Here are two stories about the environment. In the first, we live in sacred and trembling terror regarding the unpredictability of nature and our dependence on water, which cares not for our needs.
A lengthy drought in Europe has exposed carved boulders, known as “hunger stones,” that have been used for centuries to commemorate historic droughts — and warn of their consequences.
The Associated Press reports that hunger stones are newly visible in the Elbe River, which begins in the Czech Republic and flows through Germany.
“Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border,” the AP writes.
One of the stones on the banks of the Elbe is carved with the words “Wenn du mich seihst, dann weine“: “If you see me, weep.”
In the second, we literally shoot the sky, telling nature not to fuck with our manufactured goods, because capitalism is in charge, here. It goes about as well as you might imagine (and this is honestly one of the wildest stories I’ve read in weeks).
Farmers in Cuautlancingo, the rural municipality where the plant is located, claimed that VW’s use of “hail cannons” was causing a drought that has made them lose 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of crops.
In June, VW started using the shockwave generators — sonic devises that purport to disrupt the formation of hail in the atmosphere — to prevent its newly-built vehicles, which are parked in an outdoor lot, from being damaged by the falling ice pellets. The practice purportedly disrupts the formation of hailstones.
Gerardo Perez, a farmers’ representative in the area, said the devices not only disperse hail storms, but all precipitation that has occurred since May, which marks the beginning of the rainy season in Mexico. “The sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain,” he told the news agency AFP, adding that the cannons were “affecting the Earth’s cycles.”
I can’t think of anything more emblematic of the capitalist desire to bend nature into commerce than attacking the sky to ward off hail. It’s really a perfect summation of the mostly-terrible but sort-of-admirable reckless and brash and goofily-self-destructive nature of man to try to defeat weather rather than risk testing the unproven technology of a “roof”.
The thing is, as is clear, these weather cannons do work! They do beat weather, as is shown later on in the story.
VW has officially been granted permission to use hail cannons, although the technology still lacks scientific evidence supporting its efficacy. Ironically, Mexican farmers themselves often deploy the machines as a storm approaches as a means to protect their crops from being damaged.
The thing is, that’s not really ironic. Yes, the farmers don’t want hail to destroy their crops. But they also don’t want to end the existence of weather. VW, at least in this instance, seems to want to. It follows perfectly the logic of commerce: hail is bad, hail comes from clouds, therefore clouds can go pound sand.
But while you might briefly beat the weather, you can’t defeat it. And that’s how these two stories here are related. It would be foolish to say that the drought on the Elbe is only due to climate change; there clearly have been droughts before, otherwise those ancient stones wouldn’t have been there.
It’s also foolish, of course, to say that climate change has nothing to do with it. There are huge and historic droughts all across Europe, and in the US. Nearly 20% of America is undergoing a drought right now, mostly though far from entirely in the West. I don’t think anyone can, in good faith, argue that while there are many causes of droughts, climate change doesn’t at least exacerbate them. And as we know, climate change isn’t a future thing: climate change is already happening, and we’re beginning to see the outlines of what life will be like.
It’s silly to say that we don’t have an impact on the world. We’ve shown that we can more or less end rain just with a couple of hail cannons. The large-scale impact of removing al the carbon buried in the ground and pushing it into the sky and the oceans can’t help but change the climate. That’s what carbon does. That’s what it always has done.
The problem is that, since those hunger stones were carved centuries ago, we forgot to be afraid of nature. We forgot how dependent we are on it. Our species-wide brilliance, which just still might save us, also made us forget that we starve and we thirst. We saw the possibilities of protecting cars from hail, but not the desperate need for water. That’s our genius and our downfall.
For most of our history, we lived in sacred terror of water levels. We scanned the skies yearning for clouds and praying for rain, and then we huddled in terror when it lashed us. We knew what the weather meant. We knew what it meant to live as part of nature, even if we had houses and arquebuses and Goethe.
And then we forgot. We straightened and dammed the rivers. We tried to control the sky. We turned everything into this great experiment in generating wealth, and it worked. Billions rose out of poverty and the grind of daily hunger and fear. But as the waters recede, and those ancient stones cry out for us to weep, we’re remembering. Nature is making a comeback, and she laughs at our tiny weapons.