Earth Day in Urgent Times
There is something different about this Earth Day.
Maybe it's just me, immersed in the bad news. There's been an abundant plenty of it in the last several weeks.
The population of Chinstrap penguins is declining because many, many newborn pups are not surviving. The krill they eat thrives below the ice and the ice is not there. Neither is enough krill. Less food, more deaths.
Polar bears are drowning as they try to find to food. There's talk that they are approaching endangered species status. The ice floes they rely on to help them get their food are fewer and farther between, so exhaustion sets in before ice or food can be found.
Scientists report that eighty-four percent of Antarctic glaciers have retreated in the past fifty years, as the average temperature in the region rose four and half degrees. The Sjogren Glacier has retreated by a record nine miles since 1993, surpassing anything ever seen or expected. The warming oceans have caused giant icebergs to calve off, tumbling like tumble weeds into the water, an Antarctic version of the dust bowl that scientists now suggest will return to the southwestern US.
In my own front yard, the rhododendron open and close their leaves with every temperature change whiplashing from season to season in a matter of days and doing it repeatedly.
Each day I pass a nesting site for great blue herons. Usually the birds are back in residence long before now. This year I have seen only one or two lone birds and no sign yet of nesting season having begun.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a Canadian Inuit, traveled to Washington, D.C., hoping to get the attention of the United States government with a simple and clear message: climate change is killing her people. They rely on frozen ground and ice to get to the animals during hunting season. The ice has been unusually thin. More of her people have died this year than in recent memory deaths the result of thin ice; thin ice the result of climate change.
She wants us to understand that global warming is creating a situation that violates the human rights of indigenous people living close to sea-level across the globe. But Joe Barton, a congressman from Texas, believes that, although hundreds of thousands of Asian Pacific Islanders might be forced to leave their homes, the rest of us should focus on the benefits of climate change! Think of benefits to countries in the northern hemisphere like Russia, where global warming would mean a longer growing season and more food. In the tropics, climate change will likely be a wash. And in the southern hemisphere it could go either way, but there could be significant benefits, he claims... just think of the benefits!
All of this is swirling around in me as I try to imagine what my pagan soul can stand for. What can I pray for, hope for in this season that is traditionally a time of honoring the earth, celebrating new life, rebirth and the return of spring?
No simple song singing the earth's beauty will do. No honoring of the season's turning is possible without acknowledging that these are urgent times.
Recent reports from the intergovernmental panel have confirmed it. Human activity is significantly responsible for climate change and global warming. We are responsible. The ancients who honored the solstices and the equinoxes did not share the same sense of certainty that we take for granted—the certainty that spring will come again. As their ancient spirit lives on in us we do as they did and honor this earth our home. But this year and at least for me as never before that honoring is tempered with fear. It is an urgent fear. It is the fear that we cannot count on spring.
We cannot count on spring. We cannot count on the earth's capacity to renew itself. We cannot count on this season of rebirth and renewal to return year after year after year.
As a Unitarian Universalist I stake my life on our interdependence—the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part-and draw sustenance from earth-centered traditions that guided and still guide the lives of many peoples and cultures. This time, this year, we need to reclaim that interdependence and the wisdom of those sources. Our individualism—whether as persons or nations—has led us to act as if we can meet our personal needs, sustain our lifestyles, attend at a time of our choosing to those in need, conserve a little when it is convenient and use as much as we “need” for our comfort. Our government says that signing on to the Kyoto protocol is too costly in dollars and jobs. Yet there is the will and the money to spend billions on a war over oil.
This spring, in this season of rebirth and renewal, perhaps it is to our own souls we should attend. This planet, as never before, depends on us. We are all on thin ice.
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