Ecology/Environment Feed

The Shepherd's Life

The Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient LandscapeThe Shepherd's Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"This is an ancient, hard-earned, local kind of freedom, that was stolen from people elsewhere."

I highly recommend this book. It is "bloody marvelous" as the cover says. And read it slowly. I've taken my time with it over months, reading a few pages most mornings, almost like a devotional.

Rebanks describes a hyper-local way of life. Which reveals the deep ethical and spiritual connections of such good, hard work. Here is an example of a life lived in intimate knowledge of all that is difficult and struggle and, yet, how to find enjoyment, meaning, and reward in life.

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Keeping Human

"Scripture is from first to last a vision of a world made otherwise than that based on hierarchy, domination, and the rule of money and violence," writes Timothy Gorringe based on the theology of Ton Veerkamp.  This book concludes with a final chapter drawing everything together for what transitions we need in order to create a different/better world.

He asks what kind of culture any community needs in order to be resilient.  I found this important, and one  of the reasons I have been reading all of these books this sabbatical summer, to be sure that our congregation is aware and prepared and doing what we should for the age we are now in and what is coming.

Gorringe believes too much around the climate is doom and gloom that has the effect of people feeling that they cannot act.  Instead he wants to follow the lead of some other scholars who believe that we need a vision of the future that entices people to participate.  Also a wise point for any preacher and pastor.

He believes our need for resilience is at root a spiritual problem.  Spirituality keeps people focused on hope and the future instead of succumbing to despair.  I was reminded of our Lenten worship series that focused on spiritual practices given the reality of climate change.

He writes:

These dimensions of resilience--solidarity, compassion, an ability to cope with tragedy, a sense of purpose, and an understanding of faith, hope, and agape--seem to me to be the real heart of 'inner transition.'

Church's might have to become arks, sanctuaries for the good life.  He returns to his idea of Benedictine communities in the dark ages, that he brought up in the introduction.  He concludes:

If I am right then a rigorous return to the traditions, practices, and virtues that Christians have nourished for so many centuries, but which at the same time the church has compromised so abjectly in relation to the present imperium, may be, to put i no more strongly, amongst the most important things that help to make and to keep human beings human in the dark ages already upon us.

A Coming Dark Age?

The World Made Otherwise: Sustaining Humanity in a Threatened World:  Gorringe, Timothy J.: 9781532648670: Books

That's the question Timothy Gorringe begins with in his book The World Made Otherwise.  He reviews various predictions that there is a coming collapse of human civilization and determines that it is likelier than not.  But he doesn't believe it is yet inevitable and hopes that a new humanism--which he presents in this book--could avert the catastrophe.  Or, at least, help us to live better through it.

One question he asks in this chapter, originally asked by David Orr, is "Why have we come so close to the brink of extinction so carelessly and casually?"

The answer he seems to find most satisfactory is Stupidity.  He quotes Karl Barth:

As one of the most remarkable forms of the demonic, stupidity has an astonishingly autonomous life against whose expansions and evolutions there is no adequate safeguard.  It has rightly been said that even the gods are powerless in the face of it.

What Gorringe seems to be aiming for are the sorts of Benedictine communities that Alasdair MacIntyre proposed at the end of After Virtue--small communities, living out the humane, life-affirming values, in order to keep "the lamps of civilization alive in the new dark ages."

The World Made Otherwise

The World Made OtherwiseThe World Made Otherwise by Timothy J Gorringe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What will our culture need to be like to be as resilient as possible in the face of climate change? That's the key question Gorringe is considering in this book, one of the more expansive theology books I've recently read (there's a chapter on monetary reform).

Gorringe begins by considering the state of our current crisis and what changes we can foresee. Then he discusses the humane values we need to live with resilience. Next are a series of chapters on key practices we should explore in order to live better. Finally, he imagines what a world made otherwise might be like.

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May be an image of body of water, nature and twilight

When we left on our big Wyoming trip in early July it was funny that we drove about five hundred miles before even getting out of Nebraska.  The state is simply that long.  But then I noticed something else the next day--we drove over six hundred and fifty miles before we exited the Platte River watershed.  

Back in Lent our church's worship focused on the spiritual practices we all need during this season of climate change of one of them was being more aware of our watershed and paying attention to it.  The idea that we passed Casper, Wyoming before we got out of the watershed was startling to think about.

May be an image of lake, tree, nature and sky

But then we were standing on Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park.  This bridge is near the beginning of the Yellowstone River shortly after it exits the lake and begins its beautiful, meandering flow northwards.  And my seven-year-old son asked the question, "Where is all this water going?"

And I realized the answer and said, "Well, eventually, after traveling a long distance, it will actually go past our house in Omaha because this river ends up in the Missouri River."  He seemed rather excited by this answer.  

And isn't it startling?  To be many hundreds of miles from home, three days of travel, in a landscape so unlike our own, standing over water that is part of the system from which we drink and cook and clean while back at home.

May be an image of 1 person, body of water and nature

Arrange for Change

May be an image of lake, tree, nature and sky

"Arrange for change" is one of the catchphrases in the National Park Service brochure on "Climate Change in National Parks."  Given that studying resilience in the midst of a changing climate is one of the research themes of my sabbatical, I saw that brochure and grabbed it.  It discusses the reality of climate change, how it is affecting the parks, and what the parks are trying to do to prevent and adapt.

Of course in middle June when the Yellowstone River flooded, I thought that my grand big summer trip might not happen.  More than a year of planning and then the effects of climate change.

Fortunately, most of the park reopened by the time we visited, but there were still the closures and the difficulties.

The most visible sign of climate change in the park is the widespread loss of forest from wildfires in recent decades.  Of course the NPS has radically altered its fire management from the philosophy of preventing all fires that dominated when I was a kid.  But you drive through vast swathes of old damage and new growth.  Of course some of this is expected, natural, and part of the life cycle of a forest, but you also know they are more frequent and intense than they once were.

May be an image of lake, nature, tree and grass

The biggest impacts on Yellowstone were not so visible.  They talk about how the changing climate is affecting which species of plants grow where.  The alpine ecosystems are shrinking and what had been lower altitude plants are creeping up.

Yellowstone is also in the midst of a decades long battle of fighting invasive trout that someone put into the lake or river, which led to a dramatic decline in the native cutthroat trout and the various bird and mammal species that depend upon them.  The park reports success in this endeavor, as cutthroat have rebounded 80 percent.

May be an image of body of water, mountain and nature

While Yellowstone had been inundated with extra water this season, Grand Teton is having the opposite problem.  Jackson Lake is greatly reduced.  On the northern end there is a grassy plain where once the lake stood.  At Colter Bay the marina is sitting on dry ground.

May be an image of 1 person, nature and tree

We were told that the lake is radically down this year because of droughts in Idaho last year.  Idaho can take a certain amount of water from the Snake River in order to irrigate potato crops.  They took everything they could last year, radically reducing the lake.  And snow melt and rain were not sufficient to replenish it.

While on our trip, the rest of the nation and most of Europe were baking in a heatwave.

Next week I head to Glacier National Park, where we all know that the glaciers are almost gone.  I'll have more to report, I'm sure, after that.

A Different World

In the midst of my travels the last couple of weeks (more on that forthcoming), I was able to finish Gleb Raygorodetsky's The Archipelago of Hope.  In his chapter on the Sapara people of the Amazon, he writes that they "see their rainforest as a living breathing conscious being that must be cherished and cared for."  This is one of the sources of their resilience.  They've already encountered centuries of climate and cultural disaster and have had to repeatedly adapt.  They've done so through their relationships with the environment around them--a good lesson for us going forward.  

In a visit to the Karen in the Hin Lad Nai forest of Thailand, he explores various alternative agricultural options that might help us renew environments devastated by industrial, monoculture farming (though this does leave you wondering if there's anyway to maintain current global populations levels with these more traditional agricultural practices, meaning that overpopulation is one of the central problems that is not so easy to discuss).

The final group he visits is the Tla-o-qui-aht of British Columbia.  One thing I learned in this chapter was the importance of the salmon run for the entire ecosystem.  He writes that 190 species rely for nutrients upon the salmon, including the giant cedars that line the rivers.  Salmon predators, catching and eating them on the banks, end up bringing marine nitrogen into the soil.  Plants five hundred feet from the river can be mostly "made of salmon."  

Joe Martin, one of his guides, states, "One of our teachings is that Mother Nature will provide for our needs, but not our greed.  And it's our greed that's destroying many things nowadays."  As a reminder how nature provides, Raygorodetsky points out, "For the adept, the rain forest is a shelter, a garden, a pantry, a work shed, a medicine cabinet, and a cathedral all wrapped into one."

From the Tla-0-qui-aht he learns that "our medicine must penetrate to the very core of our affliction," and so we must address fundamental values and behaviors to respond to and live resiliently through this changing climate.  He writes, "What a different world we would live in, if it were arranged not along the lines of fear, greed, and power, but around the intricate web of respectful and reciprocal human relationships with the Earth and all its living beings."

Finding Balance

Golden Mountains of Altai | Series 'Top 15 UNESCO sites in Russia'

I am mesmerized by Arzhan's kai song--the hauntingly beautiful and stirring acoustic blend of all the Altai's elements.  In it, I hear the deepest rumblings of the shifting layers of the earth, the crackling of fire in the hearth, the neighing of a horse on a steppe, the bugling of elk in the forest, the tapping of raindrops on parched soil, and the high-pitched swish of air through the feathers of a bird swooping overhead.

In the next section of Gleb Raygorodetsky's The Archipelago of Hope, he visits the Altai people (his mother's ancestors) of the Altai Mountains that run along the Russian-Mongolian border.  Here the emphasis is learning from local people their traditions of land use as better ways to care for nature in the midst of our changing climate.

Danil Mamyev teaches him that "nature for us, the Altai people, has a different meaning. . . . For us, Altai is a living and breathing being with whom we've developed a relationship over generations. . . . One cannot put nature in a park."

Danil, who was trained and worked for a long time as a geologist, is critical of the Western scientific approach.  He states, "I believe now that my people's traditional worldview is, in many ways, more advanced."  He adds, "The juvenile Western science . . . has done a lot of damage to our environment and culture.  I just hope we can survive its adolescence."

One of the Altai elders talks about how unpredictable the seasons have become, making it difficult to plan.  This, of course, I hear regularly from Omahans.  It's clearly a global sentiment now.

According to the Altai, "If nature is not treated with reverence, reciprocity, respect, and restraint, the relationship becomes compromised, leading to environmental imbalance, such as climate change."

The shaman Maria Amanchina teaches that "If every human being could feel nature, the world would be saved."  She adds, "On our own, we have no hope of healing anybody or fixing anything.  We can do this only by asking other living beings to help us heal the earth.  We need to ask everybody--animals, plants, spirits, the land itself--and, of course, each other."