Spirituality in an Age of Ecocide
Hurricane Sandy: Time to Stop Digging?
Alongside the anger, however, there is the need to take it all in and recognize that this is simply the way things are. It makes little difference how correct those of us who talk about environmental problems are, how much truth is on our side, and how far worse things than Sandy are in store for all us. Reality, unfortunately, rarely goes away because we get angry, even if we have good reasons for the way we feel.
For comparison, we might think of the feminist thinkers of the 1600s. There were a few—women inspired by the Reformation's emphasis on individual choice and conscience, visionaries who realized that women could be as godly as men, and have insights that deserved recognition and respect. History has confirmed the essential truth of these women—but it sure took a long time for that to happen.
Environmentalists of today may face a comparable wait. It could be decades, even centuries, before it becomes commonly accepted that reckless development, wasteful consumption, and the poisons that flow from nuclear plants and military hardware are all to be shunned; that oil is a precious gift from our ancestors, and not to be so casually, cavalierly, and carelessly consumed; or that animals are conscious beings, centers of experience and enjoyment even as people are. Ultimately, as humans have (for the most part!) learned that murder is wrong, slavery has no part in civilized life, and people have rights, so we may learn the commonplaces of environmentalism: love of life, respect for ecosystems, modesty in consumption, great care in the implementation of technology, and that community and personal virtue are the sources of true well-being and consumerism is not.
It seems dreadfully clear that much suffering will unfold before these lessons become truisms. Is that a cause for anger and grief? Surely. But perhaps we should keep in mind that life has a common tendency to proceed through suffering. More than 90 percent of all the species that ever existed are now extinct. Every living being lives only because it can consume the body of some other living being. We are all born, in the end, to die. Once we accept that birth and death, existence and non-existence, pleasure and pain, are inextricably intertwined, we can be a little less heartbroken over all the suffering our country, culture, and civilization are creating.
But there is a long distance between not being paralyzed by the spectacle of death and devastation and calmly accepting it. If life has created redwood trees, trout, and spectacular sunsets, it has also created people. If the eagles fly and the dolphins leap playfully through the waves, human beings can think—and care. And reason. And work together to make things better.
It may be that too many years from now people will look back at the environmentalists of today as we look back at the feminists of the 17th century. "How brave and far-sighted they were," such people might say. "How ahead of their time. And how lonely and despairing they must have felt. Isn't it wonderful they did anything at all? They really are an inspiration."
Such may be our fate now, in 2012, in the aftermath of one of the early superstorms that climate change is sure to bring.
Let's make the most of it. Keep the faith, and let everyone within the sound of your voice, pen, or Twitter account know that there is a better way to live.
We don't, we really don't, have to keep digging.