The reality of our changing climate and the need for earthly healing are playing out in full force amid this year’s Season of Creation’s Jubilee theme for the Earth. The enormous devastation caused by wildfires and hurricanes, in addition to other extreme weather events, likely generates feelings of despair instead of a celebratory mood. Current major news outlets report, “American West has the world’s most polluted air,” and “The world is burning and drowning.” People amid the catastrophes describe their experiences. “It burns your chest,” and farmworkers in California say, “it is if you can’t breathe.”
The enormity of ashes and air pollution created by the fires in the western US extended across the country, and the devastation to nature is difficult to comprehend. An expert on wildfires has used radar data to create three-dimensional maps that depict fire tornadoes, substantial smoke plumes, and extreme fire behavior indicators. According to the scientist, fire tornadoes have rarely occurred, but were identified in some of the recent wildfires and cannot be fought by firefighters. Unprecedented weather events are part of the reality of climate change. It is here, and it requires significant action. Climate change solutions necessitate numerous factors, including international governmental leadership and cooperation, scientific innovation, mass education, behavioral changes, and long-term planning.
It is still possible to celebrate the Earth’s grandeur; nature is powerful and has an astounding ability to regenerate. Here are two examples: 1) the Australian fires, wherein the 2019-2020 fire season, 21% of Australia’s forested area burned, and 2) the 2020 expansive world lockdown at the beginning of the pandemic. While experts describe the Australian wildfires as “globally unprecedented,” there are now many great signs of regrowth, but also concern that future severe wildfires may lead to conditions beyond nature’s capacity to revive. When the pandemic forced societies to slow down, there was reduced urban and industrial activity and less fossil fuel burning. As a result, air and water are cleared up in many regions around the globe. Nature’s positive responses offer society a unique view of the stress put on the Earth by human activities and insight into what can happen if healing the Earth is made a priority.
The Earth’s pains are felt continuously worldwide and will continue to manifest, especially if people are slow to respond. From Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ (2015), “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving for coming generations debris, desolation, and filth. The pace of consumption, waste, and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes … The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action here and now.”
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work