“The Trump Administration formally notified the United Nations on Monday that it would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, leaving global climate diplomats to plot away forward without the cooperation of the world’s largest economy.” New York Times, November 4th, 2019
Not long ago I looked at the weather report. I saw an alert had been issued by the weather service that coastal flooding was imminent.
The news alarmed me. I went to the window to see how the tides were affecting the shoreline of my property. We are close to the water. The signs were ominous. The tide had already topped the edges of the shoreline and was reaching much higher than normal. It was encroaching on the lawn, creeping up to the house. When I looked at the tide tables I discovered that flood tide would be at four o’clock. It was only noon. The water continued to rise. All I could do was watch. My lawn was newly replanted only days before. Would it survive an inundation of brackish water?
Inordinately high tides occur regularly around the Chesapeake. They’ve become higher now and are flooding more small towns and lowlands. I had accepted this as a way of life here on the shore. This time, however, with my newly planted lawn, the stakes were higher. It’s strange how something as critical to my survival as the issue of global warming is, can seem so remote until it creeps up on my front lawn. I don’t “get it” easily.
Over the last few years I have had a dream, like a vision. Recently it’s grown more vivid. It’s not the nocturnal sort dream or vision, but the kind of dream that hope inspires. It’s a daydream of sorts, but not an idle one. I cling to it.
This dream returns again and again and I pray about it. Things happen in the natural world around me that seem so mindless and destructive and I feel sad. I pray more fervently that the dream I have will come true.
I dream that one day our abuses of the environment (and of each other) will finally create such a backlash that deniability of the abuses will be out of the question – no more equivocations. This time what happens will be immediate to us, closer than the Arctic’s cascading ice shelves falling into the sea thousands of miles away or the chemical laden streams that catch fire as if they were heralding an apocalypse.
In those days, I dream that we will have as the director of the Environmental Protection Agency a man or woman who actually loves the natural world, the kind of a person suggested in the Genesis myth.
God, having created the world thinks his creation is good, “very good.” God has a stake in its future according to Genesis. He appoints someone he trusts to look after it. This is a sacred trust. “The Lord God took Adam (human kind) and placed him in the garden of Eden to tend and to keep it.”
What does it look like to love the natural world, to tend it and to keep it, and I would add, to be its voice, its advocate? I believe it looks something like naturalist, W. H. Hudson’s tender description of a day in late April when he came upon “a shallow lakelet or pond five or six acres in extent which I had discovered some weeks before hidden in a depression in the land among luxuriant furze (an evergreen shrub with flowers), bramble, and blackthorn bushes.”
He then writes, “I sat on a branch and rested for a long time enjoying the sight of that rare unexpected loveliness. Two or three warblers we’re flitting about among the alder leaves within a few feet of my head and a dozen at least we’re singing within a few feet of my head. I listen again to the birds then let my eyes rest on the expense of red and cream-colored spikes before me, then on the masses of flame colored furze beyond. This springtime verdure and bloom, this fragrance of the furze, the infinite blue of Heaven, the bell like double note of my little feathered neighbors and the alder trees; surely this is enough to satisfy my heart.”
This new “Adam,” this Agency Director, as I imagine him or her, would have this same passionate love of the earth in their hearts, and could not be driven from their task by power brokers. This director will be wise in the matters of the material world. This person would have feet on the ground (earth, not macadam) and an eye on the sky (weather, not high-rises); they would passionately love the natural with the fervor Mr. Hudson had. Love like that may save us and heal our planet
This director will have a realistic grasp of the needs of an industrial society in which she lives. He will, like Solomon, do justice. He will weigh the reasonable requirements of industrial production and still advocate for the earth. He or she will know that the natural world is not a commodity just to be bought, sold, and traded; this new Adam understands the natural world as a sacred trust, a planet to love, tend and care for.
Too Idealistic? Too Visionary? I sure hope so. That’s precisely the missing piece in managing our present environmental realities. Currently, I see no vision, no ideals, just expediency and greed.
Since that day of the flood advisories two more extremely high tides came and went. The weather finally grew cooler and with it returned intense blue skies, filled with gray-bellied white clouds and a brisk northwest wind of about forty knots. The northwest winds around here drive the tides out, making the ebbs unnaturally low. The tides ebbed and flooded, and for a while I felt safe. The feeling is illusory.
My world, the one in which I once thought tides were predictable and would remain always within bounds, had returned but only briefly. The world of my yesterday is long gone, and even higher tides will return as they must, because they are responding in the only ways they can to the deaf ears on which their warnings have fallen.
“Listen to the earth and it will teach you,” Job instructs us. Few listen.