Climate Moments | "Nature is Broken"

March 26, 2024 • Larry Kane

Highlights from “Nature is Broken. Can We Get over Our Selfishness and Listen?”

This insightful Essay by Esau McCaulley was published in the NYT Opinion Section,             Dec. 31, 2023


Humans are a remarkably ambitious species. . . .

But whatever it is about us that makes it easy for us to dream, to build, to act, makes it hard for us to comprehend the consequences of those acts. . . .

It was not simply a desire to discover that took us to the sea and the air. It was also greed, an insatiable thirst to own and conquer.  That thirst . . .  left [its] mark on the people and on nature itself.  Just as the oppressed are finding their voice, the effects of climate change have grown louder over the past few decades.  But 2023 felt like a shout.

The impact was everywhere. . . . [Unprecedented flooding in the eastern U.S., massive wildfire damage in the U.S. Northwest, on Maui, and across much of Canada, smoke that hung in the air for a week or more in much of the Midwest and the eastern U.S., record-breaking heat in the Southwest, and 100°F water off the southern coast of Florida.]

. . .  In 2023, nature called on us all to be quiet and listen

We are a wealthy nation, and the wealthiest among us have a disproportionate negative impact on the environment; the poorest pay the steepest price. Yet, eventually all bills come due.  So, when the heat drove us from the ocean and the smoke forced us inside our homes,  . . . , what did we learn?

The apostle Paul . . . once wrote to a fledgling . . . gathering of the faithful in Rome He told them, “Creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” [“because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  Romans 8:20-21.]  He believed that, in some mystical way, the brokenness of humanity and the wounds of creation were intertwined and that the healing of humanity would spread out and transform the earth.  

Paul knew nothing of human-based climate change. His vision for the healing of what ailed us was ultimately divine.  Yet his belief got at something that scientists also know to be true: humans and the world we inhabit are interconnected. We have consistently [and blindly] put our needs above those of our neighbors and the planet we inhabit, and the fire, water, wind, and snow now cry out in rebuke.

. . .  Nature simply reveals the wounds that we inflict upon it. Creation bears witness.

[Speaking of his children, the author remarks:] For them, nature is still a place to wonder, learn and grow, but I see the relationship growing more complex.

When I asked my oldest about climate change, I was surprised to hear him and his friends mention things like the Paris Agreement, the 3 degree horizon, and the baneful influence of an amoral capitalism. . . .

Children today are learning to track not just the shifts throughout a day but also fundamental changes in what the seasons even are.  My son and his friends told me, without a hint of malice, that they want to experience adulthood in an environment that is reasonably stable, without the looming threat of dangerous weather. The young now know more than they should – another element of childhood washed away in the floods.

I’m not a climate alarmist. I do not believe that the world will end because of human-based climate  activity. [Here, I think the author left matters too ambiguous. I don’t believe either that the world will end if we don’t take effective measures to cease our emissions of greenhouse gases, but I do believe the science is clear that the results of a failure to take effective action to curb those emissions will result in very serious adverse impacts on humanity and the natural creation. The author eventually gets to that conclusion. ] But that [statement] raises as many concerns as it assuages.  “If the good Lord should tarry,” as my mom used to say, another generation will come of age on the planet that we leave them. What shape will it be in?

This question goes far beyond whether they will be able to spend quite as many hours at the beach. It goes to their fundamental experience of life, in all its fragility.  The year 2023 was nature’s testimony that something is PROFOUNDLY BROKEN. The year 2024 – and beyond – will show whether we loved anyone beyond  ourselves enough to listen. Our children will bear the weight of our response.


NOTE: Bold emphasis, “ALL CAPS” emphasis, and inserted comments in brackets by Larry Kane.

Larry Kane