What kinds of change will we embrace with open arms so that our children can have a fighting chance of survival? What will we do today, tomorrow, and the next day to make a shift to a sustainable society?

By Rivera Sun

We all have our reasons for getting alarmed about the climate crisis. With bare ground at Christmas and no snow on the horizon, my neighbors just got theirs. This Northern Maine valley nestles against the border of Canada – and winter without snow is unfathomable.

no snow on ski slope

Snowmobiling is a big deal around here. While most of Maine suffers its tourist season along with the blackflies and summer sunburns, my neck of our vast woods gets its annual rush of visitors when the snow starts flying.

They come to these northern reaches with their snowmobiles on trailers to go joyriding over our endless miles of trail system. There’s a breathless thrill to speeding over three feet of glorious snow at 30-80 mph.

But not this year. The local hospitality bookings plummeted with cancellations when 40°F pouring rain melted our paltry snow in mid-December. My neighbors stare forlornly at the bare ground and reluctantly concede to taking their four-wheelers out instead of the snowmobiles.

The weather forecast is freakishly sunny and the 1-2 inches hesitantly projected for the New Year won’t be nearly enough to snowmobile on. We might not even break out our shovels.

For context, on a ‘normal’ year, by the time the second week of January plunges to -20°F in the daytime, we keep warm by hurling the latest 6-inch snowfall up over the 4-foot embankments along the driveway. Bare ground at this time of year is head-spinning.

This is the climate crisis.

Just down the road, the older gentleman who adamantly argued with me at the post office, denying the reality of global warming, must be scratching his head. A disquieted wondering must be going through him as he stares at the greenish grass.

It’s okay to change your mind, I want to murmur to him. Millions of Americans are doing the same thing.

They’re seeing their relatives evacuate their homes as forest fires – intensified through drought – burn closer and closer. They’re worried about older friends in the extreme heat that gets worse each summer.

They’re sending money to church groups that help with flood relief when the 500-year floods strike twice in a decade. They’re looking at the faces of their children and grandchildren and realizing that the dire predictions of climate scientists are not an abstract future anymore.

It’s the reality that their most precious loved ones will face. What will his grandchildren live through?

Up by the beautiful lake, where the ice-fishing shacks are still lined up on the shore waiting for the ice to thicken up enough to drive on, the local politicians – who have been ignoring the climate crisis like ostriches with their heads in the sand – must be tossing and turning with unease. Is it too late to do something? What can they do?

In the 100-year-old farmhouse that has sheltered seven generations of potato farmers, the mother of three children and eight grandchildren is wrestling with the contradictions of our culture. She wants to preserve her farm and worries about low yields after a hot, rainy summer.

She just got back from visiting one of her far-flung kids at Christmas. They say flying is one of the worst things for the environment. If she wants to save the farm, will she have to give up visiting her kids?

You can almost hear similar thoughts rumbling through our valley: Is this normal? (No.) Should we do something? Petition public officials? Hold a protest? Let the kids go on school strike? What will make a difference? Does any of it really matter? (The answer to the last two questions is yes, by the way. Your actions now do make a difference and they do matter to the future of humanity.)

In 2024, we need to ask ourselves these kinds of uncomfortable – and sometimes downright terrifying – questions. What will we give up so that humanity and the planet can have a livable future? What kinds of change will we embrace with open arms so that our children can have a fighting chance of survival? What will we do today, tomorrow, and the next day to make a shift to a sustainable society?

There are sacrifices to be made, of course. Families are taking on debt to convert their houses to renewables. Utilities are investing in the switch. Companies have to go out on a limb to push their industry to change. We cannot sustain the level of air travel we currently enjoy. And yes, it is possible that we can’t justify the energy expense of pleasure-riding on snowmobiles.

But if giving up your snowmobile could ensure a future for your children, would you do it? I know I would.

On the other hand, there is a future – a beautiful one – waiting for us. It is healthy, clean, hopeful. And it’s already on its way.

That potato farming mother has a solar farm in one of her fields.

This year, those local politicians worked with our state rep to secure $35 million to restore fish habitat for endangered alewives, trout, and Atlantic salmon.

Even my climate-denying neighbor put in a heat pump last year, grumbling about the jacked-up price of oil.

We need to escalate these kinds of actions exponentially. There is something for all of us to do.

Maybe you are a local loan officer who can approve energy efficiency loans to homeowners.

Or a senior citizen with a retirement fund you can divest from fossil fuels.

Perhaps you are a company manager who could cut back on air travel for your industry.

Or an alumni of a university that could make the switch to renewable power.

You may serve on a church committee that could help people prioritize care of the Earth this year.

Or maybe you’re on a school board, town council, or county commission that could pass important climate measures.

There are countless actions that we can take. And we must take them. Now, not next year. Let The Winter Without Snow be a wake-up call for all of us. There isn’t a moment to waste.