Live! Laugh! Die!
pathos plus joy = healthful reality
Warning: lil bit of climate gloom.
This post is inspired by J, a pen pal met through this newsletter who is grappling with the weight of eco-anxiety and what to do as a well-resourced person, already working on climate, who wants to level the eff up.
I found our correspondence incredibly rich, because even as I go about the rest of my life, listening to the hilarious musings of my children and their friends, or reading a feature about Amy Schumer, or signing up for trombone lessons, there’s a part of my brain that is always doing like J — flipping the eco-emotions around in my brain, noting them, even as they don’t overwhelm the way they once did.
One of the things J and I wrestled with was how to not fall into a sea of despair from the news. He isn’t a fan of the “just don’t read the news” argument and neither am I, not least because I wouldn’t be able to do my job. But there’s a right amount. A just enough to know what’s going on, and not so much that you turn into an ostrich, unless you get to have a cute feathery butt.
His email came at a moment when I found myself going deep on the latest methane reports, which are bad. For years, I’ve been mildly obsessed with methane, the less popular but much more potent kid at the greenhouse gas table. The most frightening thing about methane is what we don’t know — our measurements are patchy at best, and scientists are uncertain as to how and when the feedback loops will occur. Feedback loops themselves are a feedback loop for me (recursive much?), ever since I learned about the albedo effect from a favourite environmental science prof in 2014. The short of it: Methane feedback loops would blow our carbon budget in an instant. Where other people wake up from nightmares of forgetting to turn in an assignment or giving speeches naked (really, would this be that bad?), it’s midnight methane that gets me.
So what’s the solution? To my mind, there are two: Toplines and bottom lines.
Don’t read all the methane articles, Sarah! Glean what you need from the toplines, and skip the Nature papers. I know our methane measurement is poor. Spending two hours reading a study on just how poor does nothing to empower me to help, and is time I could better spend doing my part to bring down emissions, or singing along to slightly NSFW pop songs with my daughter.
When I find myself falling into a data spiral, I stop. I know enough to hold forth in a dinner party methane convo (that will never occur) and if I’m not able to devote time to helping on this issue, further gaseous reading is just … not useful.
The Bottom Line
The worst that could happen is that all of this ceases to exist. It’s a weird thought, to be sure, but not an altogether horrid thing to allow your brain to entertain — not because we want to go dark, but because acknowledging the possibility of an end can be a release. I say this not to be gloomist, but instead to find peace. And if you imagine an old Jewish man sitting on a bench in Miami Beach, shrugging as he delivers some variation on this ‘We die, so nu?” aphorism, it adds a bit of pastel cheer. If we cannot laugh, we’ll cry. Or, Live Laugh Die?
Certain cultures have always held life and death very close, interrogating both with humor and curiosity and beauty. Others do not. Which is unfortunate, because it’s the fear of death that gives it that debilitating power.
Of course, the counter to this is that it is a privilege to even entertain this range of thought, from the comfort of a life where a worsening climate’s effects on me are not as dire as they are for so many.
But this is merely the climate spin on wrestling with the unpredictability of our tenuous perch here. We may manage, by magic and perseverance and no small amount of industrial policy and carbon pricing and jazz hands, to winnow our emissions down. And the methane feedback loops may get us yet. But the response to this vague possibility of nogoodverybad is to acknowledge it so we can run at the things we can change, with the energy that said acknowledgement inspires.
Of course, this is my highly unscientific recipe. Read Britt, talk to all the humans who help in this capacity, and avail yourself of your close ones to work through your climate emotions. And thank you, J, for inspiring this discourse.
This planet: Balancing pain and purpose
How do you avoid the stories you need to avoid so you can work toward the wins? Let me know!
Last planet: V is for victory!
Thanks for all your lovely notes. Savour the wins. Thank you, Bill, for your artivism, which I love.
We will have to Zoom sometime in the near or distant future when we can talk, show and be funny together whilst we spread the seeds of peace, love and understanding. Yep, I just said that, which dates me. I’m 77 and finally I feel I’m just getting started at not only abiding by those three tenants but also through my art forms ( visual, audial, words, movement and gardening) propagandizing them.
Was on a fantastic panel with some ace climate communicators for NYC Climate Week. You can watch it here. I may or may not have lipstick on my nose the entire time.
Got to go on A Matter of Degrees, the podcast of two amazing ladies, Dr. Katherine Wilkinson and my colleague, Dr. Leah Stokes. It’s the first of a three-part series on what you can do. No lipstick this time, but I do go on about homemade lip balm at length.
HFC CU Later! A win. And something about the Kigali Amendment always makes me think of Carmen Sandiego, equal parts global unity and spy mystery.
Sign up for the next cohort of Talk Climate to Me! It’s full of comics and dumb jokes and sisterhood and the fiercest good energy you will ever encounter!
I feel like I haven’t talked about heat pumps enough lately. Heat Pumps! If you’re in Toronto, call Richard. That is all.
So so so fun.
Thank you for reading! I value your feedback and insights always. Have a beautiful, restful, empowering weekend!