We live in volatile times. Never before in the geological history of this planet has CO2 in our atmosphere increased this rapidly. There have been times when the carbon released into the atmosphere was far greater than it is now, but it took millennia to get to that level. We are returning to an atmosphere that will resemble our earliest mammal life on the planet, the Cenozoic Era, about 50 million years ago. During the Cenozoic Era, most of the earth was an unbearable sauna. Areas around the equator were unlivable for mammals. Seas were 100 feet higher than they are now, gobbling up over a third of our present land mass. As small primitive mammals, we barely survived. Our current carbon output is around 400 parts per million. Carbon output during the Cenozoic Era was somewhere around 600 to 1000 parts per million. We have roughly doubled our carbon footprint in the last sixty years. While we may be able to survive to the end of this century, the longer view is much more dire. (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/03/extreme-climate-change-history/617793/)
Of course, most of us, as faithful UUs, know all this. We are more than aware of how even driving our car to the store contributes to a radically dangerous future. We are heartened by President Biden’s aggressive approach to climate change.
What we may not be seeing is how we are already deep into this shift. The cold snap and tragedy of lost lives and property in Texas last week is vibrant proof of just how interdependent we are in three ways. The first is that a cold snap like that is a direct result of climate change. Anyone who argues otherwise is simply wrong. The second way this tragedy confronts our interdependence is in the fact that the Lone Star State consciously disconnected itself from the larger electrical grid of the nation so as to not have to deal with federal regulation. Couple that false independence with the state’s very poor record of developing renewable energy (wind turbines in Iowa work just fine in subzero weather), and you get the terrible result we saw last week. And finally there is tragedy of human disconnection. Governments threw up their hands and said to their citizens “you are on your own,” and electric companies sent electric bills in the many thousands of dollars to the few who managed to keep the lights on. If it weren’t for neighbors helping neighbors and churches helping communities, the death toll would have been much higher. The suffering is already too high. As it is, the damage from this tragedy falls disproportionally on people of color, who may not have the money or insurance to repair broken pipes.
The good news lies in the human spirit. We have the capacity as people in community to realize and act interdependently in the world. Public policy largely follows public action. By naming the mistakes of our past, we give ourselves room to correct them in the future. This is as true for climate change as it is in dismantling systemic racism. The more we see how interconnected we are, the more we can change our world. It’s never too late to change. It’s better to change sooner rather than later, but realizing our interdependency is not a “one and done” proposition; we can always become more aware, more generous, and more active in saving our world.
This is why our First and Seventh Principles as Unitarian Universalists are so important. It’s not enough to believe in the “inherent worth and dignity of every person.” We need to connect that dignity to our communities, our states, our nation and the “interdependent world of which we are a part.” We can begin the process now. In fact, we have already begun.
Soon you will be hearing more about the proposed Eighth Principle to our UUA Principles and Purposes. The proposal as it stands now is: “journeying toward spiritual wholeness by working to build a diverse multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.” Awkward syntax aside, this proposal offers us one opportunity to create a more dynamic and interdependent community and world. Like all our Principles, it is more of an aspiration than a fact. It is one way we are moving towards interdependency.
I do believe we will avoid the fate of our Cenozoic mammalian ancestors. We are more than just our basest instincts. We are a people of faith and good will, and hope is in our future. We need to keep at the sacred work we have before us, so that generations hence have a world to inherit.
Yours always, Rev. John