What a difference a week can make.
Last Wednesday I extolled the wrongly maligned frigid cold of winter and its peculiar graces, and Monday this week, I walked my dog along the Geneva lakefront in sixty degrees and sunshine. I am unqualified to say if such extremes are the result of climate change. I can witness however, to the routine arrival in January of a clutch of days when it seems as if the earth opens its lips, takes a deep breath that clears away the cold, and on the ensuing warmth of its exhale we enjoy a few days of relief. It is an early winter respite that reminds us spring will come. This year it arrived in February.
Watching someone in shorts and purple crocs walking a puppy as if it is summer, and college students at Wegman’s in shockingly few clothes given the season, is also a reminder of how artificial our relationship is to the natural order. Our technology keeps a distance between us. Even as I celebrated the warmth of my Vermont-tested garb in the icy temperatures during that recent snowshoeing frolic, thinsulate and central heating slip an invisible veil between us and the heartbeat and breath of the planet.
It sounds utterly absurd to say, but were we willing to keep ourselves colder in winter and hotter in summer, forego a third of our car excursions and half our airmiles, endure the leaky inconvenience of paper eight-five percent of the time instead of the convenience of plastic or foil, we may not be staring into the eyes of an environmental tragedy. Easier said than done. I remember well the passionate preparations we made to use cloth diapers and how well we began the battle against disposable. I do not remember which of our four children was the first to never experience cloth over plastic.
Living close to the land is no panacea for what ails us either. Farming these days is notoriously hard on the environment, whether livestock or crops. Chemical and animal waste runoff into lakes and streams give us blue-green algae and fish kills, and methane pollution is no joke. In fact, making money off the land or surviving from it while off the grid, offers a thinner margin of error than urban living. If only being up close and personal with wind and cold, wet soil and unforgiving heat were the answer to our proclivity for comfort, but alas, it is its inspiration.
There is nothing about addressing climate change that will be comfortable. Technology will not save us from ourselves, it is an amplification of humanity not its diminution. If we are to survive and thrive as the dominant species on this planet, then it will be because we chose or were forced to be uncomfortable. It is not something we have been good at – our creativity, industriousness, and lust has driven us across history to find better, more splendid ways to feather our nests.
Next year, watching the Super Bowl with long underwear underneath and heavy sweaters and blankets all around, while munching on snacks that may be a little staler, flatter, and fustier than we are used to, could be just what the doctor ordered. Let’s all get a little more uncomfortable.