26 August 2012

Cole Porter and the Climate Reality Leadership Corps

That's me, at the Climate Reality Leadership Training 
Well, my trip to San Francisco to train with Al Gore and the Climate Reality Project was invigorating and memorable! After a tiring but fascinating 22-hour train trip, it was inspiring to spend three days with 1000 other like-minded and like-hearted people ... from 57 or so different countries, no less! I'm now a trained presenter, and look forward to sharing the Climate Reality slide shows with people of all ages and in all walks of life throughout my small corner of the world.

I had to laugh that even amongst allies, I still found myself holding a much more acute view of the global warming problem, the necessary solutions, and the power our fossil-fuelled industrial civilization (no, not the whole human species) holds to radically alter the biosphere, making it inhospitable to life, period (not just to human civilization). It's somewhat of a curse living with a full-time science advisor (aka my husband) who spends practically every waking moment reading and synthesizing the scientific research on global warming and climate change. I often rue knowing so much about what's really going on.
But a great gal (and a science teacher) sitting next to me restored my faith in a master evolutionary plan when she reminded me that the newly discovered creatures living around the thermal vents at the bottom of the oceans will survive just fine.

 After all, they didn't evolve in the narrow atmospheric temperature range that we're used to. So all hope is not lost. If we don't get our butts in gear and stop our carbon emissions while pulling CO2 out of the air, humans will disappear and millions of other species will disappear along with us.

But the tiny animals that don't need the sun (relying on chemotropic bacteria instead of photosynthesis for their energy) and that can survive water that's hotter than boiling will do just fine on a too-hot-for-the-rest-of-us planet. I suppose that soon enough, they'll crawl out of the ocean and repopulate the Earth. Just not with us. Or roses and lilacs and elephants and otters. (Actor Christopher Reeve used to say, "Once you choose hope, anything's possible." 
So I won't be giving up anytime soon.)

I'm not sure yet whether I'll tell the full truth about the reality of the climate change situation when I make my presentations. Mr. Gore has decided not to, choosing instead to talk about the end of human civilization. He probably knows his audiences well. Picturing the world without "me" in it is existentially difficult. Imagining a world completely devoid of the human species is nigh on impossible.

I keep thinking that this desperate state of affairs will motivate the pants off people to do whatever it takes to cool the globe. My theory, ahem, doesn't seem to work in practice. I don't know what the philosophers have to say about my dilemma (full truth or only partial truth?), but some psychologists believe that people (in our North American society, at least) simply cannot handle knowing the reality.

I watched De-Lovely recently, a movie about the life of Cole Porter. (No, I don't spend every waking moment contemplating the end of life on Earth.) I knew nothing about him except for some of his songs, so I did some research. (Yes, this is relevant to the question at hand ... wait for it.) It seems that some of his shows in the 1930s were failures. According to Wikipedia sources, this convinced Porter that his songs did not appeal to a broad enough audience. In an interview, he said, "Sophisticated allusions are good for about six weeks ... more fun, but only for myself and about eighteen other people, all of whom are first-nighters anyway. Polished, urbane and adult playwriting in the musical field is strictly a creative luxury."

So you see, w
ith both Al Gore and Cole Porter suggesting that people won't listen to what they don't want to hear, I'm still torn on whether to tell people about the impending consequences of Arctic summer sea ice collapse (2012 is the worst year ever) and the drought we're seeing all over the world (2012 appears to be the worst year yet for Northern Hemisphere drought). (See short videos below.) I welcome your frank (but not brutal) advice on which way I should go. Thanks!

Arctic ice extent is critical to Earth's temperature. Less Arctic summer sea ice means more Northern Hemisphere heat and climate disruption. 

Can you say "bread basket"?

19 August 2012

We're Committed to Climate Chaos, Folks ... It's Simple Math

A lot of people still think that we'll be able to turn global warming and climate change around as soon as we decide we'd better. They live under the tragic (and ecologically illiterate) misconception that once we turn off the metaphorical "tap," the water will quit rising.

What these people don't realize is that we've turned on several other (figurative, of course) water spouts, as well. We can no longer control these or turn them off, and so greenhouse gases (GHGs) are starting to spill and spew over the sides of the tub.

We've already increased the global average temperature by 0.8ºC – and look what we've unleashed! And then the ocean heat lag commits us to practically a doubling of whatever the current warming is.

Our fastest possible stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gases will take so long, we're ensured another 0.4ºC before we get finished.

Then there's the loss of the cooling effect of aerosols that we'll get once we stop burning the fossil fuels that are causing the warming in the first place. (Yup, the pollution from fossil fuel energy cools the atmosphere. Weird, eh?) That could lead to another 0.5ºC (and as much as 0.8ºC, according to the IPCC).

Then there are the climate feedbacks to worry about. We're already seeing positive carbon feedbacks in the Arctic, which are leading to larger losses of Arctic summer sea ice each year as well as thawing tundra permafrost and subsea methane hydrates. These will add at least another 0.4ºC, and if you've been keeping track, we're now committed to about 3.0º of global heating.

Guess what happens at +3.0ºC? Declining crop yields in all regions, leading to price hikes. Food shortages. Social upheaval. And famines. More droughts and longer droughts. Greater heat waves. Further floods. In short, we're committed to climate chaos.

So if we don't turn off the tap yesterday and start bailing water out of the tub, then we could be well on our way to +7.0ºC, which will "make most of the planet uninhabitable due to intolerable heat stress" (Sherwood and Huber, 2009).

At what point do we declare the emergency? At what moment will we reach the tipping point? What (or who) will be the straw that breaks the camel's back? I'm on my way to San Francisco for the Climate Reality training with Al Gore. Perhaps I'll be the one to somehow find the courage – and the mathematical chutzpah – to change the world!

For more information on global warming commitment, please visit the Climate Emergency Institute.

11 August 2012

When Lack of Hope Meets Self-Doubt...

… the result is not pretty. The result is how I'm feeling these days, just a week before I head to San Francisco, by train, to be trained along with 999 other people by Al Gore and his Climate Reality Project.

If you're a regular reader, then you know what I think of hope. It's not an action verb, but a lot of people hold onto it as though doing so is actually doing something to mitigate the climate change emergency. With so many hopesters in the world still, I don't hold out much hope anymore that we're 
going to turn this juggernaut around in time.

And we're still not seeing any action on the part of governments or the big banks and fossil fuel industries. I guess they're going to squeeze every last drop of oil, lump of coal and molecule of gas out of the ground before they admit there might be a problem with their "profit over planet" mantra.

But at least I used to feel okay about the few modest things that I do. This blog, my website on transformative sustainability education for teachers, workshops for educators and community members.

Now, just as I'm about to be trained to give even more presentations to even more people, I'm losing my way: my sense of direction and my nerve. I'm thinking, "What's the point? We're hooped anyway. What can I possibly do now that will have the slightest fraction of an impact?"

In other words, depression is setting in. And it's not pretty. It's not enough to have a partner who is also a climate change activist. Our activities are so different, it's like we're living in different worlds. Most of our friends and all of our relatives either "admire" us (and take no action) or think we're nuts for all the work we do (and take no action), which creates a crazy-making loneliness and lack of connection. What if I get to San Francisco and discover that I really am crazy, and that even Al Gore and the other "goracles" don't understand how incredibly deep and acute and rapid our changes and cuts and transformations must be?

A dear friend and life coach recently helped me see that my joy in living has been eroding away. Sure, I still delight in the tiny bird outside my window, a luscious sunset, or a yummy meal that I've thrown together in the kitchen. But I used to spout the aphorism "Happiness is not a destination but a way of travel." Now, both our destination and our way of getting there make me miserable.

I want to recapture the joy and light in my life, even while carrying on the hard, desperate work of telling the world what no one wants to hear. (Can you say Cassandra?) And so, I'll sign off with my signature of old. It's who I used to be, and who I want to be again. If we're going down, I want to go down ablaze (and I don't mean literally), not all grey and downcast. Not dancing on the graves of tomorrow's children, mind you, but helping today's children celebrate the life they still have in them.


04 August 2012

Denial Runs Deep

I was talking to my brother-in-law the other day and learned an important lesson about denial.

Lee worked at an appliance manufacturing plant in a nearby industrial city for 15 years. NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) came along and the plant had to close. The company gave its workers one and a half years' notice, promised help with finding new jobs, and offered generous severance packages.

Over the next 18 months, Lee was busy researching how to start his own business and figured his coworkers were making similar efforts to ensure employment. The day before the plant was due to shut down, however, Lee asked about 30 people what their plans were — and many replied, "Oh, I'm not worried. The plant's not going to close." Some thought that because the plant had, due to financial difficulties, shut down and reopened in the past, it was going to pull the same stunt this time. Idle threats, they said.

But the plant did indeed shut down (are you starting to see the climate change allegory here?) and dozens and dozens of workers, because of their denial, found themselves unemployed. As their severance pay savings disappeared, and then their unemployment insurance ran out, those in denial became more and more depressed and immobilized. Those who had planned for the closure moved to their new opportunities and kept working.

I often wonder, even if we don't want to fight the greenhouse-gas-spewing powers-that-be, why we're not willing to be proactive ... hells bells, REactive! ... to protect our own families, to ensure our own survival, to show our children that we love them.

Have we been so numbed and dumbed by our culture, so "impotentized" (I just made that word up) that we can't stick up for ourselves and our kids? I guess we have become a society of unthinking wusses, pure and simple. And I'm thinking (hoping, praying) that maybe insults will help spur people to wake up from their stupor!