Caring About Two Things at the Same Time
I had a different newsletter in the works yesterday, but I went to hear the former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Dr. Dianne Saxe, speak and it threw me into a tizzy all day. The reason: DISJUNCTION. Or, how to function with disjunction, which just makes me think of this.
Disjunction is at the heart of the climate crisis. Everything is dire and hopeful at the same time. But when the extremes are too extreme, it can throw you into a spin. Dr. Saxe told us about being in a room full of climate scientists at the COP international climate summit when it was revealed that the top three metres of the melting permafrost contained three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere already, and hadn't even been factored into the latest report. The crowd went silent. Our small breakfast crowd in Toronto went a little bit silent, too. Though Dr. Saxe went on to trace some hopeful arcs in her talk, giving eloquent voice to where to put our climate mojo, the disjunction had set in. And for me, disjunction can sometimes make it hard to function. I get emo lethargic, like I wish I was an extra in The Crow with mussed hair, and not a person using Microsoft Outlook eating salad out of a glass container. Actually, my hair is mussed regardless.
All day, high-emotion thoughts rattled around in brain. It’s tricky to juggle client work, my kids’ school fun fair, the Raptors, and the impending sink to source-ification of the entire permafrost at the same time. One of these things is not like the other. (I'm on a vintage kids tunes vibe today! Apologies for the earworms). It makes me feel wobbly. Like I’m drunk and no one knows it, and I’m doing a really good job looking OK on the dance floor, but I’m dead tired, and when I hit my bed I’ll sleep like a brick that drank too much tequila.
Eventually the disjunction dissipates (a bit), and I marvel at the mental fortitude of people like Dr. Saxe, who have to talk about this stuff four times a day, and then eat croissants and make small talk and move about in the world like normal, functioning humans.
ISN'T THIS NEWSLETTER IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY AND HOPEFUL AS HECK?
I know. Yes, it is! And I think that’s the key to staving off the disjunction. You can go fairly effing dark and people will go there with you. AS LONG AS YOU GIVE THEM A BIT OF HOPE AND ACTIONABILITY. And if I were to critique our former watchdog head, my criticisms would lie here: You have to paint the best, most pragmatic and actionably relatable picture. And hers was a little Bob Ross by way of your blindfolded Aunt Gertie. If you don't paint a Mary Poppins-like picture for people to jump into, no one will do anything. And so many of us are ready to jump!
This is why that Green New Deal video narrated by AOC was shared a million bajillion times. It paints a path forward. It doesn’t tell you that everything is going to be great, but it gives you a viable, holistic way to live and grow. Dr. Saxe did provide some great hope and eloquent, positive alternatives. I think it was just all in the delivery. Hardened climate types often forget that the information that they’ve spent years slowly internalizing can be SHOCKING to the system for people just learning about it. As a result, people were permafrosted by the time she got to the beauty of a world of "complete communities." Here are some great things she said:
We had really good lives in smaller homes. We can do that again.
Reducing the use of fossil fuels WILL make our lives better. There’s a lot of benefit that we get when we go in that direction.
On Hope: We look at the facts, which are pretty grim, and then we look at each other and figure out how to take action.
And on the practical level, when people ask, what can I do right now?
Reduce your footprint by 5%
Get ready for wilder and weirder weather
Make crazy art to get people to care and take action (Just kidding, this one’s me).
I TRY TO CO-OPT whatever people are interested in toward my own climate goals wherever I can. Still hoping this one will catch on: