If A Clod Be Washed Away By The Sea

Though today we would not use the word ‘man’ as it is used in this famous poem by John Donne (1572-1631), we may, for the moment, justifiably dismiss this cultural difference so as to contemplate and absorb its full impact in light of the present climatic regime.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

It is not difficult to translate the entire poem to our own time and our own understanding. Though it would no longer be the beautiful poem that it is, we could easily substitute ‘human’ for ‘man,’ ‘our planetary civilization’ for ‘Europe,’ ‘rice farm’ for ‘manor,’ etc. Try it. Try it again.

Are we involved in mankind? Do we feel that the planet, and you and I, are diminished if a rice farmer in the Mekong Delta loses his entire farm to the rising sea, as is happening at this very moment in this extremely vulnerable region of the world.

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

In order to fully comprehend where we now live and the time we now live in, we must retrieve from our bones and blood a visceral and palpable sense that we are the planet, that our breath is its breath, and its breath ours, and that every person’s death, every person’s loss, diminishes us, every one of us. We must “become painfully aware.” We must “turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it (Laudato Si, Pope Francis).”

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee.

How Climate Change Effects Rice Farmers in the Mekong Delta

This brief but poignant video (4 min.) explains the effects of climate change induced sea level rise contaminating the lowland rice paddies with salt water and killing the rice crops. (Thanks to Nick Garland)

Vietnam is the world’s second largest exporter of rice and 80 per cent of it is grown in the Mekong Delta, a vast flood plain and one of Asia’s most fertile agricultural zones. But farmers here say the future of rice production is now threatened because of rising sea levels and temperature increases attributed to climate change.

Scientists Detect Acceleration in Sea Level Rise

Satellite altimetry data.
Satellite altimetry data. Illustration: John Fasullo

From an article in The Guardian: “Is this acceleration very important? Well the authors answer that question. They calculate that the acceleration will cause more than half of the sea level rise that will occur by the year 2100. Right now, sea levels are rising at a rate of about 3 mm per year. If that rate remained constant until the year 2100 (no acceleration), oceans would be about 25 cm higher than they are today. But a continued acceleration would cause a rise of 65 cm. So, this seemingly small acceleration makes a huge impact.

“The authors are careful to note that if anything, their results are conservative. They don’t account for potential catastrophic losses of major ice sheets. Just recently a study appeared that showed an acceleration in land-ice loss from Antarctica. Meanwhile, at the northern tip of our planet, temperatures are soaring. If these trends continue, we may be in store for a rude awakening with a rapid destabilization in a major ice sheet that would have dire implications for coastal communities around the world.”