The start of the next heat wave

Glowering sun,
Rosy haze. A nude couple
embraces. Sunset.

Yesterday my partner mentioned our planet is 1 degree away from all sorts of self-reinforcing feedback loops occurring (permafrost melts, trapped methane escapes into the atmosphere) that will make life increasingly uncomfortable. “For awhile,” he said. “Not forever?” I said. His reasoning is that, as life has so often taught me and yet as I continually forget, action leads to reaction, and humans have a tendency to cling to destructive behaviors until the pain from not changing becomes so great that we are finally willing to change.

And this clinging can be subtle. The narratives we tell ourselves. Sometimes, the narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves. I was recently talking to a friend who was wondering why, in her romantic relationships, she has been with men who do not show her much consideration, and why she has been OK with it. It’s the type of pattern I’ve recognized in myself, although the specifics may differ. Sometimes the action is driven by a self-identity that no longer serves us. The need to see ourselves as strong and capable leading us to seek out partners who don’t have their shit together. The need to be independent leading us to believe we should never ask our partners to meet our needs, because we feel we should be able to take care of our own needs. Etc. etc. And so I wonder, with humans, do we have something in our psyche that prevents us from acknowledging the earth’s changing temperatures? What stories do we tell ourselves about ourselves that seem indispensible, but which no longer fit today’s reality?

One degree. It really doesn’t seem like a lot, does it? Part of me wants to drop everything and spend the next year planting trees, even as another part of me knows that won’t be enough. It’s this weird thing to hold in your head, the simultaneous knowledge that everybody must contribute, yet no individual’s actions will hold the solution. So much of this lies with industry, with systems, with corporations. And yet, each of us has our role.

Yesterday my partner and I took off work early to head to a clothing optional beach. As with many people in the region, we don’t have AC. For most people I think these 90-plus temperatures are inconvenient when they step out of their air conditioned offices. I work from home, which means the heat is with me constantly (even when heading to a coffee shop as soon as it hits 90, I remain aware the choices I make are driven by access to AC). Yesterday, sick of sweltering and longing for a break, we drove out into the gorge, set up a tent, opened some books, dozed, waded in and out of the sand bar (the waters were really quite shallow), and stared into space. And once afternoon crested into evening, it was perfect.

It’s funny. This morning I sat down intending to write about the atmosphere at the clothing optional beach. The older couple that held hands as they waded about. The professional sunbathers, identifiable by the reddish-brown tint to their skin, their butt cheeks only one or two shades lighter than the rest of their body. The giggling teenagers sitting where the water runs ankle deep over the sand bar. The line of spindly trees someone planted to highlight the dropoff. The friends, hands clasped, gasping at the chilly water, laughing rolling from one to the next, as one ventures in topless for the first time. But I guess the planet was on my mind.

What does one do in the face of horrific planetary changes as we now face? I trained in public health, a small segment of which is interested in climate change, yet part of me wants to do a complete 180 from the field, because what are health inequities in the face of our entire context changing? Yet another part of me knows this work matters and it will continue to matter. Last weekend’s trip to the coast was, in part, to meet the safety net clinic I’ve written grants for over the last couple years, and where I picked up an annual report that reminded me our grants created at least 3 new positions, if not more, in a rural community that needs jobs and has too few primary care providers.

And so, onward. Keep paddling upstream, even as I try to be more intentional about my ecological footprint. My partner and I recently created an ongoing mini-competition over who bicycles more (in the spirit of chasing micro rewards, but with the planet in mind). We live in an apartment complex (multi-unit buildings are more energy efficient than single-family homes). We participate in the green energy purchasing program. I know there’s more we could do, but despair? Despair is not an energizing emotion for me. I realize many people are catalyzed by anger and despair, but I also know I am a person driven by optimism and possibility. So, keep the focus on what I can do, even as I keep learning and changing based on that knowledge, which are the best ways I know to move myself forward in this world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s