Global warming is worsening, and the sudden realization that gardeners cannot do much about it alone knocked the filthy air out of me last week.
The science of carbon buildup and ozone depletion in the earth’s atmosphere is settled. I convinced myself for many years (my head-in-the sand survival technique) that everything would work out, but I can’t ignore darker clouds any longer.
I grow dozens of different native perennials. And for those keeping score: I have planted hundreds of trees and shrubs around the Salvisa farm over the last 12 years—redbuds, button bushes, oaks, bald cypresses, wild cherries, hickories and spice bushes. I have a two-acre faux prairie that captures a miniscule amount of carbon but is packed with pollinating goodness and produces loads of seeds for ravenous goldfinches.
Gardeners may have a little reason to feel virtuous but not much.
I gave myself a talking-to last week and spoke truth: I cannot mitigate the consequences of continuing deforestation in the Amazon rainforest alone.
We’ve got solar panels that power our farmhouse and my all-electric Chevy Bolt, but the panels and batteries are not squeaky clean—environmentally—either.
I am in a summer rut, searching for a cooler and more sustainable path forward.
I walked down our Louisville street on Saturday morning, not expecting solace. I stood reverentially beside an old American elm that has somehow avoided Dutch elm disease. Volunteer seedlings have popped up over the years in our garden. I’ve planted some on the farm in Salvisa. One healthy elm survives after seven years. A few doors down from the Louisville elm is the biggest yellowwood (Cladrastis kentuckea) I’ve ever seen. Its massive trunk has rotten cavities and limbs that are cabled together, but it persists. A momentary hallelujah.
The summer news gets worse.
Last Friday West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin put the kibosh on Federal spending to combat climate change. Spending would add too much to spiraling inflation, he argued, but I suspect the Senator would have “torched the deal” anyway. I am hot under a sweaty collar that global warming gets kicked down the dusty road again, especially by someone whose political vested interests and personal deep pockets are lined with coal.
Thousand-year-old bristle cone pines are suddenly on the “brink of death” according to a disturbing Washington Post story last week. The news is frightening. I hope the 4,853-year-old Methuselah, the bristle cone elder statesmen, lives forever, but his Biblical namesake passed at age 969. I am 71-years old. My clock is winding down, too.
Is there a silver lining?
There are three little boys who walk over most days to our Louisville garden with wild-eyed enthusiasm. Leo, Elliott, Oliver, and their grandparents check on the garden, pond, plastic egg and concrete pig. They are worried also. Not about climate change, but the goldfish numbers are down. I suspect our backyard ecology of raccoons, cats, and herons. There are still a few fish left. Leo also wonders what happened to a second, large plastic egg. He doesn’t take comfort when told it’s hidden by tiger lilies and masses of the shade-loving American beak grass (Diarrhena americana).
I am scheduled to fly to Bellingham, Washington, to visit my girls on Friday. I miss them so much. I holed up last week, trying to avoid Covid subvariants. I’ve had Covid once; I don’t want to punch a return ticket and jeopardize my trip. I have a stash of K-95 masks ready-to-go that may end up in the Bellingham dump before my return flight home. Of course, my air flight won’t help the ozone layer, either.
Traveling by bus would be environmentally cleaner, but there might be an even bigger Covid risk on a 2-½ day bus ride with 21 stops. I hate flying and I’ve got time; I’m retired. I traveled on Greyhound across the country in 1978 with the company of strangers and a pint of Bourbon. The bus riders kept a strategic distance from one another. They weren’t talkers. The bottle lasted most of the trip. I was never a prodigious drinker.
Along the way I found Nigel Nicholson’s book Portrait of a Marriage at a Boise, Idaho, bus station kiosk. What a peculiar place to find a book about Vita Sackville West, her husband Harold Nicholson, and Sissinghurst. The fascinating book, and small slugs of Bourbon, kept me entertained all the way to Seattle.
My granddaughter, in Bellingham, became Covid symptomatic over the weekend. The first PCR test came back negative.
The trip may be in jeopardy, but postponement wouldn’t be the worst thing in this overheated world. My backup plan: Leo, Elliott, and Oliver will be wandering over to the garden.
I have the same worries and concerns. I know my gardens cannot compensate for either deep-tarnished politicians and folks so proud of their overfertilized manicured grass (deserts). But, I take hope in my puny steps. I density garden and polinators are all over the plants, my soil is active. And I have a few neighbors who are decreasing their lawns. Yes, not enough, but … I take hope in the baby steps.
Allen, I hope you have a safe, wonderful trip. I’ve had amazing adventures on cross-country bus trips, but the bus stations around here closed long ago as the big nationals bought them up and closed them.
Thanks Annie – you remind me that the really significant change happens from the ground up (no pun intended). One backyard at a time, one less purchase of (fill-in-the-blank) at a time. It worked in the 60s, in other realms. So I retract what I’ve written below, but thought I might as well publish it because I guess I’m a glutton for punishment:
This week I thought for the first time that maybe it was ok if the Bradford Pear trees are winning – and anything else that can survive climate change. Then I remembered our species-specific pollinators, and slapped myself.
I hate to use the p -word in this wonderful garden space, but the only solution I see is to give the Republicans a time out to get their act together and get enough Democrats in state local and federal offices to pass policies that might give us the systemic change we’re going to need to turn this around. And pray that this is the same globally.
Or, we can do it the usual human way and let all but the very wealthy and their land squeak by.
Sorry, my rant.
Wow, you sound like me in many ways. People where I live still claim climate change is a hoax. I don’t try to convince them otherwise, but I know differently.
I have decided I am going to move and in fact, I may not be moving far from you…possibly southern Indiana. I never thought I’d move again, but climate change made the decision for me.
I planted my garden to support wildlife. I have a lot of natives. I have tried SO HARD to make a difference, but I feel I’ve failed or will fail soon. Have been watering 3-4 hours daily since June 3rd as the temps. are over 100 or close to 100 EVERY day. We have drought and heat. Here, it’s still 95 after dark and 98 in the shade. Not only do I use hose water on a drip, I use bath water, washing machine water, kitchen sink water, dog bowl water, and personal hygiene water. I can’t keep up.
I don’t mind watering if I had time to enjoy the garden, but the heat makes this impossible. The natives are troopers (some I’ve not watered at all), but even troopers need water once in awhile. My real estate agent is dropping by tomorrow.
Well said and all true. I read somewhere that industrial hemp could help with carbon sequestration. With the burgeoning CBD industry, perhaps Manchin should do a cost benefit analysis and get West Virginians to begin planting Cannabis as a cover crop for all the ex-coal mines, rather than dooming the rest of us because he can’t give up smoking coal and vaping fossil fuels? West Virginians might actually be happier with their Senator if he would stop posturing and start doing something to save the planet. We all need to be hot under the collar or nothing will change. Meanwhile, though a series on the continuing adventures of Leo, Elliot and Oliver does pique my interest, I pray that your granddaughter is well and that you and Rose will get a break from this blasted heat.
I, too, would be bereft if I had been counting on federal help. In the absence of federal plans, states are banding together to create alternatives. Here it is important because I live in an area where temperatures have already increased by 2 degrees Fahrenheit. I live in one of the states in the mid-Atlantic that has banded together to create alternative energy sources. I hope that, in my lifetime, my electricity will be powered by off-shore wind and tidal power. When that happens, I will replace appliances to become all electric. Once again, I am looking into the costs of solar power, but once again it probably won’t make economic sense because my roof faces east/west. Am I making enough of a difference? A close friend created a new gardening group that tries to educate the townsfolk about better and more earth-friendly practices. So preach what you practice and try to make the difference that you can at this point in time. In the words of a great American, it is the moral equivalent of war.
Only concerted political action at all levels can save us. I plant for pollinators, put in more trees each year, have no conventional lawn, garden organically and even hand-pull the poison ivy. But more and more, I feel like I’m living on a small island, with the waves of pesticide-sprayers, leaf-blowers and industrial-scale mowers all building towards a tsunami that will wash away my tiny efforts.
I hope your granddaughter feels better and your visit isn’t cancelled. Travelling is a hard choice these days. It is so easy to get down when you look at what is happening all around us. It is a global problem though so (in a perfect world with a shared interest) everyone would be working together to make changes. Looking back two years remember how clean the air was and how wildlife was moving back into our urban areas? People were enthralled with it all. Why do we want to go backwards? All individuals can do is to make better personal choices, Vote! Vote! Vote! for politicians who care and are not funded by fossil fuels, coal, big business, etc. and plant as many green things as possible. David Tarrant (a Canadian garden show host and celebrity) used to say “gardener’s will save the world”. I agree but let’s not leave it too late.
Thank you for speaking up about the disgraceful actions of Joe Manchin. Caring about our environment is a political act and gardeners do need to speak up. As a Canadian I am saddened by this setback in US climate action and I hope that there could be a work around this impasse.
I loved that book – at about the same sort of time as you, I would guess, though I wasn’t travelling America. It was liberating!
sorry to be political, but It’s not just Manchin who “put the kibosh on Federal spending to combat climate change” .
50, count them 50, republican senators did too. too much money to be made destroying our environment…
but I am still planting, still planning, still hoping for a better world for my grandchildren
This is “On The Beach”. How many veery thrushes do you hear now? How many butterflies do you see? The world is emptying of every species but us.
I also read that Nicholson book in the late 70s and remember it well. It still lingers on one of my bookshelves.
I share all of your pessimistic thoughts on our changing climate and planet, and I confess I have very little hope left in me. The best I can muster is envisioning a world where we’re forced to adapt — move away from coastlines, for example — but only in response to disasters. New Orleans has 100,000 fewer residents today than before Katrina; it should stay that way but probably won’t because progress. You know, progress. Humans as a whole just don’t have enough will to adapt sensibly. Some try, but it’s not enough. So I’m a doom and gloom person, and yet I do lots of personal things that, in theory, will help with climate change. It’s not logical but it feels right.
There are things gardeners can do, even if it’s just a small bit. For one thing, shun peat or peat containing products, which is quite difficult here in the US. Even the most “environmentally friendly” potting soils have peat in them. So, I make my own. But it’s difficult, as peat substitutes such as coir are not any better of an environmentally sound choice. But all we can do is try.
Jan said what I was thinking – it’s not just Manchin. I really wonder if people like him and the other republicans actually care anything at all for their children, grandchildren, or great grandchildren. I think not.
And I really like what Sheera said, “preach what you practice.”
Thank you for your pprevious article on Beatrice Farrand and Lynden Miller.
The documentary is currently available on Amazon Prime.
Thanks to the internet and infinite scrolling i recently had the opportunity to watch it. A very beautiful journey.