Giving thanks is a struggle this year.

In the past 12 months we have been struck by three body blows from Mother Nature: the South Asia tsunami, Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and the Kashmir earthquake. In each case, the destruction wrought by nature was exacerbated by a lack of foresight and criminal negligence on the part of governments. In each case, the suffering is ongoing.

Taken individually, each is a tragedy. Taken together, they are unimaginable. Numbing.

Yet we do not have the luxury of numbness, for every day the dimensions of two interlinked crises — the disruption of global climate and the exhaustion of the world’s primary energy source — become more clear. These crises portend disasters like those we’ve seen this year, ever more frequent and more severe. Still the world’s governments stumble forward with shameful disregard, shackled by habit, by ignorance, by greed, content on some level that they will not have to weather the worst of it.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

It is a particularly bitter year for those of us in the U.S. We continue to see our nation’s reputation and credibility eroded by a series of foreign policy blunders. We are in a position to lead the word to a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future — yet instead we find ourselves mired in a debate about the legitimacy of torture. We spurn all efforts to address climate change. We burn heedlessly through the world’s remaining oil. We wage war.

When confronted with the three epic natural disasters of the past year we have displayed a parsimony that borders on the repugnant.

In the hills and mountains of Northern Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of penniless, hungry men, women, and children sleep in tents, their houses and lives reduced to rubble, waiting the coming of a harsh winter that a horrific number of them will not survive. Yet the U.N. has been able to raise less than $300 million to help them — as much as we spend in a few days in Iraq, a negligible rounding error in our GDP. Already they have begun to die.

On 9/11/01, one kind of malaise breached our shores; this hurricane season, another did. Our isolation from the world’s struggles, our glorious island, is falling away. We will soon have to accept the challenge of forging a better, more equitable, more sustainable future, or we too will see ours sink into strife and misfortune.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

So it is difficult to search our hearts for gratitude, in a season of darkness, for bearers of light that seem ever more scattered and overwhelmed. But bearers of light there always are, in governments, in businesses, in schools, in communities across the world. We all know of them. Now more than ever we are called to give thanks for them, to support them — and to join them.

For my part, I am acutely conscious of the blessings I enjoy, my privileged place in a shrinking world. So above all I give thanks for my family, my wife and my two boys, who at the end of every day I spend studying the globe’s ill health await me at home with warmth and joy.