Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Imagine if the grand ecosystem of the planet had been much less adaptable, much more delicate, and people in the early 20th century were already getting the hems of their petticoats and coattails wet in rising tides from melting poles. The technology being that less advanced back then would certainly have meant our demise, not being able to save us from ourselves.
The fact that our own technology today is evolving practically exponentially is a comfort. Do we have a chance to technologize ourselves out of this? It's kind of the only hope, isn't it?
It also seems...planned. I'm not going theistic on your ass, don't worry, after all, I do rely on science and healthy scepticism to keep this very physical problem in the physical paradigm wherein it presides. But really, how lucky are we that this is all happening at precisely this moment in time?
Look how far we've come. We're more co-operative and peaceful than we've ever been in our entire history. I have faith in the human race. Technology is bringing movements together. Can it also geo-engineer us out of catastrophe? If anyone in the history of time has the chance to find out, we're it.
Monday, 31 October 2011
First off, I have to get a few things out of the way. I conscientiously do not fly, and I haven't flown for 4 years for several reasons.
1) Not flying is one of the single easiest things to do to lower your emissions (going vegetarian and cutting consumption right behind it).
2) Flying uses mind boggling amounts of fuel, fuel which preferably should be used on food production instead of vacations, since, according to the IEA, oil production already peaked, back in 2006. If you haven't thought about what that means for the world, you, or your children, run along and google "peak oil", freak out a bit, then come back.
3) I am not interested in checking out of society to curb my emissions, so I find alternatives. In the past 4 years, my family and I have been to Morocco twice, Finland, Sweden, Southern France and Spain, all without flying. People colonized the globe before air travel, c'mon, it's not the only way to get around.
4) In a few years, my kids will learn about climate change in school. When they ask me what I did, knowing the existential ground below our feet was disappearing, I will not look them in the eyes and tell them that I just pretended everything was going to be okay, and kept doing everything as per usual.
5) Science tells us that we should aim to bring carbon levels down to 350 ppm to avoid catastrophe. We're already way beyond that, at 391 (look at the bar of stats at the top). I don't feel a need to make that number a lot worse just so I can have a vacation.
Now that I got that off my chest, some sources.
My main go-to person on the issue of flying and carbon emissions is environmental journalist, George Monbiot. Anyone can go to any number of websites and have their carbon emissions figured out for certain activities. But as Monbiot points out, in the case of flying, this method isn't applicable. One must take the resulting number and multiply it with IPCC figure of 2.7, to get the true impact (the Tyndall Centre of Climate Change uses a more conservative estimate of 1.9, still more that your usual carbon footptint equation), owing to atmospheric impact. Here's an article of his, where I have highlighted the important details on this. So remember, when calculating flights on an internet service such as this, the results are unfortunately only applicable for a plane flying at ground level, usually not the case.
Here's another sobering Monbiot article about flying with a moral twist, if you're up for it.
There are many variables to calculating the effects of air travel, distance, plane model, etc. For sure though, a long haul flight easily doubles the average person's annual emissions in one go (indeed, I've seen higher estimates still), as illustrated in this extensive paper, on page 7. We already need to eat, use electricity, and travel locally on our carbon budgets - would we rather eat or go on vacation, given a certain amount of carbon to use annually?
Biofuels were cited during my Twitter debate as being a viable fuel alternative, ergo my non-flying stance was "hogwash". For one, biofuel technology is out there, great, but it's not in aviation use (oh, apart from that one time Richard Branson powered one short Virgin flight with 20% nut oil. Can you imagine how many people those nuts could have fed instead?). Even then, biofuels have a lot against them still (see pages 5-7).
I've opted for train travel instead of flying. Certainly, it takes longer. As it happens, one of our favorite destinations at my house is Morocco. in theory, we could board a plane in Copenhagen and arrive in Morocco 5-6 hours later. If it weren't for environmental impact and fuel use, awesome. Especially if it's for a shorter trip. As it were, it takes 3 days in all from Copenhagen to Tangier, with stops in Paris and Madrid. We've had time to visit friends, drink wine, eat tapas and be merry en route. Point being, the extended travel time has been a joy, not a chore. And while train travel isn't pristine emissions-wise, it certainly figures more climate friendly than flying.
I do also have family in the States I haven't visited for a while, and it doesn't look like I'll visit them any time soon. Does that bother me? Yes and no. My mother flies here to visit us (1 person's emissions to visit 4 people is still better than 4 people's emissions to visit 1 person), so my children know their grandmother, and we Skype, which is like being in the same room. The thing that does hurt most, for both of us, is the fact that I won't fly over to take care of her estate when she goes. The thought does sadden me, but it's been arranged that someone stateside will take care of that, and my mother is donating her body to science. But to be honest, my mother has many years left in her, I'm pretty sure that peak oil will prevent most air travel before her time is up, at any rate. But not seeing family in the flesh bothers me a lot less than knowingly contributing to ruining my children's future. Sounds pretty heavy, I know - it is!
To sum up - I appreciate the cultural impact that aviation has had on the world- We're closer, more connected, and as a result more peaceful and able to cooperate. I live where I do today because of air travel. That said, flying is a bad habit that we have to stop. The fact that technology for alternatives to conventional aviation is out there and not in use? A travesty. And that's exactly why I will not aid and abet the aviation industry's detrimental effect on the climate, nor should anyone else who is truly concerned about it (there, I said it!).
What flying did to encourage positive socio-anthropological changes in the past 100 years, the internet does now. We're still connected, more so even. We've come a long way, now let's take another road that's not as destructive. Internet use isn't a climate saint, but I'll save that for another post. Now, go no-fly!
Saturday, 24 September 2011
This one visit sticks out, and I've only just recalled it within the past year or so. But I remember my dad and Albert talking about the world's state of affairs, as men of a certain age do, talking with some authority that they somehow are steering the world away from catastrophe with every sentence. I was sitting a few feet away, at the dining room table, drawing freehand interpretations of works in Al and Gertrude's huge book of Leonardo da Vinci. I loved that book. At any rate, at one point Albert said something that caught my attention, I can't remember what, but I do remember that I looked up from my drawing and asked him what he meant.
He was standing by the table, and he turned to me, put his hands on the table, and shaking his head ever so slightly in a resigned way, he looked me square in the eyes and told me that the world wouldn't last another 50 years at the rate we were going. I remember being shocked and scared. What did he mean? The words he used escape me, but it was clear he was talking about pollution, which was a big deal in the 80s, and also excessive use of the earth's resources. How fast the world would use available resources has always been to debate. People in the 80s, or before even, thought they'd be gone by 2000. That was wrong, obviously, but on the grand scale of things, not completely off the mark. We're closing in on something called "Peak Everything", where demand of all resources exceeds supply (Peak Everything does though fall under the current paradigm, and only worries me insomuch that we don't collectively stage a revolution and change everything about the way we do things, creating a new paradigm, which I think we just might will).
I've seen Albert many times since, latest at my dad's funeral in 2001. He'd gotten married, and had a kid since that episode I mentioned. But the weird thing, looking back, is that he hadn't changed anything. He flew in to the funeral, showed off his new wife and her expensive purse and shoes, bragged about his latest automobile purchase, you know, just went along with the business as usual model. So despite him prophesying the end of all things because of the way we do things, he does nothing, save adding to the problem, and even having a kid who will be alive when it all happens.
I'd love to retrospectively take it all with a grain of salt. Partially because Albert wasn't probably any more well-read on the subject than my dad, gleaning only from what mass media fed him, possibly drawing the odd conclusion from it all once in a blue moon. But at the same time, it really pisses me off that an adult, arguably a role model for the generation after him, shows so little interest and action in changing "The Way Things Are". And despite him being a harbinger of things to come himself.
As I mentioned, I was around 10 at the time. Albert gave us another 50 years. I'm 33 now. That leaves around 27 years left, according to him. And depending on how you look at it, that's not quite wrong. I'll leave you to go google about ice caps melting, peak oil, etc., but we're hardly going to enjoy our lifestyles as they are now for another 27 years before things go awry.
Admittedly, I haven't seen Albert since 2001, so I don't know if he's changed his lifestyle accordingly, or does anything to actively change things aside from that. But I'm reaching the conclusion that if you identify a glitch between the way you live your life, and the way your own life is supported by our ecosystems, I strongly suggest you heed that conclusion, instead of merely identifying it.
In conclusion, I'm angry at an entire generation for having latently harbored the knowledge that is scaring the wits out of my generation and the ones after this. I'm angry for the inaction of thousands, millions even. I think life was too comfortable for them to question, or change. And those who did were probably just deemed hippie dissidents. I'm angry that my kids are footing the ultimate bill for a party they're not going to enjoy. I'm not just scared of the future. I'm angry about it.
Thursday, 22 September 2011
He called me that, because in some moment of clarity and deep friendship, he realized that real or not, climate change was affecting me, and I was going to do my bit counteracting that. Now, I'd like to think that I were solely doing this for the greater good! A true altruist, according to the definition, is strictly unselfish. I'd love to say that about myself in my whole solastalgia/climate worrier context, but I must admit, I'm doing this for myself as much as for everyone else!
Since this whole personal phenomenon was brought about my motherhood (mostly, although admittedly I've worried about global warming since the 80s), you could say I'm worrying about my children's future. I'm worried about them, where they will live, if they will have food to eat, if they will be free to live full lives akin to the lives of their parents and grandparents. I fear they will not, which is what motivates me. What also motivates me is my own well-being.
Seeing as I can hardly get through a day without having a knot in my belly over this, and that whatever I write here, or talk about with others helps me get rid of the knot, and that helps me on a personal level, then I'm not a true altruist then, am I? And in this manner, I doubt that there are many true altruists out there at all, not to say that a great many people are genuinely concerned with the well-being of others that they aren't directly connected to, I think the drive to help these people is found in the purpose of alleviating one's own qualms about not doing anything to help.
So speaking for myself, altruism is a cover. A cover of doing something selflessly for the greater good, that just boils down to heeding one's own personal affect. And that's just fine by me.
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
It's a comfort in the face of a melting artic. I'd prefer not to have to state the facts on this blog, and keep it to the psychological flipside of climate change, but there are several tipping points that life on earth can't afford to have happen, and the ice cap on the North Pole melting is one of them. I'm so anxious I can't even bring myself to google some links up to bring here, so you'll have to find them and read them for yourself. If the North Pole melts completely, it's only a matter of time before a lot of the other self-perpetuating tipping points are reached. And then we're toast.
Rationally, I know there are many others like me out there. Why should I be so special to be the only one? But as I've stated before, our lives are so intricately weaved within this harmful paradigm, that it's so much easier to be complacent and become distracted with any number of other trivialities that fill our lives. There must also be room for trivialities.
But - what I think I'm trying to say is: if you feel this way too, you must not keep it to yourself. I think we have a duty to make this a visible issue. To make this concern available for other people leading normal lives, who have a hint of eco-anxiety but who are more adept at pushing it aside. Let's bring it up to the surface, let's talk about it, write about it. Let's grieve about our predicament. And then do something about it.
Sunday, 11 September 2011
We can expound all we want on the things that set us apart from other animals in the animal kingdom. The abstract thinking, our ability to create art, our technological advance. I wish I could look at these things as though they were good things, positive things. It would seem though, that they are good for Western Society, and bad for everyone else, including the planet. Life in earlier times may certainly have been uncomfortable, violent, dangerous, and harder in any number of ways, but given the overall rise in population on the planet, the fact that the West seems to have it good does not exactly make up for the dire poverty in other parts of the world that appears to be a direct effect of Western lifestyles, not to mention the havoc we have wrecked on our ecosystem. And will possibly cost us everything.
Back to the article. Through genetic research, it's apparent now that humans and Neanderthals, while having evolved separately, interbred. And genetically, all humans, save Africans, are anywhere from 1%-4% Neanderthal. Good thing to know next time someone calls you a Neanderthal - it's true! It is also apparent that Neanderthals no longer exist, except as genetic remnants. So where did they go? We did them off of course. Pushed them back, mated with some, but probably killed some and starved the rest by hogging their resources. Some habits just never die I suppose. For the 10,000 years that Neanderthals existed, they didn't evolve much. They used the same tools without variation. One thing they apparently did differently over the years was burial, something they only did toward their latter years on Earth. Perhaps it was a ritual they got from us. At any rate, humans took over.
This leaves me naturally pondering - are humans inherantly self-effacing, in the most dramatic use of the word? Are we somehow destined to technologicize ourselves to death? To progress ourselves to the end? Is that the true definition of progress seen in an anthropogenic light? Hardly a destiny I'd like to embrace, but progressing right now seems to be the only way out. But should we leave our Neanderthal heritage behind, or should we make room for it? You know, sticking to the tools we have that haven't evolved much for millenia, but luckily also meaning that they're pretty sustainable, and non-destructive on a large scale like the stuff homo sapiens invents.
I really don't want to be a reactionary ass-hole, all "things were better in the old days", because dammit - despite everything, I'm having a lot of fun in my little corner of time and space. And there's no way I'd want to go back to family life with a higher infant mortality rate or lower average life span. And knowing that you can't have it all, can I at least appeal to a middle road, where people lead good, healthy lives without living beyond the means of the ground they walk on? Can we just put the worst of our own humanity behind us once and for all? That would be really swell.
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
Debate with head of four political parties yesterday (there are eight major ones), concerning a number of different subjects - the head of the Danish People's Party said, only meters away from head of the Danish Climate Commission, that "climate change was not necessarily caused by human activity". Also the head of the party called Liberal Alliance (I must state here, that Liberal does not mean the same thing in Danish politics as it does in American) openly stated that he knows nothing about climate change, basically saying that it doesn't interest him, since his interest is mainly economic. To think I liked him once, when he was a member of another party.
Climate change is the biggest threat right now to...everything. To have party leaders brush it off like that is anguishing, questionable, moronic and anachronistic.
Pia Kjærsgaard, who still doubts humans' role in climate change should be banned from using technology, full stop. 98% of climate change scientists have reached the consensus that it is real, and caused by humans. This is high-school science people. Amazing she ever dares to travel by plane, or go to the doctor, since those are arguably scientifically based as well.
I dare not hope that people in their inner circles will shed some light on the subject and smack some sense into their heads. But I certainly hope their parties suffer in the upcoming Danish elections on Thursday.
Saturday, 3 September 2011
I was discussing all of the pressing issues that this blog is about (if you're new: climate change, peak oil etc), at the daycare no less, with some of the other parents of the board, and one of the childminders who was there - she said to me, bluntly "so you want us all back in the Stone Age?". You know, I can see how one would draw that conclusion, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Let me break it down.
Right now, we are dangerously close to not fulfilling our goal of cutting carbon emissions enough to keep the global temperature from rising more than the magic 2 degrees Celsius. Anything above 2 degrees Celsius, and the entire world as we know it will be washed away. Fungi, jellyfish and maybe even cockroaches will survive (totally unfounded, just thought it sounded good). Stone Age life sounds like a pretty good alternative. You know, lots of supple leather clothes, family get togethers around a roaring bonfire, simple living really - presumably with more fear and weapons, but still preferable to complete annihilation, right?
Now, as far as climate goes, stone age life is not really an option. We either wipe ourselves out completely, or we revolutionize everything, arguably bringing global living standards up with sustainable technologies that probably won't included mass consumerism as we know it, but will let us keep our planet.
Peak oil on the other hand...So science tell us that the world peaked in oil production in 2006. World markets tell us that the demand for oil is rising, exponentially. Imagine if you will, a chart where the one black line is on a rapid road of decline, and the other black line is on an upward curve - the spot on the chart where those two meet is very near in all of our futures. What does it mean? It means no oil for the masses. If you look around your home, I dare you to find one item that oil hasn't made possible.
And exatly how much energy are you getting from sustainable sources? And what about the wares in your home? Is there anything that was made using wind and solar? Shipped across the ocean only using sail? Anyone?
So what will happen when those to black lines on the chart cross each other, very soon, and we are very unprepared, won't technically be the Stone Age - but for people who are used to living in a world with easy oil as a supporting role in everything they've done, they might possibly feel that way!
Will people let that happen? We already are. When I've mentioned peak oil to people, there have been two reaction - one has been nodding in agreement, the other has been "what does that mean?". Half the people I encounter have long known that oil would run out. The other half have never given it a thought.
So, even though technological breakthroughs seem to fill the papers every day with how to make fuel from banana peels (pr algae, or poop), or a car that can run on air, or a cure for some awful disease - exactly how much of that is then implemented in our daily lives? Why? We all know why (powerful oil/pharmaceutical lobbies, in case you were wondering).
Is that progress? Is it really progress to keep technology back in a non-democratic way because of the capitalist paradigm? The same paradigm that is supposedly responsible for progress?
So what is progress then? Should we define it as something that is advancement of living standards for all, with the greater good in mind? Because, if that's the case - we are still living in the Stone Age.
Sunday, 14 August 2011
Yesterday, I fell over this article.
Actually, I didn't even have to read the article, I just caught the article name on a post by someone over on Twitter. That was enough. I've read enough over the last few years to know that I didn't need to read this.
So what happens when I see an article like that? Or rather, just the title? I go cold. I just re-read it now, and read the article in its entirety, and seriously, I can feel the blood drain from my face. My fingers have gone a little tingly. My lips are a little numb too, come to think of it. My stomach is tied in knots. I'm nauseous.
I can hear my kids in the bath, their dad is washing them, talking to them. I want to rush in, and hug them, but I'm already really close to crying, so I don't. I don't want them to see me like this. Other times when I'm like this, when I've just read something really bad, I'm mean to them. It's not on purpose, but I just feel so stressed by the weight of it all, and by the fact that I'm responsible for them being here at all, and I fear they won't even reach adulthood before the world is literally drowned, so I snap at them, correct them, have no energy for hugs and love, it's so unfair to them.
Guilt, fear, despair. There is a little optimism, but it's such a tiny tiny sliver. I'm scared, really frightened. In some ways I wish we could all just instantly vanish from the face of the earth, not have to deal with what is coming. But life is such a gift, and a joy mostly, we owe it to ourselves to squeeze every last drop out of it, and fight of course, tooth and nail, for the right for mankind to keep living it. Undeservedly though, we've fucked up so much, and been so nonchalant about it, it's a disgrace.
After something like this, it takes me a couple of days to get back to an even keel. I'll be okay again. Until the next article rolls around.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
My Italian grandparents moved to the States from the Old Country at the beginning of the 20th century. They were from different parts of Italy, both from humble backgrounds. My grandfather Umberto was a woodworker, and to be honest, I don’t know exactly what drove him to move from his village near Naples, but I can only guess that he saw no future for himself there. How he scraped together the fare to make the trans-Atlantic journey I’ll never know, but it was no doubt at dear cost for him.
I know more about my grandmother Giovanna. She came from the south, Basilicata. Her parents were poor peasants, and made money off of her by selling her into slave-like conditions, sending her to work for richer relatives. One of her sisters had already made the journey to the US, and had started a family there, and she helped my grandmother make the same journey herself. I have no doubt that she was not happy with her life, and jumped at the chance to escape, as it were.
My grandfather never returned to Italy. My airline pilot father once brought my grandmother along on a trip back. They got as far as Rome, and on the first day, she said ”get me out of here”. That was her only trip back to the Old Country.
We all want a good life for ourselves and our family. It’s natural for healthy, well-functioning humans to want this. Moving to the US was the first step for my grandparents. The country they moved to was nothing like the homes they’d left. They came from rural areas. Their first stop was Staten Island, and then they both ended up in Chicago, where they met, got married and started their family. No doubt the city air they breathed back then was rife with industrial pollution. But that was before the days of acid rain and Clean Air acts. But the very sight of black smoke billowing from industrial chimneys meant progress back then. Good progress, that brought better standards of living and jobs, and subsequent wealth in society. What could anyone have against that?
If we think back, not even a generation ago, Western societies were seeing the effects of that progress, manifested in an ugly, negative way. Acid rain, as I mentioned above, was a direct effect of the carbon emissions fra factories and transportation. It didn’t burn through the skin, as I believed myself, as a child, but it did result in heart and lung issues, asthma, bronchitis, and premature death in humans.
DDT was once seen as progress as well, an artificial insecticide made to help crops reach their full potential by staving off hungry, unwanted pests. More and larger crops, more food for the people, more profits for the farming industry. The effects it had on wildlife were detrimental, however, and it was also linked to human health hazards such as miscarriages, neurological disorders, and cancers.
In the end, it would seem that progress comes down to a question of aesthetics. How many of us modern day citizens of the West can look at smoke coming from a factory, and deem it a beautiful sight? The spraying of crops, that will one day be ingested by us? Is that still a sight to behold, because it means more crops for us to eat?
Take it a notch further – does anyone look at the orderly pictures of an Ikea catalog and not appreciate the aesthetic value of a clean, organised modern home? Cut to a picture of the Chinese factory where all these organisational and decorational wonders are produced. Is that too, a beautiful thing?
My pilot father, and my stewardess mother both worked for Pan Am, back in the glory days of aviation. My dad was one of the first people to fly the 747 on transatlantic routes, when people would actually dress up before getting on an airplane. It was a glamorous time my mother was a stewardess in. She started her flying career when it was no longer mandatory to wear a corset, but she was still subjected to weekly weigh-ins. Aesthetically, it was a beautiful and sleek, shimmeringly new industry, bringing the world closer, with dashing pilots and dainty stewardesses catering to your on-flight needs.
Nowadays, unless you’re flying first class these days, flying is anything but glamorous. The first image that might pop into your head when someones mentions air travel might as well be of bedraggled passengers in transit, shoes and belts placed in boxes, waiting to be groped by an aggressive TSA officer. The glamour is gone, the dashing pilots replaced with overworked, tired men and women literally eligible for food stamps, depending on which airline they work for. Stewards and stewardesses are overworked, underpaid midair servers, who just happen to know what to do in the case of an emergency where you’re most likely to die.
Not quite the same, is it? And that’s not at all helped by the fact that air travel is an environmentally detrimental, and unfortunately fast growing industry.
But catalogues of glowing, smiling, tanned people enjoying vacations in faraway exotic locales are still appealing to people, because they've shunned the harsh realities and consequences of the lifestyle that allows this to happen. But for sure, progress is also the notion that unions have fought and won people a right to an income good enough to allow such luxuries, and also of course the time off to enjoy with their families and friends. That too is progress.
It is a double edged sword. Progress had enlightened us as much as it appears to have failed us. Or?
To be continued!
Monday, 8 August 2011
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
It doesn't bother me per se that he's going to jail, although, of course I'd prefer he'd not. Non-violent civil disobedience has always been under the premise that you might do time for your actions, and you will accept to do so gladly, as a signal that you are a happy enough member of society to accept its rules, while also trying to change them. Two years does seem a bit much though, to be honest. He's caused no bodily harm to anyone, he hasn't vandalised a building. But he has tried to shake the foundation of the way we do business in the world, ie. exploit the land people live on, ruining it for them and future generations.
Just this week, a Danish politician compared a non-violent act of civil disobedience with a misanthropic act of terrorism. I fear that society has been too good for us the last two or three generations. We haven't had enough to fight for, having been lulled into a false sense of security - everything's fine, move along, nothing to see here, please go on shopping. When a comparison like that is made, it is a symptom that we have gone too far as a society, building our governments and laws to be that much bigger than the sum of all their parts. Why do we do it? To protect us. Ourselves. When people then disobey laws to protect ourselves, because the laws have become too self-effacing to do so themselves, it is seen as a crime. But it is not criminal. It is a right, as juxtaposed as that may be. It can also be seen as a duty, for those who want to change their society.
Climate is big. It is the biggest existential problem of our time since the Cold War. Yes there are many problems out there that need addressing, but this one is the underlying foundation for all of them. The way we do almost everything is making our habitat inhabitable, not only for us, but for all life. If we choose to adhere to the business as usual model, which is cunningly disguised as an enjoyable and sustainable affair, we agree to our own active euthanasia. It would appear, when we get to the bottom of things, that we do not really enjoy life, and are hell bent on not letting future generations have the choice to experience it at all.
When you read about a climate activist, committing an act of civil disobedience, curb your disdain. Your first instinct might be to write that person off as a criminal, or misguided hippie. But climate activism, in all its peaceful and non-violent forms, is really an act of life activism. Climate activists love life, possibly more than you do, and are willing to put themselves in jail to show it.
Friday, 22 July 2011
My friend June tweeted a link to me just this morning, an article about being the spouse of an extremely environmentally conscious person. It hit home.
I'm a difficult spouse and daughter to start off with. Without exposing all of my father's faults, let's just say that I unfortunately inherited a lot of them. I can be egoistic, distant, even callous at times. I'm too old to make excuses for it, but I try my best.
When my husband and I met, one of the first things we agreed on was travelling. It had to be a part of our lives, and if we had kids, they'd go where we'd go, full stop. We managed our fair share of air travel before I made my decision to stop flying. We went round the world twice. Once when I was pregnant with Dante, we did Denmark - Texas - Colorado - Los Angeles - Sydney - home, and a short trip to Madrid after that. Then, when Dante was 9 months, we did Denmark - NYC - Texas - Los Angeles - Hong Kong. When I was pregnant with Halfdan, we flew to Istanbul. We loved it. We loved the experiences we had together, we loved being so far from home, we loved seeing friends and family and feeling the cosmopolitan thrill of touching down somewhere where we felt just as at home as on the cobblestoned streets of Copenhagen.
When I stopped flying, I effectively put a stop to that. I could see it on my husband's face, could see the wheels of his brain turning, trying to imagine what a static, earth-bound life he'd just been served.
And that was just him. What about my mother, grandmother of two of the wonders of the world, but just on the other side of it? Sure she flies here, I can't tell her not to, but as she told Mikael on tape once, she's been hurt over the notion that I won't fly to see her at her home in Texas while she's alive, but I'll come over to bury her. Well, I put her straight on that. My mother's only child has refused to take care of business when she no longer is. Ouch. I have to give it to her - she's taken it well. She has friends lined up to do the job, she's even friggin' donated her body to science (!), so I won't have to think about all that from afar. My decision to not fly has really had quite far-reaching consequences. I also have a godmother in the States who considers me her child, and my children her grandchildren. Her health isn't the best, so flying here is not really an option right now. Inside, I want to make everybody happy, want my kids to be loved and coveted by those who love them, want to enjoy home-cooked meals with people I enjoy spending time with.
There's just that glitch you know? That huge gap between our way of life and our....way of life. The one way of life being our own human construction based on habits and fossil fuels, the other way of life being the physical world and the high-school science that explains exactly how it keeps us all alive here. If we want the latter, the former has got to go.
It's not all bad though. My decision had brought us on rail-powered trips to France, Spain, Morocco. Trips where we've seen and done things that no flyer will ever do. It's different. It's better for the earth. It's still extremely satisfying. Admittedly, I get a high on other people hearing about our trips - "train to Morocco?", "with TWO children?". It can be done, really. It can be enjoyable too. Just sayin'.
The odd thing is, as perspectives go - what have I really done? Not much at all. I haven't sold all my worldly possessions and moved to the woods to live off the land or anything. I just stopped flying. Loads of people don't fly, maybe not for the reason I don't, but because they're afraid of it. And somehow, it's a more acceptable reason. In a way, I'm afraid of flying too, but more in a long term sense, not in a "we're going to crash and burn right now" sense.
I'm not going to apologize for making my decision. I don't adhere to a lot of doctrines in general, but I'm sticking to this one. It's pretty much the only way I can live with myself in these times, where merely exhaling would seem an act of climate treason.
I will however, extend an apologetic thought to loved ones for somewhat disrupting their lives. To my mother, for shafting her posthumously. To my husband, for doing a 180 on our future travel plans. For keeping him from fulfilling his dream of buying a house somewhere exotic, because it's too difficult to travel there for short stays. To our friend Elijah, for missing the most important day of her life. But I hope that my children will applaud me for being unyielding on this. When they ask me one day, sea water up to their knees, what I did when I'd realized what we were doing to our habitat, my answer will be more satisfactory than "nothing".
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Don't get me wrong, I was really trying to enjoy life, despite everything. I had two sweet babies and a loving husband, what wasn't to like? But the thought of sticking around to watch the end of everything was too sad to consider. The best antidote to this feeling was to pretend everything was okay, and just go about my business. Or was it?
The fact of the matter is, once you've realized something of this magnitude, you can't go back. It's Pandora's box, it's the apple in the garden of Eden. You can pretend that you don't know what you do, but underneath it all, the worry is still there. You're merely lying to yourself. So while pretending that everything is all business as usual can dupe the outsider looking in, you can't dupe yourself.
At this point in the timeline, my husband and I had been invited to a wedding in November 2008, in the US. A good friend was marrying her best friend. We were looking forward to the nuptials and the festivities, and the kids were slated to go with us. But thoughts were swirling in my head. Flying uses an insane amount of fuel, fuel that's running out, and not only that, but the carbon emissions of just one person flying to the US and back were equal to the amount of energy it takes to power our apartment for over a year. And there were four of us in all.
How could I rationally deal with my angst of climate change and still pretend everything was business as usual? I couldn't, could I? I wrote about it on my blog as it was playing out. Reading the comment section brings back a lot of memories - the guilt of considering to forego a good friend's most important day ever, because I was a climate worrier. There was some hefty deliberation going on in my head!
It finally culminated. And not quite how you think. My husband Mikael was doing everything to convince me to attend the wedding. Good friends, see my mom and godmother while we were at it, take a train instead of flying domestic, carbon offsets etc. etc.. But then one day he came home from work, bearing a newspaper he'd been reading on the bus. He flung it on the coffee table, completely nonchalant. The headline was: Oil extracted from tar sands will bring climate change beyond the point of no return. I read the story, and my mind was made up.
To quickly surmise the tar sands subject, there are millions and millions of barrels of oil in tar sands, however, it must be ground out of the sands using machinery that requires a lot of energy to run. Using energy to extract energy = bad idea that seriously jeopardizes our habitat. However, because the quick and easy oil is running out, tar sands are next up. Go google it if you need more info. It's bad news, people.
So, how on earth could I justify increasing demand on something that would effectly ruin the habitat of my children and their children? I couldn't. My husband would be attending the wedding alone, alas. I'm not going to tell people they can't go off flying, this is my decision, about me, and only me. And as it is, I'm not living in a forest, foraging for my own food. I'm living in an oil hungry society, and I'm not ready to give up grocery shopping, hot showers and electricity yet. Seriously, for the oil left on this planet, would you rather eat or fly? Something had to go. I wrote about my decision on my blog here.
Listen, I live in Europe, I have family members living in the US. My husband loves to travel. I love to travel, for that matter! My mother was a stewardess and my father was a pilot for god's sake. I was born with jet fuel in my veins! This was not an easy or wanton decision to make. This was my personal stand to take against "Business As Usual". I'm not finished, there's still a ways to go. But it was a powerful start.
Monday, 11 July 2011
To continue, after my second son was born in July 2007, I had a complete meltdown over the climate in October of the same year. I was a sad and crying mess, friends were starting to be concerned, I started feeling more sad than happy for having put kids in the world. There was a certain ebb and flow to it, so after the initial rough patch, I learned to live with it, sometimes even forgetting it, and going happily on with my life. But it would always come back to a certain degree when I read about climate in the news.
I did start to act upon my climate fear, not only writing about it, but also being more aware of unnecessary consumerism on my part, and deciding to take a family vacation to France by train instead of plane to cut down on carbon emissions. It was a small start.
However, what I'd experienced in October of 2007 was peanuts compared with what came in March 2008.
On a regular old weekday, I'd been home with both boys, messing about in the kitchen, stirring something up, while simultaneously messing about on Google. I was searching after information about Dr. Udo's oil (healthfood store staple of different omega oils), and something about Peak Oil popped up. I started reading. Shouldn't have done that! (Well actually, I should, and I did. If you don't know about Peak Oil, you need to google it. Another good resource is The Transition Towns Movement, but please try to find a broad spectrum of resources, for balanced input)
The notion that the world was going to run out of oil wasn't new to me. I'd even bought this book at an airport bookshop (the irony) years before getting married and having my kids, which I'd dutifully read, though for some reason I didn't find it particularly alarming at the time. In trying to understand how that could be, I can only guess that I was such a product of the consumer society I was a part of that I was duped like everyone else into thinking that everything would be ok, and things would eventually be taken care of.
After reading one too many google hits on peak oil, I experienced what a can only describe as a full blown anxiety attack. I threw up. Twice. I broke out in cold sweats. I couldn't stand up. All this, with a 2 year old and a baby to take care of. Why the notion of peak oil hadn't bothered me before, but caused such a physical reaction to me then I put down to the additions of having children and climate change in my life. Feeding the world is largely an oil based activity in this day and age, stop and think how much farm equipment is run on petrol, and imagine how the world can continue agriculture on such a large scale using manual labor only. Feeding ourselves is going to be the new black, or rather an all encompassing factor, and not just a hobby or an afterthought as we order our favorite numbers from the pizzeria around the corner. And naturally, I think about how my kids are going to eat, now as in the future. Throw in climate change, and the fact that less oil will no doubt mean more coal, the real carbon sinner, and we have just about as many post-apocalyptic scenarios as there are Hollywood movies that provide them for us.
How to describe the first physical feeling that overcomes you when you realize something of this magnitude? Before the spewing, that is. It's like having a huge bass string running the length of your body, from the very top of your head to the soles of your feet. And The Hulk is plucking it. "Doing!"
I somehow managed to call my husband, between vomiting and dragging myself to the den where all I could do was turn on the tv and find something to satiate my kids for a while. The baby was hungry though, and my oldest was constantly asking me to read a book. None of which I was capable of handling alone. I told my husband to come home ASAP, and bring dinner with him. I have no recollection of what happened after, I stayed an apathetic lump on the floor the whole night.
In the morning, I remember waking him up, and in all seriousness telling him that I wanted to find a place in the country where we could live and grow our own food. What a wakeup call. All of a sudden, all that mattered was getting back to basics, taking control of our own primary needs, instead of leaving them outsourced to an unsustainable paradigm. Peak Oil will change everything the industrialized world does. But no one is taking account of that fact. Our lifestyles are still based on a finite resource as though it were infinite. And like climate change hardly figures on political agendas, peak oil hardly gets a mention. It's not a secret or anything. Since the first oil well ran dry, humans have known that oil would one day run out.
Peak Oil and Climate Change present two different sides of the same challenge. Our need for energy has tipped the natural carbon balance of our planet. So we can't address the one, without addressing the other. And the implications of both mean big changes for society as a whole. The sooner we realize that, come to terms with it, and embrace it, the less scary it can seem. I'll deal with that later on in this blog, I need to wrap up the "Anatomy" series of blog posts first.
Saturday, 9 July 2011
About two or three months after Halfdan was born, and the media was gearing up to cover the climate talks in Bali, the daily paper we keep was having a bonanza of climate news, publishing alarming articles for an entire week that brought me pretty much to my knees. No doubt post-partum hormones played in, one is naturally sensitive after a family augmentation in general, but I couldn't read the paper without feeling my chest constrict, my head grow hot, and finally, sobbing. I vividly remember walking around some nearby lakes with the baby buggy, looking around, feeling quite surreal about everything, and I had to call my husband in the middle of work, a blubbering mess. He was alarmed of course, to hear his normally cool, calm and collected wife this way. He beckoned me to come to his work, where we could have lunch and talk. That was my first real emotional outburst spurred by the climate crisis.
After that, the issue was really there for good. I calmed down a bit, enjoying my maternity leave without being too sad, but I was en garde at all times for news of climate change. I even wrote a blog post about it when it happened in October of 2007, on my other blog. It sums up exactly what was going through my head at the time. I can only say, that it is more or less how I still feel about it, only now, it is worse, but in a more rational way, if that is possible.
Thursday, 7 July 2011
But Katrina planted that first real seed of awareness, and connection between mankind's actions and the repurcussions it could have on our lives. Not a moment too soon.
In 2006, when Dante was a year, we moved into a friend's garden cottage for what we thought was a a month and a half of simple living, while our apartment in the eastern part of Copenhagen was being renovated. I recall even more awareness yet. More and more articles were appearing in the paper about climate change, experts were starting to point out the warning signs, not just in natural calamities, but also in the receding ice sheets, melting glaciers, etc.. 2006 was truly "the" year when common awareness of climate change grew from a small article in a respectable newspaper into a frontpage story. Again, not a moment too soon.
Our stay at our friend's summer cottage was prolonged, as anyone who's renovated their home before knows. September flew by, October came, it got cooler, but nothing the portable radiator and furnace couldn't handle. But there was no insulation in the cottage whatsoever, and since we had a baby with us, I jokingly thanked global warming for the Indian summer. Our apartment wasn't completely finished, but we had to move in, since no matter how hard we tried to warm the place, on Nov. 1st, when we woke up in the morning, fully clothed in our over-bundled beds, there was a layer of frost on the covers. Time to go home!
I always thought I was the environmentally aware type. Back in Texas, where I grew up, my mom and I would drive 3 miles out of our way to recycle newspapers, glass and plastic. The irony. I grew up a place where most food save beef came from another state or country. Where I had a driver's license at age 16, needing it to get to school. Going shopping would have been a daylong affair if you had to walk to and fro, and bicycling was suicide. The place I grew up was built around the car, and as unsustainable as one of the steel monsters is, it's a necessity that everyone practically takes for granted just like they do electricity. In high-school, I remember when the price of a gallon of gas shot up over 1$, 1.07$ I think it was. There was an outcry. Nevermind that gas cost, and still costs, about 4 times as much in Europe. So, recycling was about as environmentally aware as I could be. My life was provided for by a well-oiled machine, where all my parents needed was an income doing what they'd been trained to do, and everything else was bought at the cash register. I could even have an after school job so I could bow to peer pressure and buy t-shirts with the "right" band on it, or maybe the "perfect" shade of lipstick. The disconnect was complete.
I do though remember reading Newsweek in what I'll estimate was 1988. The Greenhouse Effect was the front page story. I was alarmed, as much as a 10 year old can be (though not as alarmed as when the first Gulf War started a few years after that), but the matter dissipated into the ether, and I didn't think much about it again until years later.
So, in 2006, after Katrina, after climate change had hit mainstream media again, this time for good, I started to feel the burn, so to speak. Becoming a parent had of course heightened my awareness of the world around me even more. The world didn't just have to provide for me, it had to provide for my kid too, hopefully also long after I'd be gone. I was beginning to see that there might be a slight glitch in this scenario.
Tuesday, 5 July 2011
My head is chock full of things to write in this very venue, created solely for that purpose, and yet, when I've finally released some of it, and got it on paper (you know what I mean), I find myself mulling over new angles, and needing more time for mulling before writing. Hm.
The very fact that I have to write this blog is, to me, such an ultimate admission of failure. I am taking the words and thoughts from my head and making them real, verifying them, holding up to the gaze if others - that means that I really mean it. That means that we really are on the brink. That means...we have failed. Let's hope that there is time yet to make amends!
I'll be going forward with this blog (hopefully tomorrow!) with an anatomy of my own personal climate crisis. It's all in there, but I've never deconstructed it. I'm a little excited to go back to the beginning!
Monday, 4 July 2011
The ecosystem we live in isn't the only victim of climate change, our mental health is too. Certainly, not enough people are concerned about the climate crisis, much less aware of its gravity, but those of us that are concerned and aware are naturally worried. I was at a friend's place Friday, and we talked about our climate angst, my friend pretty much sharing the same sentiments as me. It's not like people in general don't have enough on their plate as it is. Life is a constant running mill of spouses, jobs, expenditures, deadlines, maybe also children thrown into the mix. Plus friends and the extracurricular stuff that makes life worth living. That's quite enough to keep most people physically busy and their heads reeling. To have the added, pressing worry that the very base that sustains all of the aforementioned elements is being undermined by the prevailing paradigm that we are an integrated part of...it's a lot to swallow. No doubt loads of people are simply ignoring the news and the facts, and shoving it to the back of their minds, simply so they can go about their daily lives. Done that myself.
Back to the main point of this post - mental health. I'm blessed to know two psychologists from my closest network of friends, and they've both been involved in my own personal climate crisis. The one had things to say about it around 3 years ago. The other, just last week. I'm not going to give a detailed description of how my climate depression has progressed through the years, I'll save that for later posts, but I will give a quick run down of the implications.
I had my second child in 2007, and immediately after, no doubt in a rush of post-partum hormones mixed with a lot of doom and gloom climate news, I had a breakdown. People were worried about me. Which was kind of funny, since I wasn't worried about me, I was worried about them, albeit in a more meta way. Psychologist friend number one, my good friend Niels, said two things - 1) that I should talk to a shrink. 2) that I should be careful in defining myself as having a depression.
I did call a shrink to make an appointment, and since she wasn't by her desk at that moment, she couldn't mark me down for a time, and asked me to call back the day after. We did end up talking for about 30 minutes though, enough for me to explain my troubles, and enough for her to explain to me that it was a matter of "distance". "Distance" is apparently the mechanics behind us not falling into a sobbing heap everytime we see a commercial with hungry children or abused animals. We create a distance, since obviously, it's not directly affecting us or our loved ones. I got her point about it, didn't agree (though I didn't tell her that) but to be honest, just having a candid talk with someone, admitting to a professional that the climate crisis had an effect on my mental health was liberating. I never did call back to make an appointment.
The fact that I needed "distance" to keep myself sane was disturbing. Climate change was too far off to be considered an immediate threat for most of us, and I entertained the notion that the psychologist didn't have any thoughts about how climate change was going to affect her life, otherwise she wouldn't be spouting that all I needed was some "distance". Since 2008 there have been more and more natural disasters caused by global warming - we don't need "distance". I certainly don't want "distance". This is a very real threat, it's happening right now. I want to feel that threat and have it compel me to act on it.
The second thing that Niels said, about identifying myself as having a depression, I tried to heed. I just stopped talking about it. I didn't want people to worry anymore. I also stopped reading so much about it, and tried to concentrate on my studies at the university instead. But looking back on it, the condition has been there all along. I had, and still have, a climate depression. It is too late to identify myself otherwise.
In the 3 years that have passed since Niels and I talked about it, the situation has gotten only worse. Here, I am talking about the political will to take the measures necessary to prevent the worst case scenarios from happening. The issue is even more pressing. The scenarios are becoming more dire. My angst comes back tenfold for each climate related article I read. Not two weeks ago, I read an article on the state of the world's oceans. It made me cry. I was feeling extremely low that day, since the oceans have actually absorbed way more carbon that the atmosphere around us (which is bad enough), and ocean life is facing "mass extinction" within "a generation". Always fun to read those words combined in an article about the place you live! Not. My day was not going to get any better without some help, so I texted my second psychologist friend, Maria. She could meet me at a café later that day for a chat. Again, just the prospect of speaking to someone was a huge relief, I dried my eyes and got on with my day. What I also wanted to talk with her about was the prospect of going to a psychologist and getting a diagnosis of having a climate related depression. Would that help me? Should I get a prescription for something to help me get through the day? Would it be helpful and for the greater good if people like me were recognized politically? Would people start taking us seriously?
Well. And this is where it gets tricky. Because politically, Maria says, recognizing people with environmental worries as being clinically depressed will set a whole apparatus going that will basically ostracize people like me, categorizing us as "sick". As in, something is "wrong" with us. In my optic, that couldn't be farther from the truth. People are inclined to worry about their day to day needs, rightly so. Us climate worriers are concerned with our living environment in the future, the near and almost tangible future at that. The last thing the world needs is to keep us back.
That said, some of us may still need help. There is no doubt in my mind I have a depression. In theory, I could get a clinical diagnosis and probably some lovely anti-depressants to go with it. But 1) I don't want the political apparatus concerning climate depressed people to start rolling, and 2) I don't want drugs to dull my climate nerves. I need to hold on my feeling of angst and fear, because that's what drives me forward on climate awareness, even though my daily life takes a hit now and again.
Now, I still want to function. As I've discovered time and time again, the best antidote to a bad climate day is to talk about it. I choose my conversation partners carefully. People too close to me just worry. Likeminded people open up, and a constructive dialogue is started. It's not enough, but it is a start. On Maria's recommendation, I've started taking an herbal remedy (it's even from the pharmacy, for the sceptics out there) that's pretty effective. Since taking it I'm about 50% more productive, starting this blog, doing some creative work, sleeping better. Placebo? Maybe. But effective nonetheless. I also got the name of a good psychotherapist, but I'm a little afraid of "too much talk and too little action". We'll see.
What I want to stress with this post is that climate depression is real, it's not just having a bad day or a bad week. People like me are out there, and there will be more coming. It's an issue, it's not an illness, there is nothing wrong with it, but there are steps we need to take if we don't want our angst and depression to be completely fruitless.
Friday, 1 July 2011
No doubt in coming years, more of you will be experiencing it too, your voices echoing mine, in an ever louder chorus: "hello Jennie". Then it will be your turn. Hey, we'll have real honest to god meetings, where we drink bad coffee, eat sugar cookies, and hug a lot. We can call in SA - Solastalgics Anonymous. But there's no need to be anonymous about it, unless you find it shameful that you are experiencing solastagia, which, I suppose when you think about it, you should. Collectively, we are shitting in our own house - I don't know about you, but my cheeks would be pretty red if I got caught doing that.
But this is not so much a feeling of shame as a sort of depression. I've been personally dealing with this, sometimes fighting with it, for the past 4 years at least. More about that in another post or two. For now, the focus is on the word solastalgia, since it's the best way to describe this malaise.
This excellent article from Wired (from 2007!) writes on solastalgia: "It's a mashup of the roots solacium (comfort) and algia (pain), which together aptly conjure the word nostalgia. In essence, it's pining for a lost environment. "Solastalgia," as he wrote in a scientific paper describing his theory, "is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home.'"
You know how people say on parting, "I miss you already" to a loved one? This is it. This is the sense of loss I am already feeling at the slow demise of the very ecosystem that supports my life and yours. Some days it's worse than others. Some days I almost forget that we are in the middle of a crisis. Then I read the paper. It doesn't take much to snap out of it, there's news on the collapse of our ecosystems everywhere. I won't chalk them up here, I'll get back to 'em later.
I'll be back tomorrow with more explorations of the mental implications of this. For now, just chew on the word. Solastalgia. It's a good word. Not too clinical (don't want that), not too frivolous (don't want that either), reminiscent of a word we already know (good!). Let's put it to good use, shall we? We're going to need it.
Thursday, 30 June 2011
For the next month, at the very least, I'm obligating myself to purge my weary head and heart of all of the thoughts I've made on this, humanity's predicament anno 2011.
What I most want from this blog is for others to read and recognize my words as thoughts they've had themselves; realize they're not alone, and then stop playing along with the business as usual model - cause it ain't workin' honey!
See you around.