The Earth Underneath My Feet


The Earth Underneath My Feet: Image showing the bottom of a tiny foot.
Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

I was wearing grey sneakers

With two black stripes

And black shoe laces,

Poorly tied.

I ran home.

From school.

To my grandmother.


I said:

Grandma,

My teacher said the Earth is changing,

Is it true?


Grandma,

He said you can’t see it but there’s carbon di-ox-ide in the atmosphere. He said

There’s more of it.

He said it’s warmer.

He said spring is coming sooner. Is that true?


Grandma, is the Earth really changing?


My grandmother said:


I have felt the Earth underneath my feet go dry. Crunchy.

I have felt the hot earth underneath my feet. Scorching.


I have felt it hollow.

I’ve heard the echo of every footstep amplify.

Heard the soft crumbling under my feet.


I’ve seen the earth underneath my feet peel off. Barren.


I’ve smelled the earth underneath my feet. I’ve smelled the strong odorless scent of plastic.

I’ve smelled the earth infused with heavy metals. A woody note of mercury then, a sweet note of lead and a hint of arsenic.


I have felt the earth softly tremble under my feet.

I heard it breathe heavily. Almost choking.

I have seen it cry. Black tears.

I have smelled it smoke. Stacks stories high.


I know the earth underneath my feet. She is an aging woman.

Metabolism slowing down. Green hair slowly falling out.


But, I’ve heard her whisper under her breath that aging ain’t for sissies.


She is nostalgic, though. She commemorates the good ol’ days by spreading ashes of cremated trees in her backyard.


She loves food. Even when she is full, she can’t stop munching on pollution chips.


She never learned her lesson. She still has a weakness for spicy food despite having acid reflux disease. Her favourite hot sauce is carbon dioxide and she pours it on everything Despite knowing that is a recipe for pain in her coral-lined stomach.


She is fierce. Whenever she is tired of winter, she just takes off her white coat and pretends it’s spring.


She is girly. Especially when she wears that playful perfume of premature spring,


She is an aging woman. But, oh boy does she have character!


I know the Earth underneath my feet.


I have smelled it. I have seen it. I have heard it. And,

I, have felt it. And,


It’s changing.


So I asked.


Grandma, do you think I don’t feel it because I never walk barefoot anymore?

When I wrote this poem, I asked:

How do we know about environmental change?

We have certainly made great progress in understanding the Earth system and the

biosphere, as well as the processes that underlie them. Thanks to sophisticated models and elaborate studies, we know so much: from the link between greenhouses gases and global mean temperatures [1], to the increased frequency of mass coral bleaching events [2], and changes in species distribution [3].

But are these the only ways of knowing?

There are those who used to be able to tell "when the rains would come" [4].

Those with traditional practices of "reading" the landscape [5]. And, those simply fighting "to stay alive" despite imminent sea level rise [6].

Do they not know because they do not speak the language of radiative forcing [7], social metabolism [8], and net primary production [9]?

Of course, they do.

Albert Eisten once said—more eloquently than I could ever put it—that "[w]e cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them". So, I wonder what we can learn—in a non-tokenistic way—from other knowledge systems, to both better understand and address environmental change, and more generally other current issues.

Finally, here is an invitation to ponder.

Whose knowledge do we value? What forms of knowledge do we exclude or marginalize in the spaces that we create? How can we curate spaces where a plurality of knowledge can thrive?

[1] David Archer, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, 2nd ed (Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons, 2012).


[2] Terry P. Hughes et al., “Global Warming and Recurrent Mass Bleaching of Corals,” Nature 543, no. 7645 (March 2017): 373–77, https://doi.org/10.1038/nature21707.


[3] Christine S. Sheppard, Bruce R. Burns, and Margaret C. Stanley, “Predicting Plant Invasions under Climate Change: Are Species Distribution Models Validated by Field Trials?,” Global Change Biology 20, no. 9 (September 2014): 2800–2814, https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.12531.


[4] Philip Antwi-Agyei et al., “Adaptation Opportunities and Maladaptive Outcomes in Climate Vulnerability Hotspots of Northern Ghana,” Climate Risk Management 19 (2018): 87, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.crm.2017.11.003.


[5] Karen Elizabeth McNamara and Ross Westoby, “Solastalgia and the Gendered Nature of Climate Change: An Example from Erub Island, Torres Strait,” EcoHealth 8, no. 2 (June 2011): 235, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-011-0698-6.


[6]#1point5toStayAlive Caribbean Climate Matters!,” accessed April 22, 2020, http://1point5.info/en/.


[7] Archer, Global Warming.


[8] Yadvinder Malhi, “The Metabolism of a Human-Dominated Planet,” in Is the Planet Full?, ed. Ian Goldin (Oxford University Press, 2014), 142–63, https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199677771.003.0008.


[9] Helmut Haberl, Karl-Heinz Erb, and Fridolin Krausmann, “Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production: Patterns, Trends, and Planetary Boundaries,” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 39, no. 1 (October 17, 2014): 363–91, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-environ-121912-094620.

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