“I’m writing a book.” I say. “Personal stories about ordinary people working with congress to reverse climate change.
People in their twenties and seventies, Republicans and Democrats, scientists and elementary school teachers.
They live all over the country; New England, Wyoming, Florida, Texas. Most of them don’t think of themselves as political.
But they are worried and they want to do something that will matter.”
“Hm. Interesting.” Elizabeth says. “I’m glad you’re doing that. I’m not really into that stuff. Climate’s not really my thing. And I hate politics.”
I wonder what she means by ‘climate stuff.’
“You know, Al Gore and ice caps, science and confusing things like why it’s called global warming when Boston had the worst winter in history.” She says.
Elizabeth is in the seat next to me. We’re on the Amtrak train. She is in her late thirties, maybe early forties. Her brown hair in a bob, her computer unopened on her lap. She has curious eyes, like she’s hungry to talk. I talk to people anywhere and everywhere—about anything and everything. It’s what I love to do, it’s what I’m good at.
“Yeah, I agree, it can be confusing and complicated.” I say. Not ready to dive into the climate conversation I ask, “What do you do?”
We both got on the train in DC. It’s a full train. We’re going to Boston— an eight hour trip—we could cover a lot of ground. Take it slow, I remind myself.
My friend Liza says engaging people in a conversation about climate is like the California drought. The ground is so parched, the only way it can take in water, is slowly, slowly, slowly, over time. The ground needs to soften before it can even begin to absorb anything. The predicted El Nino storms will not reverse the drought. They might even make things worse. Most of the water will flood backyards and streets and run off into storm drains.
Liza says we can’t deluge people with information. First soften the ground. If I am like El Nino, raining down buckets of information, my words will run off into the storm drain. Slowly, slowly, slowly soften the ground. Thanks Liza.
“I’m a foodie.” Elizabeth says and her eyes light up. “I have a catering business and write a food blog. Much of what I cook comes from my vegetable garden. I love growing and tending and cooking and creating meals for others to enjoy. My clients are families or working couples who don’t cook—but love healthy, good food.”
I listen to her passion. It makes me smile.
“Hm.” I say. “Want to do some detective work with me?”
“Sure.” She says, not sure what I’m up to.
“Let’s see if we can connect the dots between climate change and food.”
Elizabeth brushes her hair off her face, turns sideways in her seat to face me. Maybe she is older than I thought. Something in her eyes reads both hopeful and defeated. The train is passing through a deciduous forest. Trees on both sides. Full and green. No hint that last winter was so unforgiving.
“You have my attention.” She says.
“Let’s start with fossil fuels.” I say. “When coal, oil and natural gas are burned to create energy, the process pumps carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere. They stay there. In fact, they create a sort of blanket that traps in heat.”
“I get it.” She says. “Every summer my sister and I would set up our tent in the backyard and play cards. We’d zip up the door and tie the windows shut. After awhile we were dripping with sweat. My bangs would stick to my forehead, sweat would drip down my back, and my legs would stick to the sleeping bag.” She says.
“Exactly. The earth is a bit like that tent right now. If the heat stays trapped in the earth, the whole planet gets warmer. Unlike the tent, there is no door or window to open. And when the planet gets warmer, it sets in motion a whole series of reactions. The ice caps begin to melt. As they melt, they no longer reflect the sun’s rays. Still with me?” I ask.
I hope I’m giving her just the right amount of information at the right time. She continues to nod while I talk.
“That means the sun’s rays are absorbed by dark water. Warmer water means the seas expand, they rise and fuel the super storms. Like Sandy.” I tell her.
“So we’ve got this giant system, that’s all interconnected. Yes, it’s been referred to as global warming, which can be confusing—because as you said, Boston got dumped on last winter. The warming is causing all other systems to ‘adjust’—changing all weather patterns. Making every weather event more extreme.”
“I’m curious—tell me what you see—connect the dots.” I say.
Elizabeth is quiet. There is the clickety, clack, clack of the train on it’s rails, and the conductor walking through the car, calling out ‘next stop Trenton, next stop, Trenton.’
“My apples and pears.” Elizabeth says slowly. “This is what I heard—that the rain—there was much more than usual—caused fungus infections, and reduced pollen production. Which meant less fruit. So fewer pies this summer. And the shellfish—something about the water being warmer so their shells didn’t harden. All us foodie’s crossed our fingers and we’re hoping for a better season next year.” She looks at me and I can see from a sadness in her eyes that she is beginning to connect the dots.
“Climate and food are part of the same conversation.” She says slowly. “Oh, this breaks my heart.”
I let a silence fall between us. This is a lot to take in. Many people go through stages of grief. Hopefully in time, they move to action—often an antidote to despair.
“What should I do?” Elizabeth asks me. “I mean, I see it. I see climate change and food are the same conversation.”
I wish I had a beautiful, elegant answer to her question. More often than not, it’s the reason I don’t start the conversation. There is no road map. That’s both the scary and exciting thing—we get to come together to figure this out.
“Here are four suggestions.” I say. “Most important, do what you feel passionate about.”
Go to citizensclimatelobby.org and click join. You’ll get a monthly newsletter. The more supporters, the more our voices will be listened to by congress.
Go to house.gov. Find your member of Congress. What (s)he is doing about climate change?
Follow my blog. Get inspired by other folks working on this issue.
Send an email to your member of congress—read the blog post called Maintenance Required—for tips on how to write to your member of congress.
We arrive at Penn Station—almost halfway. There is a hustle and bustle. People get off the train, people get on the train, the old conductors leave, new ones come on board. Elizabeth and I have been talking for several hours. She is quiet. I am reminded how trains and crises lend themselves to a kind of intimacy. In a short time, the ground has been softened, a link has been made between climate and food. Elizabeth is grateful. I am grateful too.