Greeting the New Year: 2018
Part 2/January 14, 2018
When it comes to dealing with global climate disruption, the Indian-American writer, Amitav Ghosh, contends that only a handful of serious writers have tackled the topic of climate change: Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World, and Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood come to mind.
There are exceptions, of course. Ghosh points to works that encompass “magical realism” and novels that are categorized as “paranormal” and ‘science fiction,” have addressed themes of climate change, but he believes that there is nothing “magical” about the subject, and that genres such as “paranormal” and “science fiction” are rarely considered “serious literary fiction.” Within the literary mainstream, Ghosh contends that most authors “remain just as unaware of the crisis on our doorstep as the population at large.”
He continues, “There can be no doubt, of course, that this challenge arises in part from the complexities of the technical language that serves as our primary view of climate change. But neither can there be any doubt that it derives also from the practices and assumptions that guide the arts and humanities. To identify how this happens is, I think, a task of the utmost urgency: it may well be the key to understanding why today’s culture finds it so hard to deal with climate change. Indeed, this is perhaps the most important question ever to confront culture in the broadest sense – for let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination. . . What is it about climate change that the mention of it should lead to banishment from the preserves of serious fiction? And what does this tell us about culture writ large and its patterns of evasion?” (https://www.theguardian.com/info/ng-interactive/2017)
One possibility that comes to mind is that we are used to paying attention when something really “loud” happens. Something that we can’t ignore because it’s so big and nosy. A bomb explodes in a subway. A madman guns down a group of school children. An airliner crashes. These are BIG NOISE events. It’s hard to ignore them.
But what about melting ice? A change in migration patterns? The extinction of a small animal on some remote island? Methane gas escaping from a dung storage tank? Run-off from a fertilized lawn? The rise of acidification in the oceans? A drought in Africa? A flood in Miami’s South Beach? These are largely “silent events” that we feel insulated from. It’s easy to turn away and change the subject. Unless, of course, we happen to live in Greenland. Or Africa. Or South Beach.
Then, there’s the complexity of climate change. It’s difficult to connect all those dots of statistics and events and chemicals and put together a coherent picture of what is happening and why. As David Wallace-Wells wrote in his article “Doomsday,” “Even when we train our eyes on climate change, we are unable to comprehend its scope.” (New York Magazine, July 10, 2017). There’s just too much happening. All at once.
And there’s the TIME factor. We look around us and we peruse the historical records and it’s easy to say, “Nature moves very slowly. It will take thousands of years for any profound changes to occur. We’ve got plenty of time, and future technology will certainly solve the problem.”
Except that we DON’T have plenty of time. David Wallace-Wells writes, “Many people perceive climate change as a sort of moral and economic debt, accumulated since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and now coming due after several centuries — a helpful perspective, in a way, since it is the carbon-burning processes that began in 18th-century England that lit the fuse of everything that followed. But more than half of the carbon humanity has exhaled into the atmosphere in its entire history has been emitted in just the past three decades; since the end of World War II, the figure is 85 percent. Which means that, in the length of a single generation, global warming has brought us to the brink of planetary catastrophe, and that the story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is also the story of a single lifetime.”
So, what can you do? Yes, YOU. And you and you.
John Katz and Jennifer Daniel offered a few simple steps in an article titled “What You Can Do About Climate Change” (New York Times, December 2, 2015.)
“Global climate: it’s complicated. Any long-term solution will require profound changes in how we generate energy. At the same time, there are everyday things that you can do to reduce your personal contribution to a warming planet. Here are seven simple guidelines on how your choices today affect the climate tomorrow.”
1. Eat less red meat and more chicken, fish and eggs.
2. Use rapid transit whenever possible.
3. Don’t waste food. Use everything in the refrigerator and plan wisely to avoid throwing food away.
4. For long trips, try the train or the bus. Or try Skype instead.
5. Walk or bike for short trips. The exercise is good for you.
6. If you have to drive, get the most efficient low-mileage car possible.
7. Buy less stuff/waste less stuff. Our free-market consumer buy-athon is one of the basic reasons for our problem in the first place.
The article concludes with the following advice: “A sustainable solution that avoids severe damage to the planet will require fundamental changes in the global energy system: transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy and sharply reducing the number of cars that run on internal-combustion engines.
Advocating public policies that support the development of clean energy and efficient transportation is probably the most climate-friendly thing you can do. But [individual] cultural and behavioral change can be part of the solution as well. Might as well start now.”
Amen to that. And be sure to write, right?