Last Planet Standing

Are we truly doomed? Here’s one thing that might save us.

Climate change keeps me up at night. That’s the understatement of the year—if not of the entire history of civilization—right?

July was the hottest month in the recorded history of the world, a heat wave melted Greenland’s ice sheet at an unprecedented rate of 11 billion tons in a single day, and wildfires ravaged the Arctic. That’s why I go to bed with a pit in my stomach.

Laying awake, I feel both complicit and sorry for the fate of starving polar bears, homeless orangutans and emaciated orcas who have become so weak they sink to the bottom of the sea. And I wonder if and how I can make any kind of positive impact.

When I have some extra money, I donate to The Sierra Club, The Audubon Society and The Natural Resources Defense Council, supporting their all-too-often courtroom-based efforts to protect our natural resources from even bigger money interests.

I vote, sign petitions and write letters to my local elected officials. On social media, I “like,” my friends’ posts about how “you can’t eat money,” or when they share some Mark Twain quote along the lines of, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Every now and then I even add some statement like, “The only people still denying human-caused climate change are liars, and idiots.” But none of that brings any satisfaction. As far as I can tell, it also makes very little, if any difference.

The Miracle

I am someone who believes in, and am fascinated by the miracle of life.

The fact that in the whole ever-expanding reach of the universe, this little planet would have the six essential elemental ingredients of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur—and in such a harmonious, well-proportioned balance—to have set the stage for the existence of everything from dinosaurs to dogs blows my mind on a daily basis.

Add in the constantly changing little twists of fate that led to our parents, great grandparents and ancient ancestors meeting each other—and the lucky stars that kept them from harm during war, earthquake, famine and Atlantic boat crossings (or just kept them from getting hit by a bus)—and it’s another miracle that you, or I, even exist.

It’s hard to comprehend what it took for all of us to become sentient beings with our own specific feelings, perceptions, experience, hopes and wants. Which is why in the middle of a hike, I stop to wonder at all the other life around me: the clouds and lakes, meadows and streams, bear and deer, birds and snakes.

I wonder at each and every thing’s particular beauty. I marvel at the ways in which it exists and and interacts with other living things. But most of all, I wonder if this world any idea how badly humans are messing up the miracle of it.

A Better Place

I think the vast majority of parents who ever lived—even the corrupt ones—wanted their children to have a better life. It is one of the essential aspects of The American Dream, how every successive generation would exist in a better future, in a better place.

Now, I hear many of my friends, especially those with younger children, openly wondering how much of the dream they are presently living will they be able to preserve over the next few years.

When Science published a study in July titled, “The global tree reforestation potential,” discussing how planting billions of trees around the world could capture a majority of our existing carbon emissions, I began to feel optimistic. Here, I thought, is a way I can personally contribute, and create a new dream of that better future.

Unfortunately, many of the proposals in the study—planting trees on private land, across international borders, in time for them to reach maturity quickly enough to make a difference, and at a rate that will offset the current clear-cutting of the Amazon Rainforest, often described as “The Lungs of Our Planet”—will be difficult to implement.

But I’m not looking for reasons to do nothing. I am looking for ways I can act. And one thought that buoyed me was news that at the end of July, Ethiopian citizens planted 350 million trees in half a day, and by the end of October will have four billion seedlings primed for growth.

Action is what we need now, more than ever, however and wherever we can take it. I am planting trees this weekend, anywhere on my property they will fit. Then I am going to to see where I can make an impact next. Like Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, I am happy to have found my fence to paint, and can’t wait to see who wants to help.

Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “The greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? buy it here and read it now:

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