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Understanding climate:

“It’s either the whole or it’s nothing…”

 

http://www.ted.com/talks/gavin_schmidt_the_emergent_patterns_of_climate_change?utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=daily&utm_medium=email&utm_content=image__2014-05-01

 

Gavin Schmidt said this at the Ted conferences in early May. I feel it is the easiest way to sum up  what is in front of us:

 

It’s either the whole or it’s nothing…

 

Either we embrace that our Earth must be cared for as a whole rather than a whole lot of separate island nations, or we humans all sink together into a kind of desperate living only Hollywood can adequately portray. And with a lot of pain and suffering for so much we love along the way, animal, plant and human alike, in this miraculous, Eden-like habitat we call home.

 

This wholeness can be really positive if embraced as a reason to care now — for each other, for the animal and plant life that is the miracle of our world, for the shreds of wilderness left intact that we protect, and for the areas of Nature now rehabilitating with or without our notice — with as much determination as we can find within ourselves.

 

Yes, let’s respond to the whole as a whole; we have the technology, and the heart and art to do so.

 

Is there any among you who can put a webcam of melting ice and stranded polar bear and cubs on the Megatron in Times Square where we city dwellers can stand, rapt with concern, and root for their survival? That might occupy attention to our wholeness. How about another webcam 24/7 on the screen at the airports, documenting not just the latest extreme weather event we watch in awe anyway, opening our hearts and wallets for those people displaced, but also one which provides a glimpse of mammals seeking water during the newest drought or fire, wherever it may be? Live, as it happens…

 

Too tough to watch, I hear many protesting. Yes, but it is real-time reality TV that simply underscores our connection to each other, our care piqued as we are a species that does have a good heart when seeing pain, and we do respond to help.

 

If we can see and experience the whole, with our eyes and hearts engaged, we can create a culture of care for the whole.

 

Really, we can.

 

 

 

 

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Or why we face a future with a changed climate and degraded habitat with seeming aplomb … until it’s a crisis.

 

 The Fates, of course, refer to the Greek incarnations to which all — humanity and gods — had to submit. They defined destiny, spinning the line of life, allotting its length, maintaining an unturnable outcome. Fates — or Fate, seeing the ladies in the singular today —are the epitome of destiny, but also a principle of divine natural order, thought to be unchangeable by man… oh, maybe until now perhaps, when we have the tools and the will to tinker on a global scale.

 

We submit to an unalterable power of Fate**, which is why humans are often lauded or accused, depending on circumstance, of fatalism: What happens has to happen. It is a necessity, given the story thus far, the narrative we’ve woven as a global community. There’s nothing to do to change it.

 

But is it a necessity?

 

Enter Feelings, those nice and nasty players shrieking into our brains as first-responders long before logic and reason weigh in. Our survival mechanism perfected, Feelings are insta-fast responses to our world, engaging without our knowing but, explains writer Chris Mooney, determining our behavior and subsequently our convictions about our behavior, in such a way that we can see what we want to see, believe what we want to believe, and against all fact or unchemically-altered observation. “The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience,” Mooney writes in Mother Jones. “Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion. … We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close.” Doing so proves our viewpoint correct: That was a lion about to eat us – or at least it was a lion and we felt afraid so we ran (flight). That is a maniac with a finger on a button of destruction, but presenting himself as a world leader, so we feel we should take him to be able to negotiate a diplomatic solution or take him to battle (fight). That is a huge storm, category 4 or 5 again, and it was a danger to life and limb and city but, now over, I feel my experience of it had nothing to do with my actions previous to today, nor the culture I’ve had a hand in creating (flight or, perhaps, freeze response).

 

“Fatalism is the narrative thesis that some action or event was bound to happen because it ‘fits’ so well with the agent’s character…” the late UT-Austin professor Robert C Solomon wrote in Philosophy East and West (Vol. 53, No. 4, Oct, 2003).

 

“Fate and fatalism… is the story of who we are and of what happens to us and how what happens fits into the larger scheme of things. It is the dramatic story, not the scientific one, even if many or most of the details are the same. … Thus fate and fatalism  focus ‘locally’ on what is most significant about us, our births, our sweetest romances, our best successes, our worst failures, our calamities, our deaths.”

 

 

Our feelings justify our fatalism all too often, creating conviction against all the facts that we can, in fact, call upon our character to meet the challenges of slowing climate change.

 

Climate Access, in offering tools to communicate about climate change in a way that gets us out of fatalism, suggests these tools for a start:

“Understand that hope is a precondition to effective action…

 

“Building and sustaining hope is an interior practice . . .

 

“Be clear on what we can hope for… It is not the climate of yesteryear.”

 

Hope is a feeling that serves every one of us.

 

It is empowering and lifting rather than leading us into the web of the Fates or bathing us in the Feelings that any one of us is just too minor a character in this narrative to make a difference.

 

It is my living hope that we will soon meet the challenge of our own character — individually, collectively, and as players in a great narrative — and thus learn to live in a way that doesn’t further degrade our habitat as we love it, or leave to the Fates our only home.

 

May you day today be filled with hope—

Elizabeth Darby

 

Side note:

**’God’s will’ and ‘Acts of God’ (the ones your house insurance may or may not cover) seem to be different than a Fate, in that they are not ‘necessary’ or dependent on ‘character,’ but rather ‘authored’.  God’s will or Acts of God are based on the idea of being in ‘good hands’ — maybe not always what you or I want, but ‘good hands’ all the same — and thus a relief compared to the anonymity of the Fates.  Since the “Acts of God” clause covers most of what Nature throws at us, I’m always amazed that there is any debate whether Nature is thought to be part of God and vice-versa, but that’s an earlier blog…

 

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Why is daily news and consideration of our natural habitat missing from our ever-expanding daily news diet?

Why questions, I am reminded, are dangerous, especially in journalism. First of all they elicit argument, as asking why presumes the observation is true, or the question a judgment rather than an observation. Why did you run over the cat in the street elicits “Who said I did?” and Why is there a dead cat in the street? is too often solved with “I dunno…” because the possible answers are too many to narrow down in the few seconds devoted to the answer. Environmental news coverage has suffered from the same malady.

In a Gallup survey compilation (it’s unclear what year it was compiled) on paying attention to news stories a week after the event, while 97% of Americans were paying very/somewhat close attention to stories like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or Princess Diana’s death, only 41% were paying very/somewhat close attention to “biotechnology and modifications to food”. More importantly, other than the occasional weather event (Katrina) or the Asian tsunami of 2005, or a brief discussion of the XL pipeline or biotech, there were no other news stories on biodiversity loss, the environment, climate change or water/food issues even making the 200+story list by Gallup!

Why questions are also the last answered in journalism, after who, what, when, and where, and thus don’t normally make it into ‘normal’ fast headline news anyway.

According to Slate last year, fewer than half of people who arrive at a story at their website continue reading past the first scroll and 10% don’t scroll at all – which means never make it past the first 4 paragraphs.  And if there’s a photo at the top (to draw you in) it’s likely you are getting only the first two lines before hopping off elsewhere.  We’ve become a nation of skimmers.  And visually hooked skimmers at that. (Thanks Farhad! Great article!)

Four paragraphs doesn’t leave much room for discussion of interrelated issues and consequences, such as those covering the environment, the biosphere, our habitat, or even the connections between climate and extraordinary weather events as this winter’s weather (drought in the southern hemisphere; heavy snows and gales in the northern) might give us pause to wonder about.  To me that means we need Why questions at the top, lots of photos, cute or otherwise, and the news of our habitat place in front of us everywhere.

I’ll put a cute picture here in the hope you’ll keep reading…

© Lee Karney/USFWS

© Lee Karney/USFWS

 

Actually two lines or four paragraphs doesn’t really give room for most kinds of news reporting other than what Neiman is now calling ‘solutions’ reporting, which includes not only why but how can we fix/solve/ resolve/become engaged in the story or its outcome.

This ‘solutions reporting’ kind of journalism is something we tried 2 decades ago at our award-winning environmental magazine Buzzworm. Not wanting to leave readers sad or discouraged at the end of our (ahem) 2500 – 5000 word articles replete with beautiful photography to entice our readers into our written coverage, we included what any reader, even you, could do to make a difference in the issue. It became a popular and engaging form of environmental journalism.

By the end of our run, most major daily newspapers had an ‘environment beat’ as well as a weekly section devoted to coverage of the issues.  Phil Shabecoff, in his article on the environmental beat for the Neiman Foundation backs up my experiential impression (Thanks, Phil, great article). Data gathered by the Pew Trust’s Excellence in Journalism and reported in the Columbia Journalism Review noted environmental stories were less than 1% of the entire mainstream news coverage.

Granted, major dailies do cover bits of our environment on their websites, yet much of these issues are still covered only in niche readerships – one must find it and click on it, rather than have it thrust into in plain view on a headlines page.  Nonetheless, bother to click on today’s Environment page at The New York Times, and the first 6 headlines should give you pause if not a chill or two: To wit: 2013 one of the warmest years on record( no, really!); bee deaths appear to be from a virus that rapidly mutates to tobacco and soy as well (gasp, a world without cigarettes or tofu or beef feed); a new leak at a Japanese nuclear reactor; and our 30-year-old war against the killing of rhinos seems to be lost.  That’s all above the scroll, too.

Of course, I applaud these news outlets that do provide coverage; I just wish it were part of the daily diet of headline importance at the main page, especially in America.  Apparently the Pew study, too, noted that the average reader is still not being served a daily offering of news on the health of our life-sustaining habitat news. I put it this way, as most ask me “why” when I mention I have devoted my professional writing-life to covering the environment. The ‘life-sustaining habitat’ part sometimes gets their attention while the ‘environment’ does not.

And I marvel at how much is not said on the daily local evening news, where weather events are often covered as breaking news. I’m told some local weathercasters would like to include the connections of weather to environment, climate change, air and water quality, but that it seems to just not go with the rapid one-line flow of crime, business corruption, traffic and sports, and as such are told to stick to weather, as it is the main reason people even bother to tune in to local broadcast news anymore.

And this is the point: as long as issues of our habitat are not placed in front of us on a daily basis, we reside in silent ignorance of the consequences for our only home and life-sustaining Earth, until the day dawns that we jump from crisis to crisis, wondering how we got here.

I’ll put another picture here, in the hope that you’ll scroll down to read the last of this missive. . . .

 

© Gary Stoltz/USFWS

© Gary Stoltz/USFWS

 

Is an extreme weather-event news? Yes. Should we ask ‘Why’ there seem to be so many of them these last few years? Yes, if we want to have a hope of responding intelligently in the years to come, whether locally or globally.

Is the loss and change of our habitat’s biodiversity globally news that we might connect to our local habitats with good reporting? Yes, as such loss portends effects everyone’s well-being. Not only should we ask why, but doing so an opportunity to inform on the consequences able to be anticipated and thus met. Biodiversity loss is ultimately a loss of quality of life story as any habitat crisis story is (such as the polluted W, Virginia water crisis story last week), but it is also an economic story, a business story, a crime story and a social equity story. And it’s something we can take action on, locally as well as internationally. Many of our large predators and vast tracks of wilderness would be long gone if those somewhere else in the world had not been informed and raised their voices in care and concern.

Why questions can beget understanding; sometimes it takes more than 4 paragraphs or the first couple of lines if I’ve put a photo at the top to draw you in. Considering the care of our only habitat  — the only one we have and which sustains our life — is perhaps the most important story.

Why?

For it is our life-support system.  If it’s in our daily view, it’s thus able to be among our heart-felt considerations of what is important to us and to our children today and tomorrow. Then we have time to ask why questions and to take good, life-sustaining actions.

 

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We don’t know what our own habitat is…

Sir David Attenborough

BBC 16 Dec 2013

 

This off-the-cuff observation, in the midst of a simple radio conversation on BBC today, startled me.

Is it possible that we, in walking through the moments of our lives, do not recognize or ‘know’ our own habitat? This ecosphere of life-giving oxygen, those mountains, that river of water, this bit of nourishment from some plot of dirt?  

Is it possible we suffer from habitat illiteracy – can you read the sky and the wind for on-coming weather, recognize a source of usable water, or observe the movement of wildlife to note puzzling changes?

Being a 3rd generation native of this area of the Rockies, where the prairie meets mountains, and raised by a woman born in the late 1800s whose survival and well-being depended on reading the land and weather, I too taught my children to read the beautiful, huge blue sky here. We pay attention to see, to smell, to feel when snow is in the air and whether it’s a northern ice (and thus cold) scent or a heavy damp one (and thus a deep, heavy snow requiring extra food in the pantry) on the way. I soothed my children with knowledge of when a cloud portended hail rather than tornado weather and which way it was blowing in order that they feel safe at Home in our world and empowered to be a part of it. We see how the prairie Blue Jays have come to inhabit our backyard rather than the foothills variety and that summer’s doves now stay too long (and thus get caught by heavier snows than they are meant for) — puzzling changes in territory and timing we can only presume come from changes in climate and habitat needs.

Reading the weather, the sky, our habitat are essential tools. For we need them to feel at home here on Earth and with earth’s vital resources that support our very life.

We are not unique; so many I know bring their own weather/habitat knowledge with them when they make a new home in a new territory as well. And thus learning and natural evolution take place; yes, it really can be 10-below for a week here and yes, power can go out.

But Sir David speaks of a more profound change:

We don’t know what our own habitat is  . . .

Have a majority of us, like the comic Jetsons of the 1960s, become used to punching a button and food is shoved into our mouths? (Let’s not forget that poor family had to wear helmets for life-giving oxygen; let us hope that is not our future here on Earth.)

Sir David went on to mention the moors and forests of the U.K., every inch of which, of course, are transformed by man’s hand over centuries save, he noted whimsically, a few tops of peaks in Scotland.

Here in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world many of us are lucky enough to see wilderness, where we can see an ‘original’ habitat of man, whether temperate rainforest in British Columbia or parts of the Amazon and here in the Rockies —except that in many cases, the wilderness managed to be preserved is the edge of our habitat, a remnant of land from which man could not carve out a 4-season living, like at the tops of our Eagle’s Nest Wilderness of 13,000 and 14,000 feet, and thus left it to remain wilderness.

We do not know what our own habitat is…

Sir David did mention that we might look upon glass and steel, buildings and tarmack, as our habitat — and if so, he said, that is very distressing. Indeed we are told that a majority of the world’s population now lives in cities. And of course, that is a mixed blessing: with more urban living, more land is able to return to wild, as noted in a previous post (Re*Wilding);  yet with more people, especially our children, living in a city-bound alienation from our Earth, we become dangerous and sad. We suffer both a habitat illiteracy, and a sense of alienation from our natural cradle that gives us water, air, food, life.

The remedy? Take a moment outside. Reconnect to your habitat: notice the sky and read the wind; gaze at your water source and feel grateful it’s even there; consider what the wildlife (surely there is some near you even if a humble pigeon or squirrel) had for their breakfast. And then look to the horizon . . . and think about home. The Earth. Your habitat.

What is your habitat, really? It’s still there, beyond the glass and steel.

And your life-force, maybe even your soul within you, knows you, me, we all need it more than we might want to admit.

 

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Make a wish… what would it be?

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For me, it would be to create and foster a Culture of Care for the Earth, moving humankind out of this age that is a culture of consuming the Earth. It would be the end of the Age of Earth as merely Resource for man’s industrial progress and the Beginning of an Age of Tending the Earth in recognizing it is our only habitat home and its resources and life simply amazing in the grand scheme of things. Like when viewed from space.

That’s my wish: inspiring everyone possible to leave behind the old and grey, smoke and churning of toxins that is the Normal now and taking real steps forward into seeing and working with the Earth as the miracle it is.

Progress is great; can’t we now do it without polluting? A Culture of Care would find the solution to do that.

Money that comes from progress, development in nations, growing economies — these are all great especially as they help to feed the hungry, support literacy and open our eyes to our common heart as a species. A Culture of Care rather than our current Culture of Consumption would create the solutions to achieve all these while working in partnership with what we have here on Earth, rather than be based on destroying what we have.

A home planet where we keep in conservation the original models, areas of land and ocean habitat sufficient to resolve the damage already done to the environment as an intricate web, allowing us a ‘back up’ in case of human mistake, this too is possible when progress and daily living now is based on a Culture of Care.

We have the solutions needed for this; what we need is a change of heart and a change of ‘bottom line’; it’s based by living a Culture of Care for our Earth-home.

Everyone of you has a role to play and a position of power to use in shifting us toward this new paradigm.

It starts inside and is revealed in your actions, large and small, but now.

We do engage the Earth, our home and habitat, differently if we see it as a miracle.

That’s my wish for today.

What’s yours?

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Picture

Historical photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, USA

We, none of us, ever know when we are living in the moment that will be pointed to in time to come as the defining moment.

 

We might have a vague feeling that our daily lives are, to borrow from 20th C history, similar to the days of living in the ‘tinderbox of Europe’ or the last days of the Belle Epoch. But we don’t know until the War to End All Wars has come and gone and we are on the other side of it, that we were on a precipice, having ‘lived’ through the ravages history creates in our lives, whether in families or in nations or in the world wholly.  Surely then, as now, there were warning voices for decades before such large-scale changes that made “history” took place. And surely then, as now, the people hearing them heeded or ignored, worried and debated, and no doubt felt too small to do much of anything to change the forces of such global change.

I feel strongly that this, too, is one of those times. In observing all the evidence discovered, reported on and written about during my own long career as a conservation journalist, these last 30 years reveal all the signs of warnings, worries, and moments of opportunities gone unheeded by us in meeting the imbalance  our industrial society has pressed upon our natural Home and Habitat.

At my personal website  elizabethdarby.com, I was going to write about volcanoes and whether they are good or bad for climate change  . . . but I found the geologic and atmospheric research so profoundly sad and the amount we now know about the Earth’s natural forces so profoundly amazing, that I instead resolved to look for good, for change, for a moment of brilliance in environmental solutions rather than just more sad, bad news.

After decades of writing about the environment, the wilderness, the Land and loss of wildlife, reporting on such omni-disasters takes its toll on the soul;  constantly ringing alarm bells make one as welcome as the original Pandora. A bit — actually a lot — of news that speaks to human creativity and resolve in meeting and solving our challenges is badly needed.

 

I have in mind an adjunct project to this Earth: Sacred/Possession book and curriculum I’m working on which is to create a new environmental journal to be titled Re/Solve. It will focus on solutions — to conservation disasters, micro- and macro-shambles occurring, whether in village, city, valley, wilderness or range— offering not just the small and mostly insufficient actions offered elsewhere, but rather real, simple and successful solutions. And the challenge is how to reach the 2/3 of the world that is without internet access to provide these simple now solutions that can be undertaken at the family and village level

And in setting out on this course, I found this recent Ted talk by Allan Savory. linked below . . .

 

Ironically, I met Allan Savory over 25 years ago — when as a young staff reporter for Newsweek, I was trying to change national journalism from within to create  a ‘news-beat’ on environmental and conservation issues, and on environment as national (and international) security. It hadn’t really been done at the national scale in the late 1970s and early 1980s and certainly not by a female journalist back then as it was still a man’s domain, this environmental reporting stuff.

In attempting this, I relentlessly sent ‘environmental’ stories to my beleaguered and patient editors at Newsweek, Allan being among the many. While I wrote 5,000 word articles on the complex emerging environmental issues, my editors dutifully reworked them into 750-word boxed features, save for drought and desertification of our nation’s agricultural lands. For that we achieved an award-winning cover article and I an early reporting award.

Allan had recently emigrated from Zimbabwe and was working on the damaged and desertified rangelands of my native Rocky Mountain West. His ideas for ending desertification of rangelands were shocking at the time – more livestock, not less — but I watched as his calm insistence in hotel conference rooms and meeting halls, small town by small town, won over ranchers throughout the Intermountain West.

Now I see here that Allan has an idea — a brilliance based on his life’s very important work — that will no doubt prove to be an even more important answer to climate change, writ global.

He offers an approach, a solution, a something regions, localities, individuals and nations can do. And his calm insistence that he is profoundly right demonstrates the kind of resolve I hope to have grace the content of my dream project of Re/Solve.

Take time to absorb this great solution, as nearly a million others watching TED already have… For Allan, his talk represents a lot of years of work. Thank you for your gracious persistence, Allan!

 

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“All cultures through all time have constantly been engaged in a dance with new possibilities of life.”

Wade Davis
Photographer, Ethnographer, National Geographic “Explorer in Residence”

Please see his appeal on the wilderness of northern Canada —

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