Can you feel the heat?
By Toby Davine
If you put a lobster in a pot of water and slowly let the water boil, the lobster does not immediately know it is being cooked.
When a government assures its population that they are making meaningful strides to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, while simultaneously subsidizing billions of dollars to produce “ethical” tar sands oil, most people believe that everything is alright.
The thought of our climate changing is terrifying. In fact, for many people it is unfathomable. It is much easier to ignore it or choose to believe it isn’t a real threat. As humans, we can only internalize so much.
When we can no longer play the ignorance card, however, numbness becomes the norm. Psychologists refer to this as “splitting” – when something becomes too traumatic to take in, we simply split off this feeling, loosing any sort of urgency that it might have initially elicited.
Nearing the end of COP, many people here are visibly upset. Living in a climate change microcosm for the past few weeks, the facts and figures of catastrophic climate change have leapt off the page and into the streets. Living on a continent unmistakably suffering from the effects of climate change—devastating droughts, food shortages, and spreading diseases—has made this problem all too real.
We’re not just upset, though. We’re outraged. We’re up against a government that is deliberately deceiving its citizens in order to push the corporate agenda of the oil industry. A government that in the same day stated its commitment to a binding climate deal by 2015, announced a $9 billion expansion to the tar sands. David and Goliath have nothing on this battle.
I’m furious! I have the sneaking suspicion, however, that when I return to Canada, not everyone will be as angry as I am. So, where do we go from here? How do we get people to internalize this problem and feel outraged by the climate injustice that our government is imposing on the rest of the world?
Ecopsychologist Mary-Jayne Rust, outlines three essential elements for the process of change: feeling, insight, and community. Feeling–feeling angry about something you really are about; a potent wake up call. Insight—seeing things from a new perspective. Community–being part of a group that inspires and supports us to change.
When Peter Kent’s rationalization of Canada’s inaction on climate resembles a revamped version of the “White Man’s Burden” we get angry.
When we enter a space where individuals from around the world are able to share their views and experiences, we are constantly gaining new insight.
When I have a badass team of activists from across Canada to work with everyday, I not only feel like I’m part of a community, but that I’m building a lasting movement.
This is our challenge. Spreading these three essential elements in our own communities to create a movement that will change the course of history. I might sound overly ambitious here, but after many conversations over the past few days, I’m convinced that this is what we need.
Let’s keep the fire in our bellies from COP17. Let us keep the stories of our brothers and sisters in Africa and around the world whose communities have been devastated by mining projects, famines, and droughts. Let us share our new insights with our loved ones at home and build a community that truly supports and inspires change.
Last week, we met with UK lawyer Polly Higgins, one of the architects behind the Supreme Court ecocide trial that was put on earlier this year, and one piece of advice she gave us was to “plan our demise”. We cannot live our whole lives working for something and never see it realized before we die. Let us aspire to win this thing for real. Let’s plan our exit form this movement so that our efforts are no longer needed.
The first essential step in this process, however, is feeling. Sounds a little sappy, right? But this is where the fire is started.
Elizabeth May recently tweeted: “The COP plenary is in the Baobab room, making me think of Le Petit Prince. If only delegates here saw only thru their hearts.”
It may be the job of government officials and bureaucrats not to feel the urgency, sadness, or grief associated with the issues they are negotiating for, but it is certainly not ours.