The Big Yellow Taxi Prophecy

There should be mountains in the distance, but they seem to be going on vacation more often.

“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” ~Joni Mitchell

I try desperately not to fall down the rabbit hole that is climate change. Honestly, this particular topic is one of the few that can leave me rocking on the floor in a tight fetal position. It’s horrifying. Despite what some powerful and wealthy (primarily white male) people would tell you, climate change is real. We see its effects daily. We aren’t doing enough to stop it or, at least the very least, ameliorate it. We are at a tipping point. Our planet is screaming for help, and we humans can’t figure out how to prioritize saving it.

Our recalcitrance isn’t changing the fact that California doesn’t have enough water while Europe just lost hundreds of people to massive flooding that was so extensive it shocked climate scientists. And there is now real concern among such scientists that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), aka the massive water-conveyor belt in the Atlantic that moves currents to redistribute heat and regulate weather patterns around the globe, could shut down sooner rather than later. This would thrust Europe and parts of the United States into a deep freeze, interfere with seasonal monsoons that provide water to much of the globe, and raise sea levels along the eastern coast of the US. And extreme drought keeps bringing us to wildfires that are wiping out entire towns. The examples of climate change are plentiful, and I am certain you could add more from your own experience if you thought about it for a second.

Today, my hometown of Denver had the worst air quality in the world because of smoke from fires in California. Salt Lake City experienced a similar phenomenon. Colorado is known for its mountains, but this week the fourteen-thousand-foot peaks that we normally see from Denver were obscured by heavy smoke. Our phones buzzed several times today warning us not to exercise outdoors or leave our windows open. This is not the Colorado I grew up in. I have no memories from my childhood of massive amounts of wildfire smoke blocking out the entire Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. I grew up in the era after Denver fixed its smog problem with strict air quality measures. Summers in Colorado when I was a teenager were predictable. Clear, cloudless skies in the morning with temperatures warming into the mid 80’s, followed by a build up of early afternoon clouds, which would lead to afternoon thunderstorms that would cool things down and provide perfect sleeping weather. You didn’t need air conditioning here when I was a kid. We are hotter and drier now, though. Winter and spring storms are more volatile, mountain snow melts earlier, and the Colorado River carries less water to the lakes that provide water to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

On days when I get overwhelmed by the gravity of climate change and what it means for the rest of my life and for the world my sons will live in when I am long gone, I stop and take a deep breath. One of my go-to favorite activities to clear my head is a long walk or hike in some of the remaining open space around our neighborhood. But it’s getting increasingly difficult for me to find a way out of the climate change rabbit hole when I can’t get outside for that long walk because breathing there is detrimental to my health. I don’t want the Rockies to be the second set of Smoky Mountains in the United States.

Shit is getting real. It’s not going to get better if we don’t start making sweeping and immediate changes to the way we operate. Wake up and smell the smoke, people, or you will lose the only home you have ever known. But then maybe that is what has to happen because “don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.”

3 comments

  1. I swing like a pendulum on this subject. I am an environmentalist, and want to save not only the warm and fuzzy mammals but also the trees and birds and, yes, even the bugs. On one hand, I see the state of our globe, and can’t deny that human activity has had influence. On the other hand, I think “Of course the glaciers are melting. This is not news, people. The glaciers have been melting for 40,000 years. We’re glad they’re melted, or my house would be beneath a mile of ice right now.”
    Some of this stuff is undoubtedly natural and normal, and I don’t think people really have such a handle on this as they may claim. More species have gone extinct in the history of our planet than the (mindboggling) number of species we have alive right now. And aren’t we glad about some of that? Aren’t we kinda glad there were no Neanderthal Conservationists that saved the Tyrannosaurus? Would we be able to embrace the life of such a beast, or run in fear?
    We’ve made a lot of progress. As you mentioned about Denver’s air quality, when we really try, we can make a difference. The Cuyahoga river in Cleveland Ohio was featured in Time magazine in 1969, as “The River of Fire”, a river that “oozes rather than flows”. The river literally burned with the coal, oil and toxic wastes that had been dumped in it. Along with losses of Bald Eagles and California Condors, these events drove the implementation of Conservation Law in the United States, and the whole green movement.
    In 2019, the ban was lifted on consumption of fish from the Cuyahoga.
    It took 50 years, but the river has been reclaimed. We can do it if we try.
    Still, the bottom line, as always, going all the way back to 30 pieces of silver in the bible, is all about money.
    No one will shut down a coal plant or tell someone they can’t spray neonicotinoids (the new DDT) on their crops if they are part of the constituency making money from it.
    This is the same country that tried to ban alcohol, but to this day sells cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco and the like in every town, even though we know it’s adding billions to the cost of healthcare, and increasing the rate of my (mandatory government-required) health insurance.

    “To everything there is a season.”

    Humankind has existed for a period of time that is too small to measure on the scale of our 4.5 billion-year-old planet. A lot of stuff has happened in 4.5 billion years. The crude oil deposits, made of decomposed trees and animals, a mile beneath the surface, are evidence of an entire world that came and went of which we know very little. It’s hard to face the demise of the Red Knot or the Polar Bear. Even harder to face the demise of humankind, especially since we are, logically, emotionally attached to our species.
    Still, when I can separate my soul from this world, I can’t help but think that Mother Earth may be better off without us. For her, it will be an easy cleanup job, after something that lasted no time at all.

    This, too, shall pass.

    Slainte,

    Paz

    1. Paz…My oldest son tells me all the time that the earth will be better off without us. Without care, most of our modern structures would be gone in 200 years. I think that might be the best thing.

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