"For the body does not consist of one member but of many." I Corinthians 12: 14
Alexander von Humboldt 1843
I read an interesting book last month about Alexander von Humboldt, a Prussian polymath born in 1769, just when the Moravians were beginning to settle the Wachovia tract. Humboldt is little remembered today by Americans but made a tremendous impact on the worldwide scientific community and shaped the thinking and work of people like Jefferson, Thoreau, Marsh, Darwin and Muir. Humboldt traveled and wrote widely his entire life and was able to distill his realization of the interconnectedness of nature in a way that changed scientific thinking about Creation forever. Humboldt was that rare mind able to synthesize art, history, poetry, and politics as well as verifiable data and observations. Science today focuses more tightly on observation, evidence and outcomes but Humboldt’s was a more holistic approach. As a young man in his thirties, after traveling far and wide, Humboldt found himself on the peak of Chimborazo in Ecuador, at over 20,000 feet and then thought to be the highest peak in the world. As he looked down and his mind reached back over all the species, features and data points he had collected and experienced in his travels, he had a revelation of God’s Creation. From this experience, he created a sketch, his “Naturgemalde” which conveyed the heretofore new concept that nature, God’s Creation, is an interconnected whole, an interdependent web of life. This was a completely new idea at the time with vital implications to the activities of man. The outcomes of climate change that we now see are validation of Humboldt’s thinking. The eponymous list of species, features, places, universities and schools is extraordinarily extensive and indicative of the import of Humboldt’s work. Additionally memorializing his work are a German government endowed foundation to bring promising scientists to Germany as well as a lecture series in the Netherlands. This is a man who made his mark on the world.
Naturgemalde by Alexander von Humboldt
When the October Home to Home newsletter releases, we will hopefully be enjoying a beautiful fall in North Carolina complete with crisp temperatures, blue skies and stunning leaf foliage. The four seasons we enjoy in the mid Atlantic are an important reason why this is such a delightful place to live and perhaps one of the reasons the Moravians settled here in the 18th century. As 21st century Moravians we take seriously our responsibility to conserve, preserve and protect our God given place and space. There is still work to do here and also around the world. Humboldt understood the global nature of the threat to nature and shone a new light on the view of God’s Creation. Similar to the laws of physics, individual actions have their effects. George Perkins Marsh, influenced by Humboldt, followed with his landmark treatise Man and Nature, which helped streamline the concept. John Muir, a man deeply informed by his faith, brought these ideas and concerns into the wider public arena and brought about widespread individual efforts to stem the tide of man’s indiscriminate use of Creation. Standing atop El Capitan in Yosemite reminds us of the responsibility and privilege we have been granted and how the efforts of one person can make a profound difference.
Daniel and Ann (Gilrye) Muir immigrated to America in 1849 with their son John and his seven siblings seeking religious freedom. Daniel Muir’s ideals resulted in 11 year old John being able to recite the entire New Testament and much of the Old Testament from memory. As a young man, Muir was working in an industrial setting when an accident blinded him for months. Miraculously, John’s sight was regained and that pivotal gift fueled his life work ever after. Steeped in Humboldt’s ideas, Muir set out on foot from Indiana to walk to Florida in order to board a steamer to South America and to follow in Humboldt’s footsteps. While in Florida, Muir suffered a debilitating case of malaria and was forced to abandon his plans and mend somewhere with a more favorable climate. California was that place and his life work there was the result of all those best laid plans to be elsewhere. Even so, decades later after the death of his wife and the marriage of his children, at age 73, Muir worked on and journeyed to South America and Africa just before his death in 1914. How will the end of our personal narrative, our Lebenslauf, be written? On our walk, will we go out to go in as Muir wrote about?
Roosevelt and Muir on Glacier Point,
Yosemite Valley, 1903
Government can be an important instrument of positive change. Election Day 2016 brings a pivotal moment for us to put leaders in place who will take seriously the threat of climate change. We have the privilege and responsibility to understand the views of the candidates on climate change and what strategies they propose to stimulate alternative energy production and reduce carbon emissions on a local, state and national level. Issues like public transportation, coal ash and sustainable food production are areas that government can wield a cogent influence. Muir aroused the country over the Hetch Hetchy dam issue. Muir and the Sierra Club lost that fight and we all lost that valley in Yosemite National Park. But, the lesson of working through the political process was learned. Remember this said Muir, “Nothing dollarable is ever safe, no matter how safely guarded.”
Research and historical data suggest our children and grandchildren will not be afforded the same climate we have benefitted from. July was the hottest month ever recorded on the planet and the projections for heat extremes are difficult to internalize. Reducing carbon emissions is the remedy to this paramount problem that portends impacts on all areas of our lives and those of our descendants. The latest report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a panel of over 800 renowned scientists and thinkers from around the globe, details the intricate and systemic challenge we face. Individually and corporately we all share this privilege and responsibility to respond. Unity in our efforts will multiply our success.
How do we view our planet, our home, God’s Creation, entrusted to us? Dollarable or Priceless? What legacy will we leave for our descendants?
“God's love is manifest in the landscape as in a face.” John Muir
—Submitted by Helen Bushnell Beets for the Earth Stewards Team