Evolving Differently

I walked out onto the porch last night with a container of bird seed, leaving a trail of seed where the birds congregate each morning for their breakfast. It was nice to imagine the dawn’s cooing and chirping and fluttering, the bustling among one another, and the boisterous synchronized departure. I’m always especially proud of the one or two birds who remain, not following the crowd.

Yesterday’s temperature reached 100 degrees, which meant that last night the darkness on the porch was still deliciously warm. A gentle breeze blew through the trees and bushes, and as it brushed my skin I imagined the birds feeling that same breeze brushing their feathers. I wondered for a moment how many other plants and animals and insects also felt that very same breath of earth. There was something very unifying in that thought.

I walked past the wonderfully intoxicating scent of a heavily blooming jasmine bush and made my way out to our fig tree. I stayed there for a moment, enjoying the air, the darkness, the stars, and the companionship and connection with everything around me.

While I stood there enjoying the warm night air it occurred to me that the air inside our home had been artificially chilled. The machines that performed this task for us use an enormous amount of energy, despite being “efficient” models, and their use means that my family is less acclimated to the climate that we falsely believe we live in. Our house is truly the one acclimated to the desert; we are merely acclimated to the house. We spend the majority of our lives in a variety of temperature-regulated, humidity-controlled, air-filtered environments which are very often quite different than those outdoors. Rather than living with nature we shield ourselves from it. Without realizing it we have literally ended millennia of climate-related adaptation and evolution.

I wonder what people will do as water becomes more scarce, temperatures continue to rise, storms become more intense, and petroleum and natural gas become more expensive? Perhaps laws will be passed regulating how we use resources, and new shelters might be built, but that would amount to little more than shielding ourselves from a changing world that is simply asking us to adapt.

We adapt to other changes all the time, and of course we can adapt to a changing climate too. Like other things we adapt to, like a new child or a new job, changes in lifestyle need to be made. These adaptations don’t make our lives worse, they make our lives different. And as with so many other things we’ve already adapted to, we often find that adapting opens new doors in our lives – new happiness, new opportunities, new dreams, new directions. In this way, we could look at climate change as a huge gift, a chance to re-assess our priorities, adjust our actions, and begin setting things right in each of our corners of the world.

Adapt and Evolve

The news today is filled with reports of heavy snow, freezing temperatures, and millions of us Americans breaking down and helpless due to what might otherwise be post card-beautiful conditions. These conditions, extreme to us even if not to others, remind me of the remarkable endurance of the plants and animals that live outside. I was happy to see hummingbirds, sparrows, and other birds visiting the yard this morning; it always brings a smile to my face when I see them trying to fly in their tiny North Face coats and boots.

For thousands of years we humans and the climate evolved simultaneously. Like any other animal we lived outside and learned to adapt to both hot and cold temperatures. We likely didn’t get as much done in the peaks of hot and valleys of cold, but we managed to survive. In fact, we did really well – so well that we may have gotten a bit arrogant. At some point we became domineering and controlling. We ended up downright abusive, and climate was left with no choice but to hire a lawyer. She’s off now doing her own thing, and our domineering, controlling, abusive selves are stuck paying the consequences. It’s sad when a relationship ends. In this case we’re not paying alimony, because climate doesn’t care about money. What we’re paying is life as we know it. Winters are colder, summers are hotter, storms are more intense, rains either don’t come or come as floods, plants aren’t growing the way they used to, species are dying off, and us? We’re taking bold action: we’re staying indoors, turning up the heat, turning down the air conditioning, making sure that our little space remains at a comfortable 72 degrees, even if the ultimate price might be as high as our own extinction.

Think about it: we’re isolating ourselves from the environment that would have challenged us to evolve. And we’re certainly not challenging ourselves to evolve in the same ways. We arrogantly believe we can control the world, but all it takes is one storm to remind us how small we truly are. Those perspective-altering storms are going to be coming more frequently in the years to come, so I expect us to be feeling very, very small. Left without central heating and air conditioning people interviewed on the news this morning complained bitterly; we no longer understand how to stay either warm or cool without employing machines and using energy. Just a few decades ago our great grandparents lived in both triple-digit and single-digit temperatures, but now look at their spoiled great grand children. Norway should be laughing at us. Especially Norwegian great-grandparents, the ones who had to walk to school in their bare feet, for hours, through a blizzard, while carrying the piano they needed for their lessons.

When a bird flies by your window today, take a moment to consider how such a small, delicate, beautiful creature lived through the long cold night – and continues to go about his or her normal activities today. That bird didn’t have a television, had no magazines, no internet, and didn’t have to buy anything. If that bird can do it, we just might be able to do it too. Here’s a great way to start:
1) Turn down your heat and put on a sweater.
2) Get active! Turn on your body’s own thermostat.
3) Learn how to sew and knit. Make your own flannels, sweaters, blankets, and quilts.
4) Once you’re all cozy walk or bike to your local library, find these books, and read them: Diet For A Hot Planet, by Anna Lappe; and Soil Not Oil, by Vandana Shiva.