Reading this post from Elizabeth Kolbert, a familiar cloud of doom came over me. Read almost anything she writes, and you will know what I mean. She writes most frequently about seemingly intractable environmental problems, and those about climate change have the most intense effect on me. But ignorance is not an option, so I read. The cloud lasted about seven hours, and parted just now in a most interesting manner. As if my head were just lifted out of the sand. First, the portion that stuck with me:
Since we can’t know the future, it is possible to imagine that, either through better technology or more creativity or sheer necessity, our children will be able to find a solution that currently eludes us. Somehow or other, they will figure out a way to avoid “a 4°C world.” But to suppose that an answer to global warming can be found by waiting is to misunderstand the nature of the problem.
I read that with my first cup of coffee this morning about an hour before sunrise. As my thoughts darkened, the sun started lighting the sky, and I proceeded with my day. Some time before lunch I started thinking about a short conversation I had in my neighborhood yesterday. During lunch I described the conversation, and its context, to my lunch mates.
Adults too, but they tend not to speak English, whereas kids seeing me walking in the neighborhood invariably say “Hello! What’s your good name, sir?” Sometimes groups of schoolkids are walking to catch their school bus and say it in unison. Then each individually asks all the other questions they can think of, about how my day is going, where I am going, where I am coming from, and so on. It always makes me smile and often it makes me laugh.
A couple weeks ago a similar set of exchanges began with a woman in her early 20s. Each time I saw her over the course of a few days she had a new greeting and a very cheery smile. This past Sunday Amie accompanied me and we spoke at length with her and learned that she had recently completed college and had been making plans for post-graduate studies in biology that had fallen through. We told her that our work focuses on conservation and that it is always good news to us hearing that someone is studying biology.
Then, on the spot I shared an idea that I thought would appeal to someone who had been out of school for months and was not currently working: we are recruiting for a position based next to the Periyar Reserve, and her English skills and friendliness would qualify her well enough that she should consider applying for it.
After we described the position she said she would consider it and speak with her family. By yesterday when I saw her again, she told me that she had spoken with her family and they “required” her to focus on her original plan for higher education and so she could not apply for the job. I was disappointed at first, but the part of me that loves India for its intense focus on educational attainment was impressed. This woman and her family live in quite modest economic circumstances, but nothing is more important than education to them. Wow.
So, that conversation and the Kolbert quote met in my head while telling my lunch mates all this: the dark cloud that had formed early this morning, and lasted well into the midday, finally collided with the realization that this young woman, saying no to a job prospect and choosing instead to invest in her own education, represents why my own ability “to imagine…a solution” is not yet extinguished. The dark cloud will return, no doubt, but I expect that at least for the remainder of this afternoon I will be free of it thanks to this young woman, her family, and their culture.
If you do not follow The New Yorker, or Kolbert in particular, do. Both. It for the depth and breadth and humor. Her for an unrivaled ability to report on climate change issues in words comprehensible to non-scientists. Read about her here, where you can find good links to her work beyond that magazine. Or hire her as a guest speaker to come cheer things up on a cloudy day.