Today the Statesman Journal had a front page story about homeless campers being flooded out of Cascades Gateway Park following the recent heavy rains.
This story didn't shock me, because I recall the same thing happening at Wallace Marine Park not too long ago, seemingly last year or the year before. Yet I should have been shocked by the very idea of people in the United States having to sleep outdoors because they lack a home.
There's an old saying, familiarity breeds contempt. It also appears to lead to complacency.
This is dangerous when it comes to problems facing our society. If we get used to bad situations, they can come to seem acceptable to us, since we tend to forget what life was like before the problem became so serious.
The March 9, 2019 issue of New Scientist, which I'm just getting around to reading, has an article called "Not such a hot topic: Bizarre weather is soon viewed as normal and that is troubling news." It talks about people getting used to climate change, but the boiling frog analogy pertains broadly.
We measured the literal remarkability of temperatures by seeing how much comment they generated on Twitter. Hot and cold conditions resulted in lots of posts, particularly if they were unusual for the time of year.
But temperatures quickly became unremarkable: after just a couple of years of strange temperatures, people stopped tweeting about them. Our best estimate is that people base their idea of normal weather on what happened in just the past two to eight years.
...The tale of the boiling frog has long been used to describe the dangers posed by change that happens slowly relative to people's perception and memory. The apocryphal story compares a frog dropped into a pot of boiling water, who jumps out right away, to another placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated up.
This frog never recognises the danger it is in and eventually boils to death.
Our findings suggest that we may be at risk of becoming boiling frogs -- but we can still determine our fate. There are plenty of records we can use to provide the longer-term context critical for understanding climate change.
Normally, keeping things in perspective makes problems seem smaller, but the opposite is true regarding climate change.
I've lived in Oregon since 1971, forty-nine years. Global warming has increased a lot during that period. In the old days, storm after storm would hit Oregon. Sometimes it would rain almost constantly for weeks. Usually the Willamette Valley would get snow during winter. Ice storms were quite common, bringing scary freezing rain.
Now it's rare that I need the winter tires that I put on our cars in November. I'm pretty sure that not a flake of snow has fallen the past three years. Many fir trees in our rural south Salem neighborhood are dying, at least partly because of hot summers and below normal rainfall.
Yet it's tempting to say "We're having a mild dry winter" as if this is something good, or at least nothing to be worried about. In truth, global warming is worth worrying a lot about, because it threatens the habitability of Planet Earth for us humans.
Most people know this. However, only those of us old enough to remember when the climate was considerably different have a lived experience of global warming -- a powerful way to be continually shocked by how the world's climate is changing.
Likewise, homeless advocates here in Salem have a broader perspective on this problem than those of us who have only become fully aware of it in the past few years. It's easy to look upon the flooding of homeless camps as simply something that happens every year, like geese flying south for the winter.
Again, we should be perpetually shocked by the sight of a homeless person, because homelessness should be very rare in a rich country like ours.
On a shorter time frame, it bothers me that over 325,000 people have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit the United States early this year, and a good share of Americans look upon this death toll with a yawn. Do they not care about their fellow citizens, or have they become used to the Covid frog being boiled so steadily, the demise of so many fails to shock any more?
Probably a bit of both.
Today 3,379 Covid deaths were reported. By comparison, the 9/11 attacks in 2001 killed 2,977, and the United States embarked on a decades long effort to punish those responsible and learn how the tragedy happened. Now COVID-19 is killing a 9/11 worth of people each day with regularity, yet our country just wants to get health clubs, restaurants, and schools open as soon as possible.
Naturally other examples can be given of how outrage either is lacking, or has a short memory -- the Black Lives Matter movement, for example.
Some improvements have been made to policing practices, but by and large, new questionable killings of Blacks aren't met with the same outpouring of support for the victims as was the case after the George Floyd murder.
Obviously it isn't possible for us to be in a constant state of shock at all of the crappy things happening in the world. That way lies madness, or at least an unhealthy degree of stress. We need to pick and choose where our sense of outrage is directed. I'm simply saying that we all should look upon societal problems clearly, compassionately, and continually.
Closing our mind to a problem because it has become familiar to us doesn't make the problem go away. It merely assures that when it pops up in our awareness again, likely the problem will be worse.