Friends, this is not the talk I gave at Baltimore Yearly Meeting. This is an essay paralleling that talk, dedicated to all the loving friends who took an interest in my journey and helped make it possible — and based on the set of notes I used for the talk.
This is Part Four. If you’re wanting to read Part One first, you’ll find it here.
IV. Friends Caught in the Culture Wars
Well this brings me to a fourth hurdle before us — the dividedness in our own ranks.
It would be so much easier to do the work of outreach, if we could do it in a united way, each one of us upheld and encouraged by all the rest! But we Friends are not at that point.
We have members, both in unprogrammed and in pastoral meetings, who are inclined to honor the findings of mainstream science. They are therefore concerned about environmental issues, at least to the degree that they know about them.
They’re not inclined to dismiss the warnings of major scientific panels concerning global warming, endangered species, and similar issues. If they have a problem with these issues, it’s that they don’t know what they can do about them, beyond recycling and burning less gasoline. Clearly their impassioned personal letters to Congress aren’t doing any good.
But we also have members, in unprogrammed as well as pastoral meetings, who regard mainstream environmental science as the work of people with an anti-business, anti-progress, anti-American and/or anti-Christian agenda. They are inclined to believe the warnings of right-wing political and religious commentators who say that only those few scientists who dissent from the mainstream are to be trusted.
And the things these Friends have said to me echo what those right-wing commentators have been saying. They are like the West Virginia state park employee I mentioned earlier.
There are also Friends — particularly in pastoral meetings — who have a different set of objections to environmental concerns. They are not sure we have any serious duty to take care of the Earth, given that the End Times are upon us. They have shared this feeling of uncertainty with me.
Finally, we have many Friends who are torn between two or more of these positions. I recall one older, weighty Friend in one of the communities I visited on the way here, who said, in the friendliest fashion, with a smile: There are some people saying one thing and other people saying another; the truth must be somewhere in between.
As I’ve learned from my walk across the Midwest, my meetings with Friends en route, and my conversations by phone and e-mail with Friends elsewhere, this is the present state of our Society.
Our divided condition, in regard to such pressing and emotionally loaded questions, is no good. It distances us from one another, and thereby tears at the fabric of our community. It also obstructs forward progress.
And what do I mean by saying, it obstructs further progress?
Friends, it’s been seventeen years since our Friends environmental organization, Quaker Earthcare Witness, was founded. In those years we’ve seen the Salvage Logging Rider, assaults on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Endangered Species Act, backsliding in vehicle energy efficiency, inaction on global warming, an ongoing effort by the White House to open up 58 million acres of roadless forests to logging, and much more.
Has our Society raised its collective voice on these matters? No. Not as a Society.
We’re not a feeble denomination. The American Friends Service Committee, which employs a staff of several hundred on a forty million dollar annual budget, is our creation. We can build another organization of equal size and prominence any time we want to.
But Quaker Earthcare Witness has a paid staff of two people. It has over a thousand supporters, but these are not staff; the two paid staffers, and a handful of hard-core volunteers, do most of the work.
Is this the right scale for our collective response to environmental issues? I don’t know. Let’s consider the scale of the issues themselves.
Today, the biggest environmental concern might perhaps be global warming.
How big a concern is it?
Well, the current generation of reputable mainstream scientific models predicts that the planet is due to heat up somewhere between two-and-a-half and ten-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit in the course of this current century.
That the actual warming, in the course of this current century, should turn out to be at the lower end of the scale — a mere two-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit — is looking highly unlikely. According to the latest figures from NASA, the globe has already heated up nearly one-and-one-tenth degrees in the last thirty years, and the pace of the warming appears to be accelerating. And there are several ongoing processes, such as outgassing from warming soils and sediments, that are not yet included in the current generation of models, and are likely to be causes of even more future warming than the current models predict.
So we could be talking about a total warming of well over ten degrees.
But even ten degrees is a lot of warming. At the time of my talk in Harrisonburg, the Mid-Atlantic Coast was in the grip of a miserable heat wave, with temperatures hovering in the mid-nineties day after day after day. Think how ten more degrees would have impacted that situation in Washington and Baltimore! Think of the survival issues, for us and for the wild animals. Consider the storms that extra heat energy would have generated. Consider the damage!
According to the World Climate Change Conference held in 2003, “an overwhelming majority of scientists” agree that human-driven climate change is a threat to both humans and ecosystems.1
The American Meteorological Society has said, “we are, in effect, conducting a global climate experiment, neither planned nor controlled, the results of which may present unprecedented challenges to our wisdom and foresight as well as have significant impacts on our natural and societal systems.” 2
The expected effects of global warming, within the present century, include the desertization of continental interiors — and the interior of the U.S. is already drying, as the farmers of the Midwest and West can tell you. The threat is crop failure and famine.
The expected effects also include the disintegration of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps, leading to world-wide flooding, including the flooding of much of Washington, D.C., and the release of huge quantities of human-made toxins from the flooded lands into the oceans. Those ice caps, too, are already starting to go.
The possible effects include the freezing of Europe and the northeastern U.S., and the conversion of these two areas to subarctic conditions, due to a weakening of the Gulf Stream. And the Gulf Stream has already lost 30% of its force from half a century ago.
Surely, then, this is a grave issue.
And what’s our response? We have a few Friends who have organized a sporadic effort to express Friendly concern on Capitol Hill, with some limited help from FCUN.
Friends, you may not see this matter the way I do — and if you don’t, I do respect your right to your own opinions. But the way I see it, it’s a little bit pathetic.
We may be a tiny denomination, but we’ve accomplished big things in the past, on other issues, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and I believe we can do so again.
And if we can, then why not? Why not let’s dream big dreams, and go for them?
- Why do we not have a full-tilt lobbying effort by our Society as a whole, with full-time staff coördinating it, and training those who wish to be involved in religious witnessing skills?
- Why don’t we get cheeky, and buy some ads on Fox Network, reaching out to those who’d like to know that there are doable solutions?
- Why don’t we have a program to prepare for the needs of the tens of millions around the world who will be left homeless, in some cases nationless, as ocean levels rise and deserts expand? Is that any less appropriate than our existing programs to care for the victims of wars?
- Are we systematically developing non-fossil-fuel-based transportation for all our Society’s members? Are we systematically converting all our homes to solar and wind — and helping those of our Society who can’t make the switch on their own?
- Are we systematically developing wildlife shelters and habitats on all our members’ properties, and working to set up safe corridors for wildlife in all the towns where we are sufficiently numerous?
— You know, if we did these things, we’d have a visible witness — something that would make a clear statement to the world of where we stand and what we’ve discerned God wants. It could have a real impact on others.
This is, at the very least, a goal worth thinking about.
(To read the next part of this essay, click here.)
- Documentation no longer seems to be available directly from the Conference, which was convened in Moscow by the Russian Federation and supported by a variety of international bodies, including the United Nations. However, the Conference’s chief findings are reported on the Web by Wikipedia here and elsewhere. Some Conference participants complained that it became overly politicized.
- “Climate Change Research: Issues for the Atmospheric and Related Sciences” (adopted by AMS Council, 9 February 2003), Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 84:508—515. On the Web here.