by Brayton Shanley
In December 2016, I spent some time at Standing Rock, in North Dakota. I felt called to the Lakota led nonviolent witness against the oil pipeline going through sacred tribal lands of the native people residing there. Around the sacred fire a tribal leader spoke of a prophecy: “It will be the 7th Generation, our young Millennials, who would save our Mother and her inhabitants from the doom of our human plunder.” This absolute trust the native elders expressed in their young ordained them to direct humans away from the brink of human extinction and halt the demise of our planet.
Two years later, I watched a Ted Talk by Greta Thunberg, a fourteen year old Swedish girl, with penetrating eyes and a fierce, but steady truth. She methodically beat an urgent drum, stating: “Humans have catastrophically changed the climate. When I was ten years old, I began hearing from media reports that the planet was warming due to the burning of fossil fuel. If the world’s people kept burning 100 million gallons of oil every day, extreme weather and warming could make the planet uninhabitable in 30-50 years.” Every riveting word felt true. “If current warming continues my life as an adult may not be livable and certainly my children will not survive. And I saw no adults doing anything to respond. It was like we were ignoring a world war that was happening all around us.”
I was certain that I was hearing a 7th Generation Prophecy predicted by the elders at Standing Rock. No writer or activist, not even Bill McKibben, or mentor to many, Wendell Berry, could prophesy as Greta has. Why? She speaks her truth simply and directly with words that all who hear them understand the gravity we face. Her anguished authority comes through her 14 year old innocence. She and future children, have no future.
Like those of a prophet, Greta’s words burn. They are aimed directly at adults whose modern excesses have brought us to the brink of end times. She continues: “We don’t need any more climate scientists. We know we are making the planet uninhabitable. But the people who run the world politically and economically… the average person… do nothing?”
How Did We Get To the Brink?
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s our delicate, breakable earth has been under attack. Thomas Berry writes that “the entire effort of the industrial society is to transform the natural world into total subservience; and the people find themselves caught between a dissolving industrial economy and a ruined natural environment.”
Bill McKibben has recently published his latest book, “Falter”, which sounds like the “final alarm.” His subtitle? “Has the human game begun to play itself out?” All corners of the environmental movement are now talking human extinction. “So far,” McKibben writes, “we (humans) are uniquely ill-prepared to cope with emerging challenges. So far, we are not coping with them.”
2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day. I was a senior in college at that time, and I still remember the shock of what I heard. Biologists and earth scientists presented serious data that showed that the chemical poisons of modern technology had caused lethal harm to our air, soil and water systems. Some claimed, even then, that the damage was irreversible. But, it was not until Earth Day, 1990 that the fact of climate science began to penetrate our defenses: “The planet is warming, ruinously from the burning of fossil fuels, trapping carbon dioxide in a greenhouse effect.”
In spite of this updated, dire news, there was no political about face, no radical call for a life style change in people. On February 2, 2007, the definitive finding was released. An international consortium of climate scientist agreed that dangerous global warming is a scientific fact.
Even if we never burned another fossil fuel, the atmosphere would continue to warm. The major cause? Humans and their lifestyle. Still no clarion call for revolutionary change from Washington or Main Street, USA. In October, 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a “doomsday report.” It stated that at the 2015 Paris Climate Talks, the participating governments set a mark: we must hold temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The IPCC report warned we might surpass this lethal 1.5 degree mark by 2030. The tides will begin to rise several feet: lethal weather patterns will be more deadly and common. Hence, the 2020-30 decade becomes our last real chance. “If we do not take action,” the IPCC report states, “by the end of the century, human cultures may not survive.”
The report’s challenge is daunting: reduce the carbon footprint by 40% in the next ten years. Then the following ten years, another 30% reduction. By 2020, the most radical reinvention ever of how humans live must begin or we die slowly along with most of the natural world.
Climate change deniers, Trump and petroleum corporate America, are on the political throne. A majority of Americans continue to parade like lemmings off the cliff of do-nothing, patterns that will insure our human extinction.
Survival now becomes a risky wager. McKibben offers only tentatively: “It’s possible…an outside chance.” He observes: “A writer doesn’t owe a reader hope—the only obligation is honesty.” We owe Bill McKibben a deep debt for this honesty about the growing threat of climate change since his 1989 reality check volume, “The End of Nature.”
McKibben is also a Christian. As Christians we are people of hope. So now the question is: how to hold to the truth of climate change while maintaining ultimate hope…though we know the facts. A true Christian hope does not bank on the optimism of good odds. The truth as it relates to this environmental crisis relies on a faith that confesses the carbon footprint doom of our materialistic society, but remains grounded in the hope that the God of mercy created us to survive. It is never too late to wake up to a power greater than ourselves.
Crucifying the Sacred
Chief Arvol Looking Horse reminded us when he spoke at Agape, “We use Mother Earth as a resource instead of ‘the Source’.” In our greed-driven privilege we have deformed nature, sacrificed our humanity and most profoundly of all, lost our living sense of the sacred. In our passion to dominate all other forms of life, we deny their sanctity. Creation is no longer a “thou” but an “it” to be exploited for our own gain. The presence of the God of life appears increasingly absent to us modern world people. Do we intend to survive this climate change Armageddon without God’s powers of love and protection of all life?
The Creation Story in Genesis speaks to our divine origins: “God saw everything God made and indeed it was very good” (1:31). 13th century Franciscan mystic Angela of Foligno spoke to Genesis with an ecstatic new image: “This world is pregnant with God.” By the late 1800’s mystic scientist Teilhard de Chardin, elaborated on Angela’s vision naming the created world as the “Divine Milieu.” He wrote: “When Jesus died and rose from the dead, he drenched the entire universe.” His resurrection was cosmic. As we harm the bio-systems of our sacred planet, we crucify the cosmic Christ who is present in all creation.
Our frantic race to ruin in this post-modern world threatens not only humans but also the natural world’s plants and animals. By 2050 we may lose 30 to 50 percent of all wild animals. To destroy wantonly a species is to silence The Divine Voice. The language of our earth is the language of God. Do we recognize that primal vibration? Do we hear our mother tongue? Will we protect that voice?
In spite of our wantonness, our Sacred Universe, and our earth, our intimate but temporary home, are part of the Divine Plan. Since the first Christians tried to make sense out of Jesus’s coming, Paul’s letter to the Colossians foretold: “He was the first-born of all creation. In him all things were created in heaven and earth …in him all things hold together…all things are reconciled through him.”(Col. 1:15-20). In God, all things are reconciled through Jesus. Our life on this sacred terrestrial globe is beginning to appear defeated. We find ourselves profoundly unreconciled, at war with ourselves and our earth.
Franciscan St. Bonaventure wrote in medieval times, but translates Jesus for today’s crisis times: “The Incarnation is the center of creation.” The Jesus story we know is the historical, biblical Jesus. Can we experience this Jesus, resurrected and exploding outward; filling our earth, drenching the universe with divinely inspired non-injurious, nonviolent love? If we can, we will return to the sacred source of all life, reconcile with all life forms, surrender our deadly ways of domination and live.
If Not Extinction, Then What?
“We are in the early years of the Ecozoic Age,” Thomas Berry writes: “The Great Work of Ecological Restoration.” Everything in life begins with a design. If we want to restore and reconcile ourselves to this magnificent Earth, we must pay the price. Starting today, we must put the well-being of our eco-system before our technology and mimic nature’s design. Nothing can be hurried; nothing hoarded.
How do we achieve this natural world design in the short ten to twenty year “change or die” time-frame? How to begin this Great Work, nothing less than the greatest challenge humans could ever have imagined facing?
As Americans let’s begin by putting ourselves on a ten to twenty year plan. By the end of twenty years, can each of us pledge to have eliminated our use of fossil fuel? Our summons to survival is known: In 20 years we must phase out all gas driven cars and trucks which totals 20% of our carbon footprint. Think of the internal combustion engine as the worst ecological mistake we ever made next to using oil at all. By 2030, can we take trains instead of airplanes? We now have the capacity to run trains, trucks and cars on solar electricity and other renewables.
Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, “Where profits alone count there can be no thinking of the rhythms of nature… climate is a common good.” Millions of us Americans must resist fossil fuel industries by withdrawing all economic support. Stop buying their product gets the quickest results. Gradually work through surrendering the fear and pain of giving up oil, gas and coal. 100 fossil fuel companies account for 70% of all greenhouse gases. Resist fossil fuel companies by changing yourself.
Beginning to feel overwhelmed? Turn to prayer; pray for supernatural courage; pray to the forces of good that are greater than you. Ask the force of Divine love to fill you with supernatural, God-enabled steadfastness to face the extinctions which we have helped to create. Do not be tempted to rely on your own will alone to survive. Simply, put we will not make it. Humans are at our best, not in denial or complacency, but in reality and extremity. We need to surrender our own will and let God work within. Keep praying. Pray for miracles and miraculous powers to stand fast in spite of the odds. Our fears have said their prayers; now we must act in faith.
American rugged individualism and isolated self-contained nuclear families will not survive well by the twenty year deadline. We must begin (by 2020 at the latest), to escape the loneliness and isolation of mainstream American culture into more collective thinking, inhabiting shared living space. Start nonviolent ecological, intentional peace communities and movements.
Soon we will see our loner lifestyle is too carbon- spewing and expensive. As extreme weather continues, being isolated will be too dangerous. We must use solar energy to power our living spaces. Research indicates that 69 percent of our power could be solar, 18 percent wind by 2050. Begin now to find a way to afford solar. Painful sacrifices will wake us up. Remember the ten to twenty year window. It’s non-negotiable.
22% of all greenhouse gases are caused by animal farming and meat-eating. Give up all meat consumption; lose excess weight and feel reborn as you assimilate the life force of plant foods. 60 billion animals are killed in the US every year; 55 billion for our food alone. Stop trapping these defenseless beings in slaughter house pens and force feeding them. Instead, be a friend to all animals. They are our companions in endangerment.
Educate, educate, educate—yourself and others. Read seminal books and learn from the authorities the current ecological wisdom. Memorize the facts and live the solutions. We cannot know how to change without the accurate data of climate science and the current condition of the planet.
As we begin together this historic campaign of human/earth survival, remember that it is a daily spiritual practice. Settle into feeling the awe of our own divine nature; learn to love all animal and plant life as we love ourselves. Experience landscape as space which is beloved and allow the raw sustainable rhythm of earth to evoke her true Divine Rhapsody.