I’m finding it difficult to put into words what I think and feel now.
I say this not as “I told you so”, but to put environmental devastation into some context related to time. Fifty years ago, this farm boy moved to Indianapolis, and was horrified by the thick, noxious clouds of smog pouring out of thousands of cars. And was led to a spiritual vision of a life without owning a car. Though I still needed them, or city buses, occasionally for transportation. But I planned where I lived so I had a walkable environment. Grocery store, laundry and work within walking distance.
Of course, I am not the only one to do so, but vast numbers of people chose the path of the automobile. The path of least resistance, or most convenience.
Indigenous peoples have lived with a fraction of my carbon footprint for thousands of years. That was one of the reasons I wanted to develop relationships with Indigenous peoples. And am blessed that happened.
So, for fifty years I’ve tried all different ways to warn of what we were doing to Mother Earth. As far as I know, I didn’t convince anyone to give up their car. In 2015 I wrote about cars as weapons of mass destruction. Seven years ago, I wrote “now is the time.” The common refrain from all of us warning of what was coming. Every year we would say now is the time.
It is now painfully obvious that we must stop burning fossil fuel now if we are to avoid the extinction of the human race. We are out of time. We have to stop using personal transportation now. We have to lead the movement to embrace mass transit now. Cars are the seeds of war. I ask you to join me in rejecting personal automobiles. I’m not really comfortable being this assertive now, but I regret not being assertive enough thirty years ago. Now is the time.Cars as weapons of mass destruction, Jeff Kisling, 9/13/2015
It was easy for people to ignore what we were doing to Mother Earth because so much of the damage was invisible or occurring slowly. Catalytic converters covered up auto emissions. Carbon dioxide and methane are invisible gases. Air temperatures were increasing gradually and helped by the oceans absorbing so much of the heat.
But the signs began to be visible. Polar bears on tiny pieces of ice. Mountain snows disappearing. Islands being covered by rising waters. Water levels of lakes and rivers falling dramatically. Forests burning, frequent, wild storms.
But this summer we can no longer hide from the earth on fire.
Those of us who paid attention had an idea of what to expect from rising greenhouse gas emissions. The devastation unfolded as we anticipated.
But we are in new territory now. I think we have all been caught by surprise at the pervasive and prolonged record-breaking air temperatures. These will likely trigger tipping points, like unthawing methane deposits in the oceans, which would cause a rapid escalation of air temperatures.
Who knows what will happen now? People assume the heat will relent. But will it?
It took me almost a year to figure out, first, what ailed me and then to develop a remedy for it. I was, it turned out, like the miners’ canary, among the early victims of an emerging virus, the one that causes eco-despair. Unlike the canary I was still walking and talking, though my spirit had a hard time getting out of bed. The first symptom was a growing awareness that our way of life had put us on a high-speed train headed for a nasty ecological crash. Then came the question that felled me: was there any reason to hope that we would be able to change course in time to avoid it, or at least to slow the train enough to minimize the damage?
I feared the answer was no. The train was propelled by a hyper-consumption lifestyle that we equated with progress and success for us as both individuals and as a species. We were addicted to it. I didn’t think enough people could be convinced to quit or quit aspiring to it. In developed countries it would mean giving up too many conveniences that we considered our birthright. Like cars and air conditioning and ever-increasing supplies of electricity and running water, both cold and hot. In the developing ones it would mean letting go of the dream of attaining that lifestyle.
A case of eco-despair by A.J. Chopra