God of all power, Ruler of the Universe, you are worthy of glory and praise…
At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
Eucharistic Prayer C, 1979 Book of Common Prayer
The lines above are on page 370 of the Prayer Book used by nearly all Episcopal churches in the U.S. We don’t hear them very often since the preceding Prayers A and B are most often used.
This may need to change.
The reference to “this fragile earth, our island home” is poetic, poignant and particularly appropriate for our times. Being reminded of the fragility of our island home might prompt some people to take action to save it.
For others, sadly, it will take much more than the prayer’s gentle nudge. It will take a body slam — like the new book that lays out in horrifying detail the environmental apocalypse just around the corner. The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells, is one of a handful of books that really changed me.
(An aside: I’ve touted other books — Democracy in Chains, by Nancy MacLean, for instance — which changed my view of this country’s extreme right and the power they wield. Another is The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein, which profoundly altered my thinking about capitalism as it’s practiced in this country. And Constantine’s Sword, which I read 20-plus years ago, influenced the way I thought of Christians and Jews, and the Christian origins of anti-Semitism — not to mention the continuing presence of anti-Semitism in the world today.)
After completing The Uninhabitable Earth, it’s a safe bet that it will influence the way I think and behave for whatever years I have left on this fragile earth. I implore you to read it because it might have the same effect on you.
Twelve chapters in the book are so frightening, so alarming that even the most steadfast climate change denier will sit up straight and pay attention. In these chapters, included in a section entitled “The Elements of Chaos,” Wallace-Wells sketches what the future holds for us as the planet heats up, degree by degree. The chapters’ names alone are frightening enough: Heat Death, Hunger, Drowning, Wildfire, Disasters No Longer Natural, Freshwater Drain, Dying Oceans, Unbreathable Air, Plagues of Warming, Economic Collapse, Climate Conflict, and Systems. Each chapter’s description of life on a toasted Earth will make you hope you’re gone before the disaster.
These chapters are short. You could read one a day in 15 or 20 minutes. I wish I had the skill to distill all I’ve learned from the book into a few paragraphs for this blog, but that wouldn’t do it justice. Again, I beg you: Read this book.
Earth is on pace to warm by 3 degrees Celsius by century’s end, mostly because of unrelenting burning of fossil fuel. The consequences — hints of which are already observable — will be truly awful. My grandchildren may see a time when it’s too hot in the summer to exercise or work outdoors. They will undoubtedly witness fire and flooding around the world on a scale never before imagined.
In the face of this on-rushing calamity, how do I predict people will react?
- Group One chooses apathy and lives accordingly. They don’t have an opinion on climate change. They cannot be bothered.
- Group Two, led by Big Oil propagandists and the Republican Party, uses a counter-narrative to minimize or deny the coming disaster. These climate change deniers are thwarting any sane policy proposals to address greenhouse gas emissions. They are the enemy. (Sorry, Downie, but it’s true. I’m not picking on Republicans, just stating a fact.)
- Group Three, which I have belonged to for most of my adult life, became aware of the looming danger with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and have considered themselves environmentalists ever since. However, this group is too polite and wants to work through the system. We drive hybrids and don’t use plastic bags. We may contribute to the Sierra Club or Greenpeace.
- Group Four are the activists. They make noise and get arrested. They focus a bright light on those who knowingly make things worse. And we all should emulate them. It’s time. Some of them also sponsor scholarly, scientific research on warming, thus contributing to the mountain of evidence about what lies ahead. This group understands that while setting a good example is fine (not using plastic bags, driving a hybrid car, etc.), those things won’t get the job done. Aggressive public policy and leadership are needed.
As most of you might guess, I want to be part of Group 4 before I leave here. When Donald Trump was elected, I told many people that when he started reversing Obama era environmental policies, Americans would take to the streets in acts of mass civil disobedience. I was wrong. We stayed home. This must end.
As all these thoughts boiled in my cranium and made me anxious, itchy, and hard to live with, I was treated to the G7 at Biarritz. There, our president, while making a fool of himself generally, showed his contempt for the entire subject of climate change by skipping the meeting at which it was discussed. His senior staff said he “resented” the session. I don’t know whether impeachment is sufficient punishment for what he did. I think physical pain might be warranted. His behavior is a blot on our nation’s history. While this was already the case pre-Biarritz, his performance at the G7 was the pinnacle of his buffoonery on an international stage.
We laugh at it. We weep at it. But, because too few of us have done anything more, our grandchildren and their children will live on a scorched, maybe doomed planet.
When will Americans join the rest of the civilized world and at least take some baby steps toward environmental common sense? It has to begin with taking power from the Republicans who control the Senate and the presidency. They have shamed themselves so thoroughly that it should be easy. But it won’t be.
On Sept. 4, just over a week from the day I am writing this, 10 Democratic presidential candidates will discuss the “Climate Crisis” on CNN. We need to watch and listen and figure out which candidate is a Group 4 leader — a climate activist. I will be influenced by what I see.
In the meantime, I will fight warming in three ways. First, I will stop eating beef in hopes of starting a trend. If you don’t know how harmful raising cattle is to the environment, you are definitely in Group One. The Amazon is burning partly because people want to turn it into pasture for cattle. Raising cattle for human consumption is a huge international industry that leaves an enormous carbon footprint. By eating beef, I abet the beef industry and encourage it to grow. We need the opposite. Let’s quit eating beef.
The second thing I’ll do is travel less. I’ll avoid buying airline tickets and if thousands of people do the same, fewer airplanes will be blasting fossil fuel exhaust into the atmosphere. Businesses should follow suit. We have the technology to hold face-to-face meetings without being in the same room. Big Business can cut their travel budgets in half simply by meeting on Zoom or some other digital site.
Finally, I am going to show up! On Sept. 20 there will be hundreds of demonstrations across the country. They are all under the umbrella, “Climate Strike Sept. 20”. If you explore this website, you can find the strike nearest you and join in. https://globalclimatestrike.net/ My demonstration will be in New Orleans and I’ve already signed up. Yes, this sounds very quixotic, but that’s what I will do. After all, Quixotic Pessimism is my guiding star, as I explained in an earlier blog. See link below.
Now let me state the obvious. The things I am doing to make myself into a denizen of Group Four will not reduce warming. They are far too tiny to make a difference. I realize their essential futility. However, if millions of Americans do the same things as I am doing, who knows? We might vote as environmentalists and put a lot of climate change denying Republicans out to pasture with the belching and farting cattle they so love to eat.