Why Can't We Talk About Climate Change?


I am just returned from my morning walk up the hill behind my home. The air is silky-smooth and the sun too intense for February. The hills have yet to own their greenness due to lack of rain. It's an upside down kind of day, when it's easy to confuse winter, spring, and autumn. The seasons are all mixed up in my head. Another couple passes me, thighs like pistons. They've already climbed and descended two other valleys and are freely sweating. "It's too warm for this time of year, " the woman tells me. I agree, and then hear their story: they live in Santa Rosa and only just escaped last October's devastating fires. Heat and drought are not words they welcome; they have already been scorched.

I say, "I'm afraid this is the new normal, the climate is changing." The man looks away from me, quickly changing the subject. It's clear that he doesn't want to hear what I am about to say next. Discussing climate change is not an option. In our love of hiking we have so much in common, but we are not living the same story. And in this moment a divide opens up between us that feels almost impossible to bridge.

Why is it so hard to talk about the things that matter? How is it that this outdoors man and I have ended up on different sides of the political spectrum, or certainly the climate change debate? Of course, I know the answers––or at least some of them. Our increasingly silo-ed existences, listening to the echo chamber, the choir, the attacks on science, the massive funding of climate change denial. I know all this--but I am still shocked at the way this man shut down.

I have a habit of sidling up to folk, not unlike a deer in the forest, to gently test their beliefs. I am looking for common ground, wanting to know how they think and feel. I want to believe that everyone I meet on the trail is concerned with what we're doing to the environment, is advocating for carbon emission reductions, for more forests and cleaner air. I want to believe that if you love to hike, you necessarily long to protect the natural world with eyes wide open. Even if it hurts to reflect on what we as humans are doing to the Earth.

In the story I am living, we humans are at a pivotal moment. We can either look with clear eyes at what we are doing to the Earth, and change. Or we can look away. The ending of this story is dependent on the choice we make.