IT WAS ONE DAY after the worst snowstorm the Finger Lakes had seen all winter. Four feet of the white stuff, already beginning to melt on the sidewalks and roadsides as I made my way into the lobby of a local high school. Honestly, I did not know what to expect from the climate summit, especially one being held in such a rural area. But as soon as I made my way into the lobby, I knew I had made the right choice in coming.
Several booths had been set up, one from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, another from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, these offering troves of information on climatological science and how climate change in impacting the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. This particular summit had been sponsored by the Mynderse Academy (the high school it was being held at) Science Department, and included speakers from Cornell University, and the Museum of Earth, out of Ithaca, New York.
I signed in at a student-run booth (the young lady appearing just a bit surprised that I was a concerned community member and not associated with any university or organization) and made my way into the auditorium. I took a moment to get seated and marvel at how nice the school was, having a sizeable and dedicated auditorium. After all, the high school I went to didn’t have doors on the stalls in the restrooms, let alone an actual auditorium. High school was a while ago for me, but I seem to remember any sort of student assembly being held in the gym. Maybe I’m getting crotchety in my old age, but I couldn’t help but muse at how spoiled these kids today must be, with their high schools with actual auditoriums. What’s next? Doors on the stalls in the restrooms?
The auditorium filled up quick, with guests from all over the region. I noticed other members of the community in attendance, as well as local town and city politicians (not nearly enough of these). It being a school day, the students of the high school were required to attend the summit, and I could not help but wonder if they realized just how fortunate they were to be receiving this information at such a young age.
Things started off with Dr. Duggan-Haas, from the Paleontological Research Institution at the Museum of Earth, in Ithaca. Dr. Duggan-Haas immediately informed the crowd that climate change is indeed real, and it is indeed caused by us, humans. I would be lying if I did not say that the information was damning.
The take-away from Dr. Duggan-Hass’ speech came down to the fact that humanity is simply consuming too much energy, and that, if we are to have any sort of sustainable future on our planet Earth, we need desperately to curtail our hunger for it. Less usage is key.
One crucial point that was made was the fact that, for example, hydraulic-fracturing (the process of injecting chemical-laden water at extremely high pressure into the ground to breakup shale deposits and thus release the natural gas) is indeed highly destructive to our planet, but so are all methods of mass energy consumption. It became apparent there is a conundrum here, far more complex than simply trying to live green, or find some quick-fix we can all do to set things right. Fossil fuels are the energy source we strive to move away from, while at the same time allowing more sustainable sources to exist.
Basically, green energy requires fossil fuel in some form to be practical, whether that be the creations of materials in solar panels or wind turbines, or the power needed for them to begin collecting sunlight or wind in the first place.
Now that doesn’t mean I’m anti-renewable energy. Quite the contrary. I believe we, as a human race, need desperately to invest in these sustainable alternatives to coal and oil and gas. But that’s only half the battle. The other half is simply reducing our overall consumption of energy, which leads me to my next point.
We can, all of us, make small changes in our daily lives to use less. Take shorter showers, turn off lights when not in use, recycle as much as we possibly can. Problem is, these minor changes in the day-to-day lives of the average human being are small potatoes in comparison to the megalithic hyper-consumption by corporate entities. So long as these private companies are allowed to, quite plainly, rape our Mother Earth for profit, little will change. This system of abject capitalism for the sheer sack of it is blowing through our planet’s natural resources at an utterly unsustainable rate.
International policy is needed to change this. Strict guidelines set forth to ensure Mother Earth’s precious resources exist for generations to come. But therein lies yet another conundrum; seeing to it that various world governments obey said guidelines. Good faith is not enough. It is imperative that any such climate guidelines put forth are followed to the letter. But then we run into the question of just who is tasked with enforcement of such a global climate treaty. The United States? Have we not acted as world police for long enough? And that’s assuming we would bother to try enforcement of such rules in the first place. The corporate culture and wanton capitalism that is inherently American would beg to disagree.
After several speakers, all with poignant information to share, the students were allowed to go home for the day, as it was after 2 o’clock by this point, or stay to learn more if they wished. I was not surprised to see nearly all of them decided to leave, and I don’t blame them. I’m sure I would have done the same when I was fifteen or sixteen. The remaining audience was then allowed to explore several different workshops located in various classrooms throughout the school. Composting, recycling, vermiculture, as well as the social cost of energy mass-consumption were all topics covered.
One very important issue that was touched upon was the difference between climate and weather, and it is a distinction I’m afraid most people are unaware of. Weather is what’s happening in your neck of the woods over a brief period; hours, days, weeks. Climate is what that weather tends to do over a more extended period; at least thirty years. This is a distinction people need to realize.
What is important is the global temperature average, not the wind chill in Pisswater, Okiedokie. Just because it’s cold outside where you are, does not mean the global temperature is not rising. 2016 was the warmest year on record, beating out 2015, which in turn beat out 2014. The Earth’s average temperature has been rising steadily since the early twentieth century, and exponentially since around 1980. And that is information from the Earth Observatory at NASA, which can be found here.
Like I said, the information is there, and it’s damning.
Walking out into the parking lot after the summit had ended, I could not help but be impressed. The information is desperately needed the world over, but especially in small towns and counties, where people may be more resistant to the facts. The professional data presented was university-level, not to mention free and open to the public. Far more people should have attended than did, but it’s a start. Like I said, it was refreshing to see such information presented in this small community. Hopefully we will see many more such summits and forums in cities and towns across the country, and the world. One can only hope
Yet how do we, as people who truly want to make a change, manage to get an actual dialogue with fellow community members, some of whom may be unwilling to listen?
This was yet another issue brought up at the summit, and I believe it is one of the most crucial of all:
We need to make it personal.
We need to connect the information to observable facts people can relate to. The trees blossoming earlier each year. The summers getting hotter and more humid. Certain crops not fairing as well as they used to. These are all things people can see, things they can understand. When you begin spewing numbers and trite data, most people are going to shut down. If they can’t understand it, or believe it has importance in their life, chances are they won’t listen. There is a decent possibility they may even become angry, feeling intimidated. But if we can give them something they can relate to, they may begin to see. Maybe all at once, maybe piece by piece. But they will begin to see.
It’s a small start, but it is a start. Talk to people around you, give them examples. Doing our part to use less is great, and it is crucial. But education is just as important. If we can spread the information, each of us doing our part, then that person will eventually spread the information on to someone else.
We have already passed a tipping-point, where what’s done is done. We are now living on an Earth with a certain amount of damage that cannot be reversed, not for many, many years. But what we can do is stop the damage from spreading further.
Joe DiCicco is a writer from New York. He writes mostly fiction, but has recently begun delving into issues of environmental and social importance. He holds a degree in Natural Resources Conservation.
Joe DiCicco has a piece in the second issue of A Beautiful Resistance. All issues, along with Pagan Anarchism and A Pagan Anti-Capitalist Primer, are now available together as a digital download for $20 US. Or order them in print here.