Category Archives: Big Picture

Welcome to the Anti-Racism Movement (reblog)

Entire libraries are filled with scholarship and wisdom about anti-black racism. Consulting companies exist to educate white people about anti-black racism. Free online anti-racism training is widely available and easily searchable. Poets, novelists, dancers, composers, film-makers, singers, bands, have devoted their careers to creating art that explores anti-black racism. I have nothing new to add. (And the reason why racism is still so prevalent is not because white people have had no one to teach them what to do about it. An Amazon’s worth of trees have been felled to make the paper on which books have been printed about anti-black racism.)

But I do have a gentle nudge: if you are looking for an entry point, start with this essay from 2017 by Ijeoma Oluo:

Your privilege is the biggest risk to this movement.

That’s right: the biggest risk. The compromises you are willing to make with our lives, the offenses you are willing to brush off, the everyday actions you refuse to investigate, the comfort you take for granted — they all help legitimize and strengthen White Supremacy. Even worse, when you bring that into our movement and refuse to investigate and challenge it, you slow down our fight against White Supremacy and turn many of our efforts against us. When POC say, “check your privilege,” they aren’t saying it for fun — they are saying it because when you bring unexamined privilege into anti-racist spaces, you are bringing in a cancer.

Your privilege is the biggest benefit you can bring to the movement.

No, I’m not just talking nonsense now. Racial privilege is like a gun that will auto-focus on POC until you learn to aim it. When utilized properly, it can do real damage to the White Supremacist system — and it’s a weapon that POC do not have. You have access to people and places we don’t. Your actions against racism carry less risk.

You can ask your office why there are no managers of color and while you might get a dirty look and a little resentment, you probably won’t get fired. You can be the “real Americans” that politicians court. You can talk to fellow white people about why the water in Flint and Standing Rock matters, without being dismissed as someone obsessed with playing “the race card.” You can ask cops why they stopped that black man without getting shot. You can ask a school principal why they only teach black history one month a year and why they pretty much never teach the history of any other minority group in the U.S. You can explain to your white friends and neighbors why their focus on “black on black crime” is inherently racist. You can share articles and books written by people of color with your friends who normally only accept education from people who look like them. You can help ensure that the comfortable all-white enclaves that white people can retreat to when they need a break from “identity politics” are not so comfortable. You can actually persuade, guilt, and annoy your friends into caring about what happens to us. You can make a measurable impact in the fight against racism if you are willing to take on the uncomfortable truths of your privilege.

Start there, but don’t stop there. Keep going.

Covid Comfort

Last Update: April 1

There’s almost 70 stories here now of people acting from their best selves, and my sense is most people have found the thing they’re going to do, whether it’s organizing virtual dinner parties or finding ways to express care during isolation and quarantine or thanking front-line workers or supporting their community tangibly by sharing goods, it’s becoming a habit.

If you’re looking for opportunities to help (or to receive help), check social media for caremongering or kindness groups in your community. They’ve spread like wildfire.

I don’t feel this needs daily updating at this point, but rather than just let it tail off, I wanted to share a few articles that tie this all into a point about what comes next.

Ben Okri, in The Guardian:

The panic, driven by fear, ought to be replaced with a passion for a better life for the planet and its people. We will not acquire the calm we need to deal with this pandemic through a fear of death. What we need is a respect for death and a new hunger for life. We could begin now to create the best chapter in the human story. It could be said of us, in the future, that faced with a viral catastrophe we did something amazing. Imagine if the leaders of the world chose at this moment to put in place policies that could reverse climate change, bring health and education to all its people, and kill off the virus of poverty that has spread untold misery.

Michael Valpy and Frank Graves, in Maclean’s:

They may see a dark side, like the ordered authoritarian populist outlook vividly seen in Viktor Orban’s power grab in Hungary, or the fuelling of xenophobia reflected in depictions of the pandemic as a “Chinese” virus. But mainly what we are witnessing in the country has all the appearances of a seismic shift in collective behaviour and attitudes, and maybe a new sense of direction and innovation—the acceptance, even the welcome acceptance, that Canada and the rest of the world could be enveloped in a great disruption, leading to a fundamental transformation of the role of the state and a re-balancing of the forces of societal power.

This is not the apocalypse you were looking for, by Laurie Penny in Wired:

Shit-hits-the-fan escapism—a big part of the alt-right imaginary—never predicted this. I have lurked in countless stagnant ideological internet back alleys where young men excitedly talk about the coming end of civilization, where men can be real men again, and women will need protectors. How inconvenient, then, that when this world-inverting crisis finally showed up, we weren’t given an enemy we could fight with our hands (wash your hands).

The end of the world has never been quite so simple a mythos for women, likely because most of us know that when social structures crack and shatter, what happens isn’t an instant reversion to muscular state-of-naturism. What happens is that women and carers of all genders quietly exhaust themselves filling in the gaps, trying to save as many people as possible from physical and mental collapse. The people on the front line are not fighters. They are healers and carers. The very people whose work is rarely paid in proportion to its importance are the ones we really need when the dung hits the Dyson. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, drivers. Emotional and domestic labor have never been part of the grand story men have told themselves about the destiny of the species—not even when they imagine its grave.

George Monbiot, in The Guardian:

You can watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic.

The shift is even more interesting than it first appears. Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.

And if you’re looking for some books to read to pass the time on similar themes:

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell

Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mothers & Others

Fact is, The Walking Dead is a story that could only be told in a highly individualistic, neoliberal, gun-loving society like America’s South. Just about anywhere else, people would have banded together to slow the virus and preserve community.  Hell, even in the deep south, in a pandemic, people are cooperating and sharing and not, by and large, shooting each other over toilet paper.

We’re better than we’ve been told.

New for March 30

I can’t believe I’m still finding new stories every day!

Storytime from Space: Astronauts in space reading children’s books online.

A four-year-old’s birthday party was cancelled; the local fire department and RCMP drove a small parade by her house to celebrate.

A Toronto man is “climbing Mt Denali” by climbing the stairs in his apartment building  55 times in one day to raise money for health care in developing countries.

Please consider supporting the United Way’s Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund!

New for March 29

Missing theatre? Check out some new online plays.

Victoria Police drove a parade at a local hospital for health care workers.

Dyson, manufacturer of hair dryers and vacuum cleaners, has developed a new ventilator for covid-19 patients and is producing them for the UK government, and plans to donate 5,000 internationally.

Our local municipal government has put together a website to help people buy from local businesses and restaurants while social-distancing.

Emma  Teitel at the Toronto Star wrote an article including a bunch of stories like this, including a dog shelter that has adopted out every single one of its homeless dogs, a hockey manufacturer that is now making face shields for health care workers, and a Covid-19 Toronto app that connects people who need assistance with resources.

Clothing manufacturers retooling production for gowns and masks.

This lovely article about tiny acts of solidarity, also including stories like kids starting up a neighbourhood newspaper, and people volunteering to shelter and feed truck drivers whose restaurants and rest stops have closed.

Far from withdrawing from one another during this period of physical distancing, Canadians have come to recognize their dependence on each another and that recognition is reflected in “millions of tiny acts of solidarity,” says Mervyn Horgan, a University of Guelph sociology professor who studies the interaction of strangers in public spaces.

“It’s been quite beautiful to watch it happen and to be part of it amidst the crisis.”

A Hamilton company that normally sells 3D printers is now using their 3D printers to make PPE for health workers.

Westdale Theatre here in Hamilton is starting an online film club through Facebook Live.


New for March 27

A hotel manager was forced to lay off half of her employees due to Covid-19–but then she found them new jobs.

Only one new story today! I think we’re hitting saturation on these stories, so they may slow down. I hope you’re all well and experiencing some kindness in your daily lives in these trying times.


New for March 26!

Toronto restaurants have joined together to form Feed the Frontlines, which collects donations for the restaurants to prepare free meals for front-line workers.

The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) is going ahead–online, and for free.

From Escape from Florida, a Maclean’s magazine article:

I suspect that when we have eventually run this virus into the ground, and we try to understand what worked and what didn’t, we will find that societies with high levels of social solidarity did better than societies where citizens mistrust one another.

Social solidarity—the sense that we are all in this together—is what makes retired nurses volunteer to go back to work in the frightening hospitals, and what makes healthy young people stay home to flatten the curve.

I think social solidarity is why the curve is so flat in traditionally collectivist East Asian societies, and rising so sharply in the United States.

Home is where the hearts are: People are decorating their front windows with hearts and putting hearts up around their neighbourhoods.


New for March 25

We’ve got fifty stories as of today!

Teachers at Robertson Elementary School driving in a “parade” through the neighbourhood so they could see their students.

Canadian celebrities helping spread the word to #stayinsidesavelives through instagram and lots of namedropping/tagging.

A restaurant in Toronto providing free meals to those who have lost their jobs in the shutdown.

A birthday party parade!

 


New for March 24

The best part of doing this so far is waking up every morning to messages from people sharing stories like these. It’s a nice little buffer before seeing how all the numbers went up. Here’s a short list of new stories for today; it’s my birthday and I’m going to try to spend most of it off the internet.

Canadian children’s writers and illustrators are reading their books online, or doing online drawing lessons.  (If you’re getting tired of reading books to your kids, this might be a welcome break.)

The Honest Lawyer in Hamilton has started handing out free Sunday lunches to people in need.

Vets, taking measures to continue to be able to provide care to our fur-babies.

Little free libraries in Peteroborough turning into little free pantries to provide food to neighbours who need it.


(I’m going to start putting the most recent stories at the top instead of the bottom. So:)

New for March 23

So far, the best part of doing this has been waking up to messages from friends telling me about fantastic stories they’ve seen. What a gift right now! Thank you. ❤ ❤

Our local newspaper has put out a call for people to write or draw hopeful or happy messages on their sidewalks with chalk, and is asking people to send in photos.  It’s already taken off enough that a friend of mine, Leah, sent me photos of messages she’d seen yesterday taking the dog for a walk:

Local sewers are organizing sewing drives for masks, scrubs, gowns, etc., for health care workers. Here’s a nurse organizing home sewing of scrubs, gowns, etc., and a friend organizing home sewing of masks.  Feel free to participate in the one that makes the most sense to you and uses your own resources best.

Food4Kids is fundraising to provide grocery gift cards to kids who normally count on school meal programs.

Cuba is sending 50+ doctors to Italy to aid in the Covid-19 response.

Indigenous girls and women all over North America are jingle-dancing to offer prayers against the pandemic.  Here’s one:

 

And our most famous local band, The Arkells, has been holding free online music lessons for people stuck at home, and recently posted this video:

Last but not least for today: An article written from the perspective of 2050, about how we all used the Covid-19 pandemic to come to our senses and fix a lot of broken parts of our societies.


New for March 22:

A local businesswoman, Kate DeJonge, has started Hamilton Helpers, to connect people and businesses during the shutdowns and find innovative ways for businesses to support residents, and vice versa.

A small family scholarship held a fundraiser to purchase laptops and buy internet access for nursing students who could not afford their own during a school shutdown.  (Thanks, Rachel!)

Stores have hours dedicated to vulnerable shoppers, and neighbours are working together to care for their neighbours.

A restaurant in Squamish is providing free meals to families who need one during the shut down.

Politico published an article on some positive outcomes we might see from this time.

Loblaws, a grocery store here in Canada, has increased the pay of their “front-line” employees, both full-time and part-time, by $2/hr in recognition of the importance of what they’re doing and the risks they’re taking. (It’s not enough, but it’s a start!) Metro followed suit after the announcement was made.

#Cheer4HealthWorkers is a hashtag for people literally cheering for front-line health workers and posting videos of it online.

A friend sent me a video of her apartment neighbours in Italy getting playing bingo on their balconies: One person calling out the square to everyone, others repeating it so all can hear.  Someone else I know is setting up Zoom calls for their friend group to play Risk together online.

Online dinner parties! (I’ve been having online tea dates with friends.)

 


New for March 21:

Dan Mangan’s second Toronto show was cancelled on March 13, but they already had the gear set up and ready to go, so … he went ahead and had the show for an empty concert hall, recorded it, and released it free for people to see on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjQ80Njm96g

It’s an idea that’s taking off: There’s a whole series of shows (called URGNT) in empty venues planned in Toronto in the coming weeks, live-streamed for audiences stuck at home.  Donations will pay the skeleton crew & performers a small amount while they are otherwise out of work. Additionally BandCamp is also making things free or lower cost (note: I have no idea wth BandCamp is; just passing on what I’ve heard in the hopes that it is more intelligible to other people). Here’s a recent Wayfarer’s concert that has been released in full: https://wayfarer.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-mills-hardware

Local bookstores are offering free delivery to local customers.

Sublime Stitching is sending out embroidery patterns and supplies at reduced cost to those who really need something calming to do and can’t afford the regular prices.

During municipal budget deliberations a few weeks ago, Hamilton Council voted down a motion to ensure that all City employees were earning a “living wage” (rather than the provincially-mandated minimum wage; a difference of just over $1.5/hour). On the 20th, while passing the 2020 budget, they held the vote again and passed the motion, at the same time endorsing short-term property tax deferrals for those facing covid-related financial difficulties.

Local restaurants are donating perishable foods to food banks.

Here’s a whole episode of Front Burner on similar stories: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/frontburner/a-few-moments-of-joy-during-the-pandemic-1.5504011

An article on how to support local businesses right now, including my favourites, spending your grocery money at the small stores and tipping delivery people well.

Netflix has announced a $100m fund to support their arts workers affected by pandemic shutdowns.


 

Original:

I don’t want to say I’m not scared. I am. I’m not afraid of social distancing–I’ve had 45 years of practice at social distancing–I’m used to working from home; I have a stack of unread books as high as the armchair, a closet full of fabric, a few embroidery projects half-completed, and a smart phone. Social distancing I can do. What scares me right now is the prospect of being redeployed to support the pandemic response in a way that can’t be done from home, because the schools are (rightly) closed so Frances is at home full time and while she is doing better, she can’t be left here by herself for weeks on end. Or months. Or whatever this turns out to be. So there is some uncertainty around here.

And I’m not not-scared of getting sick, either. I’m not in a high-risk age group, but I’m in a high-risk medical group, and I need to be able to be well enough to care for Frances. So I am being very careful.

It is scary, and for reasons beyond the medical, and we’re all scared. At least, if we’re sensible, we’re scared. There’s plenty of people yammering on about how they’re not scared of a virus fergodsake and they’re going to continue living their regular lives, and those people, if you’re sensible, probably make you angry.

But they’re a minority.

When this is over, I want you to remember this: in a time of crisis, most people looked around themselves and asked what they could do to help. Most people acted quickly and decisively to protect the health and safety of elderly, disabled and chronically ill people they’ve never met. Most people directed their care and concern towards economically vulnerable groups.

Think about it: If the neoliberals were right and humans were all innately selfish and made decisions in their own self-interest, then our business leaders and politicians and most regular people would have looked at the virus and its fatality rate, shrugged, left the elderly and disabled to their fate, sequestered themselves until it was all over, made a lot of nice speeches about the sacrifices doctors made, and just cleaned up when it was done.  (In other words, I guess, we’d all be Trump.)

But instead, when a crisis hit that would affect (to be blunt) people of limited economic or productive utility–people who largely require support and don’t pay much in taxes–the entire economy willingly ground to a halt to protect them.

Take a minute to think about how remarkable that is.

Yes, some people and some companies refuse to do so. And everyone else is shunning them.

Some monkey experiments, famous in certain circles, are relevant here: capuchin monkeys were “paid” to complete tasks by either a piece of cucumber (ho-hum) or grapes (yum!). Everyone willingly completed the tasks when everyone was paid cucumbers, but the moment some monkeys got grapes, those who were stuck with cucumbers threw tantrums and refused to complete their tasks.

Related experiments with humans show much the same, and the data for foraging societies and pre-history largely agree: humans are wired to be cooperative, collaborative, and egalitarian. Foraging societies survived the lean times because when one person was hungry, they were all hungry; and there were social repercussions (like ostracism) for anyone who attempted to accumulate more goods than their peers.

This is a hard and scary situation. But I am still reassured at how quickly our competitive, capitalist, individualist society made a decision to pay the price together and protect each other.

This is not the only crisis we’ll be facing this century, and if even some of the climate change projections hold up, it will be far from the worst. When Covid-19 is over, remember this: This is who we are. This is how we can always be.

Here’s proof. I’ll update this with new stories as I find them. Feel free to share your own in the comments (doesn’t have to be a news story; something you saw or did counts!). Let’s keep this focused on stories of compassion and cooperation.


Care-mongering: Hamilton non-profit Disability Justice Network of Ontario creates a FaceBook group for Hamilton neighbours to take care of each other, and the concept is quickly copied by other communities. We are big fans of the DJNO in regular times, and this just makes us love them even more.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments are cooperating and collaborating seamlessly across party lines to provide support to vulnerable Canadians, including those ineligible for EI, small business owners, parents affected by school shutdowns, homeless Canadians, etc. (It frankly amazed me how quickly we mobilized to find the money to protect people that progressives have been saying we need to do a better job of protecting all along.)

Local businesses–including my favourite local fabric store–closed their doors before government action mandated it and before government supports facilitated it.

Banks are offering mortgage deferrals for up to six months.

Evictions have been suspended.

Community and recreation centres have been repurposed into shelters for homeless people who are showing symptoms and have no earthly way to self-isolate.

Local restaurants are offering free delivery.

Local gin distilleries are now producing free hand sanitizer for health care and frontline workers.

Local internet companies are waiving overage fees for this period.

Our local bus network is offering free rides.

Everyone and their Aunt Myrtle is offering free online classes on a wide variety of subjects. Here in Hamilton, one of our local organizers has created a FB group collecting on-line dance lessons so people can get their fix at home.

Teachers are offering free education for kids stuck at home during school closures.

This TV baseball host is using his mandatory down-time to call fans quarantined at home.

McMaster University health sciences students volunteering to help front-line health workers who need assistance with running errands, groceries and babysitting.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer is becoming a fashion icon, and people are selling t-shirts with her face on them.

Andre Picard: “For every toilet paper hoarder and I’m-gonna-cough-my-lungs-out-on-the-subway guy, there are probably 10 others doing good deeds – shopping for an elderly neighbour, taking in the neighbour’s kids so she can go to work, walking someone’s dog if they are sick, making a donation to the homeless shelter.”

Never argue with a conspiracy theorist

You can’t work in the climate field without regularly talking to people who think organizing 99% of the world’s climatologists into a mass conspiracy of fake-consensus is no big deal. I can only assume that none of them have ever managed a project, or even tried to get a group of 12 people to agree on a restaurant for dinner. Dear Readers, let me tell you about the amount of time I’ve spent this week trying to get half a dozen well-intentioned adults who all want the same thing and agree on the goal to produce a logo slide that all could agree on.

Yet a good chunk of functional adults (between 10 & 20%, depending on how you define it) dismiss a scientific field over 150 years old that is directly pertinent to their and their children’s survival. It seems like “this could kill your kids” should make it salient, but no.

I’ve spent about a decade trying to figure this out. I’ve read psychology and neuroscience and sociology and anthropology and political science and cognitive science and communications studies and organizing theory and the history of other mass social movements and more.

What it is not about, is facts.

Lots of people assume that people get into conspiracy theory communities because of a lack of good information; and that, therefore, the thing to do is provide people with good data. Evidence, citations, references, facts, surveys, statistics, etc. If this doesn’t work, obviously the person is a lunatic, probably stupid, maybe never finished high school.

But no. It’s much weirder for people to respond to information that challenges their beliefs.

If you want to fall down a research rabbit hole, google Knowledge Deficit Model. You will find reams of data from almost every domain showing that providing facts and data does not alter opinions or behaviour, and a collective absolute failure to alter our own behaviour in light of it (maybe not surprising). I have been, in my own work, trying to get this point across for years now, and yet whenever a new issue or problem arises in the environmental space, the first thing that happens is someone pipes up with “We need an education campaign!”

No. We do not need an education campaign. We want to believe that people are logical and will reason their way through to an accurate conclusion based on information, but that almost never happens. Maybe–as the experts say–when a person has no pre-existing opinion or perspective, you can get them to form one based on the information you give them. Otherwise? No joy.

If it’s not about facts, what is it?

Identity.

It’s not only about identity, but if you don’t grasp this part, nothing else adds up.

People adopt the beliefs and behaviours that are required for belonging to their community of choice.

Facts that are counter to beliefs espoused by the club aren’t just rejected, but actively resisted as an existential threat; encountering contrary facts, no matter how well-documented, further entrenches the conspiracy or other counter-factual belief, to hold on to an identity that has become central to their sense of self. Any contrary information is perceived as a hostile act.

(I mean, have you ever wondered why they all sound so angry? They are at war with everyone who has a contrary opinion.)

When someone leaves voluntarily, it’s because the cost of membership is too high. In The Cure for Hate, McAleer writes about how his abusive childhood led to his finding belonging in white supremacy, and the conspiracy theories he swallowed to maintain that belonging; he paid a very high price and continued to do so (obviously though not as high as the people and communities he targeted), and it wasn’t until he had children and became aware of the high price they were paying that he was motivated to step back.

Even then, it was hard; he had to leave his entire social circle, everyone who cared about him, and there was no one in wider society waiting to welcome him back besides his mother (for obvious reasons).

You cannot argue someone out of a conspiracy.


Yet here I am: trying to use data to convince you that you can’t use data to convince anyone of anything, if their identity requires them to hold on to their mistaken beliefs. Tell me: is it working?


By coincidence, while drafting this post, I was handed an ARC of Mark Jaccard’s The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success. The introduction covers his recognition over time that data never convinces anyone to act on anything, even when you are a tenured professor of the field in question, and Chapter 2 is about the Climate Scientists are Conspirators meme. It’s unavoidable these days in climate work (though somehow, lots of people keep avoiding it).

In a 2012 episode of his Colbert Report TV show, comedian Stephen Colbert commended on the real-life response of the North Carolina politicians to a state agency’s prediction that sea levels will rise 39 inches by 2100 because of global warming.

“North Caroline Republicans have written a new bill that would immediately address the crisis predicted by these climate models–by outlawing the climate models!” (p. 53)

We are talking wealthy, well-connected, well-educated US politicians; these are not fringe weirdos living in their mothers’ basements who lack access to better information or the ability to interpret it. If providing information reliably caused people to alter their views, there would be no climate deniers anywhere, let alone in positions of power and authority.

Yet when presented with contrary information, these people outlawed the information.

Why? Because it threatens every part of their identity and world view. Because it threatens their membership in an institution, the Republican Party, that has taken climate denial as an article of faith, and which is central to their entire role and identity in the world. It’s not a simple singular fantasy or the feeling of being at war with systems of power–these dudes are the systems of power.


Polls have shown for years now that most North Americans are worried about climate change.

The same polls show that these same North Americans are convinced that no one cares about climate change. Why else would nothing be done?

But the reality is much stranger: almost everyone cares, a solid majority are worried, a significant minority are panicking, and no one is talking about it because our culture of political and social etiquette says it is rude to do so (Eliasoph, Avoiding Politics; and Norgaard, Living in Denial). This, too, is a form of denial, a kind of conspiracy theory; a conspiracy of silence. A conspiracy that says, We must all pretend very hard that nothing is happening. We must all carry on as if nothing terrifying looms on the horizon. We must only talk about sports and beer and television and movies and music and weekend plans. We must build our solitary prisons, we must guard our isolation with silence and false smiles.

This is not rational. It is based on identity, the need to belong to public spaces where the behavioural demand is to never introduce conflict and never bring up anything that makes people sad or afraid. If you “believe” in climate change, and you aren’t talking about it with your friends and family and colleagues in public and everywhere else, then you too are locked in a conspiracy theory. A culture that demands a set of performative behaviours that signal a belief in a set of social and political values that are not based on fact, and which you might not even yourself truly value or hold.


There’s more, of course. There’s terror management, and decades of campaigns confusing people about the economic feasibility of not killing ourselves, and the difficulty of prioritizing realities that we’ve been led to believe are decades away.

But we still need to reconcile the following:

  1. You very likely accept the science of global warming
  2. You very likely are at least concerned, and increasingly likely to be extremely scared, of it
  3. You want something to be done
  4. You avoid at all costs discussions of this outside of a few very careful very private conversations that can have no political consequences whatsoever and will never affect any kind of change
  5. Most likely because you believe that talking about climate change publicly is a social faux pas that will lead to your exclusion from social spaces (and as a person who’s been professionally butting her head against that taboo for over a decade or now–you are probably right)
  6. You have selected group identity over your personal interests, and over the established facts 
  7. It is friendlier than right-wing conspiracy communities, but at heart, quite destructive.

Yes, I know, #notallblogreaders. But most of you, statistically speaking. Less now than two years ago, which is encouraging, but still most.

My point is: you have also adopted beliefs and behaviours to belong to groups that are not factual and which you may not even fully support. This is not because you’re uniquely dumb or uneducated or nuts. It’s because you are a human being, and that’s what human beings do. Conspiracy theorists are different only for having selected groups that are farther out on the cultural fringe; their actual core behaviours are not that weird. And I mean, believing that the earth is flat is probably more harmless than pretending to believe in social contexts that climate change isn’t a catastrophic threat requiring urgent action.


But if you’re interested in countering disinformation, what do you do? If you want someone to leave a pernicious and poisonous identity based on anti-social lies behind, how do you intervene?

Here’s a short list of what the research shows works, at least sometimes:

  1. Impose consequences. People leave these groups when the costs of remaining in them outweigh the group identity benefits of belonging.
  2. Find messengers and spokespeople for facts who share key identity traits with the person or group you want to talk to. For example, ex-white-supremacists have an easier time of reaching current-white-supremacists. A pipeline fitter in Alberta whose entire economic identity is based on participation in the oil and gas sector is not going to listen to me, a feminist left-voting government bureaucrat from Ontario who gets paid for climate work. It doesn’t matter how right I am. I need to find an ex-pipeline-fitter who found a better job in a green industry.
  3. There needs to be a path back. If there is no way to rejoin society from beyond the pale, no one will try.
  4. Refuse to have the fight over facts. Focus on solutions, and how those solutions will in fact not upend or threaten their identity.
  5. Find shared values, and connect the issue to the values you share.  If I try to have a conversation with a group of conservative moms about climate change that starts with the importance of carbon taxes and emphasizes the social justice implications of climate vulnerability, we will get nowhere. If I want to have that conversation, it’s much more likely to be effective if we connect over love and concern for our kids.
  6. Relationships, face-to-face connection, and empathy are key. Not everyone is up to this, obviously. It would be grotesque to require or expect victimized communities to have empathy and conversation with their abusers. But I recently watched First Contact for a course at work, about six extremely racist white Canadians with pretty horrifying opinions about indigenous Canadians, who signed up to spend, I think, a month visiting different communities and reservations and learning about the history and culture, meeting people, and listening to stories of abuse and discrimination. I have to tell you, my expectations were low. I was frankly amazed by how many of them experienced profound transformations within such a short time, and I think the human connection was key. Not everyone changed, and those whose identities rested more strongly on an unthinking acceptance of existing social hierarchies were more resistant. (You can sign up for a five-day free trial through APTN and watch the first season for free.)
  7. With rare exceptions, this is not something you can do on the internet. Too many key ingredients are too hard to find in a disembodied conversation, and it’s too easy for people to rally the community that shares their perspective to shore it up in order to reaffirm a threatened identity.

If this sounds extremely difficult–well, yes.

I know. We all want Three Weird Tricks to Solve Conspiracy Theories. We would all like Five Techniques to Convince Idiots that Their Existing Beliefs are Dumb and Make Them Sound Bad. It’s not out there. There’s just the long-road, twisting-path of making connections, sharing values, being real, taking risks, having boundaries, and also recognizing where your own group identities are causing you to go along to get along and compromise your values and knowledge for the sake of membership. It has a high failure rate and it takes more time than we have, but there’s no way around it.

the dance party at the end of the universe

I have a hunch: a lot of people don’t join in collective climate actions (or other kinds) because it looks like work.

And it’s advertised like work. You read things, you go somewhere to get more things to read like pamphlets and reports, you listen to very smart people talk about stuff that uses a lot of long words, while sitting in hard plastic chairs, drinking bad coffee out of tiny paper cups, and then people ask you for money or petition signatures.

It’s fun for me, but I am weird. For most people, this is not fun. This is milling around with strangers who want you to change yourself or your life in some way.

So, what if you could have fun while doing something positive about climate change? I mean, normal-people fun.

 

If you live outside of Ontario–and maybe even if you don’t–you won’t know that this is Diane Saxe, formerly the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario; the Conservative Ford Government, after its 2018 election, promptly fired her and then began rolling back environmental regulations and policy. And Saxe, not one to ride gracefully into the sunset under such conditions, launched a speaking tour in response: about climate change, policy, and how destructive the Ford government’s decisions are.

I went to one of her stops several months back (and took Frances with me), and snapped a pic for IG, as one does (see: fun for me). And:

And that is exactly what Ann and I did: We had a tea party called Climate and Crumpets. There were many, many little sandwiches and pastries–some vegan, some not–and a few different types of tea with fancy tea cups and fabric napkins. We played games, we talked, we wrote ideas on a chart–because you can’t not write ideas on a chart. We fussed over the puppy. People sat on comfortable chairs. There were no petitions. And while I had some notes about things I wanted to say, mostly the conversation had a life of its own.

And, because I am drowning in fabric scraps, I made everyone a handkerchief out of a piece of super soft cotton–in part because it’s a sustainable use of the fabrics, but also because it’s important to acknowledge the feelings we have about the climate crisis, even the messy ones. Especially the messy ones.

It was fun: it was making new friends, having interesting conversations, eating treats, drinking tea out of fancy teacups, cuddling a puppy, and playing games (Ann did a bang-up job of role-playing an oil company executive who was totally sure that her money would allow her to continue polluting indefinitely … until it wasn’t. Then I think she was genuinely surprised).


I posted about the tea party on instagram and FaceBook, as one does.  And some local friends were interested in doing something similar, but this time less tea and more trouble: a local dance friend, Katerina, and I hosted a Climate and Cocktails party with a dance social after. Because as the famous lady said:

Image result for if i can't dance emma goldman

Which she didn’t actually say, but she did love dancing and revolting, so we’ll let it stand.

Anyway, in late November, we talked climate again. There were pastries, Katerina made Pisco Sours, we had Chilean wine, and chatted about climate change with a puppy looking on. We played the same game, complete with moustache-twirling villain, and a near climate-catastrophe. Eventually there was dancing. And it was (dare I say it?) fun.

It’s hard to find space to have any kind of reasonable conversation about any polarized subject, and it’s hard to find a subject more polarized right now than climate change. Getting people to have face-to-face conversations in small groups is, as the research says, more effective than mass one-way communications. But I think it also helps to make it fun: why shouldn’t there be snacks and drinks and games? The easier and more appealing it is to join in, surely, the more people who will give it a try.

I’m hoping to keep this up and see where it goes. If you’re interested in doing something like this (either locally with me or not-locally yourself) let me know; I’m happy to share resources and ideas!

A Citizen Mandate Letter

Ann is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me on the internet.

We met online in the early days of our mom blogging adventures, about (OMG) fifteen years ago. Over the years we’ve participated in panels together, Frances and I have spent wonderful weekends at her cottage, we’ve met up for dinner and coffee, we had that tea party (which I’m shocked to discover I haven’t blogged about yet!), and throughout Ann has always been so generous and supportive. You’d never know from the time she makes available for her friends that she’s a busy parenting author conducting readings and workshops and writing and rewriting dozens of books and I don’t even know how many articles.

And like everyone else I know for more than ten minutes, Ann has been on the receiving end of many of my rants about how important it is for citizens to be engaged in their government throughout terms, to pressure politicians and make their voice heard. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when she wrote a mandate letter on her website about the actions she’s committing to taking between now and the next federal election:

“I wrote this letter to remind myself that the actions citizens take in between elections are even more important than the actions they take during elections. I want the next government to make progress on three complex and interconnected issues — the climate crisis, electoral reform, and income inequality. My plan spells out what I, as an ordinary citizen, can do to encourage them to make progress on all three fronts.”

You should read the whole thing; and also, please consider writing your own! What issues are you most concerned about? How will you engage with our government to encourage them to act on those priorities?

It doesn’t need to be fancy or grammatically correct and you don’t need to share it, though public accountability never hurts. You can put yours on twitter, FB, instagram, or in the comments section here or on Ann’s site.

New cabinet postings were announced today and shortly our new government will be getting to work. How will you use your voice to influence what they do?

DSC_0062-2.jpg

Here’s mine:

Citizen Mandate Letter for Andrea McDowell

During the upcoming session of Parliament, I will be doing everything in my power to encourage my elected representatives to make substantial progress on the climate crisis, recognizing the way it intersects, reflects and amplifies so many other injustices currently faced: income inequality, race and gender discrimination, mental health, and so on. Every bit of genuine progress on any form or aspect of inequality will facilitate climate action, and vice versa, so long as that progress is taken with acknowledgement of the ways it all ties together.

This entails:

1. I will support the work of individuals and organizations in my community addressing climate justice. Financially, where I can afford it; with time and promotion regardless.

2. I will help my fellow Hamiltonians develop skills and knowledge in what the climate emergency means, what climate action we need, and how and when to have conversations with politicians. I know the science is overwhelming, and even among those committed to action, there’s a wide diversity of opinion and strategy. It’s hard to figure out who really means what they say and who’s just bluffing, particularly when you’re not in this space every day. What do government proposals mean? What are the consequences of those proposals? What does the science say? How can we participate?

3. I will write to my elected officials on all important matters of policy. When I do, I will connect those policy matters to the climate emergency; it’s not like drawing those links is hard at this point.

4. I’ll work to find and build the bridges between different political communities in good-faith efforts to move action forward. Climate is an issue that is too important to allow partisan warfare to derail efforts. We all sink or swim on this planet together; I can’t buy my daughter and myself passage out of the climate emergency by engaging in individual good works. So much needs to be done on so many fronts that there is near infinite room for people to engage on meaningful and substantial climate action and policy coming from very different perspectives; all efforts will be less than perfect, because humans are less than perfect, so if we spend our precious remaining time taking shots at imperfect climate proposals and actors we will shoot them all down, and do as much as any oil company ever did to bring about the end.

For years, working in the environmental field seemed like it would be enough of a contribution for me; then, after meeting people who live in remote northern communities already struggling with climate impacts 15 years ago, working to incorporate climate projects into my jobs seemed like it would be enough. After the failure of the Copenhagen summit, switching to a career in renewable energy and building wind farms seemed like it could be enough. I had an “I gave at the office” attitude on climate activism, broadly.

Then last year’s IPCC report came out. It hit me that Frances would be 27 in 2030, the deadline for halving global carbon emissions, and would either be looking forward to a challenging but possible future, or a future where the world just continues to disintegrate for her and everyone else in her generation. Leaving climate work at work no longer felt responsible. It no longer even felt tolerable. So yes, I’m tired and overwhelmed and frankly unsuited to community activism, as introverted as I am, but I’m doing it anyway, because I can’t look my daughter in the eyes if I don’t.

If our elected representatives were hearing from even 100 of their constituents once a month–on any issue–their priorities would shift. If we all could find one or two hours a month to do community climate work, we could move mountains.

The Outrage Economy

It just so happened that two books I put on hold at the library ages ago (Team Human and How To Do Nothing) became available at the same time and were about mostly the same thing: the attention economy, why it is very bad for us, and how we need to reconnect with each other and with the physical world around us to lessen its grip. I read them both over a couple of days, and came away with two things:

1. How To Do Nothing is way better than Team Human, if you’re interested but don’t have time for both.

2. It isn’t really an “Attention Economy”

Attention focuses on the gentlest-sounding name for the resource they’re exploiting, but that’s kind of like calling a diamond mine part of the “jewelry economy.” Yes, a lot of the diamonds will end up in jewelry; but that is a pretty dishonest description of a dirty, stressful, dangerous, and often deadly operation that digs rocks up out of the ground for further processing.

What is it they’re digging out of the human psyche to refine into Attention, or Engagement?

It’s outrage: anger, fear, and disgust.

And our social media feeds use algorithms that put content most likely to create that reaction right at the top, because that’s what gets the most likes, shares, and comments. In Team Human, for example, Rushkoff shares how social media algorithms have learned to put photos of our exes having fun on the tops of our feeds because it gets the most “engagement” (i.e. encourages FB stalking). Our social media companies profit from upsetting us.


Personality Psychology Backgrounder on Emotions & Political Convictions

The connection between feelings and political orientation is a two-way street, and fear, anger and disgust play a huge role.

In the five-factor (or OCEAN) personality model, “openness to new experiences” is highly predictive of political orientation, with those scoring low more likely to be strongly conservative, and those scoring high more likely to be highly progressive. This correlation has a lot to do with fear, anger and disgust: those who are low in openness have stronger fear/anger/disgust reactions to all stimuli, particularly novel stimuli, so “what’s new” triggers a “this is dangerous, threatening, probably gross and contaminated” reaction: people who are shown to be more sensitive to these emotions (say, a stronger disgust reaction to a picture of a dead animal) are  more likely to be conservative. Anything from gay marriage to working mothers to a zero-carbon economy is new, and triggers anger and disgust and a visceral, knee-jerk, “NO.”

But while the sensitivity to these emotions predicts political orientation, you can also push someone to embrace more conservative political positions by causing feelings of anger, disgust, and fear: if you tell experiment participants to use the washroom before a test measuring political beliefs, for example, and one group gets a nice clean washroom to use and the other group gets a dirty one, the one who gets the dirty bathroom will endorse more conservative (and punitive) policies.


So, if you were to hazard a guess about the specific dangers of a social media business model that primes people to feel outraged all the time, what might it be?

Seems like it would push people to adopt more conservative positions over time.

And isn’t that what we’re seeing–on social media and in other areas of our lives? More outrage, and a general shift to the right among a lot of the population: Proud Boys, Yellow Vests, Jordan Fucking Peterson, increasing sentiment against immigrants and refugees, more hate crimes?

Yeah, it’s speculative, but the science that there is backs me up.

The hard thing is figuring out what to do about it. Successive waves of people trying to “get off Facebook” or “get off Twitter” hardly make a dent, because as awful and predatory as the business model is, that’s where many of the critical conversations of our time are taking place. People aren’t really watching TV news anymore, which isn’t a conversation anyway; and if they are, they’re likelier to be watching the hellspawn propaganda shows than they used to be. Traditional news media are scrambling to keep any kind of viable business model with the “share the post first get the facts later” model that’s so successful for social media and so disastrous for our democracies: we need a free, accountable press that delivers reliable and well-considered news to our citizens, but increasingly, if newspapers try to actually do that, they get eaten for lunch by propagandistic competitors. And as a result, our politicians are often having to respond, not to what actually happened, but how it was portrayed on FaceBook and Twitter memes.

I have my own approach, which I call FaceBook Hygeine:

1. If you don’t have time to read the whole article, you don’t have time to comment on it.

2. If you don’t have time to fact-check–the article, the story, the photo, the meme–you don’t have time to share.

The first because the people who write news headlines are not the same as the people who write news articles, and often, the actual article is a whole lot less inflammatory and salacious than the headline–because the headline is meant to suck you in. But if it doesn’t manage to, at least it can get you to “engage” by making you so mad you can’t help but speak your mind … about a completely misinformed or counter-factual claim made in a headline that isn’t connected to the content of the article.

And the second because, given how dysfunctional and competitive news media is nowadays, even something appearing in a news article isn’t necessarily true. And of course memes and photos we all know are routinely faked. Even videos now can be faked.

Checking the basic facts of a piece rarely takes more than five minutes, and if you open a new browser tab to google it in, you won’t be helping to train FB or Twitter algorithms in what gets your goat.

This helps so much. It really does. It’s not the systems overhaul that we need to clean up our social media messes, but it keeps my own pages tidy and defensible without bowing out of political speech.

If you are, by the way, interested in knowing more about how and why political parties are targeting their ads to you specifically, you can try using this FB Chrome/Firefox extension: whotargetsme.


A Tiny Aside On Timothy Morton’s Environmental Philosophy, Just Because

“Commodity fetishism isn’t about just the alienation of humans, but the alienation of any entity whatsoever from its sensuous qualities, as we just saw. Production, as in the writing of a brilliant poem, is the thing you can’t help doing, your species-being. This is exactly how it can be exploited. It just happens anyway, so that the capitalist can dip a bucket into its flow to extract labor time from it and homogenize it. The capitalist exploits this fact, the non-chosen, non-‘imaginative’ part of me that I don’t have to plan, the fact that I’m a being like a silkworm. Which is precisely why my labour can be equated with the productivity of the soil–both are conveniently spontaneous bits of ‘nature’ that capitalism can turn into blank screens for value computation.” (Humankind, p. 60) (emphasis mine)

Let’s extend this thought experiment a little bit:

If humans can’t help but be productive, can’t help but make and create; and if capitalists then skim that off from us to create the value they profit by–which seems reasonable to me, and true–then what of emotions?

We can’t help but feel. Joy and sorrow and grief and humour and fear and anger and confusion and curiosity bubble out of us 24/7; feelings permeate us all the time, and form the basis of our rationality, our values, and our choices.

And if someone can fertilize that and nurture it with ideas (true or not) until we are boiling over with the kinds of feelings that keep us glued to our screens and our feeds; if someone can then use our feelings to get us to help fertilize our friends and families and acquaintances, to get more feelings out of them until we are all brimming over, like one farmer who plants their field with GMO seeds that spread on the wind until everyone’s growing GMO crops whether they wanted to or not; particularly the darker feelings like anger and fear and disgust and outrage because they are so compelling and contagious…

…and if they can build a business model that profits off it …

…what then?

Isn’t that social media?

Isn’t that what FaceBook and Twitter have done? Aren’t they profiting off our rage?

Wouldn’t this, and the algorithms they’ve built, encourage them to allow and even encourage any outrageous message, no matter how far from the truth, so long as it gets someone to hit the “share” button and yell “this pisses me off!” to their 500 friends?


I don’t know about you, but the thought that social media has effectively turned my brain into the equivalent of a newly-broken field, to be seeded with anger and fear, fertilized with constantly enraging news whether real or fake, and then “likes” and “shares” harvested for their profit at my expense–this makes me feel ill. Our increasing polarization, the steady erosion of community and compassion, the proliferation of “alternative facts” and misinformation: all of these are accepted as externalized business costs of new and unregulated industries.

And the whole business model is built on profiting from the manipulation of our most intimate and interior experiences: our values and feelings.

George Orwell comes up a lot these days, and for many valid horrifying reasons; but the ending of 1984 was in retrospect too generous by far. In 1984, if you don’t remember, the protagonist fell in love and conspired against the government, both illegal; but was convinced that so long as he still loved his girlfriend the ending could not be too bad. And he believed that nothing could change his feelings for her.

Facts, at any rate, could not be kept hidden. They could be tracked down by inquiry, they could be squeezed out of you by torture. But if the object was not to stay alive but to stay human, what difference did it ultimately make? They could not alter your feelings, for that matter you could not alter them yourself, even if you wanted to. They could lay bare in the utmost detail everything that you had done or said or thought; but the inner heart, whose workings were mysterious even to yourself, remained impregnable.

In 1984, it took torture to make him despise her.

In 2019, it takes algorithms to make us hate each other–and not even for something as large as propping up a totalitarian regime–just  a fatter bonus for a FaceBook executive. (Which isn’t to say that a lot of the alt-right neo-nazi crap isn’t totally hateful and doesn’t deserve it–but we hardly need lies to fan those flames higher; the reality is bad enough.)

We need systemic answers to this; as much as I rely on my Facebook Hygiene, we can’t simply expect billions of people to spontaneously and consistently restrain themselves; this is why we regulate casinos and driving speeds. What those regulations might be, I’m not well versed enough in this to say.

What I can say in the meantime is: BE CAREFUL. When you click, like, share, or comment, you train the algorithms in what to show you, and they won’t care if it’s harmful or enraging or a lie. All they care is how much time you spend on it and how likely you are to spread it around.  Anger is a necessary fuel for change, but it can also burn people out, and without a goal it can push people to the right.

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!)

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

Click to access 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.

(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.

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.

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.