Pope Francis’ encyclical has just paved the way for ecological fundamentalism and I am on the bus with my bike fastened to the front.
This is not the bus hauling religious ecological fundamentalism that would perpetrate great harm to protect the most vulnerable, salmon and trees among them. This is the bus that carries the torch of spiritual ecological fundamentalism handcrafted by saints.
As mother of a boy too young to comprehend looming catastrophe, I give everything and will give up anything to help ensure that my son and myriad others may enjoy the simple pleasures of life long past my death.
As scary as this point in time is, I trust that to act carefully with joy in the interest of ensuring vibrant ecological communities makes all the difference because careful action is integrous. The outcome of a life is always death, so I focus my attention on living honestly no matter what.
To say the least, Earth’s present moment is frightening: it reminds me of how I felt when diagnosed with melanoma during college. That diagnosis set in motion radical changes in my diet, attention, and activity.
What is called for when once-thriving ecological communities show signs of failure and glaciologists say the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is in rapid irreversible decline, yet there’s still a chance to slow down the decline? Just as a wise internal medicine physician pointed to the deeper implications of superficial spreading melanoma with intention to facilitate my healing, Glaciologist Eric Rignot suggests that “a different level of communication” is required to inform people about the gravity of what he and his peers see.
What does a different level of communication look like?
What could possibly help spur those who are left confused by conflicting, narrow information on climate change and mass species extinction?
As one among those who, like Pope Francis, enjoy an interdisciplinary education that includes the study of ecology, chemistry, anthropology, psychology and spirituality, my questions lead me to where there is the greatest contradiction in message and behavior. This I see is my own contradictory lifestyle, one most prevalent among my philosophical peers who work full-time and often over-time flying around the world to spread the good word about global climate change and ecological catastrophe, expressing the urgency of the matter, and suggesting human behavior changes required to resolve the matter.
Each one of us wants to help, to be one among many heroes. Yet in the rendition of world traveler on stage, the climate hero is the equivalent of a person running through a burning house with a leaky gas can screaming Hail Mary. The hero’s torch has played a vital role in fueling appropriate concern to this point. Something else is needed now.
Science Doom & Global Dimming
From the top, I want to say that a person’s lens or worldview determines what that person makes of reality and what possibility that person is capable of imagining. Anyone who has crunched the numbers and combined chemicals in endless scenarios is well aware that nothing short of a miracle is required to pull humanity and myriad others through a precarious doorway. I write because I believe it is yet possible to cross the threshold of a thriving planet. I write with hope from a broad perspective encompassed by the unknown.
Modern science itself offers a narrow view that is quite valuable but should not be understood as the sole or supreme way of accessing critical information. There are other ways of knowing and the information available through these practices compliments modern science and may even prove to clarify what is actually needed now. In reality, life is miraculous; miracles actually happen all the time and the greatest miracles are made possible through apparently small acts of thanksgiving.
I refute the assertion that all is lost, “we are in the trap, no one escapes now” and that stopping air travel would necessarily “catapult us into abrupt climate disruption” because of the resulting decrease in global dimming.
Earth’s present state calls for a variety of synchronized actions. Certainly, an immediate halt to the burning of fossil fuels for flight and subsequent cessation of particulates to the atmosphere will allow more solar radiation to reach Earth’s surface, vastly increasing oceanic warming while compounding other effects of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
But, this reduction in global dimming may be countered by a radical climatic shift that will occur with the end of deforestation and beginning of regenerative agriculture, including the generation of urban forests. Among other treatments, there is biochar, which will contribute to global dimming while reducing C02 output.
“Both air travel and biochar make particulates as byproducts, at levels partly controllable by technology. So any necessary level of global dimming can be provided by either air travel or biochar. We can choose between carbon-intensive air travel and carbon-negative biochar.” ~ James Greyson
If implemented wisely as part of a revival and expansion of ecosystems, biochar can responsibly fulfill local energy requirements. The problem with all energy and agriculture solutions is scale. Just as wildfire can be regenerative when harnessed to a degree, agriculture, industry, and technology are not inherently cataclysmic.
“Local (complementary) currencies are used to enable the funds to be used for small scale sustainable carbon-storage activities such as ecosystem expansion, composting, algae farming, shellfish cultivation and making biochar (charcoal that isn’t burnt). This avoids the tendency for carbon sequestration and storage to be dominated by large-scale high-tech expensive activity by large (often fossil-based) industry.” ~ James Greyson, The Economy is a Carbon Pump
Until alternatives to petroleum are in play, rationing air travel, a major polluter and contributor of atmospheric CO2, makes common sense. Why not minimize or cease air travel during this transition to solar or higher mixed alcohol fuels, which slash CO2 emissions and increase fuel efficiency?
Fessing Up to Climate Denial
Even if industrial agriculture and deforestation are the major climate culprits, air travel as it exists is harmful and contributes much to the climate equation. The greatest irony is traveling the world to talk about catastrophic global climate change. Judgment, though righteous, easily comes to those who engage in such contradictory behavior; behavior that leaves open the possibility for others to conclude climate change has no relationship to human activity.
The impacts of air travel are glaring not only in the atmosphere but on the ground. Flying frequently is a nod in favor of more runways that fry birds as if they were landing on a hot oiled cast iron skillet. [The denier is not someone who does not believe climate science. The denier is someone who believes climate science, sees the signs, and yet behaves otherwise.]
To address air travel’s huge carbon footprint while also flying frequently is to suggest that, though air travel facilitates the worst ecological crimes while contributing an exorbitant amount of CO2 to the atmosphere, it is okay for heroic leaders to perpetrate the harm. This is because it is important for special people to fly, and there is time to delay inevitable change; change that will come whether individuals make that change themselves or whether the change is forced upon them.
This contradiction is especially egregious behavior with existing communications technologies in play. Existing technologies carry a voice anywhere via live stream and greater communications technologies are being developed. True, benefits of gathering in person far surpass those of connecting via communication technologies. There is and will not ever be a matching substitute for two people connecting in person.
However, people can and do connect in meaningful ways, enough so to successfully launch and manage projects.
In the interest of ensuring a planet livable as we have known it in the past, might air travel for now be reserved for time devoted to those nearest and dearest; one’s closest friends and immediate family members? Would that measure be enough to help slow down the decline of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and prevent other major game changers, including the catastrophic release of arctic methane?
Perhaps not. Perhaps not only does world travel for purposes of business and pleasure need to stop, at least momentarily. Perhaps the age of moving a distance from family with expectation of frequent visits that require fast, long-distance travel, is an age necessarily short-lived; an age that will either end with surrender to reality or be forced to an end by natural law’s heavy hand. Perhaps this is good. Maybe, even if it is within my means to purchase, surrendering my plane ticket home will be one more green light for high speed rail.
The Slow Down
Regeneration is possible when there is honesty. Regeneration happens through changes in behavior. The body’s own intelligence to heal inspires thoughts of what would be the wise choice in any given moment. The trick is listening to the cues.
Climate science is Earth’s own intelligence speaking through the human being.
Right now, everyone is talking. Is anyone really listening not just to symptoms of systemic failure and possibilities for the future, but to the call for immediate steady sacrificial steps necessary for physical purification?
Air travel is efficient in terms of time and distance. I thrive when connecting in person with philosophical peers. But, is this really about me, my life, and my time or am I in service to the community; to life itself? If I do not have time to travel by ground when ground travel is available, does Earth have time for me to travel?
Does flying really save anything or help anyone when boundaries are crossed with more boundaries far too close on the horizon?
Even if the outcome of my personal integrity is uncertain, I choose to live honestly.
With feet planted firmly on the floor of this bus, I dwell in the realm of possibility that Eric Rignot is correct when he says the decline of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet can be slowed down. I have slowed down with intent to do my part in slowing the ice sheet’s decline.
And I pray, may the hero in me and others gladly settle back in the gentled rendition of saint and servant, heeding Earth’s call for rest.
Author: Megan Hollingsworth
Editor: Renée P.
Photo: Author’s own via Helen Knight Photography