CLIMATE REALITIES and CLIMATE GRIEF– HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM
This midwinter issue of NHT explores the anxiety that the issue of climate change can have on our mental health as the reality increasingly comes into focus. Aside from going full Chicken Little on one hand or living in denial on the other, how do we face the climate crisis both honestly and sanely?
A. THE 2019 UN EMISSIONS GAP REPORT
First, a reality check. For ten years, the scientists and policy experts of the UN’s Environment Program have tracked the gap between where emissions are heading and where they need to be. What progress has there been toward globally agreed climate goals?
This year’s report, just released in December, presents the latest data on the expected gap in 2030 for the temperature targets of the 2016 Paris Agreement. It looks at how large the annual cuts would need to be to stay on track to meeting the Paris goal of no more than a 1.5-degree increase in global temperature. Its summary findings are pretty bleak.
How much time is left?
At present rates of emissions around the globe, we can expect temperatures to rise by 3.2 degrees C in this century. This would cause mass extinctions. Large parts of the planet would be uninhabitable. To reach the 1.5-degree Paris Agreement goal (set in 2015), emissions must fall immediately, and drop 7.6 percent every year starting in 2020. In other words, since the world collectively failed to stop the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, deeper and faster cuts are now required.
This can only happen if countries collectively increase their commitment more than five-fold. The prospects are dim, especially considering the outcome of the UN’s annual climate meeting (COP25) that ended on 12/15 with no progress made.
How can we close the emissions gap?
The G20 countries alone are responsible for 78% of all emissions. On the positive side, they have more opportunities to solve the crisis than ever before. Green tech, renewables, and electric mobility are actually becoming the cheaper options.
A number of encouraging developments have taken place and the political focus on the climate crisis is growing in several countries, with voters and protesters, particularly youth, making it clear that climate is their number one issue. In addition, the technologies for rapid and cost-effective emission reductions have improved significantly.
The UN report makes it evident that
– incremental changes will not be enough and there is a need for rapid transformational action.- greenhouse emissions continue to rise, despite scientific warnings and political commitments.
– renewables and energy efficiency, and rapid transition to electric power, must be embraced on a massive scale. The necessary transition of the global energy sector will require significant investments compared with a business-as-usual scenario.
B. THE DANGERS OF COMPLACENCY
The UW’s beloved meteorologist Cliff Mass disappoints us with his position on the climate crisis. As a scientist, Mass certainly understands that man-made climate change is occurring, but he’s annoyed at what he sees as the mass (sic) hysteria about it. Relax!, he advises. In his December 9 blog he writes,
“why are all these people so anxiety-ridden and desperate? I believe it is the unconscionable exaggeration, hype, and fear-mongering of our media, special interest groups, some activist scientists, and a number of politicians. And it is unethical, ungrounded in science, and hurting the most vulnerable among us.” He claims that the Seattle Times has blown the threat all out of proportion: an article about warming “was complete nonsense, with extreme assumptions about warming rates and assuming no one would buy an air conditioner.” Furthermore, “there is all this talk about existential threats (yes, this means threats to your EXISTENCE), which have no support in the reports of the international scientific community (the IPCC) or the U.S. Climate Assessment. They predict a minor reduction in the future GDP, no more.”
It’s certainly not our desire to be fear-mongers, but climate change in fact does present an existential threat—see the UN report above—and buying an air conditioner ain’t going to solve it. The inaction of governments, especially our own—and the Trump administration’s blithe insistence on further fossil-fuel mining, deforestation, and reversal of other environmental laws—must stop NOW. We hope that Cliff Mass can help shake people out of their complacency, rather than encourage business as usual and hope that our leaders will take care of everything, which they’ve proven woefully incapable of doing.
C. WHAT CAN WE DO RIGHT NOW FOR OURSELVES AND OUR CHILDREN?
The UN’s grim climate report, as well as a warning signed by 11,000 scientists in the journal Bioscience (11/5/2019), indicate the enormous paradigm shifts that need to occur, even as some major industrialized nations continue to bury their heads in the sand. Thousands of cities around the world are going underwater within a generation or two, and much land (including around our Kitsap Peninsula) will be lost to sea level rise. Despite the low prioritizing of climate change among most political candidates (it’s not sexy, it’s depressing, you don’t want to alienate voters, it means difficult choices, it means capitalism has failed miserably), the climate emergency is really upon us.
How do we cope with anxiety and carry on? Gig Harbor climate activist Kriss Kevorkian talks about the very real phenomenon of “climate grief,” the state of hopelessness this awareness can put us into; others call it climate despair or eco-grief. One way to respond is not to respond—as if the human brain doesn’t have the capacity to think beyond Christmas. For others, Christmas doesn’t matter at all if the apocalypse is near. Listen, folks: we have to grow up, and take some initiative as the right alternative to despair.
1. Get educated. As you wait for your kid after practice, or at the bus stop or dentist’s office, read. Believe in science and what it’s telling us.
2. Educate others. Pressure your state local officials and community leaders. If they opt for business as usual, replace them with people committed to making change. Fearlessly discussing the climate crisis with friends can cumulatively affect public opinion and lead to change.
3. Work in your own way toward minimizing fossil fuels, eating less meat, restoring and protecting ecosystems, eliminating chemicals (such as pesticides) and plastics that are harmful to the environment.
4. There’s no therapy as effective as joining forces with people and getting involved. Join KEC to help with projects, community education, and enriching programs and activities. If you love birds and are seeing them disappear, join the Kitsap Audubon Society and see what you can do for them. Want to be an activist? Check out 350 West Sound Climate Action on Facebook. See what you can do in your kids’ schools and making change in your community. For a partial list of local groups that work for a healthier environment, go to https://westsoundconservationcouncil.org/west-sound-conservation-resources.
5. Instead of buying garbage-bound stocking-stuffers for the holidays, have trees planted in your dear ones’ names. Make a holiday gift from your family to Mother Earth. For tree-planting gifts and contributions to fight deforestation, we recommend the following national groups for their high ratings for transparency and low overhead:
– The National Forest Foundation – works with the US national forests to replant, preserve, and improve trees, vegetation, and habitats.
– The Rainforest Trust – takes the direct approach in purchasing and protecting threatened tropical habitats – over 20 million acres in the last 30 years, in 53 countries.
– Rainforest Foundation US – it partners with indigenous communities in Latin American countries including Brazil, to protect and preserve natural habitat.
6. Plant trees yourself. As the lumber corporations mow down forests, every oxygen-producing, carbon-storing tree counts. Be sure to consult with tree experts before choosing trees for your property to ensure the trees’ future health. Take native species into account, but make sure to allow for warming climate and drought.
IN OTHER NEWS:
– KEC visited Kitsap County’s Dave Ward, Manager of Planning and Environment, in Port Orchard on Dec. 11 and had a productive chat with him about planning for climate change at the county level. Ward and his staff prove very knowledgeable about the enormous work that lies ahead in prioritizing the best outcomes for Kitsap’s lands, waters, wildlife, and citizens. KEC offered him its assistance with research and education, and looks forward to a constructive relationship.
-Kitsap County Agriculture Alliance and Kitsap Fresh are planning a “Love Your Mother!” tree planting in a county park (time and place TBA—watch our website or Facebook page) on Feb 15. We’ll make the day after Valentine’s Day into Mother Earth Day. In opposition to industrial forest practices, we will be planting a variety of native species, making sustainable forests for the future. (Bring the kids, and some day they’ll bring their grandkids). On a weekend close to Earth Day April 22, we’ll return to the site, check out the trees, and give them mulch.
-The Kitsap County Comprehensive Plan describes the 20-year vision for unincorporated Kitsap County and how that vision will be achieved. The plan covers land use, economic development, environment, housing and human services, transportation, capital facilities and utilities as well as parks, recreation, and open space. The county Planning Commission will be considering proposed amendments to the Comprehensive Plan in December and January and they’re available for public input. Open house for North Kitsap is December 19, a public hearing will be held on 1/7/2020, and written comments will be accepted through 1/8/2020. For more info, go to https://tinyurl.com/kitsap2019cpa .
SOME GREAT MOVIES ABOUT MOTHER EARTH
During the holidays, watch some great environmental documentaries with your family! Movies about our planet and its miraculous beauty and vulnerability have been flourishing in the last dozen years. Here’s a list of recommended docs to see, and we’ve included 2 feature films too. Movies marked with an “A” might not be suitable for your young kids.
– OUR PLANET. 2019 docuseries free on Netflix, in 8 episodes. Beautiful!
– KOYAANISQATSI. Classic, indescribably hypnotic 1982 film by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass. Free (with ads) on Vudu, or $3.99 ad-free on Amazon.
– WOMAN AT WAR. Story film, Iceland, 2019. Halla is equal parts eco-terrorist and choir director, and all heroine, and she wages a one-woman war on the aluminum mega corporation that’s messing up her region. A great fantasy, this gem is our favorite movie of the year. Amazon, $4.99.
– TREELINE: A Story Written in Rings. Gorgeous 30-minute doc about trees. Free on YouTube.
– MARCH OF THE NEWTS. 2018, only 5 minutes, and worth every second. Follow one of the forest’s humblest creatures into a rocking watery orgy… and learn how you can help protect these sensitive animals. Online, https://vimeo.com/288628617 .
– GRIT. A huge explosion of mud in East Java leads to the culprit, a gas drilling company. Inspiring account of community in action. Free on PBS (http://www.pbs.org/pov/watch/grit/video-grit/?utm_campaign=pov-season-32&utm_source=twitter ), or rent on Amazon prime. (A)
– BEFORE THE FLOOD. In 2016, Leonardo DiCaprio investigates the climate in crisis. Netflix, or rent on Amazon or YouTube, $3.99. (A)
– WATER WARRIORS. Short doc (22 minutes), 2017. Indigenous and white families in a Canadian community unite to drive out a fracking company to protect their water and their way of life. Available streaming thru PBS, or watch on Kanopy with your public library card. (A)
– CHASING ICE. Winner of 2012 Sundance Film Festival, about the melting polar ice caps. iTunes or Amazon, $3.99.
– MORE THAN HONEY. Since you can’t yet stream the hit bee doc of this year, THE POLLINATORS, instead check out this wonderful 2013 film about bees, all they do for us, and the trouble they’re in. YouTube or Amazon, $3.99.
– FANTASTIC FUNGI. Like THE POLLINATORS, this mesmerizing 2019 movie is having only limited screenings in selected theaters (watch for it in your community). The magical world of fungi and their power to heal and to sustain the regeneration of life on Earth.
– TOMORROW. 2017. On a journey through ten countries, scientists and experts discuss ingenious solutions to global warming. YouTube or Amazon, $2.99.
– A SIMPLER WAY. Residents of a small rural community in Australia work toward achieving simple, rich, sustainable lives. According to the reviews, you’ll want to move to this place immediately upon seeing the movie. 2019, free on YouTube.
– DARK WATERS. Legal thriller directed by Todd Haynes, in wide theatrical release. A tenacious attorney (Mark Ruffalo) uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths with one of the world’s largest corporations. (A)