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Responding to climate change … without destroying the planet

As any sugarmaker knows, red squirrels are the bane of the sugarbush – they love sugar! Any kind of leakage of sap will attract them, and the damage they do to vacuum lines takes a lot of time to repair. It’s one of the ongoing chores of sugarmaking in the age of fossil fuel-based sap gathering.

Some years are worse than others. It seems to me, over 20 years of repairing squirrel chews, that the damage cycles gradually from year to year, growing greater and greater, and then crashing for a while.

What causes a species to experience a surge in population? Trudging through the sugarbush fixing squirrel chews has given me time to think about this. Actually, the reasons hardly matter; the end result is a lot of work for the sugarmaker. And there is lots of time to think about Humankind’s Fate while repairing squirrel chews. One obvious conclusion: We’re not that distant from squirrels in how we use resources at our disposal – we take all we can get!

There are more humans on the planet than at any time in the history of the world – why is that? Obviously, we have found a rich new food source, and like the squirrels in the sugarbush, have prospered. The rich new food source is petroleum-based fertilizer, and diesel-powered farm machinery.

Reaction to global climate change is really our fear of losing the energy-rich lifestyle we are used to, otherwise it would be easy to just stop burning fossil fuels, cool the place down, and go on in a revitalized Eden. And we’re like squirrels, so it follows that after a large increase in population will come a large decrease in population. Just go out and ask the squirrels to stop eating sap, and see how far that gets you. It’s always some other squirrel’s fault.

The simplest way to look at this is to say that anything that doesn’t reduce total carbon emissions by human beings is not part of the solution. The world a closed system, people. Like David Budbill said – we’re bugs in a bowl. A nice bowl.

This is why I don’t like my ridgelines developed. A line of windmills on a mountain may give passersby the comforting idea that they are doing something about climate change, but if you think about it, as you crawl across the face of a hillside and fix squirrel chews, you soon realize that compared to the rate at which the storm is approaching, nothing is being done. And if you cut off all the trees on a ridgeline, the solution is part of the problem. We’re in a swamp, and the Big Fools want to use a bulldozer to get us out.

Just slowing down the burn rate isn’t going to cut it. In any case, we are still actively searching for new sources of fossil fuel, and burning them as fast as we can find a market. And while cap and trade sounds all cozy and nice, it won’t be the squirrels who write the rules, it will be the coyotes.

Nature will prevail – three billion years of life cycle systems are already in place – and I have a lot of faith in nature. It comes from a lifetime of close observation, of trudging across lots of hillsides year after year and visiting the same trees every late winter and spring. Nature is elegant, and simple, and frugal. Squirrels are profligate, and extravagant, and flamboyant. Because of that they have a lot of predators.

I think about the Catholic church taking 400 years to admit the Earth revolves around the sun, and wonder how long it might take Exxon Mobil to admit to fossil fuel-based climate change. Far too long to be useful.

It’s taken me 20 years to realize there aren’t any brakes on this toboggan. It’s why I’m so mad. We’re squirrels in a sugarbush, and there are a lot of us.