Editorial: Taking climate change personally
Water. Food. Shelter. Lights and warmth. Clothing. A way to get to work and school. What to tell the children.
The global implications of climate change vastly overwhelm the capacity of the human mind to do what it attempts with most challenges: grasp and react. Most people have reluctantly come around to accepting the evidence of dramatic and dangerous trends but remain one giant step away from conceiving how to respond. The fight or flight instinct fuels a response, but where to flee or how to slay this fire-breathing dragon? It’s too enormous; people quail and cave in to feeling helpless.
In a series of six articles currently appearing in The Day and on theday.com, writer Bridget Shirvell introduces local women and men who are neither fleeing nor flailing. They are balancing and sustaining.
At home and at work, where they spend most of their time, they are committed to doing less of the harm that no one intends but everyone causes. Among them are those who recycle water, bike instead of driving, grow their own food, generate their own electricity or give shoppers an alternative to groceries encased in plastic.
The five individuals and one couple have made sustainability personal. Each has calculated ways to reorganize their daily life around what Al Gore in 2006 so aptly called an “inconvenient truth,” by sacrificing some degree of convenience. Their recognition that the truth has grown far more urgent than inconvenient inspired each to commit to at least one practice that could help, won’t harm.
Arline and Jeff Culp went solar. Retiree Vivian Zoe saves and recycles shower water. Artist Doug Rice grows vegetables to keep and give away, mindfully trying to compensate for the fact that he has no practical alternative to frequent flying. Jason Hine operates Ditty Bag, a small Mystic store that avoids plastic and disposable packaging.
Maggie Redfern commutes to Connecticut College on a bicycle or sometimes a bus, and plants trees. Shirvell herself, the stories’ teller, writes about food and sustainability and is raising a daughter with the awareness that this planet is worth loving and saving.
It would be tempting to look at each of the six examples as so specific, so ordinary, as to offer no measurable gain in the upcoming calculus of global warming and pollution. Some of the group may not, despite their best efforts, even fully balance out their own impact on the environment.
But what makes them worthy models is that they sustain a focus on what’s at stake and the compelling need to be part of the solution. Other people may still be down on the ground squinting up at the steep climb before humanity, but these folks have started forward by recognizing the perils and, all importantly, accepting the responsibility to act.
Included with each article in the series are suggestions for individual action that others might take or use as inspiration for even more ideas. Two suggestions apply to anyone moved to act on behalf of sustainability, whether their chosen area is water, food, carbon emissions, weather extremes, rising seas, threats of extinction to species or the dislocation of huge populations as areas become uninhabitable.
First, let elected officials know that sustainability and mitigation of climate damages are top priorities, not just at election time; hammer at it frequently throughout legislative and congressional sessions. Mailbags and email inboxes get attention, and it is a sound, measurable way to influence public policy setting.
Second, empower the next generation now and continually by presenting young people with the good news as well as the bad. They already know the bad, that their generation will shoulder a burden unlike any before them.
What they need is a will and a way to accomplish change, rather than being sunk by the enormity of the challenge. They will need hope and resolve. Older adults like those featured in this week’s series can help younger ones grasp that one person’s best effort is never too small, and the combined determination of many can accomplish changes that would otherwise seem like fantasies.