When I was a lad, I became fascinated by paleontology, the study of extinct ancient life forms. Now that I myself am becoming an ancient life form drawing closer to extinction sooner or later, I once again find fossilized extinct creatures worth attention and reflection.
In Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, an 1885 operatic parody of British society disguised as Japan, the character Pooh-Bah, the “Lord High Everything Else,” introduces himself.
“I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal atomic globule.”
Pooh-Bah and I are very distant cousins many times removed, since my ancestry, too, can be traced back to that “protoplasmal atomic globule.”
That “globule” has been dated back to some 3.85 billion years ago, give or take a few months. And every living thing on this planet — microbes, bacteria (perhaps more than 80 percent of all life), slime mold, fungi, plants, animals, you, me — is its direct descendant.
When Pope Francis visited their country in 2019, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan set the theme for his visit as “Protect All Life,” a phrase based on the pope’s encyclical Laudato si’.
Some of that failure is due to ignorance in the past, though even then reverence toward God’s creation would have made a difference
It has become almost a mantra for Japan’s bishops. It appears in their various public pronouncements and is the underlying rationale for the positions they take on social issues, including their opposition to nuclear power and weapons and their guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse in the Church.
One need not be a bishop, nor even a Christian, to make Protect All Life part of one’s own life.
A Shintoist friend shared his attitude toward consuming other life. Of course, we cannot live without killing and eating plants and animals with whom we share the same “protoplasmic atomic” ancestry.
But Oyama-san stressed that everything we eat must be consumed with grateful and reverent awareness of their sacrifice that keeps us alive. And, he added, I must live in such a way as to ensure that the sacrifice not be wasted.
I have a moral responsibility to my distant relative, that french fried potato that I am lifting to my lips.
We are seeing what failure to protect all life leads to: peril for all life, including ours. Some of that failure is due to ignorance in the past, though even then reverence toward God’s creation would have made a difference. Now that we know better, we have lost any excuse.
Today we are enduring the results of that lack of reverence as climate change exacerbated if not caused by human activity spreads drought, floods, storms, famine, disease, pollution, conflict, wildfires, refugees and other disasters. And yet we do too little or nothing about it, even frequently denying reality. That denial may have already brought us to a point of no return in a crisis for all life.
It is probably impossible that we might end life. That protoplasmal atomic globule’s progeny that has survived at least six mass extinctions — the Ordovician, Devonian, etc. — shall endure. The Globule Family shall survive whatever we do.
How, or even whether, our branch of the family will endure as we wipe out other branches remains a moot question. However, it is likely that we will be around to give voice to the world’s pain and mourning.
The carbon-spewing flights that carry delegates to the meeting, and the trees cut down to be turned into paper for its reports, may be the conference’s main impact upon the climate crisis
If we were to disappear, it would be a tragic loss to the family because it will have lost the only branch that can recognize, revere and thank the true progenitor of it all, God. Only we can give thanks not only for but also on behalf of that french fried potato. Only we can pray Laudato si’, be praised.
The 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Pope Francis had planned to attend but canceled that plan and will send the Vatican’s secretary of state in his place. More than 100 other world leaders are expected to be among the 25,000 or so people who will be in Glasgow for the event.
I doubt the conference will have much impact upon the world any more than 25 previous such conferences have had. Agreements will be negotiated, commitments will be made, declarations will be inked. Effective follow-through is unlikely. The carbon-spewing flights that carry delegates to the meeting, and the trees cut down to be turned into paper for its reports, may be the conference’s main impact upon the climate crisis.
It may be too late to do anything besides learning to live with a new reality that includes at the very least suffering for humankind and extinction for some other kinds. We also can rue failing in our vocation to be the consciousness and conscience of creation.
And perhaps we can become better members of the family in whatever future may come. We can learn belatedly to treasure our whole Globule Family.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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