Today in Birdland it’s sunny and cool. Clouds bounce in a blue sky, and black-eyed Susans nod with the breezes that blow through the yard. The beans have set on, and the wind ripples the lovely green fields. All this belies the urgency our planet is under.
A few years ago, while we were backpacking in the Cascades, some wildfires were burning in British Columbia. You might think fires 150 miles or more away would be of no consequence to a couple of hikers at Dorothy Lake, but this is when we discovered first-hand that smoke doesn’t recognize international borders.
Each day on the trail was a little hazier. By the third day, the pristine forest of pines across the lake was heavily blurred by smoke, and we could smell it. I worried a lot then, not so much about escaping a forest fire, since we were camped on the shore of a large body of water, but about the effects of the smoke on Michael’s lungs. My husband is prone to allergies, and I could tell the dense air was getting to him.
As I write this, we hear news that our planet is burning on both ends. USA Today reported that Arctic wildfires are made more serious because of hotter summer temperatures. They have now ignited the layers of peat in the ground in some places. This is grim because, unlike a wood fire that burns quickly through its fuel, peat (which is accumulated layers of partly decayed vegetable matter — coal before it becomes coal) smolders for days, weeks or months and releases a lot of stored carbon, creating a terrible cycle (more greenhouse gasses equals more trapped heat equals more fires).
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature tells us that peatlands are one of our most valuable planetary ecosystems and one of the most efficient ways the planet stores carbon. They cite lack of awareness of the importance of peatlands as leading to damage and overexploitation (drainage of peat bogs, conversion to agricultural lands, burning for fuel). And now Arctic peatlands are on fire.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the Amazon rainforest is burning. Is it a cliche to say that the Amazon rainforest makes up the lungs or our planet?
We know that oxygen comes from plants, and the plants in the Amazon are gigantic factories of oxygen, since they don’t have to shut down for winter like we do here in Birdland.
If one of our biggest producers of the air we breathe is in trouble, so are we. Reuters reports that a record number of fires are burning in the Amazon (more than 73,000, and 83 percent more than last year). CNN reports that many of these fires are intentionally set by ranchers and loggers to clear land for raising cattle, which shows that our consumption of beef is specifically linked to this butchery of one of our most important planetary resources.
Honestly, it frightens me, but we need to be responsible with our fears. If our fears let us throw up our hands and say, “Oh well, if the world is going to burn, what difference does my little carbon footprint make? I’ll go ahead and order that double cheeseburger,” then we are being very selfish. We can choose to turn our fears inside-out like a sock to find hopes and use them to take positive action.
On the scale of the Arctic and the Amazon rainforest, our individual actions might not seem to matter much, so why not add them together by supporting groups that can actually make a difference?
CBS News gives us a list of organizations that Charity Navigator rates highly based on “financial health, transparency and accountability.” They are amazonteam.org, amazonconservation.org, rainforesttrust.org, rainforestfoundation.org.
The World Economic Forum lists ways we can help conserve the polar ice in the Arctic atweforum.org/agenda/2015/09/3-ways-to-save-the-arctic-ice/.
Please join me in checking out these sites to educate ourselves on these climate disasters. When the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire, the world stepped up to donate money. Let’s do the same for these burning ecosystems.
The bees and the birds and the bouncing Susans of Birdland will thank us.
Gather in beauty; support peace; blessed be.