The documentary film Samuel in the Clouds by Pieter Van Eecke opens with dripping sounds- water drops from the ceiling into tea cups and metal pots. Droplets trickle down hand carved wooden eaves. It is a symphony of sounds, beautiful and melodic but also ominous. A metronome. A ticking clock.
For generations, Samuel Mendoza’s family has run a ski lift on this mountain in the Andes. But the glacier, considered a holy place, serving as both a spiritual and economic center, is melting. And with it, the family business. The film doesn’t preach- it doesn’t fill our heads with statistics of glacial loss or the rising tides of coastal cities - it simply guides us to this wild endangered land and asks us to bear witness. To sit with the mountain wind and rocky landscape. To watch the archival footage of a more prosperous, snowy, past, To listen to the quiet sounds of climate change.
In the wake of this administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate agreement I’m thinking about my own complicity in the coming environmental disaster. I like to consider myself one of the good guys. I recycle. I compost. We have chickens for goodness sake. But I am reminded of all that I take for granted, the everyday conveniences that directly impact someone’s life on the other side of the globe. My little luxuries versus their struggle to survive. And not owning this feels very much like the magical thinking that makes it okay for the U.S. to create greenhouse gases and be the primary polluter on the planet, but refuse to help clean up the mess.
I’m thinking of all the little ways our daily choices add to this problem. The Keurig cups and clamshells of organic salad greens. The bottled water and plastic straws and idling cars in the drive through lines. It seems that one of the biggest ways I contribute to climate change is simply because I say I don’t have enough time. I rush from from place to place, grabbing fast food while speeding down I- 40, because I don’t have time to cook. I drive from work, to rehearsal, to somewhere else because there is lousy public transportation in my town and I don’t have time to carpool or wait for a bus. But what does it mean when I don’t have time to prepare food in an ethical way? Or plant a few greens in the patch I call my own? If I am honest with myself I actually do have the time to do these things. I am simply choosing not to. To grow and prepare some of my own food. To make sure the cloth bags are in the trunk before I head to the store. To consolidate trips in the car. To take the time to slow down and stop pleading busyness as my excuse for dissing the planet.
I hope in the future when I am rushing around I will reconsider my pace and remember the sad beauty of Samuel in the Clouds and the image of that once majestic glacier, steadily melting away.