A recent study published by NASA in the journal Science Advances forecasts a drier and bleaker future for much of western North America. Ben Cook, a climate scientist at NASA and Columbia University, was lead author of the study and compared the predicted changes to recent droughts: “Natural droughts like the 1930’s Dust Bowl and the current drought in the Southwest have historically lasted maybe a decade or a little less…What these results are saying is we’re going to get a drought similar to those events, but it is probably going to last at least 30-35 years.” The study’s authors call such an event a “megadrought” and say that the likelihood that we see one here in America in the latter half of this century is around 80% if greenhouse emissions continue at their current pace. However, even if such emissions are greatly reduced, extended periods of drought still have around a 60% probability of occurring.
To find a frame of reference for the impact that these megadroughts might have on life in the western half of the United States, researchers had to go back to medieval times. Periodic droughts from 1100-1300 were not necessarily more intense than what we have experienced before or are experiencing now. However, such droughts lasted as long as 30 to 50 years with the effect that the people living in that region were forced to either starve or leave in search of more fertile lands. While they ultimately chose the latter, it was not until many had already perished from “starvation, disease, infant mortality and violence.”
So what do these megadroughts mean for us and what is the appropriate Christian response? Two thoughts:
First, while all droughts are, at least in part, a natural phenomenon, we have an impact on the world around us and can contribute to the severity and longevity of such droughts. Genesis 1 and 2 detail the story of creation and make it clear that God’s intent is for us to serve as his stewards of the earth, taking care of what he has made. While God instructs humanity to govern the world in Genesis 1:28, Psalm 24:1 reminds us that the earth “is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” God has placed us in authority over the earth but with the intent that we would be good stewards of his creation. The earth is a gift and should not be taken for granted. Perhaps part of God’s redemption of the droughts we are currently facing in much of the western United States is that they would serve as a reminder of our responsibility to the world around us. That does not mean that we have to stop driving our cars or stop burning fossil fuels completely, but we should not discount the need for clean energy or our obligation to God to seek out ways to better care for his planet.
Second, pray for rain to come and end the droughts that are currently ongoing. Pray for God to guide us to cleaner energy and better ways to care for the earth. And pray that the megadroughts predicted by the NASA team of scientists would never come to fruition. Our God absolutely has the power to accomplish all of that and more, but it is worth asking why he would do so if we are not prepared to be better stewards of the world he has given us. God is the perfect father and every parent knows that any short term gains from stepping in to save a child from the consequences of his or her mistakes are fleeting if the child does not learn the necessary lesson to avoid making those same mistakes again. Our heavenly Father has chosen us to be his caretakers of the earth and he is willing to do what it takes to help us get better at that responsibility. The question for us is whether or not we are willing to learn. So pray for rain and pray for learning. Perhaps, in God’s eyes, one requires the other.