24 December 2011

Happy Green Christmas

It's not easy being a climate change activist at this time of year. (Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year in Canada, and because it's become quite secular, practically everyone celebrates it or has to deliberately try not to.) Everybody wants a break from the climate change bad news.

So I'd just like to tell you about our gift to the world, and then I'll wish you a happy holiday with beloved family and friends. Oh, and please, if you really "must" eat the traditional bird with your Christmas meal, at least say thank you for the sacrifice it made.

My husband is now a member of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, a virtual think/action tank based in the UK. For the last few weeks, he and I have created their website, edited their package of urgent information on the Arctic methane emergency (which was put together by eminent Arctic researchers, scientists and engineers), had it printed (on FSC paper), researched the contact information for every head of government in the world (well, we might have missed out South Sudan, the newest nation), collated everything, addressed and licked over 200 envelopes, and stunned the folks at our local post office when we walked in on Christmas Eve morning with boxes and boxes of these envelopes to mail.

And now that project is done. Phew! Feels good. In a world where more and more people who shouldn't be are having green Christmases because of global warming, the governments of the world will no longer be able to claim ignorance of the climate change emergency.

As I send you love and compassion ... may your day be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be the right colour.

18 December 2011

When Good People Think Positive Thoughts about Very Bad Situations

Post Durban, a young Canadian member of parliament, Justin Trudeau (whose father was a very colourful prime minister in his day), made the news this week by swearing at Canada's minister of the environment — right in the House of Commons! (Woke a few people up, I'm betting.) His outburst has created quite the commotion in this "I apologize if you step on my toes" country of ours.

To be fair, our environment minister IS a hypocrite of the first degree when it comes to the climate change emergency. Peter Kent, when he worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC), researched, wrote, directed and narrated a 1984 hour-long documentary entitled The Greenhouse Effect and Planet Earth. (Watch it here.) To wit, here's the show's description:
There's weather, and then there's climate. Weather patterns come and go, but forecasting has become much more accurate through improved meteorological techniques. Climate change is harder to predict. But, as the CBC's Peter Kent shows in this 1984 documentary, it's happening. Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere have been steadily rising, and by the year 2050 the average global temperature may rise by five degrees Celsius due to the greenhouse effect.
So, if Kent knew all that back in the mid 1980s and, after recently becoming Canada's Environment Minister, embarrassed us all at the climate change talks in Durban, then it would be quite fair to call him a hypocrite. Mr. Trudeau simply expressed it a different way, that's all.

Pundits have been asking (here and here ... but do come back, okay?) when we're going to start following suit. When is our sense of outrage going to boil over?

But I have to ask: What sense of outrage is that? I was at a Christmas party the other night and stayed late to talk with four women that I like and respect a lot. One knew nothing about climate change, one knows a lot and stayed quiet, and two talked about the importance of positive thoughts, even in the context of global warming.

Positive thoughts? POSITIVE THOUGHTS? I was having negative thoughts just thinking about positive thoughts!! How are positive thoughts going to safeguard the future for the children? Since it was a Christmas celebration, I too stayed quiet. Since then, I've been trying to figure out if they're onto something. But I think this is what I've decided:

If a child runs out in front of a car, it is not a negative thought to run after them. If someone is having a heart attack, it is not a negative thought to call for an ambulance and perform CPR. If 1% of the world's population is ruining the future for all life on Earth, it is not a negative thought to call them on it and try to correct the situation. I mean, what is the "positive thought" about the end of life on our beautiful, precious planet? And how can thinking positive thoughts change anything?

Maybe I'm a quantum physics illiterate (it's always struck me as a cop out, or selfish and self-absorbed somehow), but with 1% trying to suck every last drop of fossil fuel out of the ground and burn it up for profit, and most of the 99% either struggling to get by or watching TV to avoid the pain of the spiritual emptiness they feel, that doesn't leave very many of us to EXPRESS OUTRAGE!!!!

In other words, I'm with Justin Trudeau. If we don't start calling a spade a spade, and a piece of sh!t a piece of sh!t (that's Anglo-Saxon for hypocrite), then we will never garner enough outrage, political will or even interest in the climate change emergency.

So, yeah, I've decided that being real, feeling real, expressing real is more important than being nice and thinking positive thoughts (I've equated those two: nice and positive; if you can explain the distinction to me, I'd love to hear it).

My compassion is reserved for the children, and for those who are sick or on the streets or caring for others while working two jobs. The rest of us should be learning all about the climate change emergency and GETTING REALLY MAD!

p.s. We lost a giant this weekend. Vaclav Havel died in the Czech Republic. I'll leave you with one of his quotes. Though it might seem to contradict what I've just written, it doesn't. Lies and hatred can be concealed by niceness, while truth and love can come out in righteous anger.
Vaclav Havel: "Truth and love must prevail over lies and hatred."

11 December 2011

We are Aborting Our Children's Future

Each week, I read many different things that I'd like to tell you about on Sundays when I write this blog, but of course I can't share them all. This morning, there is one story that is still resonating for me.

Kids in the United States are suing their federal government and several state governments for lack of action on climate change. You can read the story, The Young and the Restless: Kids Sue Government over Climate Change at The Grist.

The young Alec Loorz (who was about 12 when he founded Kids vs. Global Warming), is leading this initiative, probably with an unbelievable amount of disbelief at how so many adults have done so little, er, so much nothing. These are young people who understand what's happening. We can't begin to fully grasp their sense of frustration.

Our Children's Trust (a magnificent play on words) is supporting the initiative. Their byline is: "Protecting Earth's Climate for Future Generations." Sounds like good people. Their campaign has three aspects:
LEGAL ACTION: Coordinating an international mobilization of scientists, attorneys, and youth for legal action on the climate crisis.

COMMUNICATIONS: Creating ground-breaking documentaries examining the geographic, economic and societal impacts of climate change on our youth and their communities.

ADVOCACY: Giving a voice to youth.

I hope the federal court in the USA gives these youth their "day in court." (See more info on the case, including fascinating expert declarations, here.)

We're at a point in the climate change emergency where the only thing we can do is to keep on doing everything we can do. Climate activists are starting to realize that we've lost this fight — the ultimate battle for life on Earth; that the fight was too big and the enemies of life on Earth too many in number and too strong in influence. But each one of us can keep fighting because to not fight is not an option. I used to say "Hope is not an action verb; action is our only hope" but now I think it would be more honest to say "Fighting is our only salvation."

But all that is a long-winded way to share with you two comments from the original Grist article on this court case:

1. "So the Environmental Groups have resorted to using children to get their message across? There is just all kinds of things wrong with that." This comment (that's all they wrote; talk about not "getting it") reminds me of the time my husband suggested that an environmental group focus on children's environmental health. (Children, as a vulnerable sub-population, are like bellwethers ... canaries in the mineshaft.) His suggestion was shot down because it would be "using children." So we're allowed to injure children and ruin their future with our pollution, but we're not allowed to focus on their health and wellbeing. (This commenter missed the part in the article about young people being the ones "using children to get their message across.")

2. Another commenter said that "Conservative Republicans and their corporate multi-national masters are ABORTING the future of our nation's children." Now, I don't want to get into American politics today (after all, their Democratic president has done NOTHING to address the climate change emergency, a point the kids are pointing out!), but the terminology is correct.

I used to say we were foreclosing on our children's future, making their future a thing of the past, committing progenycide, but "aborting their future" is exactly what we're doing: halting, stopping, ending, axing it; calling it off; cutting it short; discontinuing, terminating, arresting, cancelling, scrubbing it ... pulling the plug on their future.

It breaks my heart to think that so many people care so little about the children, their own children, all the children. What kind of civilization have we become?

04 December 2011

Geoengineering, Our Metaphorical Tracheotomy

December 4, 2011

If your child is deathly allergic to insect stings, what do you do? You buy an EpiPen® (or two or three) and keep it near your child at all times. An epinephrine auto-injector could save your child's life one day if a bee sting or wasp sting leads to anaphylactic shock.

Now, let's apply this as a metaphor. Your child (or your wife, in the case I witnessed) is stung on the neck by a wasp. You always carry an EpiPen, just in case. Well, this is the "case" you've been waiting for, but instead you decide to wait and see. Why use an EpiPen if you don't have to, right? I mean, heck, nobody wants to be given a medication they don't need. Right? And why waste the money?

Fast forward about 30 minutes. You carry your child (or your wife, in the case I witnessed) into the emergency ward. They're almost dead, but the doctor works feverishly, injecting this and that, setting up a drip, calling the helicopter ambulance, staying with your child (or wife) to monitor their condition until the moment the helicopter ambulance closes its door. Just before that door closes, eyelids flutter and open slightly, and a very weak voice says, "I was almost gone there, wasn't I?" Your child (or your wife, in this case) lives. 

The doctor is shaken for weeks. He knows how close he came to losing your child (or your spouse). He's just happy he didn't have to perform a tracheotomy but keeps asking the same question, over and over. Why, if they had an EpiPen, did they not use it? (My husband was the doctor, I was his assistant. This incident took place many years ago. As you can tell, I am still shaken by this memory.)

WE ARE ALL ALLERGIC TO METHANE. The Arctic is warming and spewing methane. This is creating a huge allergic reaction (or positive feedback loop). The methane, a potent greenhouse gas, creates more warming. According to the latest satellite data, the Arctic is now warming four times faster than the rest of the world. This extra warming is leading to more melting permafrost and more destabilized (thawed) methane hydrates along the continental shelf, releasing more methane, leading to more warming. It is a viciously vicious cycle, and we are dangerously close to letting it kill us.

(You think I'm being overly dramatic, perhaps for effect? No. Once we allow the summer Arctic sea ice to disappear, the northern hemisphere will lose the cooling "air conditioner" effect during our growing season. Remember Russia, 2010? It won't take too many widespread crop failures before we descend into global chaos.)

How many people deal with their bee sting allergy by just living life indoors all the time? Not many. Most choose to go outdoors — and carry an EpiPen. We've been carrying a metaphorical EpiPen around since at least 1988: the concept of living the same lifestyle but lowering our global greenhouse gas emissions, moving to renewable energy, being greener.

Now we've been stung, and we refuse to use our EpiPen. It's too expensive, we say. We can't afford it. It's too inconvenient. "I'd rather die comfortable than live uncomfortable." (Real quote, that one.) I'm not going to use
my EpiPen unless China uses its Epipen! Blah blah blah.

So what are we going to do? It's an emergency situation! What are we going to do? We're actually facing down the prospect of extinction of our species! What are we going to do?

Folks, the tracheotomy is an emergency procedure for emergency situations. Our collective tracheotomy is geoengineering: "deliberate large-scale engineering and manipulation of the planetary environment to combat or counteract anthropogenic changes in atmospheric chemistry" (Wikipedia).

If we're already saying no to the possibility of geoengineering, then we either don't realize the emergency we're in, or we're choosing a future with no future for our children. The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition naively, in my view, calls geoengineering "a false solution."

Friends, geoengineering is not a false solution, it is our last resort — and soon to be our
only solution. We have been stung. We are ignoring the allergic reaction. We are refusing to use our EpiPen. If we don't get some adrenalin into our system soon, we'd better be open to a tracheotomy (pardon the pun). Because otherwise, we are opting for death.
April 7, 2024
It's a dozen years since I wrote the post above. Everything is — still — getting worse, faster. The deniers (and yes, kowtowing politicians and non-brave climate scientists) have caused so much delay that we're on catastrophe's doorstep. (Anyone remember the summer of 2023? Yowza.)

While the deniers have been denying that digging up and burning carbon that was safely stored away via the long-term carbon cycle 250 million years ago — and spewing an extra ±50 billion tonnes of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year — wouldn't affect the climate system or overwhelm the short-term carbon cycle, conspiracy theorists have been insisting that some secret cabal has been geoengineering the climate. (To be fair, the geoengineering began at the start of the Industrial Revolution back around 1750 when we
industrialized our fossil fuel burning. (And our impacts began 11,000 years ago as we started developing agriculture.) But Dane, seriously dude, learn the science of condensation of contrails at different altitudes and humidities.) 

Anyway, as I exhorted above, if we'd used our metaphorical EpiPen by lowering our carbon and other GHG emissions in every way we could, we wouldn't now be needing a tracheotomy / geoengineering. And so the geoengineering experiments have begun. (BEGUN, Dane, got that?)

Headline from NYT article on geoengineering test

Here's the scary part for me. With all extreme weather events now increasing in intensity, frequency and/or duration — and many now starting to compound (pile on top of each other) — and with taxpayers still subsidizing fossil fuel corporations (who are making windfall profits, BTW) to the tune of $7 trillion around the world every year (IMF, 2023), and with practically every government still "moving ahead" with business as usual (AKA full-steam ahead to extinction), it seems like a "mere" tracheotomy (geoengineering) isn't going to cut it anymore
(sorry for the pun).
But nothing, not even geoengineering, is going to save us without an immediate and rapid decline in global GHG emissions.

It's as though the world has decided to wait until the too-late very last minute and then opt for ... decapitation. That's a sure-fire way to open up our constricted airway and get some air into our lungs. It'll kill us, sure, but we kept the economy pumping away, didn't we? Yeah, that's what our chosen trajectory seems to be. Sure will make us wonder why we didn't use our collective EpiPen when we still had the chance.