Back in my American Studies grad school days I remember reading about homesteaders in the Plains states who had settled their land during a cycle of higher than normal rainfall. They had good crops for the first couple of years before drier, normal conditions returned year, after year, after year. The result was drought and crop failure and crushed dreams. In those days of limited meteorological knowledge some of the settlers, in their desperation, took to shooting up at grey clouds in a futile attempt to make it rain.
I remember reading this and feeling somewhat embarrassed for our brave pioneers. Who could be so dumb right? But lately I have felt a small bit of their desperation. I am probably not the only one here on the drought-stricken East Coast this summer who secretly wished he could shoot up at the clouds and make it rain. It was as if Mother Nature had forgotten how to rain. I don’t farm, I don’t have a lawn to keep green, and I don’t live in an area that faces immediate water shortages so I had no real reason to feel so desperate about our lack of rain.
I think my desperation was born out of an overwhelming fear that the whole world is out of kilter. Drought, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, war, terrorism, pandemics, the ever worsening mortgage crisis, the incredible shrinking dollar, the ever expanding federal debt, the rise of new world powers, the decline of our own power, apathy, distrust, incivility. Most of these things have impacted the world in various combinations and in various intensities for probably all of recorded history. And it is hubris to think that we are living in unusual times.
But the thing that makes it all seem too much to bear is that we have far more information about our opportunities and constraints than sentient beings on this planet have ever had. What we lack is the willingness to do anything constructive with that information. Why are there so many things that we refuse to deal with? I sit here typing this with my windows open listening to the steady rain that eluded us all summer. It sounds wonderful.
I only wish I could send some of it to California. But I can’t. No one can.
We continue to act as if we can outsmart the planet. We continue to overpopulate and to farm areas that have insufficient water supplies. We continue to build whole communities in flood plains along the Mississippi. We continue to build multi-million dollar vacation houses in hurricane prone areas. We continue to eat up valuable farmland and natural areas with ugly sprawl. We continue to pollute the air and the water. We continue to burn fossil fuel at an alarming rate. We refuse to use the technology and knowledge that we already have to do anything about anything–unless of course, it makes more money.
We seem hell bent on creating a Mad Max future. Does it have to be that way? Our cloud-shooting forebears at least had the excuse of ignorance. What’s our excuse?