Heard on NPR yesterday, from a woman in Southern California, who had lost her house in wildfires four years ago, something to the effect of, ‘I tell the victims, you’ ll see, as bad as you feel right now, the minute you step into your new home, it will be all forgotten.’ She meant it as reassuring words. I took it as yet another manifestation of our inborn capacity to shut off the bad news. Just like with the Katrina survivors, I wonder how many of the wildfire victims will make the connection between what happened to them, and the larger problem of global warming.
The San Francisco Chronicle ran a piece yesterday on, ‘Climate Change: Hotter World May Fan Flames’. According to forestry experts, ‘The risk of catastrophic wildfires like those sweeping through Southern California will increase all over the state as the world heats up, forests dry out and weather patterns shift . . . It is so dry that state forestry officials said a newly shod horse started a fire earlier in the year from the sparks it created running on the pavement.’ This is in accordance with predictions from the U.N.s’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the group that shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore). The IPCC report states that, ‘Extended warm periods and increased drought will increase water stress in forests and grasslands and increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires especially in forests.’
I suspect some of the victims will make the connection on an intellectual level. Will that translate into lasting behavioral changes? Will they start driving less, eating less red meat, flying less, and consuming less? I have my doubts. The problem lies in the dilution of responsibilities that takes place, when the results of our actions all go into that big pot, called global warming. The pot then spews back nasty things onto the environment, in seemingly random places, and there is no one person to blame. The transaction from humans to environment, back to humans, takes place on a collective level. The individual gets lost in the process. To retrieve that individual connection will take some work.