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Climate change inertia

We’re stuck in the four phases of grief

I’m writing in response to the great dilemma that The Recorder headlined in big, black ink on the front page Nov. 29: What’s It Going to Take? (Meaning what’s it going to take for our society to come to grips with climate change?).

The world is in deep trouble, beyond just global warming, and we all know it at some level. Both individually and collectively, we find ourselves in a scary, stuck place. The Doha climate talks, I believe, have the solution 180 degrees backward. Conservation, economic retrenchment and localization are indicated by climate change, not globally-oriented economic activity and its associated energy use and resource consumption. In fact, the idea of growth is a major element of the clash that climate trouble reveals. In the article adjacent to the Doha coverage, scientist Guy McPherson was much more on target, I felt, with a realism that trumps even political realism, the old gold standard of realism. From the gist of The Recorder’s report on his talk, he said people must work in their own backyards, literally and figuratively.

One way of looking at what we face as Americans (to focus on our own culture) is we’re like a teenager who’s gotten into trouble … and this time it’s beyond serious. Honestly, we’ve long been super self-centered in our relationship with the rest of the “family,” international and the biological Earth family. Most of us are conscious of being at least somewhat over-entitled, as well as beneficiaries of economic exploitation, intimidation abroad, preemptive wars, Grade A social domination and ecological degradation … the sort of stuff that comes back to haunt you.

It’s global warming, though, that’s brought us “before the law” at this point and now it’s up to us whether to accept responsibility for our misdeeds. Remember, to be self-centered as a teen isn’t abnormal, but to fail to shift to cooperation or even service to the greater whole, before you become a hardened sociopath is to dodge the possibility of adulthood, to be a systemic danger.

The entity that’s bigger than us that we’ve pretty much dismissed in the modern era is the Earth-life system — its basic laws and its living things, including human. That framing of who we are, and where, isn’t hard to see, it’s a great given, visible to science though obscured for many modern, urban-oriented people. No substitute arrangement, even if possible, can be as secure, fascinating, beautiful, holy. (I feel more human for having stood face to face with a moose in the woods, experienced morning mist over Tully Lake, had a rescued bird fly out of its box and sit on my shoulder … than for having driven a car or mastered the home computer). Without the precious Earth-life system, we are almost certainly kaput. Without our heavy industrial presence, Earth almost certainly survives, recovers and thrives. Those two last facts are working overtime to straighten out our priorities.

Another concept that I’ve found helpful in explaining the painful conflicts that plague us as informed, postmodern Americans and Earth critters is the process of mourning, grief — healing from loss.

When it comes to global warming, it appears to me that we, as individuals, are all generally stuck somewhere in the first four stages of the grieving process as described so usefully by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross:

Denial: “It’s all natural, intended, good.” “There’s no man-made climate change, no unsolvable problem.”

Anger, blame: “It’s a fabrication of the Eastern liberal elite, to get the environmental legislation they want.” “It’s the corporatists and their boundless greed.” “People won’t change. The trouble is human nature.”

Bargaining: “Some good, willing conservation, current market forces and coming improvements in clean, renewable energy technology will get us out of this fix.”

Depression: “I’m scared for my kids — for myself! I feel helpless, vulnerable. Where we’re at truly, truly sucks.”

Acceptance, the fifth stage and completion of the process, equals making change inside ourselves, turning and facing the new reality. Depression can actually be a healthy precursor, a real acknowledgement of the death or loss, and that there’s nothing external that can be done about it. Perhaps only deep depression — the very depth of grief — experienced as a society can provide the motivation for a challenge as great as accepting a new, unexpected and permanent reality. I suspect that public acknowledgement is what’s largely missing in our state of suspended animation today, and that it’s collectively that we’ll finally be freed to admit and face our disillusionment. I congratulate The Recorder for its work in trying to help that along.

So, to recognize together that it’s grief we’re in, to believe in its appropriateness and its growth-bestowing, propelling influence, would mean we could perhaps move on to acceptance. “OK, time to change, me included, whatever it requires.” Time to resume our naturally adaptive approach to life, to salvage the remaining healthy, still even Edenic possibilities.

Jonathan von Ranson is a stonemason, former homesteader and retired newspaper editor who lives in Wendell. He and his wife, Susan, have been working for four years to obtain legal permission to live in an apartment designed for non-electric living.

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