Op-Ed: Reflections of an Emerging Elder: Annihilation or Cooperation?

Shaun A. Pennington
Shaun A. Pennington (Source file photo)

As Dorian brewed to the south of us, I sat as I do every morning on my front porch taking in the nature I am fortunate to be surrounded by.

Rain, thunder, a yawning breeze. The moisture wrapped me in the dim morning. People, frogs, polar bears, whales, all manner of species, living, dying and being born across the planet.  It occurred to me, as it does when I think about more children being brought into these uncertain times: we live as though we were not being chased everyday by the specter of annihilation.

Today’s newsfeed: the number of fires blazing in the Amazon right now is 77 percent greater than the fires in that fragile jungle last year – and a person or persons set them to make room for more grazing land for animals and likely for more space to grow the crops to feed them. Beef, food to feed beef, and money to feed the capitalist machine.

Meanwhile, we shuffle through our routines, fixated on the screens in front of us, oblivious. Nothing penetrates the flicker and glow, the constant fabricated stimulation, the call of the text message. I grab for my android, interrupting the silence of my morning routine of simply being.

It’s hard to hear the universal Om when our ears are plugged with plastic buds and headsets.  The cries of distress from the dying species around us are drowned out by dialogue and the explosions of the fabricated worlds of video games and other cyber creations this elder does not comprehend. What I do see is life beginning to shrink to the size of a personal device as  the pulse of the planet becomes weaker.

We believe, it seems, that because the sun rose this morning to the sound of twittering birds – never mind what they might be trying to communicate – that everything is okay. We’re fine.

No swiftly moving asteroids in sight. No Krakatoa fuming in Indonesia to wipe us out with a gigantic gush of gasses and ash. Whew.

No drama. Just a slowly creeping cancer of our own making eating away at us, creating inexplicable, subtle and therefore dismissible, symptoms.

In his book, “Four Fish,” Paul Greenberg tells the story of aquaculturist Neil Sims encountering an indigenous Polynesian elder paddling his dug-out canoe full of trochurs – a mussel like shellfish used primarily for jewelry and mother of pearl buttons – a day after season on trochurs had closed in the nearby marine sanctuary.

Sims yelled at the man; the man yelled back. “Why did you close the season,” the bare chested fisherman lamented as he began to cry, “There are still some trochus left; we haven’t caught them all yet.” Sims cried too. I cry every time I think of that story. It’s a metaphor for our foolishness.

To be fair, an indigenous man, trying to survive on the other side of the world and the digital divide gets a pass. But in our world, with information at our fingertips 24/7, there’s no excuse for ignoring our responsibilities to Mother Earth and her children while fading to gray ourselves as a species.

On Sunday, before Dorian, I was fortunate to snorkel counter-clockwise around Waterlemon Cay. Buoyed by the hordes of brilliantly colored parrot fish and vibrantly alive coral, hope sprang forth. The ocean will survive, even if we don’t.

But two days later while scouring the shelves at K-Mart in Lockhart Mall for reef safe sun screen, my gloom returned. I could not find even one product among dozens of options that did not contain the coral destroying toxic ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate.

At the checkout I noticed a tube in front of me that said “sheer zinc.” I grabbed it up to read the back as the woman who was trying to purchase it looked quizzically in my direction.

“Where did you find that,” I demanded, pushing the tube back in her direction.

She gestured toward one of the aisles, “There’s only one left,” she said as I ran toward where her finger pointed. Yep, only one left.

Those who have led the destruction, as it turns out, are the only ones who can stop it. As long as capitalism reigns, as long as greed leads our world, as long as what’s-in-it-for-me thinking is our dominant theme, we are lost.

We cannot evolve physically fast enough to survive the coming climate conditions that are our reality.

Our only hope is unity of purpose among homo sapiens. Saving our planet is the priority and that means climate justice and cooperation are the keys.

We must defend our home against those who would seek only MORE. More money, more power, more homes, yachts, clothes, filet mignons …. more, more, more unto death.

Don’t buy water in plastic bottles and it won’t be long before corporations find better ways to bottle it. Don’t eat meat, or at least eat a lot less of it, and those burning the rainforests down will stop. Don’t buy sun screen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Wear a shirt and hat instead and put zinc oxide on your nose and chin.

But so much more than that: love your neighbor. In fact, take your face out of the screen and notice your neighbors. That includes the people in the house next door as well as the lizards in the grass and the birds in the trees and the parrot fish in the sea. Be here now, or be gone soon.

Think about what you are doing and its consequences. Reach out to each other in love and support. Band together to ban that which will lead to there being nothing left to lose.