The word “reckoning” can be used in more than one way. It can be defined as “the action or process of calculating or estimating something,” as in “I reckon that boat won’t float.” For my purposes with this column, it can also be defined as, “a time when the consequences of a course of mistakes or misdeeds are felt” as in, “We have come to a day of reckoning.”

Implied in this second definition is a situation that has advanced to a point where time for talk or kicking the problem down the road is no longer an option. Decisive action is required.

Also implied is that the issue or problem has advanced to such a stage that whereas in the past there may not have been true and full awareness of the problem or issue, now information has percolated up to a point where most everyone is familiar with both the problem and the proposed solutions.

For example, the issue of racial equality: Perhaps it’s just my perception or my own evolution, but it seems to me that the reality of centuries of injustice has moved from a generalized awareness that slavery existed in our country to a more granular understanding of the persistence and design of social institutions and attitudes that have evolved over time to enforce inequality.

That is, I think, where we are with the climate crisis. An op-ed in the New York Times, written by Roy Scranton, makes the case by arguing that we should “say goodbye to normal” and acknowledge that whatever our responses are to the climate crisis they will never get us back to what we think of as normal.

He strings together a litany of adverse impacts of the climate crisis; increased fires, not just here in California, but also in the Amazon and even in the Arctic; a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic; near record lows in Arctic sea ice; possible evidence of significant methane release from the Arctic Ocean; research showing that rapidly thawing permafrost is rereleasing more CO2 and methane than predicted; arctic permafrost thawing 70 years earlier than predicted; the year 2020 is one of the hottest on record; bleached coral reefs; collapse of the last fully intact ice shelf in the Canadian Arctic; the fact that few countries in the Paris Climate Agreement are meeting their pledged greenhouse gas reductions; the slowdown of the North Atlantic current, a key driver of global weather, happening twice as fast as predicted; and the accelerating melt rate of the Greenland ice sheet.

He goes on to include negative news about cars, refrigerators and consumption — all in all, a pretty scary list. Central to his article is that we are at a time of reckoning. We know the problem and all its intricacies and we are more aware than ever before of the possible negative consequences in terms of civil unrest, widespread agricultural failure, collapsing fisheries and millions of people dying from thirst, hunger, disease and war.

His argument is that we need to discard the notion of going back to “normal,” that we should instead imagine, define and aim for a “new way of life beyond this one, after the end of fossil-fueled capitalism: not a new normal, but a new ethos adapted to the chaotic world we’ve created.”

He sees the pandemic as a trial, a training-wheels learning experience. “In March last year, watching an unknown plague stalk the land, I felt fear but I also felt hope: the hope that this virus, as horrible as it might be, could also give us the chance to really internalize and understand the fragility and transience of our collective existence.” It’s time for a clear-eyed reckoning.

So how do we get there? My good friend Michael recently sent me an article titled “Our Great Reckoning,” an interview with Eileen Crist on the “Consequences of Human Plunder.” This is not an easy article to summarize, and, as with the article above, it proposes that a radical realignment of our thinking is required, but she goes even further, asking us to stretch our view of the fundamental problem and challenge we are facing.

She speaks from an ecological perspective, pointing out, for example, that our focus on responding to the climate crisis in order to prevent the extinction of species should be broadened to concern over the extinction of entire ecosystems, and that the climate crisis is only one driver of this problem that also includes population growth, overconsumption and technological power.

But, returning to the theme of “reckoning” she asks us to think about why, even now, with so much evidence before us, are we not taking sufficient action to answer the climate crisis. In her words, “The cause of our inaction is ‘human supremacy,’ a largely unconscious belief that Homo Sapiens are the masters of creation rather than just one humble species among millions.”

I find that compelling. There’s an organization, “Care for God’s Creation” that unites many faiths in fighting against the climate crisis and for environmental stewardship which, I reckon, is on to something.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month in The Davis Enterprise. Please send comments to

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on February 3, 2021 | Printed in the February 3, 2021 edition on page A5