It started just before dawn with a peep here and a warble there and before you knew it, a fabric of bird song was unfurling, birds in the hundreds, saluting the new day, claiming their ground, making a joyful noise. If you were familiar and so inclined, you could tease out the individual threads, or you could just allow the whole brocade to weave itself and wrap around you.
There are places that still host such a wonder, and maybe it’s every bit as splendid as it once was, but who’s to say? Who remembers? I heard it in West Virginia, a wealth of warblers in their spring migration, returning to the same trees and the same woods in the same mountains they were born. It’s an extravagance of life, except where the mountains were decapitated for coal and their dismembered bodies dumped in the streams.
But most of us do not wake to the dawn chorus anymore. Maybe we snarl awake to one crow we find annoying. Most likely there are three or four birds in our yard and we can’t tell one from the other, or aren’t moved to. Three or four ignorable birds seem like the normal amount. We were born yesterday. We have no idea what is missing, so we don’t miss it.
That’s what happens. Whatever condition you find yourself in, you get used to it quickly. One day you’re utterly amazed that you can take a stack of books on vacation on a device the size of a playing card. The next day you find yourself picking up an old paper book and spreading your fingers on the page to enlarge the font.
So it turns out to be really easy to persuade people that global warming isn’t a big deal, or that we have nothing to do with it, or even that it isn’t really happening. Doesn’t matter that it was predicted over a hundred years ago, or that everything scientists have warned us about is already happening, or that the only thing they missed is the torrid pace of it. All it takes is a bunch of money; a disinformation campaign and propaganda outlets created and funded to spread it; and an underlying resentment to exploit, a suspicion that over-educated scientists are scolds who think they’re better than we are. And that bumbling fop Al Gore, annoying as a morning crow, is just in it for the money.
Because it’s simply not possible. There’s no way humans could have an effect on something as huge as the climate. That’s ridiculous. The climate changes. It always has. It can’t be us.
But it’s not only true, it’s obvious, if you take just a step back and pack a few facts in your pocket. The composition of the atmosphere has changed a number of times for a number of reasons. Ultimately it comes down to where the carbon is. At one time plants grew so large that they pulled carbon from the air and loaded it up with oxygen. Firestorms released the carbon again. Plants were submerged in warm, rising waters and the carbon was buried in the ground in the form of oil and coal. Quarantined. For 300 million years. If we come along and pull sixty million years’-worth of safely buried carbon and burn it up again in a matter of a hundred years or so, it’s back in the air. Fast.
So what people who scoff fail to appreciate is what a special time we are living in. Being able to keep large uninsulated houses the same temperature all year is nice, but it’s not normal. Being able to motor a hundred miles for a day trip is nice, but it’s not normal. We’re on a heck of a ride, but it’s costing us. It’s more than we can afford.
Our weather isn’t normal either. Almost everyone can see that now. Greenland is melting. The Arctic is on fire. More and more, people are coming around to the idea that we really have started something we need to fix. Some day. And now that the writing is on the wall, and we’re told we have maybe a decade to kick our fossil fuel addiction–to leave it in the ground—it’s more important than ever that we learn why. Facts we got. It’s wisdom we need.
Because it’s going to be damned hard. And, as always, it’s going to be even harder on the poor. Our task is nearly impossible, but the alternative is not survivable. We all need to understand how urgent our situation is, or we will be conned once again by the first rapacious gasbag who tells us that the liberal elites want us to pay a buck more for gasoline. Or take away our “freedom” to use plastic straws. Or foist “socialism” on us, whatever vague horror we imagine that to be.
We’re in a stupid amount of trouble.
These liars are not on our side. They’re not even on their own side. We are sunk if we believe life began with us, that our unfathomable, unprecedented power is our birthright, if we believe our diminished world, our endless striving for material accumulation, and our dissatisfaction with it–that all of that is normal. What birds? We never had birds here.