Saturday, September 28, 2013

Genre and Outdoor Writing: Story on Decline of Alpine Meadows has Unearned Happy Ending?

With the weekend's stormy weather - maybe not quite "extreme," but certainly atypical and early as fall storms go - thoughts turned back last weekend's outdoor piece on climate change.

Or sortof about climate change.

The piece had an odd wrapper, was bookended by a different story, and seemed to me to have the wrong shape, conforming to the wrong genre, as it were. Or at least a slightly awkward shape.

It was a ways into the piece before you reached the nut of the matter:
In a nutshell, the warming climate is allowing the forest to move higher on the mountain.

“There are two things happening right now — at Jefferson Park and throughout the Cascades — both caused by global warming,” Sullivan said. “The first is the melting glaciers, which sends down floods and (debris flows). The second is that warming allows trees to be able to grow at higher elevations.”
The start of the article, though, was a narrative about seeking and it zoomed in on one person's subjective experience:
They arrive from every corner of Oregon — and even from across the country — on a remote gravel road just outside the Mount Jefferson Wilderness.

Thirty cars line the small parking area at Whitewater Trailhead 68 miles east of Salem, their owners stepping into the bright sunlight on a recent Saturday wearing hiking boots and carrying backpacks for a journey into one of the Cascade Mountains’ most beloved hideaways.

“I’ve wanted to do this hike for a long time,” says Caitlin White, who made the trip all the way from Beaufort, N.C., after scouting the hike online. “The pictures looked just amazing.”
The piece started out as a story about longing for Beauty.

And it ended as a tribute to fading Beauty - but not Beauty harmed or hurt.  The fading was just a semi-natural aging or development, hastened or modified by climate change, but not essentially a human-caused rupture.

In a story a little ironically published on World Car Free Day, it used a kind of harmonizing narrative closure better suited to Romance - think Winter's Tale or Cymbeline - than the dual Tragedies of climate change and of the commons!

Maybe because of "climate change fatigue," it seemed useful to soft-pedal the tragic dimension. 
So the question becomes, what will Jefferson Park look like in the future, and is there anything people can do?


Brad Peterson, wilderness manager for the Detroit Ranger Station in Willamette National Forest, said cutting down the trees wouldn’t be a likely solution.

“Trying to revert the ecosystem to achieve a state that existed in the past isn’t a place that we would go,” Peterson said. “In wilderness, we’re not supposed to try and control natural environmental processes.”

Even so, it’s not a totally bleak situation...

“But there are still going to be specific locations where the snow can pile up, in shady depressions where topography will allow snowpack to persist and the meadows to persist.”

In other words, 50 years down the line, people stepping into the Saturday sunlight at Whitewater Trailhead still will be able hike five miles down the trail to Jefferson Park.

The trees might be denser, the patches of wildflower-dappled meadows less plentiful, but Jefferson Park will endure.
But is this tone of resignation right?  Isn't there anything people can do?

Sure there is! Stop driving, reduce carbon emissions, support aggressive governmental action on climate change. (etc, etc)

While it's true that there is no one-to-one correspondence between things done super-locally here in Salem and slowing the global effects of climate change in our alpine meadows, and possibly true that we have passed some preliminary points of no-return, still the poignance of the trope of "fading beauty" might suggest too much of a passivity that may not be so benign after all.

At the same time, with the tragic mode, advocates or essayists too often become hectoring, even shrieking and apocalyptic, and it is perhaps a matter of rhetorical effectiveness to adopt a softer tone of voice.

I don't know what the right balance is, and I'm certain these things are not obvious, but it seemed to me this erred a little on the Pollyanna-ish side.  How did you read it?


B+ said...

None of us really do know the right answer for all the aspects of this situation. There probably isn't any one "right answer" to these problems, anyway. However, the right "tonality" by which we address them might be a combination of wonder and humility. That is what I have learned from American Indians and Celtic Christianity.

I think the tendency to have either a shrieking apocalyptic blame-a-thon (with lots of moral one-upmanship in the process) or escapist passivity is fueled by an underlying Euro-American lack of a meaningful cosmology and spirituality. We seem to exist as dissociated individuals, each pursing our own bliss, in largely materialistic terms. This leaves us few tools with which to address something that is, fundamentally, a question of philosophy and the things of the spirit.

Perhaps, when we have exhausted ourselves on these relatively futile strategies of shame or escape, we will learn from those who came before us about our right place in Creation, and begin to use our science in the service of a larger, more mysterious truth--for the healing of the planet and our selves at the same time.

Jim Scheppke said...

I think it's possible that in 50 years driving and hour or two to a trailhead for some recreational hiking will be a thing of the past. Purchasing the expensive energy necessary to get there may be out of the question for most people, and leisure time may be at a premium, as people are dealing with providing themselves with the basics. So what is happening in places like Jefferson Park may not matter all that much. "Recreation" may be very different in 2063 than it is in 2013.

Anonymous said...

You may not have been aware of the new report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC):

"It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The
evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850, reports the Summary for Policymakers of the IPCC Working Group I assessment report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis, approved on Friday by member governments of the IPCC in Stockholm, Sweden.

“Observations of changes in the climate system are based on multiple lines of independent evidence. Our assessment of the science finds that the atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Thomas Stocker, the other Co-Chair of Working Group I said: "Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,”
said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions,” he added..."

The reassuring tone that "everything's going to be ok, just a little faded," is not useful or even perhaps totally honest.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the IPCC link!