Discuss: Anticipating Our Future
This echoed how I feel - made wistfully - and yet with a lessening hope.
As a woman of 74 I will be gone before calamitous change, but your essay leaves me feeling sad - sad for all the children.
Brilliantly captures the loss of innocence of humanity in our betrayal of the natural world. It underlines the failure of the amazing bipedal primates evolutionary gift of intellect to protect future generations.
Perhaps that sense of an unnamable loss that Jared refers to is loss of place. His returning, again and again, to rural Vermont reflects this silent calling. Yet he (as so many environmentalists) fails to notice that it is his commuting to the country which is destroying the country he loves.
When those who love the Earth no longer feel the need for unfettered mobility and ground themselves once gain in place, perhaps there will be a possibility for healing and restoration of both ourselves and the planet.
The sense of wonder and connection to landscape, so well portrayed, in this piece cannot be something that one must leave the city to find. After all most of us, even on a global scale, now live in cities. We must strive to find the green spaces within such environments that foster the same connections. I think, or at least hope that it is possible.
Frank is right that one might find a thin thread of connection to wonder in the world’s cities, perhaps by looking up to the sky (if the pollution still offers a view). But the other urban “greenspaces” are often as artificial as the urban lifestyle itself.
A city is - by definition - a human habitation which exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment and requires the importation (and typically the exploitation) of resources from someplace else.
Civilization, in fact, defines the problem. The answer, then, is one most human beings don’t want to contemplate.
Even “artificial” or fractional ecologies, can offer a view of processes that foster understandings of natural systems. After all, as a kid S.J. Gould was able to find interest even in the roaches of NYC. Once he got to snails our understanding of evolution changed.
It sounds like a dichotomy, an internal discord of desire: wanting to live the great big life, since our stupendous wealth has brought the whole world within our grasp, and yet wanting to keep in touch with small and ordinary things, the simple treasures and pleasures of life that have until now been quite sufficient for a satisfying and fulfilling existence on Earth.
I agree with Riversong, quit flying around the planet in jets, stay grounded, start walking wherever you need to go. The dichotomy and discord will come to an end as you walk a little slower into the future with the children.
Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments.
When I wrote this piece almost ten months ago now, it was right after I finished my tenure as Director of the Sierra Student Coalition, the national student chapter of the Sierra Club.
Before moving to DC to direct the organization, I had indeed spent all of my life in smaller scale parts of New England - growing up in Vermont and New Hampshire and then going to school at Wheaton College in Massachusetts.
The only reason I moved to DC was to help build the movement to solve the climate crisis. I worked with high school and college student organizers across the country to make their campuses models of sustainability and to build public will for clean energy solutions.
If I had just stayed grounded and at home, surrounded by mostly progressive people in Vermont, I fear I would have made far less of a positive impact than by working to build campus movements in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Iowa . We do desperately need people to go around the country and the world, rallying and organizing communities to the cause of solving the climate crisis. For myself at this moment in time I would feel selfish living in Vermont when there is so much work to do elsewhere. Yes Vermont still has a ways to go on climate and energy policy (especially with Gov. Jim Douglass being so shortsighted) but VT is still far ahead of most other places in our country. So yes, I felt I had to move to DC (where, for the record, I do walk and bike to get around) to have an impact on national scale work.
So I think the advice of “ground yourself” and “quit flying around in jet planes” is a bit simple doesn’t get at the complexity of this.
I travel to do the work that can help retain the kind of world I grew up in. When I travel, it’s almost always to organize or speak on these issues. It’s not that I want to live a “big life,” its that I want to make a big impact because I care about the way I grew up and want to preserve it in some way for future generations.
That’s not to say that that travel does not leave me feeling ungrounded - it certainly does at certain times. However, I think the real point of this piece is something i’ve only since been able to figure out.
As humans, we have always been obsessed with the idea of redemption. From our religion to our politics to our families, we have always been able to believe that no matter how much we have sinned, how badly we have erred, or how tragically we have failed that we still retain the hope of redemption.
The sinner can repent and begin anew, a failing politician or party can be voted out of office and better policies can be implemented. Someone who grew up in a broken home can break that cycle and start a loving family.
And it’s been the same with pollution. When previous generations went to excess in the pursuit of progress, we’ve been willing to go back and clean up their mess with Superfund sites and the like.
What climate destabilization threatens is the loss of the possibility of redemption.
Once a certain amount of greenhouse gases are up there, we could cross tipping points that would irrevocably shape the world of future generations, leaving them no recourse to fix it. No matter how much they would desire to redeem past generations, we will have set something in motion that can not be changed for thousands of years.
That’s the true exceptionalism of global warming - unlike any other issue on the political agenda today, there is an end point at which we either solve it or we fail because we’ve passed future-determining tipping points. With bad decisions about health care or education or anything else, while people unarguably suffer in the short term, we are not condemning future generations to live with those mistakes in perpetuity.
That’s what my piece was trying to get at. If we pass those climate tipping points - and we are coming so dangerously close - I want to retain somewhere in myself the memory of what life was like before the possibility of redemption was taken away.
One last point - shortly after I wrote this article I found a piece that is connected to the comments about “loss of place” that I would highly recommend in exploring this issue further.
It’s titled “Global Mourning” and is about how changes to the environment due to global warming are causing a loss of a sense of place, even when you stay in that place. Check it out at http://www.wired.com/images/press/pdf/globalmourning.pdf