Parker, “Treading Water,” 111.
 Ibid., 124.
 Hightower, “Republicans Just Sick,” 62.
 Parker, “Treading Water,” 117.
 See the DVD “Chasing Ice” and Klein, This Changes Everything, 13.
 Klare, Resource Wars.
 Speth, The Bridge at the Edge, 2.
 The News Hour, PBS, Sept. 2, 2015.
 Brown, The Great Transition, 8–9.
 Klein, This Changes Everything, 87.
 Yoshitani as quoted in Klein, This Changes Everything, 488.
 Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 193.
 Ibid., 197.
 Ibid., 217.
 Schell, Fate of the Earth, 8.
 Barlow, “Great Water Crisis,” 18.
 Ibid., 19.
 Ibid., 18.
 McFague, The Body, 1–25.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 48.
 Ibid., 27–28.
 Ibid., 31.
 Ibid., 30.
 Kaufman, Adapting to the End, 112.
 Berry, Sacred Universe, 42.
 Kaufman, Adapting to the End, 43.
 McFague, Body of God, 123.
 Ibid., 157.
 Hertsgaard, “Breakthrough in Paris,” 4.
 Ibid., 5.
 Ibid., 6.
Copyright (C) 2016 by Preston Brown from Struggling for the Soul of My Country, WIPF & STOCK PUBLISHERS. www.wipfandstock.com All rights, including electronic are reserved by the author. Included by permission of the author
Preston M. Browning, Jr. holds a BA in history from Washington and Lee University in Virginia, and MA in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, as well as a Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from the University of Chicago. While a member of the English Department at the University of IIlinois at Chicago for thirty years, he was a Fulbright lecturer in Yugoslavia. He is the author of Flannery O’Connor: The Coincidence of the Holy and the Demonic in O’Connor’s Fiction and Affection and Estrangement: A Southern Family Memoir. He is Director of Wellspring House, a retreat for writers in Ashfield, Massachusetts, which he founded with his wife, poet and architect, Ann Hutt Browning. The following essay, constitutes “Chapter 9: CLIMATE CHANGE & OUR SHARED EARTH excerpted from his latest 2016 book, Struggling for the Soul of My Country www.wipfandstock.com. Bill McKibben, activist and Shumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, VT., Author of Deep Ecology: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, wrought of Browning's book: "These essays are elegant and interesting accounts of what it might mean to view America, Christianity, and other fundamental topics from a slightly different angel, one that offers new insights.”
CHAPTER 9: CLIMATE CHANGE & OUR SHARED EARTH from Struggling for the Soul of Our Country, 2016:
Some years ago, in preparing notes for a future essay, I wrote: “I do not wish to sound hysterical. Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. (two of my grandchildren live in the first of these cities, one in the second) will not be totally flooded in the next 25 or 30 years. My grandchildren will be safe. But their children will almost certainly witness catastrophic alterations in every aspect of Earth’s ecosystems and climate.” New York City will not be totally flooded by the year 2040 but significant portions of low-lying areas in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island almost certainly will be.
Today, with predictions of increasingly ferocious storms battering the Atlantic and Gulf coastlines, betting on which American cities are in the greatest danger of flooding is a hazardous occupation. Few coastal cities will escape some degree of flooding in the decades ahead. Florida is probably the state likely to suffer the greatest damage due to rising sea levels. The February 2015 issue of National Geographic carried a special section devoted to Florida’s projected future. Under the heading AN ALTERED SOUTH FLORIDA, this rather frightening projection appears: “The coast would be radically changed by five feet of sea-level rise in 2100. This projection is on the high end of the plausible scenarios—though not the highest—under consideration by multiple agencies planning for Florida’s future.” The favorite vacation spot of millions, the Florida Keys, will experience sea level rises that call into question their viability for residents as well as tourists: “Just a few feet of sea-level rise would shrink the Florida Keys to a fraction of their current size and submerge portions of the Overseas Highway, which links them to the mainland.”
While Miami and other Florida cities are rushing to prepare for the inevitable, even bringing in engineers from the Netherlands to advise local officials on ways to keep the ocean from overwhelming their shops, their residential housing and their playgrounds, Rick Scott, the new Florida governor, has issued an edict prohibiting the use by state employees of the words “global warming” and “climate change.” “Bart Bibler, a respected employee of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, used the term ‘climate change’ in a public forum . . . [H]is breach of ideological correctness earned him an official reprimand, a two-day suspension and an order to undergo a doctor’s evaluation to verify his mental ‘fitness for duty.’”
(As the waters rise, I urge Governor Scott to advertise Miami as “Denier’s Paradise.” Turn it into America’s Venice, bring in gondolas and expertly trained gondoliers and hire Donald Trump as barker. He could make a fortune, perhaps even put Disney World out of business. There is, however, one hitch: Miami may become rather uncomfortable for the visitors since the projected increase in excessively hot days—over 95 degrees F—may go from 8 to 140 per year throughout the southern states.)
Although the dislocations and costs due to climate change experienced by our cities and citizens will be huge, other countries will suffer much greater disaster. As the Earth’s glaciers predictably melt and large parts of Greenland and Antarctica slide into the ocean, sea levels will continue to rise—just how much is uncertain but some scientists are calculating in yards, not feet. Millions living along the coasts of India, Bangladesh and other South Asian and African countries will be forced to join refugee populations farther inland. Michael Klare, in Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, has described the future struggle for increasingly scarce resources that will no doubt be exacerbated by hordes of displaced populations competing for such simple things as firewood to cook the evening meal, not to mention rice for the meal itself. The human rights group DARA has estimated that tens of millions will die of causes related to climate change between 2012 and 2030 and that truly massive starvation will occur in following decades.
Few writers have described more accurately the frightening reality of the breakdown of Earth’s support systems than James Gustave Speth, former Dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry:
"Human activities have pushed atmospheric carbon dioxide up by more than a third . . . Everywhere earth’s ice fields are melting. Industrial processes are fixing nitrogen, making it biologically active, at a rate equal to nature’s; one result is the development of over two hundred dead zones in the oceans due to over-fertilization. Human actions already consume or destroy each year about 40 percent of nature’s photosynthetic output, leaving too little for other species. Freshwater withdrawals doubled globally between 1960 and 2000, and are now over half of accessible runoff. The following rivers no longer reach the oceans in the dry season: the Colorado, Yellow, Ganges, and Nile, among others."
Until recently, the United States contributed the greatest percentage of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, though China has recently taken over the number one spot in this competition. Along with India and Brazil, the two other countries in the developing world experiencing rapid economic growth, China appeared to be dragging its feet regarding serious efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, despite some of its cities being blanketed with smog both day and night. It was only when Barack Obama visited China in the fall of 2014 that the Chinese leader committed his nation to targets for reduction in CO2 emissions, but the delayed schedule raised questions about whether China’s actions will prove to be really efficacious since the predicted “tipping point” in dramatic atmospheric changes is likely to occur before China begins in earnest to curb greenhouse emissions.
In most recent international conferences where representatives of the world’s nations gathered to negotiate terms for global reduction of toxic emissions, the United States has failed to provide leadership. Barack Obama did not bother to attend the conference in Copenhagen in 2009 until the final day and has given scant evidence—until very recently (summer, 2014)—that he plans to seriously undertake major efforts to forge an enforceable international agreement on greenhouse pollution before the atmosphere passes the tipping point beyond which Earth’s climate progresses on its own toward irreversible catastrophe irrespective of human efforts to avert disaster.
At this moment (late summer of 2015), we can all rejoice that President Obama has apparently decided to undertake significant changes in his handling of this critical issue. New standards governing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electricity plants were issued months ago; and Obama has just completed a trip to Alaska where he made climate change a major focus of his visit. Many signs indicate that there’s a new seriousness about his determination to make climate change a key issue of his remaining time in office.
Like many another concerned citizen, I watched for months the proposed completion of the Keystone X-L pipeline that would have brought, over the country’s most important aquifer, the Ogallar, the world’s dirtiest crude oil from Canada to Texas, where it was to be refined and sold to overseas buyers. This was a foolhardy enterprise from the start, especially so with the discovery of huge oil deposits in North Dakota. Because this was an international enterprise, a decision from the Obama Administration was required to permit the pipeline’s completion. That decision was delayed again and again, at one point awaiting a judgment by the State Department regarding the pipeline’s possible impact on the environment. Astonishingly, John Kerry’s State Department issued a preliminary assessment suggesting only a slightly negative impact. The outcry from environmental experts and organizations and from the broader public no doubt weighed heavily on Barack Obama’s conscience—and his usually savvy political judgment—when he decided in 2015 to scotch the whole loony business. Count a major victory for Earth’s atmosphere and ecosystems and for our grandchildren.
It must be noted as well that the country is not standing still in response to the challenge of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere. According to a spokesperson for the fossil fuel industries, emissions of greenhouse gases have been reduced by 500 million tons during the last decade. And Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute has written that “[o]f the 500-plus U.S. coal plants that were generating electricity at the beginning of 2010, 180 have closed or are scheduled to do so, leaving 343 plants in operation.” Brown notes in addition that increased use of natural gas has been a factor in the decline in coal plants’ production of electricity but warns about a serious danger that comes with widespread use of natural gas, “because of extensive leakage of methane—a much more potent greenhouse gas—from wells, pipelines, and tanks.”
The recent hustle for additional petroleum sources may have been rendered moot by the dramatic drop in the price of crude oil during the summer of 2015. As of August 21, crude oil closed at near $40 per gallon. There is a reported glut of crude worldwide, along with a reduction in demand, and if the price lingers under $50.00 per barrel, the costs of drilling and then pumping from new wells may deter the likes of EXXON and BP from exploring new fields. SHELL’s decision to withdraw its equipment from a site off the coast of Alaska might be taken as a sign of sanity on the part of executives of the petroleum corporations were we not convinced by previous behavior that their decisions are always dictated not by concerns for Earth’s climate or its people but solely for the bottom line.
Whatever encouraging news we may have lately received about developments in the international effort to ward off climate disaster, we need to be absolutely honest with ourselves: we face a crisis that demands nothing less than radical changes in our economy, our habits of consumption, and in our life style generally. In fact, if we want to save our planet from becoming a sweltering oven for future generations, we have to start in this decade to do what a few years ago would have been unthinkable. We have to begin to transform nearly every aspect of human activity on the planet.
Naomi Klein has provided the road map. In This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, she is unambiguous: an increase in global temperature beyond 2 degrees Celsius means disaster. Kevin Anderson, a British scientist she cites, has argued that what is required to prevent temperature rises in excess of that threshold is for the developed countries to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the order of 8 to 10 percent per year!
Klein comments that such extreme reductions would have once seemed unthinkable; but repeated postponements of decisions by the world’s leaders regarding binding and enforceable targets have led to this moment of crisis. Major increases in CO2 emissions in recent years have pushed the climate near that dreaded tipping point about which climate experts have repeatedly warned. Either we act boldly now or we risk going over a cliff. To make the point as dramatically as possible, Yvo de Boer, once the U.N.’s leading climate scientist, declared that “the only way” that negotiators will be able to “achieve a 2-degree goal is to shut down the whole global economy.”
Obviously such dramatic change is neither possible nor desirable. But radical change has to take place. It won’t be easy. Klein has warned us, “climate change will test our moral character like little else.” But there is a very positive side to this crisis, as explained by Miya Yoshitani:
"The fight here in the U.S. and around the world is not just a fight against the biggest ecological crisis of all time. It is the fight for a new economy, a new energy system, a new democracy, a new relationship to the planet and to each other, for land, water, and food sovereignty, for indigenous rights, for human rights and dignity for all people. When climate justice wins we win the world we want. We can’t sit this one out, not because we have too much to lose but because we have too much to gain . . . We are bound together in this battle, not just for a reduction in the parts per million of CO2 but to transform and rebuild a world that we want today. "
Not only in Klein’s impressive analysis and challenge but also in Pope Francis’s Encyclical Letter, “Laudato S1’: On Care for Our Common Home” do we hear this prophecy and this promise. Again and again the Pope emphasizes the necessity of understanding that the vision he harbors for the Earth includes a longing that every aspect of life on the planet, both natural and human, be made healthy and whole.
The Pontiff writes about the value of small changes in personal habits that can lead to reduced harm done to Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere; but he is unequivocal regarding the need for a thorough overhaul of our current economic system and way of life in the developed countries. Almost compulsively he refers to reckless and unbridled consumption, suggesting that it is the feature of life in the US and other nations of the global North that must be altered, not merely for the sake of our “common home” but for the sake of humanity.
We do well to attend to his words as he bluntly summarizes his understanding of the current world situation: “We know how unsustainable is the behavior of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live a way worthy of their human dignity.”
It is in the section on “Spirituality” where we find some of Francis’s most provocative admonitions. Real change, he declares, “calls for rethinking processes in their entirety” and a willingness to “question the logic that underlies present-day culture.” He also writes about “ecological conversion” and quotes a source who has offered this insight concerning the interconnection of the Earth’s sickness and humanity’s sickness: “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.”
Thus this spiritual leader of many millions of Christians around the globe is making clear his belief that a new era for humankind is possible but only if a “conversion” of significant numbers of humans to the struggle for climate justice takes place. Climate justice, of course, includes justice for the billions of Earth’s poorest inhabitants who are often those suffering most acutely the effects of climate change.
Miya Yoshitami’s vision for remaking Earth as a dwelling place characterized by ecological sanity, careful attention to water resources and land use, harmony, democracy, and caring for one’s brothers and sisters may be an illusion, but it is a vision shared by Pope Francis, whose faith in the goodness of Creation and his fellow creatures owes a great deal, I think, to his namesake, Saint Francis.
The present Francis has already, it seems clear, made numerous converts. The longing for a new era for the Earth and for humanity is palpable. We would be fortunate if the climate crisis provided the occasion for a genuine change in lifestyles and worldviews of enough of us two-legged creatures to lead to the peaceful “revolution” that many of the writers I have earlier quoted are calling for.
I have written at one point that I don’t believe in miracles. But . . . if ever we needed a miracle, now is surely the hour of our greatest necessity.
Jonathan Schell wrote during the nuclear scare of the eighties that “[a] society that systematically shuts its eyes to an urgent peril to its physical survival and fails to take any steps to save itself cannot be called psychologically well.” Mutandis mutatis, Schell’s warning is no less relevant for us than it was for Americans thirty years ago. Christianity and Judaism both teach that we are the children of a loving father. This believers know with the eyes of faith. Nature teaches that we are the children of a loving mother. This we all know with the eyes of experience.
And like our actual human mother, she teaches us the basic principles for living a successful life—about respect, and fair play, and limits, and honoring restraints. If we are capable of listening and learning, she can be a gentle teacher. But if we are pig-headed, willful and rebellious, she can be severe and harsh in her punishments.
We humans, unfortunately, have been all of these—pig-headed, willful, selfish and rebellious. And we are now beginning to pay a very heavy price for our undisciplined behavior. So long as corporations, national and multinational, continue to exploit the most vulnerable of Earth’s inhabitants, an ever-increasing scarcity of essential natural resources in the near future will bring a critical time of testing for peoples on every continent. As noted earlier, the one absolutely essential resource that is likely to be in short supply in the not distant future is fresh water. In this country, as is the case around the globe, anxieties about adequate water supplies for future populations are a growing reality
An article in Sojourners magazine highlights the problems we in the US face: aging and wearing-out water systems; a diminution of federal funds to assist local governments in dealing with increased demand and malfunctioning systems; and the effects of climate change. “Climate change may pose a serious risk to water supplies in about 70 percent of U.S. counties—a third of these counties will be at high or extreme risk of water shortages.”
As is normally the case in a capitalist economy, when crises of this sort occur, private corporations move in quickly—to “solve” the problem and, of course, to use the problem as an occasion for profits. The results in many communities is that water prices go up—sometimes dramatically:
"On average, private financing costs one-and-a-half to two-and-a half times as much as public financing . . . Water prices are regressive. When households are unable to pay for service, private players usually respond by cutting connections. This deprives low-income households of their human right to water, with potentially disastrous health and social welfare consequences. "
The likelihood of such an eventuality occurring in millions of households around the country raises a critical question: Does every human being have an innate right to water adequate for his or her survival? The logic of contemporary multinational capitalism would seem to dictate a negative reply. That, at any rate, is the answer of Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, chairman of Nestle Corporation, which is “aggressively pursing water privatization.” Acknowledging that there are two opinions on this question, Brabeck-Letmathe asserts that “one opinion, which I think is extreme, is represented by the NGOs, who bang on about declaring water a public right. That means that as a human being you have a right to water. That’s an extreme solution.”
Such a position amounts to granting control of a natural resource critical to all human life to a group of private citizens, thereby, in essence, giving them a life-and-death decision over millions of fellow humans. From the point of view of Nestle and other multinational corporations, that, apparently, is not an “extreme” opinion.
[A] ECOFEMINISTS AND OTHER ADVOCATES SPEAK FOR OUR MOTHER
In the past three or four decades there has emerged in our universities and seminaries a growing number of scholars self-defined as “ecofeminist” theologians or philosophers. Their writing has contributed to radical changes in the thought of those who reflect on the grand issues of the day—in religion, social thought, cultural evolution, politics, relations between the sexes, etc. As the term suggests, these are feminist thinkers who believe that the ecological crisis of our era must be understood in the context of many millennia of male obsession with control and domination—of women, of women’s bodies, and of the Earth, which has traditionally been associated with the female sex.
One of the major figures who fits this profile is Sally McFague, who begins her seminal volume, The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, with a chapter entitled “The Ecological Crisis” and uses as the heading for an early section “A Lament for the Planet.” McFague offers in this book a comprehensive overview of possible ways of understanding what humans have meant when they have spoken of and written about “God,” about divine transcendence and immanence, about God’s relationship to the Earth and the cosmos as represented in various religious “models,” and about the ways in which numerous theories and doctrines have influenced the manner in which humans have treated the material world and each other. Along with other feminist theologians, McFague argues that western Christianity, despite its foundational anchorage in the body (“incarnation”), has largely ignored “embodied knowing and doing,” since there has existed in western thought generally a predisposition to favor mind and spirit over body. Referencing Margaret Miles's Carnal Knowledge, McFague stresses that in Christianity the central motif has been the spiritual journey. (Think Pilgrim’s Progress.) Christianity, she writes, “merely illustrated in its own particular way the widespread Western preference for the abstract, the universal, and the disembodied.”
This way of envisioning the relationship of mind or spirit to the body has had serious negative consequences in many areas of human life, including Western man’s treatment of the material world and of women, always associated with the fecund, procreative Earth. Since the material realm was deemed inferior to the spiritual, this belief was used to justify the exploitation of the Earth, which was often perceived to be mere inert matter, totally devoid of spirit. (Of course, the creation myth in Genesis could be and often was used to justify the kind of ruthless exploitation and ravaging of the Earth that modern capitalism has epitomized.)
In insisting on the critical need to pay attention to the body, to embodiment as a fundamental state of being for humans as well as for everything else in the cosmos, McFague simultaneously reminds her readers that changing the way we think about embodiment has implications for how we live. It should influence, for example, our understanding of what justice demands of certain classes of people in relation to other classes:
"If the ecological crisis is calling for an end to narrow anthropocentrism as our moral code (what is good for us and especially “me and my tribe”), then embodiment may move us not only toward a more biocentric and cosmocentric perspective but also toward a more inclusive sense of justice for all (embodied) human beings. In an embodiment ethic, hungry, homeless, or naked human beings have priority over the spiritual needs of the well-fed, well-housed, well-clothed sisters and brothers."
In a chapter on the “organic model” as a way of envisioning God, McFague employs the thoughts of Ian Barbour, a Christian scholar thoroughly conversant with contemporary scientific theories, to introduce the subject:
"Cosmology joins evolutionary biology, molecular biology, and ecology in showing the interdependence of all things. We are part of an ongoing community of being; we are kin to all creatures, past and present. From astrophysics we know our indebtedness to a common legacy of physical elements. The chemical elements in your hand and brain were forged in the furnaces of the stars. The cosmos is all of one piece. It is multi-leveled; each new higher level was built on lower levels from the past. Humanity is the most advanced form of life of which we know, but it is fully a part of a wider process of space and time."
Organic thinking leads to many important consequences; the chief of these may be that, in contrast to much of Christian teachings of the past, organic thinking weighs heavily against the estrangement from the Earth that many believers and others have experienced through the centuries. One of the most hopeful signs of our times, in fact, is that a great number of Earth’s inhabitants, including millions in the US, are rediscovering the Earth as home. The organic model, McFague argues, “invites us to be at home here on earth.”
And it is a home that may be alive. At least that is the conviction of James Lovelock, who has proposed what he calls the Gaia theory, Gaia being the ancient Greek word for Earth. In this understanding, the Earth is “a living body in which we all participate, continually merging and emerging in rhythmic cycles.”
McFague notes that the Gaia theory is perfectly consonant with much native American belief and she offers this comment from a contemporary Native American writer, Paula Gunn Allen: “the planet, our mother, Grandmother Earth, is physical and therefore a spiritual, mental, and emotional being.”
Just as I try not to be cynical or hopeless about my country’s future, I try not to be naively sanguine. But it is indisputable that all over this land, there are hammers, and bells, and songs that do appear to spell out rebirth—the spiritual awakening our country so desperately needs. In Adapting to the End of Oil: Toward an Earth-Centered Spirituality, Maynard Kaufman surveys much of the literature that has emerged from the ecofeminist movement. Having taught both religious studies and environmental studies, as well as having operated a School of Homesteading located on a farm in western Michigan, Kaufman seems ideally suited to write about earth-centered spirituality. Commenting on some of the key figures in the eco-feminist circle, e.g. Charlene Spretnak and Rosemary Radford Ruether, he notes that women of this persuasion “understand that salvation means healing and healing, or health as a dynamic equilibrium, means wholeness, living as members of the earth community.” The contrast with the traditional Christian doctrine of salvation, the individual “saved” from sin by the mercy of a transcendent deity and thereafter destined for eternal life in heaven, could hardly be more stark.
Kaufman’s discussion of the fact that we moderns live in time is significant. Preliterate peoples, archaic cultures knew nothing of history because they lived in space, not time. We, who experience our lives as existing over an extended period of time, have our Judeo-Christian heritage to thank for the concept of history, with a beginning (the Creation myth), a middle (the coming of Christ, his death and resurrection, and subsequent “sacred history”), and an end (the "Second Coming," the establishment of God’s kingdom, the “end times,” whatever). And we can thank—or curse—that heritage for our fixation on novelty, our worship of the new, and our addiction to change. And as Thomas Berry reminded us, also the anxiety that comes with living in the unpredictable, moment-to-moment, ever-changing flux of time. In the following passage, Berry elaborates on what it means for humans to live always in the shadow of a loudly ticking clock, with eyes glued to its constantly moving hands:
"The increasing attraction of an eschatological point of completion brings about a constant acceleration of change as history moves forward toward its fulfillment. Such constant change produces a shattering effect on humans, who cannot adapt to new situations with the required speed. Even if we succeed, there is in the process a draining of life’s basic satisfaction, its continuity, its security. There is a loss of present meaning, because each moment of time lives under the condemnation of the next moment."
It is fairly obvious, I think, that we who live in a society such as twenty-first century America, where even the concept of the sacred has been almost totally obliterated from our collective consciousness, will never be able to recover the oneness with the Earth and the cosmos that our ancient ancestors knew in the tiniest fibers of their being. But through imaginative reenactment of rituals, the recitation of sacred poetry, the embrace of the material world in whatever form (I have found that hugging trees and speaking to them lovingly can be a restorative exercise), it may be possible to get a glimpse of what Thomas Berry called for when he wrote about the critical necessity of establishing a “mystical communion with the Earth.”
One of Kaufman’s important contributions to this discussion regarding the benefits of a culture founded on a spirituality rooted in the (healing) Earth is his introduction of the concept of the demonic. Though Kaufman notes that scholars in religious studies understand that in all archaic societies the demonic existed in a dialectical relationship with the divine and thus has an ambiguous nature, he chooses to associate the demonic with the complete failure of multinational capitalism to recognize limits. (See my discussion in Chapter 2 of Wendell Berry’s take on the “Faustian bargain” inherent in the American way of life.) Kaufman’s explication of the corrupting forces that modern capitalism has unleashed harmonizes totally with much I have written in several of these essays: “Because they embody the denial of limits most completely,” he writes, "and arrogate absolute power to themselves, I have come to think of . . . multi-national corporations as demonic structures . . . Whereas the Faust legend portrayed the effects of demonic power on an individual level, multi-national corporations, with the protection of the United States empire in a fascist system, are demonstrating the effects of demonic power in a global system."
[B] RECOVERY OF THE CHILD’S VISION; SECOND NAIVETÉ
For centuries, we in the west have been subject to what John Ralston Saul calls “the dictatorship of reason.” That is, at least since Descartes in the 17th century uttered his portentous explanation for his existence—cogito ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am”—thinking, rationality has reigned supreme in human affairs in the western world. And our obsession with reason has come close to robbing us of a critical dimension of our being—the ability to wonder, to feel awe, to experience amazement. McFague reminds us that the root meaning of wonder is “surprise, fascination, awe, astonishment, curiosity.” After discussing humans’ affection for animals and the capacity of animals to return that affection, McFague adds that "[a] first step . . . toward a healthy ecological sensibility may well be a return, via a second naiveté, to the wonder we as children had for the world, but a naiveté now informed by knowledge of and a sense of responsibility for our planet and its many life forms."
All those fostering and writing about the earth-centered spirituality that Kaufman discusses would surely agree. And I think they would also agree with McFague’s declaration that “[t]he goal or purpose of creation is love.”
One of the things I appreciate most in the writings of McFague as well as those of other ecofeminist thinkers, such as Rosemary Ruether, is a kind of “liberation” these feminists provide thoughtful males who care deeply about the health of the Earth. Not that their perspectives are all utterly revolutionary, though some certainly are, but that for an American male such as myself who came to maturity in the still quite patriarchal America of the 1950s, it has been salutary to encounter female thinkers who can write about evolution and evolutionary theory, for example, with the same ease and grace as they write about theology or poetry.
(I should quickly add that I would never wish to be identified with Lawrence Summers, who foolishly questioned women’s capacities in math and science. For more than five decades I was married to a woman who began the study of architecture near her fiftieth birthday and designed award-winning passive solar houses years before solar energy achieved recognition as a major alternative to fossil fuels. In addition, I have three daughters, all of whom have studied math and science; of these, one makes a living doing accounting.)
The ecofeminist thinkers discussed above bring to these issues a perspective that males, no matter how sensitive and perceptive, cannot quite manage. Raised in a society where women have had to fight for the right to equal treatment in a multiplicity of ways, they possess a sensitivity to oppression and exploitation that most white, middle-class American males cannot match. Thus when they write about powerful males ravaging the Earth as they search for minerals, oil or coal, or clear-cut an entire forest, whether or not they use the word “rape,” I cannot imagine a feminist thinker not calling to mind the thousands of her sisters who have endured that absolute violation of their selfhood and dignity.
[C] LATE NIGHT REFLECTIONS ON NOW OR NEVER
The much-anticipated summit on global warming that took place in Paris in December 2015 brought together heads of state of more than 120 nations. Was it another instance of irreconcilable conflicts between North and South and promises to take action to reduce greenhouse emission that were never fulfilled? Absolutely not. This time something like consensus and meaningful commitments emerged from days of discussions and debate.
Mark Hertsgaard, who has been writing about this subject for years, claims that "the summit’s accomplishments deserve the adjective “historic” . . . By aiming to limit temperature rise to ‘well below’ pre-industrial levels and ‘pursue’ a goal of 1.5 degrees C, the world’s governments went further than ever before in aligning policy with climate science. What’s more, both developed and developing nations pledged to peak greenhouse-gas emissions ‘as soon as possible’ and to decarbonize the global economy."
A British newspaper’s headline read “end of the fossil fuel era.”
Such utterly assured conviction that the Paris agreement spells doom for the oil, gas, and coal multinationals is, sadly, very premature. Several features of the deal are troublesome. First, nations are not required to reduce heat-producing gases by one pound. Reductions are voluntary and need not begin before 2020, a decision that Hertsgaard describes as “calamitous.” All that is required is that each country’s officials declare “how much and how soon they intend to make reductions and then report them after the fact.”
A decision that’s a critical change from the past is the declaration that temperature rise on the planet must be held to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial era levels. But Hertsgaard emphasizes that to avoid serious overheating of the planet, “emissions must peak by 2020, not merely increase more slowly as the Paris agreement envisions.” And, since there is no enforcement mechanism attached to the agreement, there is absolutely no assurance that cheating will not be widespread. But self-interest now seems to have come into play for the majority of nations, north and south. And the latest scientific projections should be enough to frighten any sane official to take action: continuation of unrestrained fossil fuel consumption may result in a sea-level rise way, way above what most of us had once thought likely—as much as 220 feet! No one wants to contemplate what that will mean for the billions of Earth’s poorest living along coastlines in the Global South. Even a Republican Florida governor might be forced to concede that nature has her own ways and refuses to bend to the most arrogant commands of men.
Despite its weaknesses, the Paris agreement does signal an encouraging new direction for the human family, largely because it demonstrates that the family can work together when its continued existence is at stake. The officials have done their job. Now it’s our turn. And there are reasons for hope: the first is the divestment movement. Bill McKibben’s organization, for instance, has browbeaten, cajoled, shamed, intimidated or otherwise persuaded scores of colleges and universities to withdraw their investments from the fossil-fuel enterprises. The second is the successful outcome—after months of protests, lobbying and arrests—of the campaign to scuttle the Keystone-KL pipeline.
We, the people, still have power. We seem to be learning how to use it.