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14 July 2013

Inspiration Versus Cynicism (Which One's Winning?)

Abandoned car in Toronto's flooding, July 2013
The last few weeks have been downright Biblical, haven't they? Killer wildfires. Persistent droughts. Flooding that took two major Canadian cities by surprise. The deadly wreck of an oil-transporting train in a small town in Quebec with a blast so big, it could be seen from space. Ireland is dealing with another potato crop failure after Europe's terrible winter. And, last but definitely not least given their importance, the pollinators (bees and butterflies) are missing from a friend's native flower garden.

Train explosion,
Lac Mégantic, Quebec
If a movie started like this, what the heck would the climax look like?

We're heading into it, folks. The climate change shit has begun to hit the fan. In local ways and global ways. In big ways and small ways. In frightening ways and imperceptible ways. Either way, it no longer feels far away. 

While I've been feeling fearful for the children and their future for many years (check out my early blog posts), I'm now starting to get a bit viscerally scared for myself and my family and community — a community that still doesn't understand the chaos that climate change will inflict on our food security. 

(For the same price, we could purchase a 200-acre farm or a 1.5 acre oceanfront property with chocolate lilies growing on it. Guess which one we're fundraising for? Next, we'll have a choice between buying that 200-acre farm or building a seniors home. Guess which one has captured the imagination of the mostly oldsters living in my community? For heaven's sake, they've already HAD their future! We truly are a culture that eats its children and grandchildren, to paraphrase Tom Brown, Jr.)

Anyway, all of this just to share some thoughts with you about inspiration versus cynicism. 

To start, I've been wondering how to stay "up" enough to not give up my work on behalf of the children. This video by John Marshall Roberts on the science of inspiration gives a clue or two:



Note the very last thing he shares: "Cynicism is undigested pain." So there's a clue, eh? Feel the pain, "digest" it, understand it, let it, um, pass through you. Let the pain come out the other end (to take the metaphor to its natural conclusion) not as cynicism but as resolve. 

How's this for inspiring? Not.
Then I read that fracking has dramatically increased the number of "manmade" earthquakes in North America. And then I read in the Guardian that climate scientist/hero James Hansen and colleagues have projected runaway global warming if we don't decarbonize. 

(By the way, for a good explanation of why Obama ≠ (does not equal) hope and optimism, check out The Obama Carbonized Climate Plan. His new "action" plan (ha!) encourages innovative new fossil fuel exploration and extraction ... old-fashioned devastation is not good enough for him. "Yes we can" lead the world to oblivion seems to be Obama's motto these days.)

It's like a seesaw, isn't it? Up then down, up then down. 

Then I saw something that really perked me up, because it suggests something that people CAN DO. (People often ask me, "What can I do?"* as though they really have no ideas of their own.) David Suzuki and Faisal Moola, writing in the Toronto Star following the fantastical rainfall and flooding of July 8th, suggested a strategy that can play out at several levels, from private homeowners to towns and cities and all institutions in between.
"So, knowing there will be dark, costly clouds on the horizon, how can we get ahead of the storm? One of the best strategies for dealing with severe weather events is to steal a page from Mother Nature’s playbook: bring nature home to the city through green, living infrastructure."
Yeah! That really resonated for me. Retrofitting yards and neighbourhoods and school playgrounds and city infrastructure will give us something to do to keep us from getting cynical while the climate change shit continues to hit the fan. But at least we'll be busy buffering ourselves from the worst of the increased natural disasters.

Suzuki and Moola explain that modern urban areas are almost entirely covered with impermeable concrete and asphalt. So when big storms and flooding surges hit, these cities (all built near water) are inundated (in more ways than one). 
"Nature doesn’t play this way. Natural ecosystems — like forests, fields, marshes and wetlands — are built to absorb rainfall and slow the flow of water as it passes through vegetation and soils and into waterways. Thus, incorporating natural systems into the built urban environment can effectively mitigate the intensity of storm surges. Interventions that bring together natural and built environments can range from large networks of interconnected green spaces to small-scale engineered systems, like green roofs, permeable pavement and green walls."
Indeed, one of Nature's most important gifts (or ecosystem services) is flood and erosion control. 

And lest you think this green retrofitting is pie-in-the-sky dreaming, check out Franke James's visual essay, Paradise Unpaved.

So, which is winning, inspiration or cynicism? It's rather like the weather in San Francisco. Wait 10 minutes and I'll have a different answer for you. 

* or some variation:
What can I do?
What can I do?
What can I do?
What can I do?
Usually this question, in any form, means "I'm not really interested in doing anything." Perhaps apathy is the greatest form of cynicism.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on compassion as a solution to the climate change emergency?