Do you ever suddenly dip into hopeless gloom at five o’clock in the afternoon? For no good reason you can fathom, your energy dies and you survive the hours until sleep with a sense of hopelessness and dread. This happens to me maybe once a quarter and I’ve observed something even stranger: the next morning I rise from bed buoyant and cheerful. It’s as if one extreme state is accompanied by the other. Can I explain it? No, and I’m not sure I want to.
Urgency grips the geek. 100 days! Can he do it? So what if he does?
I’ve reassessed progress and prospects. The picture over the four Big Years isn’t pretty but each has lifted me for the better. Over the next week or so, I’ll reshape the four pushes towards December 31. Call me excited!
In my experience it doesn’t take much to unscramble one’s determination. Over the last week I’ve been plumbing the dizzy heights and mired depths of self publishing (Deadly Investment, my first crime novel, approaches!). Commissioning professionals to assemble the book’s bits and pieces, trying to think in sales mode, planning detailed steps, all the while struggling with a leg injury . . . I lapsed. I was laboring hard but all my Big Years momentarily faltered. I got up early but wasn’t drafting my big book (1,000 Big Year). Some hiking, biking, and gym kept me from ossifying but my exercise targets slumped (Freshness Big Year). I even missed a couple of Headspace days (Stillness Big Year). I did keep up the Tractor Big Year research into publishing (in fact that’s all I did). I drank wine and ate chocolate.
Yesterday the usual “why falter” gloom set in but today I’m reassembling my life. Back on track soon . . .
Refuse to be distracted, that’s the rule. No reflection about my future Cranes Big Year until next year at the earliest, right? Then I see this headline and my heart lurches. Dead cranes/brolgas?
Phew . . . a different kind of beast altogether.
Each midnight is a day older, right? Midnight on the day before one’s birthday is no different in that regard, right? A birthday is, in that sense, nothing especially meaningful. But I find that each birthday hits me differently. Most zip by as pleasant irritations, but I experienced reaching age 45 as traumatic, and 50 wasn’t pretty.
Age 60 might have depressed me but I launched my 60s as a decade of these geeky Big Years, so I recall three years ago as a buzz. Age 61 meant nothing and my 62nd birthday was mild fun, but just before midnight on Tuesday, I woke from deep sleep and thought, “I don’t want to be 63 tomorrow.” 63 is closer to 65 than it is to 60! I rose and moped while the world around me slept.
I haven’t been myself since. I know all the cliches about “only being as old as you think of yourself,” and “wait till you hit 70,” but platitudes never help. I didn’t expect to feel like this but now that I do, what to do? As always, I’ll write and ruminate, so you can expect to read more existential nonsense from me over the next few days.
Oh, I forgot to mention that red wine is a salve.
I don’t read many scientific journals these days. Other reading takes precedence. But holy shit, this one needs attention. Blake Foden in The Age sums up an article with a daunting title in a tier 1 journal, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” published August 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academ of Sciences. I’ll sink into the full article.
Normally I wouldn’t be caught dead propping on my arse in a seaside holiday town, but the experience in magical Rovinj has been so wonderful that my aversion to sitting still now seems wrong. Seven nights in one place! No car (and limited drawcards near town)! Laziness but plenty of restorative exercise! A rare opportunity to review what an inspiring long trip has provoked!
So . . . I depart homeward today with many changes afoot, both in the short term and into the 2020s.
Nervous but excited.
Watching climate change truth is as difficult as wrestling with existence: you need to do it but the further you go, the greater the terror. As well as reading two fine books over this trip, I’ve forced myself to watch Season 2 of “Years of Living Dangerously.” Not fun, not fun at all, but let me commend the series to you.
A snapshot of the eight episodes is all you need. In Episode 1, David Letterman tours India, destined to ramp up disastrous coal-fired electricity, and actress Cecily Strong reveals how American utilities use all means to delay rooftop solar. Jack Black, in Episode 2, is riveting as well as entertaining while exploring Miami, a city seemingly oblivious to a future under water, while Ian Somerhalder tracks another scientist-hero, geologist/geophysicist Jeff Donnelly, in extracting deep sea cores to learn about past hurricane incidence/severity. Tom Friedman of the NYT is his usual compelling self in Episode 3, investigating the beginning of mass climate refugee movements, and Don Cheadle looks at California’s worst-in-1,200-years drought. Episode 4 is marred by Arnold Schwarzenegger pursuing a silly topic but supermodel Gisele Bundchen shines while investigating Amazon deforestation due to mankind’s meat binge.
I was especially interested in actor Ty Burrell’s Episode 5 examination of electric cars and their promise when coupled with automation and ride-sharing.; actor Brad Whitford looks at the push to compel Republicans to see climate reality. In Episode 6, Joshua Jackson reveals how the oceans are slowly but surely warming and acidifying disastrously (cue our very own Great Barrier Reef). Actress Nikki Reed lucidly looks at the carbon tax solution in #7, while journalist Aasif Mandvi digs into the vanishing of species. Episode 8 sees America Ferrera putting the immoral US coal industry under the microscope, and Sigourney Weaver mesmerises with a narrative that says China has, over the last half decade, switched towards a clean energy future commitment.
I don’t enjoy reading difficult material quickly but amidst travel have whizzed through Joseph Romm’s “Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know” and Joelle Gergis’s “Sunburnt Country: The History and Future of Climate Change Change in Australia.” Both are recommended. What do they say and what does it mean (and here I apologise if I’m glossing over either book’s main messages)?
Romm is an entertaining and clear communicator, one right at the pointy end of climate science and its political and industrial impacts. If I think of my new grandson at age 30, that is, considering my ethical obligation to the next two generations, Romm makes it clear that although the new “human-altered” Earth will barely impact me personally, by 2050 our planet will be drastically altered. Seas will rise by 30 cms, temperatures will be up by 3 degrees, people will face more droughts (which will be more intense), more unstoppable fires, and more of every form of atmospheric storm (all potentially more extreme). Romm has been writing about this stuff for years and now can clarify that any possible “good news” about Earth’s resilience or feedback mechanisms is just wishful thinking.
Gergis is the first scientist to have dug into Australia’s anecdotal or non-measured climate history (quality official data only commenced at the start of the 20th century). She was able to extend our Australian climate knowledge backwards. That was just the beginning of her work. From 2009 she worked with a Swiss paleoclimatologist to construct the first comprehensive Southern Hemisphere climate reconstruction. In 2014 they published. It turns out the the two hemispheres have, over very long periods, diverged, but that a version of the famous Michael Mann “hockey stick” applies equally down south, that “for the first time we were able to definitively conclude that, just like our northern counterpart, the Southern Hemisphere was now experiencing temperatures that lay outside the bounds of natural variability experienced since medieval times. It was the first time climate science could confidently confirm that the entire globe is warmer now than it has been at any other time over the past 1000 years. It was a truly groundbreaking result.” Naturally the denialists attacked in their by-now-familiar rabid fashion, and it took her two years to cement the 2014 conclusions with irrefutable data. By then she and others were able to conclude that while Europe, North America and Asia began warming, due to human emissions, from as early as the 1850s, the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans delayed its anthropomorphic warming until the early twentieth century.
The Australian future? Gergis ranges widely over Australia’s past and possible future temperatures, bushfires, droughts, sea level, etc. While not being definitive, she makes it clear that Australia will face the same dire climate fluctuations and progressions that Romm describes for Earth as a whole. We’ve a complex climate, this southern continent, but we’ll be given no special reprieve. Over the next thirty years, temperatures will increase by the same 2 to 3 degrees as the overall globe, rainfall will lessen to boost droughts, our snow fields will as good as disappear, our Great Barrier Reef will be but a shadow of its former self, and bushfires will flourish and destroy.
it’s unconscionable to do nothing. When will I do something? That is the question that has bedeviled me for the last decade, and I know I’m cowardly, but over this magical vacation, books like Romm’s and Gergis’s press me towards action. I’ve reserved 2021 and 2023 for Big Year focus on aspects of climate change; it’s not much but it’s something.
Revel in Steven Pinker’s prose from his “Enlightment Now“:
Remember your math: an anecdote is not a trend. Remember your history: the fact that something is bad today doesn’t mean it was better in the past. Remember your philosophy: one cannot reason that there’s no such thing as reason, or that something is true or good because God said it is. And remember your psychology: much of what we know isn’t so, especially when our comrades know it too. Keep some perspective. Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is the End of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era. Don’t confuse pessimism with profundity: problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and diagnosing every setback as a symptom of a sick society is a cheap grab for gravitas. Finally, drop the Nietzsche. His ideas may seem edgy, authentic, baaad, while humanism seems sappy, unhip, uncool. But what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?