It was our sons’ spring break. For an entire week we swam in
the Atlantic, messed around in tidal inlets, cooked scallops for
lunch and bluefish for dinner. My wife and I split a bottle of wine
each night. The boys gorged on ice cream. It was glorious and
primal and more than a little melancholy, given what I’d been
reading about the place.
Several months before our trip I was speaking with a climate
scientist, a friend and colleague at my university, who told me
about a website called “Surging Seas.” Based on peer-reviewed
science, the website’s interactive tool allows the user to type in a
destination and view the projected sea level rise corresponding
to the amount of fossil fuels burned. The site presents two scenarios: Scenario A is “unchecked pollution,” resulting in a four-degree Celsius temperature increase; Scenario B is “extreme
carbon cuts,” resulting in a two-degree increase. As for when
the seas will rise, the soonest could be “less than 200 years from
now.” I opened the website and typed in Ocracoke Island, NC. In
both scenarios, Ocracoke and the entire chain of Outer Banks all
but disappeared. Under “extreme carbon cuts,” a few sand dunes
poked up here and there, but everything else—roads, towns,
and estuaries — had joined the Atlantic.
Climate science has given us thousands of similar projections
and when you hold them up in your mind it becomes di=icult
not to see a pointillist image of a planet in travail.
I suddenly felt a strong desire to see this place. Instead of sitting in a church building on Easter Sunday, I needed to celebrate
Jesus’s resurrection in a place where it would feel like the wild
gamble on hope that it was.
We would go as witnesses to this Easter island, to watch and
absorb and partake in its beauty before it was gone. Beholders of
a passing glory.
II. Good Friday
BEFORE WE LEFT for the coast, I attended church on Good Friday.
Good Friday is the one day in the Christian year when death is
given its due. Most Christians avoid it, politely stepping around
all that messy crucifixion business and going straight for the Easter party. Some years I avoided it, too. But this year more than
ever I needed to cast my lot with the dying, for it felt like we
would be living with death for a long time to come.
I had been in a dark place for months. It probably didn’t
help that for my Lenten reading I chose Cormac McCarthy’s
The Road. In that disturbing, apocalyptic novel a father and son
push a shopping cart through a nearly uninhabitable world,
hanging onto nothing more than the love between them. I had
also been listening to Leonard Cohen’s final album You Want
THE PHOTOGRAPHS that accompany
this article are from Scared Scientists,
a series created by Nick Bowers and
commissioned by Climate Council, an
Australian environmental organization.
Bowers interviewed scientists in a
variety of fields and photographed them
as they discussed their findings with
him, particularly their fears about the
e=ects of climate change.