Shrinking glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro are among the signs of climate change. Photo: Stig Nygaard / Creative Commons
Dire warnings of the worst winter in decades, if not centuries, so far seem to have come to naught in Istanbul, where we watched the news of the European holiday "snowpocalypse" under sunny skies. Though I'm jubilant about every January day that doesn't require a hat and gloves, there's something disconcerting about the experience, a feeling popular writer/philosopher Alain de Botton described beautifully in a thought-provoking piece for BBC News Magazine."The ecological situation has forever changed our relationship to nature. An unusually warm spring day cannot now be what it was for Chaucer and Wordsworth -- a manifestation of the mystery and power of the non-human realm," writes de Botton, the author of How Proust Can Change Your Life, On Love, and The Art of Travel, among other works. Where once people went into the wild to connect with something greater than themselves, "the equation has [now] been reversed," he writes:
Nature doesn't remind us that we are small, but rather provides chilling, awesome evidence of our size and strength. We glance up to the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro and think of how quickly our coal generators have heated the earth. We fly over the denuded stretches of the Amazon and see how easily we have gashed the planet.
Nature used to terrify us, now we terrify ourselves. We are responsible for the early flowering of those Wordsworthian daffodils. Our fingerprints are all over the uncannily early return of the migratory birds.
Contemplating how climate change is different from threats the human race has faced in the past, de Botton writes that we "have been asked to reconceive of ourselves as unthinking killers" for doing things such as wasting water or traveling by plane -- an indictment that affects us individually but can only be absolved collectively. With people's powers of empathy "stretching to [the] breaking point," he calls on artists to help turn the grim facts and figures into something that will compel action.
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