The Coming Flood

By David Miron-Wapner*

“Some of them were dreamers
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future…”

Jackson Browne sang in the opening lines of his classic anti-nuclear hymn “Before the Deluge.”

Like Browne, I grew up in a sunny southern California nuclear reality of back yard bomb shelters and the blockade of Cuba; so my knee-jerk anti-nuclear stance went hand in hand with an appreciation for the extent of the victorious modern economic paradigm continued to burgeon its power to adversely impact the natural environment.

(Strange now that I read and respect Lovelock’s appeal that we move expeditiously to develop nuclear power as the key way to stem global human catastrophe.)

Browne’s song was one of four particular songs that I wanted to share with my closest friends on my 60th birthday party last week (though it may or may not be relevant, the others were Imagine, John Lennon, Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell, and After the Gold Rush, Neil Young). Since long before the biblical psalmist, art, music and poetry are proven, prominent shapers of our consciousness and appreciation of the world around us and our relationship with the earth.

Avoiding the direct plea to awaken humanity to the danger of nuclear holocaust, Browne chose, prophetically to my mind, to sing of a flood; an overwhelming demonstration of nature’s power to which humanity still has no answer.

So far we may have dodged the nuclear bullet. North Korea and Iran’s lunacy aside, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the immediacy of that threat seems to have passed; the US ascendant, yet seeming to loose its productive economic edge to China. How is it that we may now be facing even greater existential threats that will demand all the resourcefulness, agility and innovative capacity we can muster? Did you ever wonder whether both cultures are really the same culture; where in Browne’s words:

“Some of them were angry
At the way the Earth was abused
By the men who learned to how to forge her beauty into power…”

Destruction of the great Asian inland sea, the Aral; draining of Mono Lake east of the Sierra Nevada to slake the thirst of LA; Love Canal, Chernobyl… it is all part and parcel of our hubris irrespective of economic philosophy, in not deeply accepting responsibility for the consequences of our manipulation of the environment. Modern market capitalism won the great power struggle with soviet communism, but it, along with its new rival China, and its own market socialism, seem to be losing the battle against climate change, today’s greatest existential threat to human civilization.

Neither more Chinese dams, nor American technological innovativeness will hold back the floodwaters and the rising seas.

I accept in Browne’s last lines the ultimate hope we will together forge a new awareness as part of, not above the awesome creation that is our earthly home:

“Now let the music keep our spirits high
Let the buildings keep our children dry
Let creation reveal it secrets by and by
When the light that’s lost within us reaches the sky”

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