As you read this missive, the planetary clock will have struck 18. Gifts will have been opened. Family will have come and gone. Perhaps you will have taken a moment to wonder: did anything good happen last year?
As far as bad news is concerned, there has been plenty. I’m not talking about the dangerous attacks on truth, justice, democracy and the rule of law that are coming from our White House. Not terrorism, either, or being abandoned by Willie Taggart. We are a resilient bunch. We can recover from all these blows.
But it is not clear that we can recover from climate change, which is one consequence of overusing resources that we depend on for life. In a book entitled “Collapse,” the scholar Jared Diamond links our fate to soil, trees and water. According to reviewer Malcolm Gladwell, “societies fail, in Diamond’s view, when they mismanage those environmental factors.” Add air. Can you disagree?
Over the past year, Houston was drowned by one hurricane and two others devastated Puerto Rico. Montecito, California, is burning as I write. Of course, climate change does not drive all extreme weather-related events but, as the New York Times reports, scientists can connect 21 of 25 such catastrophes over the past year to global warming.
Where is the good news? In my opinion, it’s not in the headlines but rather in the fabric of our lives, our economies and our politics. Consider, for example, the impressive work of grass roots organizations that are educating our local communities and leading us in addressing climate issues. Southern Oregon Climate Action Now (SOCAN) is conducting an ongoing teach-in that has already raised the level of climate literacy in our end of the state. Rogue Climate has helped put the Jordan Cove LNG project on the ropes and is leading the charge toward Salem. Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center is fighting trench warfare to protect our forests and waterways.
What about leadership? Let us now praise Gov. Jerry Brown of California. Jerry is shepherding the development of a successful cap and trade program that is already helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s 6th largest economy. He is also willing to connect dots. As he told residents of Santa Barbara, drought and climate change mean that catastrophic wildfires are the “new normal.”
Senator Jeff Merkley gets credit for abandoning the Jordan Cove project and leading the climate change discussion nationally. Unfortunately he must still spend most of his time toiling in a toxic U.S. Congress.
Finally there are our Oregon forests, still relatively intact after 150 years of use and abuse. If we succeed in controlling greenhouse gas emissions, the next step toward stabilizing our climate will involve planetary engineering. One of the most effective strategies for reducing the temperature of our Earth is to protect, restore and rewild forests on a global scale. There is no better place to learn how forests regenerate and lead ecological renewal than right here at home.