River Pirates

hiking Slim's River West, Yukon (A'äy Chù). photo by Rick McCharles. (cc) 2010.
hiking Slim’s River West, Yukon (A’äy Chù). photo by Rick McCharles. (cc) 2010.

I have been haunted since yesterday by the news of the disappearance of the Slims River due to climate-change induced river piracy.

Change is part of our ecosystems. Not only do seasons cycle throughout the year (and not always taking the form of spring, summer, fall, and winter) only to return again, but the land and sea shift as part of their existence. The haunting I feel is not about the loss of rivers through the millennia as a natural consequence of global shift prior to the human industrial age.

IceCanyon. photo by Dan Sugar. (cc) 2016.
IceCanyon. photo by Dan Sugar. (cc) 2016.

We are river pirates

The loss of the Slims River was due to us. Humans, with our centuries of dominionism and separation from the nature that gave us life, are complicit in its disappearance. We are river pirates, and this breaks my heart.

The fallout from the loss of the Slims is already recognizable — migration of animals out of protected areas, dust storms in the empty river bed, and there is the impact on the human settlements themselves. But, of course, the companies and governments that have led us to this crisis point, that have trained us to love our consumerism instead of our planet, don’t care about the humans that don’t feed their bottom line.

Lake along Alsek River, Yukon, Canada. Photo by Peter Pham (cc) 2006.
Lake along Alsek River, Yukon, Canada. Photo by Peter Pham (cc) 2006.

This is not just about survival of the species. This is about intersectional justice, about recognizing that the lives of those who lived in harmony with the Slims River are just as important as those in big cities like Boston, Vancouver, London, Shanghai, etc.. Our seventh principle calls us not only to mourn the death of the Slims River, but also to rise up for the people of Flint, MI, who have been denied clean water for years due to governmental corruption.

So here we are. Pirates. There is death that is part of the ongoing cycle of life, and there is death that is caused by avarice and willful neglect. We UUs who find ourselves with Pagan and Earth-centered traditions as a source of our spiritual identity, the seed out of which our growth and learning emerges, must take up the call to heal our world, to restore balance to the cycles that allow us to be a part of our ecosystem in sustainable, life-giving ways. There is no more time to waste.

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  • The Slims River was a glacially fed river. In 2016 during spring runoff, the meltwater that had been draining in two directions now was all draining into the south-flowing Alsek River and then into the Gulf of Alaska. This is because the glacier has been retreating, as have most glaciers for the past several thousand years.

    This type of stream piracy happens all the time in nature and likely would have happened at some time without the human contribution to global warming. Maybe in a few decades, maybe in a century or two – but it would have happened. The water is not lost – merely flowing in a different channel.

    There are many reasons to be upset about our contribution to climate change. I can’t see this as one of them.