Cover image by Dev Murphy
ear to the ground
climate change, beneath the surface
When the film An Inconvenient Truth came out in 2006 it was a godsend to many environmental educators. We collectively thought, here we go, now we will get some action on climate change. We thought public perception would swiftly change and then policy would follow. At least that’s what I thought. I’m only a little embarrassed to say that my idea of climate change education in 2006 was to show An Inconvenient Truth in class. This may have been impactful at the high school level, but I was teaching college in a conservative community. Students argued the film up and down—not so much the science, but they used ad hominem arguments. Al Gore flies too much. His carbon footprint is bigger than all of ours, He’s a millionaire. He can afford technological solutions. I was a fresh new teacher at the time, just starting out in environmental science. To be honest, I wasn’t really prepared to go deeper into climate change in an intro level environmental science class. I was happy staying at the surface level, and I paid the price. My lectures were as superficial as my understanding of climate change impacts. To be fair, I think most peoples’ understandings of climate change were similar.
Sixteen years later, things have changed. Climate change impacts are now front-page news stories. In 2019 and into 2020, Australia experienced a catastrophic and historic fire season. The news featured images of burned and scorched Koala bears. In 2018, the town of Paradise, California completely burned to the ground in the most destructive, deadly, and costly wildfire in California history. It was started by a downed powerline, but the dry windy conditions on the ground helped spread the fire. In 2021, heat waves hit the Pacific Northwest and Siberia. In the Pacific Northwest, temperature reached 121 degrees F and 408 people died. In the Arctic Circle in Siberia, the temperature topped 100 degrees F for the first time ever. Then in March 2022, Australia experienced historic flooding, sort of a sling shot ricochet from the 2020 dry season wildfires, caused by the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), where ocean temperatures can give rise to extreme heat or extreme rain, much like the El Niño Southern Oscillation that impacts the western U.S. And now in August 2022, a third of Pakistan is underwater, half a million are displaced and over one thousand are dead due to flooding. Suffice to say we can’t stay at a surface level understanding of climate change any longer.
In this issue, we dig deep and make connections to land, farming, agriculture, evolution, and economy. Climate change was not what it once was. It seems to be everywhere these days. It’s hyperobjective and teleconnective properties are becoming clearer. It’s everywhere at once and no one place in particular. It only reveals itself through the phenomena it creates. It exists in the past, the present, and will persist into the future. It defies the usual qualities of objecthood. It can begin in the Southern hemisphere and its impacts felt in the Northern hemisphere, even Siberia. What other one thing can do that?
Like the title character in The Invisible Man in the 1933 film adaptation of the book by H.G. Wells, climate change cannot be seen without seeing something associated with it: temperature, CO2 in parts per million, or sea level rise. These are the phenomena of climate change, and like the bandages and clothing worn by the invisible man, they reveal the shape of the object. Without his suit, bandages, gloves, and sunglasses, The Invisible Man would indeed be invisible on screen. Similarly, climate change lacks a form, shape, or even location; it is revealed only through its phenomena.
How have we gone so long without noticing climate change? If you stand in front of a large white board, with your nose right up to it, and you can’t see the edges, do you know you’re looking at a white board? Or are you just looking at something white without knowing what it is? It’s kind of like that. We’ve been looking at climate change for decades without really seeing it. Without knowing what we were looking at.
Now we have our ear to the ground and we are digging deep to not only expose the roots of climate change, but to find all the mycorrhizal connections that are linking all our ecosystems and societies together. No two-hour movie can do this. A single issue of a journal can’t do it either. But we can start to listen, notice, feel and see the signs and impacts of climate change. Because another inconvenient truth is that we will never see it all at once, together in one place. It has no face. It has many faces. We will have to put the pieces together, as the saying goes.
—Ted Martinez, Managing Editor