Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nature Nerd Wednesdays - Earth Day Edition

Welcome to Nature Nerd Wednesdays, your mid-week nature break to reconnect with the calming, refreshing, and inspiring effects of nature. Take a deep breath and enjoy...

"Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect." 
~Chief Seattle, 1855
Cedar Butte Trail - Olallie State Park. Lainey Piland photo

Since this Nature Nerd Wednesday happens to fall on Earth Day, I thought I'd combine the two into my annual earth day musings post. This post may not be as warm and fuzzy as Nature Nerd Wednesdays usually are, but will hopefully give us all some things to ponder on this one day per year dedicated to the planet that inspires and sustains us.


Climate change. I wrote about it last year, and now another Earth Day has arrived and climate change is still the most pressing issue threatening our planet, our health, our very survival. As Chief Seattle so wisely stated in the quote above: all things are connected. We cannot expel copious amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, warm up the planet, watch the ice caps melt, the seas rise, and species die, and expect that these consequences will not affect us. Our very survival depends on a stable climate, clean air and water, healthy ecosystems and biodiversity. If we cannot care about these things for their own sake (as we should), we should at least selfishly care about them for our own sake: for our own survival, and that of our neighbors.

That has been the biggest struggle in the climate fight thus far: getting people to care. Climate change can appear to be a nebulous, uncertain, and confusing issue taking place in a distant future that we will never see. The question stemming from that common perception is often "So why should we care?"

Our Climate Thing. That is why we care. David Roberts wrote a fantastic piece for Grist titled Everybody needs a Climate Thing. Our Climate Thing, he explains, is the angle at which climate has intersected with our interests and caught our attention. It is something that we hold near and dear to our hearts. We want to protect it. We learn that it is threatened by climate change. So we fight climate change to protect what we love.

For many people, their Climate Thing is their children.  Parents learn that productive agriculture and water availability could become an issue in the future, and that human health will be threatened. So to protect their children's future wellbeing, these parents fight climate change. For others, their Climate Thing might be a certain species of bird that nests in their yard each spring.  They learn that this bird is threatened by climate change, because spring arrives earlier each year, and the timing of this bird's migration no longer correlates with available food supplies; leading to starvation. So these people fight climate change to ensure that this bird will be in their yard to herald each new spring morning with beautiful song for decades to come. The Climate Thing for the founders of Protect Our Winters is skiiing and snowboarding - activities that are difficult to do when there isn't any snow; as many disappointed skiers and snowboarders here in Washington can attest after the dismal snowfall we saw last winter. These people know that climate change threatens an activity they love, so they fight climate change.

Everyone has a specific Climate Thing, even if you don't think you do. Even if you don't care about the environment whatsoever, I guarantee that something you love will be affected by climate change. This is not solely an "environmental" problem. What's your passion? Children? The poor or disadvantaged? Birds? Amphibians? Hiking? Drinking coffee? Farming? Horses? Fishing? Shopping? Traveling? Every single one of these things is affected by climate change. You can draw a line connecting climate change with any passion, interest, or cause that you care about. It affects everything, and this is why not a single one of us has a reason not to care. Not a single one of us has a reason not to learn about the issue. Not a single one of us has a reason not to fight.

I'm sure that regular readers of this blog can guess what my Climate Thing is (well, aside from the obvious issue of survival, that is). My Climate Thing is the Pacific Northwest forests, which have anchored my sense of "home" my entire life. Those tall, dark Doug fir, hemlock and cedar; the vibrant green maple, cottonwood and alder hold a familiarity that always brings peace and comfort. No matter where I travel in the Pacific Northwest, I feel at home when I see those trees dotting the landscape and ascending the distant hillsides. Each individual tree is a proxy for a memory of mine involving another member of their kind. Forests are my favorite place to hike, to explore, to find solace, and have been the source of innumerable memories. But even these trees are threatened by a warmer climate. For me, there would scarcely be a horror worse than facing a future Pacific Northwest covered not by thick stands of shady evergreen, but instead by parched conifer skeletons and tinder-dry branches covered in dead brown needles. That is not a place I want to live. That place is not home.

Hiking through the woods on my recent adventure to Cedar Butte, I notice that there were many young trees in the forest. Doug fir, hemlock, and cedar saplings could be found in nearly every place where the canopy above allowed sunlight to shine through onto the forest floor. Alongside the trail, a hemlock grew waist-high in the bright sunshine, its needles glossy and bright green. I brushed my fingers gently through its branches as I passed by, and was struck by the sudden grim, mournful realization that this little hemlock might never have the chance to grow into the magnificent, towering old-growth tree that its ancestors had been. In that brief moment of contact, there seemed an awareness, an understanding, a kinship transferred between myself and the tree that left me with a feeling of responsibility.

The fate of that little hemlock and the forest in which it grows will depend on the conviction of myself and everyone else on the planet to fight climate change. Will we continue with business as usual, burning fossil fuels and baking the planet, or will we push for a change? Will we demand better, so that future generations can enjoy and appreciate my beloved Pacific Northwest forests, stand in their cool shade, breathe their pine-y fragrance, squint into their uppermost branches, and derive a sense of comfort and home from them the way that I have?

Silently, I thought to that little hemlock: "I hope you get to be a big tree someday".

This Earth Day, take a moment to find your Climate Thing. What is that one thing about which you care so deeply and don't want to lose to climate change? Now, how can you put that passion into action?

All things are bound together. All things connect.

 Young Western hemlocks growing in Olallie State Park, along the Cedar Butte trail. Lainey Piland photos

Related Posts:

Earth Day Musings - Now is the time to act on climate change

Reasons to Care


  1. Brava for a beautiful and powerful essay!! Thoughtful, well-written, and really hits home. I so relate. To me I feel the most nourished and at home on this planet is a health Northwest Coast temperate rainforest, well, any healthy lowland or alpine forest. But I also drive a car energized by fossil fuels, I buy products encased in plastic, and I occasionally buy food that has been shipped hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles. It pains me, these entrenched, harmful habits of modern life. I think about things and I try to be a good consumer, but I'm far from perfect. Food for thought.

    Sharing this one!

    1. Hi Jill - thank you so much for reading, and thank you for sharing! I think many people can relate to that sense of frustration in knowing that our daily habits have harmful environmental consequences, but yet we often lack better options. I cringe every time I fill up my fossil-fueled car at the gas station, flush the toilet with potable water, or switch on my portable AC unit during those blistering hot summer days. I know that these things are not good, and if I had a feasible alternative that was better for the planet, I'd gladly take it! Unfortunately, our society and infrastructure have been set up in a way that is not friendly to the planet, and it will be a collective challenge for all of us to change that. In the meantime, as long as we're informed about the issues, spreading the word, pushing for change, and taking every planet-friendly action that we can, we'll at least be on the right track!

  2. great typos in my last comment :) grrr.