When I got home the other day from work, I went inside, peeled off the work clothes, put on some shorts and a T-shirt and wandered around outside.
Late February in Pittsburgh. That ‘Chinese hoax’ is feeling mighty mild if you ask me.
And it’s been like this all month.
It seems that for the last few years, every winter is warmer and with less snow. So far this year, we’ve had a little over five inches of the white stuff for the entire year and nothing approaching a significant snowfall.
“Denmark has had its warmest January on record, with an average daytime high of 5.4 degrees Celsius (42 Fahrenheit). This eclipsed the previous record of exactly 5C (41F).
“In the past 30 years, January has become 1.6 degrees warmer — and this year, the country has had no snow and very few frosts.
“Similarly, Norway had its warmest January day on record with a high of 19C (66F) in the village of Sunndalsora on January 2 — a massive 25 degrees above average.
“Even the Scottish highlands recorded their hottest December day in 70 years. A weather phenomenon known as the Foehn effect caused temperatures to soar to 16.8C (62F) at 03:00 GMT in northern Scotland.
“Elsewhere, Moscow had its warmest December in 133 years, notching up its warmest day for that month in the process with a high of 5.6C (42F) on December 18. December’s weather was so mild that authorities were forced to bring in artificial snow for the festive period.”
Norway’s skiing industry is gasping for air. Ditto Austria, Switzerland and France.
It’s much the same all around the Northern Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the Southern Hemisphere, where it is summer, is broiling with record temps throughout.
Up here, trees are budding, flowers are poking up through the soil, and the backyard animals are confused. A plant in my koi pond has continued to thrive underwater during the winter.
Nobody talks much about it. The climate deniers don’t want to bring attention to it and the climate believers are too worried to try to convince them otherwise. A lot of people are pretending this isn’t happening and many people just seem to think this winter is a bit odd, but hey, why not enjoy it?
Gradually, the pressure on the extraction of natural resources and the loss of arable land will push the world’s economies to the brink if the new Coronavirus doesn’t get us there first.
For those that do notice and understand why these things are happening, a new kind of anxiety is finding its way into the offices of therapists: eco- or climate anxiety. And the bad news is, the more you learn about what is happening to our world, the worse the anxiety gets. Perhaps the most comforting thing to me about it, is that I stand a fair chance of being dead before things really get bad.
But then I worry about my adult children.
And then there’s the reinforcing loop of inaction. Despite all we know, despite all the marches and speeches and demands, we are now and will continue to pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we ever have before. In reality, governments and businesses aren’t doing a damn thing and, most likely, won’t.
Look, we got the world we asked for in many ways. For centuries we collectively befouled out planet without a care to long term effects. Only in the 1970s did it seem we learned enough to politely ask the power structure to do something about it. The power structure politely declined while pointing out that all the ‘stuff’ of modern life and rising living standards was predicated on energy extraction and the resulting after-effects of it’s uses.
So, we kicked the can down the road and hoped for technology to save us. Now there is no room to kick the can any longer and it’s likely too late anyway. People scream for solutions without understanding that some issues become intractable and there are no longer any solutions. Real life and the planet are not part of some movie script. Sometimes there are no happy endings. Sometimes we must eat the shit sandwich and it kills us.
So, while you enjoy the early spring with the daffodils in February, the balmy winters and the extended falls, give a thought to the seasons of your youth and remember them fondly, for they are gone forever.
So when one stops on the street to exclaim ‘lovely weather we’re having for this time of year,’ I find it hard to hear anything but a harbinger of doom.
Now that climate disaster news has moved into the (American) mainstream media, a few caveats are in order.
First, the studies will be soft-pedaled to a degree. If you would read them, and the raw data associated with them, you would get the whole, horrible message. But newspapers and other media in the US can’t go doomer at this point. The problem, as always, is people believe there are solutions to every problem and demand them in articles about climate change. If a solution is not included, it will be dismissed by most readers.
Second, in general, people don’t want to believe they and their world are doomed. If they actually did buy off on it, wouldn’t you think many people would cash in their assets, quit their jobs, stop buying all the ridiculous shit that fuels our retail economy and essentially, check out on capitalism? Do you understand what that would do to the markets and the fortunes of those titans of industry who depend on the worker bees to produce and consume?
By the time you see total honesty about climate disaster in the media, someone you know personally is probably already starving or dead from a climate disaster. And even then, you’ll have Fox News blaming people for waiting around for a government handout rather than stalking the neighborhood for dogs and cats to shoot. After all, dem’s good eatin’ when you’re starving? Ain’t that right Kilmeade?
In any case, the fact that the major media is allowing progressively more frightful news, however its couched, into the information sphere, is and will continue contributing to more cases of ‘eco-anxiety’ (ow whatever they’re calling it this week), which is the fastest growing field of psychology.
I’ve even brought it up with my quasi-conservative (likes Trump on Facebook) psychologist myself. I don’t quite remember how we got on the subject, but I wanted to back away from it, but she wanted to know more. I really didn’t want to open her eyes (if that’s possible) since she has a nine-year-old daughter, but remembering that she is a pro-life Trump lover, I decided to let curiosity kill the cat.
I gave her two names to Google: Jem Bendell and Guy McPherson. I told her between the two of them, you’ll get a good introduction to, um, this ‘issue.’
I see her again tomorrow. I wonder how far down the rabbit hole she went?
The doomer groups on Facebook that I’m a member have been talking about this more and more: how do we continue on knowing what we know. As you can imagine, the answer is unique to every person. I’ve said that, in a large part, my own mental illness/personality disorder has provided a shield of sorts from emotional crash and burns. Basically, when you’ve had enough trauma in your life, something like the end of the world doesn’t seem so bad, especially when you’re my age. And besides, being something of a misanthrope, I’d like to like long enough to see Jeff Bezos’ drown in his limousine trying to escape a inundated Seattle.
Then I have no problem going with a smile on my face.
But it’s only when I turn to that other side of me – the sensitive nice guy who appreciates art and beauty, that my iron helmet of denial cracks. When I hear a particularly beautiful piece of music or see a painting or remember a scene from a musical it all is too much. We did create so much beauty, well, one part of our community did. And all these wonderful books, movies, plays, paintings and music will be gone, perhaps consigned to the memories of a handpicked group of survivors, ala ‘Fahrenheit 451.’
How could the same race create such beauty and be stupid and greedy enough to destroy the ecosystem that housed these works? It’s enough to cast my soul into a deep melancholy.
Shrinks will be boning up on treating a different kind of grief if they aren’t already. Grief will be the major issue of our time.
The question then becomes: how does one soak in the beauty that still exists without going to pieces? I have no answer to that. All I know is that we only have so much more time to experience the best of humankind and nature. I want to have some memories playing in my head when I go.
In some respects, going to Key West is akin to traveling to the edge of the American universe and taking a good look at the future – and it’s not bright.
I’ll spare you the geography lesson, but suffice it to say we are dealing with an isolated island community that has been pumped up almost solely by tourist dollars. It is also a community that can only be supplied by road (only one), and, to much lesser extent, by air and sea. If Key West had to depend solely on air and sea replenishment, it would probably last about two weeks.
It is hot there in October and very humid too – much too much for me. I had hoped that there would be some moderating in temperature, but there wasn’t. Daytime highs were 87-92 not counting the real feel which was more like 91-99. Nighttime lows were in the mid to high 70s. Humidity generally was around 60% in the daytime hours. Without air conditioning, this place also curls up and dies.
The town itself is fighting a losing war on two fronts – culturally and environmentally. First, culturally. Key West is, if we are to be honest, a giant tourist trap that is fighting a rear guard action to maintain it’s historic charm. The famous Duval Street has, in the past few years, been likened to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street with the exceptions of the lack of world class restaurants and the proliferation of chintzy souvenir shops.
There have been some efforts to rein in the scam artists in the last few years but overall, the street is best taken in during the day unless you want to experience a mile long fraternity drinking party at night with all that goes with it.
The charming parts of the city are holding their own and are
worth a look. Hemingway’s house, in my opinion, is well worth a look. We didn’t
go to Truman’s Winter White House – they can sell their Trump souvenirs to
someone else. There are gardens and wildlife exhibits as well. Basically, the
tourism revolves around water sports and drinking. There are only a few bona
fide land based attractions.
The old homes sit uncomfortably near new development, which is making continued infrastructure demands on the city. Also, you don’t have to set foot in the city proper, as there are a number of all inclusive resorts in Key West that have their own private beaches.
A final point – the city is for the rich. Cheap shacks and beat up trailers are going for $250k and up. Trolley drivers and other residents constantly complain they can’t afford to live in the city. Everybody is living 2-4 to a flat. The one trolley driver admits he and his wife can only afford their modest flat because she is a ‘professional,’ whatever that means.
And the apartments they live in are ugly. All of the new housing in Key West looks brutally out of place. For the sake of the people living in the old town, they can’t be seen from there.
If anything, the cost of living will get worse. Key West’s police cruisers are emblazoned with the words ‘protecting and serving paradise.’ Remembering the lyrics of the Eagles’ song ‘The Last Resort:’ “call some place paradise; kiss it goodbye.” Never truer than referring to Key West.
Strangely enough, perhaps out of sheer necessity for ‘the help,’ Key West has the rare distinction of having both a working Sears and K-Mart in town. I doubt you will find that combination anywhere else in the USA. Outside of the immediate downtown and quaint living spaces, it’s pretty much a resort town strip shopping center. I don’t believe there is one square foot of undeveloped land left in town, but I may be wrong.
This leads to the obvious – the whole thing is
unsustainable. I wonder how many people know it?
Each day I was there, the sea reminded both tourists and residents that it will reclaim their paradise soon. Flowing under the permeable limestone, the sea water (from the Atlantic or Gulf, take your pick) comes up, sometimes violently, from the storm grates in the streets all over town. Some of the streets get a little wet, some turn into un-navigable rivers. The city leaves ‘Street Closed’ signs on most street corners to make shutting down the streets easy and fast. They need to: I saw the street in front of our place go from zero to completely flooded in about 30 minutes.
The National Weather Service issues bulletins about this
phenomenon every day. It looks like this:
Minor coastal flooding is possible in portions of the FloridaKeys. The coastal flooding will be greatest around the times ofhigher high tides in the Middle and Lower Keys, but water levelswill remain high even during low tide along the Bayside of theUpper Keys. See the latest Coastal Hazard Message for additionaldetails.
And the water smells. God, does it smell. If you go to the south beaches as we did on the trolley tour, the guide will point out that these beaches, usually swarmed, are practically empty. Because it smells so bad. Why? Here’s the brief explanation from keywestislandnews.com:
That ubiquitous smell is decaying sargassum, islands of floating, brown sea algae that is piling up along the beaches of Key West, the Florida peninsula, Mexico and other Caribbean islands. Happens every summer when the winds and currents come from the south.
Except October isn’t ‘summer’ and this stuff is coming in by
the tanker load. We had just observed the beach after the city had come by with
some kind of scrapers to take as much of the sargassum off the beaches although
some remained. The water is still full of it – you can tell because it’s brown.
No one wants to swim in it because you will smell like raw sewage the rest of
When the water comes up from the drains, it has the same
smell. It makes ‘enjoying’ paradise rather difficult at times.
But the seagrass, as the locals call it, is a natural occurrence and the rest of Florida’s beaches are stocked with it as well. The real threat is the red tide which was forming off the Gulf Coast in the Tampa area when we were there. From mote.com:
Why are red tides
harmful? Many red tides produce toxic chemicals that can affect both marine
organisms and humans. … The red tide toxins can also accumulate in molluscan
filter-feeders such as oysters and clams, which can lead to neurotoxic
shellfish poisoning in people who consume contaminated shellfish.
But back to the main point – Key West is barely above sea level and the rising ocean levels will eventually overwhelm the island. Miami is experiencing the same phenomenon, perhaps worse, since they get ocean currents that Key West does not (because of the coral reefs protecting the island). Building sea walls won’t work as the salt water is coming under the foundations, through the porous limestone and up into the city. There is no way to stop it.
Fun fact: Hemingway’s home was built on what may be the most hardened bedrock-like foundation on the island and its walls are three feet thick making it practically hurricane-proof. It’s also built on the highest part of the island. All this guarantees that when the island flood, Hemingway’s home will be the last structure standing. I’m sure he would have liked that.
Another fun fact: all the sand on Key West’s beaches come
from somewhere else. There is no natural sand on the island. And the world
supply of sand is decreasing sharply.
Some other things:
We saw one large iguana on a sidewalk in Key West. When the
state of Florida declared open season on the creatures, Key West really took it
to heart, according to the local guides. The only iguanas we saw outside of
that one big one, were little baby ones here and there. The exterminators had
done a pretty thorough job which kind of saddened me because I wanted to see
more of them.
Burmese pythons and other snakes: we didn’t see any snakes
And the most important:
Insects: imagine this subtropical island surrounded by water
and there are no insects at all.
No June Bugs or ‘Palmetto Bugs,’ ants, mosquitoes or any
other flying pests.
I came ready to do battle in our rented condo. I was
mentally prepared for big bugs. There were none – not even an ant or housefly.
There was no need for DEET spray at all.
At first, it seems OK. Then when you think about it, it gets
creepy. The insect apocalypse is real and is no more evident than at Key West.
The place should be swarming with pests and it’s not. Not at all.
Of course, I could say the same thing for Florida as well
and most of the South. And this is not good.
So Key West may not be the end of the world but you can see
it from here. Despite the time and money we spent to come here and take a look,
I still feel it was worth it, even if the fun quotient was lacking. I did come
back with some nice cigars, so there’s that.
But I couldn’t help feeling sad as I left that so many of
these people who have paid so much to live in this ‘paradise’ will soon see
The whole island is unsustainable and, well, nature bats
Some rich man came and
raped the land, nobody caught ’em,
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes and, Jesus, people bought ’em
And they called it paradise, the place to be,
They watched the hazy sun sinking in the sea
I know it has been awhile since I put fingers to keys. I am
sorry but sometimes I simply cannot write more than a few paragraphs. It’s hard
for me to remember how much I loved writing, especially during my career in
journalism. Now that that’s forever over, it’s tough to write when you know
only a handful of people will ever read it.
I tried writing for Medium, but I don’t know their editors
and I would seriously question their credentials. I know what real editors are
– trained in J school, seasoned on the copy desk and on the beat – with years
of experience to do a good job. If that makes me a dinosaur, I don’t care. If
they’re going to knock down what I write for specious, unknowable reasons, it’s
no better than writing for a blog no one reads. They seem to have a star system
there and I won’t abide by it.
Another example of my increasing fuddy duddy-ism is an article
I read this morning in the NY Times (who did not allow comments on which I
find infuriating). The article was on the crass morons who attempt to video
classical concerts with their phones. This line especially was infuriating:
“Some observers suggest that the restrictions on audience
behavior are snobbish, elitist, or even manifestations of white privilege.”
Well, some observers are wrong. It seems like certain ‘weapon-words’
can now be wielded at any social convention that gets in the way of spoiled
brats who insist their lack of manners of common courtesy outweigh an artist’s
desire to perform and the audience’s right to enjoy, a performance without
being interrupted by these phone-heads.
Yes, I have a smart phone. When attending an event as I did
on Broadway a few months ago, the phone is OFF and in my pocket where it remains for the entire performance. What
the Hell is so difficult about that?
I’m so done with this ‘woke’ shit. It’s weaponized for the
sake of cultural power trips and causing a backlash among the very people who
could be persuaded if they weren’t being blindsided with accusations. I’m
surprised they didn’t say manners was also an example of ‘toxic masculinity.’
Call me what you will, I don’t care anymore. Is it any
wonder I’ve withdrawn from all social organizations and become a semi-hermit? You
can’t get embroiled in this ‘holier than thou’ nonsense if you avoid it all
In the end, none of this will matter in a few years when
we’re fighting for our very survival thanks to climate change plus economic and
political upheaval. A lot of nonsense will fall by the wayside when a head of
lettuce costs $100 and arrives at the grocers once a week.
I also get amazed at people whose reactions to the upcoming
upheaval are to find arable (for now) land somewhere, but it and take up
farming. As anyone who has ever farmed will tell you, it’s not something you
can just learn from reading a ‘dummies guide to farming for societal collapse.’
It is fucking hard work and completely dependent on a climate that is going to
turn very inhospitable to American staple crops in a few years. Your crops will
also have to be guarded 24-7 for obvious reasons.
But knock yourselves out. Me? I’m buying freeze dried food
that lasts 25 years. I don’t expect to last 25 years.
I’m about to embark on what the odds say will be my last
grand vacation – a road trip to Key West. I plan on making it a semi-travelogue
to chronicle the effects of climate change on the Southern states, as well as
the, um, cultural uniqueness of the South.
There will be much to video as the South has now been hit
with a flash drought and Florida itself is overrun with giant snakes, iguanas
falling from trees and apex predator mosquitos. Key West itself is suffering
from the same phenomenon afflicting Miami – sea water is seeping through the
limestone the city sits on and coming up through the sewers and drains. The
entire area along the Atlantic coast to the Keys is living on borrowed time,
hence I have named this the ‘Say Goodbye to Florida Tour.’
It has also caused the usual nostalgia I get when
replicating (somewhat) family vacations from the 70s and previous trips to
visit a friend living in Florida in the 90s. I expect to find a totally
different state now.
The family vacations were on the other side of the state –
to what was a sleepy hamlet named Holiday, about 15 miles north of St.
Petersburg. It’s now a typical Tampa Bay area suburb. I recently Google street
searched where my grandparents (whom we visited in 1971 and ’72) lived and
found the once pristine neighborhood is now shabby and run-down.
The vacations were some of the rarer fond memories of my
childhood. I used to count down the days until we left and found the idea of
exploring unknown lands exciting. In the early 70s, not all of I-75 was
complete through Tennessee, so you have to get off the interstate south of
Knoxville for a 30-mile trip down US 11. The road would be lined with desperate
tourist shops displaying large Confederate flag bath towels and other such
things. I say desperate, because these merchants knew once the interstate was
finished, so were they.
And we’d carefully make our way through Lenoir City, mindful
of the speed traps (or ‘Yankee traps’ as they were known then) as we made our
way through scenes which had not changed much since the 50s.
So much about travel, even by car, has changed. My father
would have been blown away by GPS maps that talk to you so my mother would not
have to fumble with the map and then give it to me since I was a far better
navigator than her. TripTiks from AAA helped as they were small and compact,
told you a little about the terrain you were covering (“traverses rolling hills
and pecan farms. . .”) and also marked where the known Yankee traps were
He would also be amazed that the $150 he took in cash for
the entire trip in 1971 would buy him one night in a hotel today. And who needs
cash (or traveler’s checks later on) anymore when everyone takes plastic debit
and credit cards? Wave the magic phone at a gas pump to pay for gas or at many
other places as well. Dad would thought he’d stepped into Buck Rogers
territory. But I remember how impossible it was to get a BankAmericard (Visa)
or MasterCard (Master Charge) back in the day. Dad had worked for Sears for a
decade and couldn’t even get approved for one of their charge cards.
So, you had to carry cash or traveler’s checks.
If you broke down, there was no Onstar or quick cell phone
call to AAA or your car makers’ travel program or State Farm’s roadside service
or any of that. You waited for a cop or started hiking to the next
intersection’s gas station for a tow. It was a harrowing experience and one we
don’t even think about any more.
Road side rest areas of the early 70s were absolutely
primitive by todays standards. Here and there you still found pit toilets! It
was a real hit or miss in many states and finding a clean restroom was
something you’d note for the return trip. Rarely were rest area and gas station
restrooms up to the standards of your average Pennsylvania or Ohio turnpike
rest areas of today.
Travelling the South, you’d look for Stuckey’s. Stuckey’s
are still around, sort of, never a stand alone store any more but paired with a
fast food/gas station. They were bought and sold over and over a long time ago
so those are not the Stuckey’s old people like me would remember. They had a
distinctive roof, pristine, air-conditioned interiors, clean restrooms, lots of
pop and snacks and their famous pecan rolls. You noted them on the map for
sure. There were McDonald’s but a low fewer than today. What was in season were
the old-style family restaurants where chicken fried steak and cheeseburgers
were always on the menu.
It’s so easy now. Your car’s computer tells you if there’s
to be any breakdowns (usually) and Google maps or Siri will tell you where the
nearest gas, food or anything you want is. Modern technology has taken a lot of
the adventure out of vacation travel, but this is one instance I won’t be
counted as a fuddy-duddy. I much rather appreciate the security of the smart
phone on trips even though I do miss the mom and pop roadside attractions of
As for the cultural uniqueness of the South, I am putting a
few magnetic bumper stickers on my car as magical talisman to make my trip
safer. Nowadays, the big worry traveling, especially as a Yankee in the South,
is road rage caused by Bubba taking personal offense at the Hillary Clinton
2016 bumper sticker you never quite got around to peeling off. You can see what
I did in my latest You Tube video and follow the travelogue on the Facebook
So, there you have it – a new column where I will probably lose any readers I may have picked up from the South or offended Millennial liberals of whom this Hubert Humphrey/Scoop Jackson Democrat apparently has little left in common.
Last night in the opening National Football League
bore-fest, the Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears 10-3 in front of a
standing room only crowd of 62,435 at Soldier Field in Chicago, who were, no
doubt, very tired when the game ended.
What does this have to do with climate anything?
I suppose we could add up all the carbon expended by the
cars that drove, the lights that shone and the hot dogs consumed but everyone
gets that. Putting a number on it engenders a yawn.
No, for me, the NFL season-opener, with a packed house and a
national TV audience is indicative to me that ordinary life will, of course, continue
until it can’t.
The Amazon, Central Africa and the Arctic are still burning.
Just because the news editors got bored with the story doesn’t mean the
disaster stopped. It’s just that here in the US, we have a sexier disaster
occupying our screens – Hurricane Dorian (Dorian?
What’s next, Hurricane Hortense?) which was most likely turbocharged by
climate warming although if you missed CNN’s 60 seconds with Dr. Michael Mann
you probably didn’t know that.
India and Africa continue to run out of water. The
permafrost continues to melt, and methane continues to reach Heavenward to
hasten our demise.
But the NFL Will Go On. (yes, go ahead and sing it in your
best Celine Dion accent)
I’ve been a football (US version) fan all my life. The present-day
NFL only dimly resembles the game I remember as a kid in the 70s, but I still
watch, out of habit (and rooting for the Steelers) more than anything. I used
to live and die with the results, especially of my hometown Cleveland Browns
when I was growing up, but when my adopted Pittsburgh Steelers lose, I feel
about five minutes of disappointment, shrug, and see whose on Twitter.
That’s a good thing I guess. I would chalk it up to maturity,
but I think it’s more likely the dulling of the senses from anti-deps that have
done the job. I stare at the TV when Trump is on. In my head things happen
(very bad things) but I don’t move. I look at my laptop screen – same thing. I
stare at things, I disassociate, I have that dumb thousand-mile stare so many Americans
I know what is happening with the Sixth Mass Extinction. I know what is happening right now all over the world. And yet, there it is: football on TV just like last year and the year before and the decade before and so on. In fact, the NFL celebrates 100 years of existence this year. I know it won’t go another 100 years, but it’s here again.
It’s reassuring. To me, to millions of Americans. The NFL
only cancelled two weekends of football ever – 9-11 and JFK’s assassination.
And Commissioner Pete Rozelle always regretted his decision of 1963 – the nation
needed football to heal, he said.
What might be the first sign in NFL-land and in fandom, that
something was amiss?
Well, flooding could halt games at the stadiums close to the
water. The perfect candidate would be TIAA Bank Field, the home of the
Jacksonville Jaguars. The stadium sits about 500 feet from the St. Johns River
which runs to the Atlantic. However, being Jacksonville, the rest of the league
may not notice it. Levi’s Stadium, home of the ‘Santa Clara’ 49ers, sits one
foot above sea level.
Perhaps, and just as likely, it might get so hot at the
University of Phoenix stadium where the Arizona Cardinals play, that, despite the
roof, electrical circuits could fry, and one might risk heat stroke just
walking from the blazing parking lot.
It might get too hot to play in many open-air stadiums – Los
Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, many others.
But I would say that unless and until fans start routinely
seeing games rescheduled because of weather-related events, most Americans will
sit comfortably in their chairs and dream of Super Bowls. Baseball won’t count
since it’s played in the summer. But the NFL, the acknowledged number one sport
in the USA, start turning out the lights there (power outages would do it too) and
people will finally sit up and take notice.
They’ll be mad as Hell, but they’ll take notice. Of course,
it will be way too late at that point to do anything about it.
Of course, it’s sad. Sad that until the entertainment is
interrupted most Americans won’t care. But as long as all of the usual
distractions go on while the rest of the world burns and floods, this is the
way it will be.
And when we reach that point in time in America, all Hell
will break loose.
If you’ve been following the entirety of abrupt climate change, you’ve probably been unable to turn on your computer without being hit with a story about how the issue is starting to affect people’s mental health.
I had to pause and think about it myself – how am I dealing?
I recently had a Facebook friend lecture me in a long text
about how I was probably too hip deep in all the gloom and it was affecting my
general disposition on the Internet. She also seemed to imply that I was
bringing everyone down.
Well, no doubt my climate change FB page (Approaching Oblivion – FB won’t let me change it to Last Dance because they’re stupid) has light readership – and very few comments or reactions. I ‘reacted’ to that criticism (since I’m Borderline, I tend to take it as a personal attack) by loading up the site that night with at least six pertinent bad news stories within an hour.
Well, it hit me – I could practically have done that all
And then of course, after I have my ‘reaction,’ I thought –
is this true?
Well, it’s not. Actually, her reaction was exactly what I am
aiming at. I want people to get upset. I’ve been an expert at pissing people
off all my life and now I have this moment to shine. You can’t ignore me . . .
and what’s more, I’m right.
But enough about me. I’ve done some diving into the issue
and it seems like climate angst is growing and, speaking just for the US, I
think part of it is our culture: we don’t know how to handle terminal bad news.
In America, our privilege of wealth and, God I hate this
term, ‘exceptionalism,’ has saddled our people with the expectation that things
should always get better and that we will ultimately be protected from long
And psychiatry is marshalling all it’s resources to make
a lot of money off help those in need of comfort by prescribing a
billion more pills suggesting philosophies that my help people deal with
their impending doom.
Now, for God’s sakes, DON’T READ IT, unless you want to know what Wittgenstein and Heidegger said about similar issues. If you want to know about the ‘great philosophers’ all you need is the same education I got, from Monty Python.
There are only two paragraphs that get to the heart of the
matter and, as usual, psychologists, being great at burying their ledes (yes,
that is how it is spelled in journalism, a far more reputable profession),
finally got round to the point at the end:
It also announces, I
now add, the shattering of metaphysical illusions of earth’s permanence and
indestructability. The human way of being cannot survive the impending
homelessness with which climate change threatens us, a prospect so horrifying
that people turn away from it altogether, thereby evading the threat and
abandoning the search for solutions. (Such apocalyptic homelessness is
foreshadowed concretely in the destruction of individual homes and other
buildings by massive storms, floods, wildfires and other manifestations of
Well, yes. A better translation for those of us who didn’t
major in psychology in university is:
‘obvious weather anomalies show us we are ultimately fucked.’ (I like big
words too, but brevity, man, brevity!)
(all emphasis mine) What
can help us face up to the horrors with which climate change threatens us? I
suggest a form of dwelling with one another that I call emotional dwelling (Stolorow & Atwood, 2018), an active,
engaged, participatory comportment that I have recommended for the therapeutic approach to emotional trauma.
In dwelling, one leans into the other’s
emotional pain and participates in it. The language that one uses to
address another’s experience of trauma meets the trauma head-on, articulating
the unbearable and the unendurable, saying the unsayable, unmitigated by any efforts to soothe, comfort, encourage or reassure
— such efforts invariably being experienced by the other as a turning away from
the experience of trauma. In order to tackle the overwhelming perils of climate
change we must include in our dwelling on earth an emotional dwelling with one
another that renders shared apocalyptic
anxiety more tolerable.
This is the kind of nonsense you can expect if you seek
psychiatric attention for your climate angst.
The translation into common language is: misery loves company.
There now, wasn’t that simple?
Perhaps, then, the healthiest response to the end of human
life on earth as we know it, is to invite your best friends over for an end of
the world party and reminisce about past glories while getting absolutely
shitfaced on the alcohol of your choice until your ‘dwelling’ is swept away by a flood or destroyed by a tornado see: Luxembourg.
So, there’s the plan. Don’t we all feel better now?
I find I have less time or patience with the nonsense (celebrity
news) being peddled by mainstream news sources. I am spending more time in
climate groups on Facebook (and less time on other parts of Facebook) and
My main area of research is the psychological effects of
climate change. There’s a lot of nonsense surrounding that subject as well.
I fear that Big Psych is looking at this as a new practice
field, or, if you will, a new (short-lived as it may be) revenue stream as if
they need one in a nation overtaken by neurosis of all kinds.
This will lead toward a kind of exploitation where
therapists will go looking for climate news explanations for symptoms that may
have nothing to do with the problem presenting. Suggesting, however, could make
it so. That is why I have, as of yet, held back on talking to this with my
therapist. I think for now, I will deal with it by myself.
Despite the Gallup poll numbers given in the story above, I
do not think that climate psychosis is a major problem in this country yet. There
are too many competing neurosis and conditions right now and most people in the
US just don’t see it yet. I think in many cases; the poll questions can lead
the subject: ‘should I be worried about this? Oh yes, I guess I should; being a
good and smart person and all.’
When the realization hits, the sudden 20% spike in grocery
prices, the overnight shortages of vegetables and grains, regional power failures
lasting days, etc., there will be an anxiety-fueled rush to the shrinks, to the
liquor cabinets, the opiate stash, whatever. It’s what Americans do, and I expect
It is imperative for those of us who are on the climate sites
on FB and Reddit to be there for these people when the time comes. I have made
the statement on these groups not to shame these people now or make them feel
ignorant – because when they need a shoulder to cry on they won’t come to you.
The second imperative, and perhaps harder when the time
comes, is to resist the temptation to wrap one’s arms around these poor folks
and say ‘there, there, we’re all doomed together.’ One part of me says ‘what do
they expect to be told – take out a 30-year mortgage, happy days are here again?’
Are we supposed to offer some form of ‘hopium?’
Perhaps the best thing is to treat the coming shattered
societal walking wounded with hugs and silence. If they have anything to say,
let them say it. If they have questions, be honest, but not cruel. The urge
will be to say, ‘I told you so,’ but at that point, it will solve little.
And what will psychology say to these people that would help
in any way? ‘Here’s a pill?’ ‘Practice mindfulness? Yoga? Dialectical Behavioral
Therapy? Make sure you get enough sleep and exercise, etc.’
There will probably be a stage for all of this soul searching
to go down. How long the desperate search for a mental ‘fix’ will last, I do
not know – probably until the water shortages hit. Then I suppose most people
will leave the psychologists to their DSM V’s and head for the gun stores.
To paraphrase Marley’s ghost, when asked by Scrooge to speak
comfort to him, I must give his same reply “I have none to give.”
For now, we live in a twilight world; still filled with the modern conveniences and electronic toys. A hologram of fading civility and civilization even now fraying at the edges. The best advice I can give anyone right now is find your community, enjoy every day, and keep looking at the skies.