Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Big Melt

A few years a go, a friend of mine in late pregnancy went to her routine midwife appointment three weeks before her due date. The midwife checked her cervix and discovered, to everyone's shock, that my friend was seven centimeters dilated (which, if you aren't familiar with childbirth, means you are in quite a late stage of labor). My friend, who hadn't felt a thing (yes, I hated her for this ;-)), on being told that she was to be sent to the birthing center to deliver said, "No, I can't, we aren't ready to have the baby. I'll come back on Monday." The midwife laughed, and set to explaining that this wasn't optional, that the baby was coming - and soon. But my friend, who couldn't quite get over the unreality she felt after believing she had plenty of time, and her panic that things weren't ready for the baby, said, "Well, how about I come back tomorrow morning - we have to go shopping." The midwife gently bundled my protesting friend into her car, rode with her and her husband to the birthing center, and 29 minutes later, delivered my friend, who claims she still didn't quite believe it, of a beautiful little girl.

I was reminded of my friend's birth story while I was reading Carbon Equity's report
The Big Melt yesterday. If you are a sensitive sort, I strongly recommend reading it while clutching a teddy bear and having your back massaged. I wish I had - frankly, I just want to hang on to my kids as hard as I can right now. I can't include a direct link because my computer doesn't get along with Adobe Acrobat, but Rob Hopkins over at Transition Culture has a direct link). As you may intuit from his subtly negative thread title, it is not happy news. Among other important points, it observes that the famed "2 degree" threshold is a political, rather than scientific construct, and that climate sensitivity may well be double what we expected.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be off vacationing. But this is important news, and I think we need to read and talk about this, even if we'd rather not. And I know I'd rather not - but that's not really an excuse. The fact is, we'd all rather that we had more time, less reason, less urgency. But some biological realities simply are - there is no place to negotiate. We're having the baby, everything's changing, and the only choices left are "car or birthing center." We may want more time and better options, but those aren't the choices anymore.

But within the limited choices we have real and meaningful options. That is, we can transition to a lower energy society quite rapidly, helping people obtain the tools and skills to live in one, or we can go to a lower energy society by necessity. We can cut our emissions dramatically and perhaps live with a 2 meter sea level rise, rather than 5 meter rise. We can cut our emissions and still have hope of growing food in the Southeast, even if it is too late for much of the Southwest. These are not small choices, if only we can look closely enough to see beyond what we wish our choices were, to what they really are.



sylvia said...

why is no-one else freaking out about this.

Stephen B. said...


...Because they're not paying's kind of difficult for people to see what's going on with their head stuck so deep in the sand.

Anonymous said...


I am nearly as addicted to reading your blog as you seem to be writing it. You said you would take a couple weeks off. No matter how much I value your writing, I think you really need to go cold turkey for a while. There is nothing in climate science/peak oil/financial news that cannot wait a couple weeks for you to come back to it refreshed and, likely, with new and valuable perspectives to share.

I am pledging not to check on your blog for 2 weeks. Focus on your family, personal projects and writing your books.

See you in November.



feonixrift said...

Or they're still freaking out in stage 1 (denial) and 2 (anger), rather than working on moving from 3 (bargaining) to 5 (acceptance) with as little 4 (depression) as possible.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I've been freaked out all day after reading your two latest posts! I'm not complaining, I'm just stating my reaction. It was physical, gut, and I got nothing accomplished that I was supposed to.

I was reading elsewhere (actually on NIM's blog) about proximity and how we're not likely to respond or take action if the issue is too far away from us and doesn't essentially touch us directly. I think I read all sorts of this stuff that shakes me and then go outside or listen to the radio and all seems "normal". People talking about movies and organ transplants and azalea problems and so on.

There is little proximity where I am to the climate change issues, the peak oil issues or the economic problems. Hence nobody in my neighbourhood, school community, church community or town seems too worried or freaked out. Unless they're all freaked out on the inside like me and then operating on auto pilot... I guess that as the various nastinesses hits people it will spread and eventually will be all too proximal...


BoysMom said...

People will really notice climate change when it directly affects them. It's enough to make me speculate that it's geneticly hard wired into the majority of the population. Perhaps there is some genetic survival value in ignoring changes.

Given that Greenland's ice is melting, that North American and Siberian tundra are warming, is anyone moving towards planning to assist people in relocating from areas that will become underwater to those that will become habitable?

Anonymous said...


Heather G said...

Re: not responding to the issues unless you can see it... I guess it depends on how much people notice what's around them. The drought through much of the US. The floods in the UK and Bangladesh (for the non-USA readers). In New England, where I live, the change in quality of fall foliage and the change in amount of maple syrup produced, among other changes. Anyone who is a grower here knows that things are changing. In New York city, the planners for Central Park have given up on keeping a stand of birch going -- this stand has been there since before the park was a park. They have to plan long-term, and realizing that the birch aren't handling the change in climate, they're looking at eventually replacing the stand with a more southerly species.

The signs are all around us, but most people ignore them, assuming someone will take care of things for them. Or, they see it but don't know what it means (non-gardeners tend to complain anytime we have rain, for instance). But we're reaching the limit of how much people or the government can help everyone, without making changes to how everyone lives, conducts business, etc. Then, yes, everything will become very proximal indeed.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think people see it only in terms of how it effects them. The last time I went into NY I sat on the train next to a man who imported flowers. He was full of info about how climate chance meant they had to buy plantations in Africa to grow orchids that use to grow in South America (or something like that)and his companies long range (5 and 10 year plans for dealing with it) but when I asked about how it would effect food growing patterns, he said that he didn't think it would make any difference as food plants weren't as senstative as flowers. He also didn't expect CC to have any changes on such things as how much money people would have to buy flowers, etc.

And I think a lot of people don't freak about it becuase they don't know about. There were stats floating around the library this week (which, since I was in so little, I didn't pay much attention to) about how few people in the US read anything, never mind a news magazine or a popular science book.

MEA, who they day she got the phone call saying her baby would be at the airport in 10 days, said, "Oh, I'm not ready yet. Could she stay at the orphange an extra week until I finish everything I have to get done."

Chile said...

There may be another reason that most people are not freaking out about this. I agree that some do not know because they don't pay attention. Some do not believe it because particular news outlets tell them it's a big conspiracy and lie. But I think others have heard and do believe, but simply cannot handle it. It's easier to continue on with "business as usual" than to try to wrap their heads around this.

I know, this doesn't make sense to those of us who know, who care, and who are desperately trying to find ways to cope with the future. I think that it is simply beyond the coping mechanisms of the average person, especially because it is happening so fast and the scientists keep saying, oops, we were wrong about that last prediction, it's happening even faster!

Anonymous said...

Has anyone read World War Z by Max Brooks? It's a zombie novel, but it's also about people's reaction to crisis. One of the women interview in it, who had been a well off career women with a family, when asked if she'd been worried when the first report of of the zobie virus came out, rattled off a whole list of everyday worries, and then said, with all that I didn't have time to worry about anything real. (words to that effect.)


Anonymous said...

My husband took my copy of World War Z and never gave it back. He loves that book. But when I talk too much about buying local food, or things I'm doing to cut our natural gas use, he calls me "Captain Planet." Guess he didn't quite get the message. *sigh*


Anonymous said...

I think that it is a combo of things:

People who have aligned themselves with the political/religous right for the most part dismiss it as left wing enviro tree hugger conspiracy garbage.

Others are completely unaware, either caught up in their lives or struggling so to get by they don't pay attention to any news.

Others don't understand it- they have no clue what CO2 is or comprehend any of the particulars-poorly educated and/or not too bright.

Still others are in total denial......

Hey- I was at a large energy meeting last night which my state was holding to discuss our energy future, and a guy there stated that he was pro nuclear power and really didn't believe the nonsense that Chernobyl was at all dangerous or that people developed cancer from it down the road....... This stuff is well documented-so how do we expect people to believe something that is still unfolding such as climate change.....

I keep working at it but I have little belief that enough will happen in time..

Rebecca said...

Oh - I'm so jealous of your friend's labor (or lack thereof)!

And yeah, I feel like I want another couple of years. I think we're in a similar position to where your family was 5-10 years ago, and we've just got to figure out where to settle down and how we can afford to own land.

Anonymous said...

Totally. Freaking. Out.

I'm not sure why it's really getting to me today more than usual, I mean, I've been reading about this for years and agonizing, but reading "The Big Melt" was devastating.

My 6-month-old daughter is sleeping peacefully in my lap. I can't stand knowing that this angelic baby is facing such a brutal future. I can't stop crying. I can't stop feeling the overwhelming rage.

Sharon, thank you for telling the truth, spreading the word and bearing witness.

Jennifer H.

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