Activism: 101

Note: This is one of an occasional series of postings on how we can work to affect climate change.

A couple of weeks ago we went to the home of friends in our book club planning to watch a movie together. When we arrived, we did not know what movie we would be watching, but I was delighted with the choice. We saw a movie called Pete Seeger: The Power of Song

In spite of being a bit younger than those most likely to know and appreciate the work and music of Pete Seeger, I have very fond memories of hearing and learning songs like Where Have All the Flowers Gone and This Land Is Your Land. I was surprised to learn that Pete Seeger had introduced the folk song We Shall Overcome to Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement, and I was inspired to learn that for the last 25 years he has lead and worked on efforts to clean up the Hudson River in New York. For most of his 90 years, Pete Seeger has used music to influence and inspire one aspirational movement after the next from the labor movement of the 1930s to the peace movement to the environmental revolution. He could teach well beyond Activism: 101.

One statement in the movie reminded me of a task I had set for myself. Pete talked about never hesitating to wade into some overwhelmingly large task. He said that he reminds himself to ‘think globally but to act locally’ because you can only be where you are and work to change that one place. While local action usually has the most impact on our daily lives, in this highly connected time in history, the ‘place’ we are is dramatically expanded by electronic media, so I’ll take the opportunity to work in this ‘place’.

Last Monday, I read a NY Times opinion piece by Thomas Homer-Dixon. The author was writing from his perch aboard the Louis S. St-Laurent, the floating laboratory for Arctic science that is part of the Canadian Coast Guard. Professor Homer-Dixon reported that the ice in the arctic looks completely different than when he was in the same location at the same time of year 20 years ago. The rapid changes in Arctic ice are not visible to most of us, but Professor Homer-Dixon reports that the severe melting and expected thinning of Arctic winter ice are indicative of rapid changes occurring in many aspects of our climate.

The year 2010 is turning out to be the warmest year since temperatures have been recorded globally. Mudslides in China, fires in Russia, flooding in Pakistan….all are considered by climate experts to be manifestations of the changes in climate that can readily be measured.

One of my colleagues returned from a summer visit to Mexico. While he was there, President Felipe Calderon of Mexico made a speech about climate change. Sr. Calderon wondered why it is only in the United States that there is still debate about whether climate change is occurring, when everywhere else in the world, the issue is what to do about it.

Professor Homer-Dixon is also concerned about the ‘what to do’ part of this issue. He suggests that our governments need to be developing interventions in case a large, catastrophic event occurs. He thinks this ‘Plan Z’ should be our outline for how to proceed if and when a large climate catastrophe occurs. Having evacuated from my Mother’s New Orleans home two days before Katrina hit five years ago, and then dealt with the results of 8 feet of water in her home, I am well aware of the effects of no plan, and a big fan of developing real plans to deal with possible climatic catastrophe.

My only question about a plan is whether it needs to be large-scale (national or world-wide) or small-scale (local communities and individuals). Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute believes that our plan (he calls it Plan B) must be comprehensive and must focus on what actions we can take prior to the catastrophe. Since I am a planner and a taker of action, I like Mr. Brown’s approach. His books are extremely intelligent and detailed assessments of what each of us as individuals as well as what governments and multi-national organizations and corporations can do to prepare for and to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The report of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Interface between Psychology and Global Climate Change explores in depth aspects of human behavior, thinking and emotion that must be studied and addressed in order to impact climate change. The report discusses denial as one reaction to being faced with the possibility of catastrophic results of climate change. As our friends in 12-Step programs would tell us, denial is not a river in Egypt…it is what we do unconsciously when we cannot face the data presented to us. But face that data we must.

This week marks the 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. Most of us know of the physical devastation caused by that storm. Some of the data released last week indicate that the effects on the mental health of those who were directly and indirectly affected by Katrina were equally devastating. But what are we doing to plan for the effects of climate change? How will we prepare ourselves personally and our organizations professionally to intervene to protect and recover the mental health of our communities when we are faced with catastrophes caused by climate change? What do we do now rather than after the fact?

This is my sixth post on climate change since last September. There are a total of four comments on those posts . . . two made by readers and two made by me in response. Are we in denial? Please share your comments below.

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