A few months ago I read a book called The Overstory by Richard Powers. The book follows the story of a handful of characters and how their lives become intertwined with the environment, particularly with trees. Throughout the novel, Powers explores how we relate to the natural world and what we mean to the natural world. One theme in particular that stood out to me is the idea of “saving”.
Since reading the book, I have been more aware of how we frame the conversation around climate change and climate solutions, especially in the media. Often this discourse takes the form of “how to save the planet”. There is actually a podcast hosted by Alex Blumberg and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson called “How to Save a Planet”. I am in full support of talking about solutions to climate change and building awareness and support. However, I feel like this talk of “saving a planet” can reinforce the attitude that put us on this trajectory in the first place. It frames the approach as what we need to do to the planet and removes the focus from what we really needs saving: ourselves.
The idea of original sin kept coming to mind as I read The Overstory. We are inflicting immeasurable damage to the planet and it’s a result of our self-centeredness, our exertion of destructive power over the earth, both knowingly and unknowingly. Adam and Eve decided to try to become like God in eating the fruit from the tree of good and evil. As a result, their gaze turned away from the beautiful garden, away from each other, away from God and turned inward. We continue to struggle with this inward view. We all struggle to truly turn our view towards the gift of creation and act according to that view. It’s not the planet that needs us to save it; it’s us that needs saving.