We used to have a stately, elderly oak tree growing in the center of our backyard. The base of this tree was nearly six-feet in diameter, and the grand girl stood at least 75-feet high. Our backyard is every bit of 300-feet deep, and the person, two owners before us, who lived in the expanded Cape Cod dwelling we now call home, had the property cleared of just enough trees to create an open park-like area which still provided ample shade for the hot summer months. This one particular tree was left standing, I think, because it was the most majestic of all and provided shade and shelter to the patio oasis which it so nobly guarded. It was the kind of tree that one could easily imagine might have been the inspiration for Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem, Trees, the last two lines of which are: “Poems are made by fools like me; But only God can make a tree.” While I don’t think that Trees is a particularly good poem (and certainly not among Kilmer’s best) it is still a fitting tribute to one of nature’s most magnificent, diverse and abundant creations.
About four years ago, owing to an especially violent thunder storm, a massive branch from this majestic tree, with all the length and heft of a medium-sized tree itself, came crashing earthward with a frightful sound not unlike the Hammer of Thor, the Norse deity also known as the Thunderer. While it badly damaged a favorite Adirondack chair and demolished some cherished shrubs and plants, the branch thankfully fell about eight feet short of the deck at the rear of our house. The next day, I called Rob, our reliable and amiable, but quasi-burned-out Hippie tree-guy who came in with his crew and cleared out the Godzilla branch in a couple of hours. Maybe six months later, on an unusually windy mid-October evening, a second monster branch from that very same tree, fully as ponderous and intimidating as the first, gave way to gravity, crushing the roof of our utility shed but otherwise landing mostly in our neighbor’s yard. Fortunately no one was injured, but “The Branch from Hell, II” did take out a couple of plastic garbage cans and badly crippled a virtually indestructible old Sears Craftsman lawnmower.
I called Rob again, and he showed up later that day in a faded Grateful Dead t-shirt, un-fashionably distressed jeans, and cowboy boots, with a red bandanna knotted purposefully around his thick, wavy-gravy head of salt-and-pepper hair. I noticed Rob’s arrival and soon joined him in the backyard to survey the damage. “What the hell is going on here, Rob?” I asked, exasperated. “Is it me, or are we having an unusual number of very windy days this year?”
“Who’s pissed?” I inquired.
“Gaia, man… Mother Earth” She’s really bummed out about the way we’ve been treating Her. And She’s letting us know about it. Don’t ya remember that commercial back in the day: ‘It’s not nice to mess with Mother Nature’? It’s comin’ true, man, and we’re payin’ the price. Big time.”
Rob went on to say that, owing to an apparent increase in the number of severe storms and extremely windy days we have been experiencing here in the Northeast recently, his business is booming. I had been saying to my wife Jan, and anyone else who would listen to me (a number which I can easily calculate on one hand, with fingers left over), that we never used to have so many brutally windy days, years ago. The amount and relative severity of storms, both summer hurricanes and winter nor’easters, had probably increased over that same period, as well, but not so much that I took any definitive notice. Because the tree’s structural integrity had now been seriously compromised by losing two of its main limbs, Rob took the old girl down and carted her away, massive log by log.
The year that this occurred, 2010 (the year that caused me to question what I perceived as having an unusually high incidence of very windy days), was coincidently (or not) one of the worst years on record for natural disasters, worldwide. The globe was ravaged that year by severe droughts in some areas and equally devastating floods in others. One of the worst droughts in U.S. history descended upon Kansas, wheat supplier to the world, gravely affecting the harvest that year. The political climate in Egypt in 2010 was especially volatile, and some historians, looking back at that tumultuous period in the hub of the Middle East, point to the scarcity of flour for bread, as a possible cause. Huh? It’s true. People took to rioting in the streets because there was no bread and the Government, such as it was, fought back. Interestingly, the Arabic word for “bread,” aish, is also their word for “life.” Their very life was being denied them and they reacted the only way they knew how. Most of Egypt’s wheat flower for bread-making comes from–you guessed it–Kansas.
As I write this today, during the first week of July, 2014. The phenomena that I witnessed four years ago (and, to be sure, much more learned and prescient people than I took notice of long before that) are much more commonplace today and should be viewed with near certainty as evidence of the downward spiral of climactic conditions which has gripped our planet. This is not just my opinion. And, dare I say it, it is not really opinion at all, but the clear consensus of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who have spent the better part of the last decade or two studying what was once the “global warming theory.” Twenty years ago, there was ample room for debate; if the world’s climate was changing, it could possibly be attributed to natural cyclical patterns. Even if this thing called global warming was, in fact, occurring, there was very little quantifiable evidence indicating that it was created, or even exacerbated, as a result of human intervention. Today, however, it would appear that there is almost total agreement among the world’s scientists: climate change is happening; it is being caused, in large measure, by us human beings releasing more and more massive amounts of deadly greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere each year. And this climate calamity is occurring much more rapidly than was originally predicted.
You may ask, if the situation is as dire as I am portraying it, why is there nothing of substance being done about it? I can give you a one-word answer: politics. While, at the latest estimate, 97% of the world’s scientific community agrees that the current climate “climate” is serious business; is occurring much more rapidly than previously thought; and is being greatly fueled by overreliance on fossil fuels… there is still the issue of that other 3%, who say, “Well, maybe not.” Why should the educated opinions of the 3% override, or at least stalemate, the equally educated opinions of the 97%? Again, politics. There should be no political influence at play where pure science is concerned; the information yielded through scientific research is, after all, empirical. There is no political right nor left in science. The “politics” of science is “truth,” and truth is arrived at only after generally exhaustive and impartial research yielding data that is then analyzed stringently, after which conclusions are drawn.
The Christian right, which has become a powerful political force in our country, sees life through the prism of the Bible. Many Christians remain skeptical on the subject of climate change, and, while I believe they attempt to approach this important topic with an open mind, I also believe that they look to the Bible as the ultimate arbiter. While the Bible says virtually nothing on the subject of climate change or global warming (call it what you will), what the Bible does say is: “God will one day erase this current universe (2 Peter 3:7-12) and replace it with the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21-22). ” So, in effect, the Christian position on this matter is: “So what? If God is going to replace this whole universe (including, of course, the Earth) with one that is so amazing and so wonderful that the current one pales by comparison, why should we give a corpulent rodent’s posterior who’s right about climate change?”
While I greatly respect their right to believe what they choose, I cannot justify taking science out of the equation. What I believe is this: I am also a Christian. (Okay, a lapsed-Catholic. But aren’t we Christians, too?) And I believe that God wants us to take care of this planet; whatever that involves. What I don’t believe is this: I don’t believe that God will necessarily save the world; the world is, after all, populated with probably as many unsavory characters as the savory variety. So why should He save the world? Plus, as virtually all Christians admit, “God works in mysterious ways,” meaning, the Big Guy has his own plan for the universe, and it is not for us to necessarily understand nor agree with his plan; only to fall in line. So, I don’t believe that God will necessarily save the planet; and I certainly don’t trust that our political leaders are capable of agreeing on anything, not even saving the planet. What I am therefore left with is believing in scientists to do what is required to ensure our planet’s livability, for our grandchildren, their children’s children, and beyond. If only anyone in power will display enough courage to let them do it.
God, Gaia and Science together should be able to ensure a future for the human race, right here on our home planet. All the rest of us really have to do is get out of the way.
(Some of the research for this post was gleaned from the Showtime documentary series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” which should be required viewing for anyone interested in learning more about this topic. –AJP)