Martha Merson


I’ve been living in Jamaica plain since 1992, and gardening there since 1994, but I was born and raised in Maine, so I’ve always been aware of weather in New England. Over that time, I haven’t exactly kept records, but I remember that growing up, it was colder in September, and 2012 was the first year I was biking wearing both shorts and mittens. I remember thinking, “This is weather is confusing!” It wasn’t like spring, or winter, it wasn’t like anything – chaotic.

I remember when I was a teenager in the late 1970s, early 1980s, there was a lot of buzz surrounding acid rain, and forest death in Germany, and that gave me the sense that we’re part of a system, so as I learned about climate change, it fit. It’s obvious that there’s a discernable human impact on the natural world.

There are many aspects of my life that connect me to nature, and to the climate. I bike to and from work pretty much year-round, and I swim outdoors as much as possible. During the growing season I grow food in a community garden. When there’s snow I go cross-country skiing, and when there’s not, I like to go camping. Because of that, the cues the environment sends me are a huge part of my life. When it’s time for strawberry picking, that’s what I need to be doing, and I get really cranky if other responsibilities get in the way. I don’t like things to stand between me and fruit picking. I may not be as enthusiastic about raking yard waste, but when that needs to be done, I have to be doing it.

Everything that’s going on right now with regards to climate change is very distressing to me. I have trouble sleeping at night, I find myself resenting people who refuse to change their behavior, and concerned about people who can’t seem to see what’s going on.

I try to mentally prepare myself for coming changes, like the idea that not long from now, if I want to see certain species I would expect around here, I’ll have to go to Maine. I see the same sort of thing in people I interact with; the other gardeners I see around sometimes will throw out the occasional crack, like, “We’ll be gardening in February next year – see you then!” It’s a joke, but it’s not. If you go to the Jamaica Plain Forum, there are events where they’re talking about being a resilient community, or what we’re doing about food supply.

There’s an air of awareness of the problem in the circles I move in, but when I go visit my sister in New Mexico, it doesn’t feel like the issue has infiltrated into the normal culture there in the same way. My sister’s on the same page as me, but she’s very isolated out there. My dad’s on board too, to a degree, but it seems like people who grew up in the 1950s had a real sense that they were entitled to use the world’s resources however they wanted to. That seems to tie into a sort of stubborn skepticism about environmental issues. My father is a bit skeptical about climate change, but living in Florida, he’s certainly aware of hurricanes and hurricane insurance costs. Although he also pays attention to the water level on the golf course, and has been noticing changes there, he doesn’t actively take an interest. 

I feel like the right tools for thinking about climate change, or acting on it, aren’t really available. There are things like this app I downloaded the other day that’s supposed to help with your energy footprint, and it’s just so unhelpful. You’re supposed to enter in how many kilowatts of energy you use every day - how am I supposed to know? Maybe if I had that little home energy audit thing and I spent time running around to all my appliances, or scrutinized my energy company’s readout, but – the apps could be more useful than they are. It’s hard to know how to actually do something. 

I think people need to have some kinds of  information more available. I pay close attention to the weather, and remember how the weather is, year to year. I think a lot of people don’t have that awareness. I know a lot of folks, like my aunt, for example, check, and I think if it had an easy-to-see chart or graph comparing to last year at this time - “It was this, and the monthly average right now is this” - it’d be something that would kinda put it in our faces even more. The media does their exaggeration thing, saying stuff like “hottest days on record,” but I’m not sure that’s really what helps people think about anything over time. 

For gardeners, it might be useful to have information about the pests from farther south that are going to be moving north, and how to deal with them – taking a stand before they get here.

Overall, though, I think that a lot of efforts on climate change have the effect of preaching to the choir, so to speak. I think about my cousin in Florida, who married into a very Christian area of Florida, and church became a very big part of her life. A lot of her stuff on Facebook in 2012 was about candidates like Rick Santorum, very much in denial about climate change  – I think if there’s anybody that it would be important to reach, it would be somebody like her, not the people I work with. So what sort of content would I have to pass on to her that would be palatable? I don’t think it would say “climate.” She cares about animals, so maybe focusing on the effect global warming has on animals would get to her.

I think it’s important, for areas like that, to target people like hunters or fishermen – outdoorsmen who’re observing changes, and are aware of them, and might consider being involved, if it didn’t reek of “granola people.” We need to reach out to the people who aren’t already on board, and do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel uncomfortable.