Texas GOP Fights Catastrophic Wildfires With Prayer and Global Warming Denial
Texas governor Rick Perry set aside these last few days for a period of prayer for rain across his state. It's easy to see why: Texas has seen scant precipitation since September, and the drought is now worse than at the height of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Here's a spokesman for the state's forest service describing the fires that have broken out around the state: "This is a situation of historic proportions. The fuels are so dry. The winds are astronomical. The behavior of the winds is a perplexing situation. It's never been like this before."
I've got no problem with prayer--in my life as a Methodist, I've served as Sunday School superintendent and lay leader, and I added my heartfelt supplication for Texas to my Easter prayers.
But I think maybe Mother Teresa put it best: "Prayer without action is no prayer at all. You have to work as if everything depended on you, and leave the rest to God." And while Texas politicians have certainly worked, mostly it's been to deny global warming and prevent the changes that might actually deal with their troubles.
It's no great mystery why Texas is in historic trouble--or, for that matter, why we've seen historic trouble in central Russia, along Pakistan's rivers, in Queensland, across the Arctic. We're heating the planet: the CO2 we've poured into the atmosphere means that we now trap about 3/4 of a watt extra solar energy on each square meter of the earth's surface. That's enough to throw our planet out of balance. The science is simple: as a NASA team put it three years ago, above 350 parts per million CO2 we can't have a planet "similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted." And right now that number is 390, and rising two parts per million per year, simply because we're burning so much coal and gas and oil.
A lot of that fossil fuel gets burned in Texas. In fact, its carbon emissions are higher than the next two states (California and Pennsylvania) combined. Were it a separate country, Texas would be the seventh highest carbon emitting nation on the planet. And Perry has not exactly tried to slow that down--in fact, early in his first term he signed legislation to try and speed construction of 11 new coal plants for the state. As recently as January--in the middle of the drought--his attorney general argued in federal court against even the most modest EPA restrictions on greenhouse gases. Perry's GOP holds 23 of Texas's House seats, and 22 of those Representatives voted earlier this month to deny the fact of global warming (the 23rd abstained). Perry, who is apparently a wit, said last year "I've heard Al Gore talk about man-made global warming so much that I'm starting to think that his mouth is the leading source of all that supposedly deadly carbon dioxide." Ha! Ha!
Along with praying for rain, then, it might be best if Perry counseled Texans to ride bikes for rain, and buy small cars for rain, and build more windmills for rain, and shut down more coal plants for rain. He could counsel his congressional delegation to vote for rain: vote, that is, to put the price on carbon that would cause us to use less of it. That vote would rankle Texas-based oil giants like Exxon--but the Bible is full of stories where you have to choose between God and money. And they'd best get to it: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned last year that by 2010 the Southwest faced irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the "dust bowl" era.
Since we're still in the Passover season, Gov. Perry might want to pay attention to another leader who faced a water situation. The Israelites had followed Moses out of Egypt, but the Exodus stalled at the edge of the sea, and the pharaoh's troops in their chariots were closing in. Moses counseled prayer, but God had other ideas:
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving!
Sage advice in many situations.