Globular Warming photo by Marcia Sloane
(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2014)
“It’s not denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.” Bill Watterson
I walk to town most every day rather than drive my truck for the same reason I decided in 1967 to create a life for myself independent of automobiles, something I’ve managed to do for most of the last forty-seven years. And my reason for eschewing cars as much as possible had and has to do with my awareness of the destructive nature of auto-centric gas-using systems of transportation, housing and economics, and by destructive I mean earth-killing, and by earth-killing I mean the death of the planet.
Many people share my awareness that cars are bad for children and other living things, as those famous posters of the Sixties summed up our collective antipathy to War, but most people I know do not walk to town or live largely independent of automobiles. Why should they? Our systems of transportation, housing and economics were designed to accommodate automobiles first and foremost, so to not use a car is highly inconvenient, and by highly inconvenient I mean impossible if one is in any sort of hurry, which most of us are.
The United Nations just released their first big global climate report since 2007, and one of the maps included in the report shows areas of the world circa 2050 where agriculture will either be out of the question or still possible. According to this map, when I am scheduled to be one-hundred-years-old, only Canada, Scandinavia and parts of Russia might still be habitable and arable, assuming there is air left to breathe, a bold assumption. The rest of the globe, including all but a few acres in the United States of America, will be too hot and too dry to grow anything. Is there a way to reverse the probability of this prediction coming true? Yes. There is one way. Everyone on earth needs to start walking to town most days and living independently of automobiles. Are we ready to do that?
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” Mark Twain
In related news, I just read a hysterical (and I don’t mean funny) article about the state governments of New York and New Jersey studying the feasibility of constructing artificial islands off their coasts to blunt the destructive force of storm surges similar to those caused by Hurricane Sandy. Climatologists are 100% certain more hurricanes at least as powerful as Sandy are coming soon, so folks in the governments of New Jersey and New York are seriously considering spending many billions of dollars and burning jillions of gallons of fossil fuels to rip up thousands of acres of land to procure the dirt and rocks to create islands off the New Jersey and New York coasts to, you know, blunt the storm surges.
The denial of the underlying problem by these wannabe island builders seems laughable to me, and by laughable I mean sad. And, yes, there are days when I want to flag down my friends who drive their cars to and from the village multiple times a day to get their mail and buy potato chips and meet friends for coffee, and I want to say, ‘Please. Don’t build artificial islands. Just stop driving so fucking much!” But my friends wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about, and they would resent my holier-than-thou attitude, so I do not flag them down and shout incomprehensible things. Instead, I wave to them as they zoom back and forth between their houses and the village in our globe-heating mammoths known as cars.
“We live in a world of denial, and we don’t know what the truth is anymore.” Javier Bardem
I can honestly say that mostly walking and rarely driving doesn’t make me feel holier than anyone. I don’t walk to feel holy, though I do enjoy how life unfolds at the speed of walking. I walk more than drive because the population of Kittiwakes in the Orkney and Shetland Islands has plummeted eighty-seven (87) per cent since 2000 and those once plentiful birds may soon vanish entirely. Imagine all the sea gulls suddenly disappearing from the coast of California. Why are the Kittiwakes vanishing? Well, the sandeel (a kind of small fish, not an eel) is the main food for most of the seabirds of the North Sea, and sandeels are vanishing as plankton thereabouts disappear, plankton being what the sandeels eat so they can proliferate and be eaten by the Kittiwakes. And plankton are disappearing around the Orkneys and the Shetlands because of climate change caused by humans burning fossil fuels.
The bird lovers of England and Scotland are terribly concerned, of course, that Kittiwakes may soon go the way of the dodo, but there’s nothing they can do about the Kittiwake Crisis because the vanishing is caused by billions of people the world over driving cars instead of walking or taking the bus etc. The Orkney and Shetland bird lovers are hoping to create artificial sanctuaries for the vanishing birds, except the birds aren’t disappearing from lack of places to live and breed. They are dying from climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.
“I have a very highly developed sense of denial.” Gwyneth Paltrow
Looking at that United Nations climate map of how the world is going to be circa 2050, it occurs to me that if I was twenty-five or even thirty-five instead of sixty-five, I might consider moving to Canada (where they really don’t want me) and getting some land way up in the northern regions that are currently next to unlivable, but in another twenty years might be positively Californian. Of course, in another twenty years, if things go as the United Nations is predicting, hoards of desperate people will be heading for those swiftly dwindling cooler climes, so maybe moving to Canada isn’t a better idea than staying here and mostly walking to town.
Speaking of walking to town, I was in Corners of the Mouth a few days ago buying some edible ballast for my knapsack, and when I got to the bulk grains, my jaw dropped because the price for long grain brown rice, a main staple at our house, had jumped in one week from $1.85 per pound to $2.35 per pound. Knowing that 800,000 acres (so far) of California farmland previously under cultivation are being left fallow this year due to the drought, I’ve been expecting increases in food prices, but not thirty per cent in one week. Rice, I should note, is a main ingredient in many food items, including the gluten-free bread I depend on. Which is to say, be prepared to do some gasping at the grocery store in the months ahead.
“Security is when everything is settled, when nothing can happen to you; security is the denial of life.” Germaine Greer
In the 1960’s, when I first got religion about what fossil fuel burning was doing and would do to the earth, I preached with fervor to friends and neighbors and relatives about the virtues of not driving and not traveling in jets, and how we needed to work together (what a concept) to create car-free lifestyles and solar and wind-powered energy systems. My fervor, however, seemed to mostly piss people off, and soon thereafter most of my hippie colleagues bought big cars and drove off into various sunsets. Our short-lived utopian dreams and schemes—based on the principle of Take No More Than We Give—went the way of the dodo.
I continued to live without a car, which was not terribly difficult when I lived in cities with decent public transit in those halcyon days when roomy Greyhound buses made daily stops in towns large and small everywhere in America. But as the bus and train systems disintegrated, I started renting cars to go on the few long trips I took each year and confirmed that absolutely everything in America is designed for the use of automobiles, and nothing else.
Oh I would love to blame evil people and evil corporations and corrupt governments and criminal bankers for the dire situation we find ourselves in today but evil corrupt criminals are not the problem. No, the underlying problem is…
Long ago there was a little band of humans wandering the earth looking for things to eat. Human existence was, at best, a few short years of uninterrupted grubbing for tubers and killing little mammals, with a few fleeting moments of sex to produce more humans. At worst, human existence was being attacked by someone trying to get your scrap of dried rat meat, and then being eaten by a tiger.
One day the little band of humans came upon a pile of grape-sized golden orbs. Not knowing what the orbs were, but hoping they were food, the strongest human in the band made the weakest human eat one of the orbs. Upon swallowing the orb, the weakest human became highly intelligent and could fly like a bird. So everybody else in the band ate an orb, and they all became intelligent and could fly like birds. And every time they felt the need to boost their intelligence and flying abilities, they would eat more of the golden orbs.
Just when it began to dawn on the humans that they might want to use their higher intelligence and flying abilities to create a better future for themselves and their children, they ate the last of the golden orbs. Shortly thereafter, their intelligence and ability to fly went the way of the dodo, and they resumed wandering the earth looking for things to eat and killing each other and being eaten by tigers.
They were human beings and could not overcome the underlying problem—their essential nature.