This is a story about bad timing.
One of the most disturbing ways that climate change is already playing out is through what ecologists call "mismatch" or "mistiming." This is the process whereby warming causes animals to fall out of step with a critical food source, particularly at breeding times, when the failure to find enough food can lead to rapid population losses.
Scientists are studying cases of climate-related mistiming among dozens of species, from caribou to pied flycatchers. But there is one important species they are missing: us. Homo sapiens.
We, too, are suffering from a terrible case of climate-related mistiming, albeit in a cultural-historical rather than a biological, sense.
Our problem is that climate change is a collective problem demanding collective action the likes of which humanity has never actually accomplished. Yet it entered mainstream consciousness in the midst of an ideological war being waged on the very idea of the collective sphere.
The good news is that, unlike reindeer and songbirds, we humans are blessed with the ability to adapt more deliberately - to change old patterns of behaviour with remarkable speed. If the ideas that rule our culture are stopping us from saving ourselves, then it is within our power to change those ideas.
But before that can happen, we first need to understand the nature of our personal climate mismatch.
Climate change demands that we consume less, but being consumers is all we know. Climate change is not a problem that can be solved simply by changing what we buy - a hybrid instead of an SUV, some carbon offsets when we get on a plane. At its core, global warming is a crisis born of overconsumption by the comparatively wealthy, which means the world's most manic consumers are going to have to consume less.
Late capitalism teaches us to create ourselves through our consumer choices: shopping is how we form our identities, find community and express ourselves. Thus, telling people that they can't shop as much as they want to because the planet's support systems are overburdened can be misunderstood as a kind of attack, akin to telling them that they cannot truly be themselves. Climate change is slow, and we are fast.
When you're racing through a rural landscape on a bullet train, it looks as if everything you're passing is standing still: people, tractors, cars on country roads. They aren't, of course. They are moving, but at a speed so slow compared with the train that they appear static.
So it is with climate change.
Our culture, powered by fossil fuels, is that bullet train. Our changing climate is like the landscape out the window: from our racy vantage point, it can appear motionless, but it is moving, its slow progress measured in receding ice sheets, swelling waters and incremental temperature rises.
The problem is not just that we're moving too quickly. It is also that the terrain on which the changes are taking place is intensely local: an early blooming of a particular flower, an unusually thin layer of ice on a lake, the late arrival of a migratory bird. Noticing those kinds of subtle changes requires an intimate connection to a specific ecosystem.
That kind of communion happens only when we know a place deeply, not just as scenery but also as sustenance, and when local knowledge is passed on with a sense of sacred trust from one generation to the next. But that is increasingly rare in the urbanized, industrialized world.
We tend to abandon our homes lightly - for a new job, a new school, a new love. Even for those of us who manage to stay put, our daily existence can be disconnected from the physical places where we live. We might have no idea that a historic drought is destroying the crops on the farms that surround our urban homes, since the supermarkets still display miniature mountains of imported produce, with more coming in by truck all day.
It takes something huge - like a hurricane that passes all previous high-water marks, or a flood destroying thousands of homes - for us to notice that something is truly amiss.
The other mismatch has to do with our relationship to the unseen.
When I published No Logo a decade and a half ago, readers were shocked to learn of the abusive conditions under which their clothing and gadgets were manufactured. But we have since learned to live with it. Ours is an economy of ghosts, of deliberate blindness.
And air is the ultimate unseen, the greenhouse gases that warm it our most elusive ghosts.
Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, yet climate change is all about how what generations in the past and present did will inescapably affect not just the present but eons in the future.
This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it's about recognizing that we are the products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.
And just as we have changed before, we can change again.
After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our "home place" more than any other, I asked if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. "Stop somewhere," he replied. "And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place."
That's good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.
A version of this article was first published in the Nation and in the Guardian. Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate, will be published in September by Random House Canada.