I read a post by Bill McKibben on the God’s Politics blog tonight (while I wasn’t watching TV) detailing the rate at which sea ice is melting. As I read, I could feel old and familiar feelings welling up in me: fear and helplessness. They are the same feelings I used to get as a kid when I would watch nature documentaries and see footage of some animal being killed or injured by another animal. I naively wanted to believe that surely it could not be real. The film-makers were going to save the animal, right? But even then I knew that the world is harsh and things happen that you cannot control. I dealt with my fear and helplessness by avoiding watching those shows or reading articles about endangered species. Any time I felt that anxiety and helplessness welling up I would move to distract myself or stop what I was doing. I didn’t want to know about suffering that I felt powerless to assuage.
I know now that losing my biological father in a car accident when I was four left me feeling vulnerable and with a sensitivity to feeling helpless that made it painful for me to see other vulnerable creatures under threat. (That only took about four years in therapy to figure out.) Unfortunately, insight does not provide immunity to old pain and so I was taken by surprise tonight when I felt those old feelings creeping up. My first impulse, my default defensive strategy, was to navigate away from the page and try not to think about the implications for the environment, particularly the animals losing their habitat. Thankfully, (remember those four years of therapy?) I was able to recognize and resist my urge to avoid the pain. I finished the article, and then looked at the website for McKibben’s initiative Step It Up 2007. Step It Up is a grass roots initiative to encourage concerned citizens of all ages to gather on around the US on November 3rd to express their concern about global warming to elected officials in all levels of government and to call for leadership on key priorities.
I must confess that I don’t want to deal with the issue of global warming. I don’t want to have to consider how my lifestyle is contributing to disrupting the fragile balance of the earth’s atmosphere in a way that may make this planet less hospitable to humans and other animals. Like my eight year old self, I don’t want to think about bad things that feel out of my control. I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna, I don’t wanna! But tonight I made myself think about the fact that since satellite measurements began thirty years ago, the arctic has lost one third of its ice covering. Even I, scientifically challenged though I am, understand that melting ice indicates a warmer climate. In facing into my feelings about all this, I recognize four important things that help me to feel more empowered:
- There is hope. We are heading in a bad direction environmentally but humans have survived because we learn and adapt relatively quickly. We can’t restore what has been lost but we can make progress on this issue.
- We are not alone. The psalmist writes in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it;” We are all part of God’s creation and the Good News is that God is actively working to redeem and reconcile all of creation. As a Christian I must take an active role in my stewardship of God’s creation and in advocating for the redemption and protection of this earth that God has blessed us to be a part of.
- I’m not powerless. While I cannot control what any other person on the planet does, I can examine my lifestyle and make some changes.
- I have to think of my children. While the effects of global warming will have some impact on me in my lifetime, they will affect my children and subsequent generations to a much greater degree. My attitudes and actions in regards to achieving environmental sustainability matter; if not to me and my generation, then certainly to the generations to follow.
I sometimes hear Christians dismissing or speaking pejoratively of environmental efforts as either the ‘worship of nature’ or as part of some ‘liberal agenda’ but in fact, the witness of the Bible is one in which humans are charged by God to be good stewards of the land. Being a good steward means caring for the earth in such a way that leads to sustainability. In Leviticus 25 the ancient community of faith was instructed to observe a year of Jubilee every fiftieth year. The jubilee was to be a year of restoration for the community and for the land. During that year, the earth was not to be sown or harvested. That year was to provide respite in a number of ways both for humans and for the land. It was a year of restoring balance to the community.
Our charge in 2007 is to take an active role in restoring balance to the earth. If we don’t, the consequences will be significant for our children and grandchildren. As our geological history teaches us, the earth will survive. It’s our species and many others that are threatened. I’m committing myself to educating myself about these issues and working for change on a personal and corporate level. Will you join me? Let’s all Step It Up.