On Climate Change: Finding Hope in the Lack of Hope

Unharvested corn field

I went for a three-mile run down my Indiana country road yesterday on December 31st, 2018. It was 60-degrees. That’s not okay normal. It’s a terrifying new normal to which I still can’t adjust. Even though I knew the temperature, I still dressed for a December run.

I ran past a field of unharvested corn, each stalk broken or bent, sewed but not reaped.

I was hot and wished I had worn shorts…in December…in Indiana…while running outside.

The realities of our changing climate are no different than they were a few months ago, but humanity’s understanding of them has made the prognosis even more dire.

We’re now aware that the world is in worse shape than we thought it was.

The IPCC’s 2018 report states that “…pledges from the world’s governments to reduce greenhouse gases, made in Paris in 2015, aren’t enough to keep global warming from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees F).”

The IPCC predicts that the consequences of 1.5 degrees Celsius increase from pre-industrial levels, which we are on track to hit by 2040, are worse than previously thought: extreme heat waves, severe droughts, mass extinctions, and sea-level rise.  

The average global temperature has already increased 1 degree Celsius, but just half a degree more may forever change our world.

Let’s add a few layers of pessimism on top of that.

The commitments to the Paris climate agreement have wavered. The Trump administration has pledged to pull out.

New leadership in Brazil is prioritising business over protecting the Amazon, long held as the greatest tool to fight climate change. Deforestation has increased 14% over the last year.

A two-degree increase will look like something out of a movie. Coral reefs…gone; an iceless arctic; parts of coastal cities like New York and Miami abandoned.

Yet through it all the IPCC leaves room for hope that we can have a different future,  but it would “require large-scale transformations of the global energy–agriculture–land-economy system, affecting the way in which energy is produced, agricultural systems are organized, and food, energy and materials are consumed.”

Agriculture. Food. Reconnecting with land and nature. This is the prescription. Although the IPCC doesn’t necessarily espouse a reconnection, but more of reinventing.

Many of the solutions proposed by the IPCC involve out-engineering our way out of our predicament. As if the solutions don’t exist already. As if “synthetic protein” and “untested carbon removal technologies” and other new discoveries and technologies are our only hope.

Reminds me of a quote from Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia:

“Technocrats tell us we can’t go backward, we can’t refuse technology, because then we won’t progress. We are told that life is increasingly complex, that’s the way it is […] If this is all true, then we are doomed.

Going back to a simpler life based on living by sufficiency rather than excess is not a step backward; rather, returning to a simpler way allows us to regain our dignity, puts us in touch with the land, and makes us value human contact again.”

We have a cultural problem that won’t just be fixed by business or science, but one addressed through a return to a culture more closely connected to food and land and people.

The ways of agribusiness–disconnecting us from food, focusing on the monetization of single crops, heavy use of inputs, and an over reliance on fossil fuels–is not sustainable. Yet this is the model that has been exported around the world. American farmers themselves–in the Midwest, which isn’t the most progressive of places–are questioning the ways of agribusiness.

An excerpt from The Guardian,  “As climate change bites in America’s midwest, farmers are desperate to ring the alarm”:

“Oswald [a farmer] believes that denial is in retreat. Where farmers, including him, were once skeptical they now see the change with their own eyes. The problem is what to do about it.

“A lot of them will say there’s nothing we can do about it so we might as well not worry because we can’t have an impact, we just have to live with it,” he said.

But he said as climate change bites, farmers are increasingly accepting of the science as they are forced to spend more money on equipment and seeds to maintain current crop yields.

“It’s become almost an annual assault on their ability to produce good crops. So they are now starting to ask questions and I think are listening a little more to what the scientists are saying about the potential future.”

Reading the IPCC report and watching the headlines over the past few months haven’t exactly filled me with hope. At a time when we need to progress toward a solution, we seem to be doing anything but.

I don’t know if this makes sense, but I find hope in the lack of hope. It’s like we are in a lagoon of hog shit. When it was up to our knees we didn’t care, but now that it’s lapping our chins, we’re realizing we have to do something. I’m hopeful that now is the time we act. We all have to change.

Personally, I’m exploring planting  warm summer native grasses on an acre of yard we don’t mow. I’ve reached out to the USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service – https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/ – for guidance. Native grasses have deep root system, which are better for the soil and also sequester more carbon. I’m also looking at implementing a tree planting strategy on our property. Our pond drains into a small stream that empties into the Mississinewa River. I plan on engaging with the Upper Mississinewa River Partnership to see how I can be a responsible landowner and encourage my neighbors to do the same.

Today I cut a vine in the woods and showed the kids how to swing down hill Tarzan style. We’ll be installing a zip line soon. It’s important to me that my kids connect with the outdoors. Of all the things I could do in the next year, this might be the most important.

I have a lot to learn, but we’re up to our necks in hog shit, so time to do something.

So, what steps are you going to take in 2019?

Suggested Actions

Donate to Cool Earth, a nonprofit that works alongside rainforest communities to halt deforestation and climate change – https://www.coolearth.org/

Calculate your carbon footprint – https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/

Learn about carbon offsets – https://www.carbonfootprint.com/carbonoffset.html

Start in your own backyard  – https://www.patagonia.com/actionworks/#!/choose-location/


Let your voice be heard!