Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Like Gravity

I remember my two girls learning to walk. I remember their struggle to stand, to find balance. I remember the clumsy shifting of weight from foot to foot. And finally, one, day they had it - forward motion, a few steps, then more, and now, years later, grace - running, skipping, pirouetting, ice skating, speed.

All of it, impossible if not for the falling that taught them about walking, about gravity. Falling taught them that it isn’t wise to lift both feet off the ground at once. It taught them not lean too far forward no matter how bright and shiny, how nearly in reach, the toy on floor might be. Falling taught them that there is a center, a place of balance. To walk they had to find that center, and learn to stay in it. There is not a single person who knows how to walk who didn't find that balance, and we all found it by losing it.

And this is how I can make sense of climate change, as a species-wide stumbling, a stumbling through which we might – still, now – learn. It doesn’t change much, to see it this way. CO2 levels are still rising, too fast. Emissions cuts – as deep as we can make – are still needed, as soon as we can manage. New policies and new technologies and new ways of seeing ourselves are still so deeply needed.

But, doesn’t the work of doing these all seem lighter, if we look at it as something like the work of learning to walk? Babies aren’t stupid, mean spirited or short sighted. They are just struggling to fit into the constraints of their world. Bump-by-bump and tumble-by-tumble is the only way they learn to do it.

Learning how to live as a viable part of a huge species on a complex planet is a lot harder than learning to walk, of course, because the feedback is so much weaker. When we here in the modern industrial economies overbalance or over-pollute it is almost always someone else, somewhere else, sometime in the future, who will have to ride out the stronger hurricane, hoe the dusty ground, live through the heat wave. The teaching done by the climate is so slow, so convoluted, that we can live right through the lesson and hardly notice it.

Which must mean that if we are to turn to climate change as a teacher, part of our work must be to learn to take in the all the pain, the suffering, and the loss of our neighbors as though it is our own.

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