Bill McKibben In Our Iowa Town

“There is something eternal in each of us.”

by Sherry Staub

One of the lines from Our Town, a play by Thornton Wilder, is “Oh Earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you.”   This week, Bill McKibben, one of the world’s most renowned environmentalists came to our town, and it is clear from his words and his actions, that he does indeed “realize” the earth. He knows the earth.  He loves the earth.  And he desperately wants us to love it too.

It seems as though there are two things that impact human behavior enough to precipitate change.  One is crisis.  The other is inspiration.  Americans are far too comfortable to respond to the crisis of global warming.  In fact, it’s no crisis at all.  For most of us, it’s a welcome extension of summer enabling us to get in a few more rounds of golf before the season’s end.  Or we relish the fact that we didn’t have to water our gardens as much this summer.  Even the rampant flooding we have experienced isn’t enough to shake us awake.  We have the infrastructure in the United States to put most of the pieces back together again.  Washed out bridges and roads are quickly repaired.  Houses are restored.  Life returns to normal, eventually.  And besides, by the time the effects of global warming impact our lives in catastrophic ways, it will be too late.

So, we look to the poets and priests.  Bill McKibben is both and his appeal to us is to realize our place in the universe.  In his book The Comforting Whirlwind, McKibben asks us to consider the possibility that we can actually see better in the dark than we can in the light.  The sun lights up our world like a stage on which we all play our busy, lively parts.  Yet, the light actually limits our vision.  Think about it.  In daylight, we can survey our earthly domain for some miles at best.  But at night, in the dark, our vision goes on for light years.  We actually see farther in the dark than in the light.  Perhaps, McKibben suggests, the light gives us the false impression that we are the center of the universe.  In the dark, we are humbled.

Humility, then, is the locus of our inspiration.  We connect ourselves to the earth by realizing that we are but the skin of the planet, not the command center.  Man rises from the dirt, and it is that to which we will one day all return. So to love the earth is to love ourselves and to love each other.  We commune with the earth by restoring community with each other.  We eat what is produced by those living among us.  We walk and hike and rake and plant and harvest with those in our neighborhoods, schools and churches.  When we go outside on a moonlit night we know that the same stars that shine down on us are shining down on those brothers and sisters of ours in Pakistan and Bangladesh whose lives have been dramatically affected by global warming – even though they have barely contributed anything to the problem in the first place.  That’s just not right.  Not just.

Bill McKibben has mobilized thousands around the globe through his “350” campaign to help return the state of the planet, at the very least, to the point where CO2 is only 350 parts per million.  This is what NASA scientists have determined is the maximum level of carbon in the atmosphere allowable for life on our planet to be sustained in the manner to which we have come to know and love it.  Right now we are at 392.  That’s right, we’ve shot right past the finish line and kept right on running.

But our hearts are calling us back.

Let’s join McKibben’s effort with the rest of the planet in a race back to restore our faith in each other and in something bigger than ourselves.

Thanks for coming to our town, Bill.

Sherry Staub volunteers with the Progressive Action for the Common Good Local Foods Initiative, which includes Farm-to-School, and co-facilitates a community garden at St.Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa.

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