Several nights in the last week, I’ve dreamt of fire. It was a return to childhood nightmares, except now they are populated with koalas and kangaroos, and undergirded with the grieved awareness that there are more fires to come. There was a time that Santa Rosa, CA was synonymous with the largest fire. Then, an entire town was consumed. Now, an entire state. (In Australia, the total devastation is the size of South Carolina.)
After each nightmare, the severity of climate change weighs so heavily upon me that, when asked about my nightmare, I cannot speak of it; as if, like Lord Voldemort, speaking its name gives it more power. Of course, intellectually, I know that the reverse is true. Like all things that grieve us – heart-ache, aging, death – remaining silent about climate change will not make it go away. Ignorance cannot save us.
So, the question is, what can?
There are many people braver than me who have not shied away from looking at Australia. From my broad social network, created simply by having lived in several very different places and worked with several very different groups of people, I’ve found articles and reflections about the fires that fit in any one of these categories:
- Factual information – solid, on-the-ground reporting about both the fire itself
- Human interest stories – details about heroic first responders both fighting the fires and caring for the people and animals who are suffering
- Financial appeals – from the World Wildlife Fund and other organizations to support first responders and those who will assist in recovery
- Calls for societal change – from those advocating for green energy, cleaner forms of transportation, end to deforestation, reduction in plastic consumption, etc
- Calls for worldwide prayer
- Climate change denial – primarily unsubstantiated articles suggesting that arsonists are solely responsible for the fires
I’ve found that the political, geographical, and socioeconomic perspective of the person sharing the post often determines categorical fit of their content. And that different insight can be learned and practiced based on how we respond to any category.
The last category – climate change denial – needs to be received separately. It’s dangerous and misguided, but in my experience, taking those most committed to this idea head-on – armed with facts and figures – has little meaningful impact. Such is the ideologically entrenched culture of the United States at this moment – those at the poles of understanding on any given idea enter into direct conflict and no one budges. With something as life and death as the destruction of our planet, we cannot afford the time to fight with those who aren’t going to change their minds anyway. We need to engage with entire population of folks who know that something is wrong, but, for a wide variety of reasons, simply haven’t taken action yet.
To do this, we will need all of us together. First, we need to know the facts about climate change. For me, this is the most difficult, because as soon as I am faced with the reality of such widespread destruction, my brain wants to turn off in order to protect my heart from despair. And that’s why we need to receive these fact with stories about how humans are already responding. Reading about valiant firefighters in the bush and compassionate doctors bandaging burned marsupials does not simply honor those who are hard at work, but also reminds the rest of us that when faced with grave circumstances, human beings have an awesome potential to respond.
The financial appeals are a direct way of connecting. When Santa Rosa was on fire, every check that came in not only supported the work of recovery, but also reminded us that we were not alone. And giving is as important for the giver as it is for the recipient. When we support those people who are already at work, we are reminded that we can do something.
And that’s often the step we need to take to get toward societal change. If we appreciate the interconnectedness of all things, then we can feel emboldened support leaders who are willing to make the brave and broad sweeping changes required to make a difference. We can demand cleaner transit and more environmentally sustainability, because we know that there are others demanding the same thing. It’s letter-writing. It’s voting. It’s campaigning. And it’s talking to our friends and family and anyone who will listen.
On a good day, I can keep myself accountable for this work by enacting changes in my individual life. I try to ride my bike. I try to buy less stuff that comes in – or is made of – plastic, and I try to just buy less stuff in general. My wife and I keep expanding our garden. These little day-t0-day changes alone cannot combat climate change, but they serve as a conversation-starter with others, and most importantly as a plumb line in my life.
And everyday, I know that I need to pray. Prayer is what emboldens me – and many people of faith – to face reality. Prayer is what can ward off the despair and malaise that we simply cannot afford right now. Prayer is essential, not as a substitute for action, but as the only means of sustaining action needed on a scale never witnessed before.
I pray to God for Australia and for our planet, and I pray that God would keep me awake to reality and committed to the work of making a difference.
Last night, after I prayed, I was finally able to speak of Australia. And in my dreams there were fires, but I was not consumed.