From Small Talk to Big

Since I began working in earnest on environmental issues, I’ve gotten really impatient with small talk. So people who know me well, know that if they ask me how I am or what I’ve been up to, I’m going to tell them, and sometimes they might wish they hadn’t asked. How I am right now is caught between elation and impatience. Elation because the tour I organized for Transition Palm Beaches to, the amazing experiment in urban agriculture being conducted by environmental scientist and Ph.D. candidate, John Zahina, was a success. About 15 people came and everyone was touched in some way by John’s passion and dedication. I am impatient because a. it’s my nature (and I’m working on it!) and b. change takes time yet whenever I get another email from Bill McKibben of, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of urgency.

The day before the vegetable garden tour, we took in a matinee of Singing in the Rain at our local theater with our subscription mates. We are at the getting-to-know-you stage and I know better than to start blurting what was on my mind (sea level rise statistics) during the performance that included a rainstorm on stage. Sure, I know that isn’t very mindful or in the moment for someone who has been practicing meditation for a couple of years. Nonetheless, there I was during the intermission honestly answering the question. How was I? Worried about climate change.

You can always tell when someone is not going there with you. Their eyes glaze over or they change the subject or crack a joke. But none of those things happened, in fact, I got to practice my elevator speech about climate science consensus, and how important it was for all of us to do our part to mitigate what is likely to be a rough patch ahead. And I was encouraged to continue over dinner after the show. Lesson learned: take a chance because this is no time for small talk.

Here in South Florida where I live, anyone who is paying attention knows it is not a question of whether sea levels will rise but when, how much, and what impact that will have on a population that prefers to live on or near the beach. Some of the most densely populated communities are situated on what is essentially a barrier island, the Atlantic Ocean on one side, the Intra-Coastal on the other. For us, beach erosion is a fact of life. Every year, even in those without major storms, some beaches shrink while others grow. But how would communities so dependent on high-end real estate and tourism respond if the beaches disappeared entirely?

Equally worrisome are water issues, e.g. the risk of salt contamination of water supplies, a topic that came up during the Just One Backyard tour, since John Zahina is a water management expert. How would that impact agriculture, food security? What measures could be attempted to keep that from happening? And at what cost? What if it doesn’t work?

Every time I Google a different part of this octopus of climate data, I get the sense a lot of it lies scattered in Army Corps of Engineers reports, utility assessments, various academic white papers, and in the things actuaries whisper to each other. What would it take to get these people and skills together? Now this would be Big Talk we need to have now.

6 thoughts on “From Small Talk to Big

  1. Impatience is good. (No need to work on it..!) A bracing thought, contextualising climate change during the first Act of Singing in the Rain. Love it. Love the article.

  2. I have been talking about homeschooling a lot lately because I see schooling as integrally tied up with this and so many other problems we are facing. As John Taylor Gatto has so carefully researched and written books about, our school system was created to serve the titans of industrialization. It does not produce creative thinking, nor does it intend to, though most teachers don’t realize this and often get in trouble with the system because of it. Until our children are allowed to grow up experiencing nature and given the freedom to think for themselves, we will not have enough people who can think independently enough to see what the problems really are as well as the many possibilities that are out there. Do you know, one of the only things I remember about grade school was at recess time we had a tiny patch of trees on the edge of the playground where a friend and I pretended we had built a house with a carpet of leaves. Day after day we would go to our little house in the trees to enjoy the bit of freedom we had until we were called back in. Today I fear most of our children don’t even have that. We need to all get involved in finding solutions and bring the kids along.

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