Summer Solstice and a Cry for Our Common Home
Summer Solstice in the northern hemisphere. That’s where we are right now: The cusp of summer, 2015. The frogs are singing their songs down by the lake as I type, the garden is growing almost as fast as the weeds, and my daughter is snuggled up in her bed as dusk falls on this last day of spring. The earth continues to move through her cycles, and she does so right alongside the actions of humanity that take place on her crust. Though her crust is peppered with blemishes, hardship and the ruts of transition, spring is still turning to summer, at least this year.
And a few days ago, Pope Francis released an encyclical on climate change, the environment and inequality. You’ve probably seen talk of it if you’ve spent any time looking at the news or online in the last few days. It’s the first one, ever. That alone makes it something to notice and at least glance at. I haven’t read the whole thing, and I probably won’t. But a few excerpts did stand out, one being the following:
These days, they [the global poor most affected by climate change] are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. We..must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.
At risk of making sweeping generalizations, Pope Francis hits on an essential element in the discord we are experiencing in this modern world, the one he says is starting to “look like an immense pile of filth.” He calls out our world leaders for being separate. From the poor, as you read above. But I also read that to mean that our world leaders, like so many of us, are cut off from the Earth itself.
It’s challenging to look past the market trends and economic disasters into the real issues [deforestation, species extinction, water degradation, habitat loss, etc..] when one spends the majority of one’s time looking at screens, worrying about how to pay off debts to another world powerhouse or in meetings where the illustrations are charts, graphs and numbers. When priorities are centered around growing the economy, making more money and creating jobs to make more stuff to make more money, the natural world suffers. People suffer. Animals and plants suffer. Even those policy makers and the so called “1%” suffer. When we as a people live cut off from nature, life in all forms suffers.
We haven’t reached the point where the majority of people accept that our systems need to change. There have been plenty of natural disasters, economic crashes, and unacceptable behavior among our species to illustrate that things are simply not working. There are entire island nations being swallowed by the sea, leaving thousands of creatures, including humans, searching for new lands to call home. The evidence is glaringly transparent if we choose to see it. What’s not in place yet is the acceptance that things are where they are, and that in order for humanity to thrive in harmony with the Earth and the rest of creation, we need to let go of our cycle of “more, better, faster” and accept “enough” in its place. We might find that “enough” ends up providing more abundance than we thought possible.
I like to think that Pope Francis’s public statement is a sign that despite myriad differences in beliefs and value systems, people have the capacity to acknowledge that the one constant across the board is the Earth. Her health is our health. Her life is our life. As Wendell Berry writes, “The earth is what we all have in common.”
Can we be the change, as Gandhi once said? I hope we can. It won’t be easy. Change, even if we shut down the energy grid right now, is going to be slow. It won’t happen overnight, even though we want it to. Those island nations will probably be just a memory in 50 years, and we need to feel the grief of what has already come to pass. Change will take planning and doing things that make us feel uncomfortable and stretch our boundaries. We will have to talk to people we don’t like. Pope Francis writes,
We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.
We need to be in the conversation, not the fight. We need to remember that our roots are woven deeply into the natural world, and we need to feel down to those roots. And after all of that? Turns out we all really are on the same side.
So today, on the eve of the Solstice, I can recognize this primal cycle for what it is –a beacon through the fog, a marker of hope despite lingering shadows, and a sign that some form of what is needed will survive. Summer Solstice. A day to recognize that we can be fulfilled with enough.
A version of this post also appears at We Are Wildness.