We Are Animals: Environment And Election, 2016

We are animals. I don't mean that figuratively (though given the mud-fest incivility of this election, a case could be made). I mean it literally and to consider in the context of this election. We are blood, bone, brain, and balls, composed of material stuff and animated by love, fear, and the pursuit of happiness. We Americans are just as much a part of our planet's natural systems and the ecologies of our site-specific homes as is any barn swallow or humpback whale or spotted salamander. We forget this. We have forgotten this in arguments about walls and email and the economy and ISIS. We forget at our peril because there's no future for our country with its Silicon Valley and Supreme Court and health care and Rust Belt manufacturing without attending with wise intention to environmental sustainability.

This is a new thing. Not our animal-ness, of course, not our inextricable entanglement in the processes of the natural world. But in the scope and scale of it -- the degree to which our daily living and doing affect the basic workings of this blue-green planet Earth. It's time, then, for a muscled wisdom, wisdom hard-won through tireless scientific learning paired with gimlet-eyed compassion. It demands that we set aside wishful thinking, denial, and absolutist idealisms, that we quit looking for a giant someone to solve it for us, and be adults about this. To wield the kind of humility such wisdom demands takes great strength.

You could argue, then, that it's a religious thing, a matter of courageous faith in action. For many people, presidential candidates included, the Bible is instructive. And whether or not you "believe in" it, the Bible's opening stories offer intriguing ways to think about human identity, purpose, and place within the nonhuman natural world. In the first, God creates the human being (adam, in the original Hebrew -- not a name, but simply a word, not even gender-specific) simultaneously female and male, in its both-and-ness the image of God. In that story the image of God is as elegant creator of a good, a very good, diverse, and well-ordered world. The "dominion" such humans are to exercise, then, would draw upon their highest faculties of intellect and care to protect and promote the very-good-ness of the sophisticated creation God had set in place. Hmmm.

In the next story, God fashions adam out of adamah, human out of humus. That intimacy with the very stuff of earth carries through to the purpose of this adam -- to guard and serve with reverence God's beautiful and delicious garden. The vocabulary of the story's original Hebrew is rich with meaning and a subtle poignancy. The words frequently translated into English as "till and keep" bear wider meaning. The Hebrew "till" or "work" word also means "to serve" and "to worship." The Hebrew "keep" can also mean "to guard." In context, the human's work on behalf of the garden is hardly toil, but rather a fulfilling delight, a reverent service of protection and care for the nonhuman natural world. That, the story says, is the human being's God-given purpose.

If there's one thing that the world's religions share in common, it's that there's something crucial, right and good, about setting oneself aside, about being for and about something bigger than one's individual desires, interests, and concerns. Consider then, in this moment of a presidential election: we cannot afford a leader focused on himself and playing to our shallowest fears and desires.

The environmental issues we face bear on every other national concern. They are bigger than any one of us, and so require leaders to build policies and promote wide-spread actions that protect and support the health and welfare of the planet. In the United States, we need an intelligent President, well-read, and committed to serve, with experience and a record of care for others, especially for the biblical "widow and orphan" -- the ones with little or no power of their own. We need a leader who listens and considers alternative points of view. We need someone who recognizes the reality and seriousness of climate change and articulates specific actions, who has a plan with concrete steps to alleviate environmental destruction. There is only one candidate -- short-comings, baggage, and all -- who meets these criteria. And the alternative is catastrophic.

We are animals, foibled and faulted, and all in this together. Your vote matters.