Posted January 13th, 2010 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

I’m sorry for not posting for several days.  It has been a very busy time.

But I must post today.  I must.  Like the tsunami that struck Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka several years ago, some natural disasters stun the brain, shatter the heart.  They are some of the most devastating reminders that we are part of a living planet – a planet that still seethes, churns, explodes, and rattles, often with violent force, as it continues to create itself.

Photo: Maryknoll Father & Brothers

Photo: Maryknoll Father & Brothers

Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti. That means a country with little structural or institutional resilience to withstand such a blow.  Haiti is poor for a reason – a history of wretched exploitation, dictatorship long supported by the US government, a source of cheap labor for multinational corporations, a nation environmentally wrecked, deforested, its soils lost to erosion.

And yet, despite that history, as many of us have experienced all around the Americas, a people of immense spiritual riches, strength, and courage.

We are part of one world.  We are all in this together.  We are a species on a planet of interconnected beings interconnected with the living systems of the planet.

A crowded planet, now.  Once upon a time, disasters like these didn’t result in death tolls like this (is the 100,000-500,000 estimate possibly correct?) because we were simply fewer in number.  As we have added 4 billion humans to the planet in the past half century, and as the forces of global capitalism have forced more people off the land and into dense urban areas in poor countries around the world, the potential for this kind of human disaster has grown.

Some 250,000 dead from the 2004 tsunami. 85,000 killed in an earthquake in Northern Pakistan in 2005.  26,000 killed in an earthquake in Bam, Iran, in 2003. 9,000 people washed away after Hurricane Mitch dumped several feet of rain over the Central American region back in 1998. And, of course, 1,300 dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.

We reflect here on all sorts of ecological issues, some quite urgent, having to do with what humans are doing to the living systems and communities of the planet. Then there’s the issue of whether or not we know how to live appropriately on a living planet, now so much more crowded with us,  in a way that promotes human solidarity and resilience.

The growing gap between rich and poor, taking the wealth of poor nations to enrich the already-affluent, whether corporations or nations, does not build solidarity or resilience. It leaves nations like Haiti utterly unable to cope with such a tragedy. But even before this, it leaves nations like Haiti unable to construct communities in a way that can withstand such disasters, like building codes in California.  That takes resources, and those resources do not exist for them.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes (Haiti endured 4 hurricanes in 2008 that brought it to the brink of famine for a time) are not a source of injustice, but the depth of resilience, the availability of institutions, infrastructure and financial resources prepared to address the threats before and after they happen – these reflect global injustice indeed.  They reflect something back to us about who we are and how we are that is not particularly attractive.

But each of these disasters is an invitation to change.

We are already living beyond the earth’s biocapacity. We already require more then one earth to sustain human levels of extraction, consumption and waste. If we do not learn how to share – radically share – the gifts of this planet in a way that truly honors the dignity of all persons along with the ecological communities that are required to sustain them, then we best brace ourselves for a very painful future.

Haiti has been a stain on our conscience for generations now, a stain on our self-image of US generosity, justice, and respect for human rights. But Haiti has been something else.  A deep and long-standing solidarity has grown up in recent decades nourished by delegations to support human rights and pro-democracy groups, sister communities that work together to promote popular health clinics, locally sustainable agriculture, schools,  loans for micro-enterprises, and progressive justice-based mission work that supports local self-sustaining communities.  Haitians are our sisters and brothers now.  This was always true, but now we are beginning to understand what this really means.

So this is a time to stretch the meaning of our human identity.  This is a time to stretch our sense of who we are as a species on this planet.  This is a time that begs us to change – not just to offer charity or solidarity in the wake of disaster, but to alter the structures and values of our world that leave a country like Haiti without the resources to build resilience to withstand disasters, or the resources to deal with them when they happen, much less the resources to rebuild a nation after such a devastating loss. We are part of one another, and it’s time we started sharing this world as if that was true.


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One Response

  1. Margaret

    Just reading some of your views before I come to the “Hope in a Broken World” workshop on Saturday.