Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Antidote

It happened on a blisteringly cold February morning. I checked my Internet source of news before the boys were up. According to Yahoo, at least, the situation in the Arctic was grave. "Have we passed the tipping point?" the quoted scientist wondered aloud. "It's hard to see how the system may come back." Not good news but then the kids were awake. There was breakfast the be eaten, teeth to be brushed, lunch to be packed, a cat to be fed.

The sky was cloudless but the shrunken sun did little to warm the concrete below it. My head ached. There was no possibility of rain, no excuse not to walk my son to school this morning. It is not a short walk but not long either. Thirty minutes round trip in the morning and thirty minutes after lunch. No reason not to - especially in light of the melting ice.

I wrapped the boys in their hats and mittens and ushered them into the double stroller. Off to school we went with the kids tugging each other's hats off. Someone got poked in the eye. In retribution, the other was relieved of his mitten. They laughed. My head ached more. I had almost reached the top of the hill when a silver Hummer passed. The single woman driver gassed it over the top and disappeared down the other side.

Finally, at school, my oldest peeled off mittens, hat and jacket and I signed him in. Bouncing the little guy back into the stroller, we headed home. Crossing the street, the Hummer lumbered past us again. It must have been a quick trip downtown for a latte or maybe a scone. The woman inside looked cozy, content, nonplussed by the disappearing Arctic ice. I felt very different. I inwardly raged at the disregard for our overheated planet, at the emissions that trigger asthma attacks, at the long walk home.

The mixture of frustration, despair and angst I felt was not unique. At my Green Book Club meeting last night, two members spoke of similar concerns, of feeling incapable of facing the really bad news out there. Fellow bloggers, Chile at Chile Chews and Katrina at Kale for Sale voiced similar feelings this week as well. Indeed, this cauldron of emotions is apparently so common that a local magazine ran an entire article dedicated to what it termed "eco-anxiety".

The article delved into the uneasy mix of emotions: the stress of living greener, the fear that one is not doing enough and the frustration with others who have not yet "woken up". The eco-therapist (yes, there are such professionals) quoted in the article opined that "[t]he depression, anxiety, panic and feelings of hopelessness are symptoms of a world out of control. After all, what we're facing is a fear of extinction. The people who are not anxious - those are the ones I'm really scared for."

I tend to agree with her. We have to wake up first. We need to grieve, to absorb the knowledge of what has happened to our planet. And, then, we must gear up for the work to come. If eco-anxiety is the affliction, for me, action is the antidote.

After acknowledging how paralyzing environmental news can be, the book club members suggested we pick a book that offers its readers a road map. They lauded Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle for the power it gave its readers. By eating locally, growing our own food, living more consciously, we can believe that we, like Kingsolver, are at least doing something.

There has been much debate whether individual efforts amount to anything in the battle against global warming. I will leave that discussion to more thoughtful, well informed writers. All I know is that every action I take strengthens me, emboldens me, gives me hope, may allow me to look my children in the eyes. Line drying clothes, baking bread from scratch, sitting in a dimly lit house, freezing my buns off, starting a Green Book Club, hosting a CSA drop site, writing a letter to the governor. Will these things make a difference?

I don't know. Barbara Kingsolver wrote that such "earnest efforts might just get us past the train-wreck of the daily news, or the anguish of standing behind a child, looking with her at the road ahead". No, these small acts might not save the world but they will save my sanity. For me, action is the antidote. What is yours?


CindyW said...

Green Bean, you have taken words and sighs right out of my mouth. After the kids go to sleep, I read the news, the articles and the blogs. Rarely are they encouraging. IPCC report has been progressively worse about global warming. The disappearance of biodiversity has only picked up speed. Wildlife has been constantly assaulted by our "growth". On and on. Then I get up in the morning. It seems that the daily lives of most people are on an entirely parallel plane that never intersects the plane where the colossal bad news dwells. I can't reconcile the disconnect. When I see mothers debate for the 100th time which school their children should go (I am one of them sometimes), I think: shouldn't they also leave a bit of room for thinking about the big picture - the world their children will struggle in? Sigh. I am sure I will offend a lot of people by voicing my frustration. To compound that, I am not necessarily doing all I can. I still drive to places, I still travel occasionally, I still use my electronics on all the time.

In one of Kingsolver's interviews, she said that 20 years from now when oil had been drained and when/if global warms would hit us full speed, she could not face her daughter questioning her - "and you burnt all the oil and destroyed the environment, so you could eat the crappy tomatoes from Chile in January?"

So when I get really frustrated, I think that I just want to be able to face my children 20 years from now. Besides I really enjoy living a simple life and cannot imagine any other way.

But occasionally that frustration still needs to find a channel to get out. So thanks so much for writing about this.

Burbanmom said...

So, so, SO well said. It was the panic attacks I experienced last year after reading Plastic Ocean and watching that damn albatross necropsy that spurred me into creating my chage-a-day blog. Honestly, the week I started writing, the anxiety began to slip away.

I cannot change anyone else. Hell, my own husband it testament to that fact! But I can change me. By writing about it, I can encourage others to change as well. Nothing makes me happier than getting a comment from someone saying "hey, I tried that and it worked and I'm gonna continue doing that!".

Keep doing. Keep changing. Keep growing. Others will notice. In fact, they already are.

Raw Vegan Mama said...

These thoughts are exactly what I have been experienceing this week. So much, that I cannot even find anything to blog about. The little stuff seems to little to bother wiht a the moment, and the big stuff seems to be spoken on deaf ears. :(

My biggest push is to teach my children to be self-sustainable if possible. I want them to be prepared for everything. With a looming resession & depression, they need these basic skills, I feel.

Thanks for all the great posts. I love your blog! :)


Joyce said...

I'm hopeful. Lots of people are making small gradual changes. Lots of businesses are realizing that green saves them money. Lots of people are setting good examples for their children. Lots of creative people are looking for a better way to do things

Let's just focus on that.

kale for sale said...

I wish I could give you a hug. That was teary eyed beautiful and I love the quote from Ms. Kingsolver.

Several months ago I was in line for an event and began a conversation with an elderly woman nearby about eating local food. I found out she was a nun and had initiated a local food diet at the convent(?) where she and other nuns lived. I told her my friends think I'm crazy for my local food bent. At that point she put her hand on me and said, Keep talking, my dear. Keep talking. And the doors to the event opened and she was gone. So I keep talking and learning and do my best to balance the despair and the hope. Some days I do it much better than others! Your voice and actions definately weigh heavy on my side of hope. Thank you.

arduous said...

I focus on the hope and light at the end of the tunnel as much as I can. I have to. I'm not even thirty yet, so I'm planning on being on this planet for a long time yet! If I focused too much on the bad news, I mean, I wouldn't even be able to consider having children, ya know?

And I think there is light out there. A year ago, I had barely heard of peak oil. Now it's everywhere. The technology is out there for solar power, Airbus tried out fuel cells for the first time, etc.

I believe, fervently in human ingenuity. Cleaner technologies are out there. What we're lacking is political will. But as Al Gore said, "Political will is a renewable resource."

katecontinued said...

Green Bean Dreams . . . I am so glad you are a part of my life. Our lives count, even when we fuck up or forget. We are all learning from each other and teaching the children.

Hazel Nut said...

Reading, sharing ideas, writing - it's a lifesaver. When we all start pulling together, acting as a community then I think we'll make it.
Then I have days when I think that insects will inherit the earth and animals and humans will no longer exist. Here in Canada pine beetles are eating every tree to the west and the emerald ash borers are eating all the ash trees in Ontario- nothing can stop them.
The pine beetles are spreading at a rapid pace due to global warming - they are moving into areas that were previously too cold for them to survive.
Insects can adapt - just look at cockroaches. Can we?
I will never give up hope.

Idaho Locavore said...

Action helps me cope, too. However, I don't usually focus much on what other people are, or are not doing, because my sense of things after much thought is that it's not really possible at this point in time to make a significant difference in general public opinion. People for the most part just don't want to hear it and I've been alive long enough to recognize the futility of beating my head against a brick wall.

Life as we know it is changing, and I believe that change will eventually bring everyone who is able to deal with the new reality around to sanity far faster than I ever could. I only have so much energy and time - so I have chosen to apply that where I think it will do the most good; in working hard to learn what I can now so that I can help others learn later.

onestraw said...

Great post GB.

I too concur that the battle to save the planet is waged in the mind most of all.

Thanks for Being the Change!

Raw Food Diva said...

I guess you have to be the change you want to see.
pray god others will follow.

Green Bean said...

Thank you, everyone, for the wonderful comments and, Katrina, for the beautiful story and offer of a hug. I do agree with all of you - we have to keep hope alive. I do think change is happening. I posted on my local mothers' club board about a CSA that will be hosted at my home and had over 40 requests for information and price lists. Change, she is a'coming but, geez, can she please hurry up.

spelled with a K said...

There was a special insert on all things green or in some cases greenwashed in the sunday paper 2 weeks ago. One article dealt precisely with the idea of ecoanxiety. I'm a natural worrier, so on the one hand its nice to see that this is not just my usual fretting. On the other well, its an obvious tragedy for the whole world.

Eco Diva (Wannabe) said...

I just stumbled upon your blog a couple months ago, and I've been slowly trying to read all your posts. I read this one today, and I must say, I teared up. As someone who has fairly severe anxiety, trying to live a greener life and becoming more aware of the problems we face is often overwhelming to me. I had a blog, but I put posting on hiatus a month ago because I just could not deal with any of it anymore. Every day is a struggle, and it frightens me that someone as young as I am (fresh out of college) can be so morose about the future. But then I look at my parents (tail end of the baby boomers) generation, and I get even more hopeless. I see very little desire to change, and with the economy the way it is, I face a jobless future for a while as I live with my parents and desperately try to change them by my example. Every day's a struggle, but it's good to know that I'm not alone.

Green Bean said...

You are not alone - it just feels that way sometime. Hugs and thank you for the comment. :)


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