Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A THOUSAND CUTS by Joe Scheidler

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to welcome Joe Scheidler to the Window. He read this essay aloud at a Writers' gathering at Black Dog Coffee House the other night and I begged (with dignity, of course) him to visit us here. 

Joe is a native Hoosier with an advanced degree in ecology. He worked for IDNR as a wildlife biologist and owned and operated Springcreek Landscaping for 25 years. The solar advocate practices sustainable living with Lee, his wife of 40+ years. They live near Logansport, Indiana. 

Oct 8, 2018

This morning broke foggy, dripping wet and unseasonably mild. I let the dog out and stood barefoot in the yard, the October soil warm on my feet. Fall flocking blackbirds hung in the cattails at the marsh edge, filling the morning with a raucous symphony. The colors of autumn brightened leaves in the dim light of dawn, and a delightful dank fragrance of an ebbing season’s growth hung in the air.

In that moment, there seemed such hope and promise, a temptation to think things weren't as bad as scientists say. How could we have crashing bird and insect populations, rampant deforestation, melting glaciers, impending ecological disaster?  It's too easy to deny. And therein, perhaps, is the root of the problem.

We, as people, are in a tight spot. Surrounded by the technology and information to save ourselves, we are drifting passively towards certain doom. With a wartime effort we might avoid the worst case scenario, but the probability of acting soon enough appears hugely unlikely.

This old sphere is like a billion year old freight train, chugging along, carried by momentum, optimizing the perfect conditions for life and harboring a resistance to change. But our activities are leading to death by a thousand cuts.  The cutting continues while we experience the pristine, take long drives through endless forests, tally dozens of bird species in a day of watching, find solitude in wild places and breathe air sweetened by all things raw and untainted. The cutting continues as we go about our busy days, engulfed by our efforts to make ends meet, to maintain or improve our level of comfort, to earn and enjoy our leisure, to embrace the status quo.

Recently I learned our current administration quietly acknowledged a projected 7 degree F (3.88C) rise in global temperature before the end of the century.  It wasn't an admission of man-caused climate change, but rather that the planet’s fate is sealed.  It was a justification to freeze fuel efficiency standards because increasing gas mileage in vehicles would play no significant role in reducing global temperatures.  It was a nod to stay the course.

Then today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a warning that we have only a dozen years to limit total warming by 1.5 degrees C. Another half degree more (i.e. 2 degrees) and dramatic, perhaps irreversible changes to life on earth are assured. According to the report, “It's a line in the sand and what it says to our species is this is the moment we must act”.  The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is the difference in having hundreds of millions of people exposed to water stress and food scarcity. It means more forest fires, fouled air and heat related deaths. It means massive migrations of people from the world’s shorelines.

But the biggest change, according to the report, would be to nature itself. Pollinating insects would be twice as likely to lose habitat. Ninety-nine percent of coral reefs would die and marine fisheries would decline at twice the rate. Ice free Arctic summers would occur every 10 years at 2C vs every 100 years at 1.5C.

The report goes on to offer specific reductions in carbon pollution and indicates how goals could be met using current technologies.  Former NASA scientist James Hansen, responding to the IPCC, said even 1.5C is well above the Holocene era temperatures in which human civilization developed, but that number gives young people a fighting chance of getting back to the Holocene or close to it.

Meanwhile, we're on a solid course for a multi-degree rise, leaving 2C in our dust.

Tonight I heard coyotes singing. Instead of the typical yipping chaos, they engaged in long mournful howls. Maybe they know something, but more likely they, as so many species wild, are being led innocently to a senseless and needlessly cruel future, if not total extinction.

Coyotes didn't occupy our fair state when I was a lad. I can say the same for white-tailed deer, bald eagles, river otters,  peregrine falcons and wild turkeys. All are the result of applied wildlife science, a hugely successful reintroduction program, and a witness to wild habitats still capable of supporting species long absent. At this moment, just outside my doorstep, the night air is sweet, an ancient bird migration is underway, the songs of insects are reaching a crescendo, and the garden’s newly sprouted cover crop is lush and green.

And while the old sphere spins, a few billion years of refined perfection is being cut to shreds.

The old sphere spins
While time moves on,
We suck our resources dry
And think we do nothing wrong. 

The sun still rises,
The flowers still bloom,
And we're content and nourished
As babes in the womb. 

Our mother is ill
But we acknowledge it not;
We forge headlong in a race
To lose all that we sought.  

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