Cold as Hell: The Chilling Effect of Global Warming

A man walks in the snow down a road along the shore in Scituate, Mass., Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. A winter storm slammed into the
A man walks in the snow down a road along the shore in Scituate, Mass., Friday, Jan. 3, 2014. A winter storm slammed into the U.S. Northeast with howling winds and frigid cold, dumping nearly 2 feet (60 centimeters) of snow in some parts and whipping up blizzard-like conditions Friday. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Hell is normally depicted as a "lake of fire," as in Revelation 20:10. This week in the Midwest, however, Hell is likely to look more like lakes of ice, as dangerous cold from a polar vortex, brings "wind chills [that] could hit 50, 60 or even 70 below zero." The Great Lakes will likely freeze over and prolong an already very cold winter.

This is the chilling effect of global warming, as NASA points out: Cold Snaps Plus Global Warming Do Add Up.

This dangerous cold is a fatal cold, a cold from Hell, especially for the poor and most vulnerable citizens. Frostbite can occur within a few minutes in such conditions, warming centers and homeless shelters are bracing for the onslaught of the homeless and those who may not have adequate heat. Still, many will suffer terribly and some will die.

This frigid weather is another example of the kind of violent and abrupt climate change that results from global warming. It's ongoing impact falls disproportionately on where you live, certainly, but especially if you are poor.

The science of what is causing this current extreme cold is, in fact, complex, and research is ongoing.

But while the science of changes to the polar vortex and its relationship to global warming are complex, the Christian theology of our failure to protect the creation is not complex.

Simply put, the Christian theological argument must start with our sinful failure to take care of the creation, as God intends (Gen. 2:15). Instead, we are trashing the planet and changing its climate primarily through the fossil fuel emissions.

Sin against the creation abounds.

In addition to our sinful failure on what Christian Evangelicals call creation care, there is what the Catholic moral theology of sin so helpfully considers in terms of vincible and invincible ignorance.

Catholic moral theology teaches that sin is mitigated by invincible ignorance, that is, even with reasonable diligence you could not know what you needed to know to avoid sin. But vincible ignorance is a component of sin because ignorance is not an excuse if you could have known with reasonable diligence. The worst of vinciple ignorance, however, is that which is the result of "hardness of heart." "Such an attitude [i.e. hardness of heart] shows contempt for moral law and so increases culpability."*

In my view, hardness of heart drives huge amounts of money that fuel the industry of climate change denial, as well as the effort to undermine Americans' faith in science as a Drexel University Study reveals. This is promoting ignorance, not just being ignorant.

One need not be ignorant, despite these climate denial efforts. Yes, the science is complex, but much is already known, available in the popular press, and can be known to those non-scientists, i.e. people of faith and people of humanist values who are willing to read and think critically .

It is useful, for example, to look at a condition called Sudden Stratospheric Warming, that is increasingly producing what are called Major Warmings.

You may well ask, how could "Major Warmings" produce wind chills of -50 or worse?

Well, what seems to happen is this Sudden Stratospheric Warming pushes cold air away from the pole, and we get a freight train of frigid air coming right at us.

Take a look at the science for yourself.

Chris Mooney, in an article called Dear Donald Trump: Winter Does Not Disprove Global Warming, has made a valiant attempt to explain to Trump and others on the right-wing how winter and global warming interact. "Global warming is actually expected to increase 'heavy precipitation in winter storms,' and for the northern hemisphere, there is evidence that these storms are already more frequent and intense, according to to the draft US National Climate Assessment."

See? It can be known if you take the trouble, for example, to read the draft of a reputable report.

Now, let's be charitable and assume that some of the failure to recognize the looming danger of global warming is just ignorance, not that of hard-hearted ignorance. Isn't part of the blame for that the term "global warming" itself?

"Global warming" has no emotional pull whatsoever. "Global Warming" sounds like we'll all just be wearing bathing suits earlier in the year, and "climate change" just sounds like taking a trip from Chicago to Miami. The emotional case has not been made in the public's mind for the catastrophic effects of our lack of creation care.

In my book I argue that instead we should use "global weirding," a term credited to Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Colorado based Rocky Mountain Institute.

The climate is where the weird things are. You may not know the cause, but everybody knows the weather sure has gotten weird. Weird is threatening. Weird is scary.

And you should be scared.

In history, artists have portrayed scenes of the fiery Hell as very scary. Today, there is a Hell coming toward us, but it is a frigid apocalypse, brought on by our own sinful disregard of the planet.

The future prospects are chilling.

* It should be noted that Catholic moral law is done within the Catholic Church context and I am applying these definitions more broadly.