Here in Northern Ontario our lovely boreal summer is in full swing. The blueberries are starting to ripen, the ethereal call of the loons drifts up to our windows at night, and the zucchini are plentiful. This summer in my community we are lucky to be growing some “really cool old squash” that Winona LaDuke gifted to us with during her visit here last September. The squash seeds are descendants of 800 year old seeds found preserved in an earth ball at an archeological dig in Wisconsin several years ago.
Unfortunately, this summer also brings ominous news from the arctic; some maverick climate scientists are even suggesting that one cyclone could break up what remains of the summer ice cover by this September. This means the summer polar ice cap will be G-O-N-E. Right now, for the first time ever, there’s a lake covering the remaining ice, as this photograph by the North Pole Environmental Observatory shows:
I’ve just returned from a 5 day canoe trip that gave me the opportunity to disconnect from the cyberworld, and to refresh my mind and spirit. It was jarring to return and be confronted with even more alarming evidence of the climate precipice upon which we are poised, and yet note that “business as usual” continues.
After spending an evening logged on to my computer absorbing the latest climate news, and feeling the impact of that on my psyche, I knew that it was time for me to shift gears. The science of climate change is clear to anyone who chooses to examine what the scientists are saying, or even is willing to look at the evening news or out their window. What is just as clear is that people are choosing, en masse, not look this monster in the eyes. When I started blogging in the fall of 2009, it was because I was becoming aware of how acute the threat of climate change is to my children’s future and as a mother I felt compelled to act on this knowledge. Blogging about it was a way for me to educate myself as well as raise awareness. It also became the way for me to connect with other concerned people inside and outside Canada. While I’ve shed many a tear as I researched my blog posts, I will remember the past four years on 350orbust as a stimulating ride, full of twists and turns and surprises. In the process, I’ve not only learned a lot about climate science and climate activism, I’ve learned about myself and “life, the universe, and everything”.
In 2013, the pace of climate change is quickening. It is no longer something that is going to happen to my children and grandchildren, it is something that is happening in my own backyard, and across the globe, right here and now.
Eat, Pray, Garden, Breathe. Repeat.
We are hurtling headlong into a time of great change, and I want to be using my time and energy wisely in the days and months ahead. That is not to say that I think we’re screwed and it’s time to throw our hands up in despair. Absolutely not; exactly the opposite. As France Moore Lappé writes in her most recent book, EcoMind (which I highly recommend):
To those declaring our species’ near-future demise, I find myself wanting to shout, Wait a minute!
Half the world is getting by right now on a daily sum equal to the price of a single American latte – or less. About 1 billion of us lack the food and water we need. In the Global North, millions are struggling and stressed as well. Even before the Great Recession, it was estimated that almost 60 percent of Americans will live in poverty for at least a year during their adult lives. In short catastrophe is already the daily experience of huge numbers.
So here’s my question: Too late for what?
I agree with [Ross] Gelbspan that it is too late to prevent the massive change in the climate we humans have taken for granted for thousands of years. Erratic, extreme, and destructive weather is already with us. It is too late to prevent suffering. Terrible suffering is already with us.
But it is not too late for life.
The cracks in our unsustainable way of life are showing, and getting bigger every day. But as Leonard Cohen has written, There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in. There’s the possibility, the glimmer of hope, that fundamental change will come from the convulsions we will all be experiencing from our collective inability to “connect the dots” between our every day actions and choices and the impacts these have on other, unseen, people as well as the earth that sustains life.
Am I fearful when I consider the scope of what is facing us? I am well acquainted with fear, but while it may seem counter-intuitive, I can say honestly that I am less fear-filled now than at any other time of my life. The things that I used to be fearful of , like not “keeping up appearances” (whatever that might mean – being at the “right” weight, wearing the “right” clothes, having children who reflected well on my parenting, etc), don’t seem important any more. Even the ultimate fear in our society, death, doesn’t hold the same power over me. Our culture teaches us to be obsessed with amassing external wealth and the outward trappings of “success” in large part because we are also taught to be afraid of dying – and this includes most people who identify themselves as “religious”. The unspoken lesson is that if only we surround ourselves with enough “stuff” we will be immune. Ironically we can forget to enjoy life, so focused are we on accumulating. What is clear now is that we are hastening the death of the ecosystem that sustains us because of this blindness. Immersing myself in the darkness of what we collectively are doing to other people, to our children’s future, to our biosphere and to those beings that share this planet with us has made me realize that there are worse things than dying. Continuing to live according to the shallow and destructive values of our society is one of those.
The time has come for me to focus my energies away from 350orbust to other things. Canada’s Citizens Climate Lobby is gearing up for our first official conference and lobbying days in Ottawa November 16 – 18th, so that’s one of my top priorities.
My local transition group is one of the places- next to my family and my garden – that I draw the most energy from, so I’m going to spend more time on working with this great group of people to increase our local resilience. I also manage their website (although not very well these days) so you can visit me at TransitionRedLake.wordpress.com. My understanding and supportive family will also be getting a little more of my undivided attention, because I can’t think of a better place to continue building resilience and community than right here under my own roof; and besides, they are a lot of fun to spend time with!
I also feel compelled to stay connected with the people of Fort McKay and Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta after meeting some of them and hearing their stories during the Tar Sands Healing Walk early in July. I’d like to help other Canadians hear their shocking stories of having their land, their traditional food, and their families poisoned because of the unchecked expansion of bitumen extraction in the tar sands. What is happening there is just wrong.
This is my opportunity to say thank you to my faithful readers – and even the not-so-faithful ones! Knowing that you were out there, checking in when you could, and giving me feedback when you felt moved to, has made this journey such an inspiring one. Many of you have touched my life, and for that I say “meegwech”, (an Anishinaabe thank you).
I don’t want to leave you without resources. You are welcome to touch base with me on Facebook (Christine Penner Polle) or follow me on Twitter, @350orbust1, or on Pinterest (350orbust). I can still be reached by email at email@example.com, although I plan to spend much less time on my computer and much more time in my garden. 350orbust won’t be completely inactive, as my weekend posts are set for the next few months as well as some video links that are set to be shared.
I’d love to meet you in Ottawa during Canada’s Citizens Climate Lobby National Conference. My recent trip to Washington to participate in the 4th annual Citizens Climate Lobby International Conference & Lobbying days had a huge impact on me and my climate activism, and I think Ottawa will be equally inspiring. The conference will include training in lobbying for change, which would be helpful even if you choose not to participate further with Citizens Climate Lobby.
If you want to follow what’s happening with the climate, there are excellent websites out there, which I’ve listed a few of below. I would also recommend that you follow Paul Beckwith, an “unmuzzled” Canadian climate scientist who studies abrupt climate change. You can find him on Facebook or on Twitter (@PaulHBeckwith) or on his blog on the Sierra Club Canada website. If you are on Facebook, “I Heart Climate Scientists” page is great to follow for regular updates and graphics to share. If you are in need of inspiration or a boost on a bad day, check out Upworthy.com.
For the latest on our changing climate:
The experts of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group post updates on ArcticNews.
For a jam-packed weekly round-up of climate and other environmental news, head over to A Few Things Ill Considered on Monday mornings.
Climate Nexus is also a great resource. They are “a strategic communications group dedicated to highlighting the wide-ranging impacts of climate change and clean energy solutions in the United States.”
I wish you joy on the journey, and I won’t say goodbye but rather à la prochaine – until next time!
Is the Keystone XL pipeline really what President Obama wants to leave as his legacy, for future generations to remember him by – and curse him for?
Meanwhile climate destabilization continues as unabated as our carbon dioxide emissions:
- Czech PM Declares Emergency As Floods Threaten Prague: Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas declared a state of emergency for most of the nation on Sunday as swollen rivers caused by days of heavy rain threatened Prague’s historic center and forced evacuations from low-lying areas.Prague authorities limited public transport and planned to close underground stations in the center of the city as water from the Vltava River overflowed into picturesque areas popular with tourists. The main train line connecting the capital and the east of the country was also shut. Click here to read full story.
Rising waters from the Danube, Ilz and Inn rivers have inundated parts of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic after days of heavy rainfall. Emergency operations are under way to deal with record levels of flooding in some areas, as landslides have killed at least nine people, with many more still missing. Click here to see pictures.
- Meanwhile it’s so dry and parched in Texas even the dead can’t rest quietly: …Across South Texas, the drought scorched front yards, dried up lakes and forced Corpus Christi into water restrictions. But one of the unexplored consequences has been the drought’s effect on cemeteries. Once serene sanctuaries, these final resting places now show signs of distress from too little rain.
Sections of Rose Hill Memorial Park where Matson’s parents are buried are patchworks of cracked dirt and weeds. In Seaside Memorial Park, where slain Tejano star Selena Quintanilla lies in rest, scattered live oaks that once provided shade have died and started to shed their bark. Click here for the full story.
As U of Ottawa climate scientist Paul Beckwith tweeted this morning:
At the present time we humans are behaving like brainless frogs. Frogs, it turns out, don’t remain in water being heated to the boiling point unless their brains have been removed.
I’m on a (low-carbon) holiday for the next while, with little access to a computer, so please accept my apologies for delayed responses or posting of comments. All should be back to normal on 350orbust the last week of March. In the meantime, I scoured my files for some photos and graphics to post while I’m away – enjoy!
It’s been three and a half years since I began talking about, blogging about, and working for action on, climate change. It took me a while to call myself a “climate activist” but it’s a label that I now wear proudly, although I am starting to prefer the term “fossil fuel abolitionist”. Like the abolitionists who worked to abolish the slave trade, climate activists/fossil fuel abolitionists are up against an entrenched economic system that has no intention of changing, and those who profit from the status quo are willing to fight change with any means necessary. But all of us in the industrial world, and others around the world as well, benefit from the cheap and plentiful fossil fuel party we’ve been on for the last hundred and fifty years. As Canadian journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk points out in his new book, Energy Slaves, those of us in North America and Europe behave like slaveholders of old in the way we use energy. Like Caribbean plantation owners, we live lives of extraordinary extravagance, and – like those same plantation owners – we feel entitled to our way of life; like slaveholders of a bygone era, we turn a blind eye to the horrors that our lifestyle requires. Nikiforuk argues that the price of our “energy slaves” (fossil fuels) is getting higher and higher, both extrinsically and intrinsically. Nikiforuk’s book is a clarion call for a new and radical emancipation movement to free us from our enslavement to dirty energy (slavery, it turns out, is a two-way street).
As the IUCN video above outlines – note that it’s three years old, and the stats have only gotten worse – the news about the state of the world’s ecosystems, the ones that humans and all other species require for life, is dire. People who have devoted their lives to studying these things tell us that the ocean has absorbed so much carbon dioxide it is on the verge of becoming too acidic to sustain shellfish and coral life; methane releases in the arctic are climbing as the permafrost melts (remember methane is a greenhouse gas that has 21 times more heat-trapping ability in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide); 75% of genetic diversity in agricultural crops has been lost, and over 70% of the world’s fisheries are fully, or over, exploited.
Need I go on? The signs are clear – humanity, as a species, is staring catastrophe in the face. Or rather, catastrophe is staring us in the face while we are busy averting our eyes, fixating on something – anything – else. How about, oh, I don’t know, shopping, our waistlines, sex, reality television…fill in the blanks (perhaps blogging about climate change, or Facebook)! When I began my journey as a climate activist back in October of 2009, I believed that if people just understood the enormity of the consequences for our children and the planet if we don’t act to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions, they would take action; I saw my job as “shaking people awake”. Three and a half years later, I have learned that this is not the case; the warning signs are everywhere, and every day that passes the signs are getting harder and harder to ignore (see “Runaway” video below). Although increasing numbers of people around the globe are becoming active in the fight to preserve a stable climate, the overwhelming majority of people have not yet been moved to get involved in staving off climate catastrophe or the looming mass extinction event. I have struggled with this truth – most of these people choosing not to act are good people, who love their children and grandchildren as much as I do my kids; and yet they choose the “blue pill” of unconsciousness and apathy rather than the “red pill” of awakening and action, to use a metaphor from The Matrix. Even those of us who choose the red pill, and who can see the writing on the wall, may feel that the odds are so stacked against us in this struggle for sanity and against all-consuming greed that the fight is futile. Recognition of the horror of the abyss we are digging for ourselves can be overwhelming.
There are days on my journey as a climate activist that I feel (and possibly look!) like the human in this famous painting. The news is really that bad. And yet, like the humans on the runaway train in Cordell Barker’s animation (below) we, collectively, are partying on, wasting the time and resources that could be put to use changing the trajectory of the climate “train”. If you want to know just how bad, watch Dr. Guy McPherson’s talk at last November’s Bluegrass Bioneers conference (click here). I’ve hesitated to post the video on 350orbust because the last thing I have wanted to do is overwhelm my readers and plunge them into despair about our situation; there are already too many people who are paralyzed into inaction by the enormity of what we are facing. But there’s no avoiding it; every single sign in the biosphere is screaming “stop” to our fossil-fueled madness, and yet we carry recklessly on.
Even as I write these words tears come to my eyes; I want my children to live in a world with a stable climate something like I inherited, with food security and a secure political environment. I want there to be wild places for them to go, where the whales and the eagles thrive and the fish are abundant, where the hand of humans hasn’t disturbed nature. But it turns out, I can’t promise them that, no matter how much or how loudly I ring the climate alarm bell. Collectively we, the human species, are entering a “dark night of the soul”. For those not familiar with the term, medieval Spanish mystic St John of the Cross wrote a poem using that term to describe the soul’s difficult separation from, and journey towards, God. Whether or not the language of God resonates with you, there is no denying that humans are about to be plunged into a darkness of our own making, and in that hardship will be offered the seeds of our “salvation”, that we become nurturers of the earth and “all our relations” rather than destroyers. St John of the Cross’s imagery describes a maturation process which includes growing in the ability to love; one just needs to look around at the world to know we are failing miserably to manifest love for our fellow human beings and the creatures we share the planet with. Greed, lust for the almighty dollar, has overcome love and we are descending into collective suicidal madness.
So, what now? There are people much more thoughtful and well-educated than me who are articulating responses to this crisis, working through despair towards a response that rejects the mindset and lifestyle which have got us to this point and is congruent with the new values humans will need to embrace. Dr Guy McPherson, who unflinchingly looks climate and economic catastrophe in the eyes, writes in a blog post entitled “only love remains”:
Our knowledge of DNA informs us that the odds against any one of us being here are greater than the odds against being a particular grain of sand on all the world’s beaches. Indeed, the odds are much greater than that: they exceed the odds of being a single atom plucked from the entire universe. As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins says, “In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I that are privileged to be here, privileged with eyes to see where we are and brains to wonder why.”
The privilege to be here, on this life-giving planet at this astonishing time in human history, is sufficient to inspire awe in the most uncaring of individuals. At this late juncture in the age of industry, at the dawn of our day on Earth, we still have love: love for each other, love for our children and grandchildren, love for nature. One could argue it is all we have left.
We all have a part to play in the mystery unfolding around us; just because it’s a bit part (because they all are!) doesn’t make it unimportant. Lately, I’ve been embracing the “Eat, Pray, Love” mantra as my response to the craziness, although “Breathe” should be in there as well. And by “eat” I mean local organic nonGMO – there’s no room for Monsanto in the new world. Namaste.
Pippa the weathergirl goes off script and drops some science instead of the usual barbeque forecast:
Yes, there is more sea ice missing now than there is ice remaining. It’s in a “death spiral”, scientists are saying:
This picture from NASA shows the current extent of Arctic sea ice. The line shows the average minimum extent from 1979 to 2010.
If this truth-telling leaves you in despair and feeling hopeless, you’re not alone (“The Six Stages Of Climate Grief“). But recognizing there is a problem, as T.V.’s Dr Phil likes to say, is only the start. The sixth stage of climate grief that Ms. Wysham talks about is action. I’m living proof that action is a surefire antidote to climate trauma and despair. This is our generation’s “Great Work” – let’s get to it!
If you’re ready to embrace the “The Work” but aren’t sure where to turn, check out Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots group focused on creating the political will for a sustainable climate as well as empowering individuals to claim their personal and political power. You might also be interested in the approach that the Transition Network takes, which is focused on preparing communities for the twin challenges of peak oil and climate change by becoming more resilient.