Civil Rights and the Climate Crisis

All of our fates are intertwined.

If he were alive today, I can imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declaring that everyone deserves a habitable planet to live on and demanding action, now.

It was with trepidation that I approached writing a post that would be published on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Dr. King was an amazing human being. What could I write about that would be appropriate? There was no way I was going to write a post entitled 10 Ways to Green Your MLK Day Celebration or to put an environmental spin on Dr. King’s life.

So, I did what I often do when I do not know what I am writing about and conducted some research. I refreshed myself on Dr. King’s history, read several articles, and reread his “I Have a Dream…” speech that he delivered to a crowd of 250,000 people surrounding the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

The excerpt below is from that speech.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy…Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”

Dr. King embodied justice and a sense of urgency. Of course, I cannot say for certain but it seems to me that he believed all people are connected. I do, too.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Portrait - 1964

I decided to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. today by sharing my belief that we are all connected and why this is important. Perhaps you believe this, too, or will at least be willing to give it some thought.

Dr. King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. This is his portrait taken by an unknown photographer. Click here for the Wikipedia image page.

We are All Connected

Now, at the beginning of 2020, you and I plus billions of other people and non-human beings are living on Earth an amazing and ailing sphere spinning in the middle of nowhere. This is our home, our only home. There is no planet B.

The climate crisis crosses every boundary—real or imagined. We are all connected. Our fates are intertwined.

Therefore, we need to drop everything we are doing and focus on climate solutions, right? I hope you are shaking your head and thinking “I completely disagree with that statement.” because I do, too.

It is ridiculous (in my view) to think we can solve the climate crisis first and then worry about addressing other crises such as racism, discrimination, homelessness, hunger, and income inequality. Only a society of people who respect, value, and care for each other will be able to accomplish what we need to do. Hate, anger, and fear will not get the job done.

We need to transform our society. Social healing and ecological healing are the same work. One cannot succeed without the other.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fortunately, many, if not most, of the people leading the climate movement get it or at least they are starting to get it. Environmentalists are acknowledging that they need to meet people where they are, to listen to their ideas and concerns, and to support what other people feel is important, too. The smart organizations are asking themselves, “Who are we missing?” and are trying to find out.

After thinking about it for a couple of years, this past year I finally took action to expand my own horizons beyond environmental issues by doing things that I would not normally do.

This included activities like participating in the Women’s March to seek out and talk with people from organizations that have other concerns than the environment.

It involved doing things like standing up for the human rights of immigrants at a Lights for Liberty Rally and then contacting my elected officials to ask them what they are doing about the inhumane treatment of people at U.S. immigration detention centers.

Sometimes it meant going way outside of my comfort zone. For instance, I attended a workshop hosted by R.A.C.E. Matters SLO County where I was asked to confront my own white privilege and consider how I could use it to help build a more just and equitable community.

Are you interested in broadening your own horizons? If you are, where do you start? It does not matter just start. Surely there are issues or causes that interest you. Find something to do (no matter how small) and then do it.

What Can You Do Today?

For practice how about doing something today? Below are five of many possible ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the day we celebrate his birthday in the United States.

  • Read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream…” speech.
  • At dinner tonight, talk with whoever is sharing your meal about racism. If you are dining alone, then call someone this evening.
  • Watch the film 13th by director Ava DuVernay, 2016 (it’s available on Netflix).
  • Read the article The history white people need to learn by Mary-Alice Daniel, Salon, 02/07/14.
  • Today, sign up to participate in a meeting, event, or workshop about racism.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality…I believe the unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Featured Image at Top

Circle of hands resting on top of the sand – photo credit iStock/kycstudio.

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The Overstory – Book Review

People and trees and wonder.

Regardless of whether you are a tree hugger or not The Overstory is a gripping tale worth reading.

Near the end of November, I found a key labeled 2P inside of our mailbox that resides in a cluster of mailboxes at the top of our street. When anyone receives a package, the mail carrier places it in one of the two parcel lockers and leaves the key in that person’s mailbox. I opened locker 2P and discovered a package inside addressed to me from my brother.

My brother and I stopped exchanging birthday and Christmas gifts ages ago. What could it be? At home, I opened the box. Inside was a copy of The Overstory and card from my brother saying he hoped I would enjoy reading it.

I was delighted!

After sending my brother a thank-you text, I walked upstairs to our home office, logged onto our library’s online portal, and gleefully canceled my request for the book. Our library system has 38 copies and I had been 97th on the waitlist.

Book Review

Brace yourself. The Overstory is both brutal and beautiful. I know that sounds weird. Read the book and you will see what I mean.

When I opened the book to read it, I did glance at the “Table of Contents” and noticed the four main sections are called “Roots,” “Trunk,” “Crown,” and “Seeds.” But I did not understand the structure of the book until I got to the “Trunk” part. Then I realized it is a cross between a collection of short stories and a novel.

You will meet the main people characters in “Roots” and then follow them on a series of converging journeys through the rest of the book. Along the way, you will meet many, many trees.

The narrative in the book is complex so pay attention.

The Overstory Book Cover

On the pages of The Overstory, Powers interlaces observations about what is happening in the world with stories about people and trees. The commentary is subtle but you may run across sentences or paragraphs that make you stop and reread them because they are both eloquent and stark.

Here are a few examples that hopefully will spark your interest in reading the book

After a court hearing, there is a protest demonstration with lumberjacks on one side and tree huggers on the other.

“Enemies shout at each other across the gap, stoked by triumph and humiliation. Decent people loving the land in irreconcilable ways.”

One night a man and a woman are sitting in an ancient tree called Mimas trying to prevent it from being cut down.

“Yet on such a night as this, as the forest pumps out its million-part symphonies and the fat, blazing moon gets shredded in Mimas’s branches, it’s easy for even Nick to believe that green has a plan that will make the age of mammals seem like a minor detour.”

As arson flames race across a construction site a psychologist studying activists has a terrifying epiphany.

“The clarity of recent weeks, the sudden waking from sleepwalk, his certainty that the world has been stolen and the atmosphere trashed for the shortest of short-term gains, the sense that he must do all he can to fight for the living world’s most wondrous creatures: all these abandon Adam, and he’s left in the insanity of denying the bedrock of human existence. Property and mastery: nothing else counts. Earth will be monetized until all the trees grow in straight lines, three people own all seven continents, and every large organism is bred to be slaughtered.”

During a strategy meeting, a game programmer responds to a request from his boss to build a game about the natural world.

“Not more plants, boss. You can’t make a game out of plants. Unless you give them bazookas.”

A botanist turns the page in a book and sees this.

“No one sees trees. We see fruit, we see nuts, we see wood, we see shade. We see ornaments or pretty fall foliage. Obstacles blocking the road or wrecking the ski slope. Dark, threatening places that must be cleared. We see branches about to crush our roof. We see a cash crop. But trees—trees are invisible.”

The Bottom Line

Richard Powers entered college as a physics major and left with an M.A. in Literature. He is an accomplished musician and an avid reader with a curious mind. Powers wrote his first book Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance while working as a computer programmer. Since then he has written eleven more novels and has won numerous awards. His twelfth book The Overstory was the winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.

Have you ever read a book that made you feel dismayed and uplifted at the same time? That is how reading The Overstory was for me. The histories of the main characters are mostly tragic yet they are all touched by trees in poignant and sometimes magical ways.

The underlying thread woven into this magnificent narrative is that we humans are destroying the natural world and other beings that have inhabited Earth far longer than we have.

Each reader will take away something different from reading the book. The message I received is that we can turn back and take a different path. If we don’t, Mother Nature will not care she will just carry on.

There is a reason that the library waitlist for this book is so long. Buy it or borrow it, read it, and then you will know, too.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

Featured Image at Top

This photo shows someone’s daughter touching a tree and looking up at this magnificent being – photo iStock/stockstudioX.

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