When the Climate Crisis Gets Personal
Plenty of natural disasters (perhaps we should start calling them unnatural disasters) have already hit during 2020, including the Australian Bushfire, Coronavirus, Locust Swarms in East Africa and South Asia, mass flooding, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes. Most recently, the United States saw Tropical Storm Laura on the East Coast, the Midwest Derecho, and the ongoing California Wildfire season.
My childhood home, and parents’ residence, sits 25 miles away from the current outer perimeter of the CZU Lightning Complex Fires devastating Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. The fire began August 17th, and has burned 78,000 acres, with only 19% contained. This is just one of the 560 fires currently burning across the state.
Many Californians, local and ex-pat, are experiencing heartbreak. As the media shines the spotlight on these fires (that happen every year), we throw up our hands and cry, “How could this happen? Oh it’s so sad.” And yes it is. It is devastating beyond belief. But what I find more devastating is that the public continually fails to draw a link to climate change and colonization of the West. Some resources in this newsletter will help explain why separation of indigenous people from their land and land customs aids in the devastation.
If you look at Google Maps, my town sits right at the border between “white” and “green,” the green color demarcating hundreds of thousands of acres of State Parks, Open Space Preserves, conservation areas, and wildlife reserves that now sit on Ohlone, Awaswas, and Ramaytush land. From there, the map remains different shades of green until the coast. This ecological area is home to some of the oldest and most majestic trees in the world: the Giant Redwood Trees. It is hard to describe the beauty, majesty, and sacredness of these trees without taking you on a hike.
I am privileged to have spent weekends and summers exploring this area right in my backyard. I would take trips to the beach in Half Moon Bay and Pescadero, which is now ravaged by flames. I spent camping trips in the Portola Redwoods State Park and Big Basin State Park, which has been decimated, perhaps irrevocably. My parents met in Santa Cruz, and have lived overshadowed by the presence of these mountains for over forty-five years – and now our home is in danger of being destroyed too. And even saying that is hard, knowing that there are far more who have been required to evacuate all across the state, and even lost their homes or businesses due to the fire’s path. It’s also important to note that the loss of the natural landscape I know and love cannot compare to the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their land, and the legal discrimination against the right to care for their homelands today.
Instead of thoughtful mourning, or direct response, or even unfiltered outrage, the most common response I encounter to these disasters is apathy. The amount of articles that get shared with the captions like, “2020 strikes again” or “another one for apocalypse bingo.” As if this is all just happening to us. That we are not culpable. That we are poor pawns in a cosmic chess game. That we’re just living in some apocalyptic year in a cursed decade, instead of active participants in our own downfall.
Fires like this happen every year. Even as a self-proclaimed eco-nerd, I recognize that in years prior, I succumbed to the habitual response to scan facebook, call my family members to make sure they’re out of the zone, maybe donate what I can, and watch some news footage. I feel sad for a few days, I remember the smell of wildfire smoke in the air, and I go on because it’s not actively happening… to me.
But now, it’s personal. I no longer have the luxury of pretending it’s happening to someone else, and that is sobering. How many people must lose their homes? How many people in frontline communities, especially those in communities of color, must live with diseases made more prevalent by climate change? How many people will suffer health problems due to unclean water? At what point will a symptom of the ecological crisis personally affect everyone on this planet in a drastic and deeply personal way? And, at what point will we learn to be preemptively un-apathetic? The truth is, time is running out and we need to turn up the caring dial – right now – because we still have a chance to aid the Earth’s healing.
- Claire Allegra Taylor, Managing Director
Letters from the Directors
As COVID-19 wears on, it is becoming ever-more-apparent that people around our globe are affected differently. Some refuse to acknowledge that the pandemic exists. Others refuse to wear a mask in public. And still others are creating and caretaking and grocery shopping for vulnerable friends.
To a certain extent, people all over our planet are evaluating their core values and what drives them in the world. Movements such as Black Lives Matter are gathering much-needed support and vitality. There have also been increased reports of abuse, suicide and disrupted services, especially for those in higher-risk categories such as people with disabilities. These dynamics do not negate one another. They complexify the story.
So many of our news outlets and content on social media platforms are simplified for quick, consumable info bites. We do things differently at The Kaleidoscapes. Here, we are most interested in that complexity.
We are also convicted by the idea that the arts and sciences go together like PB&J on a summer afternoon. Science gives us insight into the undercurrents of life on Earth. And good art makes us grapple with those subtleties. Art is the arena for meaning-making in life.
We’ve watched climate-deniers complexifying the work of activists for years, and we’ve seen many people lose stamina and face burn-out. But this is not the time to isolate or grow overwhelmed! An article headline from 2017 recently went viral, saying “I Don’t Know How to Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People (HuffPost, Kayla Chadwick, Contributor).” These days, the sentiment can feel extremely relevant. Our society has misconstrued care for our surroundings as partisan.
Now is the time to reach deep into our pockets and energy reserves to sustain the things we care about. Now is the time to consider: What narratives do you want to remember from this moment in history, and how were you involved?
We know it’s a complex story, and access plays a key role, but we hope you may gain some endurance and repose from the environment where you live—whether through birdsong, a trusted trail or getting caught in a summer thunderstorm. Please, continue to wear your mask. And we’ll continue to produce work that attempts to hold the complexity of human experience at its core.
Gail Tierney, Artistic Director