California – Late Summer 2020
Am I concerned about the smoke in the air? Yes. Why?
Breathing it into my body is damaging to it. My lungs hurt when I do. This morning I was unable to play tennis as I normally do because the air quality is considered to be unhealthy. I enjoy playing tennis; it is fun being outside and playing a game I grew up playing with friends.
Last week it was 120 degrees on the University campus in my hometown; the highest temperature ever recorded here. This was not that surprising though because over the last decade I have noticed many stretches when the temperature is significantly above normal.
Two weeks ago, we had an evening low temperature of 88 degrees at 1 a.m. I have never seen anything close to that kind of heat at night here. Normal temperature would be in the 50’s. Another all-time record high and one that took away my ability to sleep.
This area is surrounded by lovely hills and yet, on most days recently you can barely see them because the smoke from the various fires burning in California have covered them.
I am not willing to dismiss these events as trivial. There is nothing trivial about the freedom to enjoy playing a game I love taken away. There is also nothing trivial about losing the ability to look out onto the horizon and see beautiful hills. There is certainly nothing trivial about not being able to sleep.
Meanwhile, I am just warming up (no pun intended) to my bigger concerns.
I am currently breathing smoke instead of fresh air because millions of acres are burning throughout California. Those fires are burning as a consequence of our man-made Ecological Crisis. Our Ecological Crisis exists only because human beings (including me) have polluted our natural environment and continue to do so all day, every day.
When I think of the fires burning millions of acres, I think about the animals that are burning to death – all of the little insects, bugs, and pets. I imagine that it is just as painful, on a relative basis, for an animal to burn to death as for a human. Which I imagine is immensely painful. What follows for me is anger. I am angry that we, as humans, are the ones that are causing so many millions of animals to endure immense, terrible, and cruel pain and suffering. It is our polluting of nature that started this domino effect that has led to innocent life burning – dying.
As I was driving home (yes; me burning gas and polluting the environment) last weekend from a trip to the northern central coast I read the temperature gauge in the car which said 113 degrees. I saw a truck pulling a horse trailer with horses in it. I thought to myself about the misery those horses must be suffering being stuffed in a trailer rolling down a highway in 113-degree heat. Meanwhile, I had the air conditioner on in my cocoon of the car; insulating myself from the abnormal heat that my, and my fellow humans' actions have caused. The horse suffers while I choose to shield myself with air conditioning so that I can experience temporary ‘comfort.’
Of course, what I am also doing is making our Ecological Crisis worse by consuming and burning more energy. I am mindful that the United States has 5% of the world's population and consumes 24% of the world's energy. No single country has polluted our natural environment over time more than we have. Are we willing to accept responsibility and change?
My sense as a human being is that we are on Earth to be stewards of nature; to learn to live in harmony with it and to contribute our consciousness to its richness that provides the sustenance for life. We are not here to dominate and destroy nature. If one believes that humans are part of nature then one realizes that to destroy any aspect of it is to destroy ourselves; it is self-destruction at its absolute height. Our healthy lives depend on fresh air, clean water, plants, animals and the organic rhythm in which all aspects of nature work together.
When one sees an alcoholic or an addict poison themselves with a substance that hurts them and leads to deterioration of health, one sees self-destruction and finds it sad and hard to understand. Why don’t they just stop drinking? Obviously, it’s bad for them. We know that alcoholism is a disease process and that healing is possible once someone admits that they can’t stop on their own and need help.
By polluting our environment, we are all doing this to ourselves; as a human family - we are completely self-destructing. We are hurting all living things – plants, animals, human beings; including future generations.
Therefore, it is impossible to overstate how severe our current Ecological Crisis is. It is as big as a crisis could possibly be.
Does anyone else care?