Spare Me Your Despair

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 12, 2009 7:19 PM


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Are you having the same recurring nightmare, the one where you, WALL-E and Marc Morano (who is grinning maniacally) are the last inhabitants on earth? Does the sight of Bjorn Lomborg make you physically ill? Do you find yourself crying uncontrollably every time another chunk of the Antarctic ice sheet melts into the sea? If you answer yes to any of the above, you may be suffering from "climate trauma." Okay, maybe you have different symptoms, but there really is such a thing as "climate trauma," or at least the the notion of it. Joe Romm, as you might imagine, is already suffering from the disorder:

The knowledge that humanity is headed pell-mell toward self-destruction is tough to deal with.

Sorry you have to bear that burden, Joe. Fortunately, our fearless climate warrior doesn't stay on the pity pot too long. Or let himself be overcome with "burnout," climate trauma's sister malady. There's too many deniers and delayers out there, stalking the Hell and High Water streets. Somebody's gotta take it to 'em:

The deniers and delayers sleep well at night thanks to their blinkered ideology. And I will be damned if I'll give them yet one more advantage on top of their better funding, better messaging machine, freedom from having to present factual or consistent arguments, and credulous coverage by a status-quo media.We simply can't afford to get burned out, since the end result would be humanity getting burned up

But I digress. In all fairness, Gillian Caldwell, the woman who stepped forward last week to share her near-debilitating existential angst seems quite admirable. Before she took up global warming as a full-time cause in 2007, she had been a globe-trotting human rights advocate, documenting true, unspeakable trauma in places like Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Russia. As Caldwell recounts, she spent

countless hours in editing rooms watching first hand images of death, destruction, and devastation.

Now my heart is heavy after I read the typical Nicholas Kristof column. So I can't imagine what it's like to be on the front lines bearing professional witness to all manner of human depravity. Yet Caldwell asserts that

spending my days and nights trying to get our country to tackle global warming is more emotionally demanding than any job I have ever done.

I have a hard time grasping that. Why is global warming advocacy so stressful? Evidently, the hours are long and the scale of the problem unprecedented. Perhaps most distressing, though, is that the sense of looming catastrophe, which climate advocates internalize with every breath, is not shared by the masses. Caldwell (and Romm) are driven batshit by this. Hence, Caldwell's utter alienation from and rage at humanity becomes self-isolating:

We often feel like we are living in a parallel universe. Don't people see that we are headed straight off a cliff? How could they possibly continue to argue that there is legitimate dispute about whether or not the planet is warming? How could the ones who know that it is warming leave all their incandescent bulbs on? Leave their SUV idling? Blast the heat and open the windows? Toss their water bottle in the trash? And sit out this fight of a lifetime, this fight for our lives?

Strong stuff. So why does her case as stated in a blog post leave me cold? I think it's because she's advancing this idea that the world's inaction (and unfocused attention) is so psychically (and cumulatively) wounding as to be traumatic. That strikes me as narcissistic and shallow. But then I watched this interview (part 1 and part 2) Caldwell does with a shrink. She is articulate and stirring, even when she breaks into tears several times. What I read initially as self-absorption on a blog post is transformed, on Youtube, into a caring parent of small children expressing her heartfelt fears for their future. I can relate to that. I have to say, I wonder if more people would take global warming seriously--actually feel it in their guts-- if they saw the video of Caldwell calmly and poignantly discussing the issue. To take the idea further, perhaps some foundation should fund a testimonial-like web project, in which people from all over the world (especially those in the most vulnerable regions) are filmed talking about their feelings about global warming. It could be like a video version of Global Voices. That might help to ameliorate the problem advocates have in humanizing global warming. Who knows, such a project might even cure Caldwell's "climate trauma." In the meantime, Gillian, can you spare me your your despair? You don't see Nicholas Kristof wallowing in depression or writing off the human race in any of his columns.

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