Facing the fear of climate change

Facing the fear of climate change
By Audrey McCollum

Even the loathsome leeches didn’t deter us from our quest as Bob,
my husband, and I penetrated Australia’s Lamington National Park
nearly one decade ago. A narrow trail was guiding us through
mist-shrouded rain forest and across eons of time to rare Antarctic
beech trees.

We glimpsed several on the steep mountainside but came close to
only one. Its moss-covered trunk was massive, its exposed roots
thick and gnarled, and its wide-spreading branches were festooned
with myriad orchids and ferns.

We had seen monumental cloud forest trees before but had never been
so deeply moved. Through evidence provided by fossil study, it had
been shown that these were direct descendants of beeches that grew
140 million years ago when Australia was still an area of the vast
southern continent of Gondwanaland that became Antarctica,
Australia, Africa, South America and India.

Around 50 million years ago, Australia detached from Antarctica and
drifted north, carrying beeches such as these in the journey. So as
we gazed at this splendid relic, we experienced a sense of eternity
that we had never known before.

Perhaps from the time that Earth was first formed, climate has
followed an imperceptible rhythm of glaciation and thaw. Yet
according to scientists whose work is impeccable, human activity
has played a dangerous role for at least three centuries.

Populations have grown and demanded increasing resources to sustain
their lives. And humankind has learned to plunder fossil fuels –
oil, coal, natural gas – to support the development of industry and
mechanized transportation.

Burning of these fuels has produced a gaseous blanket around planet
earth, holding in heat and causing the planet to warm. The
relationship between climate change and weather is complex, but the
mounting frequency of tornadic storms, hurricanes and
record-breaking temperatures attests to danger that threatens us
all.

Bob and I first witnessed the threat to humankind during 1994.
Sailing aboard the M.S. Lindblad Explorer, we had visited South
Pacific islands that could only be reached by the 80-passenger ship
(or a raft or ocean-going canoe).

We called at one isle where a ritual of coming into manhood had
been postponed because a storm had inundated most of the low-lying
land. The South Seas are freckled by such islands, many with unique
and ancient cultures that will disappear as warming temperatures
cause ice to melt and oceans to rise. The threat of submersion is
so severe that some islanders have already appealed to New Zealand
and Australia for safe haven.

I felt deeply sad to learn that people who had welcomed us
warmly–strange as we were (one islander believed that because my
hair was white I must be a spirit of the dead)– would probably
have to give up their cherished customs in order to become
assimilated in larger nations.

Yet, while sad, the threat seemed remote, not affecting Bob or me
or our loved ones. And our subsequent encounter with the Antarctic
Beeches was soothing, assuring us of global continuity.

Yet a wise psychoanalyst who was a colleague of mine in the 1960s
often observed, “That which is unbearable, people will deny.” That
was brought home full force when Bob and I saw Al Gore’s film “An
Inconvenient Truth” at Hanover’s Nugget Theater. The truths about
global warming that he portrayed were indeed unbearable.

We didn’t deny their validity, as did many on our streets and in
our government (the findings of James Hansen, NASA’s leading
climatologist, were temporarily suppressed). Rather, we felt
increasingly alarmed, as I do now after a week-end visit with our
beloved 11-year-old twin grandsons whose future is in jeopardy.

But I remind myself that we are blanketed by shared concern in this
region, including that expressed by the Sustainable Energy Resource
Group (SERG), the Vermont Earth Institute (VEI), The Sierra Club,
Hanover’s Climate Protection Campaign, and the developing
Sustainable Hanover initiative that I will be writing about.

While realistic about the threats facing all living species on
earth – golden toads as much as humans – these groups are not
simply lamenting. Rather, they are learning and teaching and acting
together, feeling supported by each other.

I hope that readers who would welcome contact information for any
of these groups will allow me to supply it.