Monday, October 7, 2013

A Matter of Scale

I would be hard pressed to choose between my two favorite authors these days. You've been hearing about and from Colin Tudge and have heard, not infrequently, from Rebecca Solnit. Today she published another fervent, prosaic piece on the challenge of climate change The Age of Inhuman Scale: On the 'Bigness' of Climate Change....

Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was 'big,' but climate change in its totality is something most of find simply unfathomable. (Photo: NASA)

     Some things are so big you don’t see them, or you don’t want to think about them, or you almost can’t think about them. Climate change is one of those things. It’s impossible to see the whole, because it’s everything. It’s not just a seven-story-tall black wave about to engulf your town, it’s a complete system thrashing out of control, so that it threatens to become too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, too wild, too destructive, too erratic for many plants and animals that depend on reliable annual cycles. It affects the entire surface of the Earth and every living thing, from the highest peaks to the depths of the oceans, from one pole to the other, from the tropics to the tundra, likely for millennia -- and it’s not just coming like that wave, it’s already here.
    It’s not only bigger than everything else, it’s bigger than everything else put together.  But it’s not a sudden event like a massacre or a flood or a fire, even though it includes floods, fires, heat waves, and wild weather.  It’s an incremental shift over decades, over centuries.  It’s the definition of the big picture itself, the far-too-big picture. Which is why we have so much news about everything else, or so it seems.

Solnit, in her typical piercing fashion gets into the flesh and bones of the issue. Like her,

      I think about it, and I read about it, following blogs at Weather Underground, various climate websites, the emails of environmental groups, the tweets of people at, and bits and pieces of news on the subject that straggle into the mainstream and alternative media. Then I lose sight of it. I think about everything and anything else; I get caught up in old human-scale news that fits into my frameworks so much more easily. And then I remember, and regain my sense of proportion, or disproportion.

With all that data and evidence I find this disconnect in that nearly every educated person I know seems to totally miss the scale of the threat. I'm personally not sure what will accelerate our demise faster - growing inequality or increasing climate change. In my mind they are linked and thus solutions must address both at the same time. But in putting our energies into trying to address all the other important challenges before us - inequality, political partisanship, military spending Middle East affairs, human rights, access to education and food,water, and shelter and on and on -- climate change has to be part of the consideration.

Perhaps if more were to read Solnit's reflection on this crisis before us, we could summon our better angels to begin to transform our  underlying systems before it is too late. Even if that's being too hopeful, reading Solnit connects us to something within ourselves and our relationships with each other and the spinning sphere that we call home -- and that is a good thing. Relish the read...