The west is on fire. A pandemic has the world in its grip. Huge tropical storms are coming more frequently and leaving havoc in their wake. Species loss is accelerating. Etc.
I do hope you are finding some sanity and staying safe and healthy in these crazy times!
For myself, most days I waver between states of deep sadness and periods of powerful hope. Most of the sadness is in response to the mounting evidence that our Earth is moving rapidly toward uninhabitability. In the midst of a pandemic caused by human exploitation of nonhuman animals and the natural world, in a context of deadly tropical storms and ice sheets melting beyond the “point of no return,” now my beloved home state of California is a raging inferno.
So much loss has accrued already, and we have still not reached the point of no return on the climate crisis. Believe it or not, we do have some time to wake up to the seriousness of this issue and take decisive, comprehensive action as a global human family to turn the tide on the climate crisis.
We Still Have Time to Wake Up and Take Action
Although many impacts of our warming climate have clearly reached catastrophic proportions, we have not yet entered runaway global warming. If we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly, we can conceivably avoid crossing that threshold. My belief that this is possible was strengthened when most of the global community radically altered our behavior in response to the pandemic, to keep the community safe and healthy. It has been further buoyed as I have witnessed the generous outpouring of community action and support to respond to the needs of the evacuees. Clearly, when the danger is great, grave consequences are imminent, and the threat cannot be ignored, we humans demonstrate tremendous capacity for compassion, resolve, and a commitment to change. And that possibility is what keeps me returning to the hope when I find myself heading toward despair.
One challenge for those of us who work to create change is to inspire individuals, groups, and decision-makers to wake up and notice that the climate crisis is a huge emergency with immediate consequences that cannot safely be ignored. I celebrate when I see mainstream media attributing huge tropical storms, raging wildfires, flooding, and other environmental fallout from rising temperatures to the climate crisis, and this is happening right now. It helps people who are being personally impacted by these disasters understand that they are being impacted by our changing climate.
These personal experiences of impact can be powerful motivators for waking up, and I see this happening with so many people right now.
The impacts of the worsening climate became very personal for me over the last few weeks as the CZU Lightning Complex fires raged through Santa Cruz and San Mateo Counties.
The personal impact began with smoke- and ash-filled air that was so dangerous to breathe that having windows open or going for a walk would have been an assault on our health. It quickly escalated into a situation in which friends, a family member, and thousands of people in our community evacuated their homes and flooded into shelters.
The fires and the evacuation area grew larger and larger and closer and closer to our home. Like many people in our area and in the hundreds of other endangered areas around the state, we spent significant chunks of time throughout the day listening to briefings from fire personnel, studying fire and air quality maps, checking and rechecking evacuation boundaries, and researching wildfire preparedness protocols. We put together an evacuation plan, just in case.
And like many people in our area and in the dozens of other endangered areas around the state, we prayed.
Preparing to Evacuate
When the evacuation zone reached the city limits of Santa Cruz, about 2 miles from our home, we began to implement the early evacuation procedures in our plan. First we put our important papers in our day packs. Next we packed up valuables, family photos, clothing, water, and food and staged them in the garage, ready to stuff into the car. We folded down the back seat of our station wagon and parked it facing the street.
And we continued to pray.
Unlike the approximately 77,000 Santa Cruz County climate refugees who were ultimately evacuated from their homes, we were spared that trauma when the fire crews finally started getting the fire contained. It took a monumental effort, with local fire personnel being supported by crews and engines arriving from distant areas of California and even from out of state.
Some Clean Air
Around the end of August we relaxed considerably, as it seemed that our family had reached the turning point and would almost certainly not have to evacuate. We started reducing the frequency with which we checked the fire maps. Our air was clear some days and we were able to take a walk without hurting ourselves. I wast safe again on some days to resume our warm weather ritual of eating lunch outside on our patio.
So many friends and acquaintances were evacuated, and some lost their homes. We continue to pray daily for the many victims of this fire. My family lost a home to fire once when I was in my teens, so I have some idea of the trauma, grief, confusion, and uncertainty that thousands of my community members may be experiencing.
And I thought that my current family and I had somehow escaped with no further personal loss. Until two days ago.
My husband Golden and I have had a backpacking trip for this week on the calendar since spring. As the fires and smoke spread around the state, we had continued to research and identify alternative sites for the trip. As each alternative location became unsafe and/or unhealthy we looked for another.
Three days ago we optimistically got our packs ready to go, as we continued watching fire and air quality maps and changed our intended destination several times throughout the day. We went to bed not knowing where or even if we would find a safe place for our trip. Then, two mornings ago, as we were making our final destination checks prior to leaving, we found out that eight of the national forests in California were closed, and that the national forests that remained open were closed to camping.
Resignation and Grief
We resigned ourselves to the fact that we are not going backpacking in California or any other Western state right now, or in all probability, at any time into the foreseeable future.
By the end of that day, all of the national forests in the state were closed, due to the extreme fire danger and shortage of resources to fight additional fires. Thirty state parks closed the next day, yesterday.
The closure of the national forests triggered a huge eruption of grief within me. But my tears were not about my personal loss of a romantic adventure with my beloved. My tears were for the Earth and all her inhabitants as we appear to be careening towards a future in which life as we know it will cease to exist. In fact if we don’t effectively respond to the climate crisis soon enough, life, period, may cease to exist. I am grieving for all of us, but most especially for the children.
Hope Can Spread Like Wildfire
Yet I still feel a spark of hope and I continue to rekindle that spark. In the same way that the wildfires are spreading, well, like wildfire, I believe that if enough people heed the wake up call, our collective resolve can also race across states, nations, and the world.
You are still reading this post, so my assumption is that you care about our Earth and are already engaging in many practices to create a sustainable human presence on the planet. Thank you!
I, too, am committed to doing my part with both my lifestyle choices and my work in the world. I keep my purchases of stuff to a minimum, use the heater sparingly, and don’t drive often. Our home is a model of environmentally-sustainable practices, including our climate restoration garden.
And perhaps my biggest personal contribution is that I avoid eating all animal products.
Recently I read Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, written by teen climate activist Greta Thunberg and her family. In response to reading that book, I have added another commitment to my list of personal actions and my work to reduce emissions. I have decided to stop flying—with one exception: if I hear that my 94 year old father is about to move on to the other side. This one decision means I am reducing my carbon footprint by an average of 6 tons per year!
I am also scrutinizing my other emissions-producing activities and looking for additional ways to reduce my carbon footprint. I know that we will not solve this crisis with personal actions alone, and that systems change is required. Yet I want to be able to look my grandchildren and all other children of the world in the eyes and say that I am doing my best to insure they have a planet on which to live.
How about you?
Have these fires been a wake up call or sparked a new resolve in you? If not the fires, what recent climate-related catastrophe has made an impact on you? Are you making new choices? Are you researching options for making a difference? Have you taken on new activism or increased your support for environmental causes? I would love to hear from you!
!None of us will likely bring our personal emissions down to zero overnight. Mine are very low by U.S. standards, but I still drive a gasoline car, albeit one that gets pretty good gas mileage. I still run our natural gas-powered heater when I don’t feel capable of putting on yet one more sweater. Etc., etc., etc.
Waking Up and Rising Up Together
As we consider our complicity in the status quo, let’s be sure to not beat ourselves up. We really can make new choices as individuals. We really can rise together and create sustainable systems. I know this is possible. And we will succeed most gracefully if we extend love and compassion to ourselves and to each other as we re-imagine and transform our modes of living.
If one of the things you are considering doing to decrease your personal contribution to the climate crisis is to incorporate more plant-based foods into your life, I would be so delighted to see you in Eat for the Earth’s online food preparation classes! Check out our calendar of events for upcoming offerings. Your participation would also support the environmental activism of Eat for the Earth, because all proceeds from the class support the work of the organization.
My greatest hope is that enough of us have heeded the wake up call and are ready to take decisive action in our own lives and hold our leaders accountable for creating the systems change that is so sorely needed. I’m grateful to have so many allies in this work, and would welcome your participation in Eat for the Earth in whatever way makes sense to you. There is nothing we can’t do together as a global human family. The Lancet Commission said that humanity’s response to the climate crisis is “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century. I believe that is true, and I am honored to be working to realize this opportunity in collaboration with you.
Together, we can wake up the world and inspire our global family to rise to this crucial opportunity to create a sustainable, just, compassionate, and healthy human presence on our beloved Earth!