Recent weeks have revealed the awesome power and profound fragility of the natural world–and the impact of the climate crisis on us all–especially our most vulnerable.
First there were the Canadian wildfires that caused other-worldly smoke-filled skies in the Northeast, and which have now returned to the Midwest.
The reach of these wildfires became personal as Blythe and I tracked, through satellite imagery, a blaze in Nova Scotia that came perilously close to our family’s home there. Taking a long-planned vacation to the province, once the evacuation order was lifted we discovered that our place was spared, literally by less than 10 feet. Still, the fire’s devastation was immense: more than 50,000 acres burned in the largest wildfire in the history of the province.
Then, with the knowledge that our place had been spared, we traveled further north to Prince Edward Island, seeking an emotional respite after the uncertainty—and then relief—in Nova Scotia. On PEI, we encountered not fire but equally pervasive devastation wrought by wind and rain as last fall’s Hurricane Fiona battered the island. (Check out these amazing pictures of the extent of the damage in that tranquil place). Estimates ranged up to 40% of the province’s forests were ravaged and close to a half-billion dollars in damage was done.
While on vacation, what struck me in moving from Nova Scotia to PEI, where we went from experiencing the extremes of forest fire to wind and rain, I was reminded of how powerful nature is and how we as a species have been so abusive of the natural world. The created order is striking back with a vengeance.
And, as if to emphasize the point, as I reengaged the news—through the clutter of stories about a near civil war in Russia, Donald Trump’s latest flouting of the rule of law, the unyielding level of violence against the LGBTQ community and other ongoing scandals and political shenanigans—we were again reminded of the power of nature. The arrogance of millionaire and billionaire “adventurists” toward the pressure of the ocean’s great depths that sent the Titan Submersible 2 ½ miles below the ocean’s surface with the loss of five lives (a whole separate post needs doing on the contrast between the world’s fixation on these five privileged lives against the relative silence about deaths of hundreds of migrants who perish routinely in the Mediterranean).
And in recent days we are reminded of another kind of fire—the soaring temperatures into the triple digits in Texas and throughout the South which have had deadly consequences—especially among the poor and disenfranchised. It is an outrage that more than 2/3 of Texas prisons do not have air conditioning. Yet short-sighted greed and myopic vision regularly defeat proposals that would ease these conditions.
Jolie McCullough reports in the Texas Tribune, “The heat has killed prisoners and cost millions of taxpayer dollars in wrongful death and civil rights lawsuits, with a recent fatal heat stroke reported in 2018. In 2011 — a blisteringly hot summer that the state climatologist has compared to the current one — at least 10 Texas prisoners died of heat stroke, according to court reports. The death count is likely higher since scientists have found extreme heat is often overlooked as a cause of death.”
Readers of a certain age will recall the 1970’s television commercial promoting Chiffon’s stick margarine as a butter substitute that ended with the tag line, “It’s not nice to fool mother nature.” What once was humorous, is now ominous. We are not “fooling” mother nature, we are wantonly destroying the only home we have. Indeed, if we do not change our ways and actively address the climate crisis that is hard upon us, we are only fooling ourselves.