Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Mourning for the Earth

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Mourning for the Earth

Article excerpt

To confront climate change, we may need to first deal with our grief.

The most precious place on Earth for me is a camp on a lake in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. During the next century, climate change will chase northward things that I cherish. Spruce, tamaracks, sugar maples, balsam fir, moose, mink, and loons will no longer grace the shores and waters ofthat lake. Like most people in northern climes, I see the changes happening already. I have to fight hard against despair, for my personal losses, yes, but also for the universality and injustice of the calamity, which already affects so many of the poor and innocent.

WHY IS IT so hard for people to respond effectively to the reality of cli- mate change?

Changing people's minds-with facts, tables, and predictions-has proven extremely difficult. Even showing people the miraculous beauty of the planet alongside the predicted losses is not working. Guilt, anxiety, and anger can be motivating forces, but they have debilitating side effects: They are all soul-destroying.

So I wonder about our hearts. Have we ignored our emotional and spir- itual connections to the planet? Could the noise swirling around climate change-science, politics, media blitzes, as well as the weather disas- ters themselves-drown out the voice of a loss so profound that it rests unnamed in our souls? Could our breaking hearts be part of the reason we are immobilized?

In the 1960s, Rachel Carson's image of a "silent spring" due to the pro- liferation of pesticides was as heartrending as it was controversial. Carson was ridiculed, her predictions dismissed. The corporate world paid millions to have her silenced. But eventually the love of bird songs won out. People read Carson's book, grieved at the prospect of a silent spring, spoke up, and insisted the chemical-company-supported politicians ban DDT.

Today, the iconic images surrounding climate change are different: the human mother watching her child slowly die from malnutrition, the majestic polar bear mother with her cub on a shrinking ice flow, or the head of state of a small island nation pleading with delegates at yet another international conference to save his homeland from disappearing under the rising ocean waves.

These things are happening right now and, sadly, most often to those innocent of the causes.

Earth: an incarnation of God's love ren- dered in soil, water, atmosphere, and living beings. It is a gift we must, by all rational, emotional, ethical, and spiritual measures, protect and preserve for future generations. It is a gift to all of us-not just some. We are compelled as Christians to ensure that the "least of these" who are most vulnerable are protected from the ravages of a changing climate. So if we are to truly love our neigh- bors as ourselves, we must put ourselves in their shoes and imagine watching our own malnourished child die or the place most precious to us disappear beneath the ocean waves.

We rarely talk about loss, grief, and cli- mate change. The losses come in many forms. Clearly the victims of weather-related events, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, grieve deeply when faced with the immediate losses of homes and neighborhoods. People draw- ing their livelihoods from the land and sea notice changes that will eventually eliminate that way of life for them, at least in that place. Some of us may have chosen changes in life- styles to reduce our carbon footprint; it is something we do out of love, but there can still be accompanying feelings of loss.

For the many who feel God's incarnate presence in nature, part of our grief may be an underlying feeling that some part of God is being lost through the changing climate.

Granted, for many other people, the reality of actual climate change remains distant-somewhere else, sometime later. The responses proposed-recycle more, drive less, watch your personal carbon foot- print-seem so ridiculously small, futile, and incongruous that they are simply dismissed: Why bother? …

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