Yesterday was a beautiful day in Northern California. I went to the farmers’ market in the morning. Stone fruit season is upon us. I bought some perfect peaches. I also got some wonderful raspberries and strawberries, a few late-season oranges, fresh greens, mild radishes, green beans, and of course tomatoes for my wife.
It was a delightful day, full of abundance and good cheer. The temperature was about 80 F. The sun was shining.
But there was something about its radiance. At its low morning angle, the sun’s heat felt a little too close, a little too intense, as if it were high in the sky.
Maybe I’m imagining it. Maybe it’s always felt like this, and I just never noticed it before.
The trees have leafed out, except for the late-blooming ash trees. The songbirds are singing. Blossoms bloom, bees buzz, kids play. What could be wrong?
When I wonder why the President or Congress aren’t doing more to head off the destabilization of our atmosphere, this type of day answers me. Even with the freaky weather we’ve seen in the past few years—the balmy March nights in northern Michigan in 2012, the 17 inches of rain that poured onto Tennessee in a two-day span in May 2010, thundersnow in Washington DC, Hurricane Sandy, and this spring’s the lingering cold in the eastern US—most of the time, the weather is pretty much within the bounds of experience.
Other, deeper climatic changes are subtle or are showing up in sparsely populated places. The growing season has shifted in many parts of North America. I was in Maine in late October a few years ago, and farmers were selling native corn. When I was a boy, corn was done in September; there was sure to be a frost in October that would do the corn in. Around the Arctic Circle, waves lap the shore where ice used to reign. But for those who live in cities and suburbs, about 81 percent of Americans, chances are these subtleties escape notice.
Day to day, it’s hard to image something terrible could be imminent, the way it’s hard to imagine with any specificity one’s own demise, even if one is very old. It’s difficult to get worked up to the point of changing your lifestyle if something doesn’t have a direct, daily effect on you.
It takes some quiet reflection, imagination, and reason. And even at that, unless your mind suffuses your body with that hormonal wave of realization that yes, this wonderful variety of food that I take for granted could be reduced to little more than cabbages, this abundance could shrink to scarcity, permanently, within my lifetime, then there is no real impetus to act.
I’m eating my peaches and raspberries as I write. It seems impossible that I may not be able to have them some coming spring. But last March, ninety percent of the Michigan apple crop was wiped out. A rogue meander of the jet stream coaxed the blossoms before the pollinators were ready, then moved on, dragging a freeze behind it.
When the ice cap goes, and those rogue jet stream meanders become the norm, doesn’t it stand to reason that these kinds of crop failures will also become the norm?