Although we have had rain, we are moving into our fire season with no snow pack in the mountains. Typically, the snow pack would be about five feet deep at this point, and the slow melting of the pack would nurture the trees as they leaf out. Dry weather and no snow pack increase the danger of wildfires, as do warming temperatures.
Our winter was the warmest on record by nearly 2 degrees F, and we had the third least snowy season. Now we are concerned with fire, and perhaps drought. Climate change has real, persistent, impacts on local ecosystems, ours included, and is increasingly a persistent part of our collective storytelling.
Our climate has been essentially stable since the retreat of the last glacial period, some twelve thousand years ago. The climate has been perfect for us humans, and we have thrived. During that period, human populations have grown exponentially, as has the rate of human induced species extinctions. Our growth has displaced innumerable creatures, and created apparently ceaseless wars.
Populations of many species, including humans, experience boom and bust cycles. Arguably, the last time we humans had a bust cycle was when the plagues depopulated Europe in the early Middle Ages. During that time, Nature reclaimed the landscape as the human population collapsed.
In the past one hundred and fifty years, or so, the human population has experienced an unparalleled boom phase. This growth was fueled by nearly ideal climatic conditions, abundant food and other natural resources, and technological change, including a revolution in healthcare. (Local shortages, while dire, become lost in the global averages.) Now we face an array of developing challenges, including dramatic climate change, and a collapsing resource base.
How are we to think about ourselves and our place in the word, and universe, going forward? I believe it would be useful to remember that we are animals, subject to the vagaries that challenge of all species; we are animals with unusual brains, but animals none the less. We might also consider the possibility that different does not necessarily equal better, and that other, maybe all, species might have souls and a right to life. While taking this point of view would complicate our moral and physical lives, it would also present us with much more vibrant lives, as well as reason to nurture the world we live in.
Here, I imagine, we might benefit from returning to the previous discussion of Fate and Karma for a moment. Rather than engaging in a debate about which description of the world is more accurate, let’s postulate that Fate and Karma represent the ends of a spectrum, and that our lives take place as a conversation between them. As we consider this, we might notice that our lives hold moments that appear inevitable, that resonate with a sense of being Fated. Other moments seem to represent the playing out of the consequences of our actions, and appear Karmic. Yet, other instants seem quite random and we find ourselves struggling to make any sense of them.
Being human, we find ourselves striving to make meaning from our lives, and in the process, telling stories. Stories give shape to experience, and the stories we tell become the myths we live by. Right now, dramatically different stories are competing for our attention, each seeking to define the way forward for our communities, countries, and world. Each of these narratives falls somewhere on the spectrum between Fate and Karma, although it seems to me they tend to congregate at the extremes.
Perhaps this makes sense. The most complex, nuanced, emotionally and intellectually challenging stories are not always the most compelling ones, even though they may offer us the greatest hope and best guidance. Nuanced, heart informed, thinking requires effort and discipline, and the narratives it produces demand much from us.
I am curious about which stories we will embrace to lead us forward. Will we choose those that challenge us to live in a brilliant, vibrant, complex world, and demand nuance and compassion, or ones that leave the world, others, and ourselves largely without Soul?