EarthBeat Weekly: Winds and Dust Recall the Interdependence of Life on Earth | Earth beat
Editor’s Note: EarthBeat Weekly is your weekly newsletter on faith and climate change. Below, the October 8 edition. To get EarthBeat Weekly delivered to your inbox, sign up here.
Every now and then I hear something that makes me think about the world in a different way. It happened this week, when I watched a presentation of May Joseph, professor of social sciences and culture, on the sand.
It struck me, because I live in a desert – Lima, Peru, is the largest desert city in the world, just after Cairo. And sometimes I yearn for more greenery, even though I cringe when I realize that people are watering their gardens with tap water in an area where water is scarce.
Joseph, who spoke at a virtual event sponsored by Columbia University, has spent years living in Qatar and speaks poetically about the country’s sand dunes. She also criticizes the use of the word “desert” – a term she associates with the colonial past of Saharan countries, which conjures up images of a hard, empty expanse of land. In fact, she says, these drylands have a life of their own, and she prefers to call the region the Sahara biome.
The grains of sand in this biome may be tiny, but they have a disproportionate impact on the planet as seasonal winds carry them long distances.
The Sirocco winds, which blow northward from North Africa and have different names in different places, carry dust across Mediterranean countries and can reach Great Britain. The wind of Shamal sand deposit across the Middle East.
And then there is the Harmattan, a trade wind blowing west from West Africa, carrying dust to the east coast of the United States, parts of the Caribbean and the Amazon Basin.
Scientists estimate that 400-700 million tonnes of dust are swept away drylands in Africa each year and settle on the planet’s surface, some 60 million being transported west across the Atlantic.
Although these dust-laden winds are a health hazard for humans they are one crucial source of nutrients for the ecosystem, depositing phosphorus, calcium, potassium and iron which fertilize forests and oceans.
But a warming climate could change that. Scientists predict that warmer oceans could slow down Saharan winds, reducing both the amount of dust they pick up and the distance they travel. It would also reduce the amount of nutrients reaching distant ecosystems. Layers of airborne dust also reflect sunlight, helping to cool the planet, so a reduction could contribute to further warming.
Dust storms are a reminder of how interdependent earth systems are and how disruption of one of them can have consequences in remote places. They also remind us that humans are part of these systems, not above or outside of them, and that climate-warming human activities are impacting people in places we can hardly imagine. .
This has been a constant theme in Pope Francis’ messages, especially in documents like Laudato Si ‘ and Querida Amazonia. And Francis, who has studied chemistry, is clearly comfortable talking with scientists about these relationships and adding a moral message to scientific facts.
On October 4, the feast of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, the Pope joined nearly 40 leaders from various religious traditions to sign and deliver a declaration calling on governments to take strong action against climate change during the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow in November. , Scotland. They are also committed to working with their congregations to raise awareness and engage in action on climate issues, writes NCR environmental correspondent Brian Roewe.
A few days later, reports Carol Glatz of the Catholic News Service, Pope Francis launched an academic program at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome aimed at contributing to an “ecological conversion”. He also urged universities around the world to take an interdisciplinary approach to education for sustainability.
When I read Glatz’s story, I remembered Joseph’s description of sand dunes and their place in the overall scheme of things. She is a sociologist and performance artist, not a geologist or climatologist, yet she has spoken poetically about the art and science of Saharan sand.
She told her listeners that humans need a new relationship with this dust – a new ethic and a new aesthetic of sand, as she put it. We can probably say this about most humans’ relationship with much of the natural world.
While Francis will not be bringing his moral message in person to the Glasgow summit, as Catholic News Service reported on October 8, the call of religious leaders will undoubtedly resonate among activists attending the event. When they urge world leaders to listen to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, they are speaking to all of us.
Here are the other new features of EarthBeat:
- Two congregations of Franciscan sisters – one in Iowa, the other in Minnesota – have both preserved part of their land through conservation easements. But while their motivations and the end result were the same, the congregations chose different paths, writes Roewe in Part 2 of EarthBeat’s special series “An Estate Plan for the Earth.”
- In a commentary, Alex Mikulich writes that tempting as it may be, we don’t need to resort to apocalyptic cynicism – our greatest hope for Mother Earth’s life lies in our own grounding in her awesome regenerative life systems. .
- And Brenna Davis and Michael Downs of the Ignatian Solidarity Network close the season of creation with a final reflection for EarthBeat’s “At Home in Creation” series, reminding us that we support our “happy places” – those places in the creation of God where we feel rooted – when we take radical pleasure in it.
- Steve Karnowski of The Associated Press reports on a lawsuit filed by six Native American tribes to stop wolf hunting – an animal they consider sacred – in Wisconsin.
- Meanwhile, a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Adorers of the Precious Blood in Pennsylvania, who sought to collect damages for a pipeline built on their land despite their objections, writes Dennis Sadowski to the Catholic News Service. .
- The CNS also reports that two Filipino bishops have warned that rising waters and excessive groundwater depletion are causing Manila to flow, putting millions of people at risk of flooding and displacement.
Here are some of the novelties in other climate news:
- Two winners of this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics were honored for their revolutionary work predict what would happen to Earth’s climate as carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere, modeling the forces that cause climate change. David Keyton and Seth Borenstein have the story for The Associated Press.
- NPR’s Deepa Shivaram Reports President Joe Biden reestablished the limits two protected areas in southern Utah, the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments, which had been reduced by the Trump administration.
- The UN Human Rights Council declared access to a clean and healthy environment a fundamental human right and created a new special rapporteur on climate change, Emma Farge reports for Reuters.
- The United States is one of the largest manufacturers of plastics, and also one of the biggest polluters of plastic, but it drags much of the world into legislation to curb this contamination, writes Hanna Seo for Environmental Health News.
- A massive freighter backup off the coast of California, caused by supply chain disruptions, has resulted in a peak air pollution, and an anchor dragged by one of those ships may have caused a pipeline oil spill that littered coastal wetlands, reports Maria Gallucci from Grist.
- And Reuters’ Nia Williams reported that Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 pipeline started to work this week in northern Minnesota.
Events to come:
This week’s events include a morning of creation-centered prayer and reflection and a conversation between University of San Diego President and oceanographer Michel Boudrias. I will also talk about what Catholics should know about the UN climate conference in November as part of a series “Ecospirituality in Action” sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
You can get more information about these and other events on EarthBeat’s Events page, and you can add your party’s event here.
Is your ward or faith group planning any educational or other activities related to the November climate conference? If so, we would love to hear about it. Write to us at [email protected]
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