As I mentioned in public remarks I made in January of 2015, I’ve been a member of The Lucky Sperm Club since 1957 –
As I turn 62 this week it still ain’t easy dealing with the high expectations that come with being the beneficiary of undeserved while male privilege.
Luckily, as I will mansplain to you all here, I am smart enough to always rely on the women of superior intellect and courage to redirect me when I steer off course and in the wrong direction – which I am prone to do.
So it has been in the week or so since Jonathan Frazen’s piece was published in The New Yorker. The rightful backlash to his “Let’s Just Roll Over & Play Dead On Climate” came from many quarters, but the most searing and right-on takes came from climate and gender journalist Amy Westervelt; Climate scientist, Kate Marvel; and Climate Justice Advocate and Essayist, Mary Annaise Heglar.
I should have wised up after reading Heglar’s piece in February “Climate Change Ain’t The Existential Threat”
But though I read it, I didn’t really grok it until I went back and re-read it in the context of the post-Frazen period.
I actually wised up a little that time a few years ago up in Berkeley at the 350.org leaders convergence. During our environmental justice workshop, a friend of mine, a fellow white male organizer, took umbrage at what he perceived as the whole political correctness of the topic.
“Look!” he shouted, “I’m trying to stop a dystopian future that’s barreling down upon us like a fucking freight train!”
“Yeah, I know,” said one of the women of color on the panel. “We’ve been living in that dystopian future in my community for a few decades now.” Mic drop.
So I’ve understood for a while that low income people, predominantly people of color, are the ones on the front lines, living in the Sacrifice Zones as its first victims.
But lately, I’ve adopted a “We’re All Doomed As Doomed Can Be” attitude and it’s only been encouraged and amplified by reveling in the misery that is Wallace’s “The Uninhabitable Earth’ and Nathaniel Rich’s “Losing Earth” edition of The New York Times magazine. This genre of Climate Doomsday Porn has held some sort of morbid fascination for me since “Inconvenient Truth” was released. I read Joseph Romm’s “Hell and High Water” in 2007 and started blogging as Creative Greenius that same year.
But I recognized the guy I don’t want to be in Heglar’s recent piece, “Home Is Always Worth It” when she writes about “Doomer Dudes” and “Climate De-Nihilists”
There have always been a lot of women covering environmental stories, but the breakout stars, the loudest voices, have tended to be those of white men. More recently they are specifically literary white men, for whom climate change is the ultimate epic saga, in which all of humanity is both villain and hero. “We” had a chance to act on climate decades ago and blew it, the story goes, and now “we” must rise to the challenge and save humanity. If we don’t—and we’re unlikely to—”we” will have only ourselves to blame.
By 2009 I was a full time pro bono Community Organizer and founded the first California chapter of 350.org. I grokked early on that there were in fact villains to blame and defeat if we were going to have any chance at changing the course of climate change.
But I wrongly thought that a large percentage of people were just stupid for not seeing the climate reality or understanding the science or having any urgency to take action. I’ve been using the hashtag #AgeOfStupid since the documentary film of the same name came out in 2009.
When the Republicans turned climate into a political tribal issue it only convinced me all the more that people – specifically American people – were stupid enough to shoot themselves in the face with a shotgun to score political points. And I let everyone know how I felt about it. That’s what we white guys do.
But I’ve been wrong.
I’ve been a patsy. A dupe. A fool about this.
People aren’t stupid. People have been conned, bamboozled, and manipulated like the dolphins and killer whales at Sea World used to be.
The people never stood a fucking chance.
The power of the entrenched patriarchy from the oil, coal and gas industry, to the automotive, trucking and shipping industries, to the utilities, government, technology, healthcare and manufacturing is so all encompassing and overwhelmingly tilted towards what’s best for privileged white men, that to consider a just and equitable alternative is labeled radical, emotional, irrational and in fact inconceivable. Fairness, truth and justice threaten the status quo and thus the people have been taught to fear and attack it.
But it’s not because the people are stupid. The people have been flat-out gaslit and brainwashed and herded like scared sheep to the point where most do not realize they have any choice.
What’s the answer to that?
First they’ve got to stop listening to guys who look like me. Maybe stop listening to guys period. Better to start using Amy Westervelt’s reading list from her killer article, The Case For Climate Rage:
- Psychologist Renee Lertzman first wrote about climate grief, and how to process it into action, more than a decade ago
- Mary Annaise Heglar writes beautifully about the intersection between racism and climate change
- Katharine Wilkinson is a vocal advocate for amplifying the voices of women of color on climate
- Marine biologist Ayana E. Johnson writes on ocean conservation, a critical and weirdly overlooked component of tackling climate change
- Bina Venkataraman’s forthcoming book The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age focuses on long-range thinking for a better future
- NASA scientist Kate Marvel writes regularly about the interface between science and human values
- Tammara Toles O’Laughlin is transforming the climate activist group 350.org into a diverse and equitable force for justice
- Rhiana Gunn-Wright is writing the real policy that will help create a Green New Deal
- Oceanographer Sarah Myhre fought for, and won, the freedom to bring feeling and conviction into communicating the science of climate change
Let me close with the words of Kate Marvel who says what I now believe far better than I could:
I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere.
We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending. Little molecules, random in their movement, add together to a coherent whole. Little lives do not. But here we are, together on a planet radiating ever more into space where there is no darkness, only light we cannot see.