Tag Archives: climate change

(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.

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

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.

A Climate Professional Tries to Mow the Lawn

I don’t know how all of you feel about carbon, but let me tell you, when you work in climate change, carbon guilt is real.

I very rarely fly anywhere (maybe 2x in the last ten years), bought a very fuel-efficient car and live as close to work as I can, walk when I can, purchase renewable energy for my home at an additional cost (Canadian readers, ask me if you’d like more info on that), read a truly alarming number of climate books and articles, etc. etc., and still it feels like it’s never enough.

And scientifically, it isn’t.

Mind: I am not about to tell anyone else what to do about their carbon guilt, or even that you ought to feel carbon guilt. All I am saying is that I feel a lot of it, myself, and do my best to manage it.

This is the context in which I bought my first lawn mower when we moved into our home six years ago.

It’s a big lawn. It’s a 1965 suburban corner lot for a side-split detached house. It takes 45 minutes on a good day when the grass hasn’t grown much.

And we live in a time where spending ungodly amounts of energy creating an environment were weeds thrive* yet are not legally allowed to grow and where you are required to grow a plant that sprints upwards at the mere thought of rain yet must be kept below 8″ (eg. grass) or fines will follow. I truly think future civilizations are going to look back at by-laws about lawn maintenance and think we were the stupidest people ever. We’re worried about peak oil and petro-states and climate change and energy costs and fossil fuel consumption, and yet we have actual laws that necessitate people to spend rising amounts of money on increasingly scarce energy with disastrous environmental and social outcomes to give our real estate a regular hair cut. There are wildfires burning out of control all over the world, spurred in great part by climate change, but is there a single municipality thinking, you know what? Grass could be a great carbon sink and all of those gas mowers are not helping. Maybe we should loosen the noose a bit.

Nope.

So here I am, a single mother with limited time and a lot of carbon guilt, legally required to keep the grass growing but not more than 8″ tall, and determined not to use any fossil fuels in the pursuit of this.

In the six years since I’ve moved in I’ve owned THREE battery-powered lawn mowers.

Do you know how much a climate-friendly tool has to suck before I’ll hate it?

It has to suck a lot, Dear Readers. Let me tell you how much.

First Mower

Black-and-decker plug-in. It worked for a few months, then wouldn’t start. At this point it was still under warranty, so I brought it in. It was the charging cable. It took weeks, in which my lawn continued to grow, and I received some warning letters from the local by-law office. Thank you, neighbours!

It worked again for a few months, and then stopped. Now out of warranty, so I had to pay for the new charging cable myself. This time, I also hired someone to mow the lawn while it was being repaired so I wouldn’t get a fine.

Then it worked again for a few months.

And stopped.

Nuts to this, I thought. It’s cheaper just to buy a new mower.

(This model is no longer for sale. I can’t imagine why.)

Second Mower

Ryobi, where the battery charges indoors and the machine folds up so you can store it in a shed. It has a five-year warranty. This should be better, thought I.

91 days later, one day after the Home Depot return period, the mower would no longer start.

Home Depot wouldn’t take it back, and Ryobi told me that even though the machine was obviously defective (91 days!) I had no recourse but the warranty. There is no service email address on their website; the service contact form doesn’t work; and the folks answering the service phone line are obviously told not to say or do anything that might incur any sort of obligation. There was no way to take it up the ladder.

The service company is 40 minutes from my house and only open during business hours and on Saturday mornings. Grumbling, I brought it in.

Repair guy tells me he sees this with Ryobi mowers all the time. Several weeks later, I have it back. Several weeks in which I have once again been paying someone to mow the lawn so I don’t get a ticket. It is, by this time, late in the south Ontario mowing season, so I mow the lawn once or twice and put the machine away for the winter.

In the spring, it won’t start.

Again.

I take it back to the service centre.

And, knowing that calling, emailing and filling out forms on their website are useless, I resort to twitter.

This is going to get expensive for you, if I have to take this in to have it repaired twice a year, was the essence of it. You would have been better off allowing me to return or exchange the mower when I first called.

And I kept it up. Politely. They shared with me an email address–that doesn’t exist anywhere on their website; you can check–to get resolution. I emailed, and waited. No response. Tweeted again. This went on for a while, and then finally someone from the company wrote back.

We can send you a new mower, they said.

Great, I replied; but what is the warranty on it? I didn’t trust the machines at this point and thought I was most likely to end up with a dud, and no receipt for getting it repaired.

No reply.

Send us your address, they said.

Great, here it is, I replied; but what is the warranty on it? How does that work?

We’ve mailed you the new machine, they said.

Wonderful, I replied, and thank you, but what is the warranty on it? What do I do it if it breaks?

There is a full warranty, they replied.

Third Mower

The new mower is fancier than the first one, which is a nice touch: it’s self-propelled.

Not so nice?

It worked once.

I mowed the lawn with it once.

I mowed with it once, folded it up to put it in the shed, and the very next time I brought it out, it wouldn’t. I tried it with two fully charged batteries (I checked them in compatible devices–no problem) and two keys.

Email: Hey. I just went to use the mower for the second time, and it wouldn’t start. Same issue I had with the first one. Honestly you guys really need to address this problem in your machines. In the meantime, I’m going to need a receipt or something to take it to the service centre.

No response. Ten days pass.

On twitter: Hello. I emailed the service person I’ve been talking to. The replacement mower is broken and I need paperwork to bring it to the service centre.

THEY BLOCKED ME.

Dear Readers, I can’t say if my experiences with the actual machines is typical or not. Maybe I have the only two fragile, persnickety, battery-powered lawn mowers ever manufactured by Ryobi. It’s possible.

But I leave it to you to determine for yourselves if anything about this scenario reflects how you would want a company to respond in the case of defective products.

A service contact form on the website that doesn’t work–an email address only given out in case of twitter complaints–beleaguered service call centre staff who aren’t allowed to help people who call in or forward complaints on to management–and then when someone’s twitter complaints makes you look bad in public, providing them with a replacement machine and no warranty paperwork.  And then when the replacement machine has the same issue the first one did, blocking them.

On the plus side, I’d already brought the first Ryobi mower in for servicing, so it is working. For how long, who knows?

What I normally hear is something like, “LOL, just get a gas mower!” Please don’t. I am completely opposed to burning any kind of fossil fuel in the pursuit of anything as trivial as grass length. A better indictment of the values of 21st century North America than “sure we’re running out of gas and oil and yes the planet is on fire and definitely we’re losing biodiversity and pollinators and of course energy is increasingly expensive and all of this is awful and terrible and we care so! much! But we’re still going to pass laws to require you to spend ever more money on fossil fuels to destroy your property’s biodiversity while contributing to the climate emergency. Here’s your fine.”  It is actually a hill I’m prepared to die on, and would be prepared to pay a whole lot of fines to make a point. Though of course I’d rather not.

~~~~~

*All of the plants defined as weeds for the purposes of early 21st century lawn maintenance are what’s known in ecology as colonizers: they have a need for lots of sun and lots of space, can’t tolerate shade, and can grow like the dickens. They do very well in clearcuts, after fires or rocklides or other natural events that clear out the tree canopy and competition, and they really really love lawns. If you really want to get rid of weeds, what you need to grow are trees–lots of them–because weeds hate shade.

Group Think: When Two Heads are Worse than One (Science and Sewing, in one post at last!)

It’s my untested belief that expertise in any technical field will result in a near-total loss of respect for journalism.

I know it did for me. The more I learned about climate change, the biodiversity crisis, environmental regulations, and renewable energy, the more I realized that newspaper articles reflected reality only by chance, in passing. More often, an ill-equipped person with good writing skills and no critical thinking ability would write a piece far outside of their education and background by interviewing a bunch of people who claimed to be experts, without evaluating their credentials. We get climate change pieces giving equal weight to well-respected international climate experts and oil-funded PR hacks, pieces on renewable energy with well-reasoned arguments by scientists quoting the best available information and fruit-loop arguments by naturopaths who wouldn’t recognize a herz if it came up and hit them on the head.

And you end up with a voting public almost completely muddled on key issues because they’ve come to the completely totally 100% incontrovertibly WRONG conclusion that there are two sides.

Of course people are entitled to their opinions. I am legally well within my rights to believe that Mars is peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen. But the legal right to hold an opinion is not the same, and can’t be the same, as the attitude that reality is then required to bend to accommodate that opinion. No matter what I believe, Mars is in fact NOT peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen, or by anything at all. The experts are right and I am just plain wrong. (Or I would be, if I held that opinion.)

This set of science experiments sheds some light on the psychology of our inherent tendency to give equal weight to two contrary opinions, even when one comes from an expert and the other does not. Fortunately, for those of you who have no intention of purchasing the article for the low-low price of $10, you can also read this fun summation in the Washington Post.

This went on for 256 intervals, so the two individuals got to know each other quite well — and to know one another’s accuracy and skill quite well. Thus, if one member of the group was better than the other, both would pretty clearly notice. And a rational decision, you might think, would be for the less accurate group member to begin to favor the views of the more accurate one — and for the accurate one to favor his or her own assessments.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, report the study authors, “the worse members of each dyad underweighted their partner’s opinion (i.e., assigned less weight to their partner’s opinion than recommended by the optimal model), whereas the better members of each dyad overweighted their partner’s opinion.” Or to put it more bluntly, individuals tended to act “as if they were as good or as bad as their partner” — even when they quite obviously weren’t.

The researchers tried several variations on the experiment, and this “equality bias” didn’t go away. In one case, a “running score” reminded both members of the pair who was faring better (and who worse) at identifying the target — just in case it wasn’t obvious enough already. In another case, the task became much more difficult for one group member than the other, leading to a bigger gap in scores — accentuating differences in performance. And finally, in a third variant, actual money was offered for getting it right.

None of this did away with the “equality bias.”

The research psychologists attribute this to our need to belong to groups and get along with people. It seems that need outweighs any practical consideration, a good deal of the time, including when money is on the line. Fascinating, right? People who are right and know they’re right defer to people they know are wrong in order to get along and maintain group dynamics, even when it costs them to do so.

When it comes to climate change, this is a serious problem.

Aside: Climate change is a real thing that is really happening and is a complete and total catastrophe. There is no debate on this point in any credible scientific circle. If you think that there is, I’m so sorry, but you’ve been had.

/aside

We end up not moving forward with policy solutions because we keep acting like the actual experts and the paid non-expert hacks share some kind of equivalence when they patently don’t.

But–and I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking this–it’s present in every community, including the SBC.

Ah! See? I told you I’d come around to it.

People act as if the opinions and contributions of experts and amateurs are equivalent when they are not.

Thankfully, the fates of human civilization and a minimum of 30% of animal and plant species do not rest on this fact. The worst that happens in most cases is that a person walks around for a good long time in a garment that looks like utter shit and feels really fabulous about it. On a scale of worldwide catastrophe, it doesn’t even rank.

On the other hand, as this science makes pretty clear, an entire generation of sewers are being educated largely by internet celebrities who are too incompetent even to understand how incompetent they are. It’s not a catastrophe, no, but it is a crying shame. And as predicted by the social psychologists, if anyone ever speaks up to point out that some of them are experts and other are, well … not …, they are pilloried as Mean Girls, jelluz haterz, and bullies.

Aside 2: Yep, I count myself in the group of people sometimes wandering happily about in a garment that on later reflection was not up to snuff. It happens. We’re all human. I won’t melt if someone points it out, though tact is always preferred. It doesn’t count as “bravery” to “put yourself out there” if you feel entitled to nothing but praise; and if you’re going to present your work in public you need to be prepared for public criticism.

/aside

So it’s not the end of the world, no, but it’s a detriment to all of us. The people getting the money, in many cases, haven’t earned it; the people with valuable skills to share don’t have the platform to do so; we keep acting as if everyone’s equal when they’re not to be Nice and keep everyone happy, even though not everyone is happy; there are entire boiling lava rivers of resentment and bitterness flowing right under all the green meadows we’re so happily skipping over (in our badly-pressed culottes and boxy tops with peter pan collars, no less). It’s weird. Can’t we, as an online culture, agree that it’s not a violation of the Geneva Convention if someone points out that a hem is crooked or a print isn’t matched? Does it matter if it’s not “nice”? Don’t we all benefit from increased honesty and openness? Do any of us actually expect to be perfect, or need to be treated as if we are perfect in order to function day to day? If you really don’t want people to point out how you fucked up, is it so much to ask that you acknowledge it yourself, then? Hey look at this horrible side seam–I really fucked up!

That went off on a bit of a tangent. Pardon me. Let’s drag it back on track:

The Equality Bias! It makes everything worse while we smile and pretend nothing’s wrong. Fight it!

Review: Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science

Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science
Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first 25% of the book did nothing for me. It was a very dry recitation of the climate facts I already know, in graphic novel format. If you’re the kind of person who gets most of your climate news from the newspaper, this section may be more informative or interesting for you. But at the 25% mark I put it down and almost didn’t pick it up again. I had no real interest in reading 500 pages of climate science presented as speech bubbles on pictures.

I’m glad I did pick it up again, though (under pressure of a library returns deadline). Once the book gets into the author’s own struggles with and reactions to that climate science, it developed more narrative push. There’s still an awful lot of climate science–and interviews with experts in various political and social fields about the implications of that science for our reactions and in the 21st century–but there is also a story of his own acceptance of that information and the meaning it has for his own life, and how he reacts to it.

I don’t agree with everything that he or his experts say, but it was credible and well-informed and thoroughly researched, and I enjoyed it. I even learned something new! which is not a given for me at this point with a climate book.

That being: Did You Know that even if the nuclear industry developed to its fullest extent, the total possible reduction it could make to global carbon emissions is around 6%? Not the silver bullet it’s proclaimed to be. Interesting, no?

The art is exceptional, and there’s a lot of visual metaphor and meaning packed into his choice of imagery.

Anyway. If you are interested in the climate change issue, want to be more informed about it, and find climate change science books too dry or dense to read, this is probably an excellent choice. I’d highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

The Next Blazer, Eventually, While Analyzing the Walking Dead

I found myself in possession of more free time and less money in February than is typically the case, which I decided was the perfect excuse to figure out my next blazer, the Vogue 8333 Claire Schaeffer pattern.

After the difficulties of working with fusible interfacing on the poly-wool blue blazer I made in the fall, I decided to go whole-hog and go the hair-canvas/pad-stitching/tailoring route. This meant many, many hours parked on my butt with a needle in my hand, and how better to spend it than feeding a new netflix addiction?

Now: I cannot in any way watch horror and I have not been able to since I was in elementary school. I know that for most people it goes the other way round, but I aged out of my ability to tolerate violence and now if I see someone bleeding and in pain on a screen, large or small, I will probably have to get up and leave the room, or at least shut my eyes and try not to listen. This is precisely why I’ve never watched the Walking Dead before (that, and the fact that I would have had to pay for it, but the blood-and-guts is the big reason), but the villain in the last season of Farscape is pissing me off so much* that I can’t finish watching it and I wanted a new show to occupy my eyeballs during workouts and hand-sewing sessions. So the Walking Dead it is.

(Pro Tip: Do not watch the Walking Dead while holding a fresh hot cup of tea in your hand, unless you want to end up wearing the fresh hot cup of tea and mopping it off the table and floor.)

Now, I am an inveterate environmentalist with a long, long history of hugging trees and espousing the virtues of various squiggly critters, and that may (almost certainly did) colour my perceptions of, well … just about everything. But. That first long weekend watching The Walking Dead non-stop convinced me that the show is a thinly-veiled metaphor for environmental collapse.

(Shocking! I know!)

I’m in good company on the metaphor bit: The Walking Dead has been analyzed as a metaphor for just about anything people don’t like, from gun control to Obama’s America (I mean, seriously. People. You may not like Obama but you are not living in a post-apocalyptic landscape of zombies and disintegrating infrastructure). But every one of those think pieces (and there are a lot of them) admitted that the metaphor broke down on one or two key points.

But environmental collapse? It works pretty damned near perfectly.

For one thing, consider that over the past several decades, we’ve been obsessed with apocalypse. The number of apocalyptic television shows, movies and books has been increasing every decade, regardless of who is in the White House or whether government spending is going up or down. We’re very good at covering them up with just about anything but environmental collapse–alien invasions, robot insurrection, massive flu epidemics, nuclear warfare, and now zombies–but we are as a society spending more and more of our time entertaining ourselves with stories about the end of the world. I’ve made this point before, but in the 1960s, science fiction was about the golden age that technology and American Values were going to unleash on the entire universe, likely populated with savages who needed a good ray gun or teleporter.  The idea of coming out with something like that now–would you watch it? Could you now suspend your disbelief on something so optimistic?

Zombies, though, make a particularly good foil for anyone who wants to think about environmental collapse without consciously thinking about environmental collapse. Think about it: zombies are the past eating the future. The dead rise up and consume their young, in zombie stories quite literally. In the environmental stories that surround us every day, our past is constantly consuming our present–the industrial revolution devouring the climate, our forests, the oceans, the collapse of all of the world’s major fisheries, the coral reefs, and so on–and we are in turn becoming the present that is devouring the future mostly through failing to grapple with it all.

I’m not suggesting that this was a conscious decision on the part of the comic book writer or the show’s creators. But I do think that these stories, of what has been done to our present by our ancestors, and what we in turn are doing to our descendants, make a very fertile ground for zombie apocalypse stories to grow in.

I would also like to lodge a formal complaint that, for the love of god, where are they getting all this gasoline from? Why are they still driving around in cars? They live in a warm climate–hasn’t a single one of them thought to steal a bicycle?

Meanwhile, back on the blazer:

I’ve been using a combination of the V8333 couture instructions, the Craftsy class on classic blazer tailoring, stuff I’ve found in various sewing books, and chocolate. I made up two muslins (one full, one half) to check the fit and it was a bit of a bear, though starting with a princess seam is the way to go if you know you’ll be doing significant adjustments to the bust. The fabric on the real version is a wool tweed I picked up at King Textiles in the fall.

Dear Readers, Behold My Mistakes:

Ouch.
Ouch.

The Craftsy class suggested using muslin for underlining, whereas the pattern suggests silk organza. The Craftsy class also self-drafted the underlining pattern pieces for the shoulders and back, and they cover just the top area, whereas the Vogue pattern has the all of the main pieces underlined, including the sleeves. And–Vogue! I’m looking at you!–the pattern layout shows the underlining pieces laid out on the straight grain, and the first third of the instructions cover the underlining pieces and fusing them to the main fabric, and then buried as a “couture tip” a third of the way through the instructions they mention maybe cutting out the underlining pieces on the bias. Not funny, Vogue. Not funny at all.

Anyway, I used muslin because it was what I had, and I cut it on the straight grain because … that was what the instructions said to do. And I’m thinking that may have been Mistake #1, because I know I underlined the pieces properly, and yet this is what the back looks like. Which if that’s not stretched out wool (or shrunken underlining) I don’t know what is.

There is seam ripping in my future, I can just tell.

Otherwise it’s gone pretty well. My pad-stitching is a thing of beauty, or more like a thingless, because you can’t see it.

Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh?
Pad-stitched under collar on the right, non-pad-stitched upper collar on the left. Not bad, eh? Please ignore thready bits–they will be removed before it’s done. Also, that’s not top-stitching at the edges, it’s basting, and it’s all going to be removed.

It fits well.

The collar and lapel are joined in this weird backwards way I’ve never seen before.  I’ll cover that in a future post.

I added in the shoulder reinforcement as suggested in the Craftsy class.

Taming the corners of the lapels and collars followed V8333. I tamed the corners or the lapels etc. as suggested in the V8333 instructions, and it worked pretty well too.

Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!
Nice, sharp, flat corners. Huzzah!

~~~~~

*the villain in the last season of Farscape is a woman who defeats the good guys with some scent gland in her boobs that turns them into bumbling, hormonal, ragingly lustful idiots. Say it with me now: That’s Sexist! As well as boring and gross. And it just made me lose all interest in seeing where the show ended up.

an incredibly long and depressing explanation for Hibernation 2014’s replacement

Hibernation 2014 fixed a lot of things.

No, scratch that: Hibernation 2014 gave me some space while time fixed a lot of things. Like the creepy ex, losing my job, finding the new one, the thyroid thing, and adapting to all of Frances’s new health gizmos and routines, for starters.

But there’s one thing Hibernation 2014 will never and can never address, and that’s climate change. I don’t mean that it can’t solve it–though it can’t, and please spare me the speeches about how making your own stuff is good for the environment, usually it’s not–I mean that it can’t really help me cope with it, in a permanent way.

You know that feeling that comes over you when you visit a historic battleground, or the site of a massacre or tragedy? How the blood that was spilled somehow hangs in the air; you can feel it, or shadows of it, around you? Well, being well-schooled in climate change and trying to do something with your life to solve it makes the whole world feel like that. Of course there are the environmental catastrophes that underlie every step we take; the forests that have already disappeared, the passenger pigeons that should be in the air, the charismatic megafauna that were wiped out before the europeans ever set foot here in Canada. But there is also the knowledge of the catastrophes to come, the knowledge that everything you could possibly do for the rest of your life will not be enough to keep even a small part of it from dying.

And yes it is technically possible for some super-scientist to come along with a miracle technology sometime in the next thirty years and save us from ourselves. Just like it is technically possible for a doctor to come along with a miracle drug and save a cancer patient in palliative care. But it is awfully unlikely.

I’m still doing what I do. You know, I pay for bullfrog power and I drive as little as possible and I recycle and use reusable bags and I haven’t been on an airplane since 2010. I use the library for books whenever I can. I work in renewable energy, and boy, I’d love it if I were working harder in renewable energy. But I still live a mostly-typical north american existence on top of a mountain of stuff I don’t really need, and the climate (speaking in purely scientific terms) would be better off without me (and you).

I think this may be why I have been so obsessed with apocalyptic fiction for the last few years. BattleStar Galactica can be read as a climate fable pretty easily. And there’s the Last Policeman trilogy, Station Eleven, the Hunger Games, The Girl with All the Gifts, Area X, The Clockwork Century, Drowned Cities, Spin, the Windup Girl–it goes on. Even though I recognize that this is a failure on my part to engage with the reality of the situation and, where this obsession is shared by the culture at large, a failure on all of our parts to engage with the reality of the situation. This is no virus. It is no alien or robot invasion. It isn’t zombies. It is no asteroid. It is us, all us, all of us. We are the gun, the bullet, the victim, and the hand that pulled the trigger. It’s just us, living our lives in the world we inherited, finding it easier to hold on to what we have now and let tomorrow take care of itself. Even though it can’t.

Do you remember how all of the science fiction in the 1960s was all sparkly spaceships, personal jet backpacks, robot servants? Star Trek and the Jetsons.  And now all of our science fiction is the End of Everything. Zombies and asteroids and brittle intergalactic totalitarian empires. Killer androids and deathly viruses. I think we all know, deep down, even those of us who can’t admit it out loud. And I think we are all scared.

So in a not insignificant way, Hibernation 2014 was a way to hide from all of that. And chances are, sewing and making things will remain a way for me to continue hiding from all of that. Oh hey, don’t get me wrong; I’ve always loved making things. But that’s the reason it’s so therapeutic, you see: I love it. And it is totally unconnected with the end of the world.

Anyway, I am going to rename Hibernation 2014 ‘burrow & sing’ for the time being. It is just as unconnected with sewing and making as Hibernation 2014 was, but without the now-outdated year reference, and with the added benefit of being a line from a Dennis Lee poem called hang- that pretty well describes how I feel. (Google Books has Testament, the book it’s from, if you’re interested, and hang- is on page 34.) Yes, it’s pretentious and obscure, I know. But I really love Dennis Lee’s environmental poems, so if nothing else, I’ll get that little reminder every time I post.

I could just call it sewing. Yep. But I don’t want to. So there. Plus, it’s not always going to be sewing, per se.

I had a lot of hope right up until about 2012. I knew it was 20 years too late to actually fix it, but first I thought that Copenhagen might actually get us to a climate deal that would get us somewhere and stave off the worst of it, and then when that fell through, I thought that there were enough smaller initiatives like the Green Energy Act and municipal plans to make some kind of difference. But our emissions keep climbing, and we keep having international climate negotiations which consist of poorer and developing nations screaming for help and first-world countries (particularly Canada) snubbing them, and the ice keeps melting and species are going extinct and it’s not even that no one seems to care, but that the people who care the most are the deniers and are working tooth and nail on the coat-tails of significant funding from fossil fuel companies to make sure that nothing changes. Our likely continuum of outcomes at this point is from catastrophe to a Canfield Oceans mass extinction event. It’s not like coming to terms with the death of a loved one, where there is one loved one and the rest of the world carries on; it’s the death of all loved ones, human and not-human, and when I’m not busy living the life I know is contributing to all of that, I need to hide out from it all in a burrow of fabric and thread.