“Healing Mother Earth”— Earth Day Sermon Transcript
by Kelly Gerling — Seattle Unity Church — April 22, 2018
How about that! One more round of applause! Yes, let us wake up
In 1983, I did something I’ve done a lot since. I called up a person I wanted to learn from. I called up Apollo Nine astronaut Russell Schweickart. I was 30 years old. And I wanted to interview him about something. And he was nice enough. He answered the phone. He agreed to do a recording. And I’ve since reviewed what I wrote about that in a book where I quoted him. And I’ve reviewed the interview. And I wanted to share with you this idea that he shared with me — which is one of those ideas…it’s a world-saving, Earth-healing, extraordinary insight into what we need to do collectively. Humanity.
And everything that I’m going to talk about in my sermon — 15 or 20 minutes — no more — Diane you just let me know if I’m going over — is leading up to that idea, that I want to share — is something for all of us to ponder and think about, and decide whether we want to embrace that idea. So more on that later.
Forty-eight years ago the first Earth Day occurred. Now if you’re over 50, you have a chance of remembering that. If you’re under 50, you’ll have to take our word for it. We had an Earth Day in 1970.
That was the same year I had a chance to circumnavigate the entire world with my dad who was an airline pilot. And I took ten flights from Kansas City to Kansas City, the long way around — New York, Athens, Bombay, Bangkok, and so forth, Hong Kong, Okinawa, Guam, Honolulu, LA, and back to Kansas City. I was in the cockpit, a lot. That was in the old days, where, you if you’re the pilot’s kid, you get to sit up there, and play in the cockpit, and hang out.
So it was a wonderful experience to see our world — the whole world, at least the northern hemisphere — to get a sense of the Earth — as a teenager — and all these different places, which I was totally changed forever. To see Bombay, for example. And I understood what poverty was about. In Kansas, we didn’t have shantytowns of hundreds of thousands of people. So it was a huge eye-opener.
And so that first Earth Day, in 1970 — invented by a gentleman named John McConnell — is a way of reminding us, kind of like a wedding anniversary, if the Earth is our mom, or our wife. We want to have an anniversary to remember. It’s like a birthday. And so, Earth Day is a way we can remember Mother Earth, or we can call her Our Earth, or we can call her Mother Nature, or we can call her Gaia, or the Earth System — all the same. The Earth is all around us. The Earth produces the air we are breathing. Try not breathing it for a minute or two, and you’ll appreciate it, like when you’re swimming underwater, or holding your breath. So it’s extraordinary that we have an Earth Day — that we’ve had 48 of them.
And what I’m going to do under the topic of “Healing Mother Earth” — is a kind of medical approach:
• Treatment plan
• Figure out how to do the treatment
so that we can heal Her, and us, as part of Her. And to do that, I’m going to invoke a couple of Unity Principles, so…
• Principle Three — The power of thought to create.
• Principle Five — Action — live what we know; what we learn; what we think.
Those two — thought and action.
And it’s like Karen said in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, intention and commitment add up to, or equal, faith. That you create these experiences and concepts that lead to something new, something else.
And we need faith in order to not experience despair. Particularly, in light of problems with the Earth. Cynicism is the psychological defense — a self-fulfilling psychological defense — of weakness to power.
The last song we heard invited us to wake up: “I need to move.” And so we all need to move.
And so, an example of this these two principles of thought — new thought, sometimes innovative thought, and action, occurred in the 1980s when I read a newspaper article about a story. And at that time, some of you’ll remember, that the fear of a nuclear war was just enormous, so much so, so enormous, this fear, that a majority of children, when asked, “Do you think you’re gonna grow up to be an adult?” They said “no.” They didn’t think so, because of the threat of nuclear war.
There was a movie called “The Day After” — 1984 — ABC movie. This fear was so great, I volunteered, you know, to go up to my old high school and talk to the social studies kids. I talked to 450 kids, in groups of 90 — all the social studies classes — just helping them process.
The movie was focused on Kansas City. I was in Kansas City, so it was a little personal — the nuclear war that was shown on television that everybody watched. And they processed it. They thought about it. I let them express themselves. And asked them you know with what they could do and so that was the context.
And so there was a teacher, I think it was Minnesota. And this teacher asked her kids — like twelve or thirteen year olds, “The polls say a lot of people are afraid they’re not gonna grow up. Do you think you’re gonna grow up?”
They all agreed, “No they didn’t think they’re gonna grow up.” They thought the world was going to be blown up before then.
Except: One. Little. Girl.
And so naturally, the teacher said, “So why do you think you’re gonna grow up? What’s the deal? You’re the odd one here.”
And she said, “Well, my parents are always going to meetings to stop war, and to create peace, and so I think if they’re going to meetings, and doing something about it, everything’s going to be fine.”
So, not only does action inspire ourselves out of cynicism, but it inspires others. It inspires children, to do something, like the song said: to lift others up.
Like Paul said, in his wonderful presentation.
And so what I would like to do is: In the rest of this talk, I’m going to get to that idea that I got from Rusty Schweickart, and share with you some other people who’ve expressed the same idea. But before that, I’m going to lead up to that with a medical approach to healing the Earth. So there’s a:
• Treatment plan
• Implement the treatment
And so I’m going to talk about those things relative to Mother Earth.
A really cool way to understand who we’re treating, comes from a quotation I’d like to offer from Jim Lovelock.
Who’s heard of Jim Lovelock? James Lovelock?
In the Gaia theory, Gaia, the word for Mother Earth, from Greek, I believe, is a scientific way to look at the system of the Earth in which we live, on whom we are dependent. She is all around us. She gave birth to us. If there’s a scientific miracle — she’s it!
Forty-six million centuries ago — 4.6 billion years — a star blew up. It went supernova. It created what’s called a nebula — a big huge cloud.
If you look at Orion, and you see there’s the Orion Nebula. That’s a nebula. And we were a nebula. And it coalesced into a new star, and a bunch of dust and rock and stuff. And then that turned into nine or ten planets, depending on who’s counting. Maybe eight? What is it this week?
So we have a star, and we have planets. And on the third planet, us! A planet which is unique in many ways.
LOVELOCK VIEW OF EARTH
I want to go to it — straight to diagnosis. Now fortunately — oh I want to go to Jim. Let me read Jim Lovelock. And here’s his quote for Gaia:
“One role we play is as the senses and nervous system for Gaia. Through our eyes, she has for the first time seen her very fair face.” (That’s the astronauts. That’s the cameras outside of the Earth.) “And in our minds become aware of Herself. Gaia and Universe has become aware of herself through us, each of us. The Earth is a living system, and we are part of it. That’s the essence of Gaia.”
SO WHAT IS THE DIAGNOSIS?
Well, I’m just one person. I am utterly unqualified, even with a little degree in environmental science, to consider my opinion as authoritative — it isn’t.
However, I have enough of a framework about environmental science to know how to find the authoritative opinions, from what amounts to a de facto group of medical specialists who are diagnosing Gaia for us — Mother Earth for us — in terms of the problems that we’ve all heard about.
And I’d like you to bear with me, and in just a few minutes, I’m going to read the opinions, the conclusions, of the diagnosis of the Earth’s system. And I want to warn you, a good summary would be:
“The odds are against us, and the situation is dire.”
Now does this seem out of line or exaggerated? How many, how many people think maybe the situation is dire?
[most hands up]
At least I know I’m not crazy!
So, in 1992, 1700 scientists, plus, signed a “Warning to Humanity.” This included a majority of science Nobel Laureates. So it’s a smart group, much smarter than me, or any one person. And here was their conclusion:
“A great change in our stewardship of the Earth, and the life on it, is required — a great change — if vast human misery is to be avoided. And that’s the end of my talk! [Kelly pretends to step down.]
We’ve got to go beyond! We’ve got to do what the songs say. So 25 years later, 20,000 scientists signed a follow-up, including me — I got to sign this one. And there are just a few sentences. So this is the follow-up to the first one, last year.
“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse. Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agricultural production, particularly from meat animals. Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated, or at least committed to extinction, by the end of the century.”
The conclusion is:
“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognize in our day-to-day lives, and in our governing institutions, that Earth, with all its life, is our only home.”
That’s the 25-year follow-up.
The corroborating diagnosis is from the Global Environment Outlook report — the fifth one. This is something that came — I have some props — from the 1987 “Common Security: A Blueprint for Survival” book, which was endorsed by the UN.
“As human pressures on the Earth system accelerate (this one’s in your flyer), several cleared a critical global regional and local thresholds are closed or have been exceeded. Once these have been passed, abrupt and possibly irreversible changes to the life support functions of the planet are likely to occur, with significant adverse implications for human well being.”
And then there’s the Doomsday Clock, it was just moved to two minutes to midnight due to the twin threats. Rachel Bronson, writing for The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, with the Doomsday Clock, said, in 2017:
“World leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago, and as dangerous as it has been since WWII.”
And it goes on. So there are more. I could find it others — a dozen — two dozen, going all the way back to 1955, in the Bertrand-Russell Albert Einstein warning. Same type of thing, back then, about nuclear weapons.
And so, that’s the diagnosis.
The odds are against us, the situation is dire.
So what is the treatment plan? What do we do? Because who wants to be cynical? What’s fun about that?
A TREATMENT FORMULA
I’ve come up with a formula to give me hope: the existential global crisis needs a certain response — an exponential form of innovation across multiple domains.
So an existential crisis requires an exponential response.
That means a lot of people working together. What’s that about? Has that happened before?
Well, I looked up the WWII mobilization.
So the Germans attacked in Europe. By 1940, we were — the Americans — were thinking we’re probably going to have to go into that war. So they started transforming the economy from 1940 through the middle of 1943. They got to the point where there were no one wasn’t working. There was a labor shortage. They couldn’t employ everyone.
The entire economy shifted. For example, the auto industry shifted to become a tank industry, and an aircraft industry. And so it was with the entire economy.
In four years, it was completely transformed in order to deal with the crisis. That is, let’s win, not lose, WWII.
And that’s the kind of mobilization we need. Except we it can’t be just four years, or five years. It needs to be 40 years or 50 years, at least! And then we’ll see where we, are by 2030 or 2050.
But it hasn’t happened. So, you know, why hasn’t it happened?
What’s it going to take?
What does it mean to have innovation in multiple domains?
But, you know, I know about a few. No one person knows about all of them.
So I know a lot about foreign policy. So the big the big shift there, would be from a Global War on Terror to the Global Rule of Law, which would be a total shift, akin to the mobilization in WWII.
What would be the shift? From funneling money to a tiny number of rich people, any way they can, to an economy that is designed to benefit the many, not just the few, for the common good?
So again, it’s that kind of innovation that would occur, that current institutions, here anyway, in our country, haven’t been able to achieve, in a while. There was some of that during the New Deal. But that’s vanished over the last few decades, since the mid-1970s. So those are a few examples.
We need it in technology.
We need it in education.
We need it in transportation.
We need it in manufacturing.
We need it in political design or constitutional design.
We needed in all kinds of areas.
And anything short of that is going to be, not enough.
And so, what then?
Well, I want to give one example of what’s possible.
How many people have heard about the Stanford energy renewable energy scenarios? There’s a gentleman by the name of Mark Z. Jacobson. And I just contacted him two days ago. Sent an email. He wrote back.
We had this nice dialogue, you know, he and his team at Stanford — again a hundred and fifty peer-reviewed papers, have concluded, and created scenarios, for total shifts to renewable energy in 139 countries — 50 percent by 2030, 100 percent, and zero carbon, in 139 countries — by 2050. And he’s documented how that’s possible.
(Mark is interviewed by Katy Tur in March 13th, 2019 on MSNBC about his work developing 100 percent renewable energy transformation scenarios in over 130 countries and all 50 states — here.)
So I asked him, in an email — two days ago — I said “I’m gonna give a talk. Mark, I need to know what prevents your scenarios from happening.”
And he said:
1. The lack of understanding that they’re possible, one.
2. Two, political will, is lacking. So we need political will to do these things. Like the WWII mobilization had political will.
3. And a new concept — social will. New to me. He said we need social will where everyone feels like they’re participating.
WWII MOBILIZATION EXAMPLE
My grandmother was involved in WWII. And my dad. And he went to war, my dad did. My grandmother had a degree in math, so she tested airplane engines, like she did in WWI. And so everybody got involved. And that’s the social will. (Where are we in time?) …
So a treatment plan has to include a way to create political will; a way to create social will; a way to create mass understanding of the possibilities that are before us.
Now it hasn’t happened in the 48 years since Earth Day, not enough. Even Germany, that has the best — Germany, Sweden, Finland — they have the best renewable energy plans, and things in operation. And their per capita emissions are still going up. And so it just hasn’t been enough.
And so what’s that idea that key idea I started with?
My interview with Rusty Schweickart — this is an idea which is just extraordinary:
“There are fundamental limitations in our institutions serving the needs of the whole planet, because the institutions themselves, serve best, l the things that are below them and scale, and worst, the things above them in scale. Basically institutions, whether governments or corporations, are somewhat limited intellectually, and the only way they are going to change is for individuals to express themselves, individually or collectively, to change those institutions.”
Now it’s not just Rusty.
At the women’s movement, a woman named Janelle Monae, said this, I thought it was just as significant:
“We birthed this nation and we can unbirth this nation if we choose.”
Now I’m not sure if she was referring to the women who all gave babies to who all we are, or had babies, or whether she’s referring to the people creating a government with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and then the next Constitution. But in any case there was an empowerment there.
There’s Danny Glover’s statement, in 2011, to Occupy Oakland — this is very explicit.
“We have to be here, not only to change it, but to ensure that this transformation — he’s talking about economic equality probably — is institutionalized. We have to ensure that this transformation is institutionalized, just as the transformations into a country controlled by corporations, have been institutionalized.”
So the task before us as individuals is to answer the question,
How do we assess our powers?
How do we marshal our capacity, not only to do things individually, in our own lives, that are good, that are kind, that are compassionate, that involve change?
But also, how do we change the institutions that matter — nations, states companies, laws, certainly the UN Charter, probably the American Constitution — how do we change these things, so they become better expressions of the popular will?
So what is the image? Picture — you can go from Seattle, anywhere, pollution-free in an electric aircraft, from renewable electricity. Or a bullet train, is probably more likely. And everybody in the world can do that.
And so that is the crucial vision, not just for energy, but probably for everything.
The poet-musician Gil Scott-Heron in 1982 said:
“The first revolution is when you change your mind about how you look at things, and see that there might be another way to look at it, that you have not been shown.”
Well, what the Danny Glover, Rusty Schweickart, Janelle Monae, are all saying, is:
Change has to include changing the institutions that are driving the bus.
And if we don’t change those institutions, 50 years from now, Humanity will be…grow worse. We can’t. It’s not. None of it is predictable at this point. It’s too complex.
So what I’d like to do is close with a way of dealing with the diagnosis, because the diagnosis is a tough one. And it affects everyone. And it affects the children and the grandchildren. And so how many people saw the Star Trek film, “Generations,” the movie?
So in that film Picard meets Kirk for the first time, due to an odd circumstance. And in this there was this great threat to a planet. and Picard’s trying to enlist Kirk’s help.
And he says to Kirk, you know, “I really need your help, it’s important!”
And Kirk says, “Don’t tell me: the odds are against us, and this situation is grim.” And Picard says, “Yeah, that’s true. And Kirk says:
“Sounds like fun!”
And that is the way to deal with that diagnosis, is, let’s do what the mother did for her daughter, and the mother and father, and inspire them. Let’s get to work!
I’d like to do a meditation to wrap up some of these ideas for you, for all of us, for me too.
So get yourself in a comfortable position, for just a few minutes, a couple minutes. And let the quote that we’ve all heard from John Anster — on boldness — reverberate and echo in your mind, and heart, and soul:
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute!
What you can do, or dream, you can begin it!
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!
And let yourself ponder a couple of questions. And let the questions guide you to your own discovery, and whatever call you may be receiving from the inside.
“What are my powers, or superpowers, such as special skills and deep knowledge?”
“Contacts and memberships in my network?”
“My privileges and my wealth?”
“Or other powers?”
“What are they?”
Take an inventory. These are your means of change.
And then ask,
“How can I use these powers that I possess,
to bring about large-scale institutional support,
in whatever way I can,
in whatever institutions I am blessed to have a chance to influence,
to support healing for our planet,
by joining with others in unity, and in solidarity,
for the children, the grandchildren, and the generations of tomorrow?”