Climate change and our environmental crisis is essentially a relationship problem. Two necessary ingredients to any healthy relationship are compassion and communication. This includes our relationship to creation: the land, the water and the air.
For instance, if we cannot feel the land and hear the land (or the water and air), then we cannot appropriately respond to it. Yet it’s clear to me that this level of sensitivity is entirely possible and absolutely necessary.
What would you do if you knew you had hurt someone you loved? Wouldn’t you work to heal the injury and restore the relationship? The same applies to the land, which we have clearly harmed.
A Buddhist practice called tonglen helps awaken one’s sense of compassion and extend it to unfamiliar places, for example towards a person we might not like. It intentionally challenges our desires for “wanting things on our own terms…” Awakening our compassion for the land, therefore, begins with spiritual intention and practice.
However, communication is technical. It involves learning a new ‘language’; the language of patterns. Learning this language starts with questions like: “Can you recognize a healthy landscape? What does the community of living plants indicate about the health of your local ecosystem?” It’s time for education systems of every kind to teach this technical knowledge.
As Aldo Leopold wrote in the Sand County Almanac, “There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it…The land-relation is still strictly economic, entailing privileges but not obligations.”
 Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County almanac, and sketches here and there. Oxford University Press, 1989: 203.
Douglas Thomas Smith is a graduate of the Earth & Environment Department at Franklin & Marshall College and a Master of Urban Planning candidate at the University of Michigan. While in Lancaster he helped found the Alley Garden, managed the Eastern Market, and worked as the pianist/ organist at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster
“Firebird Visit’s the Elders,” is 2-artist collaborative painting by Robert F Allen and Kevin L Miller, signed “Allen Miller,” illustrating both the utopian nature of Earth and the apocalyptic peril from climate change.