The importance of faith in inspiring communities to become educated about climate change and protect the environment

A few mornings ago, when greeting the trees as I do each time I arrive at my new property, a voice inside me told me that I would be happy spending my remaining days here.  The land I will be living on is most definitely sacred.  I feel it in my bones every moment.  This area also seems to attract people who are humble and loving caretakers of the environment, which is very heartening.

After discussing my photographs and the environment with fellow artist and Quaker Dick Beardsley, I was invited to an inaugural Interfaith meeting on climate change which I attended in Gainesville on Sunday. Listening to the presenters and sharing with the other attendees was such a moving experience.  The gathering, organized by the Baha’i Center, stressed the commonality of every faith’s commitment to the environment.  Witnessing the energy of diverse groups coming together with a single agenda was both beautiful and inspiring.  Everyone shared ideas freely and no one acted as if their group’s efforts were superior to anyone else’s.  Sitting there, I thought how wonderful it would be if politicians could behave the same way, instead of always acting divisively.  In fact, a major topic of discussion was how important it was to depoliticize saving the environment.  Living on a healthy planet is everyone’s birthright and something we may not pass on to future generations unless this cycle of war on the earth is stopped in its tracks.   Another very important theme was accountability.  Each presenter mentioned that despite having a beautifully crafted statement on climate change, the challenge was living up to the statement.   Elected officials and we are also complicit in this.  It will take both pressuring government and corporations to do the right thing, both locally and globally, as well as living what we preach for real change to occur.

Though I belong to no organized religion myself at this moment, I am deeply spiritual from revelations I have had communing with nature.  The connection between spirit and nature is profound and, I believe, the key to saving our planet.  It does not matter which religion you belong to or which God or Gods you bow to, or even if you believe in God with a capital “G” at all.  What matters is that you recognize there is a life affirming energy or power greater than your limited consciousness and that the sacred exists here and now on this earth, with all its beauty and all its scars.   When you believe something is sacred, whether it is your nuclear family or your larger home earth, you treat it and everything it touches with respect.  You also recognize that if you harm your spiritual home you harm yourself.

I know I have found my physical and spiritual home, which fills me with with joy and hope.  Yet, there are so many issues of grave concern facing our planet.  Though it is admirable to reduce our personal carbon footprints, it is not enough.  I cannot responsibly decide to annex myself from the rest of civilization and grow my own garden and live off the land without a care for what exists beyond the perimeter of my property. We exist in an interconnected web and things happening far away have a huge impact on our present wellbeing and future survival.  Likewise, our actions directly affect the rest of the world. This has both positive and negative ramifications.  Melting glaciers may turn even the north of Florida, where my new home is located, into little islands; and Sarasota, where I used to live, may well be underwater as Miami will undoubtedly be.  When the lakes in Montana are drained to water crops in Idaho, or the water from the Colorado River is pumped over mountains to Nevada and Southern California, water shortages are experienced in areas where water should have flown freely. Yet, if we act as conscious caretakers and reduce carbon emissions in our country, the effect will be felt throughout the earth’s ecosystem.  There will likely be fewer fires and charred trees won’t be swept into rivers increasing silt concentrations to the point of bursting dams, like what happened in Boulder this past fall.

Now more than ever, establishing an ever-widening community of concerned people who are willing to stand up for imposing a carbon tax, strengthening clean water standards, and other environmentally sound policies is essential.  Stemming the war we are waging on earth is bigger than any of us, either individually, regionally, or nationally can do alone, and if we want other countries to follow our lead we must practice what we preach.  We need to check in with each other to make sure we are on track, and we need to support each other by sharing knowledge and educating others who remain doubtful of the severity of the problem.  Instead of attacking people who don’t understand how serious things are, we need to find common ground, communicate, and work together to do what we can to make things better and to dispel the hopeless feeling that it is too late to do anything.  We all know we are going to die one day, but most of us do not try to make it happen as quickly as possible because of this realization.  Rather, if we are mentally balanced and connected to life, we try to enjoy each day and live in ways that will make us healthier and allow us to live longer with a better quality of life.  This is the way we need to think about the earth.  

The photographs below are from a recent pilgrimage to Glacier National Park several months ago to observe some remaining glaciers before they vanish forever if carbon emissions continue at their current rate. 

The first photograph is of Grinnell Gracier.  I hiked up there with Tom Skeele, the former head of the International League of Conservation Photographers.  It was a beautiful hike and we saw many beautiful glacial lakes along the way.  The intense blue of the water was like nothing I have ever seen.  What we encountered after hiking  six miles to the glacier was very disturbing though.  So much has melted it was more like a big lake with a small glacial shoreline.   On the way down, we met two young women who had volunteered to work with climate scientists.  The scientists had said that phase two of their project, during their lifetime, was going to be studying the effects of the totally melted glaciers on the surrounding area. 

Grinnell Glacier ©Lynne Buchanan

On the way back to the car, we passed by Swiftcurrent Lake in the late afternoon sun.  It was so peaceful and the reflections of the mountains in the lake were exquisite, though at one time there was no doubt much more snow and ice on the peaks.

Swift Current Lake ©Lynne Buchanan

The photograph below is from a spectacular hike from the visitor center at Logan Pass.  The clouds, colors, rock formations, and little lakes and streams made for a magical wonderland.  Though the park may not have the glaciers it once did, it is still an incredibly beautiful place and it warrants protecting.

Glacial Pool ©Lynne Buchanan

The final photograph is of St. Mary’s Lake at sunrise.  It evokes my emotional response to life on this planet in the face of climate change. The mist on the water suggests a spiritual presence, which called me to connect with the place and make the photograph.  The water level is clearly low and my eye was lead into the scene by leading lines of the broken branch and exposed pebbles.  This part of the photograph is a poem about the earth and specifically water’s vulnerability, though all the elements are of course connected.  The water itself is still and peaceful with an expansive vista, which is something I frequently envision in the depths of healing meditations.  Then there is the sky, which is filled with stormy clouds with a few rosy hues interspersed, a glimmer of hope within an ominous environment .  The scene is simultaneously calm and turbulent, beautiful and foreboding.

St. Mary's Lake at Dawn

The metaphorical sun is not shining on the earth right now.  Scientists who don’t like to meddle with politics and public policies are urging us to take action before it is too late.  Some people believe we are past the tipping point and it is a matter of how long before we totally make life on earth for the human species impossible.  Yet this does not mean we should give up.  We must look for that glimmer of hope and fan the sparks, by acknowledging the presence of the scared in nature, no matter how hidden it is from some people’s eyes in our technologically driven society.  When we do this we heal ourselves, and when we heal ourselves we have our best shot at healing the planet.  It is our responsibility as stewards of our home…

As a final note, I would like to thank the organizers of this Interfaith gathering for making the sharing of information among concerned people possible and for inspiring me so much with their wise comments and caring hearts.