Springtime in the New Normal of Climate Disruption

As I write this, there is a large flaming orb in the sky. Either I am running a fever, or it is emitting heat. All the newly bloomed plants and leaves are reaching for it as if it provides some sort of sustenance. If I look at it, my eyes water and burn, and I see spots after I avert my gaze. I will stop looking at it, but I am afraid. Perhaps it is angry. Have I displeased it somehow?

Oh, wait. Right. It’s the sun. I had forgotten all about it. Even as I complete this sentence, it is gone again. I may have only dreamed it. The soft whisper of rain has resumed, a seemingly ceaseless soundtrack for this sodden spring.

It rained during 21 of April’s 30 days here in southwest New Hampshire, and it has rained during all but two days so far this May. Neither number accounts for cloudy days without rain, which has been the standard state of affairs for both this month and the last. The flowers and trees love it even despite the cold, raw air that will not relent. My little corner of the world is all green and gray, and appears ready to stay that way until October.

Last Sunday, the Boston Globe ran an article about all the normal citywide springtime activities that have been upended by this diluvial season. Little League games, carousel rides on the Greenway down by the harbor, street festivals, outdoor movie showings and even the Duckling Day parade for kids at the public garden have been postponed, cancelled or just plain soaked into frustrated oblivion.

It isn’t like this everywhere, of course. Seattle is experiencing an uncommonly long run of abnormally hot and sunny days, offsetting the historic 71 inches of precipitation the region absorbed in the last year. Neither situation is normal, and the twin phenomena are now crashing into one another; last winter’s record snowfall is now melting in the mountains at an accelerated rate from the heat, raising fears of flooding and a potential summer drought.

“Across the Midwest this spring,” reports The New York Times, “floods have submerged farms and stores, split open levees and, in some places, left people stranded for days or weeks.” This record flooding is causing problems for more than just farmers and residents. The seemingly relentless rise of the waters is threatening even the Keystone XL pipeline where it runs through Nebraska. Strange, I could have sworn someone told me the thing was perfectly safe.

The past year, in fact, was the wettest one on record nationwide,” reads the Globe article. “The persistent rain is not a fluke, but instead a human-caused catastrophe related to climate change.” When the usually docile weather reporters start talking like that, you know it’s really for real.

Mind you, I am not trying to pull a Reverse Inhofe by claiming that lots of rain proves climate disruption is here. It is, but it’s a far subtler piece of business than throwing a snowball in the Senate. “Over the past decade,” reports the Union of Concerned Scientists, “researchers have found strong evidence showing that climate change increases the frequency and intensity of events like extreme heat and extreme rainfall from hurricanes.”

Put another way, climate disruption does not make weather events from scratch, at least for the present. It causes pre-existing weather events to happen more often and with greater strength. We are witnessing this every day. There is more water in the atmosphere now, and it is making its presence felt.

The overwhelming fact of climate disruption has become so obvious in the minds of most people — including a whole slew of Republican voters — that the only people remaining who vocally deny its existence are either locked into an outdated partisan trope, or are worried about losing money if the petroleum industry gets mothballed.

Back in March, I had the privilege of introducing Truthout’s Dahr Jamail at a lecture he gave for the Lannan Foundation in Santa Fe. Jamail had the unenviable task of explaining to the assemblage that climate disruption is already happening, has already happened, and at this point there is nothing any of us can do to avert it. We can labor to mitigate the damage to come, and we must, but the notion that we can completely dodge that which has already arrived is farce.

This is not welcome news, even for those who already believe the disruption is real and have for years now. Jamail did not come emptyhanded that night, however, though his remedy was the very definition of cold comfort. Climate disruption is here, which means we have already failed. We must grieve, he counseled, before we can act. We must redefine hope within ourselves so that action is taken regardless of the outcome, because it is the action itself that possesses the only merit left to us.

More importantly, Jamail told us to be fully present in nature right here and now, because we can still do that much at least. Absorb all that has been taken for granted, see it with new eyes made stern with hard wisdom. If you try to see it all for the first time, your eyes and your mind will not fail you. Recall the words of naturalist Rachel Carson, who asked, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

Yeah, it’s raining. Maybe it will never stop. The trees are devouring it. In my life, I have never seen it so green here, so lush, like you could run your hand across the grass and have your palm painted with life itself. I see tiny white flowers nestled between the tufts, the soil smells like love, and even the diminished birdsong is symphonic in my newly trained ears. I can see Mt. Monadnock out my window looking like a gloomed emerald in the distance, altogether strange and glorious beneath the clouds.

Find the beauty within this new normal while you can, because it is still all around us. Be fully present, obeisant to awe. Grieve in your wonder, and then act. The Earth will tell you what to do. It has been telling us for a long time.