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Linda Buzzell Headshot

Where's the Fire? (Or, Business as Usual)

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Disastrous, frigid storms have attacked the East Coast this winter, and in California we have had less rain than the Dead Sea zone in the Middle East, igniting fires in January. Our warming planet now has an open Arctic "freezer door," causing the jet stream to whip wildly north and south like a wounded snake, disrupting Earth's normal cycles. And of course this extreme climate situation is only one of many we've experienced in the last few years.

And yet most of us continue with Business As Usual.

For example, last weekend I attended a two day psychology workshop on treating trauma where the actually-happening-right-here-right-now trauma of the destruction of nature and our collective life support systems was never mentioned. It's so much easier and more comfortable to talk about our clients' childhood pain and ignore what's actually happening to us and our children and grandchildren. Environmental trauma? We don't want to talk about that.

There are so few places I can speak openly about my grief, rage and alarm at the crimes that are really going on -- not long ago in our childhoods but here on this planet today, getting worse every year. And when I do mention the C words -- climate and collapse -- in public or even with friends and relatives, I am often met with embarrassed silence or blank stares. Why would she want to talk about such an upsetting subject? Few of us care to look our collective apocalypse in the face.

So my question is Where's the Fire? Our homeland is burning up, our animal siblings are dying all around us, and our own lives and the survival and wellbeing of our kids and grandkids are more at risk every day. Yet even though increasing percentages of our population are now aware of the enormity of the danger -- especially young people -- the silence continues. Let's talk about something else. Let's focus on day to day life. Let's not talk about it.

So Where's the Fire?

Here's where I feel the heat: among those who deny climate change. If I bring this topic up among people who believe the scientists are lying about what's happening, I get plenty of fire and passion! But if I raise the issue among those who agree that science is telling us something important, I find a kind of weird emotional numbness or disconnection. "Yes, we know all about that," they say. "We really should do something. But what can we do? The politicians or the government really should address this but of course they won't. And what I'm really concerned about is (fill in the blanks here: my job, my friends and family, my bank account, having fun, the Academy Awards, Miley Cyrus... ) Or "I just can't think about it" or "it's just too upsetting" or "it's politics and I just can't get involved" or "What can I do?"

Merely raising the subject -- even among people of good will -- too often feels like breaking a taboo against a forbidden, even embarrassing topic. Because this is a HOT issue and one we're still not really ready to address in proportion to the actual threat.

So... No passion. No outrage. No grief. No action. That's where most of us are.

Climate activists like Bill McKibben, Al Gore and Laurie David -- and activist scientists like James Hansen and Michael Mann - have been struggling for decades to figure out how to raise the temperature of the discussion. To kindle a fire. To arouse our passions in proportion to the threat. We can blame some activists for using too much fear and guilt as motivators, and critique climate scientists for being too rational, too cool, too clinical. Many in both camps have shown a lack of psychological sophistication and used poor communication tactics.

And until recently, yelling "fire!" hasn't been the scientists' style. Naively, they hoped that mere facts would be a sufficient accelerant for our passion. Now some of these formerly cool customers are themselves getting pretty passionate -- marching, yelling, getting arrested. They simply can't understand why so many people don't seem to care that our only home is on fire.

But most of us continue to just look away, embarrassed by the scientists' now-fiery passion and willingness to go to jail. Heroes are fine in the past -- Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem, Gandhi -- but seeing science professors dragged away by cops just doesn't excite most of us. We don't want to acknowledge the very real war on science being waged by fossil-fuel-financed science-bashers who attack them at every front. We don't intervene. In fact, many of us feel annoyed at how cold, clinical, reductionistic and spirit-denying science has become. Let the scientists take care of themselves.

So the general numbness and Business As Usual among people of good will continue, as the clock ticks and the planetary temperature climbs. What's the rush? Where's the fire?

When will we explode in passionate defense of our homes, the air we breathe, the water we need to survive or the animals and the rest of nature with whom we share life on our small, blue homeland?

The fire is accelerating. But where's our fire?

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For those who actually would like to do something to put out the fire now engulfing Earth, please join 350.org and get out in the streets. Politicians will not act until forced to do so by ordinary citizens.

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