On Reconciliation

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Dear Friends: Through no fault of our own, through no feat of our own, we’ve all been born into this juncture in history together. So many of us. Too many of us. Things keep getting more and more crowded around here. Even so, it seems impossibly hard at times to say goodbye to people.

Children under the age of five die at the rate of ten million deaths per year globally. The most common reason is dehydration, caused by diarrhea, caused by impure drinking water. The story of each child’s death is a wrenching tragedy. But even though the story is told ten million times per year, we still don’t seem to learn the moral: We as a species need to learn to share our planet more fairly. And we need to share it fairly with all people and all species.

Our human population is nearly 7.3 billion individuals. And this isn’t because we were ever commanded to “Be like a plague of locusts and multiply, and go forth and strip the land bare.” Actually, the instructions were: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over . . . birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth – so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28 & 8:17) We are animals, too. We need to subdue ourselves, too. Being fruitful means being creative, not destructive.

Our planet is warming. Climate scientists have long discussed the need to organize public policy around the goal of limiting the rise in average global temperature to 2°C higher than the average that existed in 1990. And this goal has recently begun to look to be dangerously lax. Moreover, public policy has largely ignored the goal anyway. Due to continued failures by nations to implement (much less enforce) meaningful emissions standards, the International Energy Agency has stated, “[Based on currently] planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”

According to some climate scientists, for the world to have any chance of turning this around, wealthy economies like the U.S. and the E.U. will need to reduce our emissions by ten percent a year. This scenario is implausibly ambitious, but it allows some room for energy-poor nations to acquire some of the conveniences that we take for granted in the wealthy parts of the world, like refrigerators and water pumps.

Each one of us is “born free and equal in dignity and rights,” says Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But not each one of us has the chance to live by the rights we were born with. Some of us have been hogging the goods. Some of us were born with our names stamped on the goods, and so we think we own them. Maybe we do. But we are responsible for all the “birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps,” not just our own private property.

We need to reconcile ourselves to all of our responsibilities; which means making a priority of setting priorities. We need to reconcile ourselves to the neighbors we have deprived; which means sharing. We need to reconcile ourselves to our own imperfections; which means seeing the room we have to grow, which means being fruitful and multiplying.