Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Talking about Climate Change

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking and reading about climate change. In the process, I realised how well I had previously done at not thinking about it too much - catching it out of the corner of my mind, but not full on thinking.

Why? My friend and co-conspirator Paul spoke a few weeks ago about the way climate change confronts us with 'deep emotional questions about ourselves and about society':

Without being too simplistic about the climate change debate, it’s basically we’re all going to die but we might be able to do something about it. It’s a big serious challenge to us as individuals and it lurches between optimism and pessimism. It’s pessimistic as a way of encouraging optimism and that's emotionally exhausting...

But among the emotional exhaustion, I did make one rather wonderful discovery. I will rush no more! is Tim Hodgens' blog. It is also his mantra, as he goes about trying to make a change and simplify his life. I am slowly reading my way through several months of entries, but one of his posts about climate change gave me back a lot of hope.

Having been thinking about how to get talking to people about global warming, Tim is having a late lunch at Harry's Pastrami Shack, when his attention is drawn to a conversation at the counter:

Counter Guy: "People complain about having to reset their clocks when there's a power outage. (On the TV they were talking about the storm in Denver) But it's much more serious when it's much more serious."

Mr. C: "Big changes in the weather."

Counter Guy: "the spring was worse with all that rain. I work for a pool company and we couldn't put in the pools. We were down $100,000 in receipts by July and there's no way you can regroup after that."

Later, and after Counter Guy leaves, I say, like out of the blue: "how do you think this will all play out?"

He looks at me and I say: "with the weather, the changes."

Mr. C: "Ya don't know. We haven't been there before."

I start talking about my previous posting about climate change and talk about Jim at Big Bear, California (he knew it instantly - I could see him 20 years ago growling up the mountain on a good old fashioned hog) and Laura in Sasketchewan. He listens attentively.

He tells me about how there was "flowering going on, on the north side of PJ Rhodadendruns; 6 months early."

He then goes on talking about the melting arctic ice shelf and how that's all fresh water and how it will upset the current (that circulates from the North Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico and then up the Eastern seaboard of the States.)

You really have to wonder how this is all going to play out.

For my part I liked how I got into the conversation with the elevator pitch of "how do you think this is all going to play out."

His comment of "ya don't know, we haven't been there before" is incisively spot-on

The other thing I took away from this conversation was how easy it actually turned out to be to "get at" what was going on beneath the surface with the right question.

He offered his hand, we shook and I left.

6 comments:

Kevin said...

I suppose this provides a sense of separating the avoidable from the inevitable.

But I still don't get Climate Change Sceptics I suppose the most outspoken ones are Richard Littlejohn and Peter Hitchens (as Clarkson has admitted it's going to happen, he just doesn't care).

Unlike all other major issues of the day, where I find myself having only the word of people who are far more experienced in the matter, yet whose motives are questionable (ie politicians and journos in Iraq and Afghanistan), the problems are manifestly affecting life all around me...

Mark said...

It really does start to feel like tangible and weird things are happening with the climate, doesn't it?

The trap that most people we know seem caught in is that they are so separated from the environment by technology and lifestyle, that they simply don't notice or engage with it on a personal level.

In our family, we're starting to discuss seed-growing strategies which may help us to continue to grow food on our allotment if the climate in Yorkshire shifts rapidly. But we still "whisper" about this in case our friends and family start to think we're bonkers.

Our culture is changing a bit - perhaps "melting", like the ice - but environmental engagement is still bit of a niche area, isn't it?

Kevin said...

I might be exaggerating the obviousness because I'm currently working for a company that sells recycling/screening equipment ie turning green waste into fuel and challenging the use of landfill sites, in Britain they are collectively the size of Warwickshire.

Anyway,last summer, this winter and next summer are presentable evidence in themselves I reckon.

And have you been watching ITN this week? A star reporter nearly being killed by collapsing ice is even more important than the Big Brother racism allegations!

Dougald Hine said...

@kevin: Yeah, the sceptics are a strange bunch. Obviously, there are those who are part of the oil industry's PR network. But there is also the occasional genuinely independent academic who seems to enjoy being a contrarian, a collection of paranoid libertarians who think the whole thing is a socialist conspiracy, as well as economic sceptics like Lomborg who admit it's happening but use perverse calculations to claim that we're better off not doing anything about it.

Oh, and thanks for directing me back to that Garner article - I'd been thinking of it just this morning. (Incidentally, there's something quite striking about the way Garner uses the language of climate change to talk about his manic depression - I'll post to the list about this.)

@mark: Agreed about 'environmental engagement'. Perhaps part of the problem is that 'environmentalism' has been seen as a lifestyle choice, an option in the postmodern cultural supermarket - and I think we've often fed this by the way you can spot a Green a mile off! But it does give me hope that ITV News is now using language which two years ago was the preserve of campaigners. It does feel like more and more people are waking up to the threat, but I think the challenge now is, as Al Gore puts it, 'in order to solve the climate crisis we have to address the democracy crisis'. I'm working on an article about this, so I'll post a link as soon as it's published.

SimplyTim said...

Dougald: I have similar thoughts to Mark. I am planning a "kitchen garden" for this spring.

In my community there is nothing "different or odd" about doing that, but I still feel a certain hesitancy before I tell them some of my background thinking which is leading to the garden.

As I continue talking, however, I am finding it easier and it seems that people listen quite attentively. Maybe I'll add: "hey, 6.5 billion people now and expected 7 billion in 5 years and they're not making any more usable land on the planet." (Google searches: population of earth, and usable land earth."

Tim

Dougald Hine said...

Hi Tim,

Thanks for joining the conversation! You've sparked a further train of thought, about which I'll post soon.

Dougald

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