Yes, Thomas Friedman has done it again. He’s made me say “YES!” and “THANK YOU!” aloud to myself in my office.
Why? Because he’s “all stocked up on crazy,” and so am I. Friedman's New York Times Op-Ed column “Is It Weird Enough Yet?”, published on September 13, cuts to the quick of the absurdity and ignorance of recent (and past) claims that climate change is “some fraud perpetrated by scientists trying to gin up money for research.”
I happened to be reading this column while listening to The Climate Reality Project, a 24-hour, live, worldwide stream (currently in its 21st hour) featuring experts and scientists from 24 time zones. One of these scientists was explaining that with each degree of warming, the atmosphere can hold more water—an unsettling percentage more that I have since forgotten, or blocked out.
While listening to this scientist and reading Friedman’s column, it rained outside. Again. In Vermont, since Irene hit, “rain” has become, as my mother-in-law so aptly put it the other day, “a four-letter word.” For communities that are still largely cut off, still cleaning up mud and debris, still reeling (emotionally, environmentally, economically...) in the wake of the storm, more rain only creates more problems. As is the case with most things that are interconnected and mutually dependant, today’s hastily rebuilt roads and shored up riverbeds will become next spring’s intensified run-off. And so the impacts mount upon themselves. And the rain won’t stop.
Finding myself in this vortex of cause and effect, and knowing that we’re well above the safe upper limit for CO2 in our atmosphere of 350 parts per million (we’re at something like 395, and a lot of people are counting), what do I do? Naturally, unavoidably and, yes, predictably, I think of my son, who is 3 and will have far more to contend with climate-wise than my generation.
Then I feel the movements of my 23-week-old, growing at an absurdly exponential rate, developing the miraculous ability to hear and breathe and feel and taste and see and think in startling, week-long increments. I am overjoyed by this and bursting with anticipation. But I am also conflicted. I actually question my choice to do this. To be a mom. To create more life, more demand, more pressure, more heat. And to welcome them (so innocent!) into a world so precariously balanced! What am I doing? I majored in Environmental Science, for crying out loud!
But wait. I'm principled, right? I'm aware. I'm cautious. I eat and shop locally. I heat with wood. I turn off lights and don't use air conditioning. I drive the smallest car on the market and keep the tires inflated. Someday I'll buy a few solar trackers and move my house off the grid, sell the gain back to the power company. Yet in everything I do, I am adding more weight to the world. Let's not kid ourselves. This is, as The Climate Reality Project reminds us, reality. We are in it, of it. We make it, each of us.
But here's another, simultaneous reality, underscored by Al Gore in a recent, intractably positive interview: we have a history of overcoming our own failures. Think of Civil Rights. Think of Women's Sufferage. Think of all those wars that actually ended. Maybe, with the right combination of intelligence and grit, we can do the same for the planet. Miraculous things happen every day. Take birth, and space travel, and Helen Keller, and deadbeat communities transforming into the next frontier for healthy, sustainable living in America. Crazier things have happened.
Maybe that's what it'll take. For each of us to peel ourselves out of the somewhat padded conceptions of our lives to finally recognize that we are crazy, sure, and that it might be this crazy that finally, irrevocably, drives us to change how we live on this one small world.