Hope Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Posted September 17, 2012 in Blog. Tagged: , ,

By Janine Brunell-Looker
Resilience Circle Member
See the full Post on Yop!

Of a great need
We are all holding hands
And climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Far too

It’s been a rough summer for climate change deniers. Well, for all of us really. July 2012 was officially declared the hottest month in US history. By early August, nearly 90% of US land supporting corn and soybean crops was declared “affected by severe drought.” By mid-August, 6,888,342 acres of US land were burned up in fires while still more fires raged. Other August reports declared that Greenland and the Arctic have melted more quickly than “anyone’s wildest imaginings” and went on with projections about what a warming earth means: larger, harsher storms; drought; rising sea levels; and an endless warming feedback loop leading, ultimately, to larger, harsher storms; further drought and, well, you get the idea.
Most of these statistics come from 350.org, though you can pick them up elsewhere, and even the September 2012 issue of National Geographic has bravely gone where most print media dares not go asking on the cover, “What’s Up with the Weather?” As many environmentalists have been saying repeatedly, “This is what climate change looks like.” Even a leading physicist and climate change skeptic, Professor Richard Muller of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, recently reneged on earlier statements claiming instead that, “Our results show that the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen 2.5F over the past 250 years, including an increase of 1.5 degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”

Still, it’s unlikely that you need to hear from me, or other environmentalists, or even Professor Muller in order to have some sense or personal experience of a changing planet. In fact, you may well be wishing I would stop talking about it as the whole thing is just too painful for polite conversation. If you’ve stuck with me this far, perhaps it’s only because you’re wondering what hope has got to do with any of it.

If you peer through the pages of history, I think you’ll find that nearly every social movement has a reluctant leader. Could be the salary, the benefits or the overall prospects of job security — you decide. It surely also has something to do with courage, faith and, well, yes, hope. For the environmental movement in the US, and even globally, I think many would name that reluctant leader as Bill McKibben, who has been suffering the truth about global warming since he wrote The End of Nature in 1989. That’s over 20 years of (mostly quiet) concern that led up to his current passionate efforts to get the word out. I’ll admit I admire the guy. He is intelligent, quick-witted, and quietly direct about his assertions about the future of the planet, and he’s remarkably humble.

This past July, McKibben sent out an email to his growing network of supporters and organizers titled, “I think I screwed up.” He was referencing a protest project being planned for Washington, DC where an ice sculpture, not unlike the one depicted in the photo above, was going to be placed in front of Capitol Hill. Unlike the rather elegant melting figures above, however, McKibben was planning a big hunk of ice in the form of the word “HOAX.” “The idea was simple,” he wrote. “If this epic heat wave gripping the nation has one silver lining, it’s that it is reminding people that global warming is very, very real.” But McKibben was advised not do it, especially from some people in nearby West Virginia, because “The sight of ice melting while they sweltered would be too hard to take; their region, they pointed out, is as hard hit as any in the country by the heat wave, and it would make people feel like their plight wasn’t being taken seriously.”

Therein lays the paradox for McKibben and anyone feeling the need to break through the culture of silence and shout out “Yop!” The alternative to shouting out feels like some sort of quiet insanity, like living in a parallel universe where one carries out one’s daily responsibilities obeying the laws of silence while a voice screams in the back of the mind, “This can’t go on!”