History Lessons?

I appreciate it when people sometimes respond to a blog post, because often what I write about are things I’m wondering about, things I don’t completely understand, and am hoping for insight from others.

That is partly because I was raised in the Quaker tradition that the Spirit continues as a fundamental force in our lives today, and often leads in unexpected directions. But we have to be very attentive to discern when a message comes to us, what it is saying, and to avoid the temptation to try to fit messages into our preconceived frameworks.

This continuous questioning also comes from my profession as a scientist and researcher. I love the challenge of figuring out what it is we don’t know, and formulating the right questions to help find those answers. Early in my medical career I learned the importance in science, too, of avoiding the temptation to fit our data into preconceived theories. During the analysis of the data from one of the first research projects I was involved in, I was trying to fit the data to conform to what I thought the results “should” be. The lead researcher taught me to report exactly what the data “did” show, instead.

A recent blog post I wrote, Seeking a People, was about a post by Hye Sung Francis, describing why he was disappointed that the Quakers he found today were not like the early Quakers he had read about, and so decided to leave Quakers.

One comment was related to the question posed by Bear Creek Friend Liz Oppenheimer, “whose responsibility is it when a person of a historically marginalized community leaves Quakerism?” I tried to address that in the subsequent blog post, We are Responsible,

But comments from another Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) Quaker, Marshall Massey, discussed how it is ultimately the decision of the person who is questioning what is happening, in this case Hye Sung and the Quakers he was involved with, whether to stay and try to change things, or to leave. Marshall then described his own experience in trying to get Quakers to engage about our unfolding environmental catastrophe at a time when change could have avoided the situation we are in now. “I labored for decades trying to get myself heard on the urgency of the need for our Society to address the environmental crisis *corporately*, in a way that grabbed headlines and made the public reconsider, while there was still time to head off ecological disaster. I did not succeed, indeed I was marginalized and mocked, and I eventually felt in my heart and conscience that our Society’s collective opportunity had passed. But I did not leave the Quaker community on that account; I simply waited for the next leading from our Lord.”

My story related to Quakers and the environment is very similar to Marshall’s. He wrote a lot, traveled to speak to Quakers about the environment, and worked with environmental organizations. Over that same period of time, I wasn’t writing so much, beyond email messages to local Friends. But I had been led to give up owning a personal automobile about forty years ago. I had hoped that example might eventually get others to realize how we were destroying our environment, and to give up, or at least radically reduce their own use of cars. But my example wasn’t any more successful than Marshall’s efforts.

Today, Marshall and I and increasing numbers of scientists and others know we have caused so much environmental damage that runaway global warming can no longer be avoided, human extinction will occur, and much sooner than anyone expected.

I would still really like to know why we chose not to do those things we could have done 50 years ago, which would have prevented this. Even though it is too late now.

What lessons of history should we have learned? Can we make changes now that will help us live humanely into an increasingly hostile environmental future? As our current, accepted social fabric is ripped apart, will we have the wisdom, courage and strength to seek and follow the Spirit into the unknown? Can we learn and teach how to come together to face these adversities, instead of spiraling into chaos?

The idea of the Overground Railroad that I’ve been writing about is the spiritual vision that has begun to be shown to me. The ideas that we can proactively plan for ways to help the climate refugees that I believe will be massively migrating to the center of our country as coastal areas are flooded and inundated with salt water.

Can we learn from past opportunities lost, and make the radical changes needed today? Will we seek and follow what the Spirit reveals now?

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2 Responses to History Lessons?

  1. You do know, I am sure, that scientists think global warming will lead to a drying out and desertizing of the centers of the continents. (They used to call this “the parking lot effect”, referring to the fact that when the sun is shining, a parking lot is drier than naturally vegetated land.) Indeed, in the interior West of the U.S., where I live, this is already happening. The spring snowmelt comes several weeks earlier in Colorado, the fall snows several weeks later, than they did in the 1950s and 1960s, and the land is no longer watered by runoff from the mountains all the way to the end of summer. The rainfall has diminished; the summer fire seasons are longer and harsher. Tree-killing insects have become a far greater problem because the winters are no longer cold enough to keep them in check. And so the mountains of the West are dying and burning —

    The Arizona-Sonora desert is spreading northward, and expected to reach at least to northern Texas. (Desertization in southern Europe may reach all the way to Ukraine.) This is a separate dynamic from the parking lot effect, but also caused by global warming, and it’s likely to make the parking lot effect worse in the U.S.

    No one seems to have a clear idea how this might impact the central and eastern U.S. Western Kansas and western Oklahoma are clearly desertizing, but the sandhills of western Nebraska may or may not dry to dunes and start blowing. Iowa may dry, or the interplay between cold air from Canada and moist air from the Gulf may make it even wetter. But thanks to poor agricultural practices, the topsoil will wash away all the faster if Iowa grows wetter, so the choice may be simply between a dry desertization and a wet desertization like what happened in Italy, Greece and Syria. Wherever humanity farms, we wind up with serious soil losses sooner or later.

    In any case, it’s not clear that the population of the coasts will move far inland. It could be easier and more profitable to them to move a few miles inland, stay close to the shoreline, and continue taking advantage of the harbors, the moisture, and the fairly good soil that most coastal lowlands provide.

  2. jakisling says:

    Yes, these are all good points, and the Midwest may well become a dust bowl. I was thinking the mountains near the coasts will likely be denuded by massive, fierce wildfires like last year’s, and subsequent mud slides from heaving rainfall. Also the salt from rising seawaters will ruin low lying agricultural lands.
    So there might not be such an influx inland. What there will be, I believe, are large movements of people out of dying cities and urban areas, into rural areas where people can grow their own food. People will need to learn how to do that, and preserve the food, build simple houses, etc.

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