Tuesday, January 15, 2013

the rain barrel and persistence of regret - short story

In constructing a rain barrel with two friends a few years ago, we got to a point in the instructions where the spigot is put through a hole cut low in the side of the plastic barrel. The barrel was bright blue plastic, smelling faintly of the slight remains of 55 gallons of balsamic vinegar.  The spigot was a gorgeous brass fitting, a classic of the plumbing arts. We were tired and running out of time from moving the barrel around by car to a place where we could work and struggling with drilling and sawing through plastic with improvised tools.

We looked forward to the moment when the one with the longest arms could reach down inside to attach the nut to the spigot and call it done. As we approached that point I realized we didn't have any rubber washers to snug between the brass parts and the blue plastic.  One of my compatriots tried to convince me that the rubber washers simply weren't necessary.  I knew him to be someone who once he took a view, tended to hold it, so I wondered how to convince him otherwise. I told him that without the washers the barrel would fail some day. He didn't believe me.

Then I had a realization that had far more to do with my friend's personality than anything else at the moment. I told him that the opening and shutting of the spigot, combined with the water pressure, would wear away at the barrel immediately, and it would leak every day.  I also agreed to go find a hardware store and get the washers. That proved to be about an twelve mile trip, as it was a weekend afternoon in a small town. I was glad I did, as the washers, once installed a day or so later, performed perfectly.

What seemed key to the persuasion process was to describe the immediate daily event of leaking.  In contrast, the probability of barrel failure at some moment in the uncertain future did not convince.  Moreover, an inevitable certainty of barrel failure in the future did not convince!

Is this not like many decisions?  The probability of climate change in the future does not motivate.
Yet visible changes in one's daily life - the overwintering insects and the different weather, even though they are not yet total system failure  - are more convincing. Present circumstances nudge us to act.

Someone might say that we do listen to probabilities; after all, we buy insurance. But I'm thinking that there's something about seeing evidence of house fires, floods, mud slides, car crashes, and sick people that is different from probabilities alone.  That background evidence is like having a leak in the barrel dripping every moment of every day which prompts a persistence of regret, had we not installed the washers before loading up with water.

At what point in climate change do we develop an awareness of the earth as we know it soon to be dripping away, in fact already dripping away, and decide to act?

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