Saturday, May 31, 2008

Science Gives Us The Numbers, We Make the Meaning

800,000 - the number of years for which CO2 levels in the Earth's recent past have been measured in a new analysis of ice core data.

180-280 – the range of CO2 levels (in parts per million) during all but the last 100 of those 800,000 years.

385 – the current level of CO2 in the atmosphere.

60 - the percentage of 1,598 species examined in a new study who have already been affected by climate change.

These are just numbers, the products of science and careful measurement. The most they can do is tell us what is happening. They can't tell us what to think about it. Or what to feel. Or what to do.

We all have to do that for ourselves in the ways that are right for us - in silence in the woods, in noisy debate around the kitchen table, in prayer in our faith communities, at the ballot box, and, maybe, in public when we raise our voices to say loudly, fully, clearly, exactly what we think about these numbers, what we feel, and what, exactly what, it is the elected leaders who hold the public trust need to do.

Numbers are only numbers. Data is only data. Numbers alone, without our response, don't shape the future.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Falling in Love with a Piece of the World

We picked up our older daughter from a week at camp this afternoon.

In the backseat she pummeled her younger sister for news of home. How are Tango and Ishult (horses)? How are Nikky and Ave (parakeets)? How's Dusky (hen) and Chickadee (rooster)?

And then one that surprised me - How's the maple?

How's the maple? Before asking about friends or community news?

But it shouldn't have surprised me that a tree - that particular tree – figured so prominently in her questions of home. Ever since their Dad helped them hang a rope swing in the maple at the bottom of the hill, our girls and most of their friends have been busy falling in love with that maple.

They've invented games with complicated rules played in its branches (going down has the right of way over going up). They've given it a nickname (Mape). Our younger daughter notices every maple of the same species on our drives around town and points each one out with the breathless excitement of one who has discovered treasure. They both notice how the tree changes from week to week (a rotten spot at the bottom; some bright pink leaves that don't seem 'quite right') and both speculate about its past (did the last children who played in it, when it was a much smaller tree, the ones who built a platform high in its branches, discover the same route to the top?)

The neighborhood kids who go to school have taken to swinging in it while they wait for the bus. The kids who do their learning at home have taken (when they can negotiate it) to carrying their books down to work underneath its shade.

Younger sister's report was highly detailed and focused mostly on the fact that a branch had broken (not anybody's fault) but that the rope swing and the games were mostly unaffected by the change in architecture. It makes me sad, though, she said.

There was silence in the back seat for a while, and then: Yeah, me too, it makes me sad too.

E. O. Wilson has said that we will only save what we love.

Luckily for all of us, this love lives close to surface. Twelve feet of rope and sufficient unscheduled time to touch, clamber, and explore is more than enough to call it forth.

In this time of ecological crisis, giving ourselves – child and adult alike – that time might be the most important action we can take.

We might not even need the rope.