Jean Shields Fleming
The Fire and the Fury
Fire is not a season. Let's stop pretending this isn't happening and start acting like we care.
I’m looking at a map of everyplace I’ve lived over the last thirty years. Right this minute, as I write, almost all of them are on fire. California? Burning from the top of the state to the bottom. Oregon? Ditto. Greece, where I live now, is fighting the worst wildfires in a generation.
This doesn’t begin to account for all the fires burning right now. In Brazil, Siberia, Ontario and Manitoba. Turkey. Equatorial Africa.
Every year, there’s an iconic picture that tugs at our heartstrings. A koala bear clings to a charred tree. Greek shepherds rush their flocks from an oncoming blaze. Ancient trees that survived millennia, gone in a blink. We donate serious money on the strength of these images. We express our grief, and offer hopes and prayers. We applaud the heroics of the firefighters who eventually prevail. But, I’m sorry to be blunt, year after year, nothing fucking changes.
And you know what? I’m sick of it. In fact, I’m furious. Our slow motion suicide must end now.
Like many others in Greece, I watched the temperatures climb to more than 40 Celsius – over 100 Fahrenheit. Then the smoke gathered, turning sunset into an apocalyptic haze, and sunrise into a harbinger of renewed destruction. Then the hill behind our house went up in flames – plumes of orange reared up over the ridge where I love to hike, not more than 12 miles away. With no rain since April, all we needed was a shift in the wind, and the olive trees where my home is located would light up like match sticks.
I packed a go-bag then went swimming in the too-warm sea.
One thing I love about Greece is the pragmatism of the people. With too few resources, the local volunteer brigade organized its own network of information relays, sharing data between villages. They mustered a crew of nearly 100 to go up the mountain and build a fire break. At the same time, local restauranteurs and hoteliers continued to serve visitors as if it were a normal season, no pandemic, no fires, no water shortage. Twenty percent of the Greek economy is based on tourism, and nearly everyone has some hand in the business, so no matter what, philoxenia – “love of the stranger,” the Greek gift of hospitality – continues.
Today, most of the fires nearby are out. Evia, the large island near Athens, is still burning, and there are other wildfires around the country. But by and large, “fire season” is winding down.
Here’s the thing. Fire is not a season. This is not normal. And while I applaud the heroism of the local and international firefighters who have answered the call, heroism isn’t a sustainable strategy (just ask any doctor or nurse battling covid for two years about that). Also, I push back on the negative narrative that surrounds these topics. The prevailing sense that there’s nothing we can do, or that it is only going to get worse, while understandable, is simply wrong. It’s bullshit, actually. Anyone who says there’s no hope is not using their creativity or their brain.
To get after this, we need to break down what we can do as individuals, and where we’ll need to work together to drive results. Sorry, Americans – that means you, too. At the end of this piece, I’ve added a compendium of resources, and in future posts we’ll go into it in greater detail.
But right now, it’s important to know that there is hope and we do have leverage. First, fossil fuels are the primary cause of this woe, so we can focus our solutions there for the greatest impact quickly. Second, we must hold elected officials accountable to the agreements they sign. This bracing insight, from Greek writer Aris Roussinos, demonstrates how the US has faltered on this issue:
“Instead of the dominant global power taking a meaningful lead on climate change, the world has been held hostage to the vagaries of American domestic politics, as one faction enters into fruitless international policy accords heralded with much fanfare and no effect, and the other withdraws from them with vindictive glee.”
Ouch. As an American living in Greece, this hurts to read. But I agree with him. Between climate deniers wanting “more evidence” and PR campaigns that hoodwink us into thinking that we individuals are more responsible than corporations or governments, America is leading from a crouch. The usual divide and conquer tactic is in play, and while the world burns, protecting the old economy (looking at you, Exxon) wins out over the potential economic boon of green innovation.
This is unacceptable and unpatriotic.
The good news? We have incredible power to change, to innovate, and to love this earth back to a more balanced state. What we don’t have is a lot of time. So let’s get going.
There are many places to learn about the impact of our carbon addiction on the planet - aka, climate change. Below are the things I have found useful. It's an evolving list.
1. Heated, a newsletter by Emily Atkin
Well researched information with a take-no-prisoners attitude. Good myth busting and practical approaches to individual and collective action.
· If you read nothing else, read this: https://heated.world/p/what-can-i-do-anything - it’s filled with solid info and great options for a range of action.
2. Mongabay, a nonprofit conservation and environmental science news platform. Excellent coverage of climate issues and their intersection with other environmental topics such as wildlife conservation, land use, and disease outbreaks.
3. TED Talks: There are manyt TED talks on climate, but this playlist is a good place to start. Excellent selection of voices and perspectives.
4. End Climate Silence has a great list of resources. It includes everything from fact-based messaging to polling data on climate change.
5. How to Save a Planet (podcast) covers a full range of topics and includes practical steps to take. If you’re not a podcast lover, their “calls to action” summary page has some great ideas for things you can do right now.
1. Professor Katherine Hayhoe (@khayhoe) Chief Scientist for the Nature Conservancy, climate scientist, UN Champion of the Earth – and an Evangelical Christian. If that last point scares you, don’t be put off. She is pro-science and has terrific insight into how to have dialogue on this issue.
2. Emily Atkin (@emorwee), author of the Heated newsletter, above. Has a lively Twitter feed packed with information and attitude.
3. Kendra Pierre-Louis (@KendraWrites), former climate reporter for the New York Times, currently covering climate for Gimlet Media (podcasting) – she takes a solutions approach that I find extremely helpful for making the information actionable.
1. Feel your feelings. Me, I was in mourning, then I got pissed, now I’m getting organized.
2. Assess your values and act on them.
a. Do you want to work with others to make change happen? These organizations are worthy of your time and talent.
b. Would you rather take individual action? No problem. Great options here and here for you (scroll to bottom of second link). I’m working on my food waste right now.
3. Above all, don’t fall for any of these lies:
a. it’s too late (it’s not)
b. it’s only going to get worse (only if we let it)
c. there’s nothing we can do (absolutely not true – we have more power than we know – so now’s the time to use it)
d. corporations are doing all they can (they are not - hold their feet to the fire)
I hope you’ll share the resources that keep you informed, inspired, and raring to go in the comments below. Together we can do this. And we must.