Before the wind consumes us

Watching news about Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma enthralled and terrified viewers.  Part of me felt safe and secure knowing I lived far away and my family wasn’t in the path of these dangerous, record setting storms.  Part of me felt worried for those who were.  Part of me felt disgusted by voyeurism of the media prying into people’s lives asking them “How do you feel about your home being destroyed, losing all your possessions?”  It’s really sad to think that climate change only attracts our attention when it causes devastation, instead of discussing how to respond to this threat.

It has become apparent that even educated, environmentally conscious people who take climate change seriously are unwilling to make the kind of changes in their lifestyle that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use. Some educated but less affluent Americans express an interest in sustainable living but can’t afford to make the changes: i.e. buy the energy efficient home, add the solar panels, or purchase land on which to grow food.  There are far too many people who deny climate change or deny that it is caused by humans.

Influential people that trust in the market want to “grow” the economy and maintain the status quo, because it benefits them financially to believe this.   Even the recent damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has benefited the economy by boosting car sales.  Unfortunately, the under-educated, underemployed Americans that believe fake news, voted for Trump, eat nutritionally poor food, and have terrible health problems will suffer the most from weather related disasters but have the least understanding about what is happening and how it will affect them. It seems that there are very few families educated, affluent, environmentally conscious, and willing to change their lifestyle; to be frugal, simple, and less carbon consuming/polluting.

I am reminded of the fable about the frog and the pot of water.  Put a frog in a boiling pot of water and it will jump out.  Put a frog in a cold pot of water, turn on the heat and the frog will sit in the pot until it boils to death.  When it comes to the effects of our changing climate humans appear to be sitting in a cold pot of water and thinking there’s no need to jump out!  If we are so smart, why aren’t we smart enough to see what is happening and act?  Why don’t we act before the storms, floods, and wildfires threaten us?

Human history has seen great advancement.  The development of agriculture led to human population expansion and urbanization. Urbanization led to the industrial revolution; intensive exploitation of resources due to the invention of machines powered by fossil fuels. The age of reason led to the age of science. Science, technology, and the multitude of follow on technical inventions led from the industrial revolution to the computer and information revolution. And here we are…rapidly developing self-driving cars, artificial intelligent machines, the network connected world of things, and cyber warfare. Will humanity survive the challenges we face?  Can we survive the current era of extinction?

I think the reason people are unwilling to change their lifestyle to counter climate change is because of an inability to recognize our dependence on the culture we’ve created. Like an anteater that evolved a specialized nose making them totally dependent on eating ants (thus as the ants go so goes the anteater), humans have become adept at using and depending on fossil fuels and technology. Humans are increasingly moving into urban centers, dependent on importation of food, energy, and all the other resources needed for survival. We depend on jobs to acquire money to buy goods and services.

We are totally dependent on the culture we’ve created, and our culture is totally dependent on the technology and cheap energy that maintains it. We in the West, the humans who consume the most carbon, have lost the ability to make or fix the homes in which we live. We live in buildings that are climate controlled, drive about in climate controlled automobiles, and buy the food and supplies in climate controlled stores (or increasingly shop on line). Our lifestyle is supported by a system of which we have little understanding. Our culture and technology are making us less resilient, less able to recover from the disasters we are increasingly experiencing.

The problem is that we are losing touch with the natural world we depend upon and the dangers we face from climate change. We don’t understand how our food production system works, how food is grown, processed, and shipped from distant places. We don’t understand the connection between soil, water, organic matter, microbes, and long term food production. We don’t understand the connection between the food we eat and our health problems. We don’t understand how our furnace and air conditioner work. We don’t understand how or where the energy comes from to run our furnace or air conditioner. We have very little understanding of the limits in the resources our lives depend upon.

We don’t pay attention to how our political choices affect the government we get, one that is increasingly hostile to the less fortunate, the elderly, the sick, the displaced and downtrodden.  Some of the people whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home.  We are losing the ability and the desire to communicate across the political and economic chasms that divide us one from each other; the powerful vs powerless, the rich vs poor, black vs white, man vs woman, etc.

Science and technology has spawned an information industry that is profiting by selling us a constant barrage of electronic mental stimulus.  We spend most of our time connected to others through electronic media that makes us less thoughtful and more reactionary.  The information technology is collecting vast amounts of information about us in order to facilitate consumerism, while stripping away the very meaning of privacy.  We are in danger of losing what it means to be humane.

Perhaps like the anteater our evolutionary path has led us down a dead end. Our neural networks, imagination, and need for social connections have turned into the path of hyper electronic connectivity, imaginary worlds, and fake or titillating news that will keep us enthralled and addicted 24/7 and unable to see the bus before it runs us over.  Perhaps its time we change, before we face the wind that consumes us.

4 Replies to “Before the wind consumes us”

  1. Jody,
    I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this: you are like a force of nature yourself!
    Right there you lay out why we have to go down to the roots – down to the roots of what we believe in, and what we believe we are doing with our lives. What keeps driving us on? What fears and what promises? What hates and what loves?
    It might seem, with all the disasters that seem to be proliferating around us, that there is no time for asking these big questions about meaning and purpose, but the exact opposite is true. If you have lost your way, then you need to way-find. And you can’t way-find without looking up at the sky and the horizon and the larger landscape. (Maybe even ask for a little help from spirits or ancestors or God himself.)
    I know I’ve been as thoughtless as anybody, and though I try to be more thoughtful I still consume way too much fossil fuel.
    But every day is a chance to chisel away at it and to learn from and help each other. And you have really helped me, so this hyper electronic connectivity isn’t all bad!

  2. Michelle,
    The force of a hurricane wind is beyond the experience of most of people. As I listened to the many reporters and others staying to face the recent hurricanes, I was struck by the awe in their voice as they struggled to remain standing against winds gusting at 100 mph. No one could stand in wind of 145 mph.
    The weather patterns unfolding now are more intense. Every month or two we hear about wildfires raging more intense than firefighters have every experienced. Rain falling in torrent after torrent. Floods deeper than anything we have ever seen. Record breaking heat waves or snow fall. And I wonder when it will be clear to us that the world we knew is gone. We will continue to struggle to clean up the mess…again and again. But eventually we will see that we don’t have enough resources to rebuild again. We can’t reach all the victims after the next big storm.
    The forces of nature (.ie. weather) are becoming more and more powerful. It is straight forward science. We take fossil sequestered energy from the earth, burn it, and convert it into another form of free, labile energy. The energy in the atmosphere becomes heat absorbed by the oceans and land. The atmosphere becomes more and more turbulent from the heat returned from the hotter ocean. It is simply the transformation of energy.
    Conservation of energy is a natural physical law. It means that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed from one form to another. Much of the fossil energy we use has been transformed into material form, embedded in buildings and infrastructure. Embedded fossil energy creates the economy of consumerism. The roads we need so we can drive our car to the store and purchase the goods we need and want. The devices we ‘need’ to follow the news and information that fills the air waves, to stay connected to others.
    If we pay attention to all the fossil energy embedded in the things we own and use, the way we live, we can start to decide where we can use less.
    When we reach this mindful sort of consumption we can decide to stop for a moment and rest, to stop consuming. Stop and enjoy resting, not expending energy. Relax and enjoy what is beautiful in this moment. Just let the world move by.
    The thing I love about gardening is how little energy it really takes and how much it returns. I plant seeds and they grow. I pull a few weeds and add some mulch, water if the rain hasn’t been sufficient. I pick whatever is ready to eat; some greens, sometimes a tomato or a cucumber. And with a small piece of chicken or a can of tuna or beans I have a meal. So simple.
    None of my effort adds to the worlds’ GDP, in fact it takes away from it because I purchase very little. No one cares enough to measure my garden’s production. I sell nothing. I buy little. No one cares about efficiency. When there is too much I give it away, or it falls to the ground and becomes next years soil. If I let the plants go to seed I have more plants in the fall and in the spring. The plants harvest the sunlight. My body harvests the plants. So simple.
    The wind that consumes us is our own compulsion to be always busy, to be always doing something we think is important, buying something we believe we need. What if we stopped and let the world slow down? What if we bought less, used less, needed less? There would be less need to harvest fossil energy. There would be enough renewable energy to supply our meager needs. And we can stop fighting and exploiting. We can sit and relax, and enjoy the beauty of this day.

  3. I was reading an entry in my notebook from a few months back and it said: “There is a connection between primary production (hunting, gathering, etc.) and primary perception…” in other words, primary production, which would definitely include gardening, gives you access to a kind of Truth that few other activities can. You know that what you are doing is as about as true as it is possible to be: this relationship between the world and your body, your work. There is no spin to it, no politics, no economics, no accounting tricks, no externalized costs, or very, very little.. It made me think of your gardening, and how that gives you access to the truth of how simple our needs can be.
    This is not to say that gardening is the only thing we should do but that kind of physical connection to our basic needs, that knowledge won in our bones, will still be valuable when no one remembers what an iPhone was.

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