1 ATR/100.1 The Sea Is Eating the Ground: A Theology of Sea Level Rise Mick Pope* Sea level rise is a direct result of anthropogenic climate change, the disruption of the climate system by the burning of fossil fuels. Modern sea level rise can be understood through the functional ontology of the Old Testament. The creation account of Genesis 1 represents a demythologized account of God constraining chaos into an ordered system. The Noahic flood of Genesis 6 8 is the result of human sin releasing the forces of chaos to undo the ordering of creation. This language is taken up in the rest of the Old Testament to describe acts of judgment against Israel s covenant violations. Modern sea level rise may be understood as the release of chaos due to a violation of our role as image of God to represent the God of order to the rest of creation. The Sea Is Eating the Ground The title of this paper comes from a quote from thirteen-year-old Maria, a resident of the Carteret Islands, a group of coral atoll islands to the east of Papua New Guinea. 1 At their highest point, these islands are a mere one and a half meters above sea level. The people of the Carteret Islands are set to be among the world s first peoples to permanently lose their homes due to climate change. 2 For over twenty years, the Carteret Islanders have been fighting a losing battle against rising seas by building sea walls and planting mangroves. As sea level * Mick Pope is professor of environmental mission at Missional University, and a member of RASP, the Centre for Research in Religion and Social Policy at the University of Divinity, Australia. His most recent book, A Climate of Justice: Loving Your Neighbour in a Warming World, is available from Morning Star Publishing/Wipf and Stock. 1 Simon Nazer, The Last Islanders: Rising Sea Levels in Papua New Guinea, UN Children s Fund, March 22, 2017, /last-islanders-rising-sea-levels-papua-new-guinea. 2 Lauren Beldi, Carteret Climate Refugees Seek Home, ABC News, August 2, 2016, /
2 80 Anglican Theological Review rises, low-lying islands like the Carterets become more vulnerable to very high tides known as King tides, and storm surges, which are a rise in sea level due to strong low-pressure systems such as tropical cyclones. In 1995 a storm surge ate away most of the shorelines of Piul and Huene Islands, cutting Huene Island in half. 3 Han Island, the main island of the group, has been subject to inundations that have killed crops and left behind ponds of brackish water where mosquitos breed, leading to children becoming sick with malaria. 4 In 2006, a group known as Tulele Peisa was formed to plan the relocation of the Carteret people. The name means sailing the waves on our own, which reflects their desire to remain independent of handouts. Their plan is to relocate more than half of the Carteret population of about three thousand by A number of people have already relocated to Bougainville Island, and have settled on twenty-five hectares of land donated by the Catholic Church, which is enough for about one hundred people. A further sixty hectares has also been donated. Like many people suffering displacement from rising seas, the Carteret Islanders do not wish to leave, but are doing so out of necessity. As school teacher Jarreanne Prabon laments, It s hard to let go of your home... a place we have been for generations. 5 A similar sentiment can be found among the people of Tuvalu: Moving away from Tuvalu is not good for our culture and values. We want to live in our own land, our home and where our forefathers have lived. Tuvaluan people don t like to be called refugees. 6 While there is ample evidence of climate change and impacts like sea level rise, Christians sometimes reject the science on theological grounds. As one Tuvaluan man put it, Only the Creator can flood the world.... I believe in God I don t believe in scientists. 7 The key text is the Noahic flood of Genesis 6 8. In particular, Genesis 8: Ursula Rakova, Luis Patron, and Citt Williams, How-to Guide for Environmental Refugees, Our World, June 16, 2009, -guide-for-environmental-refugees. 4 UNUChannel, Sinking Paradise, Carteret Islands, PNG, filmed 2009, YouTube video, 10:09. Posted 28 May 28, /watch?v=hgw4httokgk. 5 Simon Nazer, The Last Islanders. 6 Friends of the Earth International, Climate Change: Voices from Communities Affected by Climate Change (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Friends of the Earth, 2007). 7 Mark Lynas, High Tide: News from a Warming Planet (London: Flamingo, 2004).
3 The Sea Is Eating the Ground 81 reads, Nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease (NRSV). Does this passage render it impossible from a theological perspective for the climate to be changing and sea level to be rising? Can Christians embrace climate science and therefore meet the ethical challenge it presents? In this paper I will examine these questions in the following way. First, I will examine the science of anthropogenic climate changes and associated sea level rise: what its causes are, what the uncertainties involved are, and how the globe will look in future. This will include a discussion of sea level rise and fall before human beings began disrupting the climate system. Second, I will discuss Genesis 6 8 in the context of the theology of creation in Genesis 1. In particular, I will show that the creation/flood pair can be understood through a functional/relational ontology. In creation, order is imposed upon chaos. In the Noahic flood, this chaos is released by human sin. This language is used repeatedly through the Old Testament. Finally, the paper demonstrates how the theme of human sinfulness releasing chaos can be applied to anthropogenic sea level rise. It calls upon the church to act in solidarity with those who suffering this chaos innocently, and to live hopefully that chaos will not prevail. The Rising Tide The fundamentals of climate change are relatively easy to understand in outline. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases trap heat like a blanket on a bed. More technically, greenhouse gases absorb and reemit infrared radiation, or heat energy, in both an upward and downward direction. The average temperature of the planet is the result of a balance between the energy coming in from the sun, and the amount of energy being leaked back into space. The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. The carbon in these gases comes from the dead organic matter of fossil fuels long-dead plants. Methane also comes from the guts of sheep and cows, whose numbers have greatly increased. Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas that is produced as a byproduct of fertilizer use. As the concentration of greenhouse gases increases, the planet warms up in order to balance the energy received from the sun with the energy that escapes into space. This phenomenon is known
4 82 Anglican Theological Review as global warming. This warming is further exacerbated by various feedback mechanisms, like the evaporation of more water, which in its vapor form is a greenhouse gas. 8 Changes in global temperature lead to other changes in the climate system, including rainfall distribution and amount, pressure and wind patterns, and sea level rise. In order to understand sea level rise, its drivers, and impacts, we need to define mean sea level. 9 Mean sea level is a temporally averaged quantity, averaged over a sufficiently long time in order to remove fluctuations caused by tide and waves. This quantity varies around the globe due to factors like ocean currents and wind patterns. Hence, global mean sea level is mean sea level averaged over the global oceans. Sea level has risen and fallen over millennia before humans began interfering with the climate. During the last glacial maximum some 21,000 years ago, sea level was about 125 meters lower than present, with that water trapped in large continental ice sheets. 10 Large fluctuations in sea level have occurred due to the alternation between glacial and interglacial periods, which in turn depend on changes in ocean circulations, and changes in the Earth s orbit known as Milankovitch cycles. Reconstructions of paleo-sea level relies upon proxy datasets, including corals, speleothems (cave deposits), and ancient coastal marshes. 11 Modern sea level measures rely upon tidal gauges, and more recently, satellite data. Sea level rise is primarily driven by the warming-driven expansion of the oceans, and melting of land-based ice. The water stored in mountain glaciers could contribute up to half a meter of sea level rise, and increased melting and run-off is already being observed. The Greenland ice sheet is already contributing to sea level rise, and its total loss would mean a total rise of about seven meters. Warm waters 8 For a discussion of greenhouse gases both natural and anthropogenic and the role of feedbacks see G. Myhre et al., Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing, in T. F. Stocker et al., ed., Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis; Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013). 9 The discussion that follows is based on the review paper, Nobuo Mimura, Sea- Level Rise Caused by Climate Change and Its Implications for Society, Proceedings of the Japan Academy, Series B 89 (2013): USGS, Glaciers and Sea Level, May 30, 2011, landuse/glaciers/glaciers_sea_level.asp. 11 On coastal marshes, see E. Steponaitis, A. G. Yanchilina, and H. D. Bervid, Reconstructing Past Sea Level Change to Understand the Future, Eos 98 (2017),
5 The Sea Is Eating the Ground 83 below the surface are melting the ice shelf that holds back the West Antarctica ice sheet. Its loss would contribute three to five meters of sea level rise. A recent study has shown that mean sea level rise has accelerated from 2.2 ± 0.3 millimeters per year in 1993 to 3.3 ± 0.3 millimeters per year in Sea level rise means that low-lying coastal areas are more prone to inundation and flooding during high tides, tropical cyclones, and tsunamis. As noted earlier, King tides and storm surges have produced inundation in the Carteret Islands. Another risk is increased coastal erosion, which has resulted in at least one island in Tuvalu becoming uninhabitable. 12 Coastal ecosystems such as salt marsh, mangroves, and coral reefs can also be affected. Salt water intrusion into estuaries and aquifers pollutes fresh water supplies for drinking water and affects crops such as Tuvaluan taro. 13 The eventual impact of sea level rise is the permanent loss of land below sea level. So what is in store for future sea level rise? A recent paper by James Hansen and coauthors discusses the future impacts of ice melt, sea level rise, and the increase in intensity of mid-latitude storms, based on numerical models, modern observations, and paleo-data. 14 They demonstrate that the rapid melting of Greenland and Antarctic glaciers is plausible under current greenhouse gas emissions. This melt water can disrupt the oceans in a number of ways. Meltwater from Greenland and Antarctic adds to sea level rise, as has been already discussed. Furthermore, an injection of cold, fresh water can act to disrupt ocean and atmospheric circulations. Meltwater flowing out of Greenland can disrupt an ocean circulation known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. An equivalent of two and a half meters of sea level rise of fresh water injection is sufficient to shut down the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation in numerical simulations, stopping the poleward transport of heat, making northern latitudes colder. Disruption of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning 12 Curtis A. Moore, Awash in a Rising Sea How Global Warming Is Overwhelming the Islands of the Tropical Pacific, International Wildlife, Jan. Feb Department of Environment: Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment, Agriculture and Lands, Tuvalu s National Adaptation Programme of Action, May 2007, unfccc.int/resource/docs/napa/tuv01.pdf. 14 James Hansen et al,, Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms: Evidence from Paleoclimate Data, Climate Modeling, and Modern Observations That 2 C Global Warming Could Be Dangerous, Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 16 (2016):
6 84 Anglican Theological Review Circulation will also result in warmer waters being trapped below the surface. This warm water flows at a level in the oceans that flows into the Southern Hemisphere and undercuts Antarctic ice, producing further melting. In the last interglacial period some 125,000 years before present, known as the Eemian, conditions were only slightly warmer than the present. However, global sea level was six to nine meters higher than present. This implies that current warming will deliver such rises over coming centuries, the exact timescale depending on as yet not fully understood dynamics of ice sheets. However, current satellite observations of mass loss from Greenland and Antarctica during the period show an increase of 25.4 ± 1.2 gigatons per year every year and 11 ± 4 gigatons per year every year, respectively. Another consequence of melting ice sheets is local cooling, which, combined with warming in the tropics, gives rise to a large temperature gradient, which in turn drives more intense mid-latitude storms. Hanson and coauthors suggest large boulders, often thought to be evidence of large paleo-tsunamis, are actually evidence of such superstorms during the Eemian. Sea level rise combined with superstorms is a deadly combination for coastal communities and ecosystems. Unleashing the Chaos Monsters As discussed earlier, a theological sticking point for anthropogenic climate change and associated sea level rise is found in Genesis 8:21 22, Nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. Does this text provide a stumbling block for Christians accepting the established science? The goal of this section is to establish a reading of the text such that it not only allows us to accept the science, but to understand it in a biblical ethical framework. In order to understand the flood narrative, we need to understand the creation narrative of Genesis 1, and its relationship to the flood. The first key is to recognize that Genesis 1 was not written in a cultural vacuum. The surrounding ancient Near Eastern (ANE) cultures had their own creation and flood stories, which bear some resemblance to the ones we find in scripture. 15 As Peter Enns observes, 15 Michael A. Grisanti, The Book of Genesis, in Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, ed., The Word and the World: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2011), 10.
7 The Sea Is Eating the Ground 85 we can address why the Old Testament in places looks very much like ANE literature without committing one of two errors. On the one hand, we don t have to capitulate to liberal thought by assuming the Bible is merely another piece of ANE literature, begged, borrowed, and stolen from Israel s neighbors. On the other hand, we do not have to follow the fundamentalist retreat from critical scholarship, as if history had nothing to teach us about scripture. 16 Instead, Enns claims that as Christ is both God and human, so is the Bible. 17 Hence the Bible was connected to and spoke to other ancient cultures as well as that of the Israelites. This connectedness is a necessary consequence of God incarnating himself, and it is essential to the very nature of revelation that the Bible is not unique to its environment. The human dimension of Scripture is essential to its being Scripture. 18 In understanding this historical situatedness, the similarities between the Babylonian Enuma Elish and Genesis 1 are understandable, but not to be overstated. Both authors breathe the same air of culture, but we need not assume that the author of Genesis 1 had the Enuma Elish in front of him. 19 Similar observations can be made between the Noahic flood and texts such as the Akkadian Atrahasis and Babylonian Gilgamesh sagas. The key then is not so much the similarities per se, but how this broader cultural backstory, as Gregory Mobley terms it, better informs our reading of the canonical text, and the unique theological points the author wants to make. The second key is to understand the ontology behind the text of Genesis 1. Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being. The modern scientific focus of ontology is on material processes, that is, how have things come to be the way they are, by what physical processes, and so on. John Walton maintains that the ontology of ANE texts, including Genesis 1, is functional. This means that the author was interested in relationships and teleology, not process. 20 Walton proposes that people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system. 21 Hence, for example, the 16 Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic: 2005), Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation, John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2009). 21 Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, 24.
8 86 Anglican Theological Review sun does not exist by virtue of its material properties, or even by its function as a burning ball of gas. Rather it exists by virtue of the order that it has in its sphere of existence, particularly in the way that it functions for humankind and human society. Likewise, Michael Welker claims that creation is the construction of associations of interdependent relations between different creaturely realms. 22 Walton demonstrates by examining other ANE accounts that the worldview of the time includes a functional ontology. 23 He catalogues the uses of the Hebrew verb bārā (create), a word only ever used with God as the subject or implied subject. 24 Bārā has a variety of objects in scripture such as the cosmos, people in general, or specific groups of people. Walton maintains that the list of objects for this verb are not easily identified in material terms, and that the materials are never mentioned. One of the key expressions that relates to the use of bārā is tōhû wābōhû, typically translated as formless and empty, or formless and void in Genesis 1:2. While tōhû and bōhû are found together on two other occasions in the Old Testament (Isa. 34:11; Jer. 4:23), bōhû is never found on its own. The word tōhû is used in a variety of ways, none of which means formless in a material sense. 25 In Deuteronomy 32:10, tōhû means waste or wilderness, a place of no agricultural value. In Psalm 107:40, tōhû is a wilderness or trackless waste (NRSV), where corrupt princes are cursed to wander. In Jeremiah 4:23, the land is void (tōhû) because a disaster has overtaken it and it has been laid waste (Jer. 4:20). In Isaiah 41:29, idols are wind and confusion (tōbû). To summarize then, Genesis 1:2 refers to a lack of order, on which order is imposed in a functional, not material sense. This imposition of function on waste occurs over six days. 26 Over the first three days there is an ordering of the major functions. On day one, light and dark are separated and named day and night, the origins of time. On day two, there is the separation of waters above (which sometimes falls from the sky) and from the waters below (from springs, and so on). This separation occurred by means of the rāqîa, 22 Michael Welker, Creation and Reality (Minneapolis, Minn.: Ausburg Fortress Press, 1999), Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, John Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2 3 and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2009). 26 Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve,
9 The Sea Is Eating the Ground 87 translated as vault, expanse, or firmament. While some believe rāqîa refers to the solid sky, Walton understands it as the space created in between the earth and the surface holding back the waters. This separating represents the ordering of space. On the third day, food is created by separating the waters into one place and the dry ground in another where vegetation can grow. Days four through six involve the installing of functionaries corresponding to the functions of days one through three: the lights to rule day and night and mark seasons, birds and sea monsters, and beasts of the earth and humans, respectively. So what has this to do with sea level rise and the flood? To answer this we must first address the idea of chaos, and the backstory to Genesis 1 from contemporary ANE myths. 27 As already discussed, the tōhû wābōhû implies preexistent material, over which order has to be imposed, not denying or even addressing creatio ex nihilo. 28 This preexisting material is brooded over by the Ruah Elohim, the breath of God, and is called the tehom or deep. The Akkadian cognate of tehom is ti amat (Tiamat). In the Babylonian story Enuma Elish, Tiamat is the personification of saltwater, who is killed by the storm god Marduk. Marduk creates order out Tiamat s body parts. In Genesis 1:2, the dragon Tiamat becomes the deep (tehom), and is demythologized, dedivinized. Yet the ordering of chaos in Genesis 1 remains in view. On day five, God creates the great sea monsters (verse 21), the tanninim. Again, the great sea monsters are demythologized, not the children of a god but the creations of Elohim representative of the ongoing presence of chaos, though under divine control. In the Enuma Elish, Tiamat has eleven such children. Marduk does not destroy Tiamat s children, but rather chains them up, sometimes serving Marduk. Mobley notes that the Psalms retain this cosmic battle between God and a dragon of chaos, Leviathan or Rahab. Psalm 74:14, says that day and night belong to God, and that he smashed the heads of Leviathan, recalling the forming of night and day on the first day of creation. It also speaks of the boundaries of the earth and the seasons, echoing day three Gregory Mobley, The Return of the Chaos Monsters and Other Backstories of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing, 2012), chapter Mobley, The Return of the Chaos Monsters, Critiques of this strict ordering of chaos do exist. For example, Bradley Shavit Artson sees Tehom as the maternal waters, a womb from which order emerges. It is thus the muffled voice of the feminine. Such an idea deserves further attention,
10 88 Anglican Theological Review So what is the implication of this consideration for the flood account? If the first three days of creation represent the ordering of creation and giving it function for it to exist, then the flood undoes this as an act of uncreation and return to disorder. And these forces of chaos are released by human sin. The earth was corrupt and filled with violence (Gen. 6:11) and hence the great deep bursts open and the windows of heaven open, undoing the ordering of day two (Gen. 7:11). The waters do not subside until the divine ruaḥ blows over it (Gen. 8:1 3), echoing the original ordering act of Genesis 1:2. Mobley also sees an allusion to this in Psalm 104:30. Returning to Genesis 8:21 22, does the promise that God will not destroy all living creatures and that seasons will continue deny the possibility of climate change and sea level rise? Before we evaluate present day events in light of this text, it is worth noting that the chaos monsters or dragons appear in other parts of the Old Testament. In Job, his sufferings lead him to wish creation undone, for there to be darkness instead of light (Job 3:3 4a), and he seeks those who can rouse Leviathan to bring this chaos about (Job 3:8). Likewise, although the dragon is not in sight in Jeremiah 4, the poem of verses describes the Babylonian assault on Jerusalem as creation in reverse, with the earth returning to wild and waste (tōhû wābōhû), no light in the sky (day one reversed), mountains quaking, that is, the Earth s foundations shaking, no humanity (day six reversed), birds fleeing (day five reversed), the orchard made a desert (day three reversed), and cities in ruins (Genesis 4:17 reversed). All of this is because of the heat of divine anger. A similar story is found in Isaiah 24, where the earth dries and withers, that is, is useless for agriculture (verse 4), because like Genesis 6:11, the earth is polluted. This pollution is due to covenant violation (verse 5). The curse of verse 6 is that the inhabitants of the earth dwindle, an undoing of the blessing of Genesis 1:28. Finally, in case particularly given the imagery of the earth in Romans 8:19 23 as the eschatological womb of the new creation. See Bradley Shavit Artson, Vibrating over the Face of the Deep: God s Creating, and Ours, CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly (Winter, 2010). Likewise, Catherine Keller wants to give more prominence to Tehom. While one needn t follow her into rejecting creatio ex nihilo entirely, it is clear from Walton and others than this doctrine is not demanded by Gen. 1:1 in its own worldview. The result is that chaos needs greater attention in theology, with its resonances with modern science and its subjugating being a possible outworking of patriarchy. See Catherine Keller, Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (New York: Routledge, 2003).
11 The Sea Is Eating the Ground 89 we miss the theme of uncreation, verse 18 tells us that windows of the rāqîa are opened, and the foundations of the earth shaken. Hence, acts of divine judgment throughout the Old Testament are envisioned using a similar vocabulary as the Noahic flood: that of uncreation reducing order to disorder and chaos. The link between human sin and a return of order into chaos suggests that global sea level rise due to climate change can be thought of in similar terms. This idea will be explored further below. A Moral Tide We have seen to this point that the burning of fossil fuels is producing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, raising global temperatures, and resulting in sea level rise. The impacts of sea level rise are already being felt by those who live near sea level, particularly in developing nations. We have also seen that the Noahic flood can be understood as an act of uncreation, the reversal of Genesis 1. The forces of chaos, albeit depersonalized in Hebrew thought, are released by human sin. In Genesis 6 human sin is the unfolding violence following on from the fratricide of Genesis 4. The language of chaos and uncreation continues through the prophets, so that covenant violation could lead to cursing described in a similar manner to the flood. So how do the people of the Pacific, or Oceania, understand sea level rise theologically? 30 Tafue Lusama, general secretary of Tuvalu s national church, states that we plant and depend on God to provide fruits. We go out fishing with faith that God will provide enough daily. The failure of these seems to indicate to the people that God s providence has failed them. Others, like ancient Israel, see a direct between link their relationship with God and blessing and cursing. 31 However, science points the finger of blame at developed nations. This implies that sea level rise is the chaos unleashed by the sin of these nations, not those who are currently suffering the worst of these impacts. As Michael Northcott observes, judgment on the sins of the rich is indiscriminate and falls disproportionately on the poor (Jer. 30 On Oceania as the preferred term over Pacific, see Winston Halapua, Oceans as a Tool in Theology: Moana Methodology, National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, 31 Ruth Moon, Teaching Natural Theology as Climate Changes Drown a Way of Life, Christianity Today, February 14, 2012, /ct/2012/february/natural-theology-climate-change.html.
12 90 Anglican Theological Review 2:34). 32 But how is this judgment on sin manifest, and what do we make of its indiscriminate nature? Northcott sees a link between idolatry, greed, empire, and ecological collapse in the Old Testament. There is a close connection between ecological disasters and covenant violation, such as in Jeremiah 5: In this passage, Jeremiah draws a connection between a lack of justice toward the poor and the pursuit of individual wealth (verses 26 28), with a turning away of the seasonal rains (verses 24 25). Again, this is an echo of the promise of Genesis 8 but in the negative; the seasons can still be disrupted in judgment. Here, Northcott sees the divine attribute set into the character and structure of creation. This means that the pursuit of wealth, encouraged by a setting aside of Yahweh, the one who set a boundary for the sea, for foreign gods (implied in verse 23), can be directly linked to ecological disruption. The worship of fertility deities and a focus on accumulation of wealth produces ecological collapse as an inevitable consequence of pushing the land beyond its ecological limits. Note that this does not mean we are to imagine God like the Gary Larson cartoon, where the divine finger is ready to press a button marked smite to drop a piano on a hapless victim. While there are clear direct examples of divine judgment on sin in scripture, as Northcott argues, there are also examples where human sin releases chaos, and that chaos is by its very nature hard to control. In the modern period, the parallel is clear. The pursuit of wealth begun in the Industrial Revolution in the West and continued through the so-called postwar Great Acceleration of the Anthropocene has led to the filling of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, with all of the unavoidable consequences. Because many of those least responsible for these consequences live in places more readily affected, and sometimes with fewer resources to deal with the consequences, we can see this chaos released by the sins of the few producing suffering for the many. Theologically, we must recognize that natural disasters have always occurred, and that God has retained chaos, controlling it rather than destroying it entirely. God made a covenant with Leviathan, suggesting that chaos is part of the created order imposed by God, having 32 Michael Northcott, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2007), Northcott, A Moral Climate,
13 The Sea Is Eating the Ground 91 a role to play (Job 41). Science tells us that there is no order without chaos, that chaos in fact can be creative of new order. Like Job, we must ultimately be silent before God on this mystery. However, natural disasters are now made more frequent and more intense due to climate change. As discussed earlier, sea level rise makes inundation events, like storm surges from tropical cyclones or King tides, worse. As climatologist Kevin Trenberth states, The answer to the oft-asked question of whether an event is caused by climate change is that it is the wrong question. All weather events are affected by climate change because the environment in which they occur is warmer and moister than it used to be. 34 However, human sin has released chaos so that it is chafing against its divinely imposed bounds, and hence the chaos has a moral dimension to it. The Otin Taai Declaration is a statement by Oceania churches that seeks to articulate a theology that declares anthropogenic sea level rise not as an abrogation of the promise of Genesis 8, not an act of God in the sense of a judgment on Oceania peoples, but a result of human economic and consumer activities that pollute the atmosphere and lead to climate change. Most of these polluting emissions come from highly-industrialized countries. The Declaration is thus a call on our sisters and brothers in Christ throughout the world to act in solidarity with us to reduce the causes of human-induced climate change. We issue this call particularly to churches in the highly-industrialized nations whose societies are historically responsible for the majority of polluting emissions. We further urge these countries to take responsibility for the ecological damage that they have caused by paying for the costs of adaptation to the impacts that can be anticipated. 35 We then have a moral obligation. While the sea will not eat all of the land as in the Noahic flood, yet chaos has been released and threatens to engulf all of humanity. We are committed to sea level rise that will affect the Earth for millennia and threatens to displace 34 Kevin E. Trenberth, Framing the Way to Relate Climate Extremes to Climate Change, Climatic Change 115 (2012): Pacific Conference of Churches, Otin Tai Declaration, March 11, 2004, -and-responsibility-for-creation/climate-change-water/otin-tai-declaration.
14 92 Anglican Theological Review millions. In response, the church must lead the way in navigating the complex issues of human migration, creation care, resource management, and sustainable development. Ultimately, its mission is to preach repentance, which underlies all of these issues. It is also to courageously preach a message of hope that ultimately chaos will not prevail: For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), Who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): I am the Lord, and there is no other. (Isa. 45:18, NRSV)