Plan Ahead

building-a-backyard-bomb-shelter_1951“The message is clear and so is the pathway. But time is running out. We need to take a bold stand and act upon it now.”
~ Nicole Schwab and Kristin Rechberger

Long ago, when I was working on the Navajo Reservation, there was a winter flood. Although few homes were directly impacted, the heavy rains caused the washes and Little Colorado River to overflow. The unpaved roads that crossed large areas of the reservation became impassable due to the mud in the clay soils and even some of the few paved roads were severely damaged.

This had a profound impact on the majority of residents who lived in scattered clusters across the desert. Many Navajo were unable to drive to the trading posts, jobs in town, or the watering points. Access to medical services were cut off, as was access to the cedar forests on higher ground where firewood was gathered. Coupled with the fact that few in this area had ever had access to electricity, the flooding created conditions that led to food and water depravation, exposure and illness.

Traditional Navajo never point with a finger, but wave their hand in the general direction of whatever they are indicating. The old folks believed that if a witch saw you pointing in their direction you were summoning them, and they would cause you trouble and suffering. I found it complicated when from a high point, my Navajo aide would indicate something of interest a mile or so away with a vague wave.

Similarly, in traditional Navajo belief, preparing for a bad thing would actually draw it to you. As a result of the flooding, some local chapters (governments) began to stockpile firewood at central locations in the event of additional catastrophes. This practice, encouraged by both the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Public Health Service, created ample controversy and concern among the older Navajo that the preparations would lead to more disaster.

As a kid in the 1950s, living near one of the Strategic Air Command bases, I remember knowing that when the cold war turned hot, we would be targeted by Russian atom bombs. Teachers reassured us that crawling under our desks would protect us, but I was never convinced. In response to the global threat, the U.S. government set up bomb shelters in cities across the country stocked with food, water, gas masks and radiation detectors. Individuals built their own bomb shelters in their back yards and tried to keep us kids from using them as clubhouses and playgrounds. (A popular thought game at the time was to determine who you might allow to join you in the shelter and who you would keep out and doom to die. Keep the nurse, dump the beautician?) The government constructed missile silos for defense or retaliation and Distant-Early-Warning radar stations to warn of impending attack to give us precious minutes to seek shelter or just say our goodbyes. (The DEW Line continues to help track Santa’s impending arrival each year.)

But our current government is taking a different approach to looming world catastrophe (not to mention Russian threats on our democracy). Global warming threatens us all, and the evidence is literally all around us. According to Nicole Schwab and Kristin Rechberger of the World Economic Forum, “The science shows that we are approaching tipping points on all fronts. If current trends in greenhouse gas emissions, the conversion of natural habitats and the poaching of large animals are not reversed, it will be impossible to keep warming below 1.5°C. Many ecosystems and species will simply unravel and disappear.”

They continue, “At a time when the world is grappling with meeting the Paris Climate Agreement and trying to prevent the sixth mass extinction on Earth, an international team of scientists has published a way forward — a Global Deal for Nature. The science-backed plan proposes ambitious targets for the conservation of nature as the most effective pathway to address the extinction crisis and help us avert catastrophic climate change, before it’s too late … The deal calls for 30% of the planet to be protected by 2030, with an additional 20% to be maintained or restored to a natural state and designated as climate stabilization areas.”

So, what has changed in our government’s thinking? The Cold War never turned ‘hot’, so maybe that convinced officials that preparation is unnecessary, a waste of effort and money — just like all those old bomb shelters.

Or maybe we have succumbed to the same belief that traditional Navajos have — that preparation actually causes the bad event.

It seems to me that just as the global threat of nuclear annihilation from the Cold War required us to act to protect our future, the threat of catastrophic climate change should point to a national path for action.

However, when we act, let’s not point with a finger — perhaps use a broad wave of our hand.

Additional information:
Nicole Schwab and Kristin Rechberger, We Need To Protect 30% Of The Planet By 2030. This Is How We Can Do It, 22 Apr 2019, World Economic Forum

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