Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Civil Defense Sirens Day

Imagine the air starting crackling one day. Crackle, crackle, pop, it said, down the street, on the balcony, right behind you while you were out walking the dog. It lasted a few days, maybe weeks, until the crackling turned into spontaneous flames that appeared out of nowhere. You're in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, and right in front of you over the cutting board - a foot long flame appears, burning for 10 seconds before disappearing again. Half an hour later the same thing, this time at the dinner table, later again, in the bathroom. You're not safe, outside or in - the danger is everywhere. I the house, in the neighborhood, downtown, in the country - everywhere. Everybody is experiencing the same thing. The danger is visible, tangible, everywhere - no exceptions. It's a fictive scenarios, but hold the thought. Today, the first Wednesday in May, is the Danish national test day for the civil defense sirens. For 4 minutes we're reminded of their sound, and their meaning, should it ever become necessary. The police are responsible for warning the civil population of dangers, be they war, accidents, catastrophes, or terrorism. The sirens are meant to warn us that there is a dangerous situation, that we need to be informed of by the authorities. My question now is - why haven't we heard the "real" sirens? We're in danger - clear and present - of losing our stable lives, of being overrun by physical catastrophe not unlike the danger of wartime. We could end up in a situation where no peace treaty or UN convention can help us. For the first time ever, we've experienced an entire month with 400 ppm (parts per million). An abstract number that means the atmosphere is more saturated with CO2 than ever before. That's bad. The problem with this amount of CO2 is that it can't be seen, smelled, or felt. It's invisible to us, though its effect is extreme. Yet nothing about our lives shows signs that we're in danger. We don't live or act differently, out consumption continues, there's no collective effort to be seen that we're in a transition to bring us out of danger again. If anything, we need the sirens now, each and every day. To make us go inside and get the information we need, to listen, and learn what we need to do to make this invisible threat a more tangible crackle, before it becomes a flame in our own home.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2014 - A Year of Intersectionality for the Climate

Here are a few hallmark years in the history of climate change:

- 1896. The year that Swede Svante Arrhenius discovered that a rise in carbon went along with a rise in the Earth's temperature, still a well-known fact, proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.
- 1960. The year Charles David Keeling measured the amount of atmospheric CO2 concentrations from Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Using his figures he created the "Keeling Curve", which shows a dramatic increase in carbon ppm, with projections of still more to come.
- 1976. The year of the "climate shift". Any person born after this year has never lived in the stable climate that made human life on this planet possible. The climate changed. Indeed, there was no broad public understanding of this at the time, in fact many were concerned with an impending ice age. Nevertheless, the world had already warmed at this time, and weather patterns were showing changes as an effect.
- 1988. This is a year in climate change that even I remember. Newsweek had global warming and the greenhouse effect on the front page. We had that publication at my house, I was 10, and that was the first time I'd heard about the phenomenon. The topic did its rounds but unfortunately, ebbed out of public discourse again for a number of years.
- 2006. To be honest, this year can't stand alone. 2005 was the year that Hurricane Katrina gave New Orleans a beating, and global warming was back on everybody's lips. Climate made a big news comeback in 2006, and that year seemed to be somwhat of a breakthrough year for the climate as a real thing that occupied the news, and the thoughts of the public in general. People were talking.

So what should 2014 be for climate? Which focus can we turn to, to be bring something new to the table? I take my cue from some of the big and still growing debates of 2013 - the racial and gender equality debates. Odd bedfellows with the climate debate at first glance, but dig deeper, and it's a snug fit.

Anti-racism, and feminism* have been separate entities that have mainly been dealt with the individual standpoints of the oppressed. It has become increasingly evident in public discourse that racial and gender oppression don't just have something in common, they're absolutely connected to each other. Intersectionality has been the buzzword, bringing racial and gender equality together as two sides of the same story. The hierarchy in which these oppressions are systematically happening favors the same oppressor. And the domination isn't just contained to these groups, but of course groups of class and sexual orientation as well. There is a distinct objectification in this hierarchy, a use of the oppressed as an infinite source of power and ressources to be harnessed by the top. Our environment is no exception to this, albeit it hasn't had a human face to use in campaigns that highlight its plight.

The past year has seen quite a culmination of the racism and sexism debates, triggered in no small part by cases such as Trayvon and Steubenville. People saw the racism, sexism and rape culture for what it was, and became collectively and acutely aware of the power structure of a society where they were made possible, necessary even. Climate change has undoubtedly had a role in this, now being mainstream news, creating a backdrop of human absurdity based on greed and power, selling the biosphere for a buck, all while the understanding of how oppression works got deeper, more complex, yet more apparent.

Let 2014 be the year where climate change enters the intersectional discourse. Let us make the connection between oppressions, be they because of race, gender, class, sexuality, or a seemingly bottomless supply of natural ressources to use for human folly. The oppressors are the one and the same. Not only should we be making this connection this year, we should be proactively creating a dialogue that offers not just theoretical solutions, but real, constructive "this is how we're fixing this mess NOW". We know who is at the top of the hierarchy, we know why and for whom they are oppressing, and we must dismantle the system that keeps them in power, and keeps using the oppressed as a neverending supply of cheap ressources.

Let 2014 be the year when we start to look our kids, and each other in the eye and say: we are aware, we are no longer complacent, we love ourselves and the planet's biosphere, and we are doing what we can to end the systemic oppression of it and everything connected to it.

*I'm not going to debate the meaning of feminism here, just understand that in a male dominated world, to be a "humanist" isn't cutting it.