Recognizing that “Six Degrees Could Change MY World”

NASA The dryer is humming in the background, but the house is only lit by one compact fluorescent and the glow of the television and my laptop. There’s a cup of cold, forgotten coffee next to me, but I am drinking water we filter at home out of a Nalgene bottle I have used a thousand times. We went for a nice hike today, despite the gusty wind and the snow, but we drove to the top of the mountain for a change of scenery rather than take the path from the backyard.

My husband is watching a National Geographic special called “Six Degrees Could Change the World” and I am finding it impossible to focus on an Andrew Harvey book about Christ. The idea of the infinite love of God is tough to focus on when a voice is saying that “a change of just one degree could change American cattle country into a wasteland swallowed by drought.” I have never heard Alec Baldwin sound so terrifying – he’s the narrator of this scary little story I find impossible to ignore.

Instead of listening to the proof of “the dangers posed by global warming,” the litany of awe-inspiring changes that could occur with each degree increase in the global temperature I am writing this and trying unsuccessfully to keep my own fears at bay. It’s cable, so I know that this program will be repeated again and again, so later I can catch those details about how many thousands (was it 500,000?) of species that could be lost if one coral reef died so I can rattle off some statistics next time someone speaks dismissively about climate change. For now, I will watch and worry and wonder how on earth I can stop another polar bear from drowning and whether I will bring my grandchildren to my favorite Cape Cod beach someday.

Is this show going to give us any answers beyond reminding us to recycle and walk more and buy a hybrid (or wait, maybe you shouldn’t since there are so many resources already tied up in your current gas guzzler that putting yet another car on the road just makes it all worse)? I’ll keep watching and let you know.

At the very least, I think I can answer the question that Andrew Harvey posits at so many of his lectures “If you wake up at three o’clock in the morning and look at all of the injustices of the world, what is it that breaks your heart and forces you to action?” I cannot pretend anymore that someone else is going to take care of the corners of this earth that I love; I cannot withdraw into the fear that the science is too contradictory for a mere mortal to understand. The disappearing Arctic ice is my heartbreak; the rising seas will not recede into the neglected background of my modern life.

An Arctic Chill Whispering Through a Cozy Life

Arctic Tale

We’d had the disc at home for days before I was ready. In the midst of the pre-Christmas madness I swore to my husband that it was the right time, but wisely he overruled me and we watched something involving guns and bad guys instead. Finally, last night, wrapped in the glow of days full of family and immeasurable fortune, I knew I was actually ready for the polar bear movie. How foolish it must sound to spend days debating over when I could handle a G-rated film, but parts of the March of the Penguins set me weeping and I know I am not ever going to get over An Inconvenient Truth. Is it because watching and interacting with animals connects me to the girl I once was like no other experiences despite my overactive adult brain? Is it because some of the seawater that flows through my veins happens to be of the frozen variety as well? Is it just because I happen have a soft spot the size of the hole in the ozone layer for lost causes?

That’s really the thing of it, what had me wiping tears from my cheeks at the end of Arctic Tale: the idea that these majestic creatures – bears, walruses, narwhals – might truly be lost and that this is a cause I cannot begin to effectively fight for. I think I can generally say that I did not cry for selfish reasons (arctic mammals tend to have little direct effect on human life in the Hudson Valley as far as I have heard) but because it is devastating to think of those great beings starving for lack of ice. And that our behavior as a race is so much the cause of it all. Of course, I just realized in rereading that paragraph that I am clearly mourning my own helplessness because, let’s face it, I will always understand what it is to feel ineffectual while I will never know the texture of a polar bear’s fur. In the end, however, does it matter exactly why we act, just as long as we act?

At this point, there is little to say about the issue of global warming and climate change, as far as I am concerned. Al Gore has a well earned Nobel Prize for bringing the issue to the forefront and books like George Monbiot’s Heat have further proven the science and politics that surround this crisis. I have as much patience for the “naysayers” as I do famous atheists – you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but I really haven’t got the time to consider all of your arguments against what I believe in since I am busy enough with the belief itself.

I hesitated in writing this because it somehow feels like old news. The movies I have mentioned have long since been on DVD and the Live Earth concerts are just so last summer. But I guess that is the biggest danger, allowing our impact on the earth become a phenomenon that captivated audiences in 2006 or 2007 and then settling back with those new compact fluorescent bulbs to wonder if they will make Hummers forever.

On Christmas Eve my father and sister and I got to talking about how incredibly lucky we are. I am always the one to bring up the things that distract me from the “good life,” be it shrinking ice caps or the unsustainable nature of American life and my dad is always telling me not to worry about it – I cannot change it so why let it detract from all my blessings and all that our family has worked for? The only answer I can have for that, even as I have another glass of wine and wonder if we can turn up the thermostat a little, is that there are certain people in the world who have to worry about unseen species and yet unrealized disasters, and at least to some degree, I am one of them. The only real task ahead of me is to sort out how to move from just worrying about it all to actually forging a small aspect of the solution…