When my environmental memoir, A Million Fragile Bones, came out in April, I was told by my speaker agent not to expect much because no one cared about the environment. She gave me a litany of A-list environmental writers she represents for whom she can’t get gigs. Not even for Earth Day, she said.
I, of course, did not want to believe her. Our embattled earth is the biggest story of our time. Who could not care?
In my dogged pursuit of truth-even-when-it-hurts, I began tracking how many likes, shares, comments my environmental-focused Facebook posts garnered versus posts about, say, well, you know . . . the guy in the White House. Politics beat out the environment fifty-to-one. Even banal posts — photos of my pets — won by enormous margins. I felt abandoned by my fellow humans when posts about my ice cube tray were clearly more popular than posts about melting glaciers.
My agent was right: Nobody gives a shit about the environment or its biggest, festering, bilious sore, the thing that might truly do us in as a species: climate change. Bring up the topic and people stare into their wine. Or look at their shoes. Or ask about my bracket picks.
In an interview with Flavorwire, Sarah Seltzer asked me if there is anything to be done about the glazed-over, not listening, not my problem effect, to which I answered, “Sometimes people listen because they care about dolphins and sea turtles. Sometimes they listen because they are avid fishermen so, despite what their day-to-day politics might be, they care about the environment. Sometimes they listen because they are concerned about their property values. Sometimes they listen because they can’t abide corporate financial immorality. BP was fined $18 billion to be paid out over 18 years and a huge percentage of the fine is tax deductible, so essentially, they got a slap on the wrist. That’s a fact that upsets some people, that causes them to tune in. I think we have to find out what moves an individual and enter through that window.”
Even as my mouth was moving, offering up what I hoped was a valid response, my heart knew I was tossing a Hail Mary. In truth, I was stumped as to why people seem to have so little concern about how thoroughly humans are trashing the planet. Is environmental degradation an abstraction to them? Is drawing a line between a dirty earth and dying of cancer too difficult? Do they, in their dark little hearts, secretly believe climate change is a hoax?
Maybe. After all, the majority party in Congress, the President, and his cabinet treat climate change as if it is an urban legend spun by evil liberals. The director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, spends an inordinate amount of time doing everything but protecting the environment. As Emily Atkin writes in New Republic, “He’s been careful not to explicitly deny that humans cause climate change, claiming only that the debate is ‘far from settled’ (false), and he’s dodged questions about whether he accepts the science. In his confirmation hearing, Pruitt said his ‘personal opinion’ on climate change ‘is immaterial to the job’ of being EPA administrator.”
But Pruitt revealed his climate denying soul when on CNBC he refused to link carbon dioxide emissions with global warming, which is a side-eyed, sweaty-foreheaded way of perpetuating the lie that humans do not contribute to a warming planet.
As we deal with the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, as Hurricane Irma (after destroying several Caribbean islands) bears down on Florida, as Hurricane Jose is set to tear apart what is left of the Caribbean islands Irma just smashed, as Hurricane Katia is poised to plunder into Mexico, and as unprecedented wildfires turn the American West to ash (I am only pointing out the current state of affairs in my particular hemisphere) — in a display of arrogance that is quickly becoming a hallmark of the Trump administration, Pruitt is insisting that now is not the time to talk about climate change. He actually said doing so would be “very, very insensitive” to Floridians.
Well, Scott Pruitt, I am a Floridian currently living in Mexico. And I can tell you what my fellow Floridians are finally talking about between rushing their hurricane preparations to completion and praying their families will survive: climate change.
So far this summer, climate change has claimed nearly 100 lives in the Western Hemisphere (that number is probably low; I’m simply armchair-counting Harvey and Irma deaths). The fact that our elected officials in Washington seem content to ignore these deaths and pretend everything is A-Okay as they pass regulations written for them by Big Oil and Gas, is the greatest abrogation of leadership in the country’s history.
Once this hellhole of a late summer/early fall is over and we regain our bearings, we need to discuss climate change at our dinner tables, at our water coolers, in our places of worship, in our schools, on social media, on the subway, on golf courses and ball fields, over breakfast, at the shopping mall, and in Washington. It has to be the kind of talk that admits the hard truths we’ve closed our eyes to for decades.
This summer, climate change destroyed entire islands. It flooded our neighborhoods and drowned our loved ones. It burned our homes. For the sake of ourselves, our children, and their children, we have to insist that the devastating rollbacks of sound environmental policies are not only reinstated but that the policies are strengthened.
We have to stop looking away. If we don’t, just like now, Mother Nature will make us look.