To Look Up

It hit me hard last week when the Audubon Society reported that half of North American birds’ migratory routes are threatened by climate change.

If loons find it too hot to summer in Minnesota, then what? You’d think they should just aim farther north, but will they find the food and cover that matches their needs? Are they supposed to migrate higher and higher till they fly right off the planet’s roof?

By Pete Markham, via Wikimedia Commons

By Pete Markham, via Wikimedia Commons

The scenario is not confined to some far-off future. It’s now. Southern California saw 90 to 95 percent of raptor nests failing because of drought. No nests, no procreation. How long can a species survive climate disruption?

I find I can’t stay with this topic; it’s too painful.

I felt the same last month, learning about a gigantic crater that opened in the Siberian permafrost. Scientists link the melting to warmer-than-normal summers the last two years, and say such sinkholes release vast amounts of methane.

Methane gas is more efficient at trapping radiation than carbon dioxide, with 20 times the impact on climate change, according to the EPA.

In Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, Bill McKibben describes a number of self-reinforcing feedback loops that lead to a faster and faster rate of climate change. The crater is just one example. He explains the feedback loops in this video.

Here we are, immersed in our lives, going around feeling one minute one way, the next another. I feel despondent. I cheer up. My writing goes well. My writing goes poorly. I help someone. I say something dumb. I worry over my sick cat. I celebrate her recovery. I walk around my neighborhood and love the trees. I come home and feel lonely, pleased, scared, self-satisfied, hopeless, and on and on.

I’m a dizzying universe. As are we all. Most of us barely keep it together, doing what needs to be done to meet the day-to-day demands of life.

And all the while, this other thing is winging above us. This bigger picture of demise.

Rise up...

And to look up invites so much pain, which we already have aplenty.

Two things help me face the times we live in. One is external, the other internal.

On the external side, I reach out, take action, make something, do something. I connect with neighbors who care as deeply as I do. Or join a demonstration, like this Sunday’s People’s Climate March in New York City. (I will join a crowd closer to home, at the People’s Climate Gathering in Bloomington.)

I plant a seed. I get moving.

On the internal side, I stay still and connect with what endures. I remind myself that matter is just slow energy, and energy can’t be destroyed. Feeling into my energy body takes me to a place beyond fear. Whatever the future brings, it will be better if I stay in this moment.

“Look up and see the light from the sun. And now see everything beneath it, everything around you. You are in the garden.”

—Karen Maezen Miller, Paradise in Plain Sight

Note: If you’re on the fence about joining this weekend’s events, read Rebecca Solnit’s new essay. “Only great movements, only collective action can save us now,” she writes.

Can We Change Course in Time?

Last week, one day after I heard the author of The Pipeline and the Paradigm speak about the insanity of our fossil fuel-based “business-as-usual” storyline, we reached a chilling milestone.

The CO2 counter on the side of Mauna Loa, which measures parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere, tipped past 400. As Bill McKibben wrote, “It’s a grim landmark—it’s been several million years since CO2 reached these levels in the atmosphere.”

Scientists have identified 350ppm as the safest upper limit for a life-sustaining biosphere.

Sam Avery had just told us that we are on the cusp of a new paradigm—moving from the old story, which values living systems only in terms of dollars, to the new, which affirms that living systems are inherently valuable.

Olympia, Washington. Keystone XL Pipeline protest. By Brylie Oxley via Wikimedia Commons

Olympia, Washington. Keystone XL Pipeline protest. By Brylie Oxley via Wikimedia Commons

The Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry noxious tar sands from Alberta to Texas, is a “pivot point between these two worlds,” he told us. Opening the pipeline would allow the release of enormous levels of carbon—enough to create irreversible climate change.

Depressingly, that 400ppm number is not even indicative of current carbon emissions. There is a 10- to 40-year time lag before we feel the effects of today’s emissions. And greenhouse gases stay for hundreds of thousands of years in the atmosphere.

It’s not only the carbon that is concerning. The 36-inch-diameter pipeline, only one-half inch thick, will be continually abraded by the rough tar sands. When there is a spill—and it’s not if, but when—this stuff behaves differently than crude. It is heavy; it sinks to the bottom of lakes and rivers.

I don’t know about you, but the prospect makes me nauseous. Deepwater Horizon was bad enough. How much more can we foul our nest? (The good folks of Mayflower, AR are dealing with a tar sands spill right now.)

A map showing aquifer thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer with the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route laid over. Via Wikimedia Commons

A map showing aquifer thickness of the Ogallala Aquifer with the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route laid over. Via Wikimedia Commons

Avery advocates dramatic action to nudge the new paradigm into being. He’s spreading the message that we can collectively make a different choice.

“We have to believe it to make it happen,” he said, though he admitted that right now, he “might bet against human survival” given the current trajectory.

“We can’t rely on market forces to do it for us,” Avery said. “We’re going to have to decide exactly when and where and how we are going to get off fossil fuels.”

This requires nothing short of evolution—an epic shift in consciousness. It would mean making the decision, globally, to leave carbon underground despite ever-increasing energy demands. To do otherwise is to jeopardize our home and our survival, not to mention the survival of innumerable precious species and ecosystems. Can we change course in time?

Some 50,000 people have pledged to participate in civil disobedience if Keystone is approved. Avery himself, who traveled the pipeline route during his book research, is prepared to “stand between the earth and destruction.”

Who will stand with him?