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Anne Butterfield Headshot

Paddling Down the River Denial

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"We are the most obese, most in debt, most medicated and most addicted adults in human history. We're also the busiest. We take less vacations, we work longer hours and we sleep less than anyone who came before us," says Brene Brown of University of Houston, newly famous for this whopper critique of American life made in a TED video in which she dissects shame and authenticity.

She explains this frenzy of addictive behavior as a way for people to numb themselves against shame, which she calls the fear that one is not worthy of connection or inclusion.

Such a familiar story by now. To feel "okay" we go deep into debt, often spending on ego pursuits like oversized homes, cars and weddings; then there's gambling, gaming, drinking, drugs and emotional eating and shopping. Often we wind up depressed and medicated when the results from these choices aren't what we like.

Throngs among us are, also, in monstrous denial of the greatest consequences that comes with this getting and spending that has laid low our economy and public health. That denial, beat into the American mind by campaigns funded by certain industries and media, persists among voters and politicians despite the increasingly obvious reality.

We are overconsuming and despoiling our world. Many continue to numb themselves from facing the quickly worsening condition of our climate.

Even the news is in on the denial this year, under-reporting climate science to the point that researchers from Drexel University and University of Colorado have quantified the nosedive.

2010 saw extraordinary weather catastrophes, yet the obvious link to climate change has been denied by all Republican leaders and tea party candidates. Most visible of late is the about-face of the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, who recently opined in the Wall Street Journal that climate may not need to be addressed through policy, even though his website recently stated that "everything should be on the table" to reduce carbon emissions.

Let us count just a few catastrophes that should give Upton and the new climate-denying Congress pause:

Such as the rains of biblical proportions that assailed northeast Australia, inundating a region the size of the southeast United States, bringing the regional economy to its knees.

Note also the horrendous rains that wiped out the living quarters of 8 million people in Pakistan as well as much of the nation's infrastructure (after dire temperatures up to 128 degrees.)

Note the Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 lasting about two months and killing at least 11,000 people. It brought temperatures of 99°F to Moscow with smoke from wildfires blanketing the city for a week, with carbon monoxide at about 7 times the safe level.

Note Tennessee's "Katrina" and the two Snowmaggedon events on the east coast that bookended 2010 and are explainable by climate change's effects on weather patterns and increased atmospheric moisture.

Yet pundits use snowstorms to deny climate science like the gloomy girl who whines, "I can't be overdrawn, I still have checks!"

Perversely, newspapers have dropped the ball on climate change too. Max Boykoff, of the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, has reported that climate reporting done in catastrophic 2010 was on par with the amount of climate reporting done way back in 2005 -- before An Inconvenient Truth and great blue expanses of sea made the arctic ice cap look small in 2007.

If news editors believed that weather catastrophes were unrelated, they have no excuse. Climate science has outlined worsening weather for decades, and nineteen nations, comprising 20 percent of the earth's surface, saw record-breaking heat events in 2010.

Every citizen and consumer has some power to ameliorate this so long as they can see they are wasting fossil fuels and should start to get active about supporting clean energy. So newspapers should keep up with climate news.

To add insult to injury, Congress has ignored alarming news out of science organizations.
The journal Nature published findings that higher temperatures have led to a 40 percent die off of phytoplankton, that teeny sea creature that forms the base of the oceans' food web and creates half of the world's oxygen. Most alarming, the National Science Foundation released a report this past March, well in time for the Senate to consider it in a meaningful climate bill, that stores of methane locked under Siberia's permafrost are bubbling up from the thawed depths.

Even last February, the Pentagon, to which the Republican Party heaps all manners of honor and funding, warned strongly about climate change's powers to weaken governments. Yet the Republican Party has moved straight away from all warning like children hiding under a blanket. It's already weakening ours -- through psychological denial. Let's see if we can awaken Congress and the press in 2011.

But we are up against tough odds. On a new show called My Strange Addiction, twenty year old Samantha goes to a dermatologist to see about her skin damage after years of spending at least 60 minutes a day in tanning beds. When he tells her a litany of issues including early death to consider from this self abuse, he admits that today she has no melanoma. And she skips out of the clinic a happy girl.

That's the American mind on denial -- light as a lark thinking, "Today I haven't been wiped out by climate change, so today I don't change a thing!"

A version of this appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera