‘What’ Climate Crisis?
At the Interstate 80 rest area outside of Adair, Iowa, they’ve installed five pillars that lead from the parking lot to the shelter. Each pillar represents Iowa’s levels of topsoil over time. The first is labeled “1850.” In that year, Iowa had fourteen to sixteen inches of topsoil. Fast forward to the last pillar: Today Iowa has six to eight inches of topsoil.
No big deal, right? It’s just dirt.
It takes five hundred years to replace one inch of topsoil. At this rate, Iowa would need 3,000 to 5,000 years to replace what’s been lost in less than two hundred years. Why is the soil eroding at such a fast clip? Development is part of it. But many of the farming methods we use to grow our food, such as tilling, are eliminating the very soil in which we grow it.
Topsoil is just one example of climate crisis:
• June 2012 was the 328th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the twentieth-century average.
• Scientists say that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity. We’re now at 392.
• The world’s oceans now have 405 dead zones. Dead zones are caused primarily by nitrogen and phosphorous runoff from farm fields, which kill bottom-dwelling sea crea-tures like crabs, disrupting the food chain and sending predators up higher, into warmer waters.
• Most of the world’s drinking water now includes trace amounts of pharmaceuticals like Viagra, birth control drugs, Valium and antipsychotics.
• Twenty of the thirty most expensive insured catastrophes worldwide from 1970 to 2011 have occurred since 2001, and all but one (9/11) were natural disasters.
At this rate our kids will inherit arid air and soil, lifeless oceans and storms of increasing frequency and intensity.
What are we doing to ourselves? How did we lose our way?
Throughout American history, God and Creation (or “the environment”) have always battled for the attention of our better angels. In 1606, the First Charter of Virginia was crafted, to incorporate Jamestown. Its official mission was to propagate Christianity, but only three percent of the 3,805 words in the document refer to it. The other ninety-seven percent outlined how the colonists might pillage “all the Lands, Woods, Soul, Grounds, Havens, Ports, Rivers, Mines, Minerals, Marshes, Waters, Fishing, Commo-dities” using options including but not limited to “dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold, Silver and Copper.”
America conveniently puts God on its masthead but in the fine print, we’ve been treating His creation with disregard.
We’ve invented and championed modern industrialism, the “take-make-waste” economic system where we take natural resources like water to make textiles that we buy and eventually discard or waste. Each year, Amer-icans toss sixty-eight pounds of clothes, the equivalent weight of a ten-year-old-kid.
Fortunately, our kids and grandkids know that what we’re doing isn’t sustainable. Their whole lives, they’ve seen images of barges looking for a place to dump their waste, rivers poisoned by factory runoff, birds and fish killed by oil spills and polar bears going extinct.
So they’re working hard to reverse course. They’re taking classes in environmental science, bioethics and sustainability. What they know—and we would all be wise to acknowledge—is that there is no Planet B.
The twist? Nature is more than a silent victim of our recklessness. Nature is our teacher. When ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes are likely. Hurricanes seem destructive to humans, but to nature they are a way of regenerating, of mixing sea and fresh water, and re-oxygenating the ocean’s dead zones. Nature has been regenerating for eons. She will lead us out and through this climate crisis.
If only we’ll pay attention.
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