If you live in the United States, you might be a bit on the chilly side this week. Last Sunday morning, I looked at a reputable weather forecast website to figure out what I needed to wear outside. The forecasted low for the day was -9 degrees Fahrenheit (-22 Celsius). What was the actual temperature at the airport down the street from my rectory? A balmy -18 degrees Fahrenheit (-27 Celsius). That was the raw temperature... let's not talk about the wind chill levels.
Days like last Sunday (and today) often bring about an ongoing debate with some parishioners: Fr. James, I read what you write about climate change and I'm confused - If global warming is real, why is it so cold right now? My gut tells me I wont get this question as much this year since we have had a very mild winter. Still, as Chris Graney and I explored in past posts, temperatures in my home state have been decreasing over the years. In light of this, I can appreciate why people would question global warming, at least where I live: Shouldn't global warming make me feel warmer? If you would like to read the posts Chris and I did in the past, here are the links:
- Climate in Kurzynski Country,
- Kurzynski County's Response to the Graney Data,
- Sweltering Heat, Bitter Cold, Torrential Rain, Historic Floods: Why your friends, your family members, your co-workers, members of your church, your elected officials, and perhaps you yourself might be skeptical regarding Climate Change (this last link was not part of our discussion, but its a GREAT post!)
Enter into the conversation the Polar Vortex. Many of us aspiring armchair meteorologists have been hearing a lot about the Polar Vortex these days. Here's a brief video that explores the cause of our chilling temperatures.
So, the warmer the North Pole gets the colder I become... hmmm.... being from Wisconsin, that actually makes sense! All kidding aside, Wisconsinites enjoy applying Murphy's Law in a rather expansive manner in relation to our everyday lives. That being said, it does make sense that if the cold air at the poles is displaced by warm air, the cold air has to go somewhere... Why not Wisconsin! As the NOVA clip explains, we need more data to confirm this hypothesis. It's both the exciting and challenging aspect of climate science: It's a relatively new field of science, meaning there's the potential for groundbreaking discoveries, but our impatient culture gets frustrated with what they perceive as "slow" research.
For some more reading on the Polar Vortex, here's a couple more articles:
Since the clouds have been a constant guest in Wisconsin this year, I've gotten into doing wildlife photography in my spare time. Recently, a friend of mine who is a serious bird enthusiast tipped me that there was a Snowy Owl sighting about 15 minutes away from where I live. I grabbed my camera, met up with my friend, and, for the first time in my life, I saw a Snowy Owl! Snowy Owls are arctic raptors that venture south during the winter. Recently, a Snowy Owl made headlines for showing up in New York City's Central Park.
It's a bit of a mystery as to why this beautiful animal ventures south. There are theories that range from food scarcity, large breeding numbers, or younger owls that venture further south than older owls. In regard to climate, the Snowy Owl is often seen as an iconic animal in regard to the ecological health of the Arctic. There is strong sentiment that as the Arctic warms and the ecosystem changes, the future of the Snowy Owl becomes threatened. Still, there is a lot of science that needs to be done with this mysterious raptor to understand why the Snowy Owl does what it does and why their numbers are dwindling. Click the link or one of my owl images below to read a wonderful Smithsonian Magazine piece on the movements of the Snowy Owl - This article is my source material for this paragraph.
So, what does a Wisconsinite do during a cold snap during a national pandemic? We dream about the day we will be able to take a vacation!! As of late, as I wait for my second Covid-19 vaccination shot, I've been feeling some hints of hope that maybe, just maybe I could plan a trip somewhere in the distant future! Now you might think it funny that my first thought was to take a trip to Iceland since I'm complaining about the cold of Wisconsin, but Iceland ticks a lot my boxes: Stars, Northern Lights, Majestic Landscapes, and... Puffins!
Puffins? Since when have I been interested in Puffins? Again, since I've been enjoying bird photography, I thought that a future vacation should include some type of bird expedition. When I did a web search on "beautiful birds," the oddly adorable Puffin caught my eye. When I found out that Iceland is one of their main breeding grounds, the connection between Puffins and my astronomical interests got me thinking of a trip.
Knowing next to nothing about Puffins, I started to do some research on this bird. Wouldn't you know it, climate change strikes again. Whether it be warmer waters off of Canada and Maine causing the primary food source for Puffins to relocate or speculation that global warming's alteration to the "Global Ocean Conveyor Belt" is altering the life of the Icelandic Puffin, Murphy's Law struck again: I'm just a simple Wisconsinite that is looking for happy thoughts and a nice vacation and I end up feeling moved to write a piece on global climate change.
Again, just as is the case with the Polar Vortex and the Snowy Owl, there's a lot more science that needs to be done to understand why Puffins are struggling to survive. For more information on Puffins, here are a couple articles on this fascinating bird.
- Mass Puffin Die-Off May Be Linked to Climate Change
- Audubon Project Puffin: Climate Change and Chance
- Seabird Protection and Avoidance Tips
You might be asking yourself: What does this have to do with faith? Well, the Arctic Vortex, Snowy Owls, and Puffins remind me of the spiritual vision of the good, the true, and beautiful, leading to a sense of harmony with God, ourselves, and the world around us. What do I mean?
Bishop Barron (then Father Barron) would often teach his students that the goal of the mediaeval approach to spirituality was a type of harmony, balance, and right relationship. This harmony was both internal and external. Therefore, the heart of inner peace is developing a harmonious unity with God, neighbor, and the created world around us. This web of relationships brings us to the true, the good, and the beautiful, not only theologically, but also from a standpoint of our natural understand of how we are to relate to the world around us.
The true - What does our natural understanding of the world teach about how to protect God's creation?
The good - How are we to act rightly toward creation?
The beautiful - How does our knowing the truth and acting rightly contribute to the awe-inspiring fruit of a creation this is harmonious and healthy?
And this is the connection I see between the Polar Vortex, Snowy Owls, and Puffins - When I am in right relationship with God, neighbor, and the world, that harmony can allow for all of creation to be as God intended. Put another way, if I want to be able to take beautiful pictures of Snowy Owls and Puffins in the future, I need to understand my proper relationship with God's creation so these beautiful creatures can live and flourish.
Spiritual Exercise: How are you to approach the true, the good, and the beautiful in your life? How do these categories instruct you on how to live in right relationship with God, neighbor, and our world? Pray with these questions and, together, let's strive for a Spirit driven harmony in the world we live. Let us love God, one another, and the created world of wonders that is God's gift.