Climate Resources for Newbies

Hi Friends,

I’m going to be closing down this blog soon. As you can see, I haven’t done a very good job of posting with any regularity. This is because my work already requires too much writing, and also because I need to approach environmental justice in a different way in the church. (You’ll be hearing about it!)

But here’s a last post. It’s a list of resources I’ve compiled for anyone who wants to learn more about climate change. And forgive the dark humor–it’s my style.

With love, Andrée

Hell in a Nutshell: Climate Resources for Newbies

Andrée Zaleska
 I’ve compiled this list for those new, or somewhat new, to the issue of climate change. It’s an overwhelming list and might be intimidating. I understand this, so I’ve done three things:
1. Order the articles according to what I feel is most comprehensive and important (in other words, read the top ones first), and
2. Divide the articles into categories so that you can choose what interests you the most. I do suggest reading at least a few of the articles under Science, because I find they are the most motivating.
3. Put three asterix (***) in front of the best sources. Begin by reading these articles or books.

Science (hell in a nutshell)

***Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, Rolling Stone, Bill McKibben http://www.rollingstone.com/politic…
We’re on Pace for 4C of Global Warming: Here’s why the World Bank is terrified https://www.washingtonpost.com/news… Voluntary Pledges Aren’t Enough: Glaciologist Says Nonbinding Emission Reductions Won’t Cut It http://www.democracynow.org/2015/12/11/voluntary_pledges_arent_enough_glaciologist_says Why Big Blizzards in the Winter Don’t Disprove Climate Change http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/01/22/3741287/climate-science-blizzards/ Record hot years near impossible without manmade climate change http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/25/record-hot-years-near-impossible-without-manmade-climate-change-study

***Eaarth, Bill McKibben (book)
Field Notes From a Catastrophe, Elizabeth Kolbert (book)

 

Extinction (BTW, everything is dying)

How Humans Cause Mass Extinction http://churchandstate.org.uk/2016/01/how-humans-cause-mass-extinctions/

***Phytoplankton Rapidly Disappearing from the Indian Ocean https://www.sciencenews.org/article…
The Sixth Great Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert, book

Climate Justice (either we hang together or we hang separately)

What We Are Fighting For Now is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Climate Justice Movement, Wen Stephenson (book)

Are You Ready for the Counter Apocalypse? http://americamagazine.org/issue/ar…

*** Naomi Klein: “Climate change not just about things getting hotter…it’s about things getting meaner” http://billmoyers.com/story/naomi-k…

 

Some of the Best Climate Scientists (bold and unpopular truth tellers):

  • Michael Mann, Director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center
    ***Dr James Hansen, formerly Chief Climatologist at NASA, now retired (he’s the grandaddy of all climate science, and the first whistleblower)
    Kevin Anderson, the Tyndall Center for Climate Research (UK)
    Dr Jason Box, NOAA, director of the Dark Snow project (darksnow.org)

Really Good Journalists and News Sources on Climate (TMI, All the Time)

Chris Mooney at The Washington Post (incredibly good, frank reporting from a major media outlet)
George Monbiot at The Guardian
Bill McKibben anywhere (he’s the father of the climate movement)
Elizabeth Kolbert at The New Yorker
The Guardian in general (follow their series on climate change.)

 

Activism! The Climate Movement (#keepitintheground—FGS)

***The New Abolitionists, Wen Stephenson http://thephoenix.com/boston/news/1…

Civil disobedience often leads to jail. But now, protesters can explain themselves http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/13/civil-disobedience-often-leads-to-jail-but-now-protestors-can-explain-themselves

This series in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/oct/05/a-story-of-hope-the-guardian-launches-phase-two-of-its-climate-change-campaign

What We Are Fighting For Now is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Climate Justice Movement, Wen Stephenson (book)

Solutions (umm…we’re working on this part)

(For the most part, the solutions are found under Climate Activism. “No new fossil fuel infrastructure” and “Keep it in the ground” are the missions of the climate movement—ie, end all fossil fuel use ASAP.)

 

Green Lifestyle or Personal Changes (small shit you can do yourself)

Best practices:

  • Don’t fly. Flying is the worst thing you can personally do for the planet. If this is impossible, consider where you vacation. Walk and bike more.
  • Insulate your home.
  • Keep it simple: Don’t buy things you don’t need; live in a house that’s no bigger than what you need; stay away from products that aren’t biodegradable (especially plastics). Of the three common mandates—reduce, reuse, recycle—the first one is by far the best.
  • Solar energy is great, but don’t go nuts spending money you don’t have that way. You can buy “green energy” from the grid. More important than anything is to reduce your consumption and if possible, your living space.
  • Yes, you recycle. But until you start reducing, you’re still killing the planet http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/19/eco-friendly-living-sustainability-recycling-reducing-saving-the-planet

Handy facts for enjoyable conversations with friends and family:

  • Climate Math: Climatologists have determined that the “safe” level for carbon dioxide is no more than 350 parts per million. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (before fossil fuels were extracted for fuel), global carbon levels were at 270 ppm. Now they are at 400 ppm, rising by 2-3 ppm/year. The last time in the Earth’s history that C02 was at 400ppm, the sea level was 18 feet higher than now.
  • Extinction: 50% of animal life on the planet has been lost in the past 40 years.
  • Both Greenland and the Antarctic are melting at an alarming rate. If both melt entirely (possibly by the end of the century) global sea levels will rise by a minimum of 20 feet swamping coastal cities (Miami, NYC, New Orleans) worldwide, and sinking many island nations altogether. Rapid “desertification” caused by warming will make much of Africa, Australia and the Middle East uninhabitable. The American Midwest (“bread basket” of the country) will likely return to Dust Bowl conditions and become unarable. California is already suffering the worst drought in 1000 years, and the situation may well be permanent.
  • The recent global climate negotiations (COP 21) resulted only in a commitment to voluntary emissions reductions by key countries. If implemented, this would still result in a temperature rise of 3-4 degrees (C) by the end of the century. Several eminent institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Energy Association, have stated that a 4 degree temperature rise is a threat to the very existence of human civilization.
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This is Climate Change

1688384_10200425777885113_2105215155730715832_nWe’re in between major snow events here in Boston today. One ended last night and another is headed our way Thursday. An unprecedented amount of snow has fallen in the last three weeks. I’m still having fun, but a lot of people are anxious: They can’t get to work, snow dams are causing leaks in their houses, they are elderly and can’t get out. Worse, we’re watching our city buckle under the distress of this weather–the T isn’t running, and there’s nowhere to put the snow. Come Spring, we will all face the potholes and frost heaves in our roads. All that will take months and millions to repair.

10952407_10200395642171739_1733697770722011485_n-1

But this is nothing–really, nothing. This is an extreme weather pattern caused by climate change (see the article below for the science). So far the global climate has warmed by 1C, and an additional 1-2C is now inevitable. It can’t be prevented no matter what humans do to reduce our collective CO2 emissions. So within the next century, we will have 2-3x more extreme weather events, and some of them will be even stronger than these. And it’s not just us here, of course. Climate change caused the worst drought in CA in 500 years, and the crop failures in the midwest last year. It caused Sandy. These events are now routine.

We all care about a lot of things. Maybe “your issue” isn’t climate change, because you are working on racism, homophobia, war, homelessness. But only one issue has the power to nullify all the others, and that’s climate change. I believe it’s not hard to imagine, at a moment like this, how climate change could threaten human civilization.

Continuing our current CO2 output (which rises, globally, by 2% each year), means we will bring about a 7-10C rise in global temperature within a few centuries, possibly sooner.

Imagine that. It’s dark, isn’t it?

I’m not the kind of organizer who motivates with rosy promises. What I want to ask this congregation to do–what I ask everyone to do–is to really look at this. When we have reckoned with our fear and despair, then we are ready to take action.

I’ll end now, but not without hope. Here’s an action you can take right away–this week. It’s  Global Divestment Day on Feb 12. A great local team led by 350Massachusetts is lobbying the State House in Boston from noon until 5pm to ask for divestment of the state pension fund from all fossil fuel interests (that means coal, oil and natural gas). Find out more at 350MA I’ll be there–let me know if you want to take the T with me and Simon.

One more thing: On March 3 I’ll be offering an evening gathering at my home, JP Green House, for us to discuss Climate Change, Resilience and the Power of Restraint. We’ll have soup and wine and cheese. The discussion, which will be casual, is meant to connect to the time of Lent and the meaning that can be found in relinquishing attachments. What do we need to relinquish in order to save God’s Creation? RSVP to me at aczaleska@gmail.org

Read here about how climate change causes storms like the ones we’re having:
Does Global Warming Mean More or Less Snow?
https://theconversation.com/does-global-warming-mean-more-or-less-snow-36936

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A Summer of Glory and Dread

Hope Central Friends, I apologize for the long delay in writing a post. In the middle of the winter my son Simon was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease and he was ill for several months. I felt like the mother of a 2-year-old again–so much worrying and hovering. Many balls were dropped. The good news is that Simon recovered fully, just in time for summer.

Summer is like a rolling carnival in my family. My boys and I pack up the Prius with all our camping gear and our dog Canyon, and for most of two months we are on the road, making ritualized visits to a series of family camps by lakes and coastlines, where we meet up with communities of friends that we’ve known for years in this way. It all culminates in a 3-week stint at our family cottage in Woods Hole on the Cape, where we cram in with 13 family members, and all the cousins attend a local science school that’s been in existence for 102 years in that town.

Aside from the horror of my infrequent dashes home to tend my garden (gardens don’t know how to take care of themselves), this is a pretty immaculate way to spend June and July.

But the world doesn’t just go away. This summer every glance at the big world outside our happy little one brought chills of horror. Gaza and Ferguson exploding in violence, California dessicating from drought, glaciers everywhere relentlessly melting. And then the funniest man in the world hanged himself.

I was stunned by beauty and delight everywhere I went: The rocky coast of Maine at sunset! Shrimp tacos! A pond with catfish that nibbled our toes! Maple sugar candy! The sound of raindrops on our tent. We live like royalty.

But everywhere I went my eyes were estimating sea level. That’s because the latest climate news, out of Antarctica, tells us that at least two major glaciers there are now irrevocably melting, and that the water they contain will raise sea level 10 feet within a few centuries, maybe faster. My beloved Gansett Beach in Woods Hole, Sippewissett Marshes, Ferry Beach Camp, Bath Maine–all of these places will be gone then.

They will be gone–not if we don’t do something, but inevitably now, because we waited so long to act on climate change. 

I could draw many, many lines to climate. The violence in Gaza is at least in part related to power struggles over who will have rights to the natural gas reserves there. Social unrest worldwide is usually related to resource scarcity. Lyme disease is an epidemic in the Northeast, partly because tick populations increase as the climate warms. The ocean is acidifying from the CO2 it’s absorbing, and this threatens all shelled creatures, who cannot form shells in an acid environment. (The entire food chain of the ocean is based on animals that eat those shelled creatures.) I was glad to see that the honeybees were abundant enough to pollinate my garden this year, but where are the monarchs? Have you seen any?

At the base of everything we love is the natural world, and it’s melting, it’s drying out, it’s flooding, raging with huge storms, and its waters are turning to acid. We can no longer save it all, but we should be fighting with all our strength to save what’s left.

If you are interested in learning more about climate change, the climate movement, and what you can do, please contact me at greenhousejp@gmail.com

Meanwhile, here are three upcoming opportunities to engage with the issue and to protest the now-visible destruction of climate change happening before our eyes:

Building a Movement of Movements: Towards the Peoples Climate March in NYC
August 22: A night of speakers and music leading up to the Peoples Climate March in NYC in September. Info and tickets here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/building-a-movement-of-movements-towards-the-peoples-climate-march-in-nyc-tickets-12358629995?ak_proof=1

The Peoples Climate March
NYC Sept. 21
Meant to be the biggest climate march in history. Buses are leaving from JP and Cambridge. You can find info about the march here and the buses here.

Here’s an interesting local event. The Lobster Boat Blockade Trial
In March of 2014, two men used a lobster boat they called the Henry David T. to block a shipment of coal to the Brayton Point coal plant. On September 8 they go on trial in Fall River MA using the Necessity Defense for the first time ever on behalf of the climate. Their trial is open to the public, and major climate activists Bill McKibben and Dr James Hansen will be testifying in their defense. (Full disclosure and juicy tidbit: Defendant Ken Ward is my close friend and the co-founder of JP Green House.)
See here for the full story: The Climate Made Me Do It!, The Boston Globe, August 17

See you in church and maybe in the streets!

Andrée

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Getting Started: How to Rid Your Life of Plastic

Lent starts tomorrow and it’s time to get our duckies in a row if we’re doing a Plastics Fast. But before we get started, I have a major and discouraging point to make:

Plastics aren’t recycled.

Most of us have felt comfortable using plastics ever since we were told they could be recycled. But it’s important to know what happens after you throw something into your blue bin and put it out on the curb for collection.

The truth is, at least 93% of plastic is NOT recycled because it is thrown into the trash, and not into the recycling stream. Some plastic is “recyclable”, which means in theory it can be made into some other plastic product if there’s a market for it. BUT, two things are important to know: 1. There is usually no market for the material, and 2. Plastic can only be reused once or twice, because its quality deteriorates. It does not “close the loop”–which is the hallmark of real recycling.

That means that all the plastic you consume is here to stay for thousands of years. Think hard before you buy anything made of plastic. Here’s a good article on the myth of plastic recycling (http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/learn/common-misconceptions/.

So now let’s move to the “how to do this” part. What strategies can we use to reduce or eliminate our plastic use? I’ll start with the big one today.

Grocery Shopping: Your biggest challenge.
Once you become conscious of the threat to your health and the planet that plastics represent, you’ll find grocery shopping becomes torturous. We are used to unthinkingly pulling plastic bags off a roll to bag our produce. All meats come wrapped in plastic. Most grains like rice and millet, and dried beans, come to us in plastic bags, and all cereals have plastic inner-bags. Yoghurt is almost impossible to find in anything but plastic containers.

It’s nearly impossible to be a purist when you are trying to get off plastics, but this experiment is about doing the best we can, and being conscious of the ubiquity of plastic packaging. Our consumer choices send a message to producers about what we want.

Here are some useful tips:
Buy in bulk: Whole Foods and Harvest have bulk-bins for grains, cereals, dried fruits, flour and more. You can bring your own container from home, have it weighed (a “tare weight”, which will be subtracted at the register), and then fill it up at the bins.

Look for glass: If you’re buying a cold drink, seek out the ones in glass containers. Glass is fully recyclable and safe for food and drinks. Also, always carry a water bottle with you (leave one in your car too) so that you don’t have to buy bottled water.

Buy meat at the meat counter: It will be wrapped in paper there.

Bring your own bags: We’re all getting used to bringing our own bags for groceries. Consider also buying or making produce bags out of cotton cloth, and having them on hand for all produce purchases.

Buy whole foods: If you can use and knife and a peeler, you can buy all your fruits and vegetables whole, and cut them up yourself. Pre-packaged foods are convenient, but the plastic containers they come in are unnecessary waste.

Milk: Comes in cardboard cartons, glass bottles and in plastic containers. Buy it in cartons. or glass. Same with buttermilk, half and half, cream, etc.

Yoghurt: This is a tough one. I haven’t seen yoghurt sold in glass containers in years. Sometimes I make my own, using a yoghurt maker and a starter culture. Here’s a link to a recipe for homemade yoghurt: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Homemade-Yogurt-395111

Necessary Equipment: Some great things to have around the house.

  1. Glass Mason jars in different sizes, for food storage.
  2. Simple cloth bags with drawstrings for produce. You can buy them at the sources listed at the end of this article, or make them yourself out of cotton cloth.
  3. A bag-dryer like this one (http://www.eco-buildingproducts.com/products-page/kitchen-and-bathroom/plastic-bag-dryer-by-flo-works/?gclid=COvQhLj1-bwCFe87OgodPDsAlw), or a simple clothesline over your sink so that you can wash and reuse your plastic bags. (I use and reuse the bags that bread comes in, by washing them. While this doesn’t count as being “plastic-free”, it does mean you save a lot of waste.)

In my next blog I’ll write about plastics and human health, and how to make or buy body products without plastic packaging.

Online Resources for Plastic-Free Products:

Plastic Pollution Coalition http://greenapplesupply.org/ppc/
Buy Green http://www.buygreen.com/

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A Lenten Plastics Fast

This year for Lent our church has decided to undertake a Plastic Fast. We’ll be attempting to reduce or halt our purchases of non-reusable plastics. I’ve been asked to lead this experiment in mindfulness because of my experience as an environmentalist, and my own dedication to living lightly on the Earth. (For more about me and my family, see our website about our home, JP Green House http://jpgh.org)

My own musings on plastic began the month before Halloween. While I’ve been contemplating this indestructible stuff that seems so ubiquitous in our lives for years, I came across some riveting images that made me want to do something immediately. They were photographs of dead albatrosses on an island in the Pacific Ocean, showing that their innards were full of plastic objects. Recognizable objects–like toothbrushes and cigarette lighters.

Photo by Chris Jordan

Photo by Chris Jordan

Here’s what the photographer, Chris Jordan, has to say about his work:

On Midway Atoll, a remote cluster of islands more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent, the detritus of our mass consumption surfaces in an astonishing place: inside the stomachs of thousands of dead baby albatrosses. The nesting chicks are fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean.

For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror. These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits. Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here.”

Look at the riveting photos here: http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/#CF000313%2018×24

No organism on Earth can digest (break down) plastic. Therefore every piece that’s ever been made still exists. (Recycling uses are limited—I’ll focus on that in my next post.) The North Pacific Gyre is an island of garbage the size of Western Europe, floating in the Pacific Ocean. That’s where these beautiful birds are choking on our trash

The sight of those birds jolted me into making personal changes. I wanted to know how hard it would be for me–and by extension, for anyone else living an ordinary life in our culture–to wean off of plastics. The object wasn’t to purify myself and thereby not feel the guilt of harming the Earth. We are all complicit in the damage we have done to our Mother, and we are all simultaneously innocent, because we didn’t know the gravity of our actions. But when we do know, the situation changes. Our discomfort moves us to act.

Back in October, I set myself to the task of trying not to purchase plastics at all. I knew I would fail–plastic packaging is so ubiquitous, especially for food–so I collected all the plastic that I “couldn’t help buying” in a bag, and then made it into a Halloween costume. I’ll get back to that with some pictures in another blog.

From now through Easter I’ll be writing blogs that look at our consumption of plastics from both a moral and philosophical lens, and also address the practicalities of choosing  to forgo these products. It’s not easy, and I’d caution you not to expect to be completely “plastic free” in this experiment (I wasn’t able to), but the journey has been personally illuminating, and I’d like to share it with you.

Stay tuned for more on plastics, the life of consumption, and this experiment in mindfulness.

Good resources to begin with:

The Plastic Pollution Coalition http://plasticpollutioncoalition.org/

Life Without Plastic http://lifewithoutplastic.com/boutique/plasticfree-wooden-toothbrush-adult-p-400.html

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Longing for a Simpler Christmas? Here’s what I did

Do you shop for the holidays? I really don’t. It’s been a long road, but about 10 years ago I started defying our family tradition of excessive Christmases by giving only homemade gifts. 

 My motivations weren’t entirely pure. I was just as much pushed to this by my hatred for retail stores and spending money on useless things, as by personal thrift and my environmental concerns. I might have been an early-adopter of the simple Christmas, but now I see  a strong longing in everyone I talk to to “simplify” the holidays. I think we, as a culture, are “getting it”: Buying stuff doesn’t really show love to our loved ones, although that’s why we do it. Our consumerism is destroying the Earth, using vital resources to produce what is essentially trash. The people who make what we buy are often treated terribly by the corporations that employ them overseas, as are the retail workers who sell us these goods. We want better for them and for ourselves. We want to opt out of the whole system.

 It would be nice if there were a tried-and-true methodology, an easy way to do this. But it involves human emotions and the deep-rooted feelings we all have about what makes a holiday festive, so there’s no formula.

 In my my extended family of 14 the adults used to all buy gifts for each other, and several for each of the children. On Christmas morning the living room would be a sea of paper and plastic. It was gluttonous and we all knew it, but we didn’t have any other tradition to replace it with. There was a vague sense that this wasn’t really what anyone wanted, and that led to years of experimentation. For a while we drew names and each one of us bought one, larger, present for another family member. Then we cut back to just getting presents for the children, but that led to far too many plastic toys. The amount of stuff littering the living room on Christmas day did not seem to diminish, and several of us were finding it financially hard to recover from the holidays. 

 My mother was the biggest barrier, and the last holdout in the family: She still insists on giving the kids each 3-4 presents, even as she complains more every year about the shopping. But she grew up poor, and I understand her emotional attachment to material gifts is just different from the rest of us. Her need to put on a big fancy holiday (with an 8 foot tree, garlands everywhere, and five or six huge family meals in the days leading up to Christmas) might be related to her Catholic background–a faith that she renounced in her 20s, but that still compels her to want Christmas to be BIG.

 After many, many pre-Christmas conversations about whether we could cut back on the material side of the holiday, I just changed my own behavior without asking for anyone’s approval. I stopped buying presents for the adults in the family, and gave only homemade items. Then, a few years later, I did the same for the children–but I still bought my own boys a few things. Finally, I got it down to one gift for each of my sons and that is all I buy for Christmas. In a few years I will give that up too. They get it. They know they can count on me to provide what they truly need, and that anytime they want something we can work out a deal (usually they pay for part of any large item).

 This year we will be making apple butter, felted soap and homemade cards for gifts. In the past I have made granola, jams, toffee, ornaments, knitted hats, and scented eye pillows. I’m not a talented crafter, so these things are simple. Sometimes a fun thing jumps out at me at the thrift store that really suits someone, or I find a small local product that I really like and can give to everyone. If I feel strongly about a book I’ve read I’ll often buy several copies for those I feel would also like it.

 One thing I always do is to write personal cards to those I’m closest too, telling them that I love them and why. It’s really very hard and I find it takes me hours to write just the 20 cards that cover my immediately family and closest friends, but I believe these notes mean more than any of my little gifts.  

 In the early years of my choice I was definitely the “Christmas curmudgeon” in the family, considered lazy and a mite stingy. I learned to live with that, and my family changed around me. One very surprising thing is to find that the children of the family, ranging in age now from five to 16, do not mind this one bit! Of course, they get a few nice things for Christmas, and in general they don’t want for much and that helps, but we have not had any pushback from the kids. 

I am looking forward to Christmas! I can’t wait to sing carols with the church choir, see my sister and her daughters when they come from Ohio, decorate my tree and my parents’s tree. We will be crafting all day on Dec 14 with friends. Kuba and I are learning Christmas carols on the guitar and ukelele, so that we can help everybody sing. My family will all go ice-skating together in JP at some point. The whole world of retail shopping has ceased to exist for me, and I don’t miss it one bit!

Merry Christmas!

Andrée

 

Here’s a serious article about the consequences of consumerism for the Earth:

http://www.ecobuddhism.org/science/pd/ciah

And here’s a resource I like about how to simplify the holidays:

http://www.newdream.org/programs/beyond-consumerism/simplify-holidays/

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Climate and Denial: Looking at Our Fear

A typhoon of historically unprecedented strength hit the Philippines last month, with reports of 10-12 thousand dead. Homes and lives are devastated, corpses hang from trees and litter the rubble of houses and buildings. At the UN Climate Talks held in Poland last week, the lead negotiator from the Philippines, Nederev Sano, announced he would fast for the duration of the conference, “until a meaningful outcome is in sight”–a direct challenge to the negotiators to do more than talk. Yet the outcome of the conference was unremarkable, with the biggest polluters of the world (ourselves and China), still unwilling to commit to meaningful action.

If we don’t stop climate change, we can expect  100-year storms (Yolanda was a “millennial storm”) to become an annual or semi-annual occurrence. It’s easy to imagine we are next, and a lot of fear comes with that realization. In order to cope with the fear, we all utilize the mental tactic of denial. 

Bigtime Climate Deniers

The sort of people who turn up in the comments section of every “green article” in the news aren’t going to be dissuaded by logic, and aren’t worth much of an activist’s time. Learn to recognize a few of their tricks, point them out, and be done with them:

  1. The Appeal to Hypocrisy: Climate deniers love to accuse believers and activists of being part of the problem. “How did you get to that protest?”, they sneer, “did you walk?” Their point is that unless you have cleansed your life of all fossil fuels you are part of the problem, and therefore nor qualified to criticize it. 
  1. The Argument from Irrelevant Authority: There are a few scientists out there who still deny climate change is human-caused, deny that it is happening, or otherwise trivialize it. I think there are 3, maybe 5. Most of them are not climatologists and many of them are in the employ of fossil fuel companies. A simple fact is that 97% of climatologists now agree that climate change is happening, is caused by us, and is powerfully destructive. 
  1. The Ad Hominem Attack: This will be a character assassination or an attack on your intelligence or common sense, or some other form of personal critique irrelevant to the topic. Just call it out and walk away from the argument. 

Workaday Deniers (That’s Us)

 The denial that concerns me more is present in liberals and centrists, is subtle, is nobody’s fault. Much of it comes from the construct of our minds, and the rest from some very deliberate cultural manipulation. 

As humans often believe that we are special: Beloved of God, or privileged by our superior mental and creative capacities. Do we think that our capacity to innovate technology can always outpace our inadvertent destruction of the natural world? Do we believe that nature is self-healing and hugely tolerant of our presence? It’s useful to contemplate these questions without answering them too quickly or reactively.

Climate change is happening in real time now. All dress rehearsals are over. Not a week goes by without the occurrence of an unprecedented event. This Fall Colorado was hit by wildfires and floods simultaneously. Arctic ice-cover hit an all-time low last summer (2012) that left scientists saying we will definitely see an ice-free summer Arctic in our lifetimes. Temperature records are broken every day in some part of the world. The monarch butterfly was scarcely seen in New England this past summer at all. Honeybee populations are devastated nationwide, and we face the loss of our main crop pollinator–a fact that alone threatens famine.

To not see this is a major failure of attention. It’s not deliberate, but it’s also not accidental. It may be a symptom of the gradual disengagement from the natural world that has been a feature of western life over the last century (in children they’re starting to call this “nature deficit disorder”). It might be encouraged and even staged by the corporate world, which wants us for its own purposes. (I do mean that to sound impersonal–I don’t believe there is truly a corporate conspiracy guided by any human hands; but just a vast web of inattention to certain consequences of deifying acquisition.)

 Many good hearted people fall into something like bargaining with Death. They try to purify their own lives, to “go green” in a variety of ways from changing their light bulbs to buying a Prius to insulating their homes to biking to work to putting up solar panels to going “off grid”. There’s a lot of wisdom and good in these actions, but because of their personal and isolated nature, they won’t solve climate change, which is caused largely by a systemic reliance on an unsustainable and ruinous source of energy (fossil fuels). The biggest polluters probably rejoice in our sense of personal guilt. It keeps us busy and off their doorsteps.

 The sense of overwhelm can lead to a lot of denial. We may want to react with anger, saying it’s not my problem. This is just too big for me to cope with. I can’t do anything. It’s up to the scientists/the politicians to deal with this. 

The scientists are doing their job, which is to gather the evidence, formulate the theories and publish them. The politicians are not doing their job, which is to take the work of the scientists and translate it into relevant policy. That’s where activism comes in; we need to do our jobs.

 We may convince ourselves it can’t be that bad–if it were we would be hearing more about it. It is that bad. We’re starting to hear more about it. Don’t forget that journalists and editors and publishers are also people who struggle with denial. Add to that the reality that most major news-outlets are corporate-owned now, and often directly or indirectly tied to the fossil-fuel industries. It’s that bad, but there are news outlets you can trust for the truth on climate change. I read the Guardian, National Geographic, Nature, the New York Times (somewhat variable). 

 What to do?

Rumi says this:

Sit, be still, and listen
For you are drunk
And we are at the edge of the roof.

Sitting with our fear and examining our denial is the place to start. It can be a hard process and might, for example, involve a lot of frenetic reading of climate science, trying to figure out how bad it “really is”. You may find yourself anxious on every warm day this winter. You may watch plants and animals for unusual behavior. You will want people to talk to about what you notice and learn and feel. I can offer myself, and I also have ideas for ways to form climate support groups and climate affinity groups. Feel free to make contact with me at aczaleska@gmail.com.

What are your options when you’ve realized you need to take action to stop climate change? And what will you do with your fear and your grief as you seek the courage to work on this? Those are issues I’ve faced over and over again, and I can speak to them not with authority, perhaps, but from a good deal of humble experience. My next two posts will be about Climate Grief and Climate Courage.

 Andrée 

Climate Science in Nutshell

Here’s a quick synopsis of climate science. As I write this the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released it’s fifth report. Comprised of 2000 of the world’s top climatologists, it’s the most thoroughly researched, compiled and peer-reviewed scientific document of all time. Their consensus tells us that the Earth is warming at a rate unseen at any time in human history, and that this is due to human activity of burning fossil fuels and releasing unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We have raised the surface temperature of the Earth by 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4F), and we have raised the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from 270 parts per million to 400ppm. While the Earth has warmed before, and in some cases quite rapidly, each such drastic warming was accompanied by a mass extinction event. 

This human-forced warming is causing storms of unprecedented strength (Sandy, Yolanda). It’s causing drought and therefore wildfires. It’s causing flooding (warm air holds more moisture). The ocean is not only warming but acidifying due to increased CO2, causing shelled creatures to dissolve (at the bottom of the food chain, therefore affecting all level of ocean life). Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, and those who depend on their fresh water will soon be facing famine.

 Meanwhile, despite amazing technological process in the technology and feasibility of renewable energy (solar and wind), the amount of fossil fuels burnt continues to rise at a rate of 2-3% each year.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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