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Savoring What Remains in an Age of Climate PTSD

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/12/09/savoring-what-remains-age-climate-ptsd

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I was out west this summer for a couple of months. From the Canadian Rockies to the Pacific Coast and down to the Big Bend of Texas–meandering like a drunken sailor. There was much so much beauty, but so much evidence of change–especially in pine stands that had suffered beetle infestations because the winters were no longer cold enough to keep them in check. The most resiliency I saw was in the desert environs–they can take the heat. I am so glad I made the decision not to have children as I know that the mountainsides with the dead trees will likely yield to fires and/or soil failures that will take out roads and devastate so many who love their land and way of life. There is more PTSD on the way, I am sad to say.

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As many of you know, I have severe and chronic PTSD or complex PTSD in today’s language. I can make a few suggestions, one is what you try to do is break up time so you have time to process info. Doing things that are mindless, things you can do without thinking provides that space. Things like doing the dishes by hand, sorting laundry, ironing a shirt, washing the car…you see what I mean. We are overwhelmed with information that can describe the face of our collective death. Be careful not to judge that face, to lay blame, to point a finger, anger only increases the depth of the stress and I know full well, stress kills. I was removed from work in 1991 because stress was killing me. Meditation can and does work miracles. Walking for mental health, not for the body, taking the time to see that tiny flower on a weed by the side of the path. Let that weeds smile warm you. Peace.

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No wonder all of this leaves me with a feeling of utter impotence. Each new weather shock feels like another body blow. Or yet further evidence of how I’m losing a loved one. Alaska, in other words, is suffering climate death by a thousand cuts, while I struggle daily to accept the new reality: that the state is already irreparably changed.

Dahr Jamail concludes with a solid fact apparent to any walker in the wilds: the Earth is irreparably harmed. Repair is no longer an option, only the struggle to limit further damage, to stop making it worse.

But his perception of “utter impotence” calls for some backtalk, I think, because he’s so obviously mistaken. Jamail enjoys a good understanding of how to tell his own stories, and how to receive and relay other peoples’ stories. With a sumptuous bonus unavailable to many: willing ears to hear his collected stories. That’s not impotence. If Jamail expects any more powerful effect to become available to him, then I don’t know what’s up with that. Maybe he just needs to lose the Superman cape. (Or else resolve to only don superhero garb ironically – have some fun with it!)

It is this reality that we fear and do our best to fight against it. People just seem to love to talk about human extinction. Call them ‘Neo Noah’s Arkists’. Whether they are religious fundamentalists enraptured with the idea of their ‘Rapture’ or atheist prophets calculating worst case projections that they believe show that ‘The End Is Near’, both share the same psychological perspective that humanity deserves a comeuppance.

However, the ‘End Is Not Near’ but this dire environmental reality is. Humanity doesn’t face extinction except perhaps from a nuclear war or some madman’s biological warfare horror. Extinction is not imminent but the ‘collapse of the normal’ natural systems and balances is. Simply put - humanity can exist in a worldwide refugee camp version of life where everything we do is concentrated on producing food and reducing the degree of what might be called ‘forever unrest’ by literally hundreds of millions of people forced to live on rationed food. Imagine vast, truly immense areas of dead trees or burned out forests. Imagine oceans unable to sustain viable fish populations. Oceans actually devoid of life in ‘dead zones’ thousands of miles in scope. Imagine the area where you now live being too hot to live in. Imagine an Arctic without snow.

It isn’t necessary to warn about human extinction because the reality that we all face is bad enough.

Before you indulge in too much backtalk to Dahr’s “utter impotence,” I highly recommend reading his work, The End of Ice. It will in form and deepen your understanding of where he’s coming from. The grief he’s experiencing is transformed into a useful healing of the heart, as it honors what we’re losing.

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Why would someone get so emotional about warmer weather? Are we really so deprived by the lack of -70 degree days? As the saying goes, this, too, shall pass.

What’s wrong with warmer weather in Alaska? Didn’t you read the article? The salmon didn’t like it enough to die by the thousands in water that was too warm. No salmon on your dinner plate tonight. That by itself should be plenty wrong, if you can’t think beyond your own self.

Here’s your winner for today’s most utterly stupid comment.

Next week, Khan will ask why it isn’t better if Phoenix hits 125 instead of 120.

Dahr’s grief could not possibly be any deeper than yours or mine, depending only on the awareness of you or me. But such talk of “impotence” is almost always markedly immature, disempowering, and simply mistaken – arising out of fabulously misguided expectations for oneself.

There’s even an unpleasant maleness to the sentiment. (How often do you hear a woman complaining of feeling “infertile” in such a metaphorical sense?) That’s veering off on another angle of the word’s definition, but I think it’s significant. Read more strictly, Jamail bewails his lack of power to do something. I don’t understand what the point of that is. Grief certainly does not have to go there.