Sermon — Peace on earth or peace with earth

Are humans able to deal with making radical changes? When we look back 50 to 100 years we shake our heads in disbelief about the extent of the change which we have experienced. But we are reluctant to believe the radical changes that need to be made to live sustainably on our planet. We too readily put the idea of change aside since change is a threat to our comfortable style of living.

During the holiday season we sing about peace on earth and of having goodwill for all. Peace on our planet has never been achieved, but even with a world war, the environmental destruction has been somewhat limited. Peace with our planet would mean living in a sustainable manner.

We are told by science that humans are causing major changes to the life systems that sustain life on earth. The one most noted is the warming of the planet by the green-house gasses that we are generating. We are warming the planet and killing species that are unable to adjust to the higher temperatures. The warming temperatures have been implicated in such major weather related occurrences as the wildfires in California and throughout the west, the extreme weather events such as rain events in Houston, Texas, and the drought here in the San Luis Valley.

Shocking news keeps warning us about the extent to which we are pushing nature which sustains us. Politicians have told us that they don’t want to take any measures to address human impacts on the environment because to them “changing the American way of life is non-negotiable.” Ask people impacted by the Camp Fire in California or with Houston flooding if their way of life has been impacted.

While impacts to Americans are being felt, the more immediate problem is to the poor and marginalized who can’t afford the costs of dealing with the results of climate change. Workers in India doing outside labor find that it is just impossible to continue working when temperatures reach 115 to 120 degrees as they have.

As we sit in our climate controlled home or office, we wonder why we should be concerned since we don’t see what we are doing to change the planet that supports us. Why should we care that German researchers have found a 75 percent decline in flying insects in the last 27 years or that the monarch butterfly population has fallen by 90 percent here in North America? Of possible concern is the fact that insects pollinate three-fourths of our food. They are the recycling professionals – breaking down everything from cow patties to fallen trees to animal carcasses.

As the populations of insects and other species suffer disastrous declines, the human population continues to expand. As technology comes up with solutions to reduce human impacts on nature, we produce more than enough additional numbers to negate the improvement. Estimates of sustainable human numbers living as we do in the US range between one and two billion. We already have some seven and a half billion, on our way to estimates of 10 to 12 billion by the end of the century.

Wishful thinkers will call for a magic bullet that will allow the planet to sustainably support 10 or 12 billion people. More realistic individuals will accept that educating of women and girls, and then allowing them to make their own choices will hopefully result in falling human population numbers. Accepting scientific advances which allow women to control their reproduction numbers is the radical change which moves us from belief in dominion over the earth to a sustainable belief in stewardship of the earth. Welcome to peace with the earth.

Don Thompson

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Alamosa