Read an Excerpt
the Green Devotional
Active Prayers for a Healthy Planet
By Karen Speerstra
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2010 Karen Speerstra
All rights reserved.
Earth. Matter. Mater. Matrix. Mother. Gaia, the deepbreasted one. She's a fragile placenta, as the Maori say, birthing us all. As a living, breathing ecosystem, her body is composed from the same elements as yours and mine. Her skeleton, stones. Her lungs, trees. Sometimes she shakes and sneezes ash. Over the centuries, she's gotten sick and then recovered, given enough time. But there are so many of us humans, now, she can hardly keep up. We've got to lower her fever before she suffers a stroke.
Like Goldilocks hopscotching through the woods, we convince ourselves that everything will be just fine if we try hard enough, develop the right science and technology, and raise enough money to eat the just-right porridge, relax in the just-right chair, and stretch out on the just-right bed. But our greedy consumption has upset the earth's balance, and the "bears" are coming back to see who's broken into their house.
Some people argue that this "climate change stuff" is all just another "normal cycle." Not to worry, they say. It's just inflated hype. Other voices claim we may have ten years of normalcy, at best. Others say we may not even have that long before our polar ice melts and our oceans begin to substantially change. How much real trouble is our planet in?
According to the World Health Organization, climate change has already directly or indirectly killed more than a million people globally since 2000. Most of those affected died from fevers for which we have no vaccine or cure, like the dengue fever, which has taken the lives of countless people living in Asia. Many more have perished from flooding and landslides. Coming dust storms and wildfires will lower crop yields and cause more salt buildups in lower-lying areas, affecting our food and water supplies.
Scientists have presented various models to show us how our planet will likely change in the coming centuries. An article by Andrea Thompson and Ker Than, from the website LiveScience.com, cites statistics from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, among other credible sources, to give us an idea of what our world will look like in the next two hundred years. Sadly, many experts now believe this scenario is most likely a 90 percent fait accompli:
2008–2018: Our oil production peaks. Some say this will occur by 2020. This will trigger a global recession, food shortages, and wars over dwindling oil supplies.
2020: Flash floods in all parts of Europe; less rainfall in other parts of the world. World population will reach 8.3 billion people.
2030: Diarrhea-related diseases will likely increase. Eighteen percent of our coral reefs will disintegrate; up to 30 percent will disappear from Asian coastal waters. Glaciers in Africa will have disappeared. Cities' populations will increase by 20 percent.
2040: The Arctic Sea will be ice-free in the summer. (Other scientists say this won't happen until 2060–2105.)
2050: Small alpine glaciers will be gone. Large glaciers (most of them in Greenland and Antarctica) will shrink by 70 percent. World population reaches 9.4 billion people.
2070: All glaciers will have disappeared, and hydropower stations will no longer be effective energy sources. Europe will be hardest hit.
2080: Some parts of our planet will have floods; others, droughts. Coastal flooding will become an ordinary occurrence. Sea levels around New York City could rise three feet. Between 1.1 and 3.8 billion people will experience water shortages and up to 600 million will go hungry.
2100: Experts believe temperatures could increase two to eleven degrees Fahrenheit; sea levels could rise by two feet. A combination of global warming and other factors will push many ecosystems to their limits. Twenty to thirty percent of all earth species could become extinct. Thawing permafrost will emit methane and more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere can absorb. "Dust Bowls" similar to what Americans experienced in the 1930s will be common.
2200: Days will be slightly shorter; waters will shift toward the poles; more mass there will speed up the earth's rotation.
Many of us suspected our planet was in serious trouble back when Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1963. Citizens fought over the construction of dams and the cutting down of trees. Soon there was an oil embargo, and we parked in long lines at the gas pumps. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House and encouraged us to drive slower, don sweaters, and turn down our thermostats to save energy. Reagan removed the White House solar panels and before we realized it, we'd removed our sweaters and were once again speeding down our freeways. We lost sight of those twelve inalienable rights, as Paul Ehrlich stated them.
1. The right to eat well.
2. The right to drink pure water.
3. The right to breathe clean air.
4. The right to decent, uncrowded shelter.
5. The right to enjoy natural beauty.
6. The right to avoid regimentation.
7. The right to avoid pesticide poisoning.
8. The right to freedom from thermonuclear war.
9. The right to limit families.
10. The right to educate our children.
11. The right to have grandchildren.
12. The right to have great-grandchildren.
Listen to the earth. She's stretching and shifting. Listen to her thrumming deep down. Listen to her groan as her glaciers calve and as bits of blue ice float away, making burping sounds as the oxygen is released. Can you hear the snows running off exposed rock on Kilimanjaro and trickling over open alpine fields? Her voice is on the wind. Her natural rhythms pulse through the night. Her rhythms are, indeed changing. Ever so slightly.
Somewhere along the line, we lost our way. "Small is beautiful" morphed into "big and more is better." Thoreau's caution to "simplify, simplify", disappeared in our rush to shop, eat, drive, build, and generally enjoy ourselves. The result is a planet in financial and ecological crisis.
The Theosophists may have it right: sow a thought and reap an action; sow an action and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a destiny. We have sown, and now we are reaping.
We humans love shopping for "things", and it's even easier when all we need to do is click a computer key. Now, we're reaping our destiny of consumerism.
William Irwin Thompson, the mythologist and historian, said that there are only three essential questions for us as humans: What are we?, Where do we come from?, and Where are we going? If we are honest with ourselves, the answer to the first question is likely to be "consumers." This pretty much answers question number three.
On average, financial meltdowns notwithstanding, Americans spend an average of six hours a week shopping and, by contrast, only forty minutes a week playing with our children. And here's a startling statistic: 93 percent of American girls report store-hopping as their favorite activity. We have more shopping centers than high schools in America. The Mall of America opened in 1992 and soon became America's premier tourist attraction—topping even Disney World. The Grand Canyon attracts one tenth the number of people who visit Bloomington, Minnesota's favorite mall. This mega-complex has a chapel if you wish to be married, a university branch if you wish to be educated, and about seventy shops that purport to "sell nature." You can eat in a "rainforest café" to feed your fantasy of "living in the great outdoors" when all you're really doing is eating in an air-conditioned bubble-wrapped capsule. You can imagine you're out in nature without getting your hands dirty or being bothered by mosquitoes. Northwest Airlines maintains a fleet of shuttle buses to bring tourists directly to the mall from the nearby airport; that's all many of them see of our vast country. Malls are touted as public space, but they're privately owned and the only vote or voice you have there is your credit card.
We're beginning to understand the distinction between sustainable cultures that leave something behind for future generations and ravaging cultures that grab everything in sight. (Guess which one we belong to.) Daniel Quinn had no idea that his 1992 book about Ishmael, a talking gorilla, would become a publishing phenomenon. It took one person publishing one book (which is not only read casually, but has been adopted in high school and college courses on subjects a diverse as biology, sociology, psychology, world history, anthropology, philosophy, religion, political science, and economics, and literature) to reach millions of readers. Quinn's mentor, Ishmael the gorilla, encourages us each to teach one hundred people to be leavers, not takers, and to pass that message on exponentially.
Now we await the tipping point. Therein lies our hope, and Mother Earth's recovery.
Green Voices in Concert
The Mother of us all, The oldest of all, Hard, splendid as rock. Whatever there is that is of the land Is she who nourishes it ...
—Homeric Hymn to Earth, 6500 BCE
* * *
That the conditions of life are violated, that the will of God does not triumph, that the beasts of the field are disorganized, that the birds of the air cry at night, that blight reaches the trees and the herbs, that destruction spreads among creeping things—this, alas! Is the fault of government.
If we surrendered to earth's intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.
—Rainer Maria Rilke
* * *
Deep bosomed Earth, sweet plains and fields fragrant grasses in the nurturing rains, around you fly the beauteous stars, eternal and divine, come, Blessed Goddess, and hear the prayers of your children, and make the increase of the fruits and grains your constant care, with the fertile seasons your handmaidens, draw near, and bless your supplicants.
—from Orphic Hymn to Gaia
My words are tied in one with the great mountain with the great rocks with the great trees. In one with my body and my heart. Will you all help me, with supernatural power, and you, day and you, night! All of you see me One with the Earth.
—California Yokuts prayer, quoted in Gaia's Hidden Life, Shirley Nicholson and Brenda Rosen
* * *
The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.
We call upon the earth, our planet home, with its beautiful depths and soaring heights, its vitality and abundance of life, and together we ask that it: Teach us, and show us the way.
* * *
Heart of Sky; Heart of Earth give us our sign, our word, as long as there is day, as long as there is light. When it comes to the sowing, the dawning, Will it be a greening road, a greening path!
The Earth is the birthplace of our species and, so far as we know, our only home.... We are close to committing—many would argue we are already committing—what in religious language is sometimes called Crimes against Creation.
—from "Preserving and Cherishing the Earth, An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science & Religion", signed by Carl Sagan, Freeman Dyson, Stephen Schneider, Peter Raven, Roger Revelle, and Stephen Jay Gould
* * *
God loves the earth fully. By loving one another and every sentient being—even the rocks who cry out—we love God. In this love we are called to resist the poisoning of peoples and the earth.
—Karen Baker-Fletcher, Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit
Once you have lived on the land, been a partner with its moods, secrets, and seasons, you cannot leave. The living land remembers, touching you in unguarded moments, saying, "I am here. You are part of me."
—Ben Logan, The Land Remembers
* * *
There clings to the image [of Gaia] something of an older and once universal natural philosophy that quite spontaneously experienced the earth as a divine philosophy that quite spontaneously experienced the earth as a divine being animated by its own moods and intentions, the primordial Mother Earth.
—Theodore Roszak, Person/Planet
Brothers and Sisters: We cannot adequately express our feelings of horror and repulsion as we view the policies of industry and government in North America which threaten to destroy all life. Our forefathers predicted that the European Way of Life would bring a Spiritual imbalance to the world, that the Earth would grow old as a result of that imbalance. Now it is before all the world to see—that the life-producing forces are being reversed, and that the life-potential is leaving this land. Only a people whose minds are twisted beyond an ability to perceive truth could act in ways which will threaten the future generations of humanity.
—People of the Long House, Declaration of the Iroquois
* * *
I don't know what Nature is: I sing it. I live on a hilltop In a solitary whitewashed cabin. And that's my definition.
One might say that on the seventh day, when God rested, man took over as Creator. He began to redesign the world and mold it to his own liking. Century after century, he has worked without a blueprint to build a man-made world, each inventor throwing in an idea, each mason thrusting in a stone wherever a hand could reach. Only in very recent years have we begun to wonder what we are building.
—Thor Heyerdahl, speech, 1972
* * *
We must ask ourselves if we want to belong to the earth on which we walk or to be cut off forever from our roots, bereft of a sense of greater belonging.
—Caitlin and John Matthews, Walkers Between the Worlds
I am pessimistic about the human race because it is too ingenious for its own good. Our approach to nature is to beat it into submission. We would stand a better chance of survival if we accommodated ourselves to this planet and viewed it appreciatively instead of skeptically and dictatorially.
—E. B. White
* * *
Accomplishment of a program of integral survival of the planet, and of the human community, requires that the dominant profit motivation of the corporation endeavor be replaced with a dominant concern for the integral life community. To seek the benefit for humans by devastating the planet is not an acceptable project ... We will change or we will die in a major part of our inner being.
—Thomas Berry, The Great Work
The sun flared down on the growing corn day after day until a line of brown spread along the edge of each green bayonet. The clouds appeared, and went away, and in a while they did not try any more. The weeds grew darker green to protect themselves, and they did not spread any more. The surface of the earth crusted, a thin hard crust, and as the sky became pale, so the earth became pale, pink in the red country and white in the gray country.
—John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
* * *
Our faith imposes on us a right and duty to throw ourselves into the things of the earth.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe
The great climatic cycles, biological evolution, and the natural changes of the landscape are all part of the earth's repertoire of balancing movements that keep it on its own tightrope.... The bad news is that mankind has so profoundly transformed the earth that nature's ability to produce the goods and services that are essential for human life ... has become unpredictable. The good news is that mankind has given proof throughout its history of a great capacity to adapt to changes in the environment ... [but] it will require major social and economic reforms over a period of several decades.
—Eric Lambin, The Middle Path
* * *
It is not like we're on the Titanic and we have to avoid the iceberg. We've already hit the iceberg.
So severe and so irreversible is this deterioration that we might well believe those who tell us that we have only a brief period in which to reverse the devastation that is settling over the Earth. Only recently has the deep pathos of the Earth situation begun to sink into our consciousness ... such is the context in which we must view this transition period ... as a moment of grace. A unique opportunity arises.... The story of the universe is now being told as the epic story of evolution by scientists ... the one story includes us all. We are, everyone, cousins to one another.... Although the human challenges to these purposes must never be underestimated, it is difficult to believe that the larger purposes of the universe or of the planet Earth will ultimately be thwarted.
—Thomas Berry, The Great Work
If consumer society has one Achilles' heel, it's not that it is going to destroy the earth—it is, but that's not the Achilles' heel. The Achilles' heel is that consumer society doesn't make us unbelievably happy.
—Bill McKibben, quoted in Visionaries: People and Ideas to Change Your Life, Jay Walljasper and Jon Spayde
* * *
The Titanic sank not because its captain did not see the iceberg that the ship was headed towards, but because he saw it too late.
—Eric Lambin, The Middle Path
Excerpted from the Green Devotional by Karen Speerstra. Copyright © 2010 Karen Speerstra. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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