Out of deference for the Long Winter that everyone east of the Rockies seems to have endured this year, I've avoided talking about how effing weird it was to live in northern California and have it be dry, sunny and seventy degrees through the entire month of January.
(At left: Facebook photo from a friend or illustration of the pioneers' winter hellscape? Why can't it be both?)
When the cherry blossoms exploded before February first, it was disquieting. The blooms frosted over the warm limbs of the trees and I read the Zadie Smith essay on mourning the seasonal markers that have disappeared in the swirling currants of new climates. And I wondered: What happens now?
It would appear the answer is, And now we panic and freak out, because we live in a world where the air can kill you. If that's not enough to bum you out, consider this: We are looking at reduced crop yields every decade, for each successive decade in the remainder of this century. Two percent per decade doesn't seem too bad until you realize that it adds up to a 14% reduction over the next 70 years -- at a time where crop demand is projected to rise 14% per decade, or 98% in the same period.
(This is probably why forward-thinking entrepreneurs are trying to make insects the next superfood. Easy to farm, requiring minimal resources, easy to process ... it's a good bet on a new staple food.)
(This also reminds me of the harrowing dystopia sequence in Sheri S. Tepper's excellent sci-fi epic, Beauty. In it, environmental degradation plus unchecked population growth have led to a world filled with people who eat only algae, because that's all that's left. Fidipur!)
This morning, the TV news stations were all talking about the latest report out of the United Nations, and the soundbite summary was this: If we do not start addressing climate change as a global problem and think about this within the radical framework "My actions affect people around the globe whom I'll never meet! I had better not screw over strangers, hey?" ... then we're condemning successive generations to a world that's substantially more unpredictable and less comfortable than the one we enjoy.
The next question is, So what can we do?
I have no easy answers. I ran across the notion of a carbon fast as a Lenten practice and I checked out the recommended activities ... and realized I already do all these things. Way back in 2007, I did a yearlong "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" practice and most of the behaviors I adopted then have stuck, and my family has added more.
At what point is this out of my hands? At what point do I get to say to people, Hey, the way you're living is really screwing it up for the rest of us?
I hesitate because I am certainly no Zero Impact Lady, and I have always tried to tend to the beam in my own eye. But I am going to cop to some very human frustration and the creeping suspicion that what I'm doing doesn't matter because it's not going to hold back the sea, or offset the effect of drought on organic farming, or keep some poor kid from sucking in carcinogens with every breath.
Taking small, personal steps to live more lightly is certainly a good idea and a good start, and it can force you to keep examining your own values and why you act on them without conscious thought. There is no doubt that big shifts can be effected from the accumulation of dozens upon hundreds upon thousands of small adjustments.
But we seem to need some big shifts too. What are they? Where do all the little people making their little shifts go to make the big push?