“It was just soooo cold waiting in line,” said a woman coming into my current café-employer last night. She was coming from a climate change talk by Al Gore at Harvard.
“Really?” I asked, “You’re coming from a climate change talk and you’re complaining about it being cold, in winter, in Boston?”
(I begin to suspect that there is a good reason why I do not make as much in tips as some of the less prickly-verbose waitresses. Apparently, smiling obsequiously is another option for what to do with your mouth, rather than keep it open all the time.)
But the real surprise came this morning when I was telling my housemate about the conversation. We got into a discussion about climate change. It always comes as a shock that one lives in a little bubble, but I am still gob-smacked by her thoughts that climate change is not really a problem, that the scientific evidence has been tampered with, and that because the climate has varied since the planet banged together, we shouldn’t be worried, that species are constantly evolving and changing and trying to take over more territory, so really, what’s the difference?
Some things to note: my housemate is a lovely and brilliant woman. She is tidy, has a good sense of humor, likes my dog and we live together well. She is from Europe, and has a post-doc position at one of Cambridge’s better than average universities. Her field is science, and she enjoys playing Devil’s Advocate and understands the necessary vague nature of scientific language. Perhaps because of all that, our conversation was all the more disturbing.
But here is what got through to her, the only piece of my argument that held her attention: Bicknell’s Thrush. I love these birds—mostly because of their affinity for the gnarled boreal zone of the Northeast, hovering for shelter just below the alpine zone. I also like the Bickies slightly shrill but enthusiastic song.
I explained how with the changing climate, these birds are losing their habitat, as their trees effectively migrate upslope, and how that is a smaller and smaller ecosystem as the birds creep up the cone of the mountains. How because ecosystems are more like puzzles than stripes, the shrinking alpine zone, the changing make-up of species in the Bickies zone was going to impact them, badly. How, of course, evolution and adaptation are real things, but that now, the climate is changing so quickly, no species can keep pace with the changes demanded of their being.
Housemate suggests that I write a blog about this bird, that maybe if more people knew about this bird—and about the other thousands of millions of species and ecosystems and cultures at the mercy of our collective willful ignorance—maybe they would do the necessary things. I told her that I think of Bicknell’s Thrush when I turn out excess lights, that the birds are why I circle my charging electronics like a vulture, part of my thinking in the WHY of what I do on a daily basis to try to slow the changing climate. I told her we can’t stop the climate from changing, the seas from rising, the birds from being forced upslope and the alpine flora forced to memory, that we can only slow it down.
This makes me furious, I want to stop it all and hold back the tides, but like King Canute, this is not a reality. But what really slays me is that there are organizations and studies and enormous amounts of scholarly and citizen and anecdotal evidence that the climate is changing, that we big-footed Americans are largely at fault, and that everyone has something as infinitely dear as Bicknell’s Thrush is to me that is threatened by our ignorance. There are millions of blogs already about these things, thousands of non-profits dedicated to the same, and billions of “likes” on Facebook for 350.org and friends. I do not know what else to do. Again and again I am reminded by Terry Tempest Williams saying that “it will never be enough, but you have to do it anyway.”
What is it that you love, that you cannot bear the loss of? The nation of Tuvalu? Dwarf-mountain cinquefoil? Cold snowy days in New England winters? What rocky coast or sandy beach has held your feet at what time-stopping, defining moment of your life? Because these are what climate change really looks like. Pick something you love and labor against fossil fuel industries and power plant emissions and industry permissive legislation, ride your bike and turn down the heat and unplug your dryer, all in service to that love. “What we love, we must protect,” says Sandra Steingraber.
So, protect it, fiercely. While you still can.