01 January 2012

Why Feeling Bad Could Save the Future

Today, we're giving compassion a holiday.

As I am insulted in my local community paper (for asking people to think about our children's right to a climate-safe future), and as the few friends that we have left admit that they feel uncomfortable when my husband and I (mainly I) talk with emotion about what we're doing to the future, I'm realizing that feeling bad could be what saves the future.

People know (don't they?) that the climate change denial machine was literally born out of and modelled on the tobacco industry's conspiracy to deny the dangers of smoking their cigarettes, including using some of the same bought-and-paid-for scientists.

But I sense that it's the internet that has allowed a real nastiness to creep into public affairs and public comment on them. When I feel bad, I want it to be for the children, not because of personal attacks against me. (When I am outraged by those who don't care about the kids, I don't use their names in my writings ... though I'm starting to wonder if that's more from cowardice on my part.)

I find myself longing for the anonymity of a large city where I could do my activist work with like-minded and like-hearted people and not be the target of ad hominen attacks. (They really know how to hurt a gal: "Julie Johnson" — see that? They didn't put the "t" in my name when they were slagging me! Grrr. But truly, what does it say about their credibility when they can't even spell my name correctly?)

In that particular letter to the editor, the writer said that my concern is "shrill hysteria" and that my departure will be welcomed by many. The letter didn't make much sense to me (he was responding to a terribly edited version of a carefully constructed letter of mine, so who knows what he actually read), but the writer raised two valid points:

1. It's not about me, and my departure (whatever he meant) doesn't matter. I don't give a damn about my life or my future anymore ... what I am working for, calling for, is acknowledgement from governments and others in power that we are threatening the lives and futures of all the world's children.

It seems that comfortable people in my society can't imagine the world without themselves in it, so they're not willing to picture the carbon-constrained and climate-changed future of food shortages and famines, floods and droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events. I wish they could take themselves out of that picture and focus on the kids. Or even just look around the world to see what's happening elsewhere already.

2. I AM hysterical! I am feeling absolutely, completely 100% hysterical (without the exaggerated aspect), and I am becoming shriller and shriller because nobody is bloody well listening! It's become quite obvious that I cannot get people out of a burning movie theatre if they're too comfortable to leave, but I won't stop yelling "Fire!" and I sure as hell am going to keep trying to pull the children out.

Well meaning friends keep giving me advice: don't get so emotional (we're talking about the future of all the children, of all species ... the potential end of life on Earth, and you don't want me to get emotional?), don't be so negative (you can check out my opinion of positive thinking in the face of global climate calamity here), be sure to offer solutions (let's get the kids out of the burning theatre before we sit down to discuss fire safety rules, shall we?).

It's not like, as one friend used to say, I'm a Cassandra (who, in Greek mythology, was gifted with the ability to hear the future but cursed so that no one would ever believe her predictions; "her combination of deep understanding and powerlessness exemplify the ironic condition of mankind," according to Wikipedia). I'm not so much predicting the future as seeing what's already happening and understanding the nature of climate feedbacks and knowing that we're heading towards a point of no return.

What really hit home recently (I've written about this before, but only just really "got it" yesterday) is why no one wants to hear and heed the warnings. Post World War II generations (my mother's, mine, my niece's) in EuroAmerican countries are soooooo comfortable that they live in a cocoon of entitlement, ease and luxury (compared with past generations of human beings). Added to that is the New Age "surround yourself with positive people" mantra. What we've ended up with is a big chunk of the globe who (literally, physically) recoil at hearing the sad and scary news about the climate change mess we've cooked up.

Now here's what makes it even worse. These people (and it's most of us) choose to avoid FEELING BAD today rather than choosing to avoid a climate hell for their children or grandchildren in the (nearer than we think) future. Am I articulating that well? People are refusing to FEEL BAD. They would rather condemn their children to future food shortages and famines than have to FEEL BAD today hearing and thinking about it.

To me, that is inexcusable. So, for 2012, here's to a year where people allow their hearts to feel the pain and their eyes to cry the tears and their minds to think about what we're doing to the children ... and then may they have the courage to speak up and do something about it. Even if it's just writing a letter to their elected representatives, because that's how we change political will.

Happy new year, folks. May we all feel this year, even if it's bad. Cuz feeling bad is better than not feeling.

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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 courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?