I woke up early this morning with a throbbing migraine that I didn’t anticipate. Usually my migraines are the visual kind and might make me a little nauseous but nothing awful. And tired. They make me tired, but this was more than that.
The air is worse today. I can only imagine how it is for people in Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, Washington… 😦
When I walked the dogs last evening at sunset, the sun was a ball of red. Smoke from the thousands of fires to the north and west had obscured the views of the mountains on both sides of the valley all day. Clouds traveling in front of the sun broke the light into what my ex-husband called “Bible beams” which, in the normally clear, clear, clear air of the San Luis Valley, I seldom see.
My first thought when I finally really got up, the migraine having retreated, leaving only a numb feeling and a mildly upset stomach, is that we did this.
When I was a kid there were no fires like these. Sometimes there was a forest fire. We know this from Bambi and Smokey the Bear, but they were never EPIC in proportion. There were hurricanes, but they did not register on seismographs (for the love of God). It snowed a LOT more than it does now in all the usual places that get snow.
When I was 5, 1957, my parents, my brother and I were traveling in the South where my dad was to be giving papers and teaching seminars in Florida. As we went through Mississippi and Alabama, heading toward the Gulf Coast, we were in a hurricane. It was a lot of wind, a lot of water, sandbags and waiting. It was NOT like Houston and sure as hell not like the hurricane approaching the Bahamas looks like it will be. I remember when we went out for breakfast and the waitress said, “It’s just that time of year. What do y’all want to drink?” I got cocoa.
I don’t think it even TAKES a scientist to say, “Whoa, this is WAY TOO FAST for changes like these in the climate of the Earth.” I’m not a scientist, but if this has happened in a mere 60 years, Houston, we have a problem.
When I was in high school I was determined to overcome my terrible fear of speaking in public. First I joined theater, then my theater teacher told me to join speech club. I did. I traveled around Colorado doing competitive speaking and did surprisingly well. My first year I won prizes for Humorous Interpretation of Oratory. The next year — my senior year — I won second place in the state of Colorado for Original Oratory. My speech was political, but it was not about the Vietnam War. It was about the thing I cared most about.
The speech is mostly written in a tone of bitter irony, the kind 18 year olds love, along with lots of big words, but even then, even in 1970, I was worried about what was happening to the one thing I could depend on in my life to love me. I wrote:
The human race is racing toward total annihilation, with, at last, no exceptions made as to race, creed, gender or nationality. Man abuses the air he needs to breathe, the water he needs for sustaining his life, and he is brilliantly devising technologically advanced ways to destroy the delicate food cycle of which he is the ultimate beneficiary.
The Environmental Protection Agency was founded the same year I won my award for this speech. It immediately set about finding ways to slow down the rate at which pollutants were being thrown into the air and the water. It did a good job; it has done a good job. Maybe it has written many irksome regulations. Maybe it’s required mitigation when land is developed. Maybe the regulations are long and hard to read. Maybe what it requires is expensive, but dammit. Lake Michigan is no longer dead in places and LA (when the mountains aren’t on fire) has a clear sky and breathable air.
But… It’s possible to ignore regulations; it’s possible to fake compilance; it’s possible to put greed and momentary financial interest ahead of simple good sense. Houston was built on a flood plain. And the plain flooded.
The Harvey-wrought devastation is just the latest example of the consequences of Houston’s gung-ho approach to development. The city, the largest in the US with no zoning laws, is a case study in limiting government regulations and favoring growth—often at the expense of the environment. As water swamps many of its neighborhoods, it’s now also a cautionary tale of sidelining science and plain common sense. Given the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protections, it’s one that Americans elsewhere should pay attention to.
Nature knows what it’s doing. I walk with my dogs frequently along the Rio Grande in a wetlands area. It’s a little annoying in summer because of the bugs — this year in particular because it has been a wet summer — but I’ve seen the slough at work. The high river of spring had channels into which it could drain and from which farmers could draw water for irrigation. It was almost as if the river said, “Here, dude. For your potatoes.” It works great and nature built it for herself (and us; we’re nature, too).
Climate change denyers can deny all they want, but it doesn’t change reality. It doesn’t change the fact that 60 years (the time between my hurricane experience in Mobile and now) is a very short time for what has happened to our climate to have happened. Yes; climate cycles happen to the Earth, but sixty years?
Lamont and Dude know that from their many incarnations, including Coelecanth and Woolly Mammoth, but they would probably be the first to agree that — with the exception of the meteorite which made things happen rather quickly, ending their time as velociraptors — the changes were eons in the making. Lamont’s belief is that humans have acted on the climate of the earth in much the way the meteorite did.
I love nature. In my whole life when things in my life have been too sad or too glorious, I’ve gone to trees, open spaces, the sky, water (if it’s there). I’ve never been unwelcome, misunderstood, or even lost. In nature is ALWAYS an answer to the question, “Where am I?” Thousands of times it’s pulled me up and out of whatever catastrophe has been my life in those moments (and sometimes it was really a catastrophe, such as my dad dying, or my brother dying, my house under threat of foreclosure…) and shown me something. Last night on my simple, short walk with the dogs, it was the call of a Coopers Hawk from a cottonwood tree. There is always something.
Beyond nature’s personally redemptive powers, it provides everything we need for life. Seriously. As I watched some very fucking stupid people yammering on TV in Houston I thought, “They have no idea.” I get it that they’re worried about where they’re going to live, how they’re going to live, where their children are going to live, how they’re going to eat — all of that. I’ve been through a natural disaster; I know it’s terrifying and the ordinary details of life are suddenly NOT to be taken for granted, but they think in terms of their landlord not calling them back (not that their landlord might be in his own shitstorm and unable to call them back).
But it’s a good metaphor. Extrapolate from that to REAL LIFE. Earth is our apartment building. Nature is our landlord. Without it we have no place to live, nothing to eat, no where to raise children. We do not even exist.
In my high school speech is a quotation from Adlai Stevenson. He compares Earth to the satellites that were orbiting our planet.
We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable rserves of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work and the love with give our fragile craft.