Global Warming: Poem for Vigil


Shivering, we struggle to keep our candles’ thin
flames alive as we gather, nineteen of us together
in the darkness of an approaching storm,
hoping the small flakes will not turn to ice
beneath our tires on the drive home.
But an icy wind keeps snuffing out each flicker
so we just stand, our signs alone aloft to passing traffic,
standing for the stand we take: for the changing world,
for a last chance at change. We stand for photos,
taken from across the streaming street –
and we smile into the night and show our signs.
One car beeps, a driver gives the V-sign in support,
but most drive on without a word or sign
that they have heard or seen a thing, or even recognized
we’re standing here for anything but hopeless causes.
My hands, frozen, release their glass and candle with a crash,
sending shatters glinting across the sidewalk. Someone
with safer gloves, stoops to sweep the shards away…
How lovely is the world today, even dying.
Though it’s all we have (and lord knows, it’s more
than we can handle) we stand here in this freezing dark
against the darkness and light one candle.

That is about all of the true story of the vigil, and about all that happened…We stood there and the traffic passed, and photos were taken and my frozen fingers dropped the glass holding my candle oh so greenly..Period. It was not without feeling or meaning for the individuals who stood there even though it felt utterly useless to me, and I was only there because a dear friend suggested it as an antidote to hopelessness. As she sees it, the only way to defeat despair is to take action, which is, I suppose, to paraphrase Hamlet’s soliloquy.  Now Hamlet goes on to talk about  death, and eventually to abjure suicide. But taking action did not help me much. Or if it did, the very loss of the glass in my hand, that crash to the sidewalk in the freezing dark, seemed to me the last straw, though none could tell it then. Indeed I  would never dream of showing it. But to me it was emblematic of the hopelessness of the endeavor, how it was all coming crashing down upon our heads, the great environmental movement, and nothing, nothing! would be saved on our grand sweet planet but sulfur-eating bacteria, black smokers, and undersea tubeworms. Nothing to be done now but to move inland and try to survive the cataclysm.

Except of course that not even that could be done, because nowhere is one safe, not really.  Tell me, where would you run to when tornados of category 5 tear up the heartland and when they do not, floods of epic proportion alternate with devastatng dust-bowl droughts?  When inland migration would put such a stress on cropland that famine results, and the slow, agonizing death that comes from it. The southwest? Where there is little water and temperatures already  soar past 115° in summer and sometimes higher? What happens when they hit 130°F? Would you  try the California west coast, with its record breaking wildfires and its ditto mudslides? And what exactly happens to rock that has been too quickly  affected by acidification  — does it really remain stable? What about in a region affected by vulcanism like the Northwest? Do we know for certain that  human forces do not change volcanic activity and purely geologic forces on and in the earth? Do not be so certain…But the east coast, surely you would not escape there, what with its sinking coastlines and/or rising sea levels from Florida to Maine…I do not mean to be a doom-monger, but I am indeed despairing, because I see a future of  chaos in the streets and madness and  fear on the faces of people wild to save themselves or at least their children and knowing in their hearts that they can do nothing…

STOP. Why am I going on like this…I do not wish to scare people who believe in hope and optimism. I do not wish to infect everyone else with MY despair. That is not my desire or intent. If I am hopeless, why make others feel it too? There is no point, even if I am right in my knowledge and/or my predictions. I cannot change anything, so why force  anyone to feel as bad as I already do? Perhaps Hamlet was right to suggest that “to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them” is not necessarily a bad course. It may be nobler than giving up, even if the action is useless in the end.

Do you know that I have scarcely followed the doings at Copenhagen, except cursorily, because I pretty much know that whatever happens it will be too little, too late…and that no matter what, the agreements reached will never, never! even approach the deep cuts in emissions needed to reduce present CO2 levels to the 350 parts per million that we need to regain sustainability on the planet. No, what I’ve heard is that the best of agreements settle for reaching and maintaining 550 ppm. let whatever happens to us at that level, happen.

God forbid we should radically alter the flow of the world’s economic thinking and activity, or even just the purposes towards which entrenched capitalism directs its self-interest! God forbid that Americans NOT be urged to buy buy buy “new carbon” in order to re-set a gobal capitalism and ever surging standard of living. God forbid that Americans should be told that their diamond standards — of living, of buying, of — well, everything, should actually be reduced…that they cannot in fact buy everything shiny and new, that used items are good items and trading between those that want to throw away goods and those that need them is a terrific idea, and much better than flying new carbon, and expending huge amounts of hydrocarbons in the process, from halfway around the world; that lawns are a terrible thing and vegetable gardens are beautiful, even postage stamp size or on the roof. There is so much we could do, if we are hopeful, if we are optimistic, if we believe that doing something is worthwhile and that we can in fact save the world.

Let’s try, let’s do something now. Maybe it is too late. Maybe it is useless. But we cannot sit around doing nothing, can we? That way lies madness and despair. We all die. It’s a given. Why not live now, knowing that something — even if it is only  the proverbial drop in the leaky bucket — can be accomplished, and  knowing that as long as we breathe there is always hope.

Dum spiro spero.

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