Spirit Quest


Humanity's basic empathy 

must be fanned by love to keep it glowing

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

They say it’s going to be a hot one. Indeed, we have already experienced the mercury rising above 30 degrees centigrade, and it’s only the beginning of the season. However, we have been reminded, that there have been other torrid times when we were less protected from the weather.

When I was a teenager, and that’s some time ago, I worked during the summer in a large machine shop. Dozens of lathes, milling machines, grinders. generated heat as they worked steel into shape. The plant had no air conditioning and opening windows simply exchanged indoor heat with outdoor heat.

Undoubtedly my hottest job was in the heat treat room. In this chamber of horrors ovens toasted machined products to harden the steel. Worst of all was the cyanide pit - a concrete tub filled with a red-hot bubbling juice into which pieces of steel were hung for a requisite amount of time. Peering into this stinking fluid gave one a sense of the weather promised to sinners in the hereafter. One positive result of my exposure to this toxic environment was that my hair turned curly, alas not permanently. Workers drank gallons of coke to cool off when, in fact, it made them hotter in the long run. 

I can date my first experience of air conditioning. It was September 2, 1947, at a downtown airline office in New York. It was a hot day as I stepped through the door into a frigid waiting room. What a contrast! Of course I had no clue that someday I would be driving an air conditioned car from an air conditioned home to an air conditioned office. On those hot and humid days, detrimental as artificial cooling may be, I breathed thanksgiving.

Years ago when living in Toronto without the benefit of ac, on really hot days my family adjourned to the shopping mall and a variety of museums. We were not alone in our pursuit of comfort rather than goods or knowledge. That cyanide pit often comes to mind as I walk the pavement, which is hot enough to fry an egg.

The best and the least invasive temperature moderator are trees. As their foliage is busy transforming carbon dioxide into oxygen they filter the air inviting breezes to course through their branches bringing relief to hot creatures.

It seems strange then that we have consigned trees to the list of endangered species, threatened to extinction by humans who want their wood for all sorts of products including paper, and their space for buildings which in turn need to be air conditioned.  

Humanity faces a dilemma of our own making: how to make this planet livable and how to share its resources equitably. Many of our efforts have been counterproductive. Our very striving to cool the air and water has created heat. Short-term gains turn to long-term pain. Comfort for the few causes misery for the many. Waiting for disaster, in order to react, will inevitably be too late. Global warming is a present reality.

We speak of conquering nature when, in fact, we need to work in concert with creation. There is much that we can learn from our natural environment. 

The term “sustainable development” has gained prominence. But is it enough to merely “sustain.” Development is essential to sustain a growing population. A careful balancing act is required to keep Gaia livable and alive.

As we approach Canada Day we need to think seriously about the role of our country in fostering sustainability and peace. There was a time not so long ago when the name Canada was synonymous with peacekeeping and an enlightened globalism. That image has suffered. The new government enjoying a majority in parliament has the unique opportunity to make a positive impact on the world and to give leadership in the struggle for sustainability. Will they take that challenge? My sad guess is in the negative.

It was the Canadian delegation that threw the spanner into plans of the Copenhagen conference to work out a global policy for sustaining the world’s ecology. Will there be another opportunity to right that wrong? Or will it be too late?

Jermy Rifkin in his recent book The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness In a World in Crisis ((Tarcher/Penguin 2009) writes: “A younger generation is fast extending its empathic embrace beyond religious affiliations and national identification to include the whole of humanity and the vast project of life that envelops the Earth. But our rush to universal empathic connectivity is running up against a rapidly accelerating entropic juggernaut in the form of climate change. Can we reach biosphere consciousness and global empathy in time to avert planetary collapse?” 

I believe with Rifkin that humanity is basically empathic, that there is a spirit out in the world that urges the human species to act responsibly. That spirit like a dying ember needs to be fanned by love for this planet and its inhabitants.    

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