Posted by: MC | August 7, 2011

Climate — Listening to know for sure

I have a friend in South Dakota who lives in a town that flooded last month.  It was near completely under water.  I have another friend who lives in Akiak, Alaska who told me about the tundra taking on a smell, thawing for the first time in his life or in the lives of his ancestors who have lived there for many thousand years.  Then there was the photo my dad managed to take of himself a few days ago in front of the enormous 111 on the bank marquee near his home in Marshall, AR.  His comment, “but, it’s humid heat.”

In late July, the Feds released their once-every-decade-whether-we-need-it-or-not report on temperatures and rainfall; data referred to in public policy discussions as the “new normals.”  Really?  Isn’t there something a little unsettling about that?  This time around the ten year wheel every part of hotter – a .5% increase.  One climate specialist said of these new normals, “The kind of temperatures that used to smash records, now become just another hot day.”  Her research shows that, in the last month alone, 8000 records have been set for the warmest day or nighttime temperatures.

On the trip from January 21 to April 30, 2009 for which this blog is named this subject came up enough to qualify as a theme.  Everyday Americans whose ideas soon will be held in the actual book 100 Voices: Americans Talk about Change  shared concern for the environment across political and other differences.  Here are some of the things people said, lined up in a way that lets the wisdom of ‘listening to know for sure’ unfold for itself.

Tommy Carpenter, a conservative businessman who was consulting with his Baptist Church’s youth minister, David, looked out toward the Guadalupe River in Kerrville, TX and talked about change. “We chase the latest and greatest instead of living something bigger than us,” he said.  “As a country, we don’t live for our kids’ and grandkids’ generations.  That’s something bigger than us.  Instead, we live for right now.  But even if it’s uncomfortable right now, we’ve got to make a change.  What’s wrong with self sacrifice?”

A few weeks earlier, in Walnut Creek, CA, Terry Gutkin, an educator and progressive, had spoken of the environment in the context of American ingenuity – something that he’d like to see both stay the same and change. “Right now, we do all these great things but we’re destroying the earth as we do it.  We’re destroying the environment, we’re destroying each other.  So, I would like to keep the drive and energy and lose the other part.  One is vintage American and is really spectacular and worth keeping.  The other part is also vintage American, equally spectacular and catastrophic.  It has to be done with.”

In Dallas, Olivia, a senior at the Hockaday School joined her friends Holly and Margo in concern about climate, “Yeah, and education would create more awareness of the environment overall.  I don’t think many people are aware of how bad it is.”

Later in Chicago, Glenna Reyes, a year older than the three young women from Dallas said, “Like the situation with the environment; that’s changing the way we think about living, not just the way we vote. Maybe people are starting to realize we have to stop taking things for granted. The environment is not just America’s problem. It’s a world’s problem. We have to work together. Twenty years from now, the environment will be the first problem affecting everybody. Whether we believe in global warming or not, people are seeing effects, and we have to do something about it.”

Speaking from the perspective of a man in his early 50’s Clarke Kemp’s comments one February morning in Jackson, MS placed Glenna’s observations in context. “People have children and put a lot of effort into raising and protecting them.  That’s one of the basic and most powerful motivators of human behavior.  If people understand the threats to the environment are real and that making changes in the way we live can prevent future generations from having a worse time, then the change will happen.”

In Marietta, GA, businesswoman and fiscal conservative, Anna shared her thoughts.  “In our state, we’ve also had huge issues with guarding and protecting our natural resources.  The state of Georgia is fighting two other states on water that flows north from here.  Protecting natural resources and using them wisely is another thing I want for my granddaughter.  Having those issues in the forefront has been a good thing.  People have become more aware.  You don’t have to run the water the whole time you’re brushing your teeth.  It’s a little thing, but water scarcity makes you think.”

These next three comments, then, seem to bring together three viewpoints both common and essential to our shared national dialogue on environmental matters.  Science, spirit, and the way we live.

First and again from Clarke Kemp:  “I’d like to see another thing.  I’d like to see science held outside politics with consensus given due respect.  It’s disturbing to watch media play with the science on the environment.  Here are 99,000 scientists who say that global warming is most certainly happening.  Balancing this on the other side is one scientist who might be sponsored by Exxon who doubts it all.”

From Calvin Hecocta (Paiute, Modoc) in Klamath Falls,OR: “There’s also a powerful disconnect with the environment.  The connection I speak of is with the soil, the waters and the plants – with the forest and water beings – with all the people there – the flyers, beautiful birds.”

And finally, from Kwang Kim back in Portland:  “So, change for me is thinking about our values in terms of political, economic and environmental well being and considering whether those values are consistent with our behaviors.  To the extent they are inconsistent we must make personal changes in the private arena.”


  1. Well said! I was by that same bank thermometer yesterday at 4 p.m. It said 107. The clock is ticking.

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