Here we are — January 22, 2021 — the Great Reboot.
Steve and my morning began with an overhead ruckus of honking Canada geese headed to the barley fields for breakfast. We are camped out in rural Colorado, and the air is cold. So cold that everything is covered in a fluff of ice crystals. The air itself is actually sparkling from tiny, suspended particles.
Today is a stunning day, and not just because the sun is shining. Today is beautiful because I finally exhaled. It feels as if we are waking up from a fever dream, and putting a whole loathsome political shitstorm in the rearview mirror.
Holy crap. Nearly a half-decade has passed, dominated by a constant undercurrent of outrage and disbelief. I am weary from headlines and inhumanities. Heartsick from the bulldozing of ancient saguaros and orphaned bear cubs. Anti-social from our collective orange-tinged PTSD. (If anyone needs a reminder of the former administration’s all-out assault on the health of the planet, here’s a good start, and here.)
Today we have much to celebrate, but also many urgencies to tend to: a rapidly warming atmosphere bringing unstable weather and fires, rampant biodiversity loss (there are only 2,000 Western monarchs left), a global virus born from our relentless conquest of nature, unchecked industrial pollution, the raw wounds of social inequities, an undermined democracy, millions who don’t have the education and critical thinking skills to ascertain fact from fiction, and an economic system that has yet to make amends for our legacy of indigenous slaughter, slavery, resource exploitation, and racism.
As Biden said in his inauguration speech, “Any one of these would be enough to challenge us in profound ways.”
But today I’m putting all of these in the good news column. Rather than look at this cascade of problems as insurmountable and depressing, we can actually see them as our sliver lining. Four years ago, we were trying to solve each of these problems independently. And that was impossible. But now we are learning that the only way to meaningfully address any one of these is by facing them all. We are finally learning how they are all connected, and in this newsletter we are going to have a lot of fun exploring that connection, and how each of us can use our talents in small ways to further the big picture. Another bit of good news: we’ve seen how much we can adjust our lives in a year. We as a species and as a global community are proving that we are capable of massive, sweeping, positive changes.
In the bad news column, it is not overly dramatic to point out that we are standing on the edge of a precipice. Scientists the world over are telling us that our actions in the next few years will be the difference between a world of relative peace and comfort or one of ever-increasing suffering and destruction. We can be scared of this. It’s scary. But we can also see it as one of the most exciting moments for rewriting our future in the history of humanity. Making the changes we need to make will take creativity and flexibility, and if we pull it off, we’ll be living in a world that far exceeds our previous expectations. There is no time to lose, so let’s get on it!
A new normal.
There is much to rethink and reimagine. Power grids. Town centers. Gardens. Communities. Jobs. Trees. Food. Cars. Buildings. Education. Ecosystems. Economies. Compassion. Kindness. Woohoo! We are so lucky to be the ones tasked with this adventure.
We are also entering this new chapter with a great tool — our personal energy. If we can take even a fraction of the effort we just spent watching and lamenting our political spectacle, and redirect it into incorporating positive actions for nature into our lives, we should be just fine.
Which brings us to this week’s Nature News Roundup.
Awesome Tech: A new kind of car battery that can charge in five minutes just came off the factory line. That means that we are likely to be a few years away from electric cars that can be charged in about the same amount of time as it takes to fill up a gas tank. Eventually I’ll delve into the debate about electric cars vs. gas ones, but the short answer is that electricity must win, since it will eventually be 100 percent renewable, whereas gas will always require the burning of fossil fuels.
Un-Awesome Industry: Trump did a lot of damage to environmental policies in his last two weeks in office, but one of the worst was transferring sacred land in Arizona to a copper mining group. Oak Flat, or Chi’chil Bildagoteel in Apache, is on the National Register of Historic places because it is sacred to roughly a dozen tribes, yet the copper beneath (or rather the small handful of people who stand to profit from that copper) is somehow more important than 1,500 years of indigenous culture. Oh, and one more bit of brilliance, the company slated to get the lease is the same one that knowingly blew up a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in Australia last May. If you want to help take action on this one, here’s where to start.
On the Right Track: Trump’s legacy will be a long, hard unwind, especially the loss of so many government research scientists. But we’re off good start. While Biden’s said his top priorities are getting the virus and economy under control, his is already championing some vital nature causes, including a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, nixing the lease for the Keystone XL pipeline, and halting construction of the border wall. I realize not everyone understands why these were bad. For example, one of our family members is already lamenting the knee-jerk gas price hike and anticipated lost jobs from ANWR and Keystone XL. So, in the coming weeks I’ll be giving some backstory on the importance of these. But first, I’m working on a piece to explain what it means to have the United States rejoin the Paris climate accords (part of the paid newsletter subscription).
More Good News: Science is coming back to the federal government, with a team of climate change experts and a rumored executive order to put science back in decision making.
Next, Welcome to ‘One Small Step.’
In future editions, we will dive into easy changes we can make in our lives to help nature. But today, I think we just need a break. Or rather a purposeful, positive pause. Positive change is easier when we’re clear, focused, and feeling good.
So this week’s small step is to find a tree, a rock, or even a house plant, and take a load off. Sit with it a while, and space out. Clear out some space for this new era. Imagine the odious voices of the past, and then replace them with the sound of wind through aspen leaves. Gather up all of the drama of the political smog cloud and wash it away in a cold mountain stream (or if you’re one of my winter-fearing Florida friends, cast it to sea on a tropical wave).
Laugh. Dance. Rock out. Sing. Howl. (I wish I was brave enough to howl in public. Maybe I will be after doing this newsletter for a while.) Burn sage. Puke. Roll a J. Shower. Whatever it is you need to do to cast off the old and get ready for the new, this is the time.
And don’t forget to go outside and play today. Watch squirrels. Follow a beetle. Walk the dog. Rejoice. We survived. And by the way, spacing out by a tree isn’t just a hippie sport, it’s actually quite good for our immune systems. Paid subscribers, you’ll get the full dirt on that science in the near future.
And finally, a few more thoughts on the reboot.
As we establish the new normal, which will be a “normal” in better harmony with nature, we also get a great chance to form new habits, to try new ideas, and to find new talents. If you’ve read this far, then getting more in step with nature is surely on your list. But for most of us, entering the world of environmentalism is intimidating. So I will do my best not to make that the case here. We are all beginners, no matter how long we’ve studied this. It’s okay not to know something, or anything. It’s okay to think something is right, and then decide that it isn’t. We will make many blunders, but we will learn to forgive ourselves and encourage others. And as long as we continue to try, then we are moving in the right direction.
Which brings us to why we woke up in rural Colorado this morning.
My husband, Steve, and I just bought an abandoned house in a near ghost town and we are attempting to turn it into a livable home again. Right now we are gutting the walls. We’re in one of the coldest places in Colorado, and there is no power yet to the property, so that means a lot of layers of clothing. It’s also a lot of learning, and I am sure we will make mistakes that will be a pain to fix. I have never done work like to this before, but there is something cathartic about taking a pry bar to a nasty old panel and ripping it loose. At the end of the day, looking at the studs laid bare, I can imagine the new walls, and the home it will become. Eventually there will be a new era for this 100-year-old house. A reboot, if you will.
A parting thought.
Typically, the end of the newsletter will be some sort of inspiration from nature. Today, it’s what we woke up to this morning. Have a wonderful week everyone, and thanks for reading.
If you have comments, see errors, want further reading or sources, want to share your story, ask a question, or anything else, let me know at email@example.com.
Karuna is a freelance nature and environmental writer, and recovering movie and TV producer, who just moved from the Florida Keys back to her home state of Colorado. You can find out more at her website.
About this newsletter:
Free subscriptions include:
a weekly* digest of nature news,
easy, worthwhile ideas for helping our planet,
and a bit of joy inspiration from the happy news desk.
Paid subscribers also get deeper-dive articles on topics such as:
interpreting current headlines under a nature lens,
unraveling how nature and social justice movements have been manipulated by corporations and politics,
understanding the connections between social justice and the environment,
citizen science and other action opportunities,
coping with eco-grief and stress,
a soon-to-be uploaded archive of laymen-friendly explanations of the science behind climate change, mass extinction, and pollution,
essays, interviews with experts, and guest artists,
*By weekly, I mean most weeks, though some weeks nature comes first, meaning I reserve the right to be distracted by sandhill cranes, or elk, or mountains…
A note on subscriptions: I’m not eager on the notion of paid and unpaid subscriptions, as everyone should have access. However, I’m driven to doing this in the hopes that it will make a difference, so much so that I’ve taken a leap of faith and dropped my other paid writing gigs. I’m hoping this will be of enough value that you’ll support it financially so it can continue. Conversely if you or someone you know needs this and can’t afford it, please drop me a line.