Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

March 4, 2014

LION AND THE LAMB: A time for earth-empathy

CROSSVILLE — This past winter with its snow, freezing rain, and bone-chilling low temperatures has been a brutal one for many parts of our country. Although our county escaped the worst of it, the words “polar vortex” jumped out of the news reports into our consciousness here. It was still hard, however, to understand that all this cold had something to do with climate change and global warming.

Scientists tell us that the ten hottest years on record have all occurred since 1998. We have seen pictures of how the arctic polar cap and northern glaciers are receding. Loss of arctic sea ice has allowed extra heat to escape from the Arctic Ocean into the atmosphere. These scientists believe that this will not be just a temporary phase.

The major problem stems from what is happening to the extra heat that has been generated. More than 90 percent of it is being soaked up by the world’s oceans. The planet’s deep oceans are increasingly absorbing the world’s excess carbon, pushed into the deeper levels by the powerful trade winds in the Pacific Ocean. This has brought a radical change to their ecology, impacting various forms of life within them, and bringing a rise in the sea levels.

Environmental scientists are predicting that this global climate change will bring various threats to life on earth such as major droughts, extreme storms, catastrophic floods, wildfires, forced human migration, disrupted food supply, and species extinction. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that this global warming due to ocean heating is the equivalent to four Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second. There is evidence in our own country, in the impact of Hurricane Sandy on our northeast coast and in the extensive drought that has been affecting our Southwest, that this process is already under way.

Here are some of the disturbing figures: Global temperatures have been higher than average for the past 37 consecutive years. Eighty percent of American counties have had some kind of climate disaster in the last two or three years. Even some of our alternative energy ideas, such as building a pipeline from Canada, have had negative implications. Prior scientific studies of the impact of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline have estimated that there would be an additional half-million metric tons of carbon dioxide added to the planet’s atmosphere if the pipeline is built and used. (This project is being pushed by one of the companies owned by the Koch brothers.)

The challenge of working on solutions to this problem, such as reining in carbon emissions from fossil fuels or developing alternatives to these, is a huge one. As author Tom Engelhardt writes, “What makes climate change so challenging is that carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production, and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations. The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable. Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us. They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren’t poured into alternative energy research and development. And like those cigarette companies, they go right on.”

Another important factor that needs to be recognized, beyond the harm being done to ourselves, is the harm being done to the earth itself. It is more than an object to be used, misused, and degraded by us, but a living organism with its own integrity that needs to be honored, protected, and cared for by us.

These two choices before us are noted in two ancient stories in a book many Cumberland Countians have in their homes. Both stories deal with life on this planet before histories were written and both focus on how humans saw their relationship to their earthly habitat at the beginning of their sojourn on earth.

The original story in Genesis 2:15, dating from approximately the 7th century B.C., states: “God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” The later story placed in Genesis 1:28 states: “God blessed them, saying ‘Be fertile and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things of the earth.’”

The language and relationships described in the two examples are quite different. In the original story (in chapter 2) the human being’s relationship to the natural world is one of caring for it, of having empathy for it. By the time the later story (in chapter 1) arrives, the relationship is one of human domination and control over the world. It is obvious why the oil corporations prefer the later version in chapter 1, and the environmentalists prefer the original version in chapter 2.

Given the ways our earthly habitat is hurting today, we need inhabitants who are more deeply aware of the earth’s pain and suffering and ready to participate in its repair and healing.

• • •

This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice.  Opinions expressed in “Lion and Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff.  For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.

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