Tom Cardamone: A little gratitude can make a huge difference
Aspen Times Weekly
In 1881 a science station crew on the Arctic coast of Alaska attempted to measure the depth of the permafrost. After weeks of hard labor they had burrowed only 37 feet and gave up, not understanding that the frost was well over 1,000 feet deep. Such a huge mass of frozen earth seems an eternal presence, and to a degree it is, despite the currently receding southern edges and increasing surface melting of permafrost in arctic lands during summer.
By contrast, the Arctic polar ice capping 14,000 feet of very deep blue sea has generally been no thicker than a mere 10 feet. This floating skim of ice is the size of the United States in winter and shrinks to half that area in summer. Because this ice is so relatively thin and fragile and is associated with liquid seawater ” which has a far greater capacity to absorb the sun’s heat than sea ice ” melting accelerates quickly once it starts. The summer melting of the North Pole, recently expected to happen for the first time in about two decades, may happen this summer. It’s the convergence of multiple physical factors, each generally studied in isolation, that has brought us to this unexpected acceleration of the polar ice cap’s disappearance. At the same time that the North Pole is about to lose its white cloak, we see that the emperors of our fragmented scientific disciplines have no clothes.
Climate change, in its most current and alarming version, includes ice melting, seas rising, Florida as the new Atlantis, disease spreading, food production declining ” in short, a hellish place, a global train wreck with most of the passengers in some stage of ignorance or denial.
Thankfully, there is a growing sense that we are capable and motivated to switch to a better track and a much more pleasant destination.
Knowing what we know, I still get in my car every day, turn the key and add a few more pounds of carbon to our overburdened atmosphere. How smart is that? I understand intellectually the need to reduce our carbon footprint, and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies has committed to having a zero carbon footprint, without offsets, within 10 years. We know how to get there, yet the greatest hurdle may be beyond the chemistry, physics and biology of climate change.
There is a great spectrum of solutions and opportunities lining up in the emerging hopeful vision of the future. Yet the will to make both dramatic and small changes in how we live must come from someplace beyond science and information; it must come from a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to live on this remarkable blue and green planet.
David Orr has suggested the simple expedient of being grateful, every day, in a thoughtful and respectful way, in some form of conscious practice; grateful for the gifts we receive every day from the living Earth.
Take a moment and transport yourself to the shore of the Arctic Ocean in Alaska, where a group of Inuit elders is gathering, as they do every day, to face the sea and express their gratitude for the fish and mammals in the ocean; to the individual fish and mammals they will take to sustain themselves. Their gratitude is so deep and soulful, born out of an intimacy with the landscape and sea and its wildlife. In their world view, the people, the environment and the wildlife are all in rhythm, all interdependent. The givers of life, the prey animals, become the receivers of thanks, a reciprocal gift which completes a circle of gratitude.
Now of course it’s different for us. We’re not subsistence hunters and gatherers, and it’s not likely our elders will line up on Main Street to give thanks to the City Market truck as it rolls by. But consider adding a second column to your grocery list, a “give” column and list “gratitude” as the first item. Next could be a reminder to support projects providing food and water to people in need somewhere in the world. Or, closer to home, support a project ensuring minimum stream flows and adequate habitat for native wildlife right here in Colorado. The generally disengaged process of making a grocery list has become a gesture, the reciprocal completion of a circle connecting you to community and the natural environment. Use your imagination and invent your own personal, discrete gestures. No one needs to know, but it’s likely to change your worldview and your life, and that will be noticeable and good.
Your simple gesture, and the awareness and commitments arising from it, would put you in the good company of the likes of Rachel Carson and Albert Schweitzer, who both possessed a deep sense of compassion for all life. You’re also joining Albert Einstein, who knew, “A human being is part of a whole … He experiences himself as something separated from the rest … This delusion is a kind of prison for us … Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of Nature in its beauty.”
The current dissonance of human activity with Earth’s natural rhythms could be described as simple ingratitude, rather than being rooted in excessive consumption and combustion. With all the good science and education in the world, we only move into action once a healthy measure of gratitude is added. Once fortified with Einstein’s “compassion born out of gratitude,” it becomes more likely we can effectively shift our core values, abandon the burdens of our consumer culture and embrace the enduring values of a truly conservative culture: health, happiness and real prosperity.
The ideas above were inspired by at least two Alberts, David Orr, Liz Hosken, Rachel Carson, and my wife, Jody. Any departures from reason or logic are my own.
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