Written by Fidgit
It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.
While you can. While it’s still here.
While the debate about climate change rages on inside the walls of buildings, between schools of thought, and from behind computer screens, the world outside and those who live of it, shift. Literally and figuratively.
Elizabeth Kolbert puts our effect directly and chillingly in her book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History:
Since the start of the industrial revolution, humans have burned through enough fossil fuels– coal, oil, and natural gas– to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Deforestation has contributed another 180 billion tons. Each year we throw up another nine billion tons or so, an amount that’s been increasing by as much as six percent annually. As a result of all of this, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today– a little over four hundred parts per million– is higher than at any other point in the last eight hundred thousand years.
If we can, let’s separate ourselves from politicizing it. Let’s pretend like none of what Elizabeth just listed has anything to do with anything. For the sake of argument, let’s pretend it’s not an argument.
Just sit on a simple farmer’s front porch and have a conversation about the weather.
This is what we try to do.
Walking those first 4000 km of the Andes, from Tierra del Fuego to Santiago, we conversed with the locals, people “nacido, crecido,” and as one elder gentleman joked, “y inviejecido,” (born, raised, and aged) on the land of their parents and grandparents, in the mountains and pampas. We heard the same observation time and again, whether in the far south (-50s and 40s latitude) where it has always been a struggle to grow anything, to the rich band of soils of the 30s°: the seasons and land began to change around 20 years ago, but they have accelerated noticeably in the last five.
The observation is leveled without motive or intent, because, after all, we are just passing around the mate, talking about the weather. These people of the land speak in frank terms, what they know of what has been is familial and cultural memory and “what is,” being their own observations. Very little in terms of graphs, studies, or numbers has colored their view, though at least half seem familiar with the concept of climate change.
Their conversations tend to revolve around the tangible and practical. Specifically regarding the livestock and plants which make it from their fields to the table. Growing seasons have shifted and shortened; produce has to be grown in a huerta (greenhouse) where once it grew freely; snow falls at a fraction of what it once did. In the area around Nubles, Chile 20 years ago, they often saw 2.5 meters of snow. Now, at best, they will see 40-50 cm. In that same area where Yoanela recalls her father had to dig 3 meters down to find water for a well, now they have to go 20 meters down.
Berries no longer give fruit. Beans no longer flower. Around Paso Portillo Piuquenes, three years ago hunting hares was as easy as sitting on the porch with a sling shot. Now, you barely see any. This coming from the experience of a single and only seasonally occupied refugio high in an Andes valley, nullifying the thought that the decrease could be due to over-hunting.
Our trek has followed in the wake of weird seasons and natural disasters. Noted for its heavy rains, Patagonian skies were dry for us in the summer of 2016. It was the driest in 40 years, coming on top of a seven year drought. Fine for hiking, until we were walking alongside forest fires as par for the course. A Red Tide of unprecedented severity washed the southern coast, killing thousands of tons of sea life and causing civil unrest due to the effects on livelihood of the coastal residents. Summer of 2017 brought Chile its most devastating forest fires in history, with over a million acres burned. Our exit from Santiago in February was delayed due to the Cajon de Maipo being washed out. As I write, north of us, the Argentine desert Province of Jujuy struggles with ongoing floods and landslides, Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia are awash.
This begs the question, how can those who have a world of information at their finger tips not see what those with their hands in the dirt find obvious? Ever fascinated by the social component, I reflect on how the current leader of the free world can deny what a farmer with a second grade education finds obvious. The answer is terribly simple. He isn’t outside. He has not sat on the same porch as generations of predecessors, watching it all change.
I’ll let Sally Jewell’s words close out this post. In a powerful podcast interview with Outside, at the end of her tenure as Secretary of the Interior, Sally talked about what matters she would advocate to her successor (Ryan Zinke).
What about a specific policy?
The most pressing issue of our time is climate change. You cannot be the Secretary of the Interior and deal with the wildfires and the droughts and the invasive species and coastal erosion without recognizing that climate change is real. I would discuss that.
And if that person is a climate-change denier?
No matter what beliefs a person comes into this position with, the job has a way of showing you what’s really going on.