07 March 2024

"...Nature cannot be fooled"

North Sea sunset.

The dream is almost always the same. I'm out in the open country. There's a roar overhead, and I see a missile crossing the sky, and I instantly know it's carrying a nuclear warhead. It's on its way to a target somewhere behind me. I take off and run. There's a blinding flash and the dream ends.

Well, occasionally I manage to dive into a depression, feel the heat and shock pass by, shake off the dust, and realize that I've apparently survived. Then the dream ends.

I've continued to have these dreams since childhood. They're stored in my brain alongside memories of the Cuban missile crisis, air raid shelter signs, the air raid siren tests every Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., and classroom instructions on what to do during a nuclear attack. 

On March 26, 1970, our high school classes were canceled owing to a snowstorm, but I was already at school. One class had scheduled a viewing of the British pseudo-documentary The War Game, portraying a fictional nuclear attack on the UK. The teacher decided to offer a viewing to anyone interested. Not really wanting to trudge two and a half miles back home in the snow, I joined the audience, and got many more searing images for my apocalyptic dreams.

We are not yet really free from the threat of nuclear warfare, but the shadow of another threat has become at least equally prominent in our times: global ecological catastrophe. The first threat may seem more vivid and immediate; some would argue that the second may be more inevitable in the long run. Has this second threat—climate change's worst scenarios—become our younger generations' version of nuclear dread?

Although both threats originate in a sort of shortsighted human arrogance, there are important differences between them. The decision to use nuclear weapons is in the hands of specific human beings who are, or should be, perfectly capable of choosing not to use them. (Of course I'm glossing over the possibilities of miscalculations, insanity, and equipment failures.) Nuclear war is not inevitable, whereas ecological degradation is already well underway. Human interventions to avoid catastrophe are possible at several points on the chart above ("Global warming and climate change"), and many scientists and activists have specified what those interventions should look like, but the track record of our species in acting at the required scale is not promising.

Sometimes I'm tempted to succumb to a doom mentality. For all we know, extinction might be inevitable no matter what we do. Countries and empires have come and gone, civilizations have perished, species have vanished. The planet itself will survive our misdeeds—as Richard Feynman reminded us in his famous appendix to the Rogers Commission investigation into the Challenger explosion, "... nature cannot be fooled." However, at some point even planets will vanish into their dying suns. Our loving Creator will archive us one way or another (I vote for "heaven"!) but, short of that, nothing about our long-term future is guaranteed.

Before I reject doom entirely (you knew I would, right?), I found this article in Scientific American intriguing: Beyond the Doom and Gloom, Here's How to Stimulate Climate Action, by Madalina Vlasceanu and Jay J. Van Bavel.

Not everyone is a fan of the doom and gloom messaging. Climate scientists like Michael Mann have warned against climate “doomerism,” messaging that can depress and demoralize the public, assuming that helplessness will simply lead to further climate inaction. And the title of a new book by Hannah Ritchie states clearly that it’s Not the End of the World: How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet.

There is, however, some evidence that doom and gloom messaging can spur climate action, as long as it falls on the right ears at the right time. For example, research has found that climate distress, climate anger and climate anxiety are all associated with increased climate action under some circumstances.

[Links in original]

paper edition; digital edition
I'd like to recommend a better way. Cherice Bock, an environmental scientist and theologian, and Quaker minister, has an alternative vision—one that has two major advantages over the doom mentality. She describes this vision in her short, carefully organized and well-written book, A Quaker Ecology: Meditations on the Future of Friends

The advantages of her approach: 

First, her vision of an Eco-Reformation has great persuasive power. She anchors her vision in powerful biblical insights and the raw honesty of acknowledging the toxic effects of individualism, racism, and colonialism, even in our own Quaker histories. She writes beautifully about the healing effect of repentance and of reweaving ourselves into the ecology around us and within us through what she intriguingly calls "watershed discipleship." If a new, wider Reformation among people of faith adds to our united ability to reach the scales needed for crucial interventions, Cherice has made a valuable contribution toward that end.

Second, no matter how far we succeed in sharing this vision, no matter what the eventual outcome of our efforts to mitigate climate change might be, this is how we should live along the way. Cherice is blunt when she needs to be, but she personally models the power of honesty and a non-shaming repentance in describing, for example, the history of her own family on lands once inhabited by Indigenous nations. And her watershed awareness carries with it a sense of joy and embodiment.

Cherice subtitled her book, Meditations on the Future of Friends. Although I'm convinced that her theological and ecological insights have wide application beyond Quakers, the history and current state of Friends in the USA give an important context to her book—and give me a sense of positive urgency. As she says, "I was inspired by earlier generations of Friends; I want to be part of my own generation's faithfulness."

Nancy Thomas looks at the patriarchs, the Psalms, Ecclesiastes ... and old age. "The tree or the insect."

This link is hard to post. Ashley Wilcox tells us that ALS is likely to keep her from reaching old age.

More ripples, via Meduza, from the death and burial of Aleksei Navalny. Shura Burtin cautions us against unrealistic faith in the "beautiful Russia of the future." On the other hand, here is a Russian university instructor who is tired of being afraid.

The documentary film Butterfly in the Sky celebrates the legacy of the long-running television show Reading Rainbow, which I remember watching with our kids. Here's the trailer and context. (Thanks to Lithub.com for the link.)

Michelle Birkballe (Denmark) covers Solomon Burke's classic "Cry to Me." (Link to Burke's original.)

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