I’ve been trying to write a post about how climate change is only a symptom of a larger problem for about three weeks now. I write something, let it sit, add more, revise, run out of time, let it sit, revise and add, cut, run out of time, let it sit, revise some more. It’s a topic I have understood for quite some time and I have a lot to say on it, too much for one blog post, so I keep cutting things down until nothing quite says what I want to say. It helps and doesn’t help that more and more I hear from various angles the same understanding—climate change is a symptom of our entire earth system gone out of balance. Solving the problem of too much carbon in the air is only half of what needs to be done.

I keep coming back to a line from a poem by Daniel Borzutzky that I read not long ago. The collection is called Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018 and is most excellent. The line I keep thinking about comes from the poem “Written After a Massacre in the Year 2018,” one of many poems in the book by the same title. This line comes from part 6 of one of them:

I need to
destroy the nation-state but when will I find the time.

I need to write this blog post but when will I find the time to do it, let alone the time to destroy the nation-state? And it’s not only the nation-state that needs to be destroyed, but the global neoliberal capitalist system built on extraction, colonialism, inequality, profits over people, personal gain over communal well-being, the myth of growth and progress—all the things. If you look at climate change and think it is a huge problem, just step back a few paces to widen your lens and you will see that it is only the tip of the proverbial (melting) iceberg. The problem is so huge, it is no wonder, really, why we focus so much on climate change. But also, the problem is so huge that no matter what issues you choose to dedicate yourself to, you are working on solving climate change. Bad news/good news!

There is so much out of whack in the whole earth system that the billionaires and trillionaires and our corporate overlords and our governments who depend on them for everything want us to focus only on climate change because it benefits them most if we think there is only one problem. That way we can be sold solar panels and electric cars and all things “green” and they can keep making money and stay in power and we can continue thinking we are doing the right thing while the income gaps keep growing and the rich keep getting richer and nothing actually changes.

If climate change is only a symptom, you might be wondering about now what the cause is, the thing that sent the system off the rails. Simply put, overshoot. Too many people consuming too much. Earth Overshoot Day arrived on July 29th this year. Our demand for resources is equivalent to 1.7 earths. I’m pretty sure we are on the only earth. There is no nearby earth we can run to for that extra .7 like we were popping into the corner grocery for a loaf of bread because we ran out and wanted a sandwich. Of course there are some humans who have taken far more than others, and a large swath of people who have done nothing to contribute to the problem but who will be made to suffer nonetheless.

So the rich are building bunkers in New Zealand and the super-rich are building rockets that look like penises. Elon Musk dreams of a colony on Mars and even tweeted several months ago that it would be pretty amazing if a Martian colony saved the likes of elephants from extinction. Seriously, he thinks there will be elephants on Mars. I tweeted him back that maybe we should focus on saving the elephants on Earth before imagining we can ship them to Mars and save them there. Because where does he think all the stuff to build a colony on Mars is going to come from? And how are you going to feed elephants on Mars? Gonna need a lot of potatoes. But at least there will be plenty of poo.

We need to learn to live on one Earth, and we need to begin now. Learning to live on one Earth requires us to change everything about the way we live. Those in power are not going to give it up willingly. We will have to make them. How, I don’t know. I need to destroy the nation-state but when will I find the time?

This is not the blog post I set out to write, and it doesn’t really say what I wanted to say because I have left out so much, and maybe I am not completely sure what I want to say to begin with. Maybe this post is an introduction of sorts, a jumping off point for looking at a bunch of different but related issues—energy, economics, food—just to name a few. I think I already know what I want to write about next.

In the meantime, find a tree to hug and try to hug that tree every day. Seriously. I hugged Melody Silver Maple in my front yard the other day and it felt amazing and ki liked being hugged. I’m going to try to remember to hug Melody when I get home from work before I rush into the house and change out of my bike gear. Hugging Melody will be a nice way to pause, breathe, and share a moment of communion with another being. And ki might have something important to tell me.

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11 thoughts on “Climate Change is Just a Symptom

  1. I missed this post at the time, Stefanie, but I’m glad I found it now. You really hit the nail on the head. It’s about everything: the overconsumption, the inequality, the greed, the lack of care. I finally got around to reading Gun Island, which you recommended to me ages ago, and I was struck by the way he linked the current climate crisis back to the 17th century, when colonialism, capitalism and intensive resource extraction really got underway, taking us to the point we are now. We need to reverse course somehow, but that’s a long way to retrace our steps, a lot of wrong directions to unwind.

    It can feel overwhelming, but what gives me hope is that I think millions of people around the world would agree with what you wrote here. Even people who would never describe themselves as radical or revolutionary understand instinctively that the way we’re doing things is wrong, that it can’t possibly continue. Change has a way of seeming impossible and then happening all at once. We need to change everything at such a fundamental level, and that seems impossible right now, but who knows what’s coming.

    1. So glad you read Gun Island! He really did a magnificent job at making connections. We need more writers like Ghosh who tell good stories that make all the linkings. He has a new nonfiction book coming out soon called The Nutmeg’s Curse that will no doubt be amazing.

      And thank you for you kind words. Change does indeed have a way of seeming impossible right up until it happens. I take great comfort in knowing you and millions of other people are working toward the changes we need. 🙂

  2. Poetry does seem particularly valuable on this subject. It’s a lot. And it’s easy to feel alone with all of it. Have you started to listen to the Figueres and Carnac podcast yet, Optimism and Outrage? It’s been helpful…

    1. BIP, yes poetry is extremely valuable right now. There are so many poets working at the moment who connect dots, and bring up all the related issues from climate specifically to immigration, identity, violence. Now if only poetry were read more widely.

  3. I like your essay even though it’s not the one you’d planned to write. Everything is overwhelming, but then where to start when all seems equally unfair and urgent and catastrophic? Then you do start with the next thing in front of you, and then the next… I know it’s not the systemic revolution we might need, but it still counts for something, right?

    1. Thanks Smithereens! I think you start with what is in front of you, like you said. And then you just keep going from there. It all matters, small or large. And while we need a systemic revolution, we can all do small things to bring that about too. We need to push back at government and corporations. Call, write, refuse to buy, and talk. Keep talking to everyone about it. <3

  4. You know Stefanie, what you wrote here really rings a bell – particularly this: “profits over people, personal gain over communal well-being, the myth of growth and progress”. It is exactly these issues that I keep coming back to in all the discussions about the pandemic and lockdowns, because while some people express concern about the impacts on mental health, the main concerns seem to be the impact on business and the economy.

    In Australia, we started by talking about the common good, and that seemed to be the main driver last year, but this year, particularly with Delta, all that has been shown to have been pretty shallow. Fortunately, the leader in my jurisdiction is holding the line. We will not open until there is equitable vaccination, until all those who want to be vaccinated have had the opportunity to be. In another state, the chief health minister is trying to say the same thing ie that it’s not just good enough to say 70 or 80% vaccination coverage if that is 95% amongst the well-to-do and 55% amongst the vulnerable (poorer people, First Nations people, people with disabilities, etc). It all comes back to the same thing doesn’t it, the focus on profits over people and, related to that, the focus on growth and progress. We need proper discussion about what is really important in life. As you say it — climate change, the pandemic, and so on – is all interconnected.

    Meanwhile, I have been using my lockdown to track down places to recycle things that you end up with, whether you like it or not – like pens and highlighters, toothpaste tubes, blister packs for medications, textiles too old to give to charity stores. It has been a fascinating journey.

    1. Oh my goodness WG, you are so right about the pandemic attitude change, it happened here too! At first everyone was all in for protecting each other and keeping safe and now companies are complaining because their (especially low-wage) workers don’t want to come back. And we are all being told to go out and shop and buy things because the economy while cases are surging again because of Delta. I’m surprised to hear that has happened in Australia though. Y’all have been a sort of shining beacon on how to do things right. sorry to hear there has been such a change. Take care and keep safe!

      That s so awesome you have tracked down places for recycling those odd things! I don’t suppose it was easy to do. Well done!

  5. It is overwhelming trying to write about this whole interpenetrating fiasco. You can’t do one thing. Ever. But to write on all of it at once is more than a bookcase of printed pages.

    Also, I’m not a hugging type (imagine that) so I don’t hug my household trees. But I’ve taken to talking to them. I get home from work, unlatch my gate and ask the junipers for the day’s news. Then look up to ask the ash how he’s doing. (So far, no borers.) I’m pretty sure they all respond. There’s just this attentive feeling, an awareness, maybe even amused interest. “The odd 2-legged one is making noise again. I’d swear it’s almost like the poor thing is trying to communicate. Without mycorrhizae.”

    1. You re right Elizabeth, it’s a multi-volume work to write about it all. Thinking I could do it in a blog post is kind of ridiculous. If only!

      Totally understand the not hugging. Talking to the junipers and the ash is awesome! Heh, trees probably do feel sorry for us who lack mycorrhizae. Plus we are probably a little annoying with all of our rushing here and there. Don’t be hasty! As the Ents would say. I began talking to my various garden plants this year since they were so stressed out from the heat and drought. It was mutually comforting I believe.

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