“Houston, we have a problem.” Heeding Harvey’s Message for Humanity

Water is Life.

Unless it’s coming at you by the trillions of gallons, blown on hurricane-force winds. Then water can be death. And death also lurks in the water that lingers after the storm, contaminated with chemicals, fossil fuels, sewage and decomposing bodies.

Although evangelical preachers may be tempted to blame the storm on the sins of individual Texans, the blame must be spread much more widely, and it has nothing to do with conventional Christian understandings of sin.

We have brought this destruction down on ourselves by our actions and inactions—that much is true. And we have the power to right the wrongs and avoid or at least lessen the catastrophes still to come.

I don’t know if anyone has done a “budget analysis” of which country, on a per capita basis, bears the most responsibility for climate change, but I bet America is right up there at the top.

On a deeper level, Americans have been the great influencers of the 20th century, especially the post-World War II era when the fossil and chemical industries really took off. In trying to keep up with the Americans, the rest of the world followed suit, and everything seemed almost too good to be true, for a while.

What gave us the arrogant notion that Mother Earth would endlessly tolerate the warming of the oceans, logging of the forests, chemical dousing of the prairies, wholesale destruction of millions of species and industrial-scale torture of domesticated animals? Did we really expect to be able to mine and drill and burn and drain and pave without any consequences?

I don’t believe in “Mother Earth” as a Kali-like goddess bent on vengeance; but as Gaia, a living system striving to stay balanced and flourish through every living particle of her being, our planet will naturally seek to return to the steady state that humans have destroyed in the past fifty or so years.

Gaia has her own ways of curbing an invasive species. Hurricanes, floods, wildfires, droughts, earthquakes, epidemics…these are not acts of a vengeful God but the natural biofeedback methods of our planet, seeking stasis and harmony.

This is no comfort to Texans going back to destroyed homes and neighborhoods this weekend. It’s no comfort to the rest of us on the East Coast, keeping a wary eye on the next hurricane churning in our direction across the Atlantic, Category 3 Hurricane Irma.

 

In the old days, a preacher could look out at a grieving, distressed congregation and offer the solace that death and disaster were part of God’s plan. The message was to bow our heads and humbly accept the suffering as part of the human experience.

But these early 21st century “natural” disasters are neither divine retribution nor a cross we must bear as the price of being human.

The mind-blowing tragedy of Houston and the surrounding area is the simple result of human arrogance, shortsightedness, greed and stupidity.

  • Build petro-chemical plants on salt-water marshes along the ocean and see what happens.
  • Build housing developments on low-lying land along rivers and bayous and watch them flood.
  • Burn fossil fuels as fast and hard as you can, even when you know the consequences of over-heating the atmosphere—can you really feign surprise when storms come up out of the hot oceans?

Harvey was preceded by Sandy and Irene and Katrina…it will be followed by more and more staggering storms, until we finally get the message: we cannot continue to live as though the world were our sewer.

We cannot continue to focus our intelligence on developing ever-more-destructive weapons and toxic chemicals, on engineering feats that ride roughshod over natural habitats and drive other members of the Earth community over the cliff of extinction.

Our intelligence is desperately needed now, but in the service of Life, not Death.

Water is Life. Air is Life. Earth is Life. The good Fire of our Sun is Life.

But only when these elements are balanced and respected. Out of balance, rendered toxic, they spell our doom.

It is late, but not too late, to pull our planet back from the brink of the major reset she’s tracking towards.

If the preachers want to send a useful message, how about reminding people of our responsibility to steward the Earth? When the floods came in Biblical times, Noah built an Ark, not just for himself and his family, but for all the creatures on Earth.

We must recognize our entire planet, our Gaia, as a precious, sacred Ark of Life, for which we are the pilots and tenders.

She is sending us wake-up call after wake-up call. Are we awake yet?

hurricane-harvey-nasa-master675

Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station, 8/25/17. Credit: NASA European Pressphoto Agency

Parents, listen up! You need to know, and you need to act–now.

We raise our children so carefully, so thoughtfully.  We make them eat their vegetables, organic if possible.  We send them to the best schools we can find and afford.  We screen their friends and text them anxiously if they’re late coming home.  We worry about their careers, their futures. Will there be any jobs for our precious children when we finally, with great effort and care, get them through high school and college?

Jobs are important, sure.  But why is it easier for us to think about the economy than about the biggest issue confronting our children, and all of us, in the next few years?  I’m talking about the climate crisis and the degradation of the environment. The loss of species, the toxifying of the air, soil and water.  The fact that the planet our children are inheriting is not the planet we were born on to.

Of course, that’s always been true.  The planet has always been changing, evolving, sometimes in violent increments.  But it’s different now.  It’s different because never before, in the history of homo sapiens, have we been so close to the brink of a major, fast shift in our climate.  Never before, at least since we humans have been on the planetary stage, have we come so close to a global extinction event.

Global extinction event.  Where did I get a phrase like that?  It’s surely not my own language.  It’s one of those memes making the rounds of the Web.  But it’s not part of the lexicon of any of the parents I know.  They don’t want to think about it.  They don’t want to talk about it.  They don’t want to know.

How irresponsible is that, and how surprising, for parents who have been so conscientious, so completely invested in their role as primary caretakers and nurturers of their children.

It’s the privileged parents to whom I address myself most fervently. Parents who put so much time, energy and money into the task of raising their children, and do so with all their intelligence, responsibility and good will.  Parents who often have extra money to put towards a winter vacation someplace warm, or a summertime break by the beach.  Parents who are happy to send their kids to specialty camps in the summer, and who come up with the cash for school trips, afterschool lessons, an educational weekend in the city, a junior year abroad.

Privileged parents, listen up!  If you continue to turn a blind eye to the intertwined issues of environmental degradation and climate change, both of which are caused above all by enforced, ruthless economic growth based on the heedless consumption of fossil fuels and distribution of chemicals in the water, earth and air, your beloved children will face a future in which they cannot thrive.

A future in which none of us can thrive, unless it be perhaps the cockroaches, the ants and—for a while at least—scavengers like vultures and crows.

There have been so many disaster movies produced in the past few years—The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, WALL-E—putting out on the big screen our fears about what kind of future awaits us in an age of climate crisis and ecological collapse.  These movies represent our collective unconscious talking to us, presenting worse-case scenarios so that we can prepare ourselves for what may come.

We seem to like these movies because they give us the pleasure of stepping back afterwards and reassuring ourselves that it was just fantasy, not real.

The reports of the International Panel on Climate Change have none of the glamour of the big screen.  But they are saying the same thing as those disaster pictures.  They paint the same picture in different language.

It turns out that those disaster scenarios are real.

Sit with that knowledge for a bit, and then check in with yourself as a parent.  Once you accept that the looming environmental crisis is real, how can you continue to live your life blithely as though everything is OK?

Parents above all have a responsibility not just to take this knowledge seriously, but to act on what we know.  And parents of privilege–the 10%, the 25%–most of all.

We should be vehemently protesting the poisoning of our food, air and water.  We should be doing our utmost to stop the corporations who are wreaking this havoc, to change our own participation in the system, and to envision and manifest a better society that engages sustainably with the planetary ecological systems upon which we all depend.

Never before have we stood at such a juncture as a species.  Now is the tipping point.  Now is the time for us to stand up and be counted.  Now is the time for us to dare to take a path less traveled, to think for ourselves, to do what’s right for us and our children and the world we live in, before it’s too late.

It will not be easy, the road ahead.  There is so much to be done to turn this environmental train wreck around, and so little time.  We may not succeed.

But we cannot continue to play dumb any more.  We cannot continue to keep playing the game as if nothing were wrong, as if the biggest crisis of the past 10,000 years of human history were not on the horizon.  We cannot keep dancing to the band on deck as the iceberg looms before us.

There is too much at stake, for ourselves and especially for our children, whose lives—with any luck, and a lot of hard work—will reach further into the 21st century than ours.  If we care about our world—if we care about our children—we must act decisively, do whatever it takes.  Now.

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