Sunday, 14 August 2011

Mass Extinction

I'll get back to my posts on progress, but I have to interject this, to get it off my chest, and also to try to catalogue exactly what I'm feeling when I read bad climate news.

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

Progress, Pt. 1

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

The Climate Doesn't Do Weekends

I've been away on vacation for a week's time. I realized that while I might physically be on vacation, and away from routines, I've always got my solastalgia with me on trips.

I thought about it in Morocco on our past two trips there (by train, of course). Thought about how our beloved Essaouira will look underwater. I wonder where the inhabitants will go. Will they collectively relocate, or will they disperse individually or as families? I look at each and every person I interact with, and think about where they will be, and what their world will look like in twenty years. Will they be hungry? I try not to think these thoughts completely through, but let the endings stay open, to interpretation, to miracles, or hopefully, positive human action.

Last year, in Finland amidst absolute forest bliss, my climate fears were never far. We stayed at my friend's family cottage, 20 kilometers from the nearest country store, on an island in the middle of a large lake. My friend commented on how hot it was, and how the normally damp island earth was dry and porose. The neighbor came over one day and talked of how water was unusually warm. The nights were warmer too. The blueberry and mushroom harvest were also particularly sparce because of the heat.

Of course, some years are just different than others, they just are. But it always gets my thoughts going, and instead of enjoying a carefree holiday, I end up worrying. Studying my children and wondering how many years they'll experience the world as I've always known it before it irrevocably changes. Again, I let that thought stay just out of reach of a conclusion, god forbid.

This year in Stockholm, I couldn't help but notice how many places in the city were high above sea level. I love city living - would I be better off in the long run living there, as opposed to Copenhagen, where everything is situated at precisely sea level? In the case of sea level rise, there's an awful lot of coast to be levied in and around Copenhagen. And Sweden's got so many trees everywhere, surely a lush location like that would be a cooler place to live than tree eschewing Denmark after a few more decades of warming?

Again, I can't help but let my mind wander, even if I'm supposed to be relaxing. Climate fears do not take breaks.

I was pondering something over the weekend. Anyone within reach of a newspaper in the West knows how close we've come to complete and utter global economic collapse. However, it was the weekend. All talk was about how the markets would look upon opening Monday morning. Now, I get economics. For all intents and purposes, it's been quite a positive thing overall, adding wealth and prosperity to societies, creating jobs, giving people work and money, giving societies money to put to good use for the greater good. But it's all just a psychological sham when it gets down to the nitty gritty. An economy is only available for growth or collapse during weekday working hours. How organic and real is that? And for all we know, having a weekend break for speculation and further fear mongering can only really make that situation worse. What a construction. It's all just human behavior.

But while potential economic collapse takes breaks, climates fears - and climate change - do not.