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