Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I'm not one of those people who waits until a tragedy strikes my family or friends to start caring about it. I've watched as the Mississippi River has threatened to flood, and spillways have been opened, destroying the farms and livelihoods of people I don't know who are just as likely to be lovely people as they are to be mean or ignorant or racist. I still see what's happening and feel sorrow for their sorrow. Their homes ruined, their crops destroyed. So many lives, changed forever.
This is climate change. It's not an abstract thing that has to do with some tiny shifts in weather that scientists haven't definitely proven are related to how much gas your Subaru guzzled last year. It's shifts in weather patterns. Storms in places where there hasn't been a storm in a hundred years. More and more places experiencing slight changes in weather, and seasons, and flora and fauna. Our elders commenting that they should be able to hear the frogs at night during this part of the year in this part of the world - that it's been that way their whole lives. Or pointing out to us that the level of the lake has been steadily dropping for a decade. Things are changing. It doesn't just mean a species of insects dies out. It affects all of us in ways we often don't understand until the storm hits our town, or the neighborhood of our friends or families. This is climate change.
I lived in North Minneapolis for a few months last summer. I was taking a much needed break from the Bay Area and having a restorative summer after leaving my last non-profit job. My friends offered me a room in their house for cheap, and it was lovely. I would take long, slow, summer's day walks in the neighborhood, savoring the sounds of children playing at the nearby school, or hip-hop blaring from basements. I would wave and smile in response to the "hello's" of the neighborhood elders, sitting on porches, fanning themselves. I appreciated the brown-ness of the neighborhood, a departure from South Minneapolis which I also spent a lot of time in and loved fiercely, but differently. I liked that neighborhood in North Minneapolis a lot.
So when a couple of days ago, a tornado struck nearby, I felt it a little differently. Because again, even though I try not to wait until something affects me or my loved ones directly to care about it, it's different that I've been there. That the photos showing cars crushed by trees and roofs torn off of garages are of neighborhoods that look just like the ones I was enjoying those slow walks in last summer. That my friends live nearby. It makes it just a little bit more real.
And then there are the friends who live in Lawrence, Kansas. Their basement isn't tornado-safe, apparently, so last I heard, if it turned out the storm was headed their way, they were going to head to the University to seek shelter. I can picture their little house on the corner, and imagine the fear they would feel as they pile supplies and their dog into the car to leave everything else behind, knowing they might come back to damage or destruction. I can picture a tornado whipping through their neighborhood. It's terrifying.
I don't know how to make sense of this climate change stuff anymore. I consider myself part of the fight to reverse it, though now I'm not so sure that's feasible. But I know we humans are resilient, and have the capacity to be good and to help take care of each other for as long as we are able. The heartbreak may grow as we see more and more lives being affected by this planetary shift, but our inherent capacity to survive and love and help each other until the very end can grow as well. Maybe after all this Doomsday/Rapture/2012/Climate Change stuff comes to a head, the only humans left standing will be the ones with full hearts and open arms. I'm going to keep trying to be one of them.