PAPA, WHAT'S ON MARS? Reflections No 400, 9 August 2012
Part of Metro Manila during Typhoon Ketsana [in the Philippines, 'Ondoy'] September 2009
It was a wet and gloomy day. The 6-year-old looked out at the torrents of rain that were streaming from the dark gray gloomy sky that were spoiling the European summer and wet down some of the Olympic events. In Asia, it was far worse. The tropical rain storms went on for days, the rivers overflowed, people waded through floods carrying their meager possessions on their heads in plastic bags and basins. Their villages were submerged; the towns and cities were flooded chest high, food was lost, possessions destroyed. Lives and fields of crops were ruined, homes buried by landslides and most could not understand why there was such harsh and violent weather, the worst for decades.
Toowomba, Queensland, Australia, December 2010 - January 2011
The child was sitting on the floor before the television clicking, switching from one channel to another. Discovery Channel was showing a piece on global warming with a cartoon image of the sweating globe wrapped in a blanket, depicting the industrial gases that smother the earth. 'Papa, why is it so cold and wet when the world is getting hotter? I wish it was warm and sunny'.
Papa folded his newspaper and had a ready answer for that one. 'The warmer air is making the ocean water into clouds, the wind carries them to the land and there they come down as rain, millions of gallons of it', he answered, looking sadly at the rain lashing the windows.
The Discovery program on the TV showed huge Arctic glaciers breaking up and dropping into the ocean and floating south. 'The Arctic ice is melting as never before', the commentator intoned. 'Papa, how can it be hotter if there are lots of pieces of ice floating around us?'.
Papa struggled for an answer. Then it came to him. 'Well, there are more hot gasses pumped into the air and not enough icebergs to cool them', he said with a smile. The child wrinkled his forehead thinking hard and said, 'Oh! Papa, where do the giant ice cubes go when they become water?' Papa had the answer to that also. 'They make bigger and deeper oceans', he said. 'Papa, if they get bigger, how do they fit into the oceans? They are already full, the child asked again. 'That’s right', Papa called back, 'they can¹t fit into the oceans so they spread onto the land'.
The child looked glumly, sadly at the television picture of floods and disaster on a gigantic scale. 'Papa, don’t let it happen here, I’m not able to swim'. Then he clicked the remote and the news showed the landing of Curiosity, the Mars exploratory vehicle moving about on the red sandy surface of the planet Mars. The child looked at it, the commentator was saying, 'This NASA-built robotics vehicle is a rolling laboratory that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and will search for the answers to our world'. The child viewed it for a while, changed the channel and after a few minutes asked, 'Papa, will Curiosity find a cure on Mars'. Papa: 'A cure for what?' Child: 'For the sick, hungry children, there are so many, look Papa look'. The child called out.
Satellite photo of Lake Chad, Africa, 2011, with the actual lake in blue. It has shrunk by 95% since the 1960s.
The television was now showing a report on the famine stricken African nation. Images of the victims of extreme drought; dead cows on dried-out cracked parched land, emaciated skeletal children, overcrowded refugee camps filled with people dressed in rags cradling dying babies. Papa looked over, was shocked and called out, 'Don’t look at that, it’s horrible'. He came over, took the remote and clicked to another channel. The adverts came on showing rich people on yachts eating sumptuous meals.
'No, child', he said. 'There's no food on Mars, only dust'. 'Well, then I’m not going to Mars. When I grow up I'm going to bring my dinner to the hungry children. Will you bring me Papa? Can we go there?' Papa sighed a heavy, jaded sigh, 'I don’t know child, only God knows'.
'Papa, who is God? Will God bring dinner to the hungry children?' Defeated, Papa slumped in his armchair. The screen was now back showing the refugee camp and his child was leaning into the screen putting a crisp to the mouth of a dying baby.
The Infant Jesus Distributing Bread to Pilgrims, Murillo, 1678