Sailing the Northwest Passage

October 18, 2007

I wake up on a Thursday
to another balmy day.
The people on the radio
are saying it’s okay.
They get to walk in shirtsleeves
and to lounge upon the beach.
I wish they’d pay attention
to what scientists now teach.

It’s well into October
and the autumn hasn’t come.
The trees have not turned colors.
The insects loudly hum.
And loud-mouthed propagandists
sing, “To hell with bugs and trees!
We have a native, divine right
to drive our SUV’s.”

I’d like to think that everything
were as it was before,
when weather wasn’t politics
and oil wasn’t war.
I’d like to think that subterfuge
and ignorance would cease.
But visions of a burning world
disturb my inner peace.

5 Responses to “Sailing the Northwest Passage”

  1. Susan Peterson Says:

    The poem reads well.
    But “scientists” don’t all teach the same thing.
    We can’t accept what they say as a matter of faith.
    It is unclear that this year’s somewhat anomalous weather is really part of “global warming” , just an anomaly, or part of a cyclic pattern.

    Either you learn the science so you can have a founded opinion yourself…or maintain a healthy scepticism about the cause celebre of the day. When I was young, they were talking about global cooling….

    Susan Peterson

  2. bekkos Says:

    Dear Susan,

    The term “scientists” was intentionally left indefinite. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does qualify as “scientists,” and I think they represent a scientific consensus (not a unanimous consensus by any means, but a consensus nonetheless) that human activity is producing real, palpable changes in the world’s climate that could have dire consequences if left unchecked.

    I do not accept what these people say “as a matter of faith,” but as a matter of reason. They make the case that there is a historic correlation between atmospheric CO2 levels and global temperature, and that human activity since the industrial revolution has increased CO2 levels in a measurable way. I find these arguments persuasive and disturbing. My own experience agrees with the general reports of rising global temperatures: the weather where I live seems very different these days than I remember it having been when I was younger.

    I agree that it is well to “learn the science so you can have a founded opinion yourself”: that is, slowly, what I am trying to do, e.g., by reading the Oxford “Very Short Introduction” on Global Warming (which I recommend). I am also aware of a large literature which seeks to debunk any suggestions that global warming is real and is something to worry about; e.g., the people at, the people at the “Heartland Institute” in Chicago, Lord Monckton, etc. Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, in a speech given in Florida last year, said that “Some of the hysteric and extreme claims about global warming are also a symptom of pagan emptiness, of Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature.” I frankly find the imputation that environmental concern is equivalent to paganism insulting to my intelligence, and theologically bogus. I agree that it is well to have a healthy skepticism about the cause celebre of the day; I also think it is well to maintain a healthy skepticism about the motives of professional debunkers, especially when they are financed by people with an economic interest in maintaining the status quo. Ultimately, one has to make up one’s mind on the basis of the information that one has available. That is what I have tried to do.

    Although it is not “a matter of faith” as such that global warming is something to be concerned about, I am in fact grateful that the Orthodox bishops in this country recently put out a very articulate, theologically balanced statement on the subject. It is titled “Global Climate Change: A Moral and Spiritual Challenge”; you can find it at .

    In September, Pope Benedict stated that climate change is “a matter of grave importance for the entire human family” [].

    Thanks for commenting on the poem.


  3. Susan Peterson Says:

    Well, you seem to have gone deeper into the subject than I have. My husband was recently reading a book called The Sceptical Environmentalist and reading bits of it to me, from which I got the idea that the issues about global warming are at least debatable. The writer seemed at least as competent to discuss the subject as Al Gore, whose movie I saw. I don’t feel competent to decide who is right on this issue. I know that if I researched it more, it would get down to various mathematical models used to predict what is going to happen, and one would have to understand all the assumptions used in creating each model and be able to analyze statistical probabilities. I don’t have an intrinsic interest in that sort of thing and could only learn it by dint of great effort. I have little enough time when I am not working as it is and I know I am not going to spend it doing that. So it comes down to who I am willing to believe. And I don’t see that the purveyors of one opinion are a lot more credible than the purveyors of the other one. Everyone has vested interests of one sort or another. Furthermore, this is not something I can do anything about. I am not really politically inclined. The only issue I am really clear about is prolife, which in practice means I usually vote for Republicans. I would never vote for the less prolife or more “prochoice” candidate because he or she was better on the environment, or any other issue I can think of. (with the exception of currently very unlikely scenaria such as a completely totalitarian government which found it in its own interest to forbid abortion) It would be nice if there were a prolife candidate who showed some concern for the environment but it seldom turns out that way. As for personal conservation, we drive whatever second hand cars we can afford and heat our home with the fuel it had when we bought it. We did spend 11 years heating entirely with wood (and for a year or so cooked and heated hot water only on a wood cookstove) but the reason for that was chiefly poverty and we were relieved to escape the constant need to build and tend fires. We recycle everything my community collects for recycling and never cheat and put recyclables in the trash. I garden organically, compost, have chickens. I don’t pretend to believe this will make a big difference. I don ‘t know what I can do and I am pretty fatalistic about the whole thing. If global warming is happening to a dangerous degree, I don’t expect that anything much will be done to stop it, since in the short run it is economically disadvantageous to do so. Whatever is going to happen will happen. We know, after all, that the human race is not going to become extinct before Christ comes again, not by atomic bombs, drug resistant bacteria, or global warming. Maybe that is what Cardinal Pell is referring to when he says we should not be anxious about this. As far as the truth or falsehood of scientific claims, of course ecclesiastics right up to the Holy Father himself, have no special gift which enables them to discern this. The most they can say is that if global warming is taking place to a dangerous degree and if is due to human actions, then political leaders have a moral responsibility to address this and take action, always also considering their other responsibilities for the wellbeing of their countries and their people. I am truly glad I am not one of those leaders with the responsibility for understanding this issue and deciding what actions it is appropriate to take considering everything which is involved.
    Susan Peterson

  4. Susan Peterson Says:

    I just wanted to say that I think we have a lot more common ground, and more interesting disagreements also, than this discussion about global warming.

  5. bekkos Says:

    Dear Susan,

    Well, I agree we have both common ground and disagreements, and I am grateful to you for taking the time to write about these things in an honest way.

    For myself, I never am quite sure how to vote. I do not want to identify myself with a Democratic party that makes abortion rights and homosexual marriage key elements of its platform. At the same time, I find the marriage of God and Mammon that characterizes the Republican party just as scary, if not more so. Both sides have an agenda which I find it hard to identify with anything like a Christian vision of the world. When it comes down to making a decision, I generally opt for whatever seems to me the lesser of the two evils, and for whichever side seems more likely to defend the Constitution and preserve civil peace.

    The poem I wrote, however, wasn’t primarily intended as a political statement. It is a simple lamentation of someone who sees the natural and human world around him acting strangely and who knows no other way of responding to this situation than by stringing some idle verses together. If it gets someone, anyone, to start thinking about the unnatural state of things at the present day, about how this unnaturalness seems to have finally infected nature itself, it has more than fulfilled its very humble purpose.


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