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Hope for Climate Healing

California governor Jerry Brown is in Paris this week at the climate change conference. Chris Hayes had him on All In on Wednesday night to talk about California’s efforts to combat climate change. In setting the stage, Chris pulled footage from his visit to the San Joaquin Valley earlier this year.

The statistics on both sides are daunting. As the world’s eighth largest economy, California’s dispersed population consumes huge amounts of gasoline. In seeking to reduce carbon emissions, the state has opted to install a large number of natural gas electricity plants, while also pursuing an aggressive push into renewables (wind, solar and geothermal). In general, its mild climate means that CO2 emissions are low, but it appears that major reductions are still decades away.

Brown trumpeted California’s efforts, citing the state as a global leader in climate change policy. But if this is the best that we can do, how can he hope that the talks in Paris will chart a path out of a century that is projected to end with a 10 F increase in global temperatures?

The major impact of that increase will be desertification. As in the Middle East, California is seeing the consequences of glacial retreat. At the edge of the glacial range, we still had large snow packs on the Sierras, and it was this store of water that allowed the $50 billion agricultural economy to operate through the dry summer months. As the climate warms, farmers have pumped our aquifers down by nearly fifty get. Drip irrigation systems are now being adopted to maintain production with reduced water resources, but if temperatures continue to rise, snow packs will continue to decrease. The survival of agriculture in California is tied to our depleted aquifers, which are not a renewable resource.

The consequences to the nation as a whole are daunting. The San Joaquin Valley produces 40% of America’s food.

When I rediscovered Cat Steven’s Moonshadow a few years ago, upon hearing Morning Has Broken for the first time in two decades, I found  myself filled with grief as the opening piano meditation unrolled. It climaxed with a vision as the man now called Yusuf sang these words:

Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven,
Like the first dewfall on the first grass.
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden,
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass.

In the vision, I stood on the edge of the Sierra foothills in the Central Valley. The desiccated land, scoured by wind and rain, gave no purchase to life. A pair of naked feet waited, and then began to pace across the ground. Behind them, water and life flowed.

As a student at UC Berkeley, I was compelled by the confusion I experienced in interpreting political discourse to establish my own definitions for moral dialog. When I got around to “hope”, I settled on “a connection to a future in which love is at work for you.” There is two parts to that – one is accepting love, and the other is honoring it. The first requires that we recognize our need, the second requires that we respect the needs of others.

In his conversation with Chris, Governor Brown offered this subtle piece of insight: “Modernity is individualism plus oil.” Individualism implicitly violates the first requirement for hope – it holds that we do not need others. That is sustained by oil, which allows us to consume two hundred times as much energy as we can produce with our bodies. With mechanization, we all live as though we have two hundred slaves.

But the conventions of individualism also allow us to ignore the needs of others, not least the needs of the voiceless flora and fauna that sustain ecological stability. Our fossil fuel consumption has destabilized the biosphere that some know as Gaia.

In reading the Book of Revelation, in the golden bowls I see prophesied with exactitude the climate disasters that threaten our civilization. Obviously the feet in my dream are those of the savior. But in assessing the gap between individualism and the surrender to love, I find myself recalling the experience of Jesus upon his return to Nazareth. Mark summarized it as follows [NIV Mark 6:4-6]:

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

How far will we fall before choosing to open our hearts to allow love to re-enter the world?

And you, Christians, the family he created: will you recognize him when he comes? Will you open your hearts and minds to him and – if not partaking of his burden – at least apprehend and so honor the strain and sorrow he bears as he heals with his flesh the great wound in the Tree of Life we have created in our monomaniacal pursuit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Or will you sit back in your seats, thrilling to the amplified harmonies of your bards, consoled by the airy myths they unfold, and say with offense [NIV Mark 6:2]:

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him?

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