26 February 2012

I Finally Met One in Real Life!

I met a real-live climate change denialist the other day. I've had a few run-ins with them before, but through letters to the editor, never in person. It was quite the experience!

And I'll tell ya, he was a humdinger. Rude, arrogant, illogical, argumentative, and guilty of doing everything he was accusing me of doing. So, they really are like that! Wow. We're doomed.

I was presenting to a group of colleagues on a tangentially related educational topic. By way of introduction, I wanted to let the audience know that my deep understanding of the climate change crisis gives me a rather unique perspective on what and how we should be teaching in the new millennium. (I believe that learning soil building, food growing, water collecting and energy generating must be at the core of our new curriculum. Anything else we teach — without these skills — will become increasingly irrelevant and then moot. After all, how useful are reading and writing and math if we don't have enough to eat?) (I said it was a unique perspective, didn't I?)

I was only on my third slide. Who interrupts a speaker on her third slide? He just broke in and started insisting that my facts were all opinions and that his "facts" were all correct. (I'm not sure I'd even presented any "facts" by that point!) And that I was slandering climate change deniers (a term I hadn't even used; regular readers know that I don't use that term anymore because deniers, er, denialists say it hurts their feelings). The atmosphere is cooling. There's no melting in the Arctic. Etc. He spewed such old, old craptrap. Why can't the denialists come up with any cool new stuff to show their ignorance of the science and the evidence?

I'm not comfortable dealing with hecklers (this was not a polite contribution to the "discussion") and I know I got my hackles up, but others told me later that I handled it well. For their sake, I'm glad I gave that impression. But I still can't figure out what motivates someone like that to hold so tightly to the past. Why do some people need so vociferously to deny what's happening?

It upsets me a lot to think that people who should know better, who ask their students all the time to listen politely, to do research and to think critically, take only enough time to arm themselves with all the denialist party lines. Which, have you noticed, never seem to change. The rest of us are learning new things about global warming and climate change all the time because we're following the new research. These people keep reading the same old stuff all the time, and never seem to gain the necessary scientific understanding of the laws of physics and ecology at play here. (That's why there's considered a difference between skeptics and denialists. The former are open to considering new findings. The latter are not concerned with new findings at all.)

We have [...] arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

— Carl Sagan

On the way home, I found myself wondering what kind of teacher someone like that, someone who doesn't give a flying leap about their students' future, would be. Never mind. Based on his behaviour the other day, I suspect I know the answer to my question.

p.s. Someone has reminded me that since the climate change crisis is already killing people and will lead to a holocaust ("destruction or slaughter on a mass scale"), climate change deniers are, in effect, holocaust deniers and have no right to get upset when others use the term "denier" to describe them.

p.p.s. The Climate Reality Project demonstrates why it worries me so much that some educators refuse to take the time to learn the science of global warming:

19 February 2012

Ecocide - A Crime Against Peace, a Crime Against Humanity, and a Crime Against the Future

Polly Higgins is an indefatigable UK lawyer whose main client is the Earth. Polly is on a mission to have the United Nations accept "ecocide" as an international crime against peace. (This is a photo of Polly presenting in Toronto in February 2012. Since then, she's presented all over the world.)

She and her team at Eradicating Ecocide define ecocide as "the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished."


Ecocide would belong to jus cogens, which is the highest rung of international law hierarchy. It would sit at the same level as crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, slavery, torture and piracy. (Check out my Rights for Future Generations webpage to learn more about ecocide from a different perspective: stealing a viable future from future generations, or progenycide.)

An international law of ecocide would make corporate CEOs and heads of state legally responsible for their destruction of Earth. People and planet would come before profits. (See the video below.) Of course, it will be a big help if we can get the economics right, requiring corporations to internalize the cost of social and environmental damages they cause, which they are now allowed externalize (one example of indirect subsidies to these companies), before pocketing their profits. A simple change to the corporate charter everywhere would level the playing field — and make ecocide economically fatal.

And to get a sense of the type of destruction Polly Higgins is referring to, watch this trailer for the four-segment movie, Fever, by LifeMosaic. It's a four and a half minute heartbreaker.

12 February 2012

Nowhere to Run - Drought and Floods

Martha and the Vandellas said it best:
Nowhere to run to, baby
Nowhere to hide
Got nowhere to run to, baby
Nowhere to hide
Between increasing droughts, too much precipitation, and more heat waves and cold snaps, there is nowhere to run to anymore. Check out these maps, developed by NCAR scientist Aiguo Dai. A fellow climate scientist, Richard Seager of Columbia University's Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, remarked "The term 'global warming' does not do justice to the climatic changes the world will experience in coming decades. Some of the worst disruptions we face will involve water, not just temperature."

Dai's 2010 study also found that "drought risk can be expected to decrease this century across much of Northern Europe, Russia, Canada, and Alaska, as well as some areas in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the globe's land areas should be drier overall."

So, the areas where increased wetness is expected tend to be areas that aren't our greatest agricultural regions. Can we grow food in the boreal region? And can we grow food in an area with increased rainfall, which means decreased sunshine?

If you were to look for a new place to live right now (for any reason, but especially to escape the impacts of climate change), where would you go? It seems there is no place left to run to. So imagine what life is going to be like for people without the means to migrate anywhere.

(Not that migrating is going to be easy in these political times. Look at what happened to the democratically elected president of the Maldives. He's one of the few world leaders who has spoken up about the climate crisis and the need to start moving his people. Suddenly he's ousted by gunpoint during a coup, and the American envoy is meeting with the "new president" in less than a week. Anyone else smell, well, you can't say that "c" word on the internet anymore, can you? Or perhaps lack of sleep getting to me again. I feel particularly responsible for the fate of the Maldive Islands. Back in my younger days, before I knew anything about global warming, I made a childhood dream come true by travelling around the world. When my ticket got screwed up and I had to skip my trip to the Maldives, I phoned home and told my loved one, "Well, not to worry. The Maldives aren't going anywhere, so we can come back to visit anytime." I did not touch wood.)

My greatest fear in life is drowning. My second greatest fear is great thirst. I'm a water person, obviously. But besides getting into the water cistern business, what can we do? Doesn't it seem like we're heading into a very dangerous place? A world of not enough water and too much water? Dying of thirst happens so fast. For those who can still eke out a little water, drought then leads to crop failures, famine and starvation (often with food riots and violence in between).

When will world leaders pay attention? There soon won't be anywhere for them to run to, either.

04 February 2012

Learning to Think the Unthinkable

Had an interesting back-and-forth on Facebook today with someone who knows someone I know. (The "instant intimacy" created by social media is fodder for someone else's blog.)

This started out as a post about fracking (a method of extracting oil and gas using high pressure hydraulic fracturing of rock) in my province here in Canada. One thing led to another. I chimed in about getting to zero carbon.
The fastest way to get to a zero-carbon economy would be for governments to stop giving hundreds of billions of dollars in direct subsidies (our tax money) every year to the fossil fuel industries around the world (up to $ trillion per year if we count indirect subsidies, like the externalization of social and environmental costs). If governments immediately switched those direct subsidies to perpetual (non burning) renewable energy technologies, and stop allowing fossil fuel corporations to hand off environmental and social costs to society (indirect subsidies), we would see an overnight change in investments. Green jobs would become the high paying jobs — and we might have a fighting chance to stave off the most catastrophic climate change impacts. Tragically, the fossil fuel lobby will fight any movement in this direction to the bitter end.
The comment thread ended up with a rather angst-ridden admission by this person of a younger generation that he can't seriously consider green solutions as long as he's worried about how to pay the mortgage, as long as people his age have to make a living and pay the bills. To which I responded:
I feel for your generation. I cry for the children's generation. It's why I do the work I do. But we still seem to be coming at these problems and solutions as if nothing has changed — as if Big Money hasn't proven itself evil, as if the climate feedbacks haven't kicked in already in the Arctic, as if our food security isn't *really* threatened. I don't want a calamitous Russian Summer of 2010 to happen here in order for people to get what's at stake, but how do we get people to understand the threats otherwise? Unless we're creating community and learning how to grow food together in an unstable climate, we might not be resilient enough to withstand what's coming when the Arctic summer sea ice disappears and takes our northern hemisphere "air conditioning" with it.
And it got me thinking ... people just aren't thinking the unthinkable. They just aren't picturing the scariest thing that humans can picture: us not being here, our species gone (and much of life gone with us). Maybe we're just not capable of visualizing that kind of "annihilism" — which is dangerous given that we (especially in the EuroAmerican culture) are quite capable of annihilation.