26 May 2013

Annus Horribilis (Let's Be Sentimental for the Future, Not the Past)

A friend told me yesterday that my blog posts often sound frustrated. I would like to point out that I have written a handful of positive posts since May 2009. I can't remember when or why or what they were, but I'm sure I have. (Wait, here's a recent example: How to Conjure Up Joy in Sad Times.)

Then there's today's post. Oh man, am I frustrated! I was already almost half way through my own personal annus horribilis (with a nod to Queen Elizabeth who had hers in 1992). Then a plumbing pipe broke. The ensuing flood in our living room and downstairs has complicated my life enormously (as you can imagine), especially since I recently moved dozens of stored boxes to our basement. I had pictured going through those boxes at a leisurely pace, deciding what to save and what to recycle or repurpose. The insurance company (and the threat of mold) have created a frenetic pace at which I now have to go through all the wet boxes to see if there's anything worth salvaging.

It's still hard to see the silver lining in this micro-catastrophe (I wasn't wishing for a new living room floor and I certainly didn't want to spend my birthday this way), but it's sure brought out the philosophical bent in my friends and me. 

After the flood, as I was tearfully bent over in the crawl space, heaving heavy wet boxes (and, mercifully, some still dry ones) into a dry area, I realized that African mothers of starving children might cry, but they just keep going. "Just keep going," I kept telling myself. "This is nothing – nothing – compared to their pain and their struggle."

My friend Cory wrote: "Think of it as a cleanse! Our memories are in our hearts and minds – not really in boxes." An excellent reminder. 

And my pragmatic hubby implored, "Why be sentimental about the past? Be sentimental about the future."

Ah, yes. The past is looked after. What I remember is what I remember (and it's mind-blowing how much I've discovered I'd forgotten). It's the future I should be focused on and concerned about. "Sentimental" is defined as "of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia." Well, since we're in the throes of making the future a thing of the past, it makes sense to feel nostalgic for the good old days when the future was bright and everything was possible. And a feeling of tenderness, too – for the children of all species.

And then I was reminded of this quote, by Hans Schellnhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: 
"First law of humanity – don’t kill your children." 
Now how's that for future-focused sentimentality? (At least one skeptic blogger calls it "inflammatory" but methinks she is not a critical thinker.) 

Indeed, wouldn't it be fascinating to find out if there's a positive correlation between cultures that focus on the past (for example, family trees, portraiture, scrapbooking, ancestor worship, storage lockers, history study in school) and their impacts on the future? Hmmmmm.

19 May 2013

It's Like Living in the Twilight Zone

An activist friend and I are both feeling like we're living in the Twilight Zone, a surreal place where reality is like science fiction — but most people don't see it.

Today's reality is definitely like science fiction: a cancerous culture [my hubby hates it when I blame the whole human species when it's really just our globalized EuroAmerican economy to blame], new to the Earth, starts burning a secret, ancient fuel, making life much easier while actually (and secretly) killing off the viability of the planet.

This is all being done so surreptitiously that by the time the people wake up and smell the ocean acidification, it's too late. Rod Sterling tried to warn them, but they were too busy being enthralled to that easy life they were living.

The few of us who didn't drink the Kool-aid are spurned (well, ignored or, at the very least, looked at funny) and no one wants to hear what we have to say.

It is like living in the Twilight Zone. It is surreal. The populace carries on as if life is not threatened, as if there is no climate crisis, as if we are a major inconvenience for them. "Oh, for heaven's sake, why don't you shut up about climate change already? We don't really know for sure that it's happening and I'm trying to watch my favourite TV show."

I got quite depressed yesterday when I looked through the program of an upcoming environmental education conference that I'll be attending. Climate change was mentioned only a handful of times in over 40 pages of workshop descriptions. How I would love the educational community to open its eyes to the greatest threat we've ever faced and get serious about how to teach it in ways that will help transform the evil cancerous culture that has us in its grip.

And I sure as hell got depressed when I woke up the day after our provincial election to the same old pro-growth, pro-resource-exploitation government and the same old nasty premier (who didn't even win her own seat!).

While the chaos in my own heart and my own home matches the chaos in the atmosphere and the oceans, hardly anyone else seems to notice or seeks to understand. They don't want the climate crisis to make them "feel bad" — so environmental education conferences don't embrace the theme and governments win by ignoring the problem, and life, I guess, just carries on until it doesn't. And when things get really bad, everyone will ask "Why didn't they tell us? Why didn't they do something?"

Meantime, I realized this morning that I'm still not doing everything I can do — and that's one of the reasons I've become depressed. So here's to dreaming up wonderfully fun and imaginative ways to educate about this issue. If no one else is going to feel sad about it, why should I waste my life energy being depressed about it when I can get even more active and creative? Indeed, a young activist friend said that when she gets down or angry, she goes out to the garden. And when she's managed to clear the crabgrass away from the rhubarb, she feels — for a moment, at least — as though she's won the fight. 

Surreal, eh?

12 May 2013

Love, Death and an African Proverb: A Tribute to a Fine English Lady

I wrote this on Friday, 10 May 2013. That was the day of my husband's mother's funeral. It was therefore a sad day for us, but also a day of celebration. She lived a "good long life" (she died at the age of 96) and felt ready to go. Although her son sometimes feels that she led a hard life (especially with the personal fallout of World War II), she always insisted that she had only good memories. 

In the guestbook, I wrote: "I will forever be grateful to my mother-in-law for giving me the greatest gift she could give: the love of my life, the love of her life, her son."

Then I started to think about how his mum had helped my sweetheart become the wonderfully caring man that he is. And that's when this African proverb came to mind:
"What you help a child to love can be more important than what you help him to learn."
Mrs. C loved the birds, the forests, the flowers, her garden. And Peter loves all Creation, too. 


It's a simple thing, isn't it? What you love will be what your child learns to love. So, parents, love the right things. Love the good things, the life-giving things.
"Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." 
— Rumi

05 May 2013

It Just Isn't Going to Work Out

I don't think I've done this before: basing a whole blog post on an image. Usually I write a post and then find a suitable illustration. But when I found this graphic weeks ago, it spoke to me. So I've held onto it, thinking that its day would come. Today is that day.

Here where I live, we are experiencing our first truly warm weather of the year. At a potluck dinner last night with my students and their parents, the kids ate quickly and played out in the front yard all evening. The adults sat out on the back deck and ate slowly, enjoying the warmth and the grown-up conversation.

When I came home, it was still warm out. Not "hot and sultry" warm but warm-enough-to-be-outside-with-just-a-sweater-on warm. (I live on an island in the Salish Sea, part of the Pacific Ocean, and so we rarely get toasty evenings.) It was so warm that I invited my husband to take the dog for a walk in the dark with me. 

I woke up this morning to sunshine and warmth. The sunshine alone is the return of the prodigal son after a long, dark winter away. But to come home with the gift of such balminess! Now I understand why that son's return was so celebrated.

The first thing I did was read an evocative article by Jon Mooallem in The New York Times Sunday Review: A Child's Wild Kingdom. What an enjoyable read! The kind that felt like a conversation, because I was responding as I went, agreeing with this, disagreeing with that, recalling similar or dissimilar experiences or realizations. All that after a sit outside in the warmth of the new day. (I live on an island in the Salish Sea, part of the Pacific Ocean, and so we rarely get warm mornings.)

And just now, to be able to feel confident explaining something here, I waded through a Guardian article, White House warned on imminent Arctic ice death spiral, and the hundreds of comments following it.

So why is today the day that I'm convinced "it won't work out"? 

This kind of warmth in early May frightens me as much as it exhilarates me. I know, I know. I should just enjoy it, revel in it. But ignorance is bliss, and I'm not ignorant.

Last night at the party, we talked about several perpetual energy sources: geothermal, solar concentrating, closed loop steam engines, solar thermal. But these conversations -- and conversions -- are coming too late.

That article I read this morning? It completely skimmed over the fact that children -- that all humans -- are indeed animals. Forgetting (or ignoring) this has been one of the reasons we think we can override natural processes. 

And the article about the White House waking up? Ha! From the article: "In February this year, the US Department of Defense (DoD) released its new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which noted that global warming will have:
'... significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to greater competition for more limited and critical life-sustaining resources like food and water.... DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on its facilities, infrastructure, training and testing activities, and military capabilities.'" 

So there it is. The US is finally worried. They're finally "getting" how serious this is. And their response? "On the Arctic, the report highlights the imperative to protect US resource interests by increasing regional military penetration: 
'Melting sea ice in the Arctic may lead to new opportunities for shipping, tourism, and resource exploration, but the increase in human activity may require a significant increase in operational capabilities in the region in order to safeguard lawful trade and travel and to prevent exploitation of new routes for smuggling and trafficking.'" 
So let's not worry about food security and trivial stuff like that. Let's just make sure that the US military is ready to deal with whatever wee problems come up around mass starvation and stuff like that. 

It's not going to work out, folks. So yeah, maybe I should just turn off this old computer and get outside for some sunshine and gardening. Not a bad idea anyway, global warming or no global warming.