26 June 2016

A Climate Change Confession -- I Want (and Need) Some Help

Okay, I'm just going to come right out and admit this. I've been holding it in for too long. 

I recently watched the final episode in the second season of Grace and Frankie* on Netflix (and no, I don't want a lecture about how much energy it takes to stream stuff, cuz watching an occasional bit of plot seems to be my only guilty pleasure these days), and at the end, I felt ... well, I couldn't put my finger on it right away. Not sad that the season was over (I'm more mature than that, cough ... Downton Abbey fans ... cough ;-), not let down (the finale rocked!), but ... oh, what was I feeling?

Envy. That was it. I was feeling envious. Resentful that Grace and Frankie (yes, fictional characters, but who represent so many millions of real people) could sit on the beach and talk about their future plans -- that didn't include working on climate change! Uh huh, I was begrudging them their (made-up) carefree lives. 

That's because on my bad days, I feel like a climate change chump. There's so much to do when you know climate change is an emergency -- and when it seems like hardly anyone else is working on solutions. It makes me feel like I can't go dancing on Thursday nights, pick up a new hobby, or take a vacation anywhere far away. All those things would make me feel guilty. 

But then -- and this is where chumphood comes in -- I realize that, like Grace and Frankie, hardly anyone else makes their life decisions based on climate change or climate change activism. Barely anyone else feels guilty about going dancing on Thursday nights, picking up a new hobby, or travelling wherever they want to go. If they want to, they do. If they don't want to, they don't. 

I'm not asking for sympathy, or even empathy. Let's face it, I'm making these choices of my own free will. And I'm not trying to guilt trip anyone for the choices they're making. (Okay, a few oil company execs should take on some guilt.) 

What I am proposing is this: If everyone did a little bit, no one would have to "do it all." If everyone reading this post wrote one letter per day week month to your elected officials (go ahead! create some political will!), reminding them that your descendants would like it very much if the politicians got off their fat %$# and did something about the climate crisis, maybe I could go dancing next Thursday. Or maybe take up drumming.

Whaddya think? Wanna take on a smidge of the work? Wanna offset your guilty pleasures? Wanna give this climate change chump a break? Pretty please?

*If you're in the second half-century of your life, there's a chance you'll adore this show!

19 June 2016

Why We Shouldn't Be Afraid of Fear Right Now

A friend and fellow activist said that, after reading last week's blog post to her partner, they "were wishing there was a more empowering word to use than fear. Being afraid is supposed to be a temporary response to an immediate danger. And fear can be paralyzing." They were wishing that "people were aware, alert, and responsible -- so much so they they took personal and political action out of awareness... not just out of fear."

That got me thinking. I talk about fear because most of us don't seem to be feeling or talking about it yet. It seems there's a fear lag as well as an ocean heat lag. Climate scientists who have been working on climate change research for decades are finally just waking up to their fear for the fate of the biosphere -- and their children and grandchildren. The public is mostly still just checking their cell phones, watching videos and trying to make a buck.

If enough people were afraid, we'd be noticing it, wouldn't we? As a society, I mean, or as a species, no? In cafés and other public places? Wouldn't there be a groundswell of "Hey, this climate change thing is starting to look and feel very real and real scary. I thought they said it was a hoax." Wouldn't everyone be talking about it? 

But no, the deniers are still out in full force, still rousing the wrong kind of fear in people (in EuroAmerican countries at least) that the "alarmists" are trying to, I don't know, take money out of rich people's pockets or something. (Remember, deniers usually don't make any sense. And it's not alarmist to raise the alarm about something that's alarming.) And the general public still sees it as sometime in the future, or somewhere else in the world, or simply something they can keep ignoring until someone knocks on their door and tells them to listen up.

We animals have three responses to fear: fight, flight or freeze. Freezing would be great if it meant staying home and not burning fossil fuels. Flight would be okay, too, if one did it on foot or bicycle. However, when it comes to climate change, the preferred response is to fight ... to have our hackles raised and our fists up, ready to protect our loved ones. 

Yet no, as the United States reels from another mass shooting -- its worst since the massacre of hundreds of Lakota children, women and men at Wounded Knee in 1890 -- and as fracking continues to expand (is not fracking the epitome of stupid?), we're just not getting the numbers of people we need putting up the good fight for the sake of their children and the next seven generations. 

So no, with apologies to those who think hope is what's important these days, I say no, we don't yet deserve hope yet. We haven't done anywhere near enough to deserve hope. We first need to be scared %$#@less on behalf of our children. And then we need to turn our fear to fight, and our fight to action!

Or else, as Prince Ea says in his spoken word essay, Dear Generations: Sorry, "Whatever you're fighting for -- racism or poverty, feminism, gay rights, or any type of equality -- it won't matter in the least, because if we don't all work together to save the environment, we will be equally extinct." And that, ladies and gentlemen, is freaking scary.

12 June 2016

End the Brutality, Find Common Purpose

We saw Michael Moore's latest movie at the community hall last night. Where to Invade Next is quite brilliant and I highly recommend it. There wasn't much in it that I was unaware of (the big hearts of Norwegians took me by surprise), but his premise and the things his interviewees had to say were really evocative -- and provocative.

However, the part of the movie that made me gasp was his clips of the sheer brutality of prison guards towards inmates in the United States. And it struck me ... if Americans of every ilk (but especially young male African Americans) are living in that kind of constant fear, no wonder they 
don't give a flying leap about climate change. 

I don't know when Canada's neighbour to the south adopted this ethos of inhumaneness, though I suspect it coincided approximately with when Exxon decided to withhold its scientists' knowledge of climate change and start funding denial.

I do know this. We need people to be afraid, very afraid. Of the climate change emergency, not each other and certainly not people in uniform. 

So here's a simple compassionate climate action:
1. Watch Michael Moore's Where to Invade Next.

2. Do what you can to end the brutality, the inhumanity, and the what seems like complete lack of sensitivity in America. Let's encourage Americans to bring some heart and humaneness back to their country.

3. Help any friends and relatives you might have in the US (and elsewhere) see that it's no longer "us and them," it's now us and us. We must work to find common purpose -- and that focus must be climate change. We're all on the same side now!

05 June 2016

Let's Start Picturing How We're Going to Stand Up to Globalized Capitalism

Stephanie McMillan
While visiting a friend's place last week, I picked up a copy of New Yorker Magazine that was lying on the end table in his living room. I flipped to an article about Jeremy Corbyn, Britain's new Labour Party leader, and read this: "It is easier for people to imagine the end of the earth [Earth?] than it is to imagine the end of capitalism." 

I nearly gasped out loud. I'd heard before that Canadians "would rather die comfortable than live uncomfortable" (see this post), but this was the first time it had been pointed out to me so starkly that those made comfortable by capitalism are NOT going to bite the hand that feeds them, even if that hand is killing off their children's future.

The quote was attributed to Fredric Jameson, an American literary critic and Marxist political theorist, best known for his analysis of contemporary cultural trends. What he actually said was:
"Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world." 
Jameson makes a good point. Capitalism and "the end of the world" are rapidly becoming synonymous -- even if most EuroAmericans (and those we've globalized) can't picture any other economic system and therefore are willingly accepting the end of the world. (I call that a failure of imagination.) 

That "someone" that Jameson mentioned was Slavoj Žižek, a Slovenian sociologist, philosopher and cultural critic. And here is his exact quote:
"Think about the strangeness of today's situation. Thirty, forty years ago, we were still debating about what the future will be: communist, fascist, capitalist, whatever. Today, nobody even debates these issues. We all silently accept global capitalism is here to stay. On the other hand, we are obsessed with cosmic catastrophes: the whole life on earth [Earth?] disintegrating, because of some virus, because of an asteroid hitting the earth, and so on [um, climate chaos?]. So the paradox is, that it's much easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a much more modest radical change in capitalism." 
— from Zizek!, a 2005 American/Canadian documentary film by Astra Taylor 
It's true, isn't it? Capitalism (of the globalized sort) has become the metaphorical water we swim in -- so we can't see it for what it is ... unkind, unfair, exploitive, lying, inequitable, dangerous, dirty, carbon intensive and greenhouse-gas-spewing. We've created quite the mess, haven't we? It's led to what my hubby calls a "widespread de facto conspiracy to keep supporting the fossil fuel industry and its tacit support by the majority of governments, scientists and and NGOs."

According to Žižek, it's possible that all we need is a "modest radical change in capitalism." I like that: "a modest radical change" ... but a radical change nonetheless. 

I've written before that we don't have time to effect that radical change BEFORE we save the world, but many of the solutions do entail a tweaking of our capitalist system (see this post). As Naomi Klein explains in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate:
"We have been told it's impossible to get off fossil fuels when in fact we know exactly how to do it -- it just requires breaking every rule in the 'free market' playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies and reclaiming our democracies."
"Free market" in quotation marks? Yes, that's because it's not a free market. We're actually subsidizing fossil fuel corporations with direct and indirect subsidies in the trillions of dollars per year. With our tax dollars. Which also pay for all the externalized costs of fossil fuel burning. So it sure ain't a free market for us!

Reining in corporate power? Yes, how about a change to the corporate charter? Making it law that corporations must internalize all their health and environmental costs before counting their profits and paying dividends to their shareholders?

Rebuilding local economies? Yes, after we've got solar fusion technology down pat, scaleable to small communities and building the renewable energy infrastructure. (We need energy-dense power to transition to renewable energy -- but we can't be using coal and other fossil fuels to meet that goal.)

Reclaiming our democracies? Yes, people don't realize just how many democracies (and those we have elected to represent us in our governments) are "owned" by Big Banks and the fossil fuel industries. (Here in Canada, we elected a party whose national campaign co-chair, who has since resigned, gave lobbying advice to a major Canadian pipeline company less than a week before the election. See what I mean?)

How about if we start clearly picturing how capitalism is ending life on Earth -- and then start imagining how we're going to stand up for the children and end the destruction?

I love this one! Ah, dear sweet Capitalism,
it was fine until you got greedy!