My delightful friend Oonagh recorded a little video for our climate education experience that explains how I felt about the climate crisis, and all the other wicked problems of the world, for most of my life. In it, she asks the $64,001 question that allows us to make the climate crisis OPP (other people’s problems): If it was really bad, wouldn’t THEY be doing something about it?
If you grew up in a place where your government, however crappy, could nonetheless be counted on to keep the lights on, this was a privileged but practical response — other people are taking care of this. I can keep making my mumblecore movies, and drawing clumsy comics, and living in my own little bubble of self-interest because if the world was heading towards global catastrophe surely people with the power and skill sets to reverse course would be on it, and would tell the likes of me what and how to change. Right?
It was only in 2015, when I went back to school to study environmental policy, that I began to realize how much I’d casually passed off as OPP due to another acronym: DSP, or the dominant social paradigm. I can’t find the research paper that actually changed my life (yes, I am really fun at parties), but this one seems to get to the same gist:
The model suggests that as one's belief in the DSP increases, their expressed concern for the environment decreases. Further, as their concern for the environment increases, their perception of necessary changes and willingness to change to achieve environmental balance will also increase.
In other words, your confidence in the technological, political, and economic dimensions of the dominant social paradigm is inversely correlated with your concern for the environment. Duh. High degree of confidence and acceptance of status quo = someone else will figure out this climate sitch = I can keep working on my interpretative dance cycle. Hey hey pas de bourée!
I know this revelation is extremely ARE YOU KIDDING ME to anyone who didn’t grow up with supreme confidence in the system, who suffered from poverty, violence, and injustice, who knew things were unequal, unfair, corrupt, racist, or just plain stupido. What I didn’t fully appreciate is that I mistook my practiced vibe of gentle societal critique, and light feelings of fish out of water otheryness (A Canadian Jew in Florida!), as not being part of the dominant social paradigm. In other words, I thought things were a little effed but generally fine, which is a perfect place to situate yourself if you want to make fun of the world’s dumdums without doing much of anything meaningful to counter them.
The other day my mom mentioned that there are many around her who just don’t think it’s that bad. And I realized it’s because they simply have bad cases of DSP. Life has always been fine for them. Things have always worked out. How is climate any different than any of the previous global ills and chills? It doesn’t seem that much worse. Clearly, climate is some other person’s problem.
So how do we counter this? Merely telling people they are privileged has a tendency to backfire (hello, all lives matter!) and make them double-down on their confirmation bias. After reading that fateful paper I remember telling my husband he wasn’t too worked up about climate because he was so much a part of the dominant social paradigm. This was a very eggheady way of getting him to think I was a total jerk, which really keeps a marriage fresh. Better, I think, to share others’ moments of awakening — of coming to the realization that we are the THEY. And that they won’t change without more than a wee bit of pressure from WE. I feel some sort of bargain basement Abbott and Costello coming on, so I’ll stop now.
When or how did you realize there was no third act deus ex machina? That the only people that can save us are...us! Tell me!
So many sweet sleepers (and awakers). Elsa made me fret that my dorveille habits were here to stay, but in a good way. I’ve read her beautiful letter a dozen times:
I have been waking up at 3:10 am since my first baby got hungry and trained me to use that “dorveille” …40 years ago… now I am 70.
From 2005 for about 13 years, it was a stormy wake up full of fury and worry.
At that time, I began studying with an informal community group called “carbon masters.” It didn’t take long to realize we were not going to be able to master this one like we had composting and recycling. The vast problems of excess carbon had already just about tipped the balance, yet very few people had any words for what was going on.
As I said, I could not settle in the night once I understood the scope of damage we were doing at exponential rates with new feedback loops being realized at every turn. I felt the power of the dark and the goings on of the world felt heavy.
I already live the life of a minimalist. Moments of it may inspire those around me to join in. Grow their own food. Put solar panels on instead of flying internationally for vacations and fun. Give up all your fossil-fueled hobbies. Stop buying stuff. But we aren’t affecting the tipping point.
So now what do I do at 3:10 am? I imagine how cleverly and intuitively young humans will adapt. It is abstract thinking for I am neither young nor wide open for adaptation. I try not to think of what my grandchildren will miss but what they will know intimately. It is all imagination and difficult, tiring work but hopeful, and I am usually back asleep by 4.
I care very much about the crisis in front of us.
Conversations with refinery worker “friends” seldom go well, but I continue to try. Conversations with strangers watching the mile-long coal train go a little better. Oh yeah, coal. We knew that sucked for the planet since the 1950s so yeah that conversation goes better.
But our inability to legislate massive change is the crevasse we are all in and it is very difficult to climb out.
My heart goes out to you, young inspired, clever mom. I hope you can feel ease amidst your awareness and give your children every opportunity to learn to think critically, freely and use their incredible imaginations for they will lead the way. As much of a cliche as that “leading the way” may be…
Some positive news: The Cheap and Easy Climate Fix That Can Cool the Planet Fast, or, Sarah is still obsessed with methane. Good piece in Bloomberg.
I’m working on a bigger piece on the gas stove PR campaign, but I ripped mine out in a fit of anger when I learned about this last year. Samantha Bee also covers it in a video: Why Your Gas Stove is Killing You.
Online talk: Women in Climate Policy. I’ve been organizing this talk as an offshoot of Talk Climate to Me. It’s about the importance of having women at the table in climate policy decision-making, and we have a dream team of panelists. PLEASE COME! (All our experts are in Canada, but it is relevant wherever you are). Register here.
Thanks to Carolyn for this amazing submission! She writes, “Please enjoy these Métis brothers spontaneously jigging at a powwow in Winnipeg (they're members, with their sister, of the Ivan Flett Memorial Dancers).”
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Have a lovely, cozy weekend,