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The Best Medicine for My Climate Grief


#1

The Best Medicine for My Climate Grief

Peter Kalmus

Sometimes a wave of climate grief breaks over me. It happens unexpectedly, perhaps during a book talk, or while on the phone with a congressional representative. In a millisecond, without warning, I’ll feel my throat clench, my eyes sting, and my stomach drop as though the Earth below me is falling away. During these moments, I feel with excruciating clarity everything that we’re losing—but also connection and love for those things.


#2

It is hard enough for me to contemplate my own death. Can one say that it is impossible for me to contemplate the end of humans? And another global die of off of animals and plants?

Is there a term more frightening than “new normal” as if we were moving at once from climatoscepticism to climatofatalism: please erase science, history & humanities so that we forget what it was. Fake news will be enough

How about a contradiction to logically deal with climate death?

…the peculiar cognitive double bind of the climate question: “if it is true, it has to be wrong”. The 2 conclusions are drawn at once. This explains the feeling of hopelessness. It’s not a normal fact.

Recent PNAS article on the climate apocalypse

Remember the old days when taking a vacation meant forgetting everything? Not a day passed without being remembered of the climate crisis because of the heat! And then you get the new Steffens et al. paper in PNAS “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”!

Nathaniel Rich wrote a long article in last weeks NYT about the climate and not acting in time, but there was never a plan to act.

Rich’s essay in NYT as well as Steffen et al. in PNAS points to the same conundrum: how to politicise the new climatic regime with a revolutionary action that should have been taken 30 years ago? If it’s too late, how do you expect people to react?

These are from the French polymath Bruno Latour on twitter as BrunoLatourAIME


#3

“Modern climate change is completely different: It’s 100 percent human-caused, so it’s 100 percent human-solvable.”

Good luck with that second part. “Human-survivable” is the highest expectation that I can foresee–and there will be lots of pain for all assemblages of life.


#4

Whatever chance we have of addressing climate change, and I think our chances are extremely poor at this point, will depend to a large extent on the role of slow positive feedbacks such as thawing permafrost. Basically, scientists think that at some point global warming will become unstoppable, but do not know at what point. It could be just beyond 1C, or 2C, or maybe 4C or perhaps even at a greater increase in temperature. So basically since we do not know if this will occur or when we sort of just have to keep our fingers crossed and keep working. One encouraging bit of information is that solar and wind are starting to be implemented on a much larger scale than previously. Also, the Paris Climate Accord has remained intact despite Trump withdrawing the US. The international climate meeting in 2020 will be critical as the pledges need to strengthened. Given what is at stake there is little alternative to keep going despite not really clearly understanding what is ahead.


#5

I just read on CNN that the fires in California are reaching NY City , 3,000 miles away. I suppose that when more humans start suing all the “dirty players of air, water and soil,” maybe then the air really will clear. And too, if people would eat local foods and stay local a lot more, maybe life would improve for all life on the planet, and for the creatures of the land, the sea, and the air too. I’m glad that the Supreme Court gave the 11-21 year olds the right to continue to sue Trump admin and the oilers et al for negatively affecting the future of the 11-21 year olds.: )


#6

Wildfires out west have been occurring since long before there was a California and New York. They aren’t going to end no matter what we do but humans have made the situation worse. Of course these wildfires do have a positive effect and are part of the cycle of regeneration of forests. One problem is the urban environment keeps expanding into the forests. That is going to result in more property damage and increased the risk to people. The biggest problem for NY air is the coal-burning plants in the Midwest. Until such coal burning is ended the the air in NY is not going to be that that clean. Also, switching to electric cars will play a big role in clearing the air in NY. But in all this happens air quality alerts will continue to be a common feature of weather reports.


#7

Most humans are not interested in solving this problem. The people I know even refuse to acknowledge climate change.


#8

While the topic of climate change is broached in this area, no deep discussion ensues. It as if we must just accept the inevitable. The lack of interest in this most dire problem makes me sad.


#9

We all know that there will be a point when people do wake up. What scares me is that they will look for scapegoats rather than look at themselves in the mirror. And there will be people like Trump very happy to provide them with scapegoats.

The article above is an honest one. Another intelligent response to the ecocide: http://dark-mountain.net/about/manifesto/


#10

Good article! I’ve had those feelings for years, since I was a child, long before we knew about climate change. I’ve sensed that something was wrong in the woods up at our camp in Maine. Over the years we have noticed a change in the lake and the fish. We no longer catch any trout or salmon, only white perch and bass. I’ve noticed that several birds have disappeared like the veery and the white throated sparrow, and there are very few animals in the woods anymore. It’s far too quiet in the woods. I found out that sparrows, which are most of our greatest song birds, nest on the ground where they are all too often eaten by domestic cats that are not native to North America. Our country is completely overrun with domestic cats and they are eating up and killing too much of our small wildlife and birds. All of these losses of wildlife and the pollution and destruction of the natural world and global warming frightens and grieves me terribly too. You are not alone at all in your feelings, many people, especially sensitive people, feel just as you and I do. It’s like a kind of spidey sense like Spider-Man had.

Yet even though you are absolutely right, not everyone feels it like we do. Now I know a lot more than I ever knew as a child. I learned about DDT and what that did to our country long before I was even born. I learned about how above ground nuclear tests have tripled the earth’s background radiation rates and how dangerous nuclear power plants are and how much nuclear waste we have that is deadly for 24,000 years that we don’t know what to do with. I learned about toxic chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metal poisoning. I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, for whom we made a park here in Scarborough, Maine, and then we proceeded to ignore everything she wrote, even though it is even more pertinent today then it was when she wrote it in the 1960s. I learned about climate change and read Al Gore’s books and watched documentaries on TV about it.

It is a terrible helpless feeling because even if I can change my way of life and pollute much less and get off the grid, how can I get everyone else to also do it? How do we get to work or the grocery store if we can’t drive and don’t have a diesel electric vehicle? I am disabled and living with severe chronic pain from five incurable painful medical conditions. I can’t ride a bicycle anymore, or walk very far. How do I get off the grid when I can’t afford to build or rent a place off grid right now? I need a complete list of all the things I CAN do to help because there seem to be too many things that I can’t do to help. Our entire society and its very structure and even our buildings are all made so as to increase the use of fossil fuels as much as possible. Nothing much is made the old fashioned way or is recyclable and compostable as everything ought to go back to the earth in the end.

I keep wanting a time machine so I can go live with the Native Americans who kept America pristine for tens of thousands of years and who walked in beauty their whole lives, not in ugliness as we do. I want to go back 3,000 years or so before the white man and be a Native American and be at one with the earth and all life again. Even if all I do is go there to die because there I would feel peaceful. My spirit will never rest here until the earth is restored to health and bountiful life again.

The only consolation that I have found that helps me with this terrible grief over the impending loss of the natural world and the web of all life, is that everything in the universe is made out of stardust and energy. If Einstein is correct and E=MC2 then nothing is ever lost. Even if we inhuman humans blow up the entire planet into smithereens it will just return to stardust, from whence it came. It was fascinating to learn that the heavy metals like gold and lead cannot be made in a small sun like we have. The way the elements in the periodic table of elements are made is that they all start as hydrogen, which is the most abundant element, our sun might be able to turn hydrogen into helium and perhaps lithium, but no more. Therefore, it takes the death of a giant sun like Betelgeuse to produce the heavier elements like gold and lead. Many huge suns had to exist and burn for billions of years and go super nova and die in order to form the stardust that contained the lead and gold and heavy metals that exist on this planet. Think of that. We, and everything on earth are made of extra special stardust! Thousands of ancient suns and whole solar systems had to be wiped out and burned away and turned into stardust just to make the stardust that was used to make this earth. This process is going on right now all over the universe. This planet could be blown up, but after millions of years it could be reformed into another earth or not, but it could, and life could start all over in millions or billions of years. There is still time left in our sun. Yes, we will lose much of great value and perhaps even the entire human race and most, of not all life will be wiped out because of our foolish addiction to greed and power over other people, but we are all made of stardust and nothing is ever really lost, it just returns back to stardust and gets recycled. These thoughts gives me some comfort.

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with discussing any issue. I am a former nurse. We nurses want to address all issues straightforwardly and to the point and directly and in a matter of fact manner, no matter what they are. We deal with every possible topic and subject of discussion, many that are socially taboo. I’m curious and want to know about everything anyway. I have had the same problem trying to talk to people about these and other issues. Far too many people are in denial and don’t want to talk about pollution or global warming or any serious issue for some reason. Many don’t want to discuss any serious issue at all ever. My brother tells me that he doesn’t care about any issue at all except that he wants to retire ASAP. However, if you ever want to talk to someone you can always e-mail me at truthseek@icloud.com I will never turn down a good serious discussion. I love serious discussions. I hate small talk and phony frivolity. There is too much important stuff going on today for me to be willing to fool around too much. I don’t mind a little fooling around for a laugh once in awhile, but just not most of the time. I guess I’m just a very serious person. I care and I know what is going on and it is all very serious and frightening as far as I’m concerned, and I actually find it helpful for me to talk about it with other people.

With all the obvious consequences we can now see and know about, that have occurred from our misuse and abuse of the earth, it is no wonder the ancient people had taboos against cutting down trees and desecrating Mother Nature. I think of a beautiful Nez Perce poem about not cutting the grass because I would not cut my mother’s hair, nor would I farm and pierce my mother’s breast and so on. I love that poem. Too bad we didn’t understand the wisdom of native peoples whom we called “primitive” and “savages.” Yet truly who is really more savage and primitive than we are? We are the real warlike and violent industrialized techno savages. We have unleashed a very dangerous evil demon called the All Devourer who eats everything up and when there is nothing left he eats himself. This Bushman demon is addictive greed and immortal giant corporations like giant eating machines that devour up all of the earth’s natural resources and leaves many poisoned wastelands in its wake until no place is untouched. Just look at Trump indulging his mining and fossil fuel drilling and fracking friends as he allows them to destroy our National Parks, monuments and public lands all over America. Our National Parks were supposed to be left alone and the animals in these parks ought to be safe from hunters, but not under Trump. It is outrageous, but I can’t stop it. All I can do is sign petitions and write and call my reps and vote in November and I only have one vote. I’ll get my mother and my son to vote with me, and we will all vote the same, so that’s three good votes, but still it isn’t enough, not nearly enough.

I’ve had to live my whole entire life in an unsustainable destructive harmful lifestyle, most of it never even knowing how destructive it was and is and with no clear way to get free of this lifestyle. Even if I could live in the woods like a Native American, if we all tried to do this we would all starve to death. Our natural world can no longer sustain us. We must have giant farms and feedlots to feed everyone. Billions of humans must starve or die in order to return to a better ecological balance between humans and the natural world. It has happened before, seventy thousand years ago, with a super volcano eruption that wiped out all but 10,000 human beings, mostly from Africa. We are their decendents. If the Yellowstone super volcano erupts soon, perhaps this earth cycle will repeat itself. What life might survive who knows, but perhaps in several thousand or hundred thousand years or more and then life might start to restore itself on this earth long after we are gone. There will probably be different animals, but they can be just as wonderful as the ones that we have now, only they will probably be different, as different as animals were in the Cretaceous or other prehistoric times, but no less beautiful and wondrous. Perhaps there is still some hope for this planet, just not much hope right now. We are headed toward a very dark period of death and destruction in earth history, and we are unleashing Kali, the destroyer, but some life may still survive and evolve again. Who knows, anything can happen. Besides, after great destruction there is also creation. Think of the Hawaiian volcano, it spews out hot lava and burns up and destroys stuff, but then it also makes new earth and new soil and plants grow easily in this new and fertile volcanic earth so life renews itself. This planet has a very strong life giving force in it, it won’t be stopped completely very easily. Too bad we will never live to see it.

I hope that I have given you some food for thought and some small consolation. What we are experiencing is a cycle this earth has endured before many times over, albeit not so much from man made forces as natural ones. Yet the destruction and desolation is still similar and some life may survive to recreate something new in the future. It will just take a very long time and perhaps some love from the creator. I guess we just have to have more faith.


#11

Well, they need to wake up. Until they do, the rest of us must keep doing everything that we can. Just wait until the entire state of Florida goes underwater, and it can anytime now! That ought to wake them all up! I keep seeing an image in my mind of Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago up to his neck in the Atlantic Ocean with a big piece of chocolate cake floating by his face. If that doesn’t wake them up nothing will. Just get everyone you know to move out of Florida before it’s too late. When the Greenland ice sheet goes, or when another big chunk of Antarctic ice breaks off and melts or both, it’s not going to be pretty, and it’s inevitable if we continue to do nothing or not enough to stop this. Therefore, don’t live in any low lying places, especially not near the coast or along rivers or tributaries or even lakes where any excess water could cause flooding. Most of America, including all of Florida, was underwater and a swamp during prehistoric times when the earth was much warmer. See Al Gore’s book or the map in an old National Geographic from several years ago. It shows what will happen with sea level rise if all the ice melts. It might even be online. If you find it you can show it to people. National Geographic is a way more reliable source of facts and information than anything n right wing media. Explain that fossil fuel companies sponsor all right wing media and have a financial vested interest in making people think that climate change is fake. Perhaps some of this might help. Yet I agree, there are far too many Americans who are still in total denial of the reality of global climate change caused by man. It’s very discouraging that people are choosing to be so ignorant and foolish.


#12

I agree, most people don’t want to discuss climate change for one or more of these reasons
1 they don’t want to get into a political argument
2 they don’t know that much about the science or the statistics
3 even those that understand the danger don’t really want to change their behavior such as driving or flying less, eating less meat
4 even those who understand the danger may prefer to blame fossil fuel barons, corrupt politicians than take any meaningful action themselves or ask their friends to
5 even those who know the danger may feel its too late to do anything about it so just live it up while you still can


#13

As long as you discuss overpopulation and the cult of natalism then you can find solutions.

But this is why people do not want to talk about climate change. One subject leads to the other.


#14

What about the elephant in the sky no-one seems to notice?Geoengineering is the most clandestine negative force to destroy the planet. Look up, speak out.


#15

you don’t burn brush close to the woods. a simple thing to remember. take care of your space and be responsible. we may not be able to save our home but at least we can try.


#16

That is the hazard of learning. Learning comes with no guarantee that what you are learning is actually true. You have absorbed some bad information here.

“and how dangerous nuclear power plants are and how much nuclear waste we have that is deadly for 24,000 years that we don’t know what to do with.”

We know of several things we can do with it. We just don’t know how to accomplish anything against the determined opposition of people who want to obstruct any solution so that they can continue to complain about how insolvable the problem is.

“It is a terrible helpless feeling because even if I can change my way of life and pollute much less and get off the grid, how can I get everyone else to also do it?”

Especially the billions of people who are currently struggling to survive in a state of energy poverty. They already live the low energy life you wish we could all return to, and they are desperate to get away from it.

“My spirit will never rest here until the earth is restored to health and bountiful life again.”

That is not going to happen in our lifetimes, but we can help to put humanity on that path, and give our descendants some of the tools they will need to get there.

“The only consolation that I have found that helps me with this terrible grief over the impending loss of the natural world and the web of all life, is that everything in the universe is made out of stardust and energy. If Einstein is correct and E=MC2 then nothing is ever lost.”

Some of it becomes unavailable due to entropy. It has also long been assumed that in the big picture, nothing is ever gained, but we haven’t actually confirmed that yet.

“Many huge suns had to exist and burn for billions of years and go super nova and die in order to form the stardust that contained the lead and gold and heavy metals that exist on this planet. Think of that. We, and everything on earth are made of extra special stardust!”

And that dust retains the energy that went into making it, and we know how to retrieve some of that energy for our own use.

“Anyway, I don’t have any problem with discussing any issue.”

Really? Okay, in that case, I’m going to talk a bit more about that awful, nasty, icky, no-good, deadly nuclear waste which fills you with such dread, loathing, and despair–and also the depleted uranium that was created in the process of making the nuclear fuel in the first place. I’m not sure what the total is, but I remember reading a couple of years back that the global inventory of spent fuel had surpassed 200,000 metric tons, so we are easily going to overshoot a quarter million tons within a few years. And depending on the process, making each unit of that fuel in the first place produced roughly ten times as much depleted uranium. (And the DU production ratio for enriching to bomb-fuel levels is an order of magnitude greater.) We’ve used up a couple thousand tons of DU shooting it at various people, and that’s not recoverable, but there is probably still more than 2 million tons of the stuff lying around, or being used in recoverable applications like ballast weights or shielding.

But spent fuel is “waste” to today’s nuclear power plants in the same way that oxygen is “waste” to plants. As soon as you have something which can make use of it, it is no longer waste. Which brings us back to that wonderful E=MC^2. About 96% of that spent fuel and 100% of that DU can be consumed in a fast spectrum reactor, and in the process, a very tiny portion of that matter is converted into energy in the proportion indicated in Einstein’s equation. Some of that energy is lost to neutrinos, but the rest produces heat. After deducting the neutrino energy, the residual is about 3.1 x 10^10 fissions per second to produce 1 W of heat. Since 1 gram of any fissile material contains about 2.5 x 10^21 nuclei, that works out to about 2.556 gigawatt years of heat per metric ton. Times 2 million tons would be 5,112,328 gigawatt years of heat energy. To put that into context, the total amount of heat energy that humans have extracted from all the coal, oil, and natural gas that we have burned, combined, is around 680,000 gigawatt years. That means that lying around in the spent fuel and DU that we already have on hand, stuff that we currently consider waste or nuisance junk, we have inadvertently accumulated more than seven times as much latent energy as what we have extracted from all the fossil fuels we have burned through all of human history. And that’s available to us without doing any additional mining or extraction.

And right now, there are some molten salt fast reactors in development which are much simpler than today’s reactors, and won’t need the expensive pressure containment domes, so they have very good prospects for greatly reducing the cost and build times of today’s reactors. Most of them are aiming to undercut the cost of coal right out of the starting gate. It will take some time to get the cost down to undercut oil and gas (we know how to refine synfuels by extracting the carbon from air or sea–its just a matter of having a cheap enough source of energy to drive the process), but decarbonization can’t be done instantly anyway, and taking coal out first would be huge by itself. With cheap, abundant, clean energy, we can also help to accelerate some natural carbon sequestration processes, like olivine weathering and carbon absorption into peridotite formations.

And while we’re at it, we could lift a few billion people out of energy poverty. And one of the clear trends in human behavior is that when we gain the advantages and options of a first-world lifestyle, our reproductive rates generally fall off.

“I am a former nurse. We nurses want to address all issues straightforwardly and to the point and directly and in a matter of fact manner, no matter what they are. We deal with every possible topic and subject of discussion, many that are socially taboo. I’m curious and want to know about everything anyway.”

Great attitude–if you mean it.

“I care and I know what is going on and it is all very serious and frightening as far as I’m concerned,”

Did you already know all this? If so, what did you find frightening about it?

“Even if I could live in the woods like a Native American, if we all tried to do this we would all starve to death.”

We would also devastate the natural world in the process. One of the benefits of civilization is that it tends to concentrate our footprint. It is the poor of the world who are under the greatest pressure to do slash and burn subsistence farming, and take wildlife for food. Until our numbers start falling, increasing urbanization is one of our best ways to reduce our net environmental impacts.

“Billions of humans must starve or die in order to return to a better ecological balance between humans and the natural world.”

Dying of old age would be good enough, if we curtail our reproductive rates.

“I hope that I have given you some food for thought and some small consolation.”

Right back at you.