In the November/December 2006 issue of Mother Jones is an article, by Julia Whitty, titled “The Thirteenth Tipping Point.” The premise is threefold:
First, global climate change is, of course, a clear and existential danger.
Second, that there exist “tipping points” which, if reached, will cause climate change to happen rapidly and irreversibly – with the attendant collapse of the ecosystem and thousands of species, including the human one.
And third, that none of this is inevitable.
A friend sent me the article, I suspect because he knows my fondness for all things relating to science, to meteorology, to energy and to action. And because I’m a sucker for a good gloom-and-doom exposition.
He was right on all counts. But maybe not for the reasons he thought.
I’d heard the premises before. Warming is real, and anthropogenic? I believe the science. Tipping points exist? You bet, I’m on board. Nothing is inevitable and humans possess the capacity to predetermine the future, if they only try? Of course.
So there wasn’t much new, for me. That is, nothing much save one thing.
Getting dirty to stay healthy
That thing was a study on how childhood exposure to “the environment” (for lack of a better term) shapes adult environmental ethics. The article details a study, by Nancy Wells and Kristi Lekies of Cornell University, that traces the effect of unsupervised, “wild,” outdoor play on children under the age of 11.
Those children allowed to roam outside, in an unstructured environment, without adult supervision, and with little to no restrictions, grow up with strong environmental ethics.
On the other hand, those children whose exposure to nature is either nonexistent, say never leaving the confines of their suburban cul-de-sac, or whose exposure comes only in rigid and formal terms, as in Boy Scouts, do not.
I remembered the Mother Jones article this week, after I came across a report on CNN with the headline “Where have all the hunters gone?” According to the report, steep declines among American hunters and fishers have occurred over the past decade – 10 percent for the former and 15 percent for the latter.
Some don’t see a problem with those numbers, reacting to what I believe are visceral attitudes about hunting, namely being against it.
Putting ourselves in other’s shoes
But I think that’s too simplistic. Those of us on the left of the political aisle don’t need to be reminded of the value of the natural environment – even if we’re urbanites for whom consorting with nature means nothing more than stroll in a city park.
And we don’t need to be convinced of the need for action on climate change.
I’ll paint with a broad brush here and say that, unlike the innate environmental understanding of the left, the environmental ethos on the right derives precisely from exposure to nature through activities like hunting and fishing.
Think Teddy Roosevelt. Think we gotta let ’em shoot a few Bambis to save a lot more – including ourselves, including themselves.
The “Thirteenth Tipping Point” was, ultimately, an optimistic article. After laying out the gloom-and-doom hypothesis of runaway global warming and excoriating government’s inability to do anything about it, the article concluded with a nice, liberal, group hug.
That the solution to this existential challenge could, and would, be found by humans cooperating together, symbiotically and without the mediation of formal government.
At first I rolled my eyes, because I’ve never been terribly excited about the action potential of informal groups arranged on anything more than a drum circle. And I believe in the power of the state to git ’er done when it really needs to. Think WW II. Think Apollo moon missions. Think to future climatic and energy shocks.
But the tipping point hypothesis argues against the latter two. It argues that, by the time government wakes up to the crisis, it will, by definition, be too late.
That this time is special, and special times require special methods.
Time to step outside the church
So I’ll take Ms. Whitty at her word, that action needs to be a collective one yet noninstitutional. Caveat the following modifier: we leftists can’t waste time convincing each other, we can’t, ala An Inconvenient Truth, just preach to fellow members of the global-warming choir.
The frame needs to be changed to incorporate the values of Rush Limbaugh’s demographic. It’s not about spotted owls and tree-hugging. It’s about taking your boy bow hunting.
It’s about no longer being able to showcase individualism, because the showcase is gone. Imagine a future where the fields, streams, and backwoods warrens where men traditionally became men in lilliputian jousts with nature are gone, replaced by strip malls, highways and parking lots.
And, where they haven’t been, drought, flood and other pestilences of a climate gone amuck have devastated them.
That’s a frame to which the other side can relate. And if we’re going to affect global change through individual action, that’s the frame on which we must concentrate.
As the Mother Jones headline admonishes: evolve or die.
Gregory Travis can be reached at .