One of the happy news items during the last couple of months has been the fact that around the world in many places the air has cleared up. Not everywhere, but in formerly extreme hazy locations, such as Mexico City, Los Angeles, New Delhi, people were able to witness blue skies never seen before in their lifetime. It is encouraging that in a relatively short period of time, forced collective behavioral change can result in slowing down and even reversing our path toward climatic catastrophe. A brighter future with cleaner air is within our realm of possibilities. 

It is thus ironic that we cannot fully enjoy this clean air by inhaling and exhaling fully and deeply, as most of us are mask-muffled to protect ourselves and fellow human being from being infected with a virus that has taken this air as its favorite form of transportation. Conversing at close distance can be a health hazard. Reading however is harmless.

I am reading a book that has been on my wishlist for a long time. “Scent of the Vanishing Flora” by Roman Kaiser, who is a fragrance chemist. It is a record of his scientific research capturing the scents of endangered flowers  throughout his career. Ephemeral as they are, these chemical, volatile, voices have been muffled all over the world by the heavily polluted air that swirls around our globe since we seriously started our combustion of coal, oil and gas about 150 years ago. Although free to let it all out, unfortunately many of these flowers are now endangered or are already extinct, lost is their visual beauty and their contribution to biodiversity. Also lost are their chemical messages, signaling their pollinators at specific times. Lost are their chemical compositions that have contributed to our atmosphere.

The subtle ‘voices,’ poetic yet essential, sometimes so powerful because of their sheer number, such as experienced when moving along a citrus orchard in bloom. Remembering the wheat fields of my youth full of cornflowers, Centaurea cyanus, now a rare sight and I cannot even remember what they smelled like. Victims of our overzealous industrial agricultural practices, aromatic messages muffled by our fossil fuel hunger.

AUg11colorwave copy

What may the future hold, is it possible for us to keep our skies blue after the virus disappears from our airspace or is no longer a deadly threat. Are we going back to living as were climate change not a deadly threat.

In northern Germany and vicinities the current days are hot, we are experiencing tropical temperatures reaching over 30 degrees Celsius. Cheesemaking is difficult because the cheese sticks to the forms, too hot, and we have no air conditioning. Of course this is the western world and we can adapt technologically. This is however not the case in many other places in the world where heat and droughts is forcing people to leave their homelands.  Climate change is not a problem that affects us all equally though, instead it further drives a wedge between rich and poor. 

I don’t know anybody in the western world who has decided to give up their car or second car recently. We are still discussing how to address rising energy needs for the near future, with ‘green’ energy preferably, and amply time and energy is spent to make that happen. Just so we can for instance continue to produce massive amounts of milk products, feeding our cows fodder from fields far away. Wait a minute, from places where many flowers are disappearing due to over exploitation. The flowers speak a beautiful language but too delicate for us to take notice.

aug11_dryflower

If we could speak these languages and hear the messages conveyed throughout our airspace, blue skies and scented signals I hope that we not only understand the poetics but the necessity of what these messages or the absence thereof tell us. At least now we have an idea what it is like to be muffled, maybe it will generate some empathy toward our floral co-habitants and trigger some needed behavioral changes. Flowers for me are the origin of aesthetic appreciation, and much more, I don’t think I can live without them. 

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/06/climate/climate-change-inequality-heat.html