Just how bad is our denial? A reflection on the human species

Posted December 6th, 2011 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Dealing with reality is an essential survival skill. Divorce yourself too much from it, you have a problem. Any species needs to be super-aware of its habitat, the state its in, what’s happening to it – is it healthy, threatened, stable, unstable?

Am I in danger?

Reality: The BP Macondo oil drilling site in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last year, is still leaking. It’s leaking a lot! And what this leak may be telling us is very bad news. [see: http://www.flickr.com//photos/healthygulf/sets/72157627348573605/show/, which goes with this webpage: http://healthygulf.org/201108201718/blog/bps-oil-drilling-disaster-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/breaking-news-birds-eye-view-grn-spots-oil-near-bps-macondo-well]

Remember when there were fears that the explosion and subsequent oil gusher could crack open the sea floor, resulting in an unstoppable oil flow into the Gulf? Remember that?

New oil seepage was discovered over the summer and researchers were able to get an exact ‘fingerprint’ to the oil in the Macondo Prospect. Said one of the engineers: “The data show that the Horn Island sample taken September 20th contains lighter hydrocarbons that normally degrade quickly. This oil looks like the original BP oil fingerprint from last summer. It’s very fresh and very toxic.” [emphasis added: read more here]

Two weeks ago this story appeared in Courthouse News: “An environmental attorney said oil is still leaking from BP’s Macondo Formation more than 16 months after the well was declared sealed. The attorney said the only explanation for fresh oil bearing the Macondo fingerprint that’s washed ashore on barrier islands is that the seafloor was damaged during the Deepwater Horizon blowout, and oil is seeping through.”

See, supposedly they have checked the well itself and engineers say it is not the source of the new oil. If it is sea floor damage, do you want to know what that means for the Gulf of Mexico?

My headline: “just how bad is our denial?” Is it really true that corporations and our political leaders, like our president, will allow this industry to continue drilling like this? Is it really true that they can be aware of what they are doing – and still do it? For profit? To keep the US economy stable? To keep oil prices down so we don’t get too upset at the gas pump?

We’re talking about survival here.

You’ve probably seen different versions of this story: Carbon Emissions Show Biggest Jump Ever Recorded.

Emissions rose 5.9 percent in 2010, according to an analysis released Sunday by the Global Carbon Project, an international collaboration of scientists tracking the numbers. Scientists with the group said the increase, a half-billion extra tons of carbon pumped into the air, was almost certainly the largest absolute jump in any year since the Industrial Revolution, and the largest percentage increase since 2003.

The increase solidified a trend of ever-rising emissions that scientists fear will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.

Well, there ya go. And the policy response, the cultural response, the faith community response, the news media response? Anybody?

Blame China again? Developing countries? We keep saying it’s their fault now. The rich West won’t commit to any drastic emissions cuts unless they do. So who is at fault?

The new figures show a continuation of a trend in which developing countries, including China and India, have surpassed the wealthy countries in their overall greenhouse emissions. In 2010, the combustion of fossil fuels and the production of cement sent more than nine billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the new analysis found, with 57 percent of that coming from developing countries.

Emissions per person, though, are still sharply higher in the wealthy countries, and those countries have been emitting greenhouse gases far longer, so they account for the bulk of the excess gases in the atmosphere. The level of carbon dioxide, the main such gas, has increased 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution.

You can’t really ask the newcomers to make the sacrifice for the world we old-timers have made, can you? Isn’t the one who made the mess responsible to clean it up?

You know, like BP in the Gulf? Yet, like the warming atmosphere, what is the price you put on the permanent destruction of the Gulf of Mexico, or the permanent altering of climate systems  all across the planet?

Here in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts just issued its first comprehensive report on how climate change will impact my state (all you nearby midwesterners and Canadians, remember these impacts really won’t stop at our borders, so you may want to have a look). The WICCI comes out of the University of Wisconsin System, a result of work from some of our best scientists. For days now I have been wondering why this isn’t all we’re talking about right now – I mean, besides the undefeated Green Bay Packers. Why does this report not merit something beyond a few headlines that are gone the very next day?

Oh right, the Koch brothers are making environmental policy right now for our state government.

Photo: U.S. Wish & Wildlife Service

Our denial is serious, friends. We are a species no longer in touch with its surroundings, no longer able to hear the danger signals all around us. Trees are migrating, spring floods are becoming an annual disaster, daffodil shoots emerge from the ground before the first winter snow, too much rain and too much dryness at the wrong times of the year plague agriculture, wetlands are disappearing, lakes are shrinking, the Great Lakes ecosystems are dying or stressed – but, hey, I got my plasma screen and my smartphone and I am wired and blissfully unaware!

If we were aware, it might just break our hearts.

For those tuned in, for those who love nature, for those who experience these intimate relationships with living forms and magnificent eco-communities within which we exist, this is a hard time. We have written before that ecological grief is becoming part of our psyches, and even a focus of work for increasing numbers of psychotherapists who see the psycho-spiritual impacts of our deteriorating world in their clients.

But there is this tender story that caught my attention a few days ago, again from the NY Times. In many ways it caught the sense of what I mean here perfectly – grief, poignancy, the sensitivity to the losses we are facing, feeling, if we are at all sensitive to what is occurring.

Savoring Bogs and Moose, Fearing They’ll Vanish as the Adirondacks Warm

Ecologist Jerry Jenkins bears witness to the changes occurring in this place he has studied and loved through much of his life.

Where a casual observer might behold diversity and continuity, he projects decades into the future and finds absence and loss.

“Nothing we see here is found at temperatures 10 degrees warmer, and very little makes it to five degrees warmer,” Mr. Jenkins said matter-of-factly on a mild fall day. “We will be in a climate that this community has never known in its history. One has to go back to world climate levels we haven’t seen in 15 million years.”

Such warming is what scientists’ temperature models forecast if significant steps are not taken, and soon, to cut carbon emissions…

A rise of 10 degrees in temperature would put the six-million-acre state park, a mix of public and private lands, in the same climate zone as the mountains of North Carolina and Georgia. So while Mr. Jenkins pursues his field studies and lectures, he also makes time to capture the present, taking some 30,000 photographs in recent years.

“Maybe it’s a baseline measurement, or maybe it’s an elegy,” Mr. Jenkins, 68, said of his photographic record of alpine flowers and mighty pines. “We may be the last generation to see the big bogs and the boreal creatures.”

Love it while you have it, because you may not have it much longer. Have you been to the Adirondacks? Have you watched the sunrise or set over those mountains, or seen the Milky Way reflected back in perfect detail on a lake as still as glass in the middle of the night? Have you canoed along its shores, listened to the migrating birds, hiked its trails? It’s unforgettable.

And in danger.

So, that’s the climate news from Wisconsin and the Adirondacks – and the oil news from the Gulf of Mexico. Frances Moore  Lappé [in her new book Ecomind] and others write that we must be careful about being so bleak, that we can create paralysis this way. Well, I understand, but I don’t think grief is necessarily disempowering. Actually, it can really put one into deep, deep connection with one’s surroundings. It can shift priorities, make some things one once thought important into trivialities. What holds significance, what one loves, emerges with painful and beautiful clarity.

It would be really nice if we could save Lake Superior, wouldn't it? Photo: Margaret Swedish

Our denial is really, really bad, perhaps lethal. But among this species that has managed to numb itself so effectively from who and what it really is are people like Jenkins and, hey, even me, who feel this in every aspect of our lives. What I do know, and others share this, including Frances Moore Lappé, is that restoring our intimate connections, healing those places where they are broken, coming back into relationship, is one of the necessary steps we need to take if we are to re-knit the torn, frayed fabric of our eco-communities. We can’t ever again make them what they were, but we can allow them to regenerate with new vibrancy and exuberance if we can stop the harm from getting any worse.

That sort of hope may not ignite a lot of enthusiasm in this culture right now, especially since it implies what for me is becoming obvious – that we cannot salvage this way of life as part of the content of that hope. The way of life that created this crisis will not get us out of it. It is we humans that have to change our way of living in this planet, this species has got to come to some sanity about what is real and what is actually occurring ecologically. I get very nervous when anyone implies that there is a way through this that won’t inconvenience us too much. That is not true, not even possible.

For hope to be real it has to rest not on believing we can salvage a destructive way of life, but in believing that human beings can change. 




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2 Responses

  1. hombredelatierra

    This is an INTERESTING take on the theme of hope. It makes a lot of sense: I think of “the courage of desperation” soldiers in WW I spoke about. Or the fearlessness bred of “having nothing left to lose”. I suspect the psychological view expressed is probably NOT universally applicable, though. What may be emotionally crushing to the point of rejection or distress in one person may act as a stimulus or goad to another personality..


  2. Jennifer Browdy

    For more inspiration, see “An Eco-Humynist Manifesto for the 21st Century” at Transition Times: http://bethechange2012.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/an-eco-humynist-manifesto-for-the-21st-century/