Local Sadness

Last year, a toxic algal bloom in Lake Austin killed three dogs. It was the kind of small town story that was big only to people who live in Austin. It was also a reminder that you aren’t actually supposed to swim in Lady Bird Lake.

Algal blooms are not an issue unique to Austin (Florida). But they are becoming more common. Runoff into the lake and warmer temperatures contribute to the persistence of algal blooms. It’s not a direct line from climate change to a toxic lake, but it looms in the periphery of every conversation. Small things keep happening and we don’t want to accept that they are part of a larger thing of biblical proportions.

Zadie Smith in Feel Free writes about the small ways climate change is changing London:

It was easy to assume, for example, that we would always be able to easily find a hedgehog in some corner of a London garden, pick it up in cupped hands, and unfurl it for our children—or go on a picnic and watch fat bumblebees crawling over the mouth of an open jam jar. Every country has its own version of this local sadness.

My favorite local spot is Lake Austin. It’s kind of an unbelievable place. When the weather is good, and it frequently is good in Austin, there are hordes of boys playing flag football on the shores, teenage girls sunning themselves on the docks, and toddlers playing in the sand. There’s a nostalgic quality to it. It feels like it could slip away.


You’re not meant to mention the minor losses, they don’t seem worth mentioning—not when compared to the visions of apocalypse.

Of course I wonder whether a massive climate event could happen where I live. A fire or a drought certainly seem plausible, and terrifying. But small losses happen slowly and then all at once. It seems privileged to speak of them. A non-charismatic species here, a migration path there, the seasonality of a local fruit. Changed, going, gone.


The apocalyptic scenarios did not help—the terrible truth is that we had a profound, historical attraction to apocalypse. In the end, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds was the intimate loss of the things we loved.


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