Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: highlighting the new normal

Just for the fun of it, I'm reading Consider the Fork, a thoughtful, informed and playful tour through the history of cooking technologies and kitchen labor. It's fun. The author, Bee Wilson, is a British historian and food writer.

I was brought up short by this very ordinary passage from Wilson's introduction:
Most days, my breakfast consists of coffee; toast, butter, marmalade; and orange juice, if the children haven't drunk it all. … I grind my beans (fair trade) superfine in a burr grinder and make myself a "flat white" (an espresso, steamed milk poured over the top), using an espresso machine and a range of utensils (coffee scoop, tamper, steel milk pitcher). …Toast, butter, and marmalade were known and loved by the Elizabethans. But Shakespeare never ate toast such as mine, cut from a whole-grain loaf baked in an automatic bread maker, toasted in a four-slot electric toaster, and eaten off a white dishwasher-safe china plate. …

… who can say if comfortable breakfasts like mine will exist a few years from now? Oranges from Florida may become unaffordable as wind farms replace citrus farms to meet rising energy needs. Butter may go the same way (I pray this never happens) as dairy land is diverted to more efficient use growing plant foods. Or perhaps in the techno-kitchen of the future, we will all be breakfasting off "baconated grapefruit" and "caffeinated bacon," as Matt Groening imagines in an episode of Futurama.
Welcome to what I think we need to recognize as "the new normal." Wilson goes on to describe past and contemporary cooking quite cheerfully -- but she has prefaced the story with this. It is becoming impossible to write thoughtfully about much of anything and project into the future without recognizing that the future will be shaped by global warming.

This recognition isn't a political statement -- it is simply realistic. Narratives like this that nod casually to "the new normal" will do a lot to help break the current political impasse over responding to climate change. If everything takes place in a world where humans are conscious that we are reshaping the climate, we will grope our way to changing how we organize our societies. Our adaptation probably won't be comfortable, efficient or elegant -- and it is certainly not timely -- but we'll move.

This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking. I know. I'm a proud lesbian leading a good life in the United States. In my lifetime this society has adopted a another sort of "new normal" which is on the way to treating me as a full, responsible member of the human family. From unthinkable and perverse, we queers are on the way to normal. Adapting to reality can happen -- but first the "new normal" gradually becomes integrated into all our thinking. And that is imperceptibly happening with awareness of climate crisis.
On the topic of how we talk about the new normal, I want to quote a response to the recent Earth Day from the Washington Monthly's Ryan Cooper that I find wise:
… this is qualitatively different from something like, say, rescuing the California Condor. Climate change is not just a case of some corporations profiting from raping the collective commons, it’s our society slowly destroying itself.

This is why I get somewhat frustrated when I hear climate hawks reflexively invoke “the planet” as a reason for strong action on climate. The planet is nigh invincible. We literally couldn’t destroy it if we wanted to. It’s just a big chunk of rock. The Earth’s biosphere, however, upon which our society is totally dependent, is little more than a thin layer of grease between that rock and the void of space. ..
I've used that language about our destroying "the planet," but Cooper is right: the new normal is that our society and our species are behaving suicidally. The planet will be fine; we humans, or our offspring, will not unless we change.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

Thanks for adding to my already overloaded reading list!!!!

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