How about we avoid hitting bottom when it comes to global warming?

Dear President Biden,

My walking goal yesterday was to swing by and see the 12th Ave Buddha. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of weeks and I don’t like to go too long between visits to the various Buddha, donkey, and bunny statuary in the neighborhood.

I know – it sounds kind of pathetic but since I don’t venture all that far in any one direction, it’s helpful to have landmarks picked out to walk by.

So, I made my visit to the 12th Ave Buddha just fine – nothing major to report about that. On the way home, though, was the thing I really want to tell you about, which is a particular Italian sunflower.

This Italian sunflower is just a single, kind of scruffy yellow flower at the end of a long stalk. What makes it remarkable is that for some reason, the stalk fell over and is lying on the ground, part in the yard and part out on the sidewalk, and at the very end toward the flower it makes a sharp right angle up toward the sun so that the flower is this perky little thing perched about eight inches off the cement. The far side of the root base is poking up out of the dirt a bit but it’s firmly anchored and the plant is clearly still doing its thing. One might even go so far as to say that the plant is thriving. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

I came across this little miracle when I was thinking about the parallels between the idea that some people (sadly, a lot of people) end up hitting bottom before they decide to address their addictions and what it’s looking like for Americans when it comes to global warming. Often when people “hit bottom” because their drinking or drug use is dominating their lives and they’re moved to make some hard changes, they’ve already incurred a lot of loss and caused a lot of heartache. Their worlds are generally not in good order and it can be really daunting to try and make major changes both because it’s hard to build back when things are in a shambles and because addictions are hard to let go of.

We generally think of addictions as individual issues and that it’s on individuals to make the hard choices to stop or reduce drinking or using drugs. Although there are policies in place around things like under age drinking, drinking and driving, and legal vs. illegal use of various drugs, most treatments are geared towards individuals with just a few addressing family systems. Thus, trying to use addiction and recovery from addiction as an analogy for our collective relationship to global warming is something of a stretch. But still, I think there’s some merit to the idea, so here goes.

We’re addicted to fossil fuels and most of us are also addicted to instant gratification shopping and over-accumulation of stuff. And while most of us who’re propped up by our capitalist society encounter few obvious personal consequences associated with these ways of being (though an insane number of us are carrying lots of debt), it’s really the cumulative burden of all this consumptive individual(istic) behavior that’s kicking our collective butts. As such, I’m afraid it’s going to have to get really, really bad for vast numbers of us – as in hitting some terrible environmental bottoms – before we can see that we’ve got to make huge changes. And unfortunately, just as is too often the case for people wrapped up in substance addiction, when we finally decide to make the needed changes, it could be too late.

But what if we were to take this analogy and work backwards from the brink? Plenty of people realize that their drinking or drug us is heading in a bad direction and manage to get a handle on it before all hell breaks loose. With the right leadership, incentives, alternatives, and guardrails in place I bet we could do something similar with our behaviors that are driving global warming before we reach the point of no return.

And if we go down trying, then at least we will have tried.

Who knows, we might just manage to surprise ourselves and find ways to keep going like that incredible Italian sunflower.

May we be safe from whatever our global environmental “bottom” might be.
May we be willing to do what it takes to avoid thoroughly trashing the planet.
May we tap all our strengths in service of our collective, planetary health.
May we accept that to do otherwise means we’re very likely to “hit bottom” and crater out.

Tracy Simpson

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