane landfall in Vermont[6], such as “Hurricanes Edna and Hazel in 1954. Hazel tracked from the Carolinas all the way to the city of Toronto in Ontario, with wind gusts of over 70 mph and considerable tree losses in the Burlington area” (Dupigny-Giroux 2002).

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CREATIO Stewardship of body and nature

CREATIO has initiated a program that links physical fitness programs with environmental stewardship activities. CREATIO member Tom Collingwood recently trained Christ in the City volunteers (a missionary outreach program) and physical education staff of Annunciation Catholic School in Denver, CO to implement a faith based youth fitness program with the theme of stewardship. The program that will be delivered to junior high school youth will focus on overcoming what we call “exercise deficit disorder” to be a steward of one’s own body. Follow up activities will be provided with the aim to overcome “nature deficit disorder” thorough familiarization and awareness environmental education activities.

The CREATIO model highlights that to be nature stewards requires energy and we get that energy by being physically active. Teaching physical fitness and exercise can serve as a basis for teaching nature stewardship and provides a needed continuity for the development of a faith based stewardship ethic.

Snakes, medicine and the mystery of evil

There is an interesting article today in O Globo from Brazil on a recent discovery of medical uses obtained from the jararaca (in tupi it means large snake) poison. The jararaca is the name of a very common poisonous and deadly snake in Brazil, and responsible for a large amount of snake attacks in the country. I remember growing up in the Mata Atlantica and seeing this snake a few times, either alive or recently killed by a neighbor. Given its real and symbolic character as agent of death and fear, I always wondered, like one of the questions asked at the WYD event in Madrid, why on earth did such a creature exist? How can we explain natural evil apart from human freedom?

If you thinik I’m exagerating these are the symptoms of a bite: Typical envenomation symptoms include local swelling, petechiae, bruising and blistering of the affected limb, spontaneous systemic bleeding of the gums and into the skin, subconjunctival hemorrhage and incoagulable blood. The systemic symptoms can potentially be fatal and may involve hemostatic disorders, intracranial hemorrhage, shock and renal failure. Growing up with these around I wondered if anything good could come of the jararaca?

Apparently so. In the 60’s a Brazilian farmacologist derived Captopril, a medicine which uses brandicinine found in the jararaca poison, to treat hypertension, used to this day. Now researches are using the same chemical element to develop medicines to treat nuero-degenerative diseases like Parkinsons,  Alzheimer’s and Huntington, as well as thrombosis. Brandicinine stimulates the growth of neurons and prevents their degeneration, while a newly isolated chemical, jarastanine, prevents coagulation which leads to thrombosis, and with low side effects. So good can be taken from evil, even ‘natural’ evil.

Summer, Environment and the Pope

This summer Pope Benedict XVI has made references to the environment on many occasions. Following his series on prayer, in mid august a specific teaching was dedicated to the importance of finding a conducive environment in creation which opens the soul to prayer through beauty and silence. That same week he commented on a passage of the Gospel, and the need for solitude but also commitment:

In every age, men and women who have consecrated their lives to God in prayer — such as monks and nuns — have established their communities in places of particular beauty: in the countryside, upon the hills, in mountain valleys, by the lakeside or on the seashore, or even on little islands. These places unite two very important elements for the contemplative life: the beauty of creation, which points to that of the Creator, and silence, which is guaranteed by their remoteness from cities and the great means of communication.

In this Sunday’s Gospel we find Jesus who, after withdrawing to the mountain, prays throughout the night. The Lord, having distanced himself from the people and the disciples, manifests his communion with the Father and the need to pray in solitude, far from the commotion of the world.This distancing, however, must not be seen as a lack of interest in individuals or trust in the Apostles. On the contrary, Matthew recounts, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat, “and go before him to the other side” (Mt 14:22), where he would see them again.

At World Youth Day in Madrid there wasn’t much content delivered by Pope Benedict XVI directly related to the environment, at least not in comparison with the extensive references made in Sydney in 2008. But there certainly was some environment mentioned. In the initial address upon arriving in Madrid the Pope mentioned the challenges posed to the dignity of the human person and the environment:

Justice and the unique value of the human person are easily surrendered to selfish, material and ideological interests. Nature and the environment, created by God with so much love, are not respected.

Also, on the interview in flight to Madrid the Pope mentioned the environment and the need to balance its care with economic needs:

We know that we must protect our planet, but we must protect the functioning of the service of economic work for all and think that tomorrow is also today.

And of course there was the “direct intervention” of the environment during the Vigil on Saturday night, where rain and hail, lightning and strong winds almost as if tried to disrupt the event. On two occasions the Pope was asked if he should leave, and insisted to remain with the million strong youth. At the end he improvised with these words:

We have lived together an adventure.  Strengthened by your faith in Christ, you have resisted the rain.  Before leaving I wish you all good night.  Have a good rest.  I thank you for the sacrifice that you are making and I have no doubt that you will offer it generously to the Lord.  We shall see one another tomorrow, God willing, in the celebration of the Eucharist.  I am expecting all of you.  I thank you for the fine example that you have given.  As happened tonight, you can always, with Christ, endure the trials of life.  Do not forget this.  I thank you all.

Creatio at WYD in Madrid

Amidst the many cultural events at WYD Madrid 2011, there was one that focused on the environment: “Encountering Christ in the beauty of creation”. Below some pictures of the event approved officially by the WYD 2011 committee. Speakers included Pablo Martinez de Anguita, the event organizer, along with Sister Mary Savino of the University of St. Thomas in Texas, Mary Taylor of Pax in Terra and Ricardo Simmonds, director of Creatio. After the event the truly Catholic nature of the Church was made clear with participation from the audience, coming from countries as varied as Angola, Russia, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador and others. The attendance also evidenced the broad interest of Catholics on environmental issues. For more information go to the Creatio webpage and for the full photo gallery, go to the Creatio facebook page.

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Back from Missions

Below the latest pictures from the missions in Tapay in the Colca valley, which I led on behalf of  Creatio Missions. Apologies for the delay in blogging, there was no road to the village, let alone internet. Enjoy! For the full album, click here.