The rafts pictured here are about to descend into the Taos Upper Box, some of the whitest water in the western United States. This photo was taken was from the cliffs above the Rio Grande Gorge on a windy day in May when the river was full of spring melt run-off, a time of particular danger because the volume of the water is especially high. As we stood watching these rafts head downstream I was thinking how glad I was not to be on one of them no matter how expert the person steering might be. It just felt like a bad day to be taking such a risk in a notoriously dangerous part of the river. Turns out I was right to be queasy about this. Not long after the picture was taken a headline in the Taos News reported the third fatality on the river in a month.
photo by Edward Scheps
Why am I focusing on this? To make the point that we have a tendency to ignore the risks of our behavior. We ignore warnings from experts about all manner of poor choices. Whether it is smoking cigarettes, drinking too much alcohol, or failing to brush or floss our teeth, we've been warned again and again. Lapses of personal responsibility can and will hurt us as individuals. But they probably won't cause harm to others and we can stop these behavior if we choose to do so. I don't have to get on that raft headed downstream.
Sadly, there are other risks that are happening at a societal and global level that make a raft trip on the Upper Box look like a garden party. Yesterday, the 4th of July, was the hottest single day on record worldwide in all of time! Many areas are so hot that no one can go outside at all! Deaths from heatstroke are skyrocketing. Even the small minority of humans who are paying attention have no idea what to do. And we have six years, SIX YEARS, to figure this out!
What is to be done? I figured out a long time ago that I didn't want to smoke, wanted to keep my teeth and didn't want to go on a raft trip in the Taos Box. For years I've been taking care to make choices that promote my survival and that of those around me. But with the decisions we make collectively all I can do is pray and vote. At least I can vote! I can't control greed, ignorance or hatred or the people motivated by them. I can only observe the laws of cause and effect that have operated relentlessly from the big bang to now. As I observe, I notice how rapidly we are losing control in the accumulation of unintended consequences. We are flying down a river in the whitest water of my lifetime and our guides are barely hanging on. I don't like our present odds. I will try to be brave, to be kind, to be focused or what is true and just, but the truth is I have to stay on this raft because there is nowhere else to go.