It’s easy to forget what I’m doing and why. Though I walk by the tiny house several times a day, the winter months have meant less good weather on which to work on it, and fewer daylight hours, too. But more than that, the realities of the financial struggle that the majority of us face — simple survival (plus the expense of the house itself, ironically) — constantly pulls my attention away from it. I have an inherently short attention span, but with multiple part-time jobs, freelance gigs and projects, it’s easy for me to feel constantly distracted from what’s important.
But isn’t that the case for all of us when it comes to the issue of climate change?
With how dire things are, this should be the number-one story on every news show every night. There is literally no important issue that isn’t affected in some way by climate change – economically, practically and theoretically. It’s sort of like the old saw about having your health – once you don’t have it, everything else is tainted, your day-to-day life becomes about maintaining equilibrium and returning to health. People who have suffered catastrophic illnesses and accidents understand this, how your world is upended by your body’s failings. The planet’s health, just like our own health, should lie at the root of every decision we make, just like we should eat healthy, and should exercise, and…
But this isn’t what humans do.
Especially twenty-first century humans.
We live in a time where information is literally at our fingertips, and conveniences are everywhere. But with so much information, how do we know what’s trustworthy? What’s truthful? Staying informed is a job unto itself, sifting through bad knowledge, corrupt studies that lead to wrong conclusions, and the confusion between opinion and fact. How do we sift out the informational junk food?
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I think the natural reaction when we are overwhelmed is to turn away. Countless times I’ve heard friends say with a bashful shrug, “I can’t watch the news, it’s depressing. I don’t want to know.” And with so many feel-good stories and distractions, it’s easy for us to turn away. But this collective turning away is merely shifting responsibility to someone else.
It’s hard to look at something difficult, potentially life-altering, frightening. It’s hard to keep our attention turned to something horrific and terrifying. It's much easier to change the channel or tell ourselves a story. It’s easier to believe in fairy tales than climate change, because it is hard to wrap our heads around the idea that we are big enough, as a collective organism, to alter an entire planet. It’s hard to believe that things could change so radically, within our lifetimes.
Even in the face of seeing the changes, it’s hard to grasp. And seems too big to confront – what can we each do? What can anyone? No wonder we throw up our hands and turn towards the latest Kardashian antics. No wonder there are people who want to believe the scant 3 percent of scientists who don’t believe in climate change. No one wants to accept a death sentence for their way of life, or even worse, for their future offspring.
That’s the thing: ultimately, I sympathize with people who want to deny that the climate is changing, and that our actions have irreparably harmed our home. I understand the horror that would cause them to stick their heads in the sand and pretend it wasn’t happening. I get it. I don’t want to believe it’s true, either. Who would?
But what I haven’t seen yet is a solitary convincing, cogent, logical argument against climate change. Not that climate deniers don’t try, but their protestations ring palpably false. From glaciers calving to drunken trees, from California’s drought to raging wildfires, we are living in a time of clear, observable change. Change that can be seen with the naked eye, that needs no scientific explanation.
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We’ve had plenty of time to get used to this idea. I grew up, like most people of my generation, immersed in conservation, recycling, and vague conversations about sustainability. Jimmy Carter was roundly criticized thirty years ago for criticizing the American way of life, putting forward the concept of civic sacrifice as a moral response to the energy crisis.
In its own way, working on the tiny house has been equally overwhelming for me. In a perfect world, my attention would be on it 100 percent, but we don’t live in a perfect world — we live in a world where we have to do things we don’t want to do, like pay bills and go to the doctor and eat vegetables and exercise. And that’s the thing about sustainability – none of us WANT to do this. We do things because, like grownups, we learn we have to. Globally, it’s time for us to be grownups.
Which is why I felt I needed to do this project in the first place, and it’s important to remember that. No one can live in a state of constant alarm, no one can stay in the present of an uncomfortable reality all the time. Without a deadline, it’s too easy to put it off until tomorrow. So, although I have been telling myself for the past ten years that I should become sustainable, should attempt to get off the grid, should live a zero-waste lifestyle, it was too easy to become distracted. Just as we have done collectively: constantly become distracted — willfully, desperately — from the looming realities. I need to continually remind myself: I have no more important project than this one, and that as with any long-term project, it's natural for attention to stray. But despite any other needs in my life, this is my most important work.
Spring is coming. The longer days are warmer and crocuses thrust their hopeful faces towards the sun. It’s time for me to strengthen my resolve and thrust my own hopeful face towards the sun. There’s no way to go but forward.
Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, a 2005 Westword MasterMind winner, is blogging about her tiny house project, The Mayday Experiment, on westword.com. If you'd like to support her journey, you can pledge here. See more of her work at lynnxe.com.