A Cautionary Tale

They lay like dinosaur bones of old, just another layer of strata on an ancient planet, slowly being enveloped in green and brown. Someday they might be fuel for a future species, but that won’t occur until they have been forgotten for millions of years.

Sadly, they were close to the pinnacle when it happened. In the previous two centuries famine and disease had withered into a distant memory, and eons of genetic adaptation lay dormant under warm roofs with running refrigerators. In what was a blink in geologic time, they had connected the globe and planted flags on the moon. Shining eyes had stared out outward thinking maybe, just maybe, they could actually colonize another planet.

But greed and ego hacked away at the pinnacle until this great civilization could no longer stand. They were warned, but with a spewing of hot air and angry waving of hands, a shout went up like a great industrial cloud of smog, blotting the sun, drowning out the warning, and smothering the populace until finally, with one small voice, they said, “We were wrong.”

But it was too late.

With the energy of an avalanche that would not be stopped, ancient cycles gained momentum until storm upon storm battered coastlines and mountains and the houses with warm roofs and running refrigerators. Sea levels crept up, pushing an already crowded world closer and closer together. Disrupted supply chains broke down down the doors for disease and famine to come rushing back like a torrent. The rewind button had been pushed, and like the video tape of old, it squeaked and rattled back through time and human advancement until only small clusters of people remained, gasping, relearning how to exist on this new earth, until even they could exist no more.

The storms continued. They were not dependent on the machinations of man. Refrigerators rusted, roofs blew in, and walls collapsed as the next iteration began.

Humanity became just another layer in the strata of time.

Photo credit: weesam2010 via Source / CC BY-NC-SA

Being Green

Photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

To quote Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being green. Environmentalist is a label that seems to get a bad rap nowadays. When I was born, I entered a world of 3.2 billion people, a number that has more than doubled in my lifetime to a current 7.4 billion. It seems sometimes that that world is closing in, that our natural resources are in great demand, that we are constantly seeking ways to increase our carrying capacity, and that the rich, in their quest for even more riches, seek to influence the world to their benefit at the expense of the rest of us.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s. The growing environmental movement had begun influencing culture and politics. Just before I was born, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had stepped foot on the moon, and the crew of this Apollo 11 mission snapped an iconic shot that has come to be known as Earthrise. Our travels into space allowed us the opportunity to look back upon ourselves from outside, and the world became a smaller, more connected space, swirling clouds visibly crossing man-made boundaries and ocean waves lapping at diverse shores. We were all inhabitants of this big, blue marble, and we were beginning to realize that the damage we inflicted on our planet had repercussions.

During much of the burgeoning environmental movement, I was too young to know of the stories making the news, such as the Cuyahoga River Fire, where pollutants regularly discharged from the steel mills of Cleveland set the river ablaze, or the Santa Barbara oil well blowout of 1969 that spilled three million gallons of oil onto the California coastline. Reaction to those incidents, however, spurred political change. I was fortunate to grow up in a part of the world where regulation of industry prevents, or at least attempts to prevent, polluted rivers and wide-scale environmental damage.

Of course things still happen. Human error contributed to one of the worst oil spills in the U.S. when in 1989 the Exxon Valdez veered off course, struck a reef, and spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound of Alaska, devastating wildlife populations and fisheries.

“Industry’s insistence on regulating the Valdez tanker trade its own way, and government’s incremental accession to industry pressure, had produced a disastrous failure of the system.” Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

Though it was only the twenty-sixth worst spill in the world at the time, it was the worst in U.S. history. Then came the more recent Deepwater Horizon event, where a BP oil rig explosion dumped 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. These events should be at the forefront in our minds when the subject of drilling in the Arctic or the Keystone pipeline come up. When it comes to human caused disasters, it’s not a matter of if, but when. The need to balance our needs for energy and a clean environment has to be be a revolving topic of policy discussion.

These policy changes don’t come easy. The boy pointing out that the emperor has no clothes is often shouted down by the masses who wish to continue the status quo. Such is the case with the scientists in the 40s and 50s who decried the widespread use of DDT due to its widespread deleterious effects on unintended creatures. Beneficial insects were wiped out along with their more damaging counterparts. Large populations of birds were dying, and even our iconic national symbol, the bald eagle, was threatened with extinction due to DDT poisoning. The scientists’ cries were dismissed until 1962, when Rachel Carson released a scientifically researched book, Silent Spring, which threw the chemical companies into a frenzied state of denial and defense of their product. Monsanto even released a parody to her book entitled “The Desolate Year.” Carson got the attention of officials in Washington, however, who looked into her well-documented claims and changed policy to reflect a need for protection from widespread chemical pollutants.

Now scientists are again raising concerns, this time about man-made climate change. It’s not a theory thrown out there to be bandied around. It’s a consensus of 97% of the experts who study this stuff. Yet once again industry officials, with lobbyists and loads of money on their side, seek to shut them down, to silence their voices, to grab the megaphone of conservative talk radio and “debunk” the data, which is clear to anyone with a scientific mind.

This political kickback is a cycle. We should know by now that the scientists are the ones with the clout, the ones with the data, and the ones who don’t have a monetary stake in the outcome. Industry does. It has a huge financial stake in keeping the status quo, to the detriment of all of us. Just look at the pattern.

We are living in an age of corporate greed and worship of the almighty dollar, in an age where lobbyists run roughshod over our democracy. Scientists and stewards of the land have worked hard, often at risk to their personal safety, to advocate for a clean environment. As both Earth Day and election day approach, my hope is that our nation would reflect a different set of values, not of the green of U.S. currency, but of a more natural, oxygenating, life-giving green.

“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” —President Barack Obama

Inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt: Green

Spring is Here


In my part of the world, we welcome spring as the harbinger of brighter days. Buds poke green out of the bare-bones branches of trees. Flowers emerge from the cold, wet earth to provide glimpses of much needed color amidst a sea of green grass and brown everything else. Trees along the riverbank that were just last week brushy sticks are now awash in fresh green growth.

I’m old enough to have weathered a few seasons. I can tell you that, like last spring, this spring was unseasonably warm. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn moved its tulip festival up one week because of early blooms. Mother Earth is speaking.

The switch to spring is as good a time as any to discuss climate change. Throughout February, we had numerous days of 60 degree plus weather. On February 10th of this year, I was able to sit by a pond in the evening and listen to the frogs wearing just a sweatshirt. This doesn’t happen in Oregon. We can debate the climate issue and circle one another, defending our positions with fangs bared and claws out, but it would behoove us to listen to what the scientists have to say.

Number one, climate is not weather. (Yes, I know I just referenced my weather.) The two are related, but you cannot judge climate change by the amount of snow in your backyard or how warm it is one February evening. Instead, you look for trends. Are storms coming at odd times and with increasing intensity? Are Februaries in your area getting statistically warmer as the years pass? You may better be able to judge based on the new species of starfish that are gradually working up the coastline from warmer waters or by the plants that originally wouldn’t grow in your climate zone. You may be able to judge based on dying coral reefs that can’t withstand a quick rise in ocean temperature or water levels. You may be able to judge based on the crazy storms that result from a water cycle on steroids. You can’t judge solely on the weather you experience on a daily basis.

The climate debate brings to mind a similar debate back in the 80s. Scientists warned that there were areas in the atmosphere where ozone was thinning to alarmingly low levels. There were deniers at that time also, but they didn’t have the voice they do with the soapbox of the internet and social media. Still, the marketing and PR machine got to work “debunking” the “myth.” They were outshouted, thankfully, and a ban on CFCs was put into place. It was a worldwide consensus and a worldwide solution. It turns out the situation was worse than even the scientists had imagined. NASA created a scenario to show what our world would have looked like if the cycle were left to continue unabated.

Source: New Simulation Shows Consequences of a World Without Earth’s Natural Sunscreen

We only have one world, and if our species is to survive, we need to protect not just it, because it will go on without us, but ourselves. Climate change deniers, including many who are running for the highest office in the land, insist that the climate is always changing. This is true. The climate millions of years ago was drastically different than it is today, but we were not here. It didn’t affect humanity. Our crops, our skin cells, our lungs did not depend on the balance of ozone or oxygen or carbon. There were no fixed location farms that relied on Mother Nature to provide consistent temperatures and rainfall patterns. Even in recent earth history (because 250,000 years in 4.5 billion is recent) small bands of humans followed their food source. We don’t have that option now.

We are a part of our world, not onlookers to it. We have adapted to the climate that we live in today. We are as dependent on the cycles we know and rely on as our fellow creatures. Our population worldwide has increased to staggering levels and we have so far managed to also raise the carrying capacity through technology and global infrastructure, but in an age of uncertainty and continued growth, how long will this serve us?

I recently subbed in a classroom where a fifth grade boy excitedly piped up that astronomers had found another earth. He stated that we had somewhere to go when Earth didn’t suit us any more. I had to play the part of buzzkill and remind him that it takes 6 months to get to Mars, and that it took Voyager One 36 years to get to the edge of the solar system. This planet (probably Kepler-186f) would be light years away and unreachable by any technology that we have today. My parting words were that we have one planet, Earth, and we need to take care of it.

So whether you look out your window at budding trees, emerging tulips, evergreen tropical plants or desert cactus, consider the bigger picture. Climate change is real and is happening now. In the words recently quoted by President Obama, “We are the first generation to feel its effects and the last generation who can do anything about it.” What will you do?