Ecological Grief Will Sear the Sensitive Soul

Posted October 26th, 2008 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Ecological Grief Will Sear the Sensitive Soul

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:


On a site that seeks to foster hope, we deal with grief.  We have to.  If you love the natural world, if you are tuned into its intricate beauty, its complex ecosytems, its resilience and rich biodiversity, you cannot help but feel in your own biology the unraveling happening all around us.

Beauty is being lost.  The creative genius of the human, sourced in nature and the universe, is being lost.

A cognitive dissonance that I experienced last summer got horribly connected, tumbled starkly into my consciousness, as I watched the news the other day.  It was on NBC Nightly News on Thursday the 23rd, and it is the story of the voracious appetite of a mountain pine bark beetle the size of a rice grain that is devouring the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains.

I first shared this story on this blog in February 2007 citing this article from The Vail Daily on Jan. 22, 2007.  I mentioned it again in July after returning form California, speaking of the fire threat these dead forests pose.

But even before that, I mentioned it in my book, Living Beyond the ‘End of the World:’ A Spirituality of Hope.

“In British Columbia a mountain pine beetle is devouring the lodgepole pine forests, an unbroken swath of protected wilderness.

Adult bark beetle and larvae - Photo by Dion Manastyrski - BC Ministry of Forests

Adult bark beetle and larvae - Photo by Dion Manastyrski - BC Ministry of Forests

The beetle has been part of the ecosystem there for a very long time, so why is this happening now?  Because the winters are no longer cold enough to kill off the year’s crop of beetles.  Now they just reproduce like crazy, hatching their eggs by the millions and flying from tree to tree.  Canada’s Forest Service is calling the outbreak ‘the largest known insect infestation in North American history.’

“Average temperatures in the region rose four degrees during the last century… ‘Surveys show the beetle has infested 21 million acres and killed 411 cubic feet of trees — double the annual take by all the loggers in Canada.  In seven years or sooner, the Forest Service predicts, that kill will nearly triple and 80 percent of the pines in the central British Columbia forest will be dead.'”  (Chap. 2, Climate Change: or, Facing Human Extinction, pg. 36)

I continued, writing that the beetle was expected to breach the wall of the Rocky Mountains and head east across Canada’s boreal forest.  It was also expected to head on south, right down into Washington, Oregon, Yellowstone, Colorado…

Just to show you that I am not exaggerating here, check out this article from the Rocky Mountain News, Deaths of Trees ‘Catastrophic,’ from last January.  It begins:

Every large, mature lodgepole pine forest in Colorado and southern Wyoming will be dead within three to five years, killed in a mountain pine beetle infestation unprecedented in the state.


I lived in Colorado for a while.  Changed my life.  I always loved Nature, but it was in the Rocky Mountains that I was stricken with awe — and it never left me.

So, back to the cognitive dissonance.  When I first wrote of this, I knew we were hearing about a disaster that was upon us NOW.  I had the info that said this would all happen within the next couple of years.  But sometimes our brains won’t let us receive the info we are seeing with our own eyes.

When I was flying over the mountains from Milwaukee to San Francisco last July for two conferences, I looked out over endless expanse of forest, dull reddish brown, and allowed myself to wonder what was going on, maybe it was air pollution from the monumental forest fires in northern California, etc.   I just could not take it in — until this report on NBC Nightly News:

You see, then my brain could not help but allow the connection. Then I realized what I had seen but could not take in. I was witness to the death of the pine forests of the Rocky Mountains.

When we speak of hope, we must remember that it is not the same as optimism, not the same as saving ourselves from difficulty. Hope often comes in the face of evidence to the contrary.

The forests in the west will regenerate. It will take a century or more. But even this depends upon us appreciating that whether or not this is able to happen depends on us and what we do now. It depends upon us caring as much about that century of time as we do about today and tomorrow, about our own short life spans. It depends upon us being able to fully absorb the ecological reality of our time and not arrive at despair, but rather to find hope in our effort to allow the planet to recover, revive, regenerate.

That means, among other things, not developing housing and businesses and tourism in these mountains anymore. That means cutting carbon emissions to zero as quickly as possible. That means, once again, changing how we live.


Photos: Ministry of Forests and Range, British Columbia


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