Thursday, April 26, 2007


The Challenge of Compassion in a World Ravaged by Global Warming

In a warming world of diminished resources creating tensions over oil and water, encroaching seas producing unprecedented numbers of refugees, and severely compromised farmland leading to widespread famine, compassion is the resource we are going to need to grow most of all, not just for fellow human beings, but extending to the entire web of life. Thus ended my last post. I am interested in hearing from readers about pro-active training programs, as well as personal transformation as compassionate beings, in preparation for the arrival of this wave of disaster, which is already gathering. The tensions are going to elevate – already have with oil wars - long before some of the worst effects like refugees from flooding coastal areas. But if this is the greatest crisis we’ve ever faced, then the level of response will need to be correspondingly huge.

In the midst of my analysis of nuclear power, retooling my thought, I stopped one day to reread some of the touchstones of my personal values, Edwin Goldsmith and Thomas Berry. It was only after integrating with these previous mentors that I proceeded to write the piece on nuclear morality which I posted last week.

Feb 25 Ah, the beauty of Goldsmith's analysis (The Way), speaking to my depths as a human being, to my animal, my Adam. And oh, the sullied world in which we have to embrace nukes to have a chance of getting through. We're certainly not going to just give up carbon-burning and shrivel up and die. We're gonna go down swinging, one way or another. So perhaps his is yet another statement that shows us who we could be, if we hewed close to our type. And I would prefer to write and teach about that. Yes, I feel dirty and compromised, though Lovelock and Karen Street (that “Quaker woman”) would argue otherwise. Coal plants are even dirtier and far more deadly; I've just looked the other way. Those who prefer that we'd destroy ourselves have some sympathy from me when I try to listen deeply to the earth..

How can we hold ourselves to our best selves, as Thomas Berry and Goldsmith do, and continue to build nukes? How can we hold to our best selves and continue to grow a civilization on the scale we now mount it?

How will we hold ourselves to our best while death and destruction rain all around us? When refugees swarm at our borders, our doors? When there's not enough food for our fellow humans, let alone the creatures whose habitats we've robbed? I was hungry and you fed me. That will apply until the end, breaking the last crust of bread with the stranger. But what if it's a group of fifty desperate starving people? What happens when you must measure out compassion so that one in every eight survives? How will we choose?

I remember my fury when I read a memo from Larry Summers, recently resigned as president of Harvard, stating coolly that one of the poorest Latin American countries (Haiti?) should be left to collapse, that it wasn't worth the investment in a world with insufficient resources. But what would you or I do? Lester Brown has answers, and so do I: subsistence farming is a key one. Having overrun the planet and outstripped her resources, subsistence, not sustainability, must be our response until our numbers have been vastly reduced. Aran Island and its potato farmers will be gone, but we will farm the cement crannies as they once did their deep rock crevices, buckets lowered into the darkening loam.

Thich Nat Hanh says that the most important thing for us to do now is to hear the sound of the Earth crying within us. How do we feel both the pain of the earth and the pain of humanity? What does it mean to choose your battles in such a situation, when all of it is necessary and holy? Yet, to avoid the “blooming, buzzing confusion,” even perception requires that we choose. We need to learn how to align our ears and eyes and touch, even as we continue to choose our battles - without shutting down entirely. Our media endlessly lament, and thereby glorify, the slaughter at Virginia Tech. But what of the forgotten Iraquis? And who tolls the bell for the species as they pass behind the infinite black curtain of extinction?

Compassion not only for the earth and others but for ourselves. For if we don’t’ have that, then we have the hatred and anger of the activists who are having a final field day with this, our darkest moment (no wonder nobody will listen!). We can’t love the earth without loving other humans, and we can’t love them without loving ourselves.

Cultivate the compassion of the crucified God deep within all of creation. Dwell in it, rather than in how to escape it and get on with salvation, either through piling up material wealth, doing good works or becoming spirit-beings. Salvation is the temptation in a world where the shadow of capitalist cornucopia from an infinite earth, scarcity, has finally come to deeply shade the final fruits of a system that works by creating infinite desire while colonizing dear, immediate necessity. Even as ecosystems are in the early stages of collapse, the stock market reached new highs this week. Who is singing a requiem to the latest extinctions – both biological and cultural?

We scramble for oil, water, farmland. On the other hand compassion for all who lack that, who are starving, being beaten, tortured and raped, who thirst. Do you share your last glass of water with a roomful of refugees, and all die of thirst? Larry Summers' grim choice looms. Sophie's Choice is minor compared with the triage we will face by the latter third of this century.

To hunger and thirst after righteousness. Ecojustice, while we still have a chance this might include the poor and the marginal native peoples of the earth. It is narrowing, and will give way to Gaia's justice. The problem identified in Stephen Jay Gould's essay (“Nonmoral Nature”) comparing morality in the human world and the amoral world of nature. This root problem will be coldly exposed in a world of cascading extinction. Is justice itself the key human intervention, the one we have avoided, and the communist experiment failed to realize? If so, is there really something like ecojustice?

April 15 Celo Friends Meeting. I minister with Joan Baez' song, "Just a Little Rain" and speak of our moving from worries about Strontium 90 rains seeded by atmospheric testing to a shift in the entire Earth climate: what have they done to the rain? And then I wonder aloud at the contradiction between what we have wrought and the statement in Genesis that we are made in G-d's image.

At the end of meeting a young woman reads from Brother Nouwen: once we move into prayer mode, any thought becomes a prayer. Reflecting on my dark thought about our rapacious race, I realize that the infinite depths of compassion, the ability to suffer with our fellow human beings, the Earth with all her critters and plants, is also in the image of God. We have become as gods, and must therefore be God-like in our compassion for what we have brought to pass. From the Garden to the neolithic sweat of our brows to the doomed global industrial machine. And then, as the Earth takes back her due, the garden again, farming the paved cracks in the ghosts of cities. The inner city will be one big vacant lot waiting to be redeemed. And the broken and wounded will be everywhere, desperate for healing. Redemption is mine, sayeth the Earth. May the wave of destruction seed a whole tribe of Mother Theresas, flinging them into those same failed cities.

NEXT: Justice and Ecojustice in the Shadow of the Fearsome Wave

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