News bulletin from the continuing drought in the west: it was too hot to water the plants today.
I don’t mean it was too hot for me as a human being to be outside watering today – although that is true as well. It was over 100 degrees today.
The water itself was too hot to put on the plants, so hot it almost burned me coming out of the spigot. Luckily I had put on garden gloves; the nozzle of the hose was too hot to pick up with bare hands.
Hot water is bad for plants. It shocks the roots. Plants need a certain amount of water, within a certain temperate range, to survive. Humans reach for a cold glass of water on a hot day, not a cup of boiling hot tea.* Likewise, a plant’s roots reach out to take in cool water from underground.
The water coming out of the hose was more like the temperature one would use to cook vegetables.
At first I thought, well, this is normal. This water has been sitting in the hose, which has been baking out in the sun. Of course it’s warm. Let it run. I waited for the hot water to run its course so the cold water from underground could flow.
But it didn’t. The hot water just kept coming.
It got me thinking. What if it was always like this? What if this was ‘the new normal’? If climate change proceeds as predicted, is this what I can expect? Hotter temperatures, extended drought, plants dying… at what point will this land I love no longer be able to support life as I know it?
“Why didn’t they do something?” future generations will ask. “They stood idly by as their water supply dwindled? They watched their plants perish, knowing that they were sure to follow… but they still denied there was a problem, and refused to act in the interest of their long-term survival?” In retrospect, it will seem so obvious: they should have conserved more of their resources, enough to sustain themselves. They consumed too much, too fast, and so entire peoples were wiped out. Just like that. They’ll shake their heads, feel sorry for us, perhaps. Shudder and lament a way of life gone extinct.
Sometimes I am baffled by people who remain steadfast in their denial of climate change. How can they not see what is happening? Answer: people don’t see problems that they don’t want to see. The brain is wise enough to protect us from things we cannot handle, and particularly from those that could threaten our survival.
Acknowledging climate change can feel threatening. Our way of life is threatened by climate change. We may not survive it, individually or collectively. If we do, we will have to live differently. We will not be able to sustain ourselves as we did before. It doesn’t take much extrapolation to imagine what surviving in a changed climate might require. “Civil unrest” is far too polite a phrase to describe the acts that desperate people without food or water might be driven to commit. Scarcity and fear bring out our most brutal human instincts.
This can be a terrifying thought, one we’d rather not think about.
However, not thinking about it doesn’t make the problem go away. What if we responded by opening up our minds to the possibilities, and envisioned the future life we might build for ourselves? What might we do differently?
How might climate change be a turning point for us, individually and collectively? How do we want to respond?
We can turn away from the threat of climate change by pretending it doesn’t exist. We can stay stuck in that first stage of grief, after shock: denial. Or we can face it with our heads up and our eyes open. We can respond in productive ways. We can come up with creative solutions. We can adapt. We can survive and perhaps even thrive. But only if we are honest about what’s happening in our world. Only then can we go confidently into the future.
*British folk excepted. I know y’all love your tea.