Greta Thunberg & Faith in a Seed
December's full moon graced the sky last night. It is often referred to as the Cold Moon, Long Night's moon or the Moon before Yule. All very appropriate names as this is the month when the cold fastens its grip upon the earth and the nights are at their longest and darkest. This past week also saw the unveiling of TIME Magazine's Person of the Year, sixteen year old Swedish citizen, Greta Thunberg. Over the past year Greta has thrown a cold, laser-like light on climate change and the lack of response to this crisis by governments world-wide. Greta's response to this inaction was to do whatever she could and to that end, she began a school strike in August 2018. This meant that instead of attending classes, on weekdays she camped out in front of the Swedish Parliament, holding a sign that read Skolstrejk för Klimatet: “School Strike for Climate”. As she states, “Since you adults don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either,” With each passing day, Greta was joined by more supporters and rather quickly this effort grew into a global youth movement. Besides inspiring millions of people around the globe, she has also become the catalyst for some governments and businesses to enact policy changes and for two new phrases becoming part of our lexicon. To learn more about the courageous efforts of Greta Thunberg, click on her image)
In addition to TIME, this week I was also reading Henry David Thoreau’s last manuscript, Faith in a Seed, which includes his previously unpublished work, The Dispersion of Seeds. As I was reading this seminal piece of writing on all manner of seeds that Thoreau found in and around his beloved Walden Woods, I was struck by how many words and references I needed to add to my "look this up" list. With most books that I read there are only a few words that I find necessary to explore further, but this was not the case with The Dispersion of Seeds. As my list grew and grew, I found that generally the words I wrote down fell into three groups. The first were words that had rarely crossed my lips, including: rod (as a unit of measure), hoar-frost, freshets, windrows, pericarp, samarae, strobile, packthread and residuum. The second group were people whose work I was not familiar with including: Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder, Francois Andre Michaux and John Gerarde. The last group was composed of plant and animal names. This group included: saxifrages, louseworts, sweet gale, whortleberries and Great Crested and Small Green Crested Flycatchers.
As I sat and pondered my lists, I thought of how much our language and knowledge base has changed in the 157 years since Thoreau's death. So many words associated with our natural environment have disappeared from many of our dictionaries. But was that all that had changed? I wondered, were all of the plants and animals that he mentioned still commonly found in and around Concord, Massachusetts? These questions led me to Richard B. Primack's book Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau's Woods(2014) and a study completed in 2007 by several Boston University students. By 2007, it was discovered that 27% of the species documented by Thoreau had already been lost, and 36% existed in such low numbers that their chances of survival were limited. Primack found through his research that the main reason for these alarming changes, which had further escalated, was climate change. The average temperature in Concord has increased by approximately 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century and while some plants have managed to adapt by changing their flowering times, often blooming more than six weeks earlier then Thoreau noted, other plants that were not able to adapt to these temperature changes and/or were no longer in sync with the arrival of pollinating insects, disappeared. My thoughts circled back to Greta Thunberg. The losses at Walden Woods were only a snippet of the losses and temperature changes that are happening worldwide, threatening the stability of the future of all of our youth.
After noticing a hundredfold increase in its usage, lexicographers at Collins English Dictionary named Thunberg’s pioneering idea, climate strike, the word of the year, while in Sweden, flying is increasingly seen as a wasteful emission of carbon—a change of attitude captured by a new word: flygskam, meaning “flight-shame.” In this age of the Anthropocene, lets hope that we learn to follow the bright light of our youth and sow as many seeds of hope as we can by continuing to add words of positive action and healing back into our vocabulary. Hopefully, by the time next year's Moon before Yule appears in the sky we will have something significant to celebrate.