Tom Valasek is a retired community-college professor who began writing poetry in his 70’s. His poems often concern the environment. Here he whimsically considers a chain of events that might lead the way to our coping with pollution.
Pipe Dream for Earth Day
I imagine a tanker ten time larger than Exxon Valdez
with a giant sea shovel powered by solar
that will scoop up great gobs of plastic
from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
and compress it into blocks denser than osmium
for foundations of earthquake-proof buildings
with no carbon footprint and lush rooftop gardens
that will suck all the carbon from smog over China
and close the ozone hole over the Arctic
so Norwegian scientists won’t need to worry about melanoma
and devote all their talents to hydrogen fusion
or algorithms to stunt the impact of overpopulation
and reduce our consumption of fossil-fuel products
so we can spend our free time planting more trees.
How hard can that be?
When I was 14, my father brought me down to the furnace area in our basement to show me the water, food, and other supplies he had stockpiled to the ceiling. He gave me memory tips for finding my way to his hometown in North Dakota and the drug store where “they will take you in” if the East coast was bombed. I remember watching Kennedy on television in 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis the first year I was at college and thinking I might never get home. Into the 1980s, the nightmare was that if the shock waves and the fallout didn’t get us, the global chill from the atomic dust would.
The melting Arctic (scitechdaily.com)
Today the grand anxiety is of global warming instead of nuclear winter. Here in New Jersey, though, the concern is subdued. The state energy plan is all about natural gas and new pipelines, it’s a rare house that has solar panels, and people build new homes, on stilts at least, along the water.
The complacency about global warming comes in part from our disconnect from the environment. Rain and temperature are important to people according to how much or how little difference they seem to make in our lives. Perhaps early farmers and hunters, closer to the earth, would have reacted more readily to predictions of hotter summers or worse flooding. But in American suburbia, environment is mostly background. Weather is good or bad, a day is “beautiful” or not. The climate doesn’t feel closely connected to the food we buy or how well our houses keep us warm. Climate of course intrudes when storms hit or temperatures are extreme, but otherwise our human world is just that—a world settled and run by humans, not one bounded by nature.
We know better. We need to heed the data and find the will to act. We won’t have the fall of the Soviet Union to help get us through this time.