As you know, I have been reading and blogging a lot this summer about the intersection of spirituality, science, ecology, and our responsibility to care for creation. This reading and writing has made me more sensitive to environmental issues in the news. Sadly, some of this news does not make national headlines and news broadcasts.
Three stories caught my attention this week: Hurricane Hermine, of course; the killing of millions of bees in South Carolina; and the protest of the oil pipeline in North Dakota. In a sense, these seemingly unrelated events are connected if we think about them as collateral damage to our human actions with respect to water.
It has stopped raining in my area of Florida, where we were spared the worst of the winds, rain, and flooding. To the north, unfortunately, many people will be cleaning up long after the rain stops. People in Florida know how to prepare for, endure, and recover from hurricanes. For the most part, resources are available, though not always distributed with equity. What I am thinking about now is the collateral damage to water supplies and to the domestic and wild animals that were affected by the storm.
We saw on television news that waste treatment facilities were overtaxed. I pray that in the aftermath, people will put their energies into clean, potable water for all citizens. Animals are affected by flooding, as well as people. The retention pond behind my house is now a lake with rapidly flowing water. This afternoon, a 6-foot alligator cruised by. Now I know that we don’t want alligators in our backyards, but the alligator doesn’t know it’s my backyard and not a nearby state park. I pray that when it is removed, it is relocated and not destroyed.
The second story is related to Florida and to water. The Zika virus has been found in mosquitoes in Florida and now is spreading to other states. With the excess water from hurricanes and tropical storms, any standing water has the potential to become a breeding ground for mosquitoes, including those that carry the Zika virus. In South Carolina this week, one county conducted aerial spraying of Naled, an insect neurotoxin. Naled is deemed safe for people. However, Naled cannot discriminate between honey bees and mosquitoes. More than 2.5 million bees were killed by this aerial spraying. The North Carolina county considered this as simply “collateral damage” in their efforts to control the spread of the Zika virus. Beekeepers usually are warned when trucks spray pesticides near their hives. There was no such warning about the aerial spraying. Moreover, beekeepers said that any spraying should be done at night when the bees are not out foraging. (Naled manufacturers said it was safe to spray up to two hours after sunrise and up to two hours before sunset.) Thinking about the consequences of our actions might reduce a lot of collateral damage.
Finally, a story that first came to my attention on Facebook. There has been little to no mention in the mainstream national news. Indigenous peoples from across the U. S. have gathered at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to protest the construction of an oil pipeline beneath the Missouri River in North Dakota. The pipeline, a project of Dakota Access LLC, will compromise the water supply of the North Dakota Sioux and destroy sacred grounds along and on the river itself. The Red Warrior Camp where the protesters are living is running low on water, food, and other supplies. The government has responded by closing roads, barring access to Dakota Access LLC and to the Red Warrior Camp itself. The months-long protest has been peaceful and prayerful so far. I pray that national news outlets pay attention to the situation before any violence occurs. The BBC has covered the story and posted some wonderful images of life in the Red Warrior Camp. See www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-37249617.
There are no simple solutions to any of these problems. For me, the first step is to raise my own awareness of the challenges by seeking out the stories and putting faces on the people and animals affected by our environmental actions.
I leave you with a prayer by Diana Macalintal that will appear in our church bulletin on Labor Day Weekend. It is called “Prayer for the Work of Our Hands.”
Prayer for the Work of Our Hands
Diana Macalintal, from The Work of Our Hands, reprinted in Give Us This Day, September 2016
Blessed are you, Lord God,
Creator of all that is good,
for in your mercy you give us work
that we may be co-creators with you.
With hands to fashion and form,
minds to imagine what has yet to be,
hearts to care for what we have made,
and a spirit to impart to our own creations,
we rejoice in the labor you give us.
By imitating you, our God and Maker,
we continue to shape the world,
to name it and claim it
and be good stewards of your good gifts
through the life-giving Spirit that renews the earth.
Keep us mindful of the power you share with us
that we may create only that which leads to peace.
May the work of our hands and our visions and dreams
collaborate with your good will,
which continues to build for us your kingdom on earth.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.