Look! Don’t Look! Look! President’s Column April 2015
Living with Cognitive Dissonance
“This is not my issue,” I’ve heard some folks say. And it’s no wonder. We don’t want to think about it. We’re terrified of the ugly predictions: Florida under water, species extinct, drought in California, coral reefs dead, our most vulnerable populations broken. We watch the tsunami on TV, crashing and lifting heavy ships like toothpicks. Some call this disaster porn – we can’t turn away. Then, seeing a mild sunny day pushes the depressing images away for a while. We breathe a sigh of relief…until the next climate crisis. Naomi Klein in This Changes Everything writes, “Living with this kind of cognitive dissonance is simply part of being alive in this jarring moment in history, when a crisis we have been studiously ignoring is hitting us in the face.” Climate change is not just jarring, it’s also abstract. It’s so big; we feel it’s like a runaway train. We feel our individual efforts to recycle, compost and reuse are dwarfed by the Big Polluters. We suspect that unless we can get the attention of our corporations and nations to develop and adopt alternative energies, reversing the course of degradation will become impossible. We need as massive a plan, says Naomi Klein, as the Marshall Plan. This initiative reached across three continents after World War II to set a course of recovery. It took four years and billions of dollars, but the conditions in Europe and Asia were viewed as a crisis. Isn’t climate change a crisis of this magnitude? I believe it is even more so, and that more and more world citizens think so, too. We need to stay focused through our votes, our consumer choices, and our loud voices, and not look away.
New Initiative at Bergen Ethical Culture
Having said that our individual efforts are not enough is not to say that they don’t count. It all counts. Several of our Ethical Culture members belong to local food co-ops, avoiding the degradation of the land use for massive factory farming. Others contribute money to environmental organizations. Some of us pay for wind and solar to provide our energy at home. Some are careful to buy only recycled paper products; others do much more. As a Society, we joined 400,000 protesters at the People’s Climate March in September 2014. Now, we have a new initiative. This is the Sustainability Working Group headed by Ed Lipiner. Ed donated a composter which is currently in use for compostable leftovers coming out of our Society’s kitchen. His group intends to look at our entire carbon footprint, including our building’s energy sources, our purchasing practices, our investing history and more. Ask him how you can help.
Eliot-Black Award at the American Ethical Union
We are examining what we do as a congregation in addition to how we conduct our personal lives. But we are also part of an even larger group. All of us are members of the American Ethical Union. This is the umbrella organization that promotes Ethical Culture outreach across the country, develops leadership through its Lay Leadership Summer School, and provides us with Dale McGowan, who is developing ethical education programs. The AEU is our voice on the national stage. Another thing the AEU does is to grant an annual award to a deserving activist. This year, with our Social Action Committee’s support, we chose Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an environmental advocate, biologist, and Ithaca College scholar-in-residence. Due in part to her efforts, New York became the first state in the nation with major natural gas deposits to ban fracking. Extracting fuel this way is considered a risk to public health and an environmental assault. Unfortunately, it took Dr. Steingraber’s getting arrested to incite enough public outrage to move the authorities. But her actions made New Yorkers keep looking. There is now no more fracking in New York State.
Living with the humming in our heads that our planet’s health has gone terribly wrong is uncomfortable. So we look, then we don’t. However, treating the planet gently and seeking opportunities to call out authorities on climate damage can shape our internal murmurings into a persistent, collective, deafening chant that doesn’t let anyone look away.