When the Bootleg wildfire started in southern Oregon a couple weeks ago, I started checking smoke conditions in Bend, where my nephew and his family live. Last year, right around the time their baby was due, air conditions there were so dangerous they had to stay inside and tape up the gaps under the doors.
Turns out I didn’t have to worry about them. The smoke came east instead, impacting our own air quality.
That happens sometimes. But this fire is scary big, still only half contained, and apparently creating its own weather — lightning; massive clouds of heat and moisture that ultimately collapse and fall, creating hot winds that push outward; and even a fire tornado with winds over 100 mph.
This fire and others out west are fueled by what the National Weather Service called “critically dry fuels” from the ongoing years of drought and the recent extreme heat wave.
It’s a tough time to be watching nature. Fires out west and another heat wave coming. Killer floods in Germany that turned a small creek into a raging river that took out trees and buildings. Even Albany recorded more than 8 inches of rain last month. Weather extremes are becoming more commonplace, and it’s easy to fear that this is our new normal as our climate changes faster and faster.
I’ve long been a proponent of everyone taking their own small steps to protect and preserve our planet. Recycling, reducing waste, using less energy, planting trees and gardens — I truly believed that if everyone just did their own little part, it would add up. Together we could avert disasters: polluted water, unbreathable air, out-of-control waste and rising ocean temperatures. We could recycle and compost our way to zero waste and avert global drought by saving water.
I’m no longer convinced. In fact, I’m enviro-depressed.
How can my little Earth-friendly improvements make a difference when multinational beverage corporations push single-use plastics, when the drought-fueled wildfire season gets longer every year, when our taxes pay for fossil fuel-based infrastructure? How can we keep talking about recycling when there’s no place to send our recyclables? Why are we returning to the pre-COVID “normal” of commuter traffic and downtown gridlock?
CDP, an international nonprofit that manages a databank of emissions and environmental impacts of corporations and state-owned facilities, says fewer than 100 fossil fuel companies worldwide produce more than 60 percent of all global emissions of greenhouse gases. So a handful of carpoolers or bus riders won’t have much impact.
What good does it do to buy shoes from a company that promises to plant a tree for every pair sold when forests in the Amazon are being clearcut for cattle ranching? And will my 16-year-old cousin becoming a vegan change that?
Here at home we try to do our part. We grow as much of our own food as we can because it tastes better, but also because we’re contributing less to monoculture industrial farming, methane producing feedlots and the environmental impact of produce being shipped long distances.
But who am I fooling? Picking my own tomatoes, making my own cheese from my own happy goats, pickling my own cucumbers won’t change the world.
So what can we do? As individuals, we have the power to change our own behavior. But climate change and major pollution events are bigger, planetary problems — the BP refinery explosions in Texas, the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, oil spills, chemical plant leaks and explosions.
We need a planetary solution. It will take governments forcing corporations to make changes, corporations being willing global citizen — or facing the wrath of investors — countries worldwide willing to work together for the good of all people and this planet we all live on.
Yes, we should also strive to change our own behaviors to limit our own impact, to help preserve it for future generations, and to develop habits and a mindset for change. But we can’t stop there. We need to raise our voices for real change.
How do we do that? I may be depressed, but I’m open to ideas.
Greenpoint appears every other Sunday. Look for it next on Aug. 15. Reach Margaret Hartley at [email protected] or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter. Opinions expressed in Greenpoint are hers and not necessarily the newspaper’s.
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