Baking, frying, boiling, burning to a crisp – and summer has barely begun

Posted June 29th, 2012 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

What a summer! Already tragic, already a suffering, already record-breaking, already scary – and we have two months to go yet!

Source: NOAA National Weather Service

Is it climate change? Certainly that is one big factor, but a complex one. It’s not as easy as saying, we are breaking heat records, it must be climate change. I remember the 1988 heat wave that began in May and ended sometime by autumn. That was about the worst summer of my six decades on the planet! We are getting this more regularly (1995 was another summer horror), and certainly that is one signal that climate is in a state of unnerving flux.

These things happen. El Nino appears to be settling in and that usually means hotter, drier summers in these parts. When people talk about our nearly snowless winter, I remind them of what happened the winter before – a record-shattering blizzard that crippled this city with monumental snow drifts (10-15 FEET) and 70 mph winds.

But most of us paying attention know the mantra by now – it’s the trends over time, and it’s the extremes, that mark an era in which there seems to be no ‘normal’ weather anymore. Stable weather is a thing of the past as the earth’s atmosphere tries to adjust to its new chemical makeup, all the CO2 and methane and ozone and HCFCs and nitrous oxides that are super-warming it. Weather disasters are barely big news anymore. They come and go with greater frequency leaving enormous damage and suffering in their wake and we still can’t manage to muster up enough alarm to realize the jeopardy we are in, the deep doo-doo, so to speak.

Waldo Canyon Fire - NASA photo

My grief over Colorado, where I lived in the 70s and to which I have returned many times, is almost unbearable. When I hear people say, well, this is nature, forests have always burned, it’s part of their natural cycle, I want to scream. These are not natural fires. Look at how they behave!

The Waldo Canyon fire is a great example of the complex ways in which the human species has completely disrupted habitat contributing in major ways to this disaster. But rather than go over that one more time, I want to give this blog over to the voice of an 11-year-old boy who lives where I once did, in the Boulder area, and let him tell us exactly what is going on.

TRUST Colorado from Our Children’s Trust on Vimeo.

We have lived so wrongly on this planet, living in places we shouldn’t live, disrespecting Mother Earth, exploiting her for our own benefit, including pretty mountain views, pumping her atmosphere full of greenhouse gases, disrupting habitats, fraying ecosystems until they fall apart.

Young Xiuhtexcatl Martinez speaks of something I remember so well – those late afternoon thunderstorms that rose up over Boulder and the foothills every summer afternoon. Sometimes, up in the mountains, you could watch the lightning move down into the canyons below, and the downpours bringing that magical scent of wet Ponderosa Pine. He says these summer storms don’t come anymore.

Pine bark beetle damage

The glaciers I’ve seen so many times in Rocky Mountain National Park are receding. The pine bark beetle has killed the trees, leaving dead dry tinder. Humans have built developments in canyons and up in the foothills further stressing and weakening once resilient ecosystems. It all adds up, you know? It all adds up – until I sit here weeping at my computer over scenes that break my heart.

What have we done? And why don’t we learn? What is wrong with us? What beautiful part of our bodies and spirits got cut off by our industrial/technological/consumer civilization to the point that we seem incapable of making any decisions commensurate with the scale of the damage or the danger? The first time I read about we humans loving nature to death was decades ago – and then we preceded to do just that – to Colorado, and now in Montana, and my beautiful Lake Michigan – and the Dead Sea, and vast areas of Asia, and the Amazon rainforest… Love and exploit to death because we have dominion and we get to have what we want!!! if we have the money!!

So let boys like the one in this video haunt us. He sees his future and what we are doing to it, and he feels the loss already. What will we do for him – and all the children in our lives – so that we can stop this before their future is one ofgrim suffering on a planet covered with the dead remnants of our woeful industrial era?

The forests will regenerate one day – but only if we let them. They will thrive again one day – but only if we finally learn to live a different way. If we realized the earth is sacred, if we realized that we are merely privileged to be here, not entitled, if we really understood our complete dependence on the health and well-being of this magnificent planet, that different way of living would begin to happen immediately. The grief would overwhelm us at times, no doubt (it already does many of us), but from that grief can come a sense of the wonder and gift of life. Then we will no longer want to do so much harm. Then we will learn the meaning of living lightly and simply on the planet – so that we can continue to be alive to bask in the wonder of it all.

But first we have to stop destroying the very source of that wonder…

Margaret Swedish

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One Response

  1. Dave Gardner

    Living in Colorado Springs, watching the flames from my house, breathing the smoke, and sweltering in record-shattering heat, I can honestly tell you this makes climate change feel very real and very NOW. This summer in Colorado may wake a few from their American Dream that economic and population growth are non-negotiable and living sustainably is optional. Thanks for writing about this.

    Dave Gardner
    Director of the documentary
    GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth