Sunday, September 03, 2006

A Permanent Shift

Finally saw An Inconvenient Truth' last night at the Grand Lake Theater. If you haven't seen it already, you must go. I'm going to go out on a limb and possibly sound like one of those hokey movie reviewers or deep-voiced movie trailer announcers and say, 'It's the most important film of the year.' And possibly, of our lives.

That sounds dramatic, but what we are collectively doing to destroy this beautiful, precious, endangered planet called earth is more than dramatic--it is unconscionable.

I already knew about a lot of the concepts and ideas that Al Gore puts out in his excellent, highly informative slideshow on global warming (which is captured in the film). How global warming works, that the massive glaciers that have been part of the Earth's delicately balanced ecosystem have been breaking off in huge chunks over the past several years, etc. I knew about all that. I'd gotten the emails, read the articles, talked to people about it, made the connection (which seems obvious in my mind) between global warming and the devastation of Katrina.

But despite the fact that I live in the Bay Area, which is one of the most progressive (if not the most progressive) areas of the country, especially in terms of consciousness around environmental issues (in urban/inner-city Oakland, you can compost through the City's own program, for God's sake), I still hadn't felt the real weight and moral responsibility of knowing all these things until I saw Mr. Gore and his film last night.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Or maybe I should say like a ton of CO2 emissions.

As I blogged right after Katrina, I had always wanted to go to New Orleans. I'd heard so many stories from friends, through books and movies, about this magical, strange city. But now, New Orleans--despite the tourist industry's promise to 'let the good times roll' again--will never be the city it once was. Not when thousands of Black residents who'd lived there for generations--in the Lower Ninth Ward and other parts of the city and region--are not being allowed the right to return to that city. Like many others, I thought that New Orleans would always be there, a gumbo- stew-city of music, dance and voodoo magic.

But it's gone--or at least, what it was is gone. And global warming was a huge factor in creating the massive hurricane called Katrina which destroyed New Orleans--and huge parts of the Gulf Coast--as we knew it.

One of the most terrifying moments of the film last night was when Mr. Gore talked about how a massive glacial breakoff of parts of Greenland or Antarctica (which is possible in the next fifty years if we don't take steps to curb CO2 emissions now) would result in a 20-foot rise in sea level worldwide. Then he showed in his slideshow images of low-lying areas of the world--the Netherlands, Florida, and the Bay Area among them--and where sea level would rise in those areas.

My hometown of Alameda, California (a small, quaint island city just a couple miles away from where I live now), would most certainly be covered in water. Even here in Oakland, where heavy winter rains regularly prompt store-owners on Lakeshore and Grand Avenues to sandbag their front doors against flooding, Lake Merritt rising twenty feet would devastate whole neighborhoods around it. Last night, I looked out my bedroom window at Park Boulevard and the apartment buildings surrounding it below, and imagined water covering the two-story building just a few hundred yards away.

I don't want to be part of making this the future I leave for my children, or my children's children. I want my children to be able to see my hometown--not as an underwater museum of a bygone era, but as a living, breathing place.

One of the things that struck me during the Raising Change conference that I helped coordinate this past month was the amount of waste that is generated by large gatherings of people like that. And it wasn't even a very large conference: only about 400 people. But after lunch on both days, it was crazy to see garbage cans full of completely recyclable cardboard lunch boxes, half-empty soda cans and bottles, and the ubiquitous empty plastic water bottles. And this was a conference of progressive activists!

For some reason, those images from the conference really struck me, and now I know why--if 400 progressive activists who are mostly aware of the environmental impact of our work and our lifestyles, couldn't pull it together to recycle and lessen our environmental footprint for two days, what hope can we possibly have that the rest of the country will want to do so?

After the conference, almost subconsciously, I started to be aware of how I waste things, and began to take small, everyday steps to lessen the amount of resources I consume: I began collecting 'gray' water in the shower to use to water plants; I finally assembled a compost bin for kitchen scraps; I made a commitment to try to buy all of my clothes used before going to a department store or boutique to buy new; I pledged to walk to work twice a week (I usually take the bus anyway so this is an improvement and would help me get my exercise); I would spend more time in nature, hiking and camping and the like. Of course, I will always be involved organizations that are working to hold the Bush adminstration accountable for the havoc it's wreaked on our environment. All these things are necessary action steps.

I was so shaken, though, after seeing 'An Inconvenient Truth' that I know now that this shift in my consciousness and behavior is no temporary thing. These are life-changes that we all--especially in the U.S.--have to make if we are to continue to inhabit this planet, and pass it on to future generations intact and functioning. No, we cannot completely reverse the damage we've already done, but we can help stave off the worst for decades if not longer.

And for my people of color comrades who think that environmentalism is 'a white thing' or that people taking individual action to reduce, reuse, recycle is just a ruse to distract us from the 'real issues' of oil-and-war-mongering in the Middle East, I challenge you to educate yourselves and take responsibility for your everyday actions. And remember, it's the poor people of color of the Third and First Worlds that suffer the most from global warming's effects--drought in Darfur, Katrina in the Gulf Coast, flooding in India and other places.

Go see the movie. Do your part. I know it sounds cliche, but in this matter, as in many others, each one of us taking some action, however small, however incremental, can make a difference.


Anonymous said...

Rona. Thank you, sister for such a poetically written blog. I also enjoyed an Inconvenient Truth, although I was somewhat annoyed by the plug for his candidacy again. But apart from that, it is a wake up call to all of us. And I totally agree with you about all the waste that is generated by all of our conferences. Not only that, but the bad food we serve--the non-ecologically sustainable food, food high in sugars and trans-fatty acids in processed foods--we need to be doing better. All of us, if we are to acheive the change we really wish to see in this world. Love and hugs, Christine

janinsanfran said...

I too saw the movie this summer and was shaken. I've always been one who resisted putting energy into what I dismissed as "personal solutions to social problems" but recently I read something that seemed to apply:

An environmental writer named Bill McKibben wrote "Individual action is a kind of calisthenics before the big event, which must be political." I can relate to that concept.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I agree and so do the majority of scientists who have looked into global climate change (a term I prefer than global warming*), including Dr James Hanson, the top government climate scientist responsible for making sense of all the data. His scientific reports to congress were censored every year by political (non-scientist) operatives in the Bush Administration. 60 Minutes showed examples of his original reports and what they looked like after the Bush people were through. Hanson is one of a number of scientists that believe we are close to the tipping point -- the point at which the global effects will accelerate dramatically.

I too hope more people, especially the undecided, watch the film.

*By the way, I prefer global climate change rather than global warming. Global warming is scientifically correct but it makes people think that the main effect is that it will be warmer locally, which may not necessarily be the case for others in the world. In other words, although the average global temperatures are increasing, what it means to people locally vary --some will definitely experience hotter summers and increased desertification
in other places, but for others, it may mean more massive rains, etc. And if the oceanic thermocline is shut down because of the melting of glaciers, parts of Eurasia and North America will experience extreme colds -- yet it is all a result of global warming.


Anonymous said...

movie moved me too: global racist destruction. for a sec i thought eco president gore! but woke up quick: mann's katrina book points to bush/clinton/gore's white southern racist roots. it reminded me environmental justice's importance: fix planet & socio-economic problems. & recycling @APEN's party!

tye said...

I think you worded that perfectly. I have not seen the movie yet but i am more then aware of the effects of the growing problem of global warming and i hope that the world will stand up and prevent it for the sake of our grandchildren.