Monday, February 10, 2014

Anger, Snow, Drought, Butterflies and Poetry

Snowy Chicago and frozen Lake Michigan, February 4, 2014
Photo by Patrick Giblin via Creative Commons

I read online a few months back that anger is the Internet's most prevalent and powerful emotion.

That sounds about right to me.

And it concerns me a bit, because so many of us spend so much time on the Internet these days, that we're probably absorbing that anger, contributing to it and most likely taking it offline into our personal lives.

That's probably not healthy.

Of course, that's one reason I like writing and reading gardening blogs. There's usually not much anger either on the part of the writer or the commentators.

On most sites, comments sections are typically inane at best or vicious at worst, filled with ad hominem attacks. But gardening blog comment sections are typically supportive, humorous, helpful and kind. I think it speaks well for our ilk and gives me hope for the human race. (OK, maybe that's naive or silly, but that's how I feel.)

And yet...

Allow me to vent just a little on a story I came across just today in the venerable New York Times with an editor from Powder magazine scaremongering about "The End of Snow?"


Did the Times commission this piece and agree to run it back in July?

Because last time I checked, this has been the harshest winter in decades in large parts of the Eastern United States.

Here in Tennessee, our temperatures have been running about 20 degrees below normal lately. Over the next couple of days, 2-4 inches of snowfall is being forecast south of us in Alabama and Georgia.

Wait....what's that white stuff?
Oh yeah, it's SNOW in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, February 3, 2014
Photo by Marty Desilets via Creative Commons

My father up in Pennsylvania seems to spend most days shoveling snow as his state has been hammered week after week by snow and ice. The most recent storm left hundreds of thousands of people without power - some for five days now. One guy apparently tried to stay warm in his powerless house by lighting a Duraflame log on his kitchen table.

Now I know that somebody is bound to jump up at this point and say, "But wait - global warming is a global phenomenon and you're talking about local weather patterns."

To which I say: Sure. I know that temperatures have been running above average in California and southern Florida, but large sections of North America have clearly been way below average temperature-wise this winter. Thousands of cold and snowfall records were broken last month. Just for a sampling, this winter is shaping up to be one the snowiest on record in places like Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago.

Of course, all that snow may have escaped the notice of Powder magazine since the skiing probably isn't so great on Michigan Avenue. But I'm sure that some ski resorts (e.g., in Montana) have gotten oodles of snow this year.

Farther afield, Tokyo just had its heaviest snowfall in 13 years. I don't think we need to worry that snow is on its way to becoming something you can only view in a very cold museum.

I am a fervent and proud environmentalist. I also understand that some people actually believe global warming is a proven fact, but personally I don't hold great faith in climate prognosticators of any stripe when the meteorologists with all their satellites and sophisticated computer models tend to get the weather wrong more often than not, especially when trying to predict anything more than 24-48 hours into the future.

And I don't find all that helpful to have anecdotal evidence that the snowpack in a given location might be less than 40 years ago. Because four decades ago, we were in the 1970s (yikes), which I believe was such an unusually cold decade that news magazines were running stories about how we might be about to enter a new ice age.

(Incidentally, we might be due for another ice age. On the down side, it would wipe out a lot of life on the planet. On the upside, the skiing opportunities would probably be legendary.)

Lots of snow in this Turkish mountain range., but no visible ski resorts.
Maybe there is an inverse relationship between ski resorts and snowfall?
Beautiful photo by Frans Zwart via Creative Commons

The point I would like to make is that scaremongering may win clicks, but I think it tends to boomerang and erode the scaremonger's credibility in the long run.

Unfortunately, that's what has been happening. When people run around year after year saying, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We're not going to have winter anymore unless we all radically change our lifestyles." And then we have a brutal winter, people just stop listening and figure we can all merrily pollute to our heart's content.

And that's a problem. Because I think we are screwing up the planet in some ways. That's what happens when you have billions and billions of people blithely building, consuming, polluting and reproducing.

I wouldn't be quite so harsh on homo sapiens as Agent Smith was in The Matrix, but it's clear that collectively we are are tacitly supporting an agricultural system that rips out milkweed, plants endless fields of corn and drives the Monarch butterflies to the brink of extinction in the process.

We are withdrawing water from underground aquifers faster than those aquifers naturally can be replenished.

And yet we have someone wringing his hands about how global warming is going to harm the skiing industry?!

Here's an idea -- If you're concerned about human impact on the planet, why not stop flying around the world on pollution-spewing airplanes just so you can get your kicks sliding down a mountainside.

(The ski industry's eco-friendly credentials are not burnished by the news that snow-making in the Alps uses more water than the inhabitants of Vienna in wintertime.)

Let's face it - the whole skiing industry is massively wasteful and probably representative of our cavalier disregard for the planet. Let's take a pristine mountainside, chop down the trees to create ski runs, build condos and hotels and other buildings -- all of which incidentally emit heat, almost certainly making the local microclimate warmer. Then let's attract millions of people from all over the world who will almost certainly arrive by car or plane clad in the latest space-age gear made from petroleum products.

(I realize I just aggravated off an awful lot of people, thus fulfilling my initial point that the dominant emotion on the Internet is anger.)

All I'm trying to say is this -- If you want to ski, OK. If you want to agitate against global warming, OK. But you cannot credibly have it both ways by pretending to care about global warming and then blithely advocating a lifestyle that emits massive amounts of global warming inducing greenhouse gases while calling on "federal policy makers to take action on climate change."

You want action? How about starting by changing your own lifestyle.

If you're upset about big agribusiness, try to eat local, grow your own food, support local organic agriculture and so forth.

If you're upset about the fact that the Monarchs are dying out, plant milkweed.

If you're upset about droughts, advocate more sensible water policies. Encouragingly, cities across the West are doing just that by paying citizens to rip out their lawns and replace them with drought-tolerant landscaping - or even by outlawing lawns altogether.

And if the vitriol on the Internet, cable talk shows, newspaper editorial columns, radio shows, etc. makes you mad, just shut it off.

Take a deep breath.

Plant some flowers.

Read a gardening blog -- most of the time we're really quite calm and civil.

And if the whole rigmarole has got you down, if you feel buffeted by inanity and calamity, assailed by the cruel winds of fate (or perhaps just the howling gales of this bitterly cold winter), it may help to remember the encouraging words of the English poet William Ernest Henley who wrote:


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.