24 August 2014

Have We Waited Too Long? Is It Too Late?

Was it just last week that I suggested we could "make it" if we took the bold step of throwing our military resources (funds and (hu)manpower) at the climate change emergency? After yesterday, I'm starting to feel a panic.

You see, yesterday was the day of the Fall Fair in my little community. It's the biggest event of the year. I love convening the Young People's Agriculture section (we had to create a new category this year for the four giant pumpkins that kids entered into the Any Other Variety division against garlic and canteloupe). People see other community members they haven't seen all year. It's a happy time. For most.

One woman was sent off to the hospital by ambulance, likely for dehydration. I felt strange all day, hot and lightheaded -- but the high was only 22ºC or so. Then a local farmer bent my ear for a while, telling me of biosecurity issues on our island (a fungus being carelessly spread from farm to farm) and being "scared shitless" of what's on the way -- or here already. "We're in a little bubble here," he said. "We have no idea what's coming." 

As someone who understands the climate change emergency and sees what's happening around the world, I was nevertheless shocked to hear it come from someone else, especially someone local. (We really do live in a blessed little bubble here.)

So imagine my angst when I came home to an impassioned email from a friend who recently moved to a farm a couple of hours away. She wrote that she's afraid to sell or share any of her produce or farm products this year. That's because there are practically no insects or animals anywhere on her property -- not even a worm in her compost -- and she's fearing the worst. (Fukushima fallout? The worst of climate change?)

There's someone up her way, a biologist and diver, who just spent 9 days surveying 200 kilometres of coastline and in that time saw only one live seagull, one crow, no insects, minimal showings of only 4 other species, and no trace of anything else.

My husband and I have been noticing the scarcity of seagulls (we never appreciate what we've got till it's gone) for quite a while, at least several years before Fukushima. We used to see huge flocks of them around here. His elderly mother in England, during her last years, lamented the loss of birds and their birdsong (Silent Spring, anyone?). Peter often decries (and cries about) the lack of butterflies these days. His childhood was filled with butterflies. 

One of the most invisible and most insidious effects of a more variable and unpredictable climate is that predator / prey relationships are being thrown into chaos. If a prey insect hatches early because the seasons have shifted but the predator bird hasn't returned from its migration, that's a problem. If a predator shows up early, but the prey is late, that's a problem. 

It's a North American (and perhaps EuroAmerican) habit to think in only black and white terms, forgetting the greys and all the other colours of the rainbow. What I'm getting at is that there's probably no one origin of this situation. It's probably not just habitat destruction. Not just Fukushima radiation. Not just climate change. Not just karma. But because we don't think in systems, we want one enemy, one reason, one proven cause. 

And while waiting for that one enemy, reason or cause (that we can what? shake our fist at? throw military might at?), it seems they've all been ganging up on us. I'm not going to say it's too late, but holy shit, we'd better wake up and get our act together! 

My friend wrote that if there's hope, we need to be determined and heroic. "Can we take [this biologist's] lead and do our own research? Official sources are letting us down. Understand this onslaught is sudden and inevitably headed [our way]. How quickly? What are people seeing this season that was not noticeable last? How quickly can we think, work and cooperate?"

Even U.S. President Obama weighed in recently, at the University of California Irvine commencement on 14 June 2014:
So the question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest. The question is whether we have the will to act before it's too late. For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place. And that is to leave the world a little bit better for the next generation.
Someone on FB said this morning, "It needs courage to face the mess we are in. The fight has only just started and will be painful. But optimism is a moral duty, without which the fight cannot be won." Courage and compassion, folks. Courage and compassion. Leave the dishes and the TV shows and video games. Let's get to work!

(Thanks to Mike at Tau Zero for the photo of the very pissed off seagull.)


  1. The biggest problem is: Too many people! There is no way that this planet can sustainably support 7 billion people at any level of civilisation. Of course, the urge to reproduce is very strong. So is the desire to live a more comfortable life, which almost always means one of greater consumption. We cannot maintain anything that looks remotely like today's society on 'renewables'. Based on 'Limits to Growth' which so far has been remarkably prescient, we're looking at a rapidly rising global mortality rate, as declining resources and increasing environmental damage overwhelm the progress we've made in the last few hundred years. I wish we could look forward to a more enlightened and harmonious world but I think the evidence points the other way.

  2. Icarus, thanks for writing. I suspect you're right -- although I keep thinking that there's a slight possibility 7 billion people could lead the simplest of lifestyles (with a Bangladeshi footprint, for example). But that's not going to happen anytime soon. I remember an audience member once admitting, "I'd rather die comfortable than live uncomfortable." But in a way, that just proves that this is a crisis of imagination. People (except for science fiction writers and inventors) don't seem capable of seeing what might be -- only what is and has been. So yeah, we're probably pretty close to the day the whole pond is covered with scum (if you know the pond scum exponential analogy). But I, for one, am going down fighting!!! (And it sounds like you might be, too. ;-)

  3. i noticed the leading Repiblicans in the last US election had huge families who are begetting so many who will probably live like their parents with extravagant lifestyles .
    They are producing more and more votes for their party as well.
    Leading a simple lifestyle to me means not behaving as tho we were primitives but redefining our needs: how many square feet does one need to live in and building differently and using alternative energy
    We need new desires.Small is beautiful.
    On the Gulf Islands so much habitat and ecosystems are destroyed by the desire to have one's own quarter or half acre and then punching in a road to each place
    Cohousing models where the surrouding land is shared is much more efficient
    Here on SSI we outdo LA for no of vehicles per capita
    We have 10,000 residents with 9900 registered vehicles and 10,000 cars through town everyday which makes a huge amount of emissions NOISE + STINK


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?