There weren’t a whole lot of people there; I think I counted ten, not including the speaker: mostly older curmudgeons with grim smiles. No uppity know-it-all types, though. The speaker was W. Douglas Smith, an environmental scientist with 30 years as an EPA senior compliance investigator. Also an author, explorer and educator, he was sponsored by the Seattle Chapter of the United Nations Association.
The subject of the meeting was, dare I mention it – "Climate Change" which is at the top of most people’s list as a subject they either don’t believe or don’t want to believe. I mean, come on, who wants to know that the "best laid plans of mice and men" as Robert Burns once wrote, will soon being coming to naught.
Well "Hail to thee blythe spirit." I can come up with flowery poetical lines, too. Or like Mr. Smith mentioned, Pogo’s great line –"We have met the enemy and it is us."—as depicted by cartoonist Walt Kelly from the first Earth Day poster back in the early 70’s.
The hard data: glaciers melting, sea levels rising. Worldwide 129.28 people per square mile. I guess it was back sometime during the Civil War, when the population was still low enough for the earth to actually sustain those living here on the planet. Have you heard enough yet?
Something else Smith pointed out – the book, "Collapse," by Jared Diamond, one I read some time ago. And Jared Diamond was somebody I really admired, after I’d read his book, Guns, Germs and Steel.
What was especially poignant for me, was that Collapse started with Ravalli County, Montana, south of Missoula. I spent much of my childhood there and remember it as the most beautiful place on earth, which is why, of course, with all its bucolic splendor and so many wanting a piece of it, it can no longer sustain the population with water so depleted. After reading it, I didn’t want to ever burn anything again but I guess I’m no better than anyone else.
And that, in fact, is the point. We are no longer an isolated entity. We are all fruit of the same tree. What happens in Japan matters here. And what happens here matters elsewhere. The U.S. has increased oil consumption since 1980 – up 21 percent. Denmark has decreased their consumption by 33 percent.
Or how about another line of poetry from my own poem, as I was an oily fisherman on the clean-up of the Exxon-Valdez, part of the "bucket-brigade" and lost my livelihood, such as it was, that year and the years that followed. The poem was called "Tank Down in Dank Town."
"There are creatures on earth, that have no berth, no rights among ‘civilized man’
And yet there are rules, even for fools, that come back to haunt them again"
O.K. Since all of this seems to be self-evident, what do we tell our kids? Well, I wouldn’t worry too much on that score, as your kids, if you’re old enough to have properly raised a child, likely know more about it than you do.
Increasing anthropogenic CO2 production. Reducing forest capacity that captures CO2. Ocean acidification. Yes I’m in denial myself. Can democracy endure where "economically constructed persons" (corporations) who can’t be held accountable for their actions have more political clout than a "biological person?" The Wall Street bailouts should answer that question. Your switching to florescent light bulbs is a nice gesture but most pollution is coming from mega corporations here and worldwide. It’s not just our jobs going to China and India. "Smokestack" has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
The gas mileage thing is such an unfunny joke. We had high mpg back when we had model-Ts and again in the 80’s with electric cars so efficient that after backroom arm twisting by the oil companies, GM took them all away and destroyed them.
The earth is covered with water—71.2 percent of the surface. 2.5 percent is fresh water of which 58.7 percent is in melting glacier caps which is currently keeping the temperature down somewhat and 30 percent in deep groundwater. 0.4 percent of the 2.5 percent is on the surface or atmosphere where we might be able to get a drink for a while yet.
I left as soon as it was over and went home to ruminate. I remembered my interview (I had a radio talk show on KBCS in the early 80’s) with Gaboo Ted Thomas, the "dreamtime" aborigine from Australia back in ’82, when he told me how the weather on the earth was changing, that storms were becoming more violent. That "old father time was catching up with us."
I thought of my friend, Tui, with his long stretch of sandy beach in Tonga. This time it won’t matter who you are or where you live – we’re all in this together. The poor and the rich. The birds and the bees. The Fox commentators. The Arabs and the Chinese. The stock car guzzler. The donkey driver. Time is not on our side.
I started to note all the stories on Climate Change. A couple nights later I was watching PBS – a show about Global Climate Change with Mark Hertsgaard, who wrote the book "Hot: Living Through The Next Fifty Years On Earth." Afterwards, I went to the PBS website to look at interactive comments about the show. Right away the deniers were out in full force – blasting Hertsgaard as a fraud.
At least we’re living in a place where we can expect more flooding and landslides and crazier growing seasons but for some reason, I am not consoled. Whatever we’re going to do about it, we better hurry up. Or like Olympia artist Nikki McClure says in one of her lovely illustrations: "WAKE UP."