Thursday, November 14, 2019

Climate Change Deniers, Dinosaurs, and Cosmic Spirituality

The climate change crisis continues to be on my mind. Especially since the recent announcement that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. This decision made by our president has only increased my resolve to make a difference in my personal life.

I am more conscientious about products I buy and especially packaging. I am more aware of how my actions and inactions, from my travel plans to my dinner plans, affect our natural environment. I stay informed, and I act upon what I am learning. As I write this blog post, I just finished emailing our state representatives about a bill coming before the New Hampshire house. I am not yet ready to join Jane Fonda in civil disobedience, but I am doing something to help.

I even listen to the climate change deniers. I do not dismiss their arguments out of hand. The people I know who question climate change are not political flunkies, corporate dupes or anti-science ignoramuses, as they are often pictured. I have found them to be skeptical people who believe that the issue has been overblown for political and economic reasons. They suspect that any changes happening now (and many are not even willing to concede that) are natural fluctuations in the weather patterns and climate of our planet.

I disagree with their analysis of the data and their conclusions. It seems to me more likely that climate change denial is the creation of political and economic forces that benefit from the status quo. But it is true that dramatic climate shifts have occurred regularly during the life of our planet. Many extinction events have happened over the millennia, which humans had nothing to do with causing. That fact alone is worth pondering for a moment.

A few years ago I read Elizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Sixth Extinction, which explores the five mass extinctions that have occurred over the last half-billion years, and the likelihood of a future sixth extinction, this one caused by us. I think she is right. But regardless of the cause and extent of our present climate crisis, a future extinction of most species on earth – including humans – at some point is inevitable.

Many climatologists believe we are entering a period of dangerous climate change now. If this is true, then things are going to be very different for residents of earth in the future. It means a rapidly diminishing quality of life for people in the second half of this century and the next century, unless we can find the political will and the technological means to postpone our fate.

When I contemplate eventual human extinction (hopefully eons in the future), I am not filled with dread. Instead I am filled with awe at the ever-changing pattern of life on earth. Of course it will be bad for Homo sapiens. Extremely bad. But it is already bad for many other species because of us, and therefore I wonder if it would be such a bad thing if humans went extinct. We are not doing such a good job of caring for the earth anyway.

We have not obeyed the Creator’s command to “tend and care for the earth.” Maybe the biosphere would be better off without us. Then it could recover and flourish. It could “be fruitful and multiply,” as the Lord intended. According to the Bible story, God initiated an extinction event in Noah’s day. The Scripture makes it clear that one WAS our fault. Next time God may not rescue a human family.

Dinosaurs ruled the earth for 165 million years before being wiped out by climate change that was definitely NOT their fault – the collision of an asteroid with earth 66 million years ago. Humans, by comparison, have been around for less than 300,000 years. Given our present trajectory toward self-destruction, it seems unlikely that our species will last as long as the dinos. I can’t imagine humans occupying this planet for a million years, much less 165 million. I suspect we will be extinct long before another asteroid strikes.

My reaction to the probability of the death of our species is that it is the natural rhythm of our planet and the cosmos. Planets die. Extinctions happen. Species disappear. 95% of all species on earth died with the dinosaurs. At least five hundred species (that we know of) have gone extinct in the last one hundred years, mostly because of human behavior. But even without human malfeasance, species die. Extinctions are the way of nature. They are part of evolution.

Why not us? There is no reason to think that we have what it takes to survive forever as a species. After all we are not gods, which is another point that the Bible makes clear. (I am thinking here of the Tower of Babel story.) The reason for the climate crisis today is because we have forgotten our place in the natural scheme of things.

The story of life on earth is bigger than the story of humans. The universe is far larger, and its history is far longer, than the earth’s history. When you consider that there are 180 billion galaxies in the universe (and perhaps countless universes in a possible multiverse) our place in the cosmic scheme is infinitesimal. Planets are born and die every day. One day it will be ours. The cosmos does not revolve around us. It is time we got that fact through our simian brains.

Furthermore we need to incorporate this truth into our spirituality, which tends to be very anthropocentric. Religion cannot be all about us. We need a cosmic perspective. Our spiritual nature is more than our hominid incarnation on this planet. A minority voice in every religious tradition speaks of a spiritual essence which transcends all life forms, including our brief human life spans – whether as individuals or a species.

We are more than we think we are. We are the universe. We sense this intuitively when we gaze into the starry heavens on a clear night. In the loftier moments of our lives we experience it with our hearts and minds. The Life that animates us is older than our species and bigger than our planet. It existed before the Big Bang, and it continues after the universe dies. This is who we are. This is our true nature. Call it by whatever religious terminology you want, but it is real and it cannot die.

But our species can die, and other species are dying now. The present climate crisis is real. Our God-given responsibility to stop it is real. We need to do everything we can to protect the viability and diversity of life on this planet. This needs to be at the top of political and corporate agendas. At least at the head of presidential debate agendas!

But the fact remains that sooner or later our race will come to an end, caused either by our own carelessness or another asteroid. In the end humans will have lived on this planet a far shorter time than dinosaurs. They didn’t have a choice about the timing of their extinction. We do. Let’s hope we are smarter than dinosaurs.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Marshall. I agree with your perspective.
P.s. I always appreciated your intelligent sermons. Jennifer

Jean said...

Another timely, wise, and well-written post. Thank-you so much, Marshall!