A few days ago, I was biking along, as I often do, through the leafy suburbs west of Boston, where I’ve lived for years. My route took me over the Massachusetts Turnpike, an endless river of traffic in and out of the city. The day was hot, muggy, and fairly still.
Out our way, mature trees droop over most of the side roads in lovely canopies, and as a result these byways are 10 degrees cooler than streets with exposed pavement. It was hot enough for me to be concerned about hydration, so I was taking it easy.
As I started up the overpass, I had to dig in a little to deal with the grade. But it was at the midpoint, right at the top, that I was nearly overcome with a wave of heat and something else. I looked down at the traffic and thought about the river of heat, vapor, and carbon dioxide rising from six lanes of speeding vehicles. I imagined the plume rising into the air as a line, coming up from the road in the direction of the wind. I imagined roads like it everywhere, some of them stalled in idling traffic jams, emanating heat and gas upward into the sky.
And I thought, no way this is not doing something to our atmosphere. I don’t need scientific data, even though it points inexorably at the truth: I can feel it directly.
This scene reminds me of times when I’ve flown over our American cities, seeing how development reaches uncontrolled into the relatively undisturbed land around their edges. It’s like watching cancer.
I’m not sure we humans — given our motivations, fears, weaknesses, avarice, jealousy, and shortsightedness — can bring this in for a soft landing. We’re pissing in the pool and pointing at the next guy. “He did it!”
I wonder further about our desire to live in a fantasy world, pursuing the American Dream, as if it really exists. As a real lifestyle, it surely doesn’t exist now, and it probably never did, except perhaps for one or two minutes sometime in 1955, during a commercial break on Leave It To Beaver.
So, if a television station and a political party want to ignore reality because of the awful consequences of owning up to it (e.g., having to give up the 4x4 or the Evinrude), they find a passel of willing participants.
That’s when I start of wonder about war. Does it take a state of war for people to realize what is actually happening to them? Why can’t they address these cold-light-of-day issues during peace, when they have the infrastructure, time, attention, and resources to mitigate the outcomes? In war, everything becomes basic. There’s no opportunity to wish the bad bits away. The hard part is always staring you in the face. The pointy end is pointing at you.
Dropping into a higher gear, I rolled down the far side of the overpass, back into the shade of the trees. Trees. The Californians mock us for having to rake leaves in the fall, those of us who still do without a petroleum-fueled service, but we like our trees. In the sort term, they give us shade. In the long term, they absorb carbon. What’s not to like?
We’re not getting out of this. The only question is how will people react when they finally understand what’s happening. I imagine some will remain in denial until the very end.