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Water Wars

In the 1970s, my dad frequently said that the next wars would be fought over water.me hawaiiDSCN2984

He told a story that I think arose from an idea proposed by Georges Mougin, as reported in Phys.org. “Way back in the 70’s Georges Mougin, then an engineering graduate, had a big idea. He suggested that icebergs floating around in the North Atlantic could be tethered and dragged south to places that were experiencing a severe drought, such as the Sahel of West Africa. Mougin received some backing funds from a Saudi prince but most ‘experts’ at the time scoffed at his idea and the whole scheme was eventually shelved.”

Back then, it might have sounded like a good idea, if it could be managed without the ice melting before arrival, for a cost that was reasonable. Today, some scientists think an iceberg could be transported without melting, but the costs would be exorbitant.

More importantly, something critical has happened since Mougin’s idea was first conceived.

Today, the arctic contains considerably less ice.

Arctic sea ice fluctuates in quantity throughout the year. According to NASA, it reaches its minimum each September. Because increased levels of carbon dioxide and other pollutants are leading to a gradual heating of the earth’s atmosphere, the global temperature has risen 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880. As a result, more arctic ice is melting. NASA said that September Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 12.8 percent per decade, relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.

And this heating trend in our atmosphere is accelerating. Nine of the ten warmest years have occurred since 2005. The EU satellite service just reported that June 2019 was the “hottest ever recorded on earth.”

Today, countries like India are running short of groundwater.

clouds mine 22046022_10210249962150346_4908882350092498926_nIndia supports 1.3 billion people who need water to survive. This June, NPR reported that India’s sixth largest city, Chennai, “with a population of almost 10 million, is nearly out of water.” Rains are becoming more unpredictable due to climate change. India’s lakes and groundwater are drying up. NPR said that 21 major cities in India could face water crises by next year (2020) due to water shortages!

Today, the effects of human-induced climate change have become apparent.

Scientifically trained individuals—like those who created the diagnostic systems you rely on to know whether you must act quickly or die soon of cancer—agree that we must act immediately to reduce human produced carbon emissions or the earth will become unsustainable for life as we know it.

Seriously.

This is not the time to listen to a quack doctor or to try a cancer cure of apricot kernels. This is not a time to put politics before good sense. This not a time to be stubborn.

Climate change is a life and death issue for billions—billions—of people, and for the uncountable other species with whom we share this earth. Species that know something is changing, but can do nothing to stop it. Only our species can make a difference.

The Sixth Edition of the Global Environmental Outlook Report, published by the UN in 2019, “calls on decision makers to take immediate action to address pressing environmental issues to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as well as other Internationally Agreed Environment Goals, such as the Paris Agreement.” At the very least, take a look at this research! Figure 2.20 lists five independent indicators that scientists have studied showing a changing global climate: land surface air temperature, sea surface air temperature, marine air temperature, sea level, and the extent of summer arctic sea-ice.

All indicate that human activity is leading to climate change, and that the change is accelerating.

This is a time to listen and act.

It is a time to vote in people who believe the science and will ADDRESS climate change now, aggressively—pulling out all possible resources.

It is a time to work together with other nations—reentering and leading alongside other countries to fulfill the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

It is a time to work together for the earth, for our children and our grandchildren—so the children of this world have a planet that can sustain them.

This is a time to listen and act.

As Thomas Moore wrote in The Reenchangment of Everyday Life, “According to the Greek philosopher Thales, everything is water, and water is the basic element in all life… water is not just H2O but also an element of the soul….” Water is at the heart of life, physical and psychological.

This is a time to listen and act.

Or the next wars will be fought over disappearing ground water, drowned cities and islands, dying sea life, failed crops, and global hunger. As my dad reasoned in the 1970s,

Unless we listen and act now,

The next wars will be fought over water.

Caring for the Animal World is Messy, Sometimes Terribly Sad, and Full of Opportunity

I’ve had some terrible experiences with pets. When one of my pet white rat mothers died, leaving the remaining mother with 13 babies, and this mother went insane, suffocating and partially eating the babies, I learned of the horrors that can occur in nature.

When I discovered our beloved cat Midnight stiff in the ivy beside our garage–she, along with several other animals in our neighborhood, had been poisoned overnight by an unknown, vicious person—I wept.

When a tortoise found wandering around my elementary school was given to me by the school principal and I took it—a little girl carting it for blocks to offer it a home alongside our own desert tortoises—but then we discovered that this tortoise carried an upper respiratory disease sweeping through the California desert tortoise community that soon killed a number of our family’s tortoises, we all grieved.

me 20190702_191659Loving other animals (humans are animals too) has confronted me with horror, tragedy, mourning, and loss. Yet my life has been replete with animals. This picture of me is evocative: encircled by turtles, holding a cat, with a puppy nearby! Paradoxically, it was in caring for such animals that my love for nature was nurtured.

When I was growing up, our family rescued, hatched, and raised over 80 desert tortoise—keeping most in our improvised “turtle yard.”

My mom couldn’t say no to any dog who, frightened by the sound of fireworks, found its way to our front porch year after year on the 4th of July. We always tried to find a lost animal’s home before keeping it, but quite often the lost pet became ours.

Before her murder, our cat Midnight gave birth to a litter of kittens and Shadow (the one we kept) lived to be 21 years old—a full life.

We brought home tadpoles, hatched them, and then loosed them in the thick ivy of our back yard. For over a decade, huge toads, bloated by a diet of flies, mosquitoes, and grasshoppers, emerged from the ivy, living high on the prolific insect supply.

When one of our cats caught birds, and brought them to our porch to show off its prize, when possible, we rescued, tended, and released them.

Our family cared for dogs, cats, tortoises, white rats, a skunk, a chipmunk, birds, frogs, horny toads, and fish. Many lived into old age, the tortoises saved from roads littered with roadkill, dogs taken in and made part of the family, and cats living to die natural deaths in a secure home.

Sometimes the tragedies seemed to exceed the joys, as they sometimes do in the rest of life. But most of life is composed of everyday experiences, and my daily life intermingled with that of these animals. I learned that caring for the animal world is work, dangerous, messy, and sometimes terribly sad; and it is full of love, joy, and the opportunity to observe, tend, and appreciate our fellow earthly inhabitants.

Tending and loving them is personal, practical, local, national, global, and must reach the level of policy.

Humans were not given the earth for ourselves (if you believe in the record in Genesis). We were meant to be caretakers, not takers.

Humans are big, and powerful, and violent, and our interactions with the world have often been deeply destructive. We have functioned as a “planetary disease,” destroying the environment on which all species depend. Yet our human world is only one of a myriad of other worlds God made that coexist with ours but are often out of sight, worlds inhabited by birds, fish, reptiles, insects, and mammals like ourselves.

Today, five bird feeders surround my home, and I watch these winged creatures in a fairly natural habitat. This spring and early summer, pine siskin, red robins, American goldfinch, red cardinals, house finch, woodpeckers, nut hatch, and humming birds have roamed my gardens. The birds tend to their own needs; my feeders merely add to their pleasure.

I am less acquainted with the birds’ sorrows than I have been with those of my pets. But I’m aware that suffering takes place. Out of my sight, tragedies are unfolding. I’ve been acquainted with great loss associated with loving creatures from these other worlds. I’ve felt horror at their suffering. So today, when I hear of sea turtles, seals, seabirds, fish, whales, or dolphins suffering and dying after ingesting plastic, I grieve. When I hear of disappearing species, lost due to habitat destruction, I mourn.

Perhaps the sorrow I’ve known as a pet owner has developed compassion for these earthly fellow-inhabitants, stirring my concern for the natural world. I hope so. And I’m trying to turn my sorrow infused concern into more responsible actions.

In every election—local, state, and national—you have the opportunity to do the same. In your workplaces and your homes, you can seek to care for the world rather than injure it. Listed below are a few key organizations that can help—most have local chapters where you can become engaged. We must all find ways to turn a love of nature into urgent action.

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The Rain

The canvas of our tent echoed as rain splattered our shelter. The rain came lightly at first, like whispers. Then torrents struck the tent—and the rain went on for days.

I loved it.

John and I were safely ensconced inside our tent. Outside, as the rain fell, the river, which was only a few yards away, rose by the hour—we knew we weren’t going to catch our dinner in that roaring torrent. Instead, we played Uno, poker, talked, and listened, closer to the elements than we could ever be inside hard walls.

We wondered, occasionally, when it would end… tomorrow? The next day? We checked periodically for holes in our tent, for damp spots on the tent floor, but the pouring rain didn’t stop our vacation adventure. The rain became an escapade in its own right, rising and falling in intensity, filling our ears with its pounding and with the river’s passing thrust. Inside our cozy tent we played on, and then we slept.

I love the rain. In California when I was growing up, rain came rarely. The first rain of the season always mixed with oils on the roads to create slick conditions; forgetful drivers, who didn’t slow down, skidded into one another, creating a flood of accidents. In summer, thunderstorms struck with ferocity, lightning crisscrossed in the sky, thunder rolled, and streets flooded, losing all that good water to gutters and sewage systems.Pixabay no attrib req lightning-1158027_960_720

Rain in California washed the muck that stuck to smog smothered trees off the leaves and onto the ground, transforming the grey green trees into the deep green of healthy vegetation. Rain introduced Petrichor and ozone into the atmosphere—filling the air with a clear, natural perfume. Negative ions amassed.

Today, we are going on two weeks of nearly daily rain here in Indiana, yet I still love the rain. Tonight I sat outside on my porch, listening to the rain begin, feeling the rising wind just before the rains came, smelling that familiar scent, watching the first drops land upon the plants in my front flower beds.

I tire of overcast days; I need bursts of sunshine and the long sunny days that intersect the rainy season during springtime here in Indiana and make it gleam. But I also love the rain because it is the nurturer that brings on flowers, softens the soil, makes the grass grow, and caresses the world into spring. And I also love spring.

Tonight, the rain has stopped. Flowering trees drip, losing water droplets and clinging blossoms. The sky glows from the horizon to its topmost reaches with a golden pink light. Soft clouds reflect the setting sun’s rays. Vegetation quivers, shaking off excess moisture, readying itself to burst further into bloom. Green grass glimmers.

Rain seems so common. Ubiquitous. Certain. But there, our instincts are wrong.

All over the world, the climate is changing. Yes, it’s true—the four warmest years on record have all occurred in the last decade. According to Climate Central, “2018 was the second-warmest year on record without an El Niño event, behind only 2017.” Scientists know that if we do not address climate change, if we do not prioritize the need for a biologically diverse world, if we do not live more sustainably, nothing is certain.

None of the things that we love.

Not even the rain.

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The God of Other Worlds

My children groan when I mention the documentary “Winged Migration,” which I’ve watched several times. Each time I see it, though, I’m reminded of a world that coexists with ours but is out of sight—often beyond our imagination. In this world high above myriad bird species fly thousands of miles from north to south and back, circling the globe, year after year. Like ephemeral beings, a few enter for a short while into our sight, then disappear. But the world they inhabit in this other sphere is as real as ours, filled with birthing, tending, gathering, singing, exerting, enduring, living, and dying.

sea CaptureAn air world. One of God’s other worlds, intersecting our own.

I discovered a similar world undersea, snorkeling in the warm waters off the Hawaiian Islands. Coral reefs drew sea species to feed. I was mesmerized by this world—where yellow sea snakes slithered; tang and butterfly fish glided by; green sea turtles emerged to investigate and descend again; and damselfish swarmed. I only fingered the fringe of this undersea world, a world of a million species, many yet unknown to human kind.

A great underwater world. One of God’s other worlds, intersecting our own.

Humans are big, and powerful, and violent. We destroy bird species for pleasure, like the passenger pigeon lost long ago. We pollute coral reefs, draw birds to destruction with our lights, chop down forest cover, and over fish the seas. Sometimes we do so unawares, forgetting how big we are. Sometimes we do so out of selfish ends.

The creatures in these worlds are mostly out of our sight. But we are everywhere in theirs. We drain their nesting grounds, dump our rubbish in their waters, and fish their kind to near extinction. They cannot comprehend what we are doing; they cannot stop us. They only know that it is harder to find a mate; their resting place is gone; their coral reef is dying.

Ian L. McHarg called humankind “A planetary disease … an epidemic, multiplying at a super-exponential rate, destroying the environment upon which he depends, and threatening his own extinction.” When we act like a disease, we imperil other worlds.

We imperil other worlds when we forget who we were meant to be. Like Tolkien’s Ents, we were meant as creation’s caretakers, not “takers” for our personal pleasure.

We imperil other worlds when we forget what the other creatures are. God is a God of other worlds. These worlds are His handiwork. They are His creation. They give Him pleasure.

We live on a beautiful planet, home to 7.6 billion humans. But it is also home to others—in the air, on the land, and in the sea—with billions of other species living lives of their own. We should ensure that these other worlds, ephemeral to us but vital, can continue.

We think we are the dominant species, but we are nothing without the other species with whom we share this planet. We live in a world of intersecting worlds. God’s worlds. Doom these other worlds, and we doom ourselves.

Cherish these other worlds, though, and joy upon joy! Now and then, we intermingle—ephemeral encounters with a world of winged migrations and swarming creatures of the sea.

 

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Surprises from the Untamed World

My daughter pulled into my driveway with two of my grandchildren. Scrambling out of the car one called, “Grandma, do you have any tweezers? I’ve got a splinter.” The other said, “Grandma, I have a black eye! I fell down.” Children–full of surprises; always something new.

A bit like nature.

I confess, since moving to the Midwest, my explorations in nature are less frequent in winter than they are the rest of the year. On my way to a party on a slippery ice day last year, carrying a bottle of pinot noir, I tumbled, crashed onto the sidewalk beside my car and lay shaken, sore, amidst shards of glass, watching a growing red pool ooze from beneath me. Had I cut arteries? Broken bones? I waited. After several minutes the pain subsided. I stood, slowly. The pool was not my blood, only the pinot. I was fine. So I cleaned up, located another bottle, and went on my way—more cautious now about icy weather and outdoor ventures.

The rest of the year, though, I’m outside as much as possible.

I’m a gardener. As a child, my mom encouraged my love of gardening as we planted carrot beds, tended roses, and trimmed camellias. I love the gift of nature in its cultivated grandeur. I’ve gardened in four states and visit gardens wherever I travel.

Yet I realize that the more our time in nature is spent in less tamed places, the more we experience the surprises offered by the natural world.

I’ve moved from suburbs equally manicured, planted with the same shrubs and trees, beside similar houses–to the less tamed bedlam of an old neighborhood, speckled with 100-year-old arboreal giants, lined with houses from differing decades, planted with flora in and out of vogue over a hundred years.

I’ve walked in farmland, with verges walled by hedges covering an under-story of flowering weeds, semi-cultivated–to hikes in the woods, cut by a trail bordering a running stream, hiding unexpected ruins or unanticipated encounters of the animal kind.

I’ve been blessed by the rugged adventure of backpacking in high mountain terrain, where the acclivities and declivities are acute, the animals bigger, the dangers more significant.

There are many climbs I have not made and won’t, to places barely reachable by human beings, where ice cracks, avalanches occur, storms erupt, and life is always at risk.

In cultivated gardens, and especially in untamed out-of-the-way locations, the world is full of surprises, always changing.

Why do we need natural places? What is the value to us in protecting them? My sister Jacqueline suggested:

While an understandable attraction for our own kind should be part of our lives, humankind was always meant to live in fellowship with the rest of creation. I think our human sense of isolation and loneliness is, in part, a yearning for our immersion in the natural world. Too much time spent in a human made world is deadening. Too much time in cars, concrete buildings—even our own homes, is like only looking at life as a reflection of ourselves, instead of standing outdoors and experiencing a full sensory engagement with the natural world—listening to sounds, feeling the wind in the air, smelling the fragrances, seeing 3D reality.

We need this “full sensory engagement” with a moving, active, living, natural world, a world where we encounter the unexpected through the land, air, water, flora, and fauna. Because we cannot control what will come next into this space and moment, we attend.

We listen. Feel. See. Learn. Engage.

Come alive.

Hear the whispers of God.

Learn about ourselves.

We must protect all of nature, but particularly the remaining untamed places, for this is part of our inheritance: a world filled with surprises there to be discovered.

Photo credit: Rich Beedle, a friend who spends a great deal of time in nature, gave me permission to use some of the photos he’s taken while exploring out-of-doors. All of the photos in this post are from his photography of Indiana wildlife.