~ by Anne Dickerson
The methane from flaring oil rigs and greenhouse gas emissions from our use of fossil fuel are recking havoc on our planet. Now Seattle resident Madeline Ostrander has written a stark account of four threatened communities which are trying to protect or are losing the places they call home. Her book is a riveting and comprehensive narrative on what we need to do to cope with a changing earth. Bill McKibben says it’s marvelous.
Ostrander’s first community is Washington’s Methow Valley. The 2021 Carlton Complex fire burned through the area faster and hotter than other fires had. A firefighter protecting homes on one side of the Methow River looked across the valley to see the fire moving toward her own family’s ancestral home. Nothing is impersonal or abstract about fighting fires and then re-building. People in the Methow Valley know fires will come again. They have to learn how to protect themselves, how to recover, and how to help each other.
St. Augustine, Florida, is battling irreversible rising seas and more frequent hurricane assaults. Established in 1565 in what was Spanish colonial Florida, it’s the site of Fort Mose, the first legally recognized free Black community, and the home of the US’s oldest Greek Orthodox Church. The community is facing questions common to coastal cities – how to protect its homes; whether to move to higher ground, stay or leave; who gets help; and whose history is preserved. St. Augustine has some time to make decisions, but eventually it will be under water. As it makes those decisions, their state senator introduced bills to make it harder for local governments to move from “fossil fuels to renewable energy resources.” All of them were approved by the Florida legislature in 2021.
The thawing of the permafrost and rising sea waters are forcing the Inuit village of Newtok in Alaska to relocate. Each winter storm takes away more of their land. If people are separated and scattered to other areas, much of their history and culture will be lost. This issue plays out in coastal Washington, too, as tribes retreat from the rising water.
Richmond, California, is a Black community which grew around a Chevron oil refinery and suffers from both air and soil pollution. Its urban farmers are determined to recover their land and feed their people.
Writing about climate change as it affects our homes and communities makes it personal and urgent – not abstract or too big an issue. The author says, “To have safe homes in the 21st century, we cannot keep acting as if we are isolated individuals.”
Whether you purchase the book or borrow it from the library, it’s a book you must read. It’s Madeline Ostrander’s Home of an Unruly Planet: Finding Refuge on a Changed Earth, Macmillan, 2022.
~The Earth is Sacred – Not Ours to Wreck