The Budding Botheration Of Climate Change

I went on a walk today with my oldest son and my youngest dog. I’ve been on a quest to get our puppy as much exercise as possible because he’s a really good dog when he’s tired. And long walks outside are totally feasible in the winter in Denver because it’s not unusual for us to have a spate of 30 degree days followed by an equal portion of 50-60 degree days. During those warm periods, I love to get outside, and this has been even more true in the time of Covid when any opportunity to get out safely in the world brings me joy.

But while walking today, I noticed an unwelcome sight. The cottonwood trees are beginning to bud. It’s mid January, and this is not good. We had an exceptionally warm December and didn’t receive our first snow until midway through the month, which is about two months later than we used to see our first snow of the winter. Colorado and many western states are reliant on heavy winter snows in the mountains for fresh water. We are not seeing snow levels here like we used to. Colorado had seasons when I was growing up. We’d have a cold winter with some warm days, followed by a snowy spring that eventually gave way to a warm but not ridiculously hot summer, which led into a temperate fall that was inevitably cut short by an early winter snow. More recently, we have joked (sadly) that Colorado has two seasons: winter and fire. But now I even see our winters abating.

I’ve never been a climate change denier. The scientific evidence Al Gore presented in the first Inconvenient Truth film made sense to me, and the second film 11 years later simply backed up everything he reported in the first film. I’ve accepted what the scientists have said and what the climate continues to demonstrate. We are in a bad place. Warmer, drier summers mean more drought and fires. Warmer, drier winters mean less water for crops in the spring and summer. Warmer weather means mosquitoes and mosquito-borne illnesses are likely to increase. And when plants bud early and insects appear sooner because of warmer temperatures, migratory birds become imperiled because they may arrive in the spring to find they are too late for their food. We’ve seen droughts and wildfires on the rise. We’ve also witnessed storms growing worse, flooding happening more often, and unprecedented heat waves occurring in areas that are temperate (I’m looking at you, Seattle and Portland). I’m not sure why we aren’t all freaking out about this, but I assume it’s like the fabled frog boiling experiment. Because the changes have been amortized, they are easier to ignore as one-off situations. But as these storms, fires, floods, droughts, and heat waves become more common, your head has to be buried deeply in the sand to miss their message.

One area I’ve been working on in my life is accepting the unwelcome changes that are an inevitable part of life. The Buddhists call this practice “groundlessness” or “impermanence.” It simply means working to accept that everything is fluid and nothing is constant, and it’s our human desire to expect that we can settle into and keep things comfortable and changeless that causes us pain. So, I accept that climate change is real. I accept that Colorado’s climate will never again be what it was in my childhood. I accept that the warmer, drier winters will likely mean water restrictions and rationing in the years to come. I accept that having smokey summers will be the norm. I accept that ski seasons will continue to shorten until there isn’t even enough snow to ski on anymore. I can accept all this, but it makes me sad. Sad we didn’t think this would happen despite the overwhelming scientific evidence. Sad that we are too comfortable and complacent in our lives to make the sacrifices necessary to prevent this. Sad that trees are budding in January instead of April or May. Sad there is nothing much to be done to change this unless 90% of our world’s population suddenly become Greta Thunberg clones and begin demanding more from our governments and leaders.

What I know about life, though, is that adapting to change and accepting it diminishes suffering. So, I will continue to enjoy my warm, winter walks with our dog and ignore the trees budding in January because I will take the good where I can find it.