Native Americans’ practices may provide insight
The heat of this past week has really brought “global warming” issues home. It has been just plain unpleasant and results in me being non-productive.
The first I heard of this changing of our climate was in the writings of Rachel Carson. In her book “The Sea Around Us,” she wrote in 1951 that earth temperatures are controlled by the oceans. She recounts that over millions of years the earth has gone through periods of freezing and thawing. However, she adds, “Now in our own lifetime, we are witnessing a startling alteration of climate. It is now established beyond question that a definite change in the arctic climate set in about 1900, that it became astonishingly marked about 1930 and that it is now spreading into sub-arctic and temperate regions.”
Humans have not been the total cause of this warming, but we have accelerated its pace at an alarming rate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes more than 1,399 scientists from the United States and other countries, forecasts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. They conclude that this rise is largely due to greenhouse gases produced by human activities. The main culprit is carbon-dioxide, which is emitted in the air with the burning of fossil fuels.
What does this warming of the planet mean to us? It might mean longer growing seasons for agriculture, but it also means increased droughts, harsher storms, damaging rising sea levels and negative impacts on health, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, transportation and air and water quality.
Why haven’t we done much about climate change since we have known about it for so long? I sometimes wonder if our attitude goes way back to our interpretation of the word “dominion.” Religious writings have stated that God placed humans in His lush creation called planet earth and told humans to run the place by having “dominion” over all living things. I fear we have interpreted the word “dominion” to mean we can do whatever we want with the resources we find on earth as long as it pleases or profits us.
I asked my friend Dr. Carol Johnston, an environmental theologian, to shed some light on the use of the word “dominion.” She said the best interpretation of it is “to work in concert with the creator God.” She added we should always ask ourselves if what we are considering doing is harming nature or helping it.
This is a complex and interrelated system God has created and leaves us often wondering what path we should take in using natural resources. It might be wise if we shifted where we sought guidance and added to our responsibilities. If we look at the history of Native Americans, we see lives that acknowledge the centrality of the natural environment. Their rituals, spiritual beliefs and practices reflect their belief in the supremacy of nature. Their lives are attempts to stay in harmony with the cycles and needs of the natural world.
When humans bring their lives in to good relations with other life forms, they do not abuse water, earth, air or plants and animals. We may find some of the Native Americans’ practices seem foreign to us but look to their roots and see the adherence and reverence to rhythms of the seasons, nourishment and growth, and life and death. I find I need a better understanding of how everything is interrelated.
Johnston reminds me that we can find in nature solutions to many man-made problematic conditions. A current example is the danger of earthquakes in Japan. In a country situated on a small island, accommodating a growing population is a problem. Taller and taller buildings poise a greater risk of damage in an earthquake. Architects discovered that putting a curvature in a tall building as it went up made it more durable. The many sycamore trees that line our rivers can cling to wind and eroding soil because their trunks also carry a swirling cellular pattern. The remedy was right there in nature.
I think I am going explore the teachings of the Native Americans and see if I can find healthier and wiser solutions to my today problems.