Let’s Make Lemonade Out of Globally Warmed Lemons

If NY and NJ can survive Hurricane Sandy, maybe we can beat climate change.

As I watched the election returns, I had no idea what the status of my health-care coverage, uterus, or personal morale would be this morning. Yet somehow, I wasn’t worried.

I can’t tell you why, exactly. But I can tell you the nature of this feeling: a warm sort of comfort, a peace that seems to wrap my heart in a light yet doughty blanket. And I can tell you when and where this feeling arose: yesterday morning, watching the blue sky and scudding clouds; yesterday afternoon, seeing the light in South Philly as I walked to my polling place.

Mostly though, I think I found this calm when I started making some mental revisions to my post from last week, “Did We Deserve Hurricane Sandy?,” in which I argued that Hurricane Sandy was a karmic comeuppance. I stand by the general ideals of the post—that climate change is a dire and now foregone conclusion that deserves our undivided and proactive attention—but I’d like to rescind the part about karma.

I am choosing, from here on in, to believe that we humans don’t necessarily deserve to suffer. More than that, I’m not so sure we won’t yet find a way to make lemonade from all these globally warmed lemons.

I have a friend who lives in Greenwich Village; he’s lived there all his life. And last week, when the lights were out across Lower Manhattan, he kept right on living there. So, according to him, did a fair few others: business owners, restaurateurs, jazz musicians. These people served liquor by candlelight, threw meals together from stray ingredients to serve to customers free-of-charge, set up bike-powered charging stations, performed sets without mics but with heart. They figured out how to live together under the conditions allotted them.

The lights are back on and the refrigerators working again in Lower Manhattan, but the hope that’s keeping me warm is that this was not an isolated incident; it was a sign of things to come. My hope is that we will always, we human apes, find ways to adapt to what we are left with—and be a little better for the adaptation.

True, we made these disasters. True, we have destroyed our ice caps and atmospheric integrity. But there’s no going back, and the idea now should be to find the best, the most kind and least harmful way we have of engaging with what will inevitably become our new normal. We need to learn to see, make the best of, and take care of our surroundings and each other again—as it seems the folks who stayed in Lower Manhattan managed to—here and there.

There’s another storm coming: snow, sleet, rain. And there will be more storms after that. But if repeat exposure to harsh weather conditions is what teaches us to see each other again; to share what we have and make what we don’t; to treat ourselves and our surroundings with attention and respect; well then hell, bring on the freak climate patterns. They’re coming anyway.