Yet months in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains taught Schosid unexpected lessons in caring for people and the Earth, which she eloquently shares with readers of a new anthology, Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet. Published this month by Trinity University Press, the collection presents Schosid’s work along with twenty-one other essays by young adults—members of the Millennial generation—who grew up in a time of melting ice caps, bleaching coral reefs, acidifying oceans, and shrinking biodiversity around the world. As co-editor, with Susan A. Cohen, of Coming of Age, I rejoiced in the privilege of getting to know our gifted contributors, and in learning about their hopes and fears, dreams, struggles, and faith as they navigate toward an uncertain future.
In his 1989 book, McKibben invokes the story of Job to convey a key message: that God values His work beyond the interests of man, and laments its devastation. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” He asks the suffering Job. A proxy for all humanity, McKibben says, Job has failed to comprehend why rains falls “on land where no one lives, to meet the needs of the lonely wastes, and make grass sprout upon the ground.” By fouling His atmosphere, His oceans, His rivers and wetlands, we have disrespected our Father and usurped power that belongs to the Divine. The end of nature thus threatens not only our relationships with air, land, water, and living creatures, but with God himself.
Care for all creation, from deep-sea octopuses to mountain pine forests, imbues Coming of Age contributions. Sierra Dickey, living on the edge of the Atlantic, celebrates the piping plover—“the angel of our place”—but also laments the nesting birds’ vulnerability to beach-roaming SUVs. Across the continent, Lisa Hupp loves Alaska’s wildness so much that she takes a job with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, where she introduces visitors to the endangered gray whales that migrate along the shores. But the joy she feels in her ocean-edged home also brings vulnerability. “It takes courage to love a place,” Hupp writes, “to deliberately choose digging in and taking responsibility for its fragile well-being.”
Elizabeth Cooke writes of the human plight on another island: Hispaniola. Poverty and deforestation have left locals acutely susceptible to flooding, and Cooke weathered a heat-fueled hurricane with them as a volunteer fellow at an evangelical mission in Gonaïves, Haiti. In “Why Haiti?” she describes a harrowing night, when winds and rain lashed a flimsy mission shelter, and Cooke listens in the dark to girls in the next room, singing traditional hymns to calm the youngest children. Their songs transform into fervent, spoken prayers, and Cooke silently concurs that “if there were ever a time for calling on God’s mercy, this is it.”
Other young writers call on science and engineering to solve the perils ahead as atmospheric carbon continues to climb. In drought-stricken Arizona, Megan Kimble explores the restorative potential of chemical cloudseeding, and wonders “if this is what an act of faith looks like in a technological age on a warming planet.” Other contributors reflect on the ways that classroom teaching, writing for social media, having children, or political activism help them voice solutions and instigate healing. Bonnie Frye Hemphill finds her strength in a growing community of change agents she calls Fossil Fuel Freedom fighters. Hemphill challenges readers to share her own moral courage and asks them cold: “Will you join?”
But for me, having read and re-read these heart-salving essays throughout the long editing process, the most forceful spiritual message in Coming of Age at the End of Nature emerges from Emily Schosid’s “Could Mopping Saving the World?” Yes, we need solar panels to shrink our dependence on oil and coal, as Schosid’s Lama Foundation confreres know, and certainly, our society must cease trashing the Earth’s resources, as the Emily and her community model in their austere lifestyle, so less plastic flows to the oceans and more of our material blessings remain for future generations. But it is our daily habits that we need to address most closely, as we learn the quotidian practice of caring for one place and one community. The instruments of our transformations, as individuals and societies, may not be cleaning implements, as Schosid found. But they will be simple tools to help us move past our losses and embrace what remains, to forgive our own and each others’ sins. Whether we turn to mops, shovels, pencils, or microphones, we must find the tools that connect us more firmly and deeply, to planet and people, and to a higher power whose Creation we love and respect, explore and revere, every day of our humble and grateful lives.
Julie Dunlap is a writer and environmental science professor living in Columbia, Maryland. With Susan A. Cohen, she co-edited Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet (Trinity University Press, October 2016). For more information about the book, please visit: http://tupress.org/books/coming-of-age-at-the-end-of-nature .