‘To Care for What We Know…’ (a poem by Wendell Berry)

To care for what we know requires
care for what we don’t, the world’s lives
dark in the soil, dark in the dark.

Forbearance is the first care we give
to what we do not know. We live
by lives we don’t intend, lives
that exceed our thoughts and needs, outlast
our designs, staying by passing through,
surviving again and again the risky passages
from ice to warmth, dark to light.

Rightness of scale is our second care:
the willingness to think and work
within the limits of our competence
to do no permanent wrong to anything
of permanent worth to the earth’s life,
known or unknown, now or ever, never
destroying by knowledge, unknowingly,
what we do not know, so that the world
in its mystery, the known unknown world
will live and thrive while we live.

. . .

And our competence to do no
permanent wrong to the land
is limited by the land’s competence
to suffer our ignorance, our errors,
and – provided the scale
is right – to recover, to be made whole.

(Wendell Berry: A Small Porch, Part I, VIII, 9, p.24)

I know that this is the sustainability creed that Wendell Berry lives by. I feel in my bones that it is the wisest way to live. I don’t live by it myself, but I know I need to work hard at coming closer to it.

The problem is, this way of life is not compatible with the modern economy of Canada, especially of Alberta. Whether the governments are right-wing or left-wing or centrist, they all seem to take for granted that doing violence to the earth is an inevitable part of modern life, and they all close their eyes and ears to the consequences.

It seems to me that if we think in the long term, our refusal to live by the philosophy Wendell Berry outlines in this poem leaves us with a limited number of choices:

Choice #1: As the planet becomes unliveable due to overpopulation and environmental destruction, the human species becomes extinct.

Choice #2: We hope like hell that before we arrive at Choice #1, we’ve found the means to leave the planet so we can go find another one to rape and destroy.

Some Christians would add Choice #3: Before we reach Choice #1, Jesus will come again and rescue us from the consequences of our own stupidity. But since he has taken a lot longer to come again than most people thought he would, and, moreover, since he has had lots of opportunities to rescue us from the consequences of our own stupidity before now, but hasn’t done so, I wouldn’t bet the farm on that one.


‘Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community’, by Leah Kostamo

planted-by-leah-kostamoThis book is both the story of A Rocha Canada and also a good primer on a Christian approach to creation care. Early in the book the author names four theological principles on which the work of A Rocha is based: (1) The earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1), (2) Creation is good (Genesis 1:31), (3) Everything is connected (Hosea 4:1-3), and (4) We are to have hope (despite the fact that ‘knowing what conservationists know, it’s only logical that they would be tempted to despair).

The data about the deterioration of our natural environment seems overwhelming at times, but nevertheless I came away from this book with a sense of hope and a feeling that there are things – maybe even just little things – that everyone can do. But I particularly resonated with Leah Kostamo’s three recommended attitudes: (1) Practice Gratitude, (2) Practice Generosity, and (3) Practice Keeping the Sabbath.

Like many people, I’m in favour of creation care in theory but often take the easy way out. This book gave me both a sense of hope and also a few things to be working on.

Leah Kostamo’s website is here.

Planted can be purchased from Amazon.ca here.

Time to work harder at fixing a broken planet

I’ve just discovered the excellent blog of the Pembina Institute. On the day after the Alberta election, executive director Ed Wittingham wrote an excellent piece on the opportunity for the new Notley government to make a real change in our province’s environmental policies. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the most pressing issues is Alberta’s approach to regulating (and ultimately, reducing) greenhouse gas pollution. The oilsands industry is Canada’s fastest-growing source of emissions. By 2020, Environment Canada projects Alberta will be responsible for 40 per cent of all greenhouse gas pollution nationally, with much of this growth coming from oilsands expansion. This upward trend is expected to continue until significant changes are made to the amount of emissions the province will allow, and the price charged to emitters who exceed the limit.

This spring, the NDP criticized the previous government for not doing enough on climate change, with Notley stating that Alberta was “way off track” in relation to its 2020 emissions-reduction commitment, and calling the delay in renewing the provincial climate strategy “profoundly irresponsible”.

The challenge of fixing Alberta’s flawed climate policies now falls to Notley’s government to resolve, and quickly — all eyes are on Alberta now that Ontario and B.C. have announced major next steps toward reducing emissions. After years of being named and shamed at the UN climate negotiations, Canada’s credibility at this year’s talks in Paris hinges directly on how it plans to address the runaway growth in greenhouse gas pollution coming from the oilsands sector.

I agree. I think it’s unconscionable how much of the rhetoric since the election has focused around how the new Alberta government is (in the eyes of the right) going to be an economic disaster for our province. First of all, they haven’t even started yet, and since their tax proposals (to give just one example) would still leave corporations better off than they were in 2004 under Ralph Klein, that seems rather far-fetched to me. But secondly, there is no mention at all of the environmental disaster that the PCs were leaving for our grandchildren to clean up (if anyone ever got around to cleaning it up) (see this page on the Pembina Institute website for more details).

The economy is important, of course, but government needs to be about more than the economy. Good stewardship of our natural environment is hugely important if there’s going to be anything left to pass on to future generations. The Klein government used to bang on about not leaving a huge government debt for our descendants to deal with. But what about the morality of leaving them a broken planet?