It was no easy feat trying to keep my cool while racing in my high heels between Congressional and Senate offices in the scorching D.C. heat last Tuesday. More than once I wondered about the wisdom of leaving behind the comfortable Red Lake summer to join nearly four hundred other citizen lobbyists from across the U.S. and Canada who were fanned out across Capitol Hill, making the case to U.S. lawmakers that it was time to put a price on carbon pollution. Was all our effort worth it?
After my last appointment of the day, I walked back to the hotel with George, a commercial fisherman from Alaska. He talked about the devastating impact of the warmer and more acidic ocean on his livelihood. As we said goodbye and I gratefully stepped into the air conditioned hotel lobby, my attention fell on the newspaper headlines about Alberta, where people were losing lives as well as homes during that province’s second “100 year” flood in 8 years. I realized then that although my fellow climate lobbyists and I face an uphill battle to get a carbon fee and dividend bill passed, so did David when he and his slingshot faced off against Goliath. And you know how that story turned out. As Nelson Mandela so powerfully said, “It only seems impossible until it’s done.”
In North America, we are starting to experience the global climate disruption that results from dumping more and more heat-trapping carbon dioxide molecules into the earth’s atmosphere; and it ain’t fun. The folks in the Eastern U.S. are reeling from the effects of a”derecho” storm, that has left millions without power from Ohio east through the mid-Atlantic states, and killed at least 13 people. Four states have declared states of emergency. Meanwhile further west Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico are battling a monster wildfires. In an interview on CBC Radio this morning, Andrew Friedman from Climate Central revealed that 2,000 new record high temperature were set in the U.S. last week; that’s also where the quote in today’s title came from, from Ginger Johnson from Charlottesville, Virginia. She’s just one of nearly three million people still stranded without power in the storm-struck Eastern U.S this morning.
This “weather on steroids” is what the climate scientists have been predicting will happen if we don’t change our fossil-fuel dependent economy and lifestyles. Are we ready yet to make the sea-change that is required, for our economy, our children, and the planet to flourish in the long-term? There’s not much point in growing the economy if we don’t have a planet worth living on. We have a limited window of opportunity before the tipping point is reached and we careen down the other side of global climate catastrophe.
The Post-Carbon Reader puts our current crisis in perspective:
There is no historical precedent, however, for what we must do if we are to endure. Our biology, and specifically the way we perceive threats, was honed over the ages to respond to direct physical threats posted by predators animal or human. It did not equip us very well to perceive and respond to threats measured in parts per billion that play out over decades, centuries, and millenia. We respond, as noted above, with alacrity to threats that are big, fast, and hairy, and not so quickly or ingeniously to those that are slow, small, subtle, and self-generated. Our understanding of economies was developed in the industrial age and imperfectly accounts for the damage caused to ecosystems and the biosphere, and not at all for the destabilization of climate. Had it been otherwise, we would have known that we were not nearly as rich as we presumed ourselves to be and not nearly as invulnerable as we thought. Our politics are a product of the European Enlightenment and rest on the belief in progress and human improvement, which we now know are not as simply or as unambiguous as we once thought. The political forms of democracy reflect a bedrock commitment to individual rights but exclude the rights of other species and generations unborn. And it is in the political realm that we must find the necessary leverage to begin the considerable task of escaping the trap we’ve set for ourselves. (Chapter 6, “The Ecological Deficit”, David Orr, The Post-Carbon Reader)
It is our generation’s “Great Work” (to quote cultural historian and ecotheologian Father Thomas Berry) to address the havoc and destruction that humanity’s short-term thinking has wreaked upon the planet, other species, and future human generations. The time for waiting around for the fish to bite, or wind to fly a kite, or Friday night, or a pot to boil (to paraphrase that great philosopher Dr Seuss) is over. Take up the Great Work, with whatever skills or talents or time you have. Future generations will call you blessed.
Meanwhile, it was Canada Day yesterday, although with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the helm of the country, fewer and fewer people are feeling like celebrating it these days. The #DenounceHarper hashtag was trending neck and neck with #HappyCanadaDay yesterday, which is something to celebrate. Even conservatives are wondering about Harper’s corporatist agenda and his clear disdain for conserving anything but power (see Conservative Conscience In Turmoil). This sums up my feelings on Canada Day 2012 pretty accurately: