Archive for January 2012

I have been thinking lately how we are all going to spend the rest of our lives on a planet that is different–possible very different–from the one we’ve lived on until now. There really is no going back. Humans have transformed 40-50% of the Earth’s land, according to a paper I recently read. We increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by around 2 parts per million each year, and this is going to have major effects on the earth’s climate for the foreseeable future. We are in the middle of the Holocene extinction–human-caused species extinction rates are perhaps 100 times the background rate, and may rise to 100 times that, according to another paper. In my lifetime we may see the end of the tropical rainforests.

These are the global facts. The local facts seem less dire. Here in Wisconsin, we’re having a warm winter–it’s late January, and the temperature tonight won’t dip below freezing. There’s barely enough snow to ski on around Madison. Local residents tell how the lakes used to freeze earlier and thaw later, and how their kids can no longer skate on ponds that used to ice over reliably. An irruption has brought us snowy owls from Canada–actually a welcome development for many, though I can’t claim to have seen one myself. (By the way, I love the word “irruption” and its evocation of volcanoes–I can just imagine thousands of owl erupting from their northern habitats and flying to all kinds of southerly places, including, apparently, Hawaii.) We can see the changes happening around us, but the time scales are long compared to most of the worries, thrills, and soporifics we face every day. We lament the weather, perhaps we worry for a moment, and then we go on with our lives.

I’m starting this blog so I won’t always just go on with my life. I want to explore how this place I live is changing, and how that will affect human communities, living beings, and the natural places we love. In these rapids we are paddling, I will look for some fixed points. I will prevent myself from descending into despair. I plan to keep my focus mostly local, but these are global issues, and I may wander farther afield. I hope you’ll wander with me.