Act of God?

by Esther Emery

From the North He caused great cold to bury the people in ice.
From the South He caused great floods to bury the people in water.
From the West He caused great bolts of lightening to bury the people in fire.
From the East He caused great quakes to bury the people in sand and mud.

The above is what John calls a “mytho-historic representation of events,” specifically those events that, in Liz Duffy Adams’ fertile imagination, transformed today’s world into the fictional alternative future currently occupying the Lyceum Space. Last night I watched the opening night performance with a fresh eye (bought by a few days off), and went to my sleep vibrating with images of a junked Earth, devastated by natural disasters. I woke up to the voice of Daniel Schorr:

“An act of God,” he said, ostensibly quoting the dictionary, “is a natural event outside of human control, such as a sudden flood or other natural disaster.” The NPR senior news analyst went on to cite a front page article in the Washington Post titled “Iowa Flooding Could be an Act of Man, Experts Say.”

Enshayan, director of an environmental center at the University of Northern Iowa, suspects that this natural disaster wasn’t really all that natural. He points out that the heavy rains fell on a landscape radically reengineered by humans. Plowed fields have replaced tallgrass prairies. Fields have been meticulously drained with underground pipes. Streams and creeks have been straightened. Most of the wetlands are gone. Flood plains have been filled and developed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that. In fact, common sense suggests that the “cataclysmic flooding” in Iowa, this year and in 1993, is not entirely outside of human control. As one Washington Post commenter puts it:

You have your head in the mud if you don’t think land use affects the rate of runoff.

I don’t know anything about runoff. I’m not a farmer, or a land-use expert, or an environmental lawyer, and I wouldn’t recognize a flood plain if it bit me. This sort of information is usually filed in my brain among “Things You Don’t Know Anything About” or “To be Ignored Unless Conversing With Other Green-Minded Liberals.”

I find myself, this morning, still vibrating with those images of a future junked world, looking for a way to be truly accountable for my own corner of “land use.”

Amy Chini sent me an email blast from the Surfrider Foundation:

Did you know that an estimated 100 million tons of plastic debris have accumulated in two areas of the Pacific Ocean that together are larger than the continental United States?

Woah. Like a floating Junk City. Amy, this may be our next trash-art installation.

These areas are aptly called the Eastern and Western Garbage Patches. There is so much plastic, that it outnumbers the zooplankton six to one. Plastics, like diamonds are forever.

I’m forgiving myself for ignoring flood plain development. But I can’t excuse the disposable plastic water bottles. I’ve been thinking about my plastic water bottles since the trash facts post last week, and I’ve realized just how deeply I despise them. I hate how much space they take up. I hate the way they look in a trash can, capturing all that air in that unnatural shape. I hate that they’re so convenient, so available, so culturally acceptable, and that there isn’t any other way to have your own water supply on a cross-country airline flight. I’m taking a stab at life without them, and I’ll let you know how it goes.

If we stop the accumulation of plastic in our oceans, will that count as an act of God?