Several years ago, a friend and I returned to our beloved Glacier Basin Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. It took me a bit to figure out what was wrong: about half the trees were missing. And so were the shade and the feeling of being embraced by the forest. What happened?
I soon learned from a ranger that the major culprit is the pine bark beetle. Normally beetles are killed off by a certain number of winter days below a certain temperature, which usually happens every 2-3 years. At that time these temperatures hadn’t happened for ten years. A nearby camper told me that Timber Creek Campground, another favorite, didn’t even open until July 4 because of dead tree removal. He said. “There’s not a tree left.” I couldn’t even go there. That was when climate change became real and personal for me. To this day, I can seldom tell the story without a surge of emotion.
The ranger commented: “The forest will come back, but it won’t be the same forest and it won’t be in our lifetimes.”
All of us have experienced climate change, if we pause to think about it. The year 2011 included 12 major climate events ranging from killer tornadoes to floods, to drought to catastrophic fires. In the Midwest, average annual temperatures have risen in recent decades, especially in the winter months. The growing season is starting earlier and lasting longer. Extreme heat events and heavy downpours are becoming much more common. Fire ants are headed north.
The vast majority of climate scientists and earth scientists (over 95%) agree that global climate change is real, caused by human activity, and a serious threat to our future. For a snapshot of what this change might mean for humans, I recommend a study by the Pontifical Academy of Science called “The Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene.” The article clearly illustrates the fate of glaciers, with before-and-after pictures. It analyzes the inevitable coming crisis of fresh water for both human consumption and agriculture for millions of people, many of whom are already poor. 1
The irony is that those who are contributing the most to this climate change phenomenon are those who are not only the least affected – for now – but who also have the greatest resources to cope.
Really, I’m not trying to make you depressed. I prefer to think of it as reality therapy. The wonderful part about facing reality is that it has the power to move us to constructive action.
What action? The choices range from reconstructing our worldview, to changing our daily habits, to speaking out in order to change our institutions and social structures.
Do you remember, during the recovery period from 9/11, when President Bush encouraged us to shop! Are we a nation of citizens or of consumers? Are we here on earth to reach out to one another and to build relationships of care, concern and mutual responsibility for the wellbeing of one another and the planet — or to accumulate more “stuff”? As a culture, we have been seduced into a worldview in which personal worth is measured by money, where “the one with the most toys wins.” This culture is simply not sustainable—environmentally or socially. Not even spiritually.
There’s a new world view coming over the horizon – and odd as it may seem, it’s coming from science. Actually in some ways it’s not new, because it reflects something known by indigenous people in both the past and the present – that we are all one, we are all interconnected, in relationship, accountable for the impact we have on one another. The difference is that today this worldview is rooted in scientific inquiry – including the realization that everything in the universe comes from the same single origin, and that we all are connected with and influencing each other. We are all in a very real way kin.
Those of a Judeao-Christian heritage will recognize the resonance with the Wisdom Tradition in the Bible. God’s wisdom (usually portrayed as feminine), who was with God before anything came to be, was present for the whole work of creation, and delights in being in the world with human children. The same theme is echoed in John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…through [whom] all things came to be, not one thing had its being except through [the Word]. “ I suspect that most religious traditions can find passages which explore humans’ relationship with the universe and each other in similar ways.
Today, literally millions of groups around the world are striving to learn how to live, in a vast diversity of ways, out of that reality that we are all interdependent: through protecting and renewing creation, living compassionate lives, embracing spirituality, re-inventing small scale economies, restoring collaborative relationships, working to create a socially just society and much more.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has so wisely said, “Each of us can do something. You can, you can, you can– I can!
Each of us can make changes in our priorities and our lifestyles. We can consume less, drive less, make wise consumer choices that support responsible companies, etc., etc. We can talk with others about our concerns and work to change daily practices where we live, work and worship. We can build a sustainable, resilient world based on relationships rather than large financial institutions.
We can attend an Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream symposium and follow up with like minded participants. We can connect with local and national groups and movements, and spend a few minutes or even an hour or so a week doing electronic advocacy, writing letters or making phone calls to help change public policy. Not infrequently, I get emails from www.earthjustice.org (“because the earth needs a good lawyer!”) saying “We won! You submitted 50,000 comments about this regulation and they had to listen to the public voice! We couldn’t have done it without you.”
For a plethora of do-able ideas, ranging from the individual to the institutional, I recommend The Better World Handbook: Small Changes that make a Big Difference. To join up with a faith-based metro organization that supports “greening” faith communities, connect through www.sustainablesanctuary.org.
The human future is in our hands. Let’s not blow it. If we get it right, generations yet to come will bless us and thank us for our wisdom, courage and committed action.
1 “Anthropocene” is the term for the new geologic era we have already entered, which is characterized by the impact of human activity on the planet. Another relatively new term is “climate refugee” which refers to millions of people who are already fleeing their native lands because of extreme drought and unpredictable weather patterns which make it virtually impossible to grow food.