30 September 2012

Compassion Tune-Up - A Devastating Sight

When I hear my husband sobbing in his office, I know he's stumbled upon something searingly sad. Yesterday, it was a photo of something we could never have imagined. 

Turns out it was one in a series of July 2011 photos by Jenny E. Ross, taken in Ostrova Oranskie in northern Novaya Zemlya, in the Russian High Arctic. 

An online friend of Peter's, Veli Albert Kallio, shared on Facebook the following:
Desperate and hungry polar bears are seen attempting to climb mountains to reach for food as their natural habitat has been destroyed. Bears have an excellenct nose and they sense the bird eggs but as they are not adapted to mountaineering on the steep slopes, they fall off the mountains easily to their deaths. Their claws are not strong enough to grab them firmly onto mountainsides as the nails brake under the weight of bears on the rocks. Arctic foxes and other animals then eat unfortunate polar bear carcasses. The numbers of bears are considerably down already for next cruising season and it may take some nerves to see the polar bears suffering like this.
Polar bears in our Arctic must now climb rocky mountains to attempt to feed on the eggs of seabirds (Brünnich's Guillemots)? According to the photographer, "This bear was marooned on land, unable to feed on seals  his normal prey  because the sea ice had melted throughout the region and receded far to the north as the result of climate change." 

What hell on Earth have we wrought? 

Note the subadult male polar bear near the top 
Not built for climbing
An unsuccessful attempt to eat

23 September 2012

It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Well, I gave my first Climate Reality Project presentation last night. I called it (as you can see) "Whacky Weather, Food Fragility and Compassionate Climate Action." (Someone commented that it was an evening of alliterative activism. ;-) 

I didn't quite feel ready, but I was well enough prepared. I wasn't quite myself, however. I'm not used to reading from a script (of sorts), plus my neck pain radiated down my back in an excruciating way, making me rather low-spirited. Quite ironically, my husband complimented me later on my "subdued manner," which he thought was quite appropriate for the subject matter (climate tragedy after climate tragedy around the world). I'm usually a pretty upbeat person, so maybe the backache was a stroke of luck!

About 20 people attended. Not bad for a tiny community on a Saturday night. Since I knew almost everyone who attended, I received lots of hugs and positive feedback afterwards — a friendly audience, in other words.

Our way home was lit by an orange fruit-jelly half harvest moon, something I've never seen before.

Then I got home to a rude message from someone I thought was a like-minded and like-hearted soul, inferring, because I gave an Al Gore presentation, that I'm a cultist and a minion (or some hare-brained thing like that). Her message was filled with links to idiotic denier websites. It was the worst of times. (I responded with a Reply All by addressing her unkindness.)

But then I got a thank you message, from a mom (of two beautiful kids) who braved coming to my talk. 
Thank-you for your incredible presentation tonight. I was really nervous about coming. And yet I knew it was important.... I'll be thinking about your talk for a long while... forever actually. I mean, you are never really the same again after absorbing all of that very sobering and heart-breaking information. 
I was so proud of you tonight. I feel so wonderfully blessed that you are in this community, my children's lives, and MY life! You have touched our lives in the most important of ways. 
Ah, it was the best of times. 

16 September 2012

Can We Just Get On With the Transformation? Please?

Okay, I'll admit that my nerves are somewhat frayed from a busy week at work and the radiating pain of a pinched nerve in my neck. I might be feeling a little less compassionate and a lot more cynical this week. (Is it just me or do dastardly events pop up in the Middle East region whenever the American president's ratings dip or there's a presidential election coming up? Grrr.)

So this week, I would like to simply ask this. Can we not just get on with the critical transformation we have to make to the Golden Age of Solar and other perpetual energy technologies? Just in the last couple of days, I've received listserve messages that I'm sure have contributed to the pain in my neck! Let me give you a few examples:

"Activists on all sides of the argument can, and do, try to influence the political process. Problems start to arise when scientists jump from saying 'this is how things stand' to 'therefore you should do this.' As soon as they make that jump, they have entered the political process and are expressing a political opinion NOT a scientific one."

WHAT? Scientists who see and can understand what we're doing to the atmosphere and the biosphere (not many of us can actually grasp the processes at work in global warming and climate change) aren't being scientific when they beg, "STOP PUMPING OUT SO MUCH GREENHOUSE GAS"? So it's scientific to understand life, but not scientific to want to safeguard it?

As it is, there aren't enough scientists with guts and holistic vision speaking out at all. To then accuse scientists of being unscientific if they make the logical leap, well, I think we'd better figure out what our priority is. 

This commenter continued:

"Using a national survey, [So and So] has found that, among low-income and low-education respondents, climate scientists suffered damage to their trustworthiness and credibility when they veered from describing science into calling viewers to ask the government to halt global warming. And not only did trust in the messenger fall – even the viewers' belief in the reality of human-caused warming dropped steeply."

I think we'd also find that a lot of "low-income and low-education respondents" are still smoking and don't like wearing their seat belts. Why can't people see that this doesn't matter? Governments should be going ahead and creating the necessary transformation no matter who's on board, no matter who trusts which scientists, and no matter who believes what. 

Every day that we spew another 90 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the long-suffering atmosphere is another day that we're heading in the wrong direction. We can't take those 90 billion tons back! And 20% of that carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere 1,000 years from now. So quibbling and squabbling over whether scientists should have an opinion on what to do, oh my gawd! Can we all grow up now please and get on with the transformation?

This line (same commenter) cracked me up:

"At this year's [Such and Such] meeting, the President's address lamented the falling trust in science. If true, that would indeed be a sad state of affairs that society can ill-afford. However, scientists need to reflect as to how much of their own behavior in conflating science with politics may drive that decreasing trust."

What? Falling trust in science is lamentable? No! Falling ability to survive on this planet is lamentable! A sad state of affairs? Can we get our priorities right, puhleeze? A sad state of affairs is the drought that gripped the bread basket agricultural areas of the world this summer! And blaming scientists? Listen, if science shares the blame, it's only because science combined with technology had a hand in getting us into this mess in the first place. The fact that some scientists are trying to make up for this is a good thing, not something to bemoan.

Another commenter (same listserve, different topic) explained that "psychodynamically rooted perspectives concerning the management of anxiety" are equally compelling when it comes to looking at why people do or don't change their behaviour. I'm thinking that governments switching more than $1,000,000,000 (that's $1 billion plus) per year in direct and indirect subsidies that they give to fossil fuel corporations over to new perpetual energy companies – that would be compelling! Talk about behaviour change. Investors like to back a winning horse – and guess who would then have a chance at winning! 

This person (a professor) continued: "What I find is that students consistently are powerfully moved, motivated and impacted by any writings that bring into the frame emotional dimensions – that includes unconscious management of acute anxieties."

Just wait. They are definitely going to be moved, motivated and impacted by the climate change emergency! Think you're seeing "acute anxieties" now? Just wait till the Arctic summer sea ice – the Northern Hemisphere's air conditioner during our growing season – collapses completely if you want to deal with acute anxieties.

I don't know. Is it just me, or is there a lot of talking about bullshit stuff that just DOES NOT MATTER in the face of the climate change emergency? Why are we still sitting around talking about fire safety regulations while the Earth is burning?

Okay, okay, I'll go take a painkiller and a hot bath and see if I can shake my grumpiness. And maybe I should unsubscribe from that listserve for the sake of my blood pressure. But truly, folks, we need to make the swift transformation to the perpetual energy (renewable minus burning) economy yesterday! What is the hold up?

09 September 2012

You CAN Handle the Truth!

You know what? We're in a no-analogue Catch-22. Psychologists tell us not to tell people the full truth about the climate change emergency because they won't be able to handle it and will shut down and not do anything. But if we don't tell people the full truth, they're not going to do anything anyway! I've recently asked readers and friends for advice on how to handle this conundrum. Below is some of the feedback I've received, and then I'll give you my new take on all of this.

Unknown shared this: "I say go ahead and tell the whole truth, don't sugar coat it. You'll get people more scared, but maybe a little fear is what we need -- along with a heaping dose of reality. People are still WAY too self-absorbed, or worried about which celebrity is divorcing who, or which sports team scored higher than another. They need to realize that none of that matters at all, that their world is crumbling around them and they're too blind (or busy watching television) to see it."

So, truth as wake up call! That resonates with me. Unknown finishes with "So bring it on, sister!"

My online friend, David Wilson, concurs with the age-old adage "The truth will set you free." He also brings up an excellent point, told through this anecdote:
"Back in the days of Simon Charlie's Festival of the Sun, there were always people showing up and taking too much of the wrong thing ... bikers on tequila, kids on shrooms, acid, whatever ... and you know, my learning then, which has not changed much over the years, was and is that people get through their freak-outs if someone will just invest the time and energy to talk to them, calmly, openly, compassionately, in a way that lets them know you are not going to up and leave them stranded there."
So I can't just plop the full truth on the table and walk away. I know there's always someone who asks, "What can I do?" as if they haven't been awake for the past 20 years. "Create political will" is not the first thing I'm going to suggest to people like that. But there will have to be hand-holding and hugs. After all, I've been dealing with this bad news for years now. The general public has not. (More on that here.) 

And patients who have just received a terminal diagnosis don't jump into action -- they have to digest the news and grieve a bit first. Then, however, according to my husband-the-doctor, they are ready to jump into action, to do whatever it takes to change their prognosis or prepare for the end.

My husband-the-doctor and I have had many conversations about the psychology of climate change communication. There is just a small handful of psychologists who have driven the don't-tell-the-truth-about-climate-change agenda here in North America (and in the UK, too, I think). We suspect these psychologists weren't alive before World War II, so they haven't witnessed how the people in our culture can rally together when necessary. Nor have they worked in medicine to witness the courage of people who discover they are terminally ill. 

It's not that people (in our culture/society -- it's frustrating when psychologists talk about "people" as though they mean the whole human species when their research has dealt only with Americans; and even there, check out the Yale study Global Warming’s Six Americas) can't handle the truth. It's that people need someone -- their doctor, a Winston Churchill, their president or prime minister, a Climate Reality Project leader, ahem -- to be there for them once they've absorbed the truth.

Furthermore, the truth does need to be the full truth (for example, the history of the denial machine) so that cognitive dissonance doesn't set in. You know, "the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change." In other words, if people finally come to see the urgency of what really needs to happen in the world but still don't see their leaders taking action, that's going to mess with their minds unless they understand all the forces at work to keep us embroiled (pun intended!) in the fossil fuel economy.

And finally, here's my epiphany for the week (keeping in mind that sometimes my epiphanies are things I figured out long ago and then forgot about ;-). When "common knowledge" says that people can't handle the full truth about the climate change emergency, that they'll shut down and become immobilized, there are quite likely two flaws in that thinking. 

First, it's quite possible that the researchers (including the armchair variety) who tell us this are simply projecting their own fears and attitudes onto the rest of us. 

Second, that view of the human spirit forgets that we've really only been taking people to the door to peer in. 
We haven't yet been taking people right in, inviting them to sit down, and introducing them to the emergency in a way that allows them to calmly get to know it.  
We haven't yet asked them to feel deeply the plight of others in more climate-change-vulnerable regions of the world -- or their own country.  
We haven't yet put a box of tissues on the table next to them and encouraged them to cry their pain or sing a song of lament (the lost art in our society of passionately expressing our grief or sorrow) that will surely bubble up once this new knowledge is deeply understood -- and felt.  
And we haven't yet urged the perfectly natural anger that parents will feel once they realize their children's future is literally at risk because we're not willing to make the switch to cleaner, safer, healthier, more peaceful and more equitable perpetual energy technologies. 

So no, unlike Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, we do not have the right to tell our fellow citizens that they can't handle the truth. We've never given them the chance.

02 September 2012

I've Finally Figured It Out!

I discreetly followed the proceedings of the Republican Party convention in the United States this past week. (Know thy enemy, eh?) The things they say and believe and promote – it's like they're from another planet, one without poor people or ecological limits. It truly does seem as though money and American hegemony are more important to them than life. (Cue gnashing of teeth sound effects.)

After bouncing around the blogosphere a bit, I had a sudden revelation! I ran upstairs to bounce it off my husband, who had just had his own epiphany. Together, we have worked it out. Not solved it, mind you. Just figured it out.

And here's how "it" goes*:

If the powers-that-be in the United States admit to the global climate change emergency and their role in it, their citizens will start clamouring (or clamoring, I guess) for the government to get going on solutions. And that will entail spending some money. Where will that money be diverted from? Subsidies we give, directly and indirectly, to fossil fuel corporations? The Pentagon and its odious and sometimes illegal military operations? The CIA and its odious and mostly shadowy doings around the world?

Now, why would that be considered a bad thing, given that most people would say they prefer peace? Well, the USA has to maintain its place as the world's fossil fuel superpower. And the only way to do that these days is through military force and might (with a whole whack of lies and deceit and mercenaries and wagging the dog thrown in, to make "the game" more fun, I suppose; take Libya and Syria as examples – contact me if you don't understand what I'm alluding to). 

Okay, but why does the USA have to remain the global head honcho when it comes to fossil fuels? Because it depends on the fact that the American dollar is the world's petro-currency. The only internationally approved currency for buying oil is the American dollar. (Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi were trying to change that, and look what happened to them! Check out this October 2009 article by Robert Fisk in the Independent, The Demise of the Dollar, for more info.) On the other hand, people can pay for wind turbines and solar panels with any currency they want! So if fossil fuels go down, and the USA isn't bringing in billions (trillions?) of dollars in petro-dollars every year, then it will go down too, completely bankrupt. 

So, when I complain that American conservatives (of both Republican and Democratic ilk) think money is more important to them than life, it's true, they do. Because they realize, whether intellectually or viscerally, that the "greatest" nation on Earth is built on a fossil-fuel-dependent house of cards. All the money that floats around the USA – and buys the 1% their mansions and yachts and Hummers – comes from that country's special fossil-fuelled status.

Ergo, perhaps the solution lies in helping small communities see that their resilience no longer lies in the security provided by a nation, but will come from their working together at the local level to build soil, grow food, collect rainwater, and generate energy from perpetual sources.  

The USA has to deny climate change not only because of its dependence on fossil fuels, but also because of its dependence on fossil fuel dollars. Perhaps the sovereign nation state and the American dream are ideas whose time has passed. 

* With apologies to those who have known this all along.