A Time of Transition
The Pulse and Politics of the Environment, Peace, and Justice
Bob Musil, President, Rachel Carson Council
“In nature nothing exists alone.”
“The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history… It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.”
“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”
— Rachel Carson
In my yard, the golden-centered red camellias bloomed brightly in November. Cherry trees blossomed; roses bloomed. Such reawakening was surely a sign of hope as cars rode in circles, honking and waving signs at the defeat of Donald Trump and the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
But our lavish November was also the hottest month in recorded history. Shall we celebrate or tremble? The cliché is that we are in a time of transition. That is what people say when they are too embarrassed to say they have lost their job, or their spouse. There is doubt and fear, even anger in a time of transition. That surely accounts for some of the deranged rants from our outgoing occupier of the Oval Office. And it surely explains what is happening as climate scientists say we are passing out of one geologic era, the Holocene, into another that, for better or worse, we humans control. They call it the Anthropocene.
By December, a brief cold snap brought snow and ice to my neighborhood, an increasingly rare event. The beleaguered roses clung to life even as snowmen and Santa’s sprang up like mushrooms. Activists and progressive pundits, too, had begun to cool as President-elect Biden chose seasoned, familiar faces for his inner circle. But then he would surprise with historic selections like Rep. Deb Haaland, the first Native American Secretary of the Interior, or Michael Regan, the first Black ever to head the EPA.
Which way will the climate, or the new administration, head now, we ask? A time of transition, indeed. Our confounding conjunction of events, of climate and of politics, has come together alongside profound shifts in the heavens.
On December 21, the winter solstice, the shortest, darkest day of the year, was marked by the rare return of a huge star, caused by the convergence of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. That hasn’t happened since 1226, just after the last of the Crusades. Some scientists and theologians even speculate this Great Conjunction may have been the Biblical Star of Bethlehem that the Magi followed westward from Persia to the birthplace of Jesus.
However you look at things, we clearly are at the dawn of an entirely new era. But in a dazzlingly diverse American culture, all our star gazing, poll watching, prayers and punditry, our hopes and fears, our transitions, too often share the stance of a sports spectator. Who will win Georgia? Will wildfires rage more often? Why are my flowers blooming in November and December?
We are in a time of transition. One when we humans and we American citizens determine the future of the planet and of our politics. Our democracy was rescued by the actions of activists, advocates, attorneys and an avalanche of volunteers. The bold climate and justice agenda put out by the Biden-Harris team was pushed by protests and participation, however dim the prospects for the future may have seemed. As RCC Fellow Lindsey Nystrom put it, “As we all know, climate change will not stop because of a pandemic, and for that reason neither can climate action.” Emily Irigoyen, another RCC Fellow working to divest university endowments from fossil fuels, says of victories that dumped them at Cambridge, Berkeley and other high-profile campuses, “Amazing as these breakthroughs by noted campus administrations have been, such university commitments were brought about only after sustained pressure by student activists.”
The best of the new generation already know they are in a new era. The transition has been happening for decades and will continue. They are not content to merely watch the skies, their computers or their cell phones. They understand, too, that their gardens, their campuses, the climate crisis, and policy and politics are linked together like Jupiter and Saturn. Whatever the amazing astronomical, climate and political signs now bursting forth—and they clearly indicate tremendous change—we humans, we Americans, now are in charge of our own destiny. Scientists, theologians, political pundits agree on this much. The future is not settled. It is our action, or inaction, that will determine what the heavens portend.