Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Collage by Lou Gold

Andrew Rifkin, in his DotEarth blog at the NY Times, reports on a new online book from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature called "Transition to Sustainability: Towards a Humane and Diverse World". It's a really well done review of the state of our planet and the challenges that lie ahead for the many beings that inhabit this vast earthly network that we call Nature. It's a short book that's well worth reading.

As is usual at DotEarth there's also some interesting discussion in the comments section. I was deeply moved by the prayer offered by Alex Washburne:

Dear God,

It’s me again. I know I’m just one of the billions of people you have to listen to every day and night, so I’ll make it quick - I’m worried about your creation, and I’m praying tonight for help.

You have given us so much. Whether it came in seven days or with a big bang (I wasn’t there to see it, and I assume others who insist on a story weren’t there either), your munificence has led to a planet whose inhabitants were blessed by a previously unfathomable wealth of resources – seemingly infinite pastures - available even to the ungrateful as a testament to your compassion. We’re grateful for all that we have, whether we voice it or not, and you can see that evidence in the way that so many of us try to live as many days in this beautiful place as we possibly can.

However, the reason why I’m praying tonight is that I feel like we’re losing touch with you and/or your creation, and that it’s resulting in a sinful misuse of our pastures. I feel like we’ve been selfishly taking advantage of your munificence, and I feel like we’ve harmed your creation in the process. Though we know very little, our best and brightest are finding evidence that our use of your nonrenewable resources – your limited gifts - has given this planet a fever that we don’t know how to cure. We’ve wasted your cherished, nonrenewable gifts – gifts that were not just for us to use, but for us to pass on to future generations as well – and we’ve created a fire we can’t extinguish in the process.

Nobody knows what will happen in the face of the fire. Will it extinguish itself before it consumes us all? Will it blaze through our poorest villages, suburbs and cities before dying down at the rich man’s doorstep, or will it consume us all? We all hope for the best in all of this, regardless of our beliefs. Nobody wants to spoil the Earth, yet not everybody lends their ears and open minds to our best and brightest when they say, with 95% confidence, that our actions have hurt the Earth. Our best and brightest may be wrong – if they’re wrong and we fail to act, no harm will be done, but if they’re right and we scoff them off the stage, what will happen to us then? Nobody wants wells to run dry, villages to starve, storm clouds to gather or levees to break, but yet not everybody cares to clean up the mess we’ve made, much less recognize that we’ve made a mess, and ensure that our kids inherit a world that is a testament to your munificence.

But I care, and I know there are many people out there like me who also care. I want to clean up this mess. I want my kids to see a beautiful Earth as I have seen it – even if it wasn’t as beautiful as my ancestors saw it. I recognize what our best and brightest are saying, and I want to cure the fever we’ve caused. My parents named me Alexander – defender of mankind – because they knew that my generation would be faced with problems of global importance and they wanted to contribute to the solution by bringing up a boy who feels a sense of responsibility for his and his brothers’ actions. I want to live up to my name and my expectations and protect your oversized flock against the wounds it has dealt to its undersized pasture. I really want to do everything I can to help us live in harmony, but… I feel virtually powerless as just one drop in a sea of over 6 billion people. I’m just a man named Alexander.

I guess this is where you come in. I’m not praying for you to snap your fingers and fix this – we both know you’ve got a whole universe to attend to and there’s no way you’ll have the time for us. I’m not even praying for you to clean up our mess – I feel awful whenever other people have to make up for my faults and correct my mistakes, as I fail to learn the error of my ways whenever I don’t have to fix the windows I’ve broken. I’m definitely not praying for you to send one of your kids down to show us how to love each other, our neighbors and your creation so that we experience a collective enlightenment and, seeing the error of our ways, come together to solve the problems we face – we both know that, despite your best intentions, the last time you sent a son down, it lead to centuries of crusades and inquisitions and generations of John Hagees and Pat Robertsons, which haven’t exactly contributed to the general harmony. I’m not praying for you to give me superpowers so I could do it all myself, because that’s too much to ask, and because I would love the publicity too much to be a worthy recipient of such noble powers.

God, I don’t know what to ask. Considering your schedule, I don’t know how you could help. Besides, as I said earlier, this is something we have to solve ourselves. I guess… I pray that we can fix this. We’ll need help, and even though I don’t want to obtrude on your already busy schedule, I pray that you can help us. I pray that you can help us help ourselves, because… if we don’t help ourselves, then who will?


— Alex Washburne

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