On the environment

Hit and Miss #29

Hi there! A happy Sunday to you. Here in Ottawa, it’s bright and warming up after a frigid few days. I hope you share in such cheery weather.

The other week, two friends had to endure a bit of a moment from me when I incoherently blabbed about my sentiments toward climate change. Given that yesterday was Earth Hour day, it seems appropriate to revisit that topic with more coherence. Here, then, are some quotes and links on the environment.

The line that got me going came from Kurt Vonnegut: “I know of very few people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren.” (Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, 71) That sentiment struck me, because I don’t even dream of a world for possible children of mine. (Sorry to mom and dad.) I don’t judge anyone who has kids, I just struggle to accept that as a future for me.

Later, Vonnegut writes that “Our planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of people.” (Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country, 104) This is an idea that comes up a fair bit in climate change writing, at least the writing I encounter: we (humans) are not bigger than the planet, and ultimately it will sort itself out, whether we survive it or not.

Have you heard of the brown marmorated stinkbug? It’s a strikingly adaptable insect that destroys crops during the summer and migrates indoors for the colder months. Kathryn Schulz profiles the insect. She pays particular attention to our relative weakness in its face: we can’t easily kill or control it, and it’s quite content to destroy our crops.

If you’re a bit squeamish—as I am—the first section will be rough, but persevere because what follows is absolutely worth reading. You’ll laugh-cry all the way through. (Also, Schulz writes so well. This article should be required reading for students learning how to write transition sentences—just look at those section enders!)

In response to the ongoing water shortage in Cape Town, the CBC is running an excellent series, Water At Risk.

Growing up near the Great Lakes, water shortage felt like an impossibility. Goodness, the city I grew up in is named Waterloo. But even here in Canada, with some of the most abundant freshwater reserves on the planet, areas across the country are at risk of drought. Indeed, parts of Western Canada may already be entering a period of drought.

What strikes me about reading these stories is that they feel so archetypal. “Climate-derived crisis somewhere in the world. Risk at home also high. Nothing much being done, other than keeping a watchful eye.” It’s great to keep a look out, but that also requires doing something in response to danger. The danger is here, but the stories rarely end with a response thereto.

I’d like to share with you the book to which I turn when I need a reminder of the beauty of nature. (Going outside also helps.) In The Once and Future World, J.B. MacKinnon does not provide easy solutions or reassurances. Rather, he relates an infectious love of nature, an awe for its varied, complicated forms.

I have no specific quotations from MacKinnon, but I recommend his book. I emerged from it convinced that addressing climate change requires a far deeper appreciation for nature than the one I had following my primary and secondary education. We need to understand and embrace wilderness, not push it away.

Elizabeth Kolbert is one of my favourite journalists. Her writing on climate change is exceptional. I particularly recommend her book Field Notes from a Catastrophe; the title alone still strikes me.

Kolbert is skilled at weaving together the science of climate change with human responses to it. (The two are sometimes related, but not always.) She deplores our wilful, informed destruction:

It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.

Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes from a Catastrophe, pg. 189

Heavy stuff, but necessary to consider.

In the time it’s taken me to write this letter, it’s no longer quite so bright outside. I’m reassured that tomorrow will likely be a bright day, or at least some other day this week. On a micro scale, we get by. But I’m deeply concerned about the macro scale. Will bright days continue to shine on humans? Do we deserve them, in the long run?

I’m not one for cosmic judgement, but I think humanity needs a major dose of humility. Here’s to one that’s willingly self-induced, rather than unconsciously administered by our planet’s immune system.


Sent on March 25th, 2018.