Well, That Escalated Quickly!

My daughters were nine and eleven when Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released, and we were in the midst of the camping, ice skating, stargazing, flower arranging, leaf pressing, and pumpkin carving phase. There was no time for news about the end of the world, there was barely time to pack sandwiches and apples for lunch.

My experience of finding out about climate change followed the grieving process, more or less. First shock. What? The planet is warming up – what are the implications of that? They were catastrophic, and we were doomed. Next, I hung out for a while in disbelief, which took the form of minimizing. The science behind this whole theory might be flawed, It will pass, like the Cold War. They’ll figure out how to fix it, before it can affect me, my children, or my grandchildren.

Then anger, where I would argue many of us latter-day hippies are stuck. We could use some ecological counselling. Earth rapists! They can take their fucking profits and shove them up their collective ass.

2006 and An Inconvenient Truth was over a decade ago. Things have escalated quickly, particularly quickly if you set ten years against the history of the planet, or even the history of the modern world. At first there were jokes about how we could happily anticipate palm trees in every yard, bananas and mangoes in Canada. That was before the hurricanes, the flooding, the superstorms, the freak weather incidents.

Time to move on to bargaining, where there’s room for human ingenuity and creativity. The optimists are already at bargaining. They’re developing hybrid and electric cars, installing wind turbines, harnessing tidal power. They’re living zero-waste lifestyles, engineering public transportation, building eco-homes and Earth Ships, planting trees and starting up community gardens. The more of us stuck at bargaining, the better, because the final phase of grief is acceptance.

Early, Ingenuous Days

There was a field beside the half house in Ottawa where we lived. I was the chief engineer and reigning monarch in this field. In the summer I trampled down all its paths, thoroughfares winding from our backyard to the neighbouring yards. Intimately acquainted with the long grasses, I could recognize them by their scent alone, the tallish one that looked like wheat and smelled like cereal, the bunchy one with wide, flat, wet blades that had a swampy stink. I could map the anthills. I knew the holes where creatures might live, mice or snakes. I never saw them, but I knew they were there. Occasionally someone dropped a candy wrapper or a waxy coffee cup, usually on the East and South sides which abutted busy roads. These instances of littering offended me.

In the winter I created whole edifices of ice in the field, sanctuaries where I reclined on a three-cushioned snow couch, or checked to see if there was anything tasty in the icebox. After a fresh snowfall – in Ottawa, there was a fresh snowfall every other day – I tamped down the pathways with my plastic-bottomed boots after school, road maintenance before homework and TV.

I knew exactly how the veins splayed out on the surface of a maple leaf. I understand dandelions with botanical precision, dandelions in all their vicissitudes, from the tight little button-buds of their yet-to-be-blossoms, through the bright yellow glory of their flowering into miniature suns, staining fingers and cheeks. I knew the hollowness of their green stalks, the milky substance secreted inside those long, tender shoots. And of course I knew their eminently enjoyable reproductive technique – thousands of tiny, fluffy white parasols, freed from their moorings with a puff of breath, floating so gently on the barest of breezes, defying gravity.

I was six, seven, eight years old, and I was part of nature. The stale air and cheap furniture inside our half house was the foreign country, the strange prison to where my parents said I had to return in the evenings. Outside, my body recognized all the other carbon-based life forms as family.