Paul Andersen: There’s no hiding from eco-Armageddon
In Aspen I notice someone sitting in their idling car, windows up, AC maxed, exhaust spewing, head down, texting. Are they lamenting to someone about the heat?
At home, a Time magazine sits unopened on my kitchen counter — for days. No one wants to pick up a foreboding issue with the bold headline: ONE LAST CHANCE: THE DEFINING YEAR FOR THE PLANET. How appropriate as choking smoke covers the valley from the Grizzly Creek Fire.
Instead, I page through a National Wildlife newsletter where Bruce Stein, National Wildlife Federation chief scientist, calls the climate catastrophe “an existential threat to human society and to nature.”
I skim an article about restoring America by planting trees in urban neighborhoods, which brings a ray of optimism to cities stricken with COVID, racial injustice and crime. Planting trees seems rosy and hopeful and fitting for the overarching warning from Time: ONE LAST CHANCE.
As I scan Wildlife, I feel a heart-rending soliloquy to polar bears, elephants, rhinos, whales — the vanishing iconic species. Then comes the headline, “Shrinking ice imperils penguins.” I quickly turn the page to the main feature, “Can forests save us?” The story is illustrated with a hellish, red-hued image of the Amazon jungle in flames.
I step outside for a breath of HOT AIR! Choking with smoke, flakes of ash falling, I hurry back inside. “Man! it’s hotter’n the blazes out there!” I announce to my wife.
“What else is new?” she replies.
“Hey, do you want this?” she gestures at the Time bomb on our counter. “I don’t think I’m ready for it yet — or maybe ever,” she says with a look of resignation. “Recycling bin?”
“Not yet.” I take a deep breath and settle into my reading chair. ONE LAST CHANCE sends my soul into a pit of gloom.
How can I nurture optimism when most indicators are negative? How do I find forgiveness for what humanity is doing to the world? How do I bear witness to the industrial vandalizing of the biosphere without miring into outrage or despair?
The magazine in my hands forecasts a dire future brought on by inaction, myopia, greed — the foibles of man. It was all stated in Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” a clarion message from 2006, which most still deny.
I knew back then that it was time to start stacking sandbags against the inevitable rise in sea levels. I knew then that worshipers in the Church of Mammon know of no higher power than sales, revenue and quarterly reports.
I’m not happy to be writing this. I don’t want to be a Doomer. There’s enough bad news without me sharing my catharsis. I know this is a world rich in beauty, joy and goodness, but the realities are daunting.
Those who feel as I do will nod with commiseration about last week’s 130-degree record set in Death Valley. Many, like me, feel that the critical mass of change required to reverse climate change means repurposing the industrial and financial institutions on which modern life hinges.
“If we are to avoid a climate catastrophe, we have to tear up contracts and abandon existing deals and agreements on a scale we can’t even begin to imagine,” wrote Greta Thunberg. “What we want is leaders. We want people to step up, to dare to step out of their comfort zones, to prioritize the future and be brave enough to think long-term.”
I would be hypocritical to point fingers when I am as complicit as most simply by being born when I was and by enjoying aspects of the American Dream. It is ironic that the achievement of a rich lifestyle ultimately contributes to my malaise.
“No man is an island entire of itself/Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…” poeticized John Donne in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” We are in this together, while politically and socially we’re being torn apart.
Recognizing our ONE LAST CHANCE is a step toward the awareness of a common urgency so desperately needed and so sadly lacking. This is no time to sit in the idling car with the AC roaring.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Tony Vagneur: While climate change is something to be tackled long-term in order to reduce wildfires, governments need to look into preventative measures that can be done now to help the land.