31 January 2011

A Different Perspective on Fear (Turning Our Cowardice on Its Ear!)

A lovely friend who's a therapist sent round an essay by Dr. Robert Anthony entitled Are You Motivated by Fear?

Dr. Anthony explains that most of us stay in our comfort zone precisely because leaving that little nest makes us feel uncomfortable. He says, "Uncomfortable is a catchall term that encompasses many emotions; fear, unworthiness, doubt, anger, hurt and distrust, to name a few. Since we have labeled these emotions as bad, we don't want to feel them and so we crawl back into our nests."

Now it becomes interesting:
Except for rare occasions, most of the fear that we experience is over imagined circumstances or consequences. But, since fear keeps us from doing things, we never really check out the validity of the fear itself. A feedback loop of fear --> not doing --> ignorance --> then back to fear develops.

[...] Let's look at what happens when the body feels fear; adrenaline, glucose and other energy producing chemicals are released into the bloodstream. Our senses actually sharpen when non-essential fears* such as "Did I remember to [turn off the iron]?" pop up and we gain an instant ability to focus on the task at hand.
And here's the important insight:
When we are outside of our comfort zone, most of the time, the only thing we are in danger of is learning something new.

What is helpful in learning something new? Energy, clarity and the ability to focus — all available to you via your friend, fear.
So, while certain psychologists, mainstream environmental NGOs and several climate scientists keep saying we mustn't frighten the masses by telling them the truth about the climate change emergency we're in and the global catastrophe we're producing, new age therapists and medical doctors know that fear can actually be put to good use. Nothing like a little energy, clarity and focus to help us out of our climate change mess.

* I've thought about the use of that term, non-essential fear. I believe Dr. Anthony means we're not talking the "fight or flight" kind of fear here. And, frankly, most people in most industrialized nations haven't been hit hard enough by the ravages of climate change yet to be truly afraid ... it's still a "non-essential fear" (time-wise for us, not magnitude-wise), which gives us time to put our energy, clarity and focus to work.

23 January 2011

Is Green Investing a Compassionate Climate Action?

I heard someone ask this past week, "Who will be the first to accept 0% on their investments?" The answer, of course, is (a) all those who keep their money under their mattress, and (b) all those who lost huge chunks of their nest eggs when the Big Banks orchestrated that collapse in 2008-2009.

But the question also reminded me that we're not moving in the direction of economic revolution fast enough to safeguard the future; we aren't beatin' 'em, so we'd better join 'em. Let's use "thuh market" to do the right thing.

If you have money invested in stuff that's snuffing the future, then think again. Investing in renewable energy technologies, for example, is good for you and for the planet. Here's a recent update showing that people are making good returns on their investments in green.

It's called Global Investment in Green Energy Hit Record in 2010 by Todd Woody at Grist, and subtitled The Quarter-Trillion-Dollar Opportunity.

The numbers are in and 2010 proved a record year for green energy, investment with venture capitalists, corporations, and governments worldwide pouring $243 billion into wind farms, solar power, electric cars, and other technologies, according to a new report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

That's a 30 percent spike from 2009 and nearly five times the money invested in 2004, the research firm said.

"It flies in the face of skepticism about the clean energy sector among public market investors, who have been concerned about the sustainability of subsidy programs in Europe, the failure of the Obama administration to deliver a climate or an energy deal, and the crescendo of ill-informed doubts about climate change," Michael Liebreich, Bloomberg New Energy Finance's chief executive, said in a statement.

So, if you've got money to invest, find a green way to invest it. And keep encouraging governments to drop fossil fuel subsidies and increase renewable energy subsidies (which are driving investment and progress in renewable energy). That's such a no-brainer, but we all know that most governments don't run on brainpower these days.

16 January 2011

You're a Firework — A Compassion Tune-up

We don't normally use the term "firework" in the singular. And I'm an old fart, so I don't follow the popular music scene much anymore. But a young friend played this song for me yesterday and it has really hit home for me. Apparently Katy Perry wrote the song herself — quite a catchy number — and made an outstanding music video with it, one that has probably saved many, many lives of young people who were feeling like cast-offs.

I took the song — and the visual of the power of one in the video — differently. I was feeling quite low yesterday, like nothing that we do matters anymore. It was a deep, visceral sense of sadness. Our young friend's mom had pointed out that the world's giant scale is weighed quite down on one side by the heaviness (and effectiveness) of those promoting big banks and fossil fuel use and continued consumerism and environmental destruction and erosion of programs that promote social equity. There's just not enough weight on the other side of the scale — not enough people, not enough voices to outweigh (or even to counterbalance) the destructive side.

This video not only reminded me that there are lots of people with their own very real personal pain who aren't yet ready to fight a bigger fight. It also reminded me that I have lots of power inside — and when it's joined with the power of others, we can create synergies. We need to encourage others to take on some of the climate change work so that our voices gain weight, and start getting some movement in the balance. So, please, if you can, take 10 minutes each week to learn one thing about the climate change emergency, or to write one letter to a newspaper, or to talk with one friend or family member about what you know and care about. Let's start putting everyone's individual "firework" together with everyone else's to create fireworks!

09 January 2011

Pinocchio Strikes Again! Mistruths about Ocean Acidification

Our local climate change denialist greeted the new year with a column in a local paper (which I won't read anymore, but this one jumped out at me when I was starting a fire while housesitting at a friend's house) saying that ocean acidification is "absolutely rubbish."

Instead of publishing my response locally, I'm going to place it here, with the hope that it will get wider notice.

Tim Ball is such a pain in the climate change #!% that he has my husband and me arguing over which of his mistruths to spend time responding to (something we vowed today never to let happen again).

So here is my response to his innocent-sounding column, "What is Ocean Acidification?". I should point out that he opens with this quote from Marie Curie:
"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood."
Ball then starts this way: "Scare tactics to create fear," and finishes up with "The entire story is scientific rubbish and part of the ongoing exploitation of fear and lack of understanding Marie Curie identified." Methinks perhaps he was describing his own column!
My Letter to the Editor
I have been a fervent watcher of Tim Ball's dangerous climate change denialist antics over the last few years. He never fails to amaze and entertain me with his ability to knowingly (he is not a stupid man) make so many mistakes in such contorted ways while trouncing on the work of so many scientists. Other readers, however, may have become somewhat confused about ocean acidification after reading his December 31, 2010 column so, with your permission, I would like to clarify a few things.
If ocean acidification (OA) had been invented by governments or climate change activists, then perhaps Ball's statement that OA is "[s]care tactics to create fear" would be correct. However, ocean acidification is a phenomenon that has been observed and is now being studied by scientists, especially those in biogeochemistry and marine biology. (Ball's PhD-level dissertation on 18th- and 19th-century climatic change in north central Canada was in geography, not biology, geology, chemistry or physics.)
Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed by the oceans, making seawater (as Ball fastidiously points out) less alkaline (which, in scientific terms, including medicine and food science, is called "more acidic"). As scientists working with Ocean Carbon & Biogeochemistry (OCB, the program that Ball cited) point out, "The word 'acidification' refers to lowering pH from any starting point to any end point on the pH scale…. even though seawater's pH is greater than 7.0 (and therefore considered 'basic' in terms of the pH scale), increasing atmospheric CO2 levels are still raising the ocean's acidity and lowering its pH. In comparison, this language is similar to the words we use when we talk about temperature. If the air temperature moves from -40°C to -29°C, it is still cold, but we call it 'warming.'"
Unfortunately, marine creatures that have evolved over the eons within a limited pH range don't care what language we use if their habitat has become inhospitable to them. This is what is happening to many marine organisms; coral reefs have become the canary in the oceans. As an expert on weather patterns in the Hudson Bay area of Canada, perhaps Ball just doesn't care about coral reefs. But the Convention on Biological Diversity gives a sense of how important they are: coral reefs provide work for 100 million people, are worth US$30 billion annually (tourism and fishing), buffer coastlines from ocean storms and surges, and contain about 25% of marine species even though they cover only 0.2% of the sea floor, ensuring marine biodiversity (http://www.cbd.int/doc/bioday/2009/banners/cbd-ibd-banners-5-en.pdf). (And as something that could really turn around and bite us in the butt, corals absorb CO2 to make their shells, so if CO2-absorbing corals die, where will all that extra carbon end up? I dunno, just a question.)
Near the end of his column on OA, Ball plagiarizes (or perhaps it was simply a typesetting error) from the Ocean Acidification Network, which is made up of the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research, UNESCO - Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the International Geosphere - Biosphere Programme. In a form of "cherry picking" made infamous by climate change denialists of many ilks, Ball picked one sentence out of an explanatory paragraph, fixed a spelling mistake, did not offer its context, and then twisted its intent to support his hypothesis that it's all "rubbish." Here's the original: 
"The ocean absorbs approximately one-fourth of the CO2 added to the atmosphere from human activities each year, greatly reducing the impact of this greenhouse gas on climate. When CO2 dissolves in seawater, carbonic acid is formed. This phenomenon, called ocean acidification, is decreasing the ability of many marine organisms to build their shells and skeletal structure. Field studies suggest that impacts of acidification on some major marine calcifiers may already be detectable, and naturally high-CO2 marine environments exhibit major shifts in marine ecosystems following trends expected from laboratory experiments. Yet the full impact of ocean acidification and how these impacts may propogate [sic] through marine ecosystems and affect fisheries remains largely unknown."
Their Ocean Acidification Summary for Policymakers 2009 states: "Sixty-five million years ago, ocean acidification was linked to mass extinctions of calcareous marine organisms, an integral part of the marine food web. At that time, coral reefs disappear from the geologic record and it took millions of years for coral reefs to recover. Today's human-induced acidification represents a rare event in the geological history of our planet."
When Ball offers up charts of CO2 levels over the last 600 million years, this is when his denialism becomes truly creepy — and disingenuous. CO2 is at its highest in 800,000 years, but surely Ball realizes that the problem isn't CO2 per se, or even global warming per se, but the fact that Homo sapiens, only about 200,000 years old, has evolved over the last 10,000 years of stable climate into an agricultural species. Our survival now depends on food growing (versus foraging, scavenging and hunting), which is threatened by climate disruption (floods, droughts, heat waves). If we're threatening the food chain in the oceans as well, then it is definitely not "exploitation of fear" we need to be afraid of.

01 January 2011

Climate Change Activism, Love and Loneliness

So, here's to a happier 2011 for all those who have been or will be impacted by climate change. Wait, that's everybody! Well then, happier new year, everyone! I'm longing for a year of good news on the climate front outweighing bad news — a new kind of tipping point. ;-)

I have a story to share. The advice columnist for my favourite environmental news listserve gave (in my humble but opinionated opinion) bullshit advice to a woman whose hubby isn't on the same green path. This woman says she "woke up to the destructive nature" of their "consumer lifestyle" five years ago and is "wrestling" with their "vastly different levels of commitment to changing" this lifestyle. She goes on:
I'm tired of compromising my values. He's tired of compromising the conveniences and luxuries he feels he's "earned" at his corporate job. I feel trapped; he feels judged. Do we keep compromising, or do we divorce and find more like-minded mates?
Along the lines of "listen to him more, don't judge him, take him on a green holiday, get massages at an eco-friendly day spa" (somehow, in my books, "spa" and "eco-friendly" seem oxymoronic if not just downright decadent in an age when so many people still don't have clean drinking water), I thought the advice was more an advertisement for green consumerism.

To shorten a long story ... I submitted a comment that suggested she dump him, because life's too short to spend it with a partner who has terminal entitlement issues. Okay, I'll just give you the whole thing:
I say dump him (and if the roles were reversed, I'd say dump her). He's coming from a world view of entitlement, in a world where billions of people don't have food and water security! Dump him now, and find a like-minded and, more importantly, like-hearted mate you can share your commitment with. He feels judged? He should feel judged! His lifestyle is progenycidal. If you were to have children with this man, his lifestyle would be killing your kids!

As someone who has found a soulmate who spends practically every waking moment fighting the good fight against the climate change emergency, I can tell you now that if your hubby doesn't embrace the notion of sacrificing now for the sake of the future of all children, you will not be happy in your marriage. Get out now, before the future becomes a thing of the past!

(Sorry to disagree with you, [Advice Column Person], but life is short — getting shorter all the time — and simply greening her consumption to try to bring her hubby around will not allow [this woman] to gift her time, energy and money to creating the best possible future for all life on Earth.)

    Now, here's the funny part. In a follow-up comment, a troll (someone who trawls the internet looking for opportunities to interject with stupid / irrelevant / untrue / mean-spirited remarks) called this "environmental fascism." Hmm, now there's a person who hasn't learned their history. (Or were they simply suggesting that I'm intolerant of people who are killing the future?)

    But the follow-up comment to that follow-up comment is what I want to share.
    @GreenHearted, you risk finding yourself stuck in a narrow social isthmus.

    I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! Of course I'm stuck in a narrow social isthmus. I know too much about what we're doing to the planet to be able to hang out with people who don't give a flying leap. Let me tell you, if a wide social network is your goal in life, do NOT study the causes and impacts of global warming and climate change. You become a bore at parties and who the hell wants to invite climate change-fighting vegans to dinner? (We're actually fascinating people and excellent conversationalists, but people don't seem to enjoy our favourite topics of discussion. ;-)

    So sure, sometimes we feel a little lonely on a Saturday night, but know this. The rest of the time, we are both eternally grateful that we've found a kindred spirit in each other, that we share our deepest values and concerns, that we work together on behalf of future generations, of all species.

    Having a soul mate and a few wonderful friends who are on the same good green path (thank you, Cory and Glenn and Nadia and B) — that's more important to us than all the dinner parties in the world. Sure, it's lonely at times on our "narrow social isthmus" but there's room out here for anyone who would like to join us.

    [Isthmus Avenue photo by Modest and Jill]