Reason # 5: We are Hard-Wired for One Crisis at a Time

Why We Don’t and How We Can (Care for Creation)
These reflections are devoted to citing a number of obstacles that keep us from caring for creation. Many of us are absolutely committeed to do what we can to lower our destructive impact on Earth and to behave in ways that serve to diminish our impact and generate a positive restoration of Earth. Yet we often simply do not do that. Or at least we do not do as much as we think we should. We can open our eyes by doing a Fearless Moral Inventory, as AA calls it, to all living and non-living beings we have harmed. We can also become aware of the ways our personal behavior and our public witness are blocked or prevented by various personal reasons,cultural assumptions, and religious beliefs. We seek to name some of those blocks and suggest how we might change to make a difference.

Reason # 5: We are biologically hard-wired to address one crisis at a time.

Twelve years ago, my wife Sandy got non-Hodgkins Lymphoma cancer. She had it for three years, and it got progressively worse despite regimens of chemotherapy and targeted radiation. She was in stage four of the cancer, and Mayo Clinic would not do a bone marrow transplant because her white blood count would not come up and they did not think she would survive the chemo-therapy they needed to give her for the procedure.Our doctor said she would not survive the year. However, at the University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, she was able to received a stem cell transplant one week after it came off trials. Unbelievably, she recovered and has been cancer free for nine year! She is a walking miracle, so say her doctors.

My point is not how she survived but our mentality while she was going through it. We figured when something like that happens, that is all you have to deal with. Your mind, body, and soul are focused on that crisis, and you think nothing else will happen. You can only deal with one thing at a time and this was it.

Not! I was teaching in Chicago 90 miles away and needed to maintain my commitment to that position. Also, during that time, we were also raising two grandchildren, who, at the time the cancer was discovered, were 8 and 3. We had to give them as normal a life as possible during this time. That is not all. We had to do a drug intervention for a close family member. Her situation was life-threatening. A month at rehab did not make the difference but, shortly after, a few months in jail followed by extended treatment did make the difference. Meanwhile, we were caring for a third grandchild at age two.

We did not have it as difficult as a friend of ours. First, his wife got colon cancer, and then she got lung cancer. She beat both of those cancers. But then she got brain cancer. While her husband was caring for her, he got prostate cancer, a cancer from which his father died. She did not survive, He did survive, but with extensive complications from the surgery on his cancer.

When such overwhelming problems present themselves, that one thing become the main focus. And that is all that seems to matter. Yet, I had to work. We had to raise the children. We had to care for our family member. And we had to do all the basic things to maintain our lives.

Why we don’t: We are hard-wired to face the immediate crisis and ignore other concerns.

Scientists tell us that we humans are hard wired to basically do one crisis at a time and that it is difficult to keep other concerns going. And I think this is just what happens with our collective mentality around the environment. When the economy is going well and we are not at war, then surveys of priorities among the American people will show that there is overwhelming support for dealing with the environment. As for politics, “it’s the environment, stupid.”

However, as soon as 9/11 happened, commitment to address the enduring and unavoidable problems that face us in the environment move way down the scale of concern to go off the charts. Understandably, we are completely focused on national security, and soon all our resources are devoted to the war on terror. Then comes the recession of 2008, and now all of our efforts are focused on the economy. As far as politics goes, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Now comes the issue of the national debt. And for many people, that is the only thing that matters. So issues of social justice and the environment are off the screen completely while this one thing occupies all of our attention front and center.

Meanwhile, global climate change continues apace. Weather is erratic. In many places, temperatures rise to an unbearable level. The seasonal rains stop coming at the times needed to plant and grow. The sea is rising. Storms are more frequent and more intense. The dry heat results in more wildfires. Add the problems of desertification and deforestation from human overharvesting designed to survive or to improve the economy. Air is polluted more than ever. Water is polluted more than ever. And available fresh water is rapidly diminishing. Diverse species of plants and animals are rapidly disappearing. Eco-systems are threatened. Our whole ecological Earth home is unraveling from beneath us. Yet we put the environment on the back burner and carry on business as usual because we have immediate critical problems to address.

This is less a blame statement than it is a description of the problem. Biologically, humans are hard-wired to address one crisis at a time. Our evolution has developed in such a way that we give great focus to the threat the stands before us in the near-space and the short-term. Nevertheless, while we address the immediate threats, the environment continues to deteriorate whether we ignore it or not. It will not go away simply because we are pre-occupied with other things. The economy is critical. But we cannot wait until it is good before we address the environment. This is like a company that continues to produce goods while the infrastructure in neglected and goes without needed maintenance. Eventually, it catches up with you and the whole thing just shuts down.

That is where we are headed with the environment. Eventually the whole thing will just stop us in our tracks—because of the crises that occur, because of the growing seasons that move and change, because of the glut of garbage in our oceans that destroys seas life, because the tornadoes and hurricanes produce so many disasters we cannot keep up with them, because whole low-lying cities go under water, because whole regions run out of fresh water, and on and on. We will just become overwhelmed with the deteriorating nature of things.

How we can: See our commitment to care for Earth as an integral and abiding commitment to care for God’s creation that does not cease when we face other problems.

However, we need to transcend this biological hard-wiring. This biological tendency is working against our survival as a human species. And it threatens all forms of life. However, this tendency is not inevitable. If we are aware of it, we can doi something about it. If we are to preserve life as we know it and if we are to develop a sustainable world, we need to transcend our focus on just one thing and thereby also and at the same time be able to sustain our commitment to care for Earth. No matter what our personal crises, we still have to attend to the environment. We cannot ignore it. Even as we collectively face other issues of economic and physical security, we need to be imaginative and solve multiple problems at once. In this way, we can keep the environment on our screens and in front of our concerns no matter what, because if we do not, all other problems we face will become worse.

In the midst of these personal and collective difficulties, we as Christians cannot stop loving our neighbors, cannot stop seeking justice for the poor and the marginalized, cannot cease working in society for the common good. These commitments to love and to care for others are so constitutive of what it means to be Christian that we cannot neglect them under any circumstance.

So too, we at Lutherans Restoring Creation believe that we need an enduring commitment to God’s creation that does not falter amidst other concerns, an enduring commitment that comes from our calling to be God’s Earth-keepers, an enduring commitment that is driven by God’s own love for this world our home. For us, care for creation and love of God’s world are not a fad, not a passing focus, not the interest of some and not others, not one issue among many that can be postponed until it is convenient to address, not an add-on issue—but a profound vocation of all humans to be lived out in hope and joy.