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A Dream for a Greener World

Yetta Jager, Green Sanctuary Committee

Perhaps one of the most famous speeches in popular memory is one delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC in the summer of 1963 to a crowd of over a quarter-million civil-rights supporters. Imagine the singer Mahalia Jackson, shouting out, “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin!”. And then. King departed from his prepared speech and began improvising, creating a rhetorical masterpiece . Dr. King’s speech alluded to the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, as well as his personal experiences in the Deep South. As a preacher, Dr. King’s oratory was filled with religious references and references to conditions of slavery in the deep south. His experience as a preacher enabled him to deliver the impromptu speech in a way that no prepared speech since has come close to.

Well, I have a dream too, which I shared in a 2018 Westside sermon, and I hope many of you share it. This version takes inspiration from the cadences of the MLK masterpiece, in honor of Black History month.

Ten score years ago, our forefathers relied on regenerating sources of energy. Five score years ago, his sons extracted coal, drilled oil produced over millennia. One hundred years later, that resource is dwindling, robbing our sons and daughters of a future.

We come to this spot to remind American of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. This is not a dream that can wait, but one that should start today.

I have a dream that one day the gush of oil will slow to a trickle, and no longer spew ancient carbon atoms to blanket a fever’d globe. That the oil supporting our great nation will miraculously be spared to light lamps over eight millennia of days and nights.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and prosper, not by grabbing greed and wasteful wealth, but by careful consumption. That neither the birds in the sky, nor waterfowl at sea, will wear coats of oil or return to breed on grounds laid bare by drilling salts and surfactants.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that our descendants will harness the forces of nature: the movements of wind and water, the heat of the sun and earth. That one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and daughters of slave owners --- will share power from plantations growing poplar and pine. Power grown by people, for the people, and of the people.

I dream that one day we will reap energy from amber waves of grain grown across the purple majesty of perennial plains with roots reaching down to embrace rich, organic earth. In this dream, I see small farmers working hand-in-hand to fuel a home-grown economy that stretches from sea to sea. I see many depots springing up to produce fuels and bioproducts.

I have a dream today!

Now is the time to protect species from the slings and harrows of careless agriculture. From the lowly worms enriching earth below to birds and bees that pollinate flowers above to the benefit of Man. From headwater spring reaching into every mountain and holler of this great land waters flow downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, where suffocating shrimp still suffer the consequences of upstream mistakes.

The time is now!

Now is the time to add tall, deep-rooted native grasses and fast-growing trees to our vulnerable lands and our energy portfolios. Plants that reach up for sunlight and reach down to store carbon and nutrients.

Now is the time to harness the wind and the willows. Serving us in so many ways. Now we reap provisioning services from coppiced limbs, multi-limbed and multi-purpose. Now we benefit from regulating services, trees using and re-using wastewater, restoring wastelands to fertile and productive plantations. Trees that add economic value by providing other ecosystem services and energy.

The time is now!

Now is the time to use our nation’s waters to turn turbines that drive prosperity, not by rigid engineering, but by strategically harnessing the sinuous whims of shifting rivers and turning tides.

I go back in time to the Deep South. Before me, a lazy river bend winds around Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a site where coal barges collided with mussel beds, once the greatest diversity in all of North America ! I visited the bends and oxbows of the mighty Mississippi River. I saw a great flood where fertile floodplain soils were torn away from poorly-placed cornfields and swept downstream. I know that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

The time is now to right the wrongs of the past. In my mind’s eye, I see before me a future where cottonwoods once again line our great rivers, protecting our soils and fueling our barges. A future where wetlands and mussel reefs once again find their rightful places and rebuild their homes. A future where once again, we allow freshwater ecosystems to purify our waters, and restore the ecosystem services that were lost.

I have a dream.

A dream that our great, great-grandchildren will enjoy a bounty of ecosystem services, remembering to hold them in trust for their children and their children’s children.

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our national treasures into a beautiful symphony of production. With this faith, we will be able to work hand-in-hand with the ecosystem to provide energy, food, and fiber; to restore pollination, regulation, and other services, knowing that our children and our children’s children will be blessed with prosperous lives.

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