(Warning: What you are about to read is not uplifting unless you need reassurance you aren’t the only one feeling this way, this Spring.)
Easter used to fill me with exuberance and hope. I was like Bugs Bunny, my nose twitching, my tail wiggling with glee! All that death— the blown brown leaves, the bare bayberry bushes, the garden devoid of violets—forgotten—replaced by the promise of an eternal cycle of life with its messages of renewal and resurrection. Not only were the tulips and daffodils coming up out of darkness, but, in the very Catholic mythology I was raised in, so was Jesus, the third person in God made man, rising from the dead.
The pagan holiday of Spring was, long ago, merged with the Christian idea of Jesus’ resurrection and thus in my mind Spring was eternal and Godlike, as was all life. There was nothing required of me to maintain this life cycle because it was God’s gift to mankind. The Bible said so. Well, I guess I had to worry a bit about kissing boys, particularly French kissing boys, as that might make it a little more difficult to have a happy eternal life. But there was always confession— if I remembered to confess to an Italian priest who wasn’t as strict as the Irish priest about all things kissing.
Maybe if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, maybe if we’d had to pay a price for crucifying him; maybe if we’d not been saved by the missionaries and had remained pagans: maybe then we would have paid attention to the needs of the earth and not taken all this life and resurrection for granted. Maybe we’d believe today: all this can end.
Without the story of Resurrection wedded to Spring would more people believe what the scientists are now screaming: life as we know it is going to end, soon and catastrophically, unless we wake up NOW and do something. There is no time left. If we stay at 1.5 degrees warming, it will be a miracle, and even that will cause terrible death and disruption. 2 degrees and over is where we are headed. All life, all civilization is threatened. These changes won’t happen in some far off future like 2100, but by 2025, 2030. No one is coming to save us. Not even a big carbon vacuum in the sky will save us as there isn’t time enough to ramp up the technology and infrastructure we’d need for this miracle to be enacted.
For the first time in my life, I no longer experience Spring/Easter as a thrilling time of renewal. I look out my window at the bluebird in the river birch, at the six deer grazing on the new green shoots on the verge of the driveway and think, it’s all on the line. The uncertainty of the continued existence of life forms plagues my mornings. The suffering of those who are experiencing drought and famine and displacement now, of the young people all over the world who feel despair about their future fills me with grief.
Yet, as our trip to Tucson so shockingly highlighted, all around me, at every level of society, “business as usual” continues and people go about their lives as if some God intended us to thrive on this planet with no heed paid to respecting her and her needs.
It makes me feel very alone.
Even a trip yesterday to an Earth Day event in the parking lot at LLBean discouraged me. It was a gray, cold day with a little rain so that didn’t help. Perhaps twenty tents were set up and all carried a poster that said Green Me Up. There were tents with demonstrations about Worms and Composting and Growing Wild Seeds and Planting Trees. But there were no tents with the words Global Warming, Fossil Fuels, Climate Disaster. Don’t scare the customers about the pristine Outside Beans promises it’s worth spending big bucks to visit with all the right gear.
I felt less alone when I read this piece written in early April by Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist and author of the book Being the Change, Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution:
Earth breakdown is much worse than most people realize. The science indicates that as fossil fuels continue to heat our planet, everything we love is at risk. For me, one of the most horrific aspects of all this is the juxtaposition of present-day and near-future climate disasters with the “business as usual” occurring all around me. It’s so surreal that I often find myself reviewing the science to make sure it’s really happening, a sort of scientific nightmare arm-pinch. Yes, it’s really happening.
If everyone could see what I see coming, society would switch into climate emergency mode and end fossil fuels in just a few years.
As a climate scientist, I am terrified by what I see coming. I want world leaders to stop hiding behind magical thinking and feel the same terror. Then they would finally end fossil fuels.
On the way home from Tucson, I sat next to a man on the plane who was a geologist whose specialty was hydrology. Oh goody, I thought to myself, he will know about the water in Tucson! Eagerly I turned to him “Tell me about the water supply in Tucson. Where does it come from, what’s happening with the aquifer?” “Oh”, he said, dismissively, “I don’t know anything about Tucson water. I work for a mining company and only know about hydrology and mining.”
After we got home from Tucson, a reader sent me a link to that day’s New York Times article about a study out of the University of Arizona in the journal Nature Plants. By mid-century 60% of the world’s cactus may be extinct. Extinct. Not depleted. Gone. The conditions for the life of these species have changed so rapidly that there is no time for the cactus to catch up. If the cactus can’t make it, I say to myself, what chance do we water-slugging gadabouts have?
For many years in early Spring, I’ve gone to our local greenhouse and bought a flat of pansies, their yellow and blue faces grinning at me from their spot on the table, eagerly inviting me to bring them home. I went again a few days ago but came home empty handed. Instead of the six packs they used to sell in cardboard, they were only selling single plants in plastic pots and for much more money. But what stopped me completely was the realization that these plants were not locally grown in their greenhouse, as I believe they once were. Instead, they’d been shipped here from god knows where with god knows how big a carbon footprint. I left, saddened by the loss of ease and lighthearted assumptions about the consequences of my purchases I once took so much for granted.
The news this week about the Biden administration’s capitulation to politics of Big Oil is devastating. You might say it was the nail in the coffin. This is Kalmus again:
Tragically, the Biden administration is choosing to expand the fossil fuel industry at this critical moment. White House spokesperson Jen Psaki recently bragged that “US production of natural gas and oil is rising and approaching record levels” and that “trendlines also point up,” as if these are good things. The administration has approved new drilling permits at rates far exceeding even Trump. Fossil fuel executives and investors are planning to increase production indefinitely, at least through 2035, demonstrating their belief that the politicians they’ve bought will continue to ignore the public’s desire for climate action.
I didn’t think it would end this way. My life that is. I didn’t think it would end with my watching my ten-year-old granddaughter, 20 feet ahead of me, skip down a muddy path in the forest headed for the beaver pond and tadpole spotting, all the while singing a made-up song about a woodpecker —and weep. Weep for what she is skipping towards, weep for what effect this knowledge will, one day, have on her gleeful, nose twitching, tail wiggling self.
I haven’t given up on the revolution. If you live locally, come join me on April 26 at the Freeport Library at 7 pm where we will be holding a discussion of Peter Kalmus’ book. Next week, I will write about meat, beef and how a plant based diet can save you and the planet!!
Kathleen, I so appreciate your Sunday morning essays. They remind me to stay true to my own desire to do something, anything, that will move us closer to addressing the causes of climate change. I plan to come to Freeport Library on April 26 and look forward to meeting you and other folks from Freeport CAN. I expect to be inspired by what you are doing, and I wonder if it is a model for Plymouth, my home town in central New Hampshire.
Oh, Kathleen. I feel a dreadful relief to read your eloquently plain-speaking words, to have you tell the truth. Yes.