I’ve been thinking about how the discussion on climate change reveals certain trends. There is the falsely reassuring market in carbon, now collapsing. Pictures of fires and smoke and holiday makers evacuating are juxtaposed with talk of El Nino cycles. Currents in the ocean may stop. The ocean water in Florida is warmer than your hot tub. Some weather forecasters quit their jobs due to persecution. But one thing is rarely mentioned. And that is our personal relationship to the earth. To nature. To the soil, land, flora and fauna, animals, weather, whatever. Perhaps that is because so many people now live in the city or grandparents who might have passed down a love of nature, didn’t and now it is too late. Or because as we all drift into our phones, like into a black hole in space, we forget where we are and what nature is. Or do we call nature by another name? It’s the annoyance outside. The thing that makes you bring bug spray to our beach yoga, the violets in the lawn that you claim bother you and you have to eradicate. The Redford Foundation put out a video about children they had given a chance to go camping out in the countryside. On that video, the children were petrified of bugs at first. They ran around spraying as if to eliminate all insects from the earth. Bugs are seen as a problem. After all, corporations invented seeds designed to be used with their pesticides. As weather warms up, new bugs and dangers are news items. Ticks increase as the natural balance is deformed. But at the end of the video one of the young women, summing up her first time out in nature, her first time camping, her first time seeing the stars, says she has realized that bugs have a right to live too.
It’s a stunning admission. And it was meant to be – a powerful coda at the end of a theatrical plea and reminder of the importance of this type of social outreach. Teachers in the city know there are kids who don’t know where food comes from. Kids heading to Harvard, who spend summers at a country house, may know something about plants, but they don’t know how to cook. Social poverty isn’t just one thing. Teaching children what it means to live fully needs to focus on everyone. Otherwise it’s always the elite, preaching from above, while museums are funded by oil and gas companies. Complicated relationships with the earth. Look at Florida. Making deals to pave the roads using radioactive waste, and forcing teachers to say slaves benefited from their situation. But it’s not just Florida. Putting municipal sludge on farmland. Rewriting history. Removing the right of women to control their own bodies. And the list goes on.
Disrespect and disregard for nature is linked to abuse. The connection between animal abuse and domestic violence is documented. We paved paradise and put up a parking lot. Americans fight for guns, but not education.
We have no relationship with the land anymore. Watching my neighbor spraying something from an ominous looking red plastic bottle on her flowers makes me wonder if she sees this killing as an act of love or cleansing. The lawn is mowed in neat strips. Is the rabbit that comes out at night to eat there affected by these things? The birds might be. And where are the bees? There are really no bees. I have flowers. I’ve seen two bees. Two. At the beach, there was one monarch butterfly, sailing out to sea as if she was thanking us for all the fish and signing off.
I still remember driving down a country road as a child in Vermont, and being sad that we had to drive through a cloud of monarch butterflies. A cloud. Of necessity, driving though the orange and black beating wings, some were killed. There must have been at least ten of their broken winged bodies on the windscreen and hood of the car. It’s an image forever stuck in my mind. I got out of the car to try to save them.
I’ve seen one. This entire summer. One.
I’m not 100 years old. Something has changed, and while it’s admirable that people are fighting back, a protest that is only seen on our phones and computer screens has limits. Our exile from leaves you can touch, dirt you can smell after the rain, has an impact on our mental health, as well as keeping us from a true understanding of what is at stake.
There was a group of older people staging a silent protest at a farmers market a few weeks ago. People avoided them. Maybe there was something embarrassing about the older bodies, one man dozing off in the sun while holding up a sign – a double warning. Protest didn’t jibe with the folksy invitation to spend money, the very expensive salad greens, the homemade wooden bowls, herbs and flowers. Nor did the age. How we fear age in America. You can go to places in cities where there is no one above a certain age.
There is something missing from society here. You could call it community. There is no shared sense of life or purpose, although the people who get upset when you don’t want to play their games – whether it’s partner yoga or volleyball at the beach would no doubt disagree about whose fault that is. We are separated by age, politics, fashion, income, and the American belief that rampant individualism works best when it looks like everyone else’s.
The trouble is the bees, birds and polar bear cubs on shrinking ice floes don’t have time to wait for the high school lunchroom cliques to be broken up. Young people blaming the old for the mess we are all in won’t help. You’ve got to hope that people stop killing everything in time to save themselves.