To top
1 Aug

A Leaf on a Time-Tree


What about your apocalypse then? Well, the universe is a leaf on a time-tree, and come autumn it’s going to shrivel and fall off into hell. — China Mieville, Kraken

There’s a heat warning for southern British Columbia this week. That’s kind of amazing – growing up there, ‘heat’ was not something that anyone would have considered a problem. In Vancouver, ‘hot’ is any day that the sun actually comes out. So ‘heat warnings‘ in the context of that province is wild. Also: scary.

It’s scary, of course, because BC is still battling wildfires – wildfires that forced my mother out of her home for nearly ten days; wildfires that have been making the air difficult for my severely disabled nephew to breathe. But it’s also scary because it’s not normal. Or rather – it’s scary because it may be the new normal. It’s scary because we now live in a world in which we don’t just talk about heat and drought and rising ocean levels – we witness these. Up close, sometimes.

We’ve been living in southern California for almost four years. We know what extreme heat feels like. We know what it’s like to live through a drought – and to know that adapting to drought conditions is not just a temporary thing, something that you just do when water supplies are low and no rain is on the forecast. Adapting to drought conditions is something that you do for always – because even if the rain falls this year, it might not do so the next. At our place in the desert, water conservation and heat protection are just part of our everyday. You time your showers, you reuse the dishwater. You keep the curtains drawn all day in the summer, because it doesn’t matter how spectacular the views are – that sun is hot and merciless and you won’t sleep that night if the rooms heat up. Even with air conditioning, because there’s no affordable air conditioning that can reliably cool down a place that’s been baking under the white hot heat of the summer desert sun.

We think about what it means, long-term. Will we still want to spend time in our beloved desert when the temperatures get higher? We already limit our time there in the summer, when it’s really just too uncomfortable (it’s manageable, but only if you stay inside for most of the day.) We were just in Nevada, where it gets even hotter, and although it was lovely on the Colorado River, in the shade of the canyons and with cool water to plunge into, it was nearly unbearable anywhere else. But when we got home to our shady spot near the mountains in greater Los Angeles, it didn’t seem all that much cooler.

So, yes. We think about the heat, a lot. It’s a part of our lives, like an acquaintance, or a neighbor, who lives a little too close, who drops by too often. But instead of body odor or a penchant for loud music, she brings fire and water shortages. And she’s not moving away. I suppose we’ve thought that we could move, if or when things got bad, even though we don’t want to. The lure of Canada is always there, always; an ever-present refuge against bad politics or persistent drought.

But then the wildfires happen – just as they do in California. And the heat intensifies – just as it does in California. The ocean will rise, and it will pay no mind to borders. If we were to move back to Canada, it wouldn’t make any difference at all in the larger scheme. The world will get hotter and things will get tougher, no matter where we are.

I suppose that sounds alarmist. I do try to not alarm the kids – they’re already anxious about fire and earthquakes and extreme weather – but I also try to be honest. This is a human-fueled problem. There are human challenges attached to it, for sure – we can’t give up our car; we can only reduce our use of air conditioning – but human problems require human solutions. It may seem as though there’s too little that we can do – minimizing waste, shopping locally, walking instead of driving when we can – but even that little is better than nothing. And the bigger point is this: I want them to care. I need them to care. I need them to make a direction between caring about the earth, and taking care of it. I need them to take responsibility. So that they make some difference, even it’s small. So that the possibility remains open that they might do something bigger.

A thing about having children is that the horizon for your hopes and fears stretches out at a greater distance. I might not live to see the desert or the coast become uninhabitable, but my children probably will. And if they don’t, their children – my grandchildren – certainly will. Unless something changes. Unless we change. So it doesn’t matter whether the things that we do to make a difference are little – it just matters that we do them; that we care enough to do them.

When I started working on the Whole Family Happiness Project a few months ago, I was convinced that social change happened through appealing to shared values. We all value happiness, we all seek happiness – why not seek a bigger happiness that faces a bigger horizon? I’m still convinced of that – we don’t pursue change unless we really want it or believe in it, after all. And fear can be disabling. We do need to ask ourselves – what do we really value, and are we willing to commit to that? But real hope requires real awareness: it’s hard to meaningfully hope for a better, happier future if we don’t appreciate what’s at stake for that future. Hoping for – and working for – a better tomorrow requires understanding what tomorrow needs.

And what tomorrow needs is more action from us, today. It doesn’t need to be big action, it just needs to be something (here are some good places to start.) Even if it’s just so your kids can see that you care.

Because that matters. It really does.

This post is part of The Whole Family Happiness Project, in partnership with Social Currents and the Low Carbon Economy Narrative Initiative. The Whole Family Happiness Project poses the question, “What is the connection between our individual purpose, our family happiness, and the happiness of the world around us?”

To learn more or get involved, visit Whole Family Happiness on Facebook. #wholefamilyhappiness