Sounding the Alarm Bell

For those of us who live on the back roads of New England, there’s something about a bell rope leading up into a steeple. An old rope, that you have to really haul on to get the bells pealing—I’ve watched my smaller Sunday-school kids get lifted off the ground as it snaps back after a good tug. Everyone wants a turn.

I was in the small Massachusetts town of Sherborn, near Lexington, not long ago, and there were a dozen men, women, and kids standing around the bell rope, taking turns pulling, 10 rings apiece. But here’s the thing: It was a Saturday afternoon. And they rang the bell 350 times.

It was a test—a test of a kind of global emergency alert system that we hope to put into full effect on another Saturday, this October 24. In fact, I’m going to try and explain why pulling that bell 350 times may be the most useful thing your church can do to deal with climate change, to help avert the rapid unraveling of creation.

THOUGH YOU MAY not have yet heard, 350 is the most important number on earth. A year ago, our foremost climatologist, NASA scientist James Hansen, published a study showing that the maximum concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere compatible with the “planet on which civilization developed” and to which “life on earth is adapted” is 350 parts per million. That’s a tough number, because we’re already past it (the air around you right now holds about 387 parts per million CO2). It explains why the Arctic has melted with stunning speed the last two summers and why the pH of the oceans has shifted dramatically just in the last decade. Global warming, it turns out, is not some future problem. It’s here, right now, breaking upon us.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2009
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