One of my personal sorrows—no doubt shared by anyone paying attention to the environment—was the January 8 news released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration confirming that 2013 was the hottest year on record for the 48 contiguous states. The NOAA said an increase in greenhouse gas emissions likely contributed to such warming trends. Along with the planet’s warming, we have faced frightening consequences—extreme weather events like Sandy, the hurricane that hit the East Coast, record droughts in the Midwest, ocean acidification, and severe Arctic melt that a high-ranking federal scientist calls a “planetary emergency.”
On a more positive note, one of my personal joys comes from the work of brilliant, tireless climate-change activists. Among the most original, eloquent, and compassionate leaders is Kathleen Dean Moore, whose work Trinity University Press had the privilege to publish with the anthology Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, coedited with Michael P. Nelson. Nelson himself is among the environmental heroes to reckon with and worth following on account of his compelling thinking and writing.
I was articularly inspired this past year by Mary DeMocker’s electrifying interview with Moore in the Sun (Dec. 2012). Beautifully expressed ideas can be exhilarating, and ideas that lead to empowerment produce joy—at least that was my reaction to Moore’s words. She effectively calls for a need to cast the dialogue about climate change as a discourse about right and wrong, about justice, about preserving the whole natural world on which human survival depends, about preserving a beautiful and livable planet for our children and grandchildren. “Debates about the causes of climate change have become distractions,” she says. “If your house is burning down, you don’t stand around arguing about whether the fire was caused by human or natural forces. You do what you can to put out the damn fire.”
Moore, a celebrated author, distinguished professor of environmental philosophy at Oregon State University, mother, and self-proclaimed “ferocious grandmother,” cares passionately about a society in which we shrug off the need to sacrifice our overconsumption and destructive dependence on fossil fuels. She quotes oceans champion Carl Safina, who says, “But sacrifice is exactly what we are doing. . . . We’re sacrificing what is big and permanent to prolong what is small, temporary, and harmful. We’re sacrificing animals, peace, and children to retain wastefulness.”
I was buoyed up by and, yes, found joy in Moore’s call for us to become involved in the biggest, arguably most life-threatening problem we face as a global community. As citizens of the country producing the highest levels of carbon dioxide and other climate change gases, we must accept more responsibility for aggressive political activism and protest. Moore points the ways to the possibility of change, to finding a balance between feeling paralyzed by the enormity of the challenges, which breeds despair, and action, which lifts spirit. “Our civilization,” she says, “has rituals that help us draw strength from grief . . . Maybe that’s the primary function of religion. Surely it’s an important function of art. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, ‘We have art in order not to die of the truth.’ ” She urges us to turn our grief over the loss of forests and species and clean air and water toward modifying personal behavior and, more importantly, toward demanding political change and insisting on corporate accountability.
If we love our children, our grandchildren, Moore says, “we have a sacred obligation to protect them.”
What greater sources of joy do we have than in acts of love and protection? My deep thanks to Kathleen Dean Moore for giving me this joy to hold close in the year ahead.
For the full text and ideas about how you too can be inspired, see www.moralground.com.