It is another snow-free morning in Vermont. Nearly the end of February and there isn't a patch of white even in the shadiest portions of the back yard. I went outside without a coat to walk the cats this morning and "our" chipmunk was out and about. Ed (the cat) nearly came nose to nose with her. Simon, the great hunter, never knew there was anything worth pursuing.
I don't know whether chipmunks hibernate, but this has not been a hibernating year. It is easy to see this as yet another symbol of global climate change. I wonder whether the ground has frozen or whether I could actually get in to dig up some of the weed roots I didn't get to in the Fall. I avoided walking in the woods yesterday, fearful that the tick population would still be active. There are rumors that the deer and the moose are dying of tick infestations. One local hunter found hundreds if not thousands of them on a moose he killed this past season, and others are rumored to be finding the animals dead, with no signs of trauma other than thousands of ticks.
I got a solicitation from an activist group this morning, asking me to write to the FDA to ban the use of a pesticide that has been used on corn crops. They say there has not been adequate testing other than a study by the company that is marketing the stuff. And it is blamed for Colony Collapse Disorder among bees. A poorly worded petition to stop the pesticide use, says that it isn't "only" about the death of a species, but about the impact on our agriculture that depends on bees for pollination of our crops.
I wonder how it became all about us. I look at the reports of climate change and it is always couched in terms of what humans need to survive. We appear to be a selfish species. We also want to see ourselves as benefactors--"making the world a better place"-- with our intelligence and industry, but somehow that is at the sacrifice of everything non-human around us. There is nothing new or particularly wise about this observation, but as I sit at my drafting table in the tiny room upstairs in a small house on the main road of a tiny town, I wonder how we became so selfish. I wonder whether there isn't another way to appeal to people. We stress the future of our children and grandchildren. That too is about our own legacy. We stress the geo-politics and economic hazards of a world in which people are forced to move from their homelands by sea level rise or driven to famine by drought cycles. And we feel "compassion fatigue" at yet another "cause" when there are so many others that compete for our attention. (Note that I didn't write: "action.") We focus on legislative changes needed to force compliance on those who still believe that climate change is a hoax, or on those who are so invested in their bottom line that they won't consider mitigation. But these are still selfish acts.
I wonder whether there isn't some other way. There are people I know and respect who simply won't act to change their own behavior patterns. I admit that I am a long way from perfect myself. But what I do not see in any of the rhetoric about global climate change, is an analysis of the personal motivators that make us act for short-term self interest instead of the long-term self interest, or yes, in the interest of other species and other people and the planet.
There is a research study that I read once, about people on welfare in Ireland. With a fixed income, they knew that they had enough money to pay the heating bills that would keep the thermostat at a certain steady state temperature. But that temperature was not cozy. Instead of doling out the heat, they turned the heat up to a level that would allow them to feel cozy for a few days each month, until they ran out of money. They were cold then, when there was no more money to pay for heat until the next month's check. Asked why they cranked up the heat, they said something like - "we wanted to be 'normal'." They didn't always want to feel poor. So for a few days, they pushed poverty aside and felt "normal."
It is a powerful metaphor for our need to structure a new "normal."
Once we turned to religion for a moral guide to actions in the interest of others. Once we turned to the sense of community norms, and believed that we were responsible for each other. And that spilled over to a sense of responsibility for those who could not act in their own self-interest. Once we understood the chain of being, that linked our acts with the well-being of others, and yes, our well-being with the acts of others. No more.
There are days when I wake up feeling both isolated and crowded by the buzz of media images that fill me with the things I need to do. Compassion fatigue is strong these days for me as well. And there are days when I wake up wanting to feel "normal".
But when I sit at my little desk and look out at a brown landscape, see a chipmunk depending on the seed he so liberally stored away last summer and Fall, I wonder whether there isn't some other way to make change.