Two unexpected, but predictable, events occurred in 2012 that can create the call to action that is necessary for the human species to survive on planet Earth. The first was Hurricane Sandy that devastated the East Coast of the U.S. in October. The second was the murder of 20 young children and seven adults that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. I believe these events are connected.
Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, including the entire Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, with particularly severe damage in New Jersey and New York. Although this specific event was unpredictable, climate scientists, including NASA's James Hansen, have been warning about the impact of polluting our planet for years. "Climate change is happening now," says Hansen "and now is the time to control carbon pollution."
He goes on to say, "[T]his fixation on determining the blame for a particular storm, or disputing the causal link between climate change and this or that storm, is misguided. A better path forward means listening to the growing chorus -- Sandy, extreme droughts and wildfires, intense rainstorms, record-breaking melting of Arctic sea ice -- and taking action. Think of it like taking out an insurance policy for the planet." We need to connect the dots. Polluting the planet by burning more and more fossil fuels is devastating the planet for humans. We must act now if our children and grandchildren are going to have a life in the future.
No one could have predicted the events that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. According to The New York Times, this is what occurred:
"On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., about 65 miles northeast of New York City.
The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, killed himself inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The killing spree had begun earlier at the house where Mr. Lanza had lived with his mother, Nancy Lanza, who was a gun enthusiast. There, he shot her in the face, making her his first victim. One of her guns was apparently used to take her life, authorities said. Then, leaving her dead after taking three guns that belonged to her, he climbed into her car for the short drive to the school. Two of the guns were semiautomatic pistols; the other was a semiautomatic rifle."
As noted on The Huffington Post, "Adam's parents separated in 2001 and Adam's father, Peter Lanza, reportedly had almost no involvement in his son's life in the years leading up to the Sandy Hook shooting. Adam had cut off communications and refused to see his father."
But, Sandy Hook was not an isolated incident. Violence, particularly by young males, has been going on for some time. I still remember Patrick Edward Purdy, a 24-year-old drifter, who walked into a Stockton, Calif., schoolyard in 1989 and opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, killing five children and wounding one teacher and 29 other children. He then killed himself. The case drew national attention and led to a ban on assault weapons in California.
In 1999, 18-year old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and in a rampage of gunfire and homemade bombs killed 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves. The massacre led to an increased emphasis on security at U.S. schools.
Seung-Hui Cho, 23, a student at Virginia Tech University killed 32 people over a period of two hours in 2007. He then killed himself.
After each killing spree we come together in our anger and grief. We talk about gun control. We talk about increase funds to treat mental illness. But we don't go deeply enough. Here too, we need to connect the dots. What do these killings have in common? They were perpetrated by young males who were so disconnected from life that they killed innocent people and then killed themselves. They used weapons that allowed for many people to be killed before help could arrive. We can do better. We must act now if our children and grandchildren are going to be safe in the future.
What We Do to the Earth, We Do to Ourselves and Each Other
It may seem like it's a stretch to relate the weather changes that occur with the global pollution of our atmosphere and killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but I believe they are connected. Here's how: For millions of years our human ancestors saw themselves as a part of nature. They understood that the Earth was alive and humans were an intimate part of that life. Philosopher Martin Buber calls this an I-Thou as opposed to an I-It relationship. In relation to nature and ourselves, I-It sees us as separated. The other is to be used for our own benefit. I-Thou sees us as involved in a sacred relationship of communion. Others are to be respected and cherished. As Buber says, "Love is responsibility of an I for a Thou."
Our relationship with nature, ourselves, and others began as I-Thou. But gradually over the millennia we began to exploit the Earth. Native American elder, Chief Seathl (Seattle), said, "The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected, like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."
Author Daniel Quinn, in his prophetic novel Ishmael calls our original ancestors Leavers and our more recent exploiters of the Earth Takers. Quinn recognized that it is a delusion to believe that humans can continue to destroy the Earth without destroying themselves. When he wrote Beyond Civilization: Humanity's Next Great Adventure in 1999, he cautioned that time was running out on us. "If we go on as we are, we're not going to be around for much longer -- a few decades, a century at the most." Scientists are telling us that we don't have a hundred years. The reverend Michael Dowd and his wife, science writer Connie Barlow, say that at most we have ten more years to turn things around.
But most of us remain in denial. Like addicts who continue their drug use even while it is killing them, we continue to abuse our planet and harm our children. More and more people, however, are waking up, connecting the dots and taking action.
While the world did not end on Dec. 21, 2012, I do believe that the life-support for human beings on the planet may well end by 2022 if we don't commit ourselves to saving the world as a human habitat. The Earth is not in danger. It will be around in 2022. Even though we are killing other species in record numbers, life will go on. But the question is, will we humans again become part of the web of life or will we disappear from the face of the Earth?
Hurricane Sandy was more than a "super-storm." It was a wake-up call to take care of this fragile planet we all share. Sandy Hook Elementary School is more than a place where a deranged killer went on a rampage. It is call to end our homicidal and suicidal way of being on the earth.
The Most Joyful New Year's Resolution We Can Make
The writer and social philosopher Sam Keen reminds us:
The radical vision of the future rests on the belief that the logic that determines either our survival or our destruction is simple:
- The new human vocation is to heal the earth.
- We can only heal what we love.
- We can only love what we know.
- We can only know what we touch.
This New Year I resolve to do everything I can to heal the earth. I will touch it with my feet and hands, get to know it better, and love it more fully. And since we are all part of the earth, not separate at all, I resolve to heal myself and others -- to love more deeply, know more truthfully, and touch more kindly.