All of our upbringing—well I should say all of my upbringing–has been underscored with this pervasive philosophy that one must always be optimistic and, above all else, hold-unflinchingly, onto hope. And perhaps on a sunny day I would feel different, but today—this rainy, dark day, hope seems so hard to hold. Is it not living in a fool’s paradise to hold onto hope in the face of so much bad news about this climate destroying fate we are inflicting on our beautiful planet— on our beautiful children and grandchildren?
It’s not the climate science that seems so dark though scientists warn that every day we put off meaningful action on climate change brings us ever closer to a tipping point beyond which run away climate change becomes an unstoppable, self-reinforcing loop of chain reactions where climate change-of itself– becomes the ever escalating driver for ever more destructive climate change.
Climate scientists tell us that even if today we cut our output of greenhouse gas the effects would, of their own momentum, continue to fuel destructive climate change—for a time because newly generated CO2 would continue to percolate into the atmosphere. BUT! There would be an end to it considerably short of the destructive trajectory we are currently on. The problem isn’t that, today, we couldn’t turn back to a stable, human life supporting climate. The dark problem that unsettles my perceptions on this rainy day is not that we couldn’t turn back. The problem is that we could and we won’t.
Like a junkie and his self destroying addiction to mainlining the drug that is destroying his life, we are so addicted to a life style based on the consumption of carbon dioxide releasing fuels, we cannot give them up nor even cut back meaningfully—not even to save our civilization and our children.
While a recent CBC News poll found that Canadians are deeply concerned about climate change few are willing to pay any significant amount to try to change our destructive CO2trajectory. While sixty percent of those polled, in what is considered a representative sample of the views of Canadians, listed fighting climate change as their top priority, the telling part of this poll was its finding that, despite the high level of concern, less than half are willing to pay a piddling $100 a year to try to reduce our devastating impact on our life supporting atmosphere!
I, personally, do not know of anyone who is willing to cut back on their intercontinental flights to try to reduce our fast approaching climate disaster. I even attended a very thoughtful church service where the topic– our need to reduce our impact on our climate–was the centre of a very moving and thoughtful presentation. It was more than a bit devastating, however, to note that the next day the Sunday speaker was boarding an Air Canada flight to the Bahamas for a refreshing visit with old friends. I once asked a friend who was a staunch advocate of acting on climate change how he squared that with his plans to fly off to Africa to explore the fascinating world of a wild life park there. His response? “You know I have given up red meat to try to save our planet but how much can one person be asked to do when there is so much to see and do in this beautiful world and one person has so little impact on any kind of meaningful change?
Ah, but our trusty federal government to the rescue!(?) where consumers face a $20 a tonne of carbon released (4.4 cents per litre of gas at the pump) carbon tax to try to wean consumers onto burning less fossil fuels. The carbon tax will go to $50/ tonne in 2020. The problem being that fuel prices fluctuate more than that due to oil company pricing and it, quite demonstrably, has near 0 impact on the amount of gas purchased.
And, while the government talks of acting on climate change by up-pricing the cost of gas at the pump, that same government is handing fossil fuel industries $3.3 billion in subsidies every year. Oh, and, they are using tax dollars to buy out otherwise unfeasible tar sands pipe lines to be sure the dirty oil makes to sea and off to some other jurisdiction to be burned into atmosphere choking gases. Then there is the likely winner in the up coming federal election, the Conservative Party whose commitment to dealing with climate change is to print a large, glossy, meaningless booklet with lots of cute pictures with no meaningful commitment to change at all. Oh, there is also the NDP and Green parties who will never be elected government so are free to talk any never-to-be-implemented commitments they like. In BC the NDP Horgan government talks about stopping an oil pipeline from Alberta and rips open the public purse to ensure natural gas that nature has stored for ages in inaccessible underground formations is now “fracked” by being forced out with previously clean water and shipped off to places like China where, according to Horgan, it might be burned as a coal replacement and therefore save a bit of potential C02 releases. No guarantees, of course. Indeed, no discussions or requests—just, stupid, unfounded hope that the province can make money while not counting the cost to our Earth and its peoples.
And then there is Donald Trump’s America where the whole idea of even thinking about acting on climate change is heresy to a government determined to erase all sense of any limit on the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. Then there is Russia and China and Saudi Arabia and…
We could, but we won’t, take meaningful actions to protect our human civilization saving atmosphere.
If there is real hope it has to be that though Jonathan Swift was absolutely right about the incorrigible squalor of the Houyhnhnms, there is, yet, other life that may survive an over heated atmosphere and yet aspire to the great ideals that humans once thought themselves capable and worthy of. To that end I tell a story—an excerpt from the much longer tale: Working on the Railroad.
The Grasshopper Dream
As I drifted dreamingly off under the influence of a long day’s hike, the rock from the campfire ring became deeply embedded in the night sky and grew to the size of a high rise building. Most curiously, cast against the background of the deeply coloured sky a grasshopper sat perched on the now towering rock.
Perfectly proportioned in every way, this grasshopper was exceedingly strange in that while it rested on the high-rise-sized rock it was also nearly half the size of the rock. While I felt present in the scene, I didn’t, feel at all frightened of this immense grasshopper because I seemed to be only an observer with no real or corporeal presence. As I watched transfixedly, the rock continued to grow until it was fully the size of the largest mountainous abutment I had ever seen.
The grasshopper too had grown, appearing now to be about three times the size of a 747 jumbo passenger plane. This hulking insect, resting with its front feet n the edge of the precipice which fell off steeply to the valley bottom far below appeared to be a pale but slightly iridescent green over the entire length of its roughly textured body.
Suddenly one of the gigantic hind wings fanned out over the ridge. He (maybe she as I know little of gender in grasshoppers) was just stretching with no intention of flying away. The delicate folds in the textures of the wing membrane were a translucent royal claret. For a moment I thought I saw a pattern like a Tibetan Mandela inscribed on the underside of the wing, but already the wing was retracting. There was in the air a feeling of contentment. The giant mandibles began grinding slowly back and forth like the creature was ruminating on something, though I had the strange foreboding that this something might be something more ethereal than any plant material. What kind of a plant would it take to satisfy the hunger of such an awing appetite? I wondered.
Suddenly I noticed the massive legs were beginning to crouch down. Perhaps it was going to fly. However having stooped down to nearly the level of the rock surface the grasshopper began to rock forward and up. This it continued to do in a slow circling motion three times then stretched fully up to the full extent of its gnarly legs. The back arched up even higher into the evening sky, then a great wind, seeming to shake even the massive rock, exhausted from a series of portals all along the body.
After a moment’s rest the colossal head began to twist from side to side. Continuing to feel in no danger or unbearable shock from beholding the gargantuan presence of this being, my scientifically trained mind was beginning to wonder whether this colossus was a single aberrant individual or whether there was a whole species of these gigantic grasshoppers, when suddenly I noticed the eye. These were not the eyes of an otherwise normal, though unspeakably oversized grasshopper. Superficially there were similarities. The eyes occupied symmetrical locations on the upper side of the forehead and massively dominated the face just like the tiny field grasshoppers that I regularly chased out of my garden.
Like the compound eye of all orthopterans, the lens-rather than a uniformly arched surface-was divided into a myriad hexagonal facets. As I looked on in utter fascination, light from the setting sun fell across these enormous, roving eyes breaking prism like into dancing beams of euphonious colour.
Observing this play of colour, I began to notice the distant mountains more carefully. Clearly the mountainous abutment on which this hulking grasshopper stood was by far the tallest peak around. Spreading out from the base of the precipice ahead a dense magnetic smog seethed up vaporously in vast spumes set afire by the setting sun. Even the air above the level of the smog seemed dense and blown by wisps of sulfurous ether.
Occasionally a rocky peak jutted above the smog–gathering, momentarily, the wafting haze. I could see nothing of the valleys below and with my eyesight clouded by the heavy air. I could not make out whether any of the distant peaks shouldered other living creatures. In the distance a blazing red orb half the size of the horizon settled into the landscape with all the force of our primordial Sun.
Feeling present but entirely ethereal, I began to notice that as various facets of one of these gigantic eyes passed perpendicular across my line of sight I could see for some depth into the translucent single segment. Unlike a common field grasshopper, no one lens of this colossal eye was exactly like any other lens. Indeed as I examined each of the various facets, I began to feel that I was, myself, being examined. Examined not for hair colour, gender, height or other physical characteristics such as taste (!), but examined for who I am.
I felt the very essence of me, perhaps my soul, was being examined very carefully and every new lens probed in ever-unique dimensions. I felt in time that even aspects of myself which I did not know/had no possible awareness of were being meticulously scrutinized.
Suddenly the dancing, penetrating light of the great eyes dimmed to a warm ambient pink light. A torrent of wind rushed in through the portholes along the side of the grasshopper, hesitated for a moment, then came rushing back out in a long even sigh.
I began to feel a deep, though jubilant/meditative, sense of well-being which I had never experienced before. The vast gem-like eyes grew still/calm/reflective. I heard a voice seeming to come from the depths of my being. No. It wasn’t mine and it wasn’t a voice. It was a thought coming from the cavernous interior depths beyond the now glowing eyeball. I was reading the very thoughts of this awing creature.
“Awwweeee!” It yawned in obvious satisfaction.
“Awwweeee!” And another rush of incoming and receding air.
“How wonderful and full of blessing. Today I vividly remember humankind. Though their once ubiquitous record is now almost entirely lost even in the most ancient rock formations, today I remember with thanksgiving and clarity those distant times. How wonderful that our creative earth employed its most troubled species to turn all that noxious oxygen gas into to this exquisite blend of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur oxides, so that truly sentient beings such as ourselves might come along to fully comprehend the spiritual mysteries of a living planet!”