All posts by Andrea McDowell

Crafters for Climate

I’ve done something a bit mad, and I’ll talk about why I’ve done this to myself more in another post, but for today I’ll just tell you what it is:

I’ve committed to creating, hosting or participating in one public Climate Change event connected to each of my hobbies, ideally before the Canadian election in October but if that can’t be arranged ASAP.

Sewing was first: two small workshops held at Needlework here in Hamilton, using scrap fabrics to make small climate action banners and support the youth strikers, while I spoke a bit about what the climate emergency is and how it connects to our much loved hobby.

So great to see a bunch of kids out on Friday!

I’ve put it all together in this post as a toolkit that you can take to your favourite local sewing space and do yourself (or with a friend!).

Approach

I absolutely did not have this well thought out to begin with: I just went to my favourite local fabric store with a hugely sketchy pitch:

With the climate crisis being so much in the news, and the UN climate conference coming up again, and a federal election being faught over the carbon tax–and with Greta Thunberg and the youth strikers asking for adult support and participation in the Sept 20 and 27 climate strikes–wouldn’t it be great if an unexpected community like crafters and sewers were to speak out in support of climate action? We could fabric scraps, I suggested, and maybe piece them into a banner for the shop window or the protests–or people could make their own–or iron slogans on t-shirts, or make tote bags–or, I don’t know, what do you think?

Fortunately Kate and Liz were super enthusiastic and supportive and had the much better and easier idea of using fusible web to make banners, but yes, out of scraps. And I’d talk a bit about climate change while we all make our masterpieces, and we’d raise some money for a local environmental group, and in short, it would be fabulous. Liz and Kate did most of the work: making the blank banners, setting up the event on their website, and collecting donations. (A huge thank you again!)

If you missed this event and you’ll be in town for Supercrawl, drop in! They’re planning an impromptu version of the activity on the street.

Agenda

After everyone arrived, Liz and Kate gave a basic introduction to the event and a how-to on the fusible web. Attendees brainstormed a slogan, sketched it out, and started tracing and cutting. About an hour in, after everyone had their slogan planned out and was focused on getting it done, I jumped into my talk.

It was very short–just a few minutes–and we were all working on our projects at the same time, so it was very informal.

Afterwards we kept chatting while we finished up our banners.

Here’s the one I made on Saturday morning, hanging at home on the living room wall.

Talk

Do any of you remember seeing the headlines about “twelve years left to save the planet” from a year ago? And if you do, how many of you feel like you have a really solid understanding of what that means? What is it we had twelve years left to do, and what happens if we don’t do it?

Here’s the basic rundown:

If we want to be reasonably sure that the planet can continue to support human civilization in something mostly like what we’re used to, we need to limit total warming to 1.5C.

We’ve already experienced 1C of warming, so there is very little margin left, and the global carbon cycle is so slow that what we’ve already emitted will get us to 1.5C some time this century whether we continue to emit carbon or not.

That sounds bad, yes? So when global leaders met and signed the Paris Accords saying they would try to limit warming to 1.5C, it led straight away to the question: ok, great, but how?

The IPCC commissioned a study on that question: how do we do this? CAN we do this? And about a thousand climate experts from around the world collaborated on putting together the information that came together in last October’s report. What they concluded was:

  • If we cut emissions roughly in half by 2030
  • And completely decarbonize by 2050
  • And then go into NEGATIVE emissions in the second half of this century

We have about a 66% chance of keeping warming to 1.5C, though we may overshoot it for part of that time before negative emissions have an impact.

That twelve years is how long we have to cut our emissions in half. Of course right now emissions are still rising, so that’s a big challenge.

AND! It will affect our beloved hobby, too. Let’s talk a little bit about how: we’re sitting in a space where just about every product started out as a plant on a farm, and which will be affected by a changing climate. Textiles and fashion have environmental implications beyond climate of course, like water use and transportation and fertilizers and chemicals during processing and dyeing, but I’m going to limit myself to climate impacts today because that’s what we’re here for.

Climate change—impacts on cotton:

  • higher temps a mixed bag, depending on geographic region and how close they already are to upper tolerance levels
  • drought, storms, all decrease yields
  • yields in some countries already declining
  • during the 2011 Texas drought, 55% of cotton fields were abandoned
  • even in low-warming scenarios, yields in America expected to decline 30-46%
  • solutions include GMOs for heat and drought tolerance, using more wild varieties and cultivars that tolerate extremes better, and changing farming practices to better conserve water etc. Even so, yields will almost certainly decline.

https://www.greenbiz.com/article/why-climate-change-material-cotton-industry

https://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/129/358/172950.html

http://www.insidecotton.com/jspui/bitstream/1/2600/1/Bange%20and%20Constable.pdf

Linen/flax

Not as much research or writing, but yields are declining for now and expected to continue to decline; however, not as severely as cotton (because it uses the entire plant, not just the seed?)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329655637_Flax_crop_production_and_climate_change_from_diagnosis_to_solutions_for_the_future_Philippe_GATE_and_Olivier_DEUDON

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25796897

Polyester/synthetics

A single polyester t-shirt has carbon emissions of 5.5kg, (about double that of a cotton t-shirt).

https://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/2019/02/26/textile-industry-and-climate-change/

Bamboo & Rayon

We also have a solution here too. There are definitely sustainability concerns with the production of rayon, but bamboo was described by Project Drawdown as having significant potential to sequester carbon because it’s a perennial plant that grows very quickly.


So there you go. Everything in the world, including this shop, affects and is affected by the climate crisis.

And of course, it’s not just textiles, is it? If it were, we might be less concerned, though I personally have no interest in living in a global nudist colony.

Reports on climate impacts expected for Hamilton this century include: more extreme weather events, more precipitation in the spring, winter and fall; more drought in the summer; more ice storms; more extreme heat, leading to an anticipated 2 months or more of extreme heat every year by the 2080s ; more invasive species; new pests and diseases to our region (like Lyme disease).

At the same time, these impacts are going to be worse for vulnerable and marginalized communities: women, racial minorities, people with low-incomes or disabilities, are all going to feel the effects more.

But this also means that just about anything you do to make the world a better, fairer place will help on climate change. For example, the same people at Project Drawdown found that if you combine the mitigation impacts of education for girls globally and improved access to family planning, women’s rights have as much impact on climate change as wind turbines.


You’ve probably already heard about the things you can do as an individual or a household to reduce your carbon: drive an electric car or take transit, avoid flying, avoid meat, change to LED lightbulbs, set your thermostat to use less heat and air conditioning—and those are all great, but if we need to decarbonize, we need societal change. Our province shutting down all the coal-fired power plants was, at the time, the largest climate mitigation project in North American history, because at a stroke we all emitted less carbon in our electricity regardless of our personal choices.

We need a lot more of that, which means action from all levels of government and business and industry leaders. Which isn’t going to happen unless they hear from a lot of us.

Which is where our lovely banners come in, and the school strikes and demonstrations. It’s amazing to me that even the conservative party has a climate policy for this year’s election. It’s crap, and it would make emissions go up, but they’ve got one–they’ve conceded that it’s real and accept that the public wants to see action. This is a direct result of increasing public visibility and pressure from things like the youth strikes. So the best thing for all of us to do is get more involved.

Other Ideas

You weren’t at the workshop, you aren’t going to a strike: how else can you be part of mobilizing and publicly supporting action on climate change?

It is uncomfortable and new territory for a lot of us, but so much is at stake.  Please find a way to be involved!

Theory

For the climate nerds, here’s the theoretical background: climate communications research shows that conversations about the climate emergency are more successful and lead to better outcomes when:

1. They are in small groups or one-to-one, rather than mass communications
2. They come from a trusted member of that community, rather than from an outsider
3. They are built on shared values and priorities
4. They tackle solutions and a vision of a desired and desirable future

These workshops put that theory into practice in the Hamilton sewing community.

Democracy is a Learned Skill

We’re getting close to a federal election here in Canada (election season here only lasts for a couple of months, so we’ll be all done by the end of October, American friends–whereas you’re already in the thick of it and still have a year to go, which is just mind-boggling to me). It’s the perfect time for me to harp on one of my favourite subjects:

Democracy means rule by the people, not checkmarking by the people.

Voting, as important as it is, is the bare minimum for citizenship in a democracy (and yes, I know a lot of people can’t even manage to do that much).

You’ve got to show up between elections. Politicians do what large numbers of their constituents vocally ask them to do.

In the house I grew up in, people voted, and that was it. Political activities otherwise involved people venting about decisions they didn’t like at the dinner table with immediate family, and otherwise never bringing it up. That’s probably typical. My mother being who she is, even venting with immediate family sometimes brought about several months of shunning, which I hope isn’t typical; but in either case, my family practiced democracy by voting, and then complaining when elected officials didn’t do what we wanted them to without ever taking any trouble to tell the elected officials what that might be.

That’s what my daughter gets at her Dad’s house, but it’s not what she gets at mine: I’ve been dragging her to protests and public meetings and community events since she was a little kid.

And as a result, at 15, she’s confident about attending them and voicing her opinions, she knows what she thinks, and she’s got better knowledge about how government works than most 40 year olds.

Democracy and citizenship are, I think, like housework. You learn how to cook and mow the lawn and get the groceries and do laundry from watching your parents cook and mow the lawn and get the groceries and do laundry, starting when you’re much too young to participate, but learning even then that this is a routine part of living. Then as they get older, seeing and participating more, and taking more ownership.

But how did I learn it? How do you? If you didn’t grow up in that kind of house, how do you figure it out so you can make it NBD for your kids? I mean, I didn’t go to a protest or public meeting until after I started university, and lots of people never have.

Speaking as an adult-learner in the practice of democracy: you just show up.

You just GO.

You don’t need to go with a posse or even a buddy. You don’t need to know the people who are there. No one’s going to make you speak if you don’t want to. Even if it’s a protest, you don’t have to chant or shout, you can just walk quietly, even without a sign–it helps just to have more people. You can sign the sign-in sheet, or not; you can ask questions, or not; you can pick up the brochures and read them at home and then email your questions in, if you have them. It’s not just for experts or professionals or activists.

If it helps, tell yourself you’re going for 15 minutes, just to see what it’s about, just to poke your head in. Make up your mind about staying after you take the lay of the land. It’s fine! You’re not marrying the protest or the public meeting. At this point it’s not even a coffee date. You’re just showing up so you can figure out if you want to swipe right or left.

I remember some of my early meetings and protests like that: just a peak! Just to see what was going on. Just to take it in. And it got easier, gradually. Like showing up for a book club or a dance social or a community art class: every one gets more familiar until one day you’re going to every one and you know all the regulars.

A really great public meeting or town hall or protest is magic. For a few hours, with good people and great ideas, you see for a little while what the world could be like, and it sticks. You take it with you. You bring it to the next one; it builds. I still remember the Occupy Toronto camp, the signs and the tents and the sharing and the marches. That camp ended, but the ideas are still there, and the people who were there bring those ideas into every other movement they join; Occupy principles are in the bedrock of the Green New Deal. And no, the American federal GND resolution didn’t pass, but thanks to the proposal there are GND movements all over the world. There have been two town halls on GND principles and priorities in Hamilton in the last few months. A couple of weeks ago at work, a community group called me up to ask if we’d be interested in participating in a GND-inspired project, with elements from those town halls built right in.

Democracy is rule by the people, not check-marking by the people. And when the people show up, in public, in numbers, they can rule. People who stay home and complain at the TV or on FaceBook have abdicated the throne.

Here’s the other thing: the people organizing those town halls and protests and public meetings? They so desperately want you there. It’s not a secret club with an exam you have to pass in order to have your say. It’s more like a brand new local store waiting for its first fifty customers so they can pay the bills and keep the doors open. Even if you’re not going to buy anything, even if you’re just checking things out, they’ll be happy to see you!

And when it gets easier for you, your kids see you doing it, and they begin to believe that this is just a thing that adults do to make the world work. They’re right about that, too. Because it’s the adults who show up who push politicians to act in one way or another, and if it’s only the angry and hateful adults who have protests and public meetings and delegate at Council, then that’s what’ll happen.

Growing up in a family where no one did anything beyond voting, if that, is kind of like growing up in a family where they all eat take-out all the time. No one knows how to cook! Cooking looks weird and mysterious and hard. What’s a cup measure, anyway? How does a carrot get chopped? Where do you get cashews? If you get the amount of baking soda wrong, will the oven explode?

You can either live with those fears as normal and natural and raise kids who also don’t know how to cook and eat take-out all the time.

Or you can figure out how to cook and teach your kids.

So–I mean, obviously, first of all, vote.

But show up to town halls too. Go to protests. Write letters and make phone calls. Start awkward political conversations about issues that matter to you. Go to public meetings on projects you support. Call your representatives–not about Major Issue Of The Day necessarily, but just to tell them what’s important to you, what you want to see them accomplish.

Participating in democracy in this way is also work. I know. TV is easier and more fun, just like take-out is easier and more fun than cooking. And just like it’s ok to eat take-out sometimes but as a regular thing it’s terrible for your health and your budget, sitting out on democracy is ok sometimes but as a constant thing is terrible for your mental health and your community.

Believe me, it wears on you and takes a toll to live as if you are powerless, to pretend as if the only voice you have is a tick you put in a box once every couple of years.

Also, just like cooking gets better when you find the recipes that work for your schedule and taste buds and budget, participating in democracy gets a whole lot more fun when you figure out whether you’re more the “come to the town halls a few times a year, clap politely, maybe ask a question” type or the “show up at the protest with a sign and yell” type or the “make the powerpoint slides for the community group to delegate at Council” type. Speaking for myself, I don’t love cooking; I cook because I love eating and I’ve found recipes that are fairly quick and we like eating and don’t get tired of. I also much prefer attending town halls and community meetings to knocking on doors during elections. That’s easier to figure out when you’ve tried a bunch of things.

Make participating in democracy as normal as vacuuming. Make it so your kids never have to feel awkward and uncertain about it. Show up, and bring your kids with you.

(Don’t) Panic: A hitchhiker’s guide to climate anxiety

In late March, I gave a presentation on fear and hope and helplessness in climate communications at a local Climate Change summit. There was supposed to be a video at some point, but I’ve (temporarily) given up on ever seeing it; but here’s what I said, with a picture of me saying it, in a handmade dress no less.

I’d love to hear what you think . It seems to be a bit of a Rorschach test: people hear what they think they’re going to hear, so far. Something like, “I loved your speech! It was about [climate communications preconception,] and that’s awesome!” And I say, “Thank you!” And I think, “Interesting, that’s not what I was trying to say.”

(As presented)

So climate experts are sniping at each other on Twitter again.

What about, you ask? The remaining carbon budget? Sea level rise? Hurricane projections? Oh no. None of that. There is only one subject I’ve seen continually spark fights between distinguished climate scientists on twitter, and it’s this:

Should we do everything we can to scare the bejeezus out of people to get them to act on climate change? Or, if we want people to act on climate change, must we do everything in our power to avoid scaring the bejeezus out of people?

I used to be on Team Fear, partly because fear was key for me. I grew up in a house stacked with books about Armageddon, full of lurid details about how the world was sure to end in fire in the 1980s, proof being Mikhail Gorbachev’s birthmark. Which meant I grew up thinking I wasn’t going to high school.

It’s not so different from Greta Thunberg and the school strikes. That’s it, folks. At the same age I was when I had my daughter, you will see human civilization begin to irretrievably crumble. We messed up. Sorry. Also, here’s a large student debt. And are you saving for your retirement? The seniors’ colony on Mars is not going to be cheap, so you wanna get started.

As it turned out, Gorbachev wasn’t the antichrist. He was just a guy who tried really hard to bring democracy to Russia. Climate models, however, consistently underpredict impacts, so the wildfires and hurricanes and sea level rise are all ahead of schedule.

You would not believe the number of people in the last year who, when I tell them I work in climate change, say, “tell me the truth. Are we screwed? Should I just get drunk and wait for the end?” The titanic comes up a lot.

Fear got me into climate change, just like fear got me into church. So if other people weren’t engaged, they must not be scared enough. So I scared them.

We haven’t had this much carbon in the atmosphere for millions of years! I said. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying from climate impacts every year! YOU HAVE CHILDREN! If you’re not doing something, YOU’RE KILLING THEM!

No, I did. And it never, ever worked.

Why weren’t people responding with more enthusiasm to my terrifying mountain of facts?

Because fear doesn’t work, the research said. It paralyzes people. They hide from the issue instead of engaging with it.

Huh. Really? That’s weird. It didn’t do that for me.

Or, well.

Am I the only one who hasn’t yet packed an emergency kit for the next major blackout or extreme weather event?

I’m a type 1 diabetic. Ask me how many cookies I’ve eaten this week.

(The cookies here have been delicious, by the way, as always–so I guess you know the number’s not zero.)

Friends, I’ve had 100% cookie-based meals.

The complications of type 1 diabetes are objectively terrifying, and this means nothing in the face of a homemade chocolate chip cookie straight from the oven. Which I take the time to make myself. Partly to manage the stress of working in climate change. I should see amputations sliding off the cookie sheet, instead, I see endorphins.

OK. We’ll scrap fear. We’ll focus on hard work, optimism and hope. Hope is big. Hope is printed in really big letters all over this Summit, for instance.

I tried really hard. It went something like this:

Don’t give up! If we pull together and have some lucky technological breakthroughs, things will only get worse for another 50-100 years, and then, assuming we don’t skip merrily past any invisible tipping points, we can stabilize at a level that supports human civilization! Take transit!”

That didn’t work either!

When I tried to scare people, they called me an alarmist; when I tried to inspire people with hope, they called me an alarmist. Then Greta comes along and sparks an entire mass climate movement with five letters:

P A N I C

I give up. Or, no, I don’t give up. That’s incompatible with hope-messaging. Wait, what are we doing again?

The facts of climate change are objectively terrifying. What kind of hand-waving could we do to make that disappear?

Susanne Moser is a climate communications expert and the author of a textbook on the subject (that I read for fun). Here she says there are seven parts to an effective climate communication:

“a minimum amount of information, a realistic assessment of the threat, a sense of personal control, a clear goal, an understanding of strategies, a sense of support, and frequent feedback.”

What do they get?

That it’s possible we are ending the ability of the planet to support human civilization. Doomed cities, doomed countries, doomed cultures, deaths numbering in the millions—or more, the loss of entire branches of the tree of life within our lifetimes, wars and mass migrations caused by human desperation. –information and threat

That if we don’t decarbonize by 2050, our goose is cooked. Literally. —goals

That strategies like renewable energy and electric cars exist, but we haven’t been able to deploy them at sufficient scale.

That carbon levels are still going up. —feedback

And that it’s all in the hands of people they don’t know, don’t trust, and have next to no influence over.

It isn’t just that people aren’t given a sense of control in these media messages, but that they’re actively told that they’re powerless.

No wonder people so often tell me they’ve already given up.

Or I hear: “Andrea, I’ve changed my lightbulbs. I can’t afford to fly. I tried the community garden and everything died. The gardening class was $800. I already vote. I’m not an expert—I don’t know what to say—there was a community meeting at 3 pm and that’s when I pick my kids up from school. I’m terrified. I need to do more but what?”

We in this room are in a position of immense privilege. Working in climate change is, yes, stressful. I have a whole new appreciation for bourbon in my forties. But it’s also a gift: when climate news is scary, we can use it to fuel our work. It isn’t just that fear got many of us here, but that being here gives us a tool to manage that fear.

Most people don’t have that.

Still, isn’t it odd, that citizens of first-world democracies feel so powerless? How have our imaginations failed so badly?

What if stop worrying about whether we’re scaring people not enough or too much? Can we talk instead about this pervasive powerlessness?

Because they’re not. Social and economic transformations have always depended on political will, yes, but it isn’t a thunderstorm, arriving out of a clear sky, leaving a new world in its wake. Citizens acting collectively produce political will.

Every project we work on does two things: it reduces GHG emissions or makes our communities more resilient, and that’s critical, that’s why we’re here. But each also tells a story about whose work this is. Does the community have a role to play, or are they observers only?

Here’s what excites me about the Bay Area Climate Change Council: it tells a story about our community’s agency. Community feedback, community priorities, and representatives from community organizations created the work plans. Action is local: we will see and touch it. It widens the road to action for more people, which boosts the climate conversation, too. Someone who sees and knows they can help create the political will needed to make change won’t—hopefully—need to ask if they should give up before they begin.

MeMadeMay 2019 Recap, Holy Cow

I did it. Thirty-one days of me-mades, no repeat outfits. The hardest part was that Frances had uptillion doctor’s visits (more on that in another post), and on those days I worked from home, and I just don’t have as many homemade casual clothes as I do clothes for work. But I still did it!

As promised, here are links to all the blog posts about the projects including patterns, sizing, adjustments, and fabric sources. Here we go:

Day 1:

Burda 02/2017 #111 (unblogged). Love this sweatshirt pattern, not least because of the pockets! in the front. Sweatshirt fleece from King Textiles.

Day 2:

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Burda Magazine Dress and trench coat. Embroidered bag adapted from the book Bags in Bloom.

Day 3:

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Burda magazine top and Jalie Women’s Stretch Jeans.

Day 4:

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Grainline Linden sweatshirt.

Day 5:

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Grainline Linden t-shirt, cropped (unblogged) with storebought jeans.

Day 6:

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Burda Magazine blouse (unblogged version of this shirt) and Burda paper-pattern skirt, clutching a Burdastyle magazine jacket and the same embroidered bag.

Day 7:

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Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt; Vogue 9155 view C pants (unblogged. Mini review: Should be a 16/18 based on their body measurement chart, but as always, tons of ease so I sized down to a 10/12. The fabric is a Fabricland ponte. Because of the knit I omitted the front fly closure and these are pull on, and it works, but in retrospect it would have been better to keep the closer and use woven interfacing in the waistband to eliminate the stretch because they do bag out over a day of wear).

Day 8:

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Jalie Mimosa t-shirt

Day 9:

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Burda magazine shirt, Patrones magazine pants

Day 10:

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Modified Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt, Jalie Women’s Stretch Jeans.

Day 11:

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Burda 6910 t-shirt (unblogged and out of print! Mini review: rayon jersey from Fabricland here. It’s been so long I don’t really remember this one anymore but it looks like I cut out a 10/12 on this one. I seem to remember taking in the waist a bit because the gathering at the waist adds a lot of extra space), Burda magazine bomber jacket.

Day 12:

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You can barely see it, but the shirt I’m wearing is a Jalie Mimosa t-shirt without the sleeve ruffles.

Day 13:

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Burda magazine shirt.

Day 14:

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Vogue patterns t-shirt, Burda magazine pants (New and unblogged so far, but hopefully I’ll get to it. Rayon twill from Needlework. I went with a straight 40 on this one reasoning that I could use the waist tie to cinch in the waist, and while yes that kind of worked, it would have been better to alter the waist down to the 38 and not have everything hanging off the tie).

Day 15:

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Modified Sewaholic Renfrew T-shirt, Patrones Magazine pants.

Day 16:

Knipmode magazine dress, Burda patterns blazer.

Day 17:

Burda paper patterns shirt, Patrones pants, Burdastyle magazine bomber jacket

Day 18:

Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt, Burda paper pattern skirt (I got a huge kick out of wearing an Art Gallery Fabrics skirt to an art gallery). Jacket is a hand-me-down.

Day 19:

Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt, StyleArt Jasmine pants turned into shorts.

Day 20:

Butterick t-shirt, Burdastyle magazine bomber jacket (again)

Day 21:

Simplicity wrap skirt, Sewaholic Renfrew t-shirt.

Day 22:

Burdastyle magazine for the blouse and trench coat, StyleArc Jasmine pants.

Day 23

Vogue patterns dress, Burdastyle magazine trench coat

Day 24:

Butterick patterns dress.

Day 25:

Burdastyle magazine shirt.

Day 26:

Sewaholic Thurlow shorts (unblogged, stretch linen from Downtown Fabrics) and a Grainline Linden t-shirt (also unblogged).

Day 27:

Butterick t-shirt in what was claimed to be a linen jersey but which I actually think is rayon (Downtown Fabrics), Patrones pants.

Day 28:

Burda shirt, Patrones pants.

Day 29:

Vogue patterns dress, Burda jacket.

Day 30:

Butterick shirt with Grainline Scout sleeves subbed in, and Jalie Women’s Stretch Jeans.

Day 31:

Can you tell I was completely Over It by then?

Burdastyle blouse, Patrones pants.

BONUS! Dance class outfits:

Burdastyle magazine leggings and an unblogged Burda sweatshirt. I even made myself a practice veil from a poly chiffon bought during a Fabricland members’ sale.

Incidentally this is the best pattern for dance class leggings ever.

BONUS! Pajamas and lounging about:

Pants from Amy Butler’s In Stitches (never blogged: pattern works fine but not worth the price of the book on its own; fleece from Fabricland, cotton in the short version from Needlework), tops are Grainline Linden t-shirts and Burdastyle t-shirts (unblogged as I didn’t like the way it looked, which is why it turned into a pj top instead of a regular t-shirt)

BONUS! Dance socials

McCalls dress, Burda magazine jacket; modifified Sewaholic Renfrew and StyleArc Jasmine shorts


I think I did good. I definitely proved that I don’t need to make myself any more clothes, so I stopped and sold my sewing machines.

Hahahahaha! … no. Two of the above garments are ones I made this month, another two have been finished and are waiting for a chance to wear them, and I made myself a dress for Hamilton Frocktails.

Shamelessly stolen screenshot of the IG story.

Sewaholic Cambie in a silk/cotton voile from Fabricland, lined in a white silk/cotton voile. It is the dreamiest, floatiest stuff for a dress, and also pretty fun to dance in as I then wore it out to a dance social which technically was in June so it didn’t count for MeMadeMay. Probably won’t blog this one since there’s nothing different about this one than the first, except that the silk/cotton voile has so much body that I just put in a simple a-line skirt lining instead of the gathered one.

Here’s to 11 months of no daily outfit selfies. Hurrah!

Political Will is a Quilting Bee

Why progressive politicians with majority mandates don’t pursue more aggressive climate policy is one of the great mysteries of our time.

Apparently. Or not. Because to me it makes perfect sense. This conundrum comes from a complete misunderstanding of what political will is and where it comes from.

Political will is not like iron ore.

It is not a pre-existing resource that you need to look for, and, once found, can be used to make things like policies or new law.

And political will is not like a thunderstorm.

It isn’t a mysterious, difficult to predict source of energy that just shows up and dumps a bunch of rain and wind that you can then use to power change.

Political will is more like a quilting bee.

It is produced by people in groups acting together, in public, towards a common end.

You cannot make it on your own, and you cannot make it in private, but YOU CAN MAKE POLITICAL WILL.

Voting is one way of creating political will, but it is very weak due to its substantial flaws: it’s only semi-public, for one. No one knows who you voted for unless you tell them. And it’s dispersed: no one knows why you voted for someone unless you tell them that, either. Political platforms generally contain dozens of policy proposals or promises, and you probably didn’t like all of them, or all of them equally–so what are your priorities? And how are you communicating those priorities to your elected officials?

You should still vote, because that is your best chance of having elected officials who are open to your priorities and concerns; but it’s not enough, not by far. As a bare minimum, you should reach out to your representatives after elections to tell them what your priorities are, what changes you are counting on them to make, and what changes you are completely opposed to (particularly if they ran on those changes). It’s an email. You can write an email.

The public, declarative process of creating political will is why sustained protest movements have such a history of success: you have many people acting collectively in public who are very, very open about their priorities. Not any one person is single-handedly responsible for the political will created but, like a quilting bee, each one of them is contributing a square or a stitch.

Petitions, letter-writing campaigns, civil disobedience, organizations and organizing efforts, strikes, speeches, public meetings and events–all of them work. Ideally, you have a bunch of all of them as part of any sustained movement for change. If they happen often enough and there are enough people participating and they have a common-enough message, congratulations, you will create political will.

The politicians are the last stage in this process.

I don’t know how we ended up with the idea that politicians need to display leadership. Oh hell no. Politicians, particularly in democracies, have always been and will always be followers. Politicians who lead are consistently punished in elections. For progressive politicians, the line of doing the utmost of what is possible with the political will that’s been created without overstepping such that you lose elections–a la Wynne and Notley here, most recently–and see the incoming parties dismantling your legacies is particularly fraught.

Lots of politicians want to make positive change in society, but they can only do so if they have the political will required for the scale of change proposed–and that is the responsibility of the public to create. We can argue while the world unravels about us whether or not it should be that way, but it is; the public’s responsibility is to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions, publicly, in groups.

It doesn’t need to be terrifying. If you have an unholy fear of protest marches or have been completely indoctrinated that marching down a street with a sign is a sure way to be arrested, great, don’t do that. Go to a public meeting, a book reading, a speech, a fundraiser. Put a sign up in your window. Start or sign a petition. Write emails or make phonecalls. Send a cheque to an organization working on the issue.  And make it public. Don’t do it quietly. Let people know–friends, families, and your representatives. Do as much, as often as you can. In this way, you help to stitch the quilt of political will that our democracies need to create legitimate, lasting change.

OMG, it’s Me Made May! Again.

It seems like it’s Me Made May all the time–like, at least once a year. Holy cow.

Regardless, here we go again! A month to celebrate making and wearing clothes, and then, in June, a few days to celebrate not having to talk about or taking pictures of ourselves making and wearing clothes. It’s the annual cycle, I think–first the ground thaws, then things turn green, then trout lilies start popping up, then we all spend a frantic month making and wearing clothes to meet a wholly-self imposed standard and documenting the whole thing while spring peepers and green frogs start mating, then in June we talk about how exhausting it is while celebrating that it’s practically summer already, and thank god for skirts with pockets.

Fun!

So here’s my goal for this year:

I’ll wear something handmade every day, trying for 100% handmade but with allowances for those days when something storebought just makes more sense, and not repeating outfits. At the end I’ll post a summary of #ootd pictures with links to posts about the garments, where I have them. Undoubtedly in that post I’ll talk about how I have enough clothes already, for pete’s sake, I hardly need to sew more! And then I will sew more, likely in June, because it’s a fun hobby. Self-knowledge is, apparently, one of the hazards of participation in this yearly sewing rite.

A bunch of long words about something we already intuitively understand: social capital and building resilience to climate change impacts

(It’s a Season of Presentations apparently, Dear Readers; and here’s one I gave on Thursday evening at the first public meeting for a Community Response to Extreme Weather (CREW) group and project in one of our lower-income communities. It ties in nicely with the bit on Building Communities I wrote here recently, so I thought I’d post it. Hope you enjoy, and would love to hear your thoughts!

There’s a bunch of links to studies I referenced at the bottom, and I’ve posted the slides I used too if you’re interested)


Today I’m going to talk to you about how building social capital improves health and increases resilience to extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Which begs the question: what the heck is social capital?

As it turns out, nobody knows. There is no one definition.

But it does sound very impressive. Building social capital to improve health and increase resilience to extreme weather events caused by climate change! Lots of words with lots of syllables, exactly the kind of phrase that impresses donors and the public. It’s reassuringly technical. It even uses the word “capital,” which in a capitalist society, tends to be equated with “good stuff.”

But, like a lot of phrases that have lots of syllables, impress donors and the public, sound reassuringly technical, and make us think about money, it’s incredibly abstract. You probably don’t get a picture in your head of a person doing an actual thing.

Sometimes it helps to start with a thing’s opposite, so let’s try that. What is the opposite of social capital? Social isolation, right? Social poverty. That’s a phrase that probably brings a concrete picture to mind of a person doing an actual thing—but in their home, by themselves.

And we know it’s dangerous. It’s deadly even in the absence of compounding factors. Social isolation has the same mortality impacts as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. That’s incredible. A socially isolated person is 29% more likely to die from any cause. Loneliness is even contagious: a single lonely person can destabilize an entire social network, causing isolation to spread like a virus, according to one longtitudinal study. Loneliness causes people to be pricklier, to withdraw from potential connections faster, which increases their isolation and according to some studies leads to them being shunned in social settings. It doubles your chance of dying from heart disease. That person doing a thing, in their house by themselves, is dying from it— and the people around them are at higher risk of dying too.

Add in extraordinary circumstances like an extreme heat event, an ice storm, a power outage, and that person in their house by themselves is even more likely to die.

When I was brainstorming ideas for this presentation, I found three key rules for avoiding serious health or mortality impacts from an extreme weather event:

Don’t be old
Don’t be sick
Don’t be alone

Wow.

What a soul-crushing list.

They meant it tongue-in-cheek, but that is not going to help if you are old and sick, and you come across this list while you’re trying to prepare for an emergency—in your house–alone.

Public Health Units like the one I work in are highly, singularly motivated to help as many people as possible reach old age, where eventually, we’re all going to get sick. And then it gets pretty hard to leave your home and make new friends. And what about other isolating factors? Unpredictable work schedules, not speaking English, culture shock, disabilities—all are going to be barriers to getting out of the house and meeting people.

And if you’re already lonely, and if that loneliness is compounded by things such as poverty or illness, when an emergency comes to your neighbourhood, you may desperately need help and have no one to ask for it.

Which is why people who are old and socially isolated are the most likely to die in the wake of an emergency.

So how do we solve this?

As we said—build social capital to increase resilience in the face of emergencies such as extreme weather events brought about by climate change.

Great! What does that mean? What the heck is social capital?

OK, so it’s hard to define—but we know it when we see it.

It means friendship, yes? It means rebuilding trust in our communities, so we know we can ask for, give and receive help when we need to. It means connections and reciprocity. It means care. It means: who we know, who knows us, and who we can rely on.

And now it starts to sound like something you can picture someone doing—public meetings, the PTA, neighbourhood associations, the one kid who offers to shovel everyone’s driveway, tea with a neighbour, going to the playground.

If the research says that loneliness is destabilizing, painful, and deadly, what does it say about social connections? Here’s an abstract from a recent meta-analysis:

Social connection is a pillar of lifestyle medicine. Humans are wired to connect, and this connection affects our health. From psychological theories to recent research, there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health.

What about in the context of extreme weather events and other climate impacts?

Post-Katrina studies in New Orleans found that, when you compare neighbourhoods with similar income levels and demographics, those with more social capital—more civic engagement, more relationships, more connections—recovered faster and stronger than those without. Research conducted in communities recovering from Cyclone Alia in Bangladesh also concluded that social capital is crucial. Similar results were found in post-earthquake recovery in Kobe, Japan and Gujarat, India. Communities and neighbourhoods recover faster when the people in them have strong social ties.

As with a lot of climate solutions, rebuilding social capital has a funny way of making life better at the same time. Regardless of when or if an extreme weather event hits close to home, if we can rebuild those networks, we’ll be healthier, happier, stronger, and live longer—and unlike eating kale or jogging or flossing, it promises to be a lot of fun.


Presentation

https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinebeaton/2017/02/09/why-millennials-are-lonely/#a4772e77c351

https://journals.sagepucom/doi/10.1177/1559827615608788?icid=int.sj-challenge-page.similar-articles.1

http://www.rickweil.com/Writings/RackinWeil2015PAASocialCapitalandRepopulation.pdf

http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/170078/Is-Social-Capital-good-for-your-health.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11069-018-3367-z

A Rainbow of Renfrews

I keep promising to post about my Renfrew hacks, and I keep finding other things to post about, but no longer! Today is the day I finally write about the approximately twenty I’ve made over the years, fifteen of which I still have (the others long since having worn out and joined the Great Scrap Heap in the Sky).

What today is not, is the day I have new pictures of all of them. Sorry about that. Work explosion + endless housetraining + regular life = absolutely no time for photos. I keep telling myself that this will be the weekend I find an hour to take some … and then the weekend says, “Hey, there’s two community climate talks, and you’re getting your haircut, but I’m sure after groceries and laundry and cooking and housework you’ll still have some free time,” and then the free time laughs and says, “you forgot that you need to stare frantically at a puppy wondering if she’s circling and sniffing because she has to pee or because someone dropped food there two years ago, but maybe there’s an hour in there somewhere,” and then the hour in there somewhere says, “lol, no, this hour is booked solid for staring into space while sitting catatonically in the most comfortable chair in the house.” As it turns out, they’re all right. I’m reading a lot, because that’s something I can do in ten second snatches while worrying that the dog is about to pee on the floor. I can sew a bit in two-minute intervals here and there, though it takes forever right now. I found twenty minutes on a long weekend for photos of three of them. Maybe next month.

My entire sanity is banked on the idea that someday Juniper will learn that pee goes outside, not in the kitchen.

Straight Up

I’m not Sewaholic’s target market, obviously, but I found that I could get a good fit with a size 8 and an FBA. I’m not a fan of the bands, so I just hemmed mine; otherwise these are as indicated in the pattern, and don’t need much explanation. These are made from cotton, rayon or bamboo jersey, or rayon or cotton rib knit.

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I will say that if you like a snug fit, you can’t beat a fine rib knit. The stretch and recovery are fantastic and it’s so comfortable.

Neckline Gathers

In Which I Transfer About Half of the FBA Onto the Neckline

I like this one a lot, obviously, and it’s not so hard once you’ve got a front pattern piece you’ve transferred the markings to. I find it doesn’t matter if you use the v or scoop neck piece because the process of gathering the neckline is going to round out the neckline anyway.

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Here’s the basic process:

  1. Do a regular rather than a slide-and-pivot FBA on an unaltered pattern piece that is about half of what you need (eg. I normally need 2″ on each side; in this case I do a regular 1″ FBA).
  2. Slash the neckline to the bust apex and rotate the side dart into that. Remove the waist dart by re-drawing the side seam.
  3. Use this piece to do a slide-and-pivot for the remaining additional space you need across the bust.
  4. Make a mark on the neckline about 3″, maybe a bit more, away from where you slashed for the neckline gathers, and write on the pattern how much gathering you’ll need. (eg. say you spread the neckline 3″ to create the space you need, and there’s 5″ between that cut and the centre and 3″ to the mark you just made; you’ll want to gather the double of that total ((3+5+3)x2=22″) into the space of the original doubled total ((3+5)x2=16″). That will ensure your neckband length remains the same between the original and the gathered version.
  5. You know how to gather….

Two caveats:

  1. You can probably put all of the extra you need in the neckline gathers if you don’t need to add much. Over an inch or so and you’ll find the gathers get very thick on the neckline and no longer look so nice, which is why you also still do the slide-and-pivot.
  2. This will still make for a snug t-shirt. If you want a loose, drapey t-shirt with a gathered neckline, add extra to the side seam all the way down.

You can probably figure out for yourselves which of these I made loose and which I didn’t. You want something with a pretty decent drape for this; stiff won’t work with the gathers. So these are mostly rayon or bamboo jerseys with one sparkly metallic spandex knit.

Centre Gathers

I only did this once, and because it’s black, I never wear it–but it does work:

  1. Your centre front fold line is now a seam; add a seam allowance.
  2. Do a regular FBA to add what you need.
  3. Rotate the side dart into a new dart line drawn at a parallel point on the centre front seam, and as with step 4 above, make a top and bottom gather mark, and figure out how much you need to gather that into to keep the original centre seam length.
  4. You know how to gather….
  5. Use a non-stretch stick to sew the centre front pieces together. In my experience, a stretch stitch here, given the weight and location, will weigh the gathers out and the whole thing will just sag.
  6. Construct the rest of the t-shirt as you normally would.

This will add a dart bump to the centre front, just as it would the side, that will mostly have to be removed during construction; you won’t need to keep that rounded part for the final shirt construction.

Again, this is a bamboo jersey, as that gathers nicely.

Ruffle

This is an easy but fiddly variation on the basic t-shirt that assumes you have a well-fitting adjusted front piece. I used the ruffle from the button-down shirt in Burda 8/16, shirt 103, though I added about 1″ to the width at the top of the ruffle to make it a bit more dramatic.

Additional steps to attach it to the t-shirt:

  1. Sew the ruffle pieces together at the centre front using a non-stretch stitch and a walking foot; press open.
  2. Trim away any parts of the seam allowance that are visible from the front when the ruffle is laid flat(-ish).
  3. Assemble the t-shirt as you normally would, except for the neck band.
  4. Very carefully pin the ruffle to the t-shirt front:
    1. Down the centre,
    2. Along the neckline, and
    3. Along the yoke line (you’ll fold this down before sewing it on, but right now you’re just trying out the ruffle location)
  5. Try it on and figure out if you want the ruffle where it is, or higher or lower, and adjust until it’s in a spot you like.
  6. Use something like wonder-under to adhere the ruffle where you like it.
  7. Using a narrow zig-zag stitch and a walking foot, sew the ruffle to the centre front and the yoke (now folded under), and baste to the neckline.
  8. Try it on to have another look and make sure you’ve trimmed away any parts of the ruffle centre-front seam allowance that might be visible, depending on how it drapes.
  9. Finish the shirt by adding the neckband etc.

Voila! A t-shirt with a dramatic ruffled front.

I like this a lot with this rayon rib knit (from Needlework) because of the drape and fit; you do want something that has good enough stretch and recovery to fit your body snugly but also enough drape to make a nice ruffle. Even better would be a rib sweater knit with good drape and a more interesting texture.  (I had a storebought t-shirt like this once upon a time; it was a sad day when it wore out, and I’ve never found a sweater knit fabric that would make a perfect replacement–but this is pretty good!).

Embellished

I did this one once upon a time too: basic Renfrew, embellished with pieces of the same fabric. Basically circles, with a straight line cut from one edge to the centre, opened up to make the cut edge a straight line, and then sewn in various places to the shirt.  Fiddly but not hard.

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There you go: a bunch of t-shirt variations on a basic fitted block that will add more interest and variety and replace some need for a FBA. It doesn’t have to be a Renfrew, obviously; whatever pattern you have that’s already adjusted to fit you well will work.

Start Where You Live

Right now, your body exists in a physical space: your feet, your back, your legs, press against some surface. Your lungs fill and empty with oxygen we don’t share. Your fingers rest against a screen or on keys; you can hear a furnace, or an air conditioner, or people talking or laughing, or a bus or cars going by, or the claws of a pet making its way around your home.

It may feel like you are a thousand miles away from all of that, with your mind and awareness hovering in some global ether-realm we call the Internet; but that mind and awareness are still in a body that exists in a physical place, so let’s start there, because that place is still the most important thing.

There is one thing you can do, starting today, to help fight climate change. It costs no money, requires no technology, needs no special education or data, and doesn’t ask you to march in the cold.

(Those are all good things too, and I may come back to them. But today, I want to start in a place where everyone is.)

Build community where you live.

Seriously. Start or join a book club. A hiking group. Toastmasters. The PTA. Your neighbourhood association. A wine drinking night. Paint Nite. A fraternity, for god’s sake. Anything.

Start forming community with real live human beings where you physically exist.

This is not the kind of climate pitch you’re used to. Let me explain:

1. Most of us never talk to anyone about climate change at all, let alone our feelings about it.

Most Canadians and Americans accept climate science and are either concerned or alarmed about climate impacts.

But it probably doesn’t feel like it in your day-to-day life, where it rarely comes up in the media, can be easily eclipsed by 20 disaffected climate deniers in yellow vests coming to town, and almost never comes up for us in our daily conversations. Over half of Americans have not talked about climate change at all in the last year.

(This isn’t my personal experience, because I talk about it all the time, for obvious reasons. To the point I expect people get sick of it and are too polite to say so. I can tell from the looks on their faces that this subject makes them very uncomfortable, and it is an absolute conversation killer on social media. If I post about Frances or Juniper, I’ll get dozens of likes and comments; if I post about feminism or social justice, I’ll get a handful; if I post about climate change, you could fly a solar-powered airplane through the middle of the resulting silence.)

There is a taboo about talking about climate change, which is weird, since we all talk about the weather all the time. Breaking that taboo in real life by bringing climate change up with your friends and acquaintances is itself a form of activism.

2. Our friendships and in-person social capital are declining precipitously.

But it’s not just climate change. It’s not just that this topic particularly makes us uncomfortable and shuts us up. Most of us have fewer friendships than we used to, and are having fewer serious conversations with those friends. The climate taboo is very real (says the woman who’s constantly running into it on purpose), but at the same time, how many of those people who haven’t had a conversation about climate change have actually not recently had a meaningful conversation with anyone about anything?

And if we’re not talking to people, how are we going to face this?

This loneliness and social isolation is bad for our physical and mental health. People need people, even though people are often unbearable shitheads. People don’t need all people, but, you know, we need enough non-shithead people in our regular daily in-person lives to not develop mental and physical health problems. Kind of like vitamin C and scurvy: you need a minimum amount to be healthy; this doesn’t mean you eat a load of rotten bananas because more is always better; but if you try to live without any fresh fruit or vegetables at all, you’re going to get sick.

It’s unbearably corny to call this Vitamin C as in Community, isn’t it? It is. We’ll pretend I didn’t write that.

3. Climate change is an everyone problem requiring collective, large-scale changes to our communities and economies.

Moving on: our social networks and friendships are declining. This affects us as individuals, and it also affects our ability to take on collective issues like climate change.

It affects even our ability to talk about it in a real and vulnerable way. Building those communities is the critical first step to having the conversations and eventually acting on them.

And we’re going to have to act on them as more than individuals.

North America has the most individualistic cultures in the world; I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are consistently losing ground to other, more collective cultures on the fight against climate change. European social democracies, China’s totalitarian state, even small Pacific island nations are doing better at coming up with plans and transitioning their societies away from fossil fuels.

Whereas here, we seem to have a hard time even imagining what a non-individualistic, collective climate action might look like.

Climate change requires large-scale changes, collective changes, but in North America we seem unable to conceive of what those changes might be, beyond what we buy or don’t buy, or what government is in charge.

Lifestyle and purchasing decisions aren’t completely irrelevant, but they’re pretty close.

Think about it this way: if you went back a few hundred years and talked to people about abolishing slavery, and all they could talk about was buying fabric that wasn’t slave-produced, you’d think they were lunatics. Obviously the laws needed to be changed; it should be impossible to buy something made by slaves because slavery should not exist. Period (it still does, but that’s another post for another day). Same thing with carbon: it should be impossible for us to buy products and services with the potential to destroy the planet, and that requires legislative and regulatory change. You can buy low-carbon stuff and that’s fine, but it’s not going to get us where we need to go.

Similarly, yes, abolition and emancipation came from the government of the day, but they were pushed into it by collective action. Not by individual purchasing decisions. By letters, editorials, protest marches, lectures, and collective efforts like the Underground Railroad. By people doing things with their time in their actual biological lives and geographic location. Not on the internet. Not with their wallet.

Today there are examples of meaningful collective low-carbon actions all over the world. Renewable energy co-operatives that build, own, and retain the profits of solar and wind projects in communities. The Transition Town movement, reducing or eliminating the reliance of communities on fossil fuel energy. Divestment, pressuring institutions such as universities and local governments and pension plan investors to take their investments out of fossil fuel companies. Shareholder activism, where company shareholders force companies to reveal how exposed they are to climate risks and the carbon bubble. Lawsuits. Now the school strikes.

It is these actions and others like them that are going to eventually force the hand of government.

We need to work together. That means we need to know each other.

But frankly even just building the community without turning it into some kind of climate group has a vital climate impact. Here’s why:

4. Adaptation impacts are most keenly felt amongst the socially isolated; social connections are key to a healthy and adaptive response

During the European heatwave of 2003, 35000 people died. Many of them were elderly people with loving and caring families, but those families had gone out of town for their traditional August vacations. When the seniors found themselves in dangerously hot living conditions, they had no one to call.

During the Chicago heat wave of 1995, 750 people died. They were, again, mostly socially isolated seniors. They lived alone and had few if any friends or relatives nearby to see how they were doing.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it?

You can have a thousand FB friends and 10,000 twitter or Instagram followers, and when the power goes out, or the floods rise, or the wildfires are burning, or the heat is building in your apartment, none of them will be close enough to help you—nor will you be close enough to help them.

When climate impacts hit close to home, you are going to want to know your neighbours.

We are not just consumers. We are not just voters. We are not just Friends or Followers. We are human beings—mammals, animals who live in a geographic place with other animals and human beings who share that space. For hundreds of thousands of years, that was how we survived fires and floods and famine. We are going to need that again.

Losing the Plot (and maybe finding it again)

Those of you who have met me in the last few years, particularly online, especially particularly through the blog, may not know that I used to write. A lot.

As in, I started reading novels when I was five, and started writing them when I was seven. As in, I have an overflowing bankers box full of journals from elementary school through university. As in, I’ve published short stories, essays and articles.

And then, a few years ago, blogging aside, I completely stopped.

Occasionally I’d get an idea and write it down, but that was all.

What happened was–I lost faith in the narrative arc.

Doesn’t that sound weird? Who has faith in the narrative arc? But as it turns out, that’s the one thing I needed to have if I was going to write. Even non-fiction has a kind of plot, a series of events that link causally, a conclusion whether hoped-for or actual. Epiphanies. Breakthroughs. Progress. Injustice or obstacles overcome, whether internally or externally. Battles won, or lost. Something the book is trying to accomplish. Not just a series of  random, unconnected data.

And I lost the pattern. I lost the plot.

Everything was random and nothing meant anything. People didn’t change, not really; or if they did it was so rare, so obscure, so hard, so impossible to pinpoint, and so difficult to describe, it wasn’t really worth talking about.

Professionally, the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference just about broke me.  Nicknamed Hopenhagen, and widely discussed at the time in climate circles as the world’s last chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, which it ultimately failed to do. So here we are in 2019, with raging wildfires and hurricanes that maybe should be in a brand new category 6 and climate refugees and a political order that is barely doing the things it should have done 20 years ago but with so much pushback that every climate gain is constantly contested and under threat.

Copenhagen broke my heart. It felt like the world had died, or maybe that the world had been admitted to palliative care and I was waiting for either a miracle or the final passing.

Part of that was family stuff. Do you know what it’s like to watch people, for decades, determinedly entangle themselves with abusers? Who defend the people who abuse them? Who scrounge around on the floor for crumbs of attention from people who hurt them–who talk about this as “love” or “kindness”?

Watching someone cling to those who have been a source of immense pain and no pleasure would challenge anyone’s notions of change or progress or insight or epiphany. Not everyone wakes up “one day” and leaves an abuser, whether that abuser is a parent or a spouse or a partner or a sibling. A lot of people stay forever, by choice–and spend a fair bit of energy and time trying to get other people to stay too.

I used to think that I had changed. Yes I had a crummy childhood, and that crummy childhood left scars and quirks a mile wide and a mile deep, and yes it caused me to make a series of disastrous and destructive romantic choices, but I’m learning–right?

Oh, change.

No. As it turned out I wasn’t. Or I wasn’t learning as much as I thought, not changing as much as I thought, still had blindspots and quirks and scars nearly a mile wide and a mile deep. As hit me over the head like a concrete 2×4 when I broke up with a man who’d assaulted me, bugged the apartment of his ex-wife and hired a PI so he could keep tabs on who she was fucking, sold his house and moved to an apartment halfway between where I live and where I worked after we broke up, stalked me so well that I knew exactly who it was and yet had no proof.  Why did I ignore the signs? Had I changed or learned or grown at all?

Now. This may not be clear to you already. But I have treated change as something between a part-time job and a significant hobby since my teens.

I wrote lists of new year’s resolutions, with milestones, deadlines, checklists. I talked to therapists. I read self-help books and psychology books and neurobiology books and philosophy books and parenting books and how-to books of all kinds. I was never, ever going to turn into my mother. Not only does she hurt people as reflexively and easily as most people make a sandwich, but she is as a result almost completely isolated; there is no part of her life that I want. Change was more important to me than God, for the period in my life in which I was religious; change, overcoming, learning, and being a better person, was the single most important thing in the world to me before Frances was born. Nothing was too hard or too much in my quest to be and do everything she wasn’t.

And at 38, in the wake of this relationship, I was hit like a brick in the face with the realization that what I really needed to worry about was becoming my father.

It is very difficult to make change and progress your life goals and then realize at 38 that in some important respects not only have you not changed or progressed, but you were aiming yourself at the wrong finish line.

And the point of this isn’t actually to depress any of you, but to provide some insight into my state of mind beginning in 2009 and then building over the next several years. Climate depression (a real thing now, and nice to have more company, though I’d obviously prefer the alternative) meeting up with a terminally dysfunctional family and a personal crisis of faith, causing a killer case of writer’s block, and the inability to compose a single prose sentence except for sewing and book reviews for several years.

None of these facts have changed: the climate is still an actual global dumpster fire, and it’s possible–and even likely–that none of the work I do will make a measurable difference; my family on both sides is still a mass of enablers, abusers and mental illness; that I will almost certainly remain completely oblivious to at least some of my own blindspots, and damage myself or others in their shadows; and that no one wants me to talk about any part of this.

Everything I really want or need to talk about makes people extremely uncomfortable. You can hardly get people to nope out of a conversation faster than if you mention climate change, unless it’s to talk about a petite attractive well-educated well-spoken nicely dressed wealthy white woman completely lacking in empathy or conscience, especially when that woman is your mother. Both upend everything people want or need to believe about how the world is or works, and I get it, but also, I’m at a place and in a life where survival means looking at what’s there, actually there, not the pretty picture that was modge-podged on top of the festering rot.

Honest festering rot can be useful, if it breaks down into soil and feeds new life. Slapping a glossy photo on top, besides being a lie, prevents growth.

Anyway, here’s the thing:

Nothing I ever said to my family made a difference; it’s possible, even likely, that nothing I say about climate change will make a difference. Life is indeed meaningless and the values we assign to ourselves, our place in society, nature and the world are arbitrary.  I talked to my dad a hundred times about how he was being treated, and he still stayed, and he still died. I’ve been yakking my head off about climate change and what it means for us as a civilization, a species, and a planet, for twenty years, and scientists as a group have been talking about it since the 1800s, and CO2 levels are still going up and things are getting worse.

This was meant to be an environmental blog, once upon a time, though even back then I wrote a lot about sewing and I can’t see that not continuing. These days, it looks like half the world is freaking out about climate change in the same way I did in 2009, and I find that there are things I want to say. That it is possible to look at the future we’ve made and say, maybe there’s no hope, but there’s still a point; I can’t solve this, but there is so much good that I can do in this crisis, good that only I–or you–can do.  That there is a huge difference between 1.5C and 2C, even though both are terrible, and another huge difference between 2 and 2.5; hell, even the difference between 1.5C and 1.6C can be measured in lives lost, and every single one of those lives matters, and one of those may be the one you save, whether you ever know it or not.

There’s no point. I grant that. I have no control over how my words are received or the impact they have, if any. Our world is engineered to strip almost all of us of most of our power, and then convince us that the powers we still have are irrelevant: boring, pointless, trivial, and weak, confined to our wallets and the periodic drama of the voting booth, nothing in the face of a new Netflix special or whether or not Jennifer Aniston is pregnant for real this time. I know it. You know it. And nevertheless. I’m going to speak, if only because if I don’t, I won’t be able to live with myself.

There’s no plot. We’re all sitting around like climate change is some Hollywood drama or Marvel movie and a hero is guaranteed to arrive in the 11th hour with a foolproof plan so the rest of us can sit back and wait, but we are not guaranteed a hero, and we’ve had plenty of plans offered to us over the decades, and we’ve decided none of them are to our liking.  Ok. So maybe out of some combination of hubris, denial, laziness, skepticism, neurological hijinks, unfettered capitalism, historical flukes, democratic erosion, colonialism and greed, humanity goes extinct and takes most of the world with it. Hell, trees almost did that, once upon a time.

There’s no narrative arc. The western story of social progress built on economic growth is, like Wile E Coyote, marching on thin air while the ecological basis of our species disintegrates beneath us, and will eventually plummet–is in some cases already plummeting. Maybe we’ll dash madly back to solid ground in time, and maybe we won’t, and in either case my words are unlikely to make a real difference. So be it.

I’m saying it anyway.