Alternate Histories: 5/20, 4/8


[This conversation started with two people who know each other and me, and was joined by a third person who didn’t know any of us.]

C: After I read the blog, I was thinking about this, and I was thinking about it from a parent’s perspective. I can imagine that change could happen slowly and humans adapt to it in ways that will become normal. Like my daughter, maybe she’ll wear a mask when she goes outside. It happens slowly–things that weren’t factors a hundred years ago are factors now. People have flood insurance. And it’s freaky, because who knows what sacrifices will have to be made.

Do you try to imagine it?

I do. I try to think about history, the way that we adapt–there’s a status quo that wasn’t always the status quo.

S: There are these cultural narratives that are stories but feel like truths.

C: And they’re carried through generations.

S: Are there things you notice about [your daughter’s] life in the world that seem different to you?

C: Small things, like she knows to recycle. I was born in 1968–in 1975 we had those pull-top cans…That’s improved, that’s a better way. She’s more aware of her impact on the world … Travel makes me feel small, there’s all this waste throughout travel, like you have to throw out the water bottle you bought, you can’t take it on the plane with you, but there’s no recycling, only trash cans.

I think a lot about that, how to make it easier for people.

S: And how do you add benefit or pleasure into that way of being? What might make people willing to go out of their way?

C: People often won’t go out of their way. “I’m gonna lose my place in line.”

S: When I was in high school, part of my family’s land was taken by eminent domain for a power line. It was a big emotional thing for our family. Part of it was, “We don’t want a big unsightly thing on our land,” but part of it was “This is mine and I get to decide what happens here.” And it was a turning point for me …

C: You went from what to what?

S: From a naivete, a lack of awareness–I mean, I loved the woods, I didn’t throw garbage in them–to understanding what it meant to be the steward of the land in a directed way. Something that feels really intimate to you and you have no power over. My family couldn’t even protect it with money–they tried throwing money at it, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that makes me feel jaded and scared: what is that kind of power, how do we traction our nice conversations into something that can make a difference?

D: I got plenty of anxiety about the climate, but I doubt humans can do anything about it. I’m a defeatist about it. I don’t know if it’s the end of mankind, but …

What about the end of other things, plants, animals…

Well, that’s been happening, the sixth big species die-off is already happening. If it’s the end of mankind, maybe that’s a way of righting itself. It’s a good idea to stop using fossil fuels. Conservation, energy saving, those are good to some degree, but I’m not gonna give up my car. Everyone needs a car.

Actually, lots of people don’t have cars, and not because of the environment, because they’re broke.

Maybe, but if you live in the suburbs there’s no way to get away from it. I could take the bus, but it’s completely inconvenient. It’s good if you’re poor. And convenience will always trump–if it means going tremendously out of my way, I won’t do it.

S: What would be the right amount of incentive?

D: I don’t know. I’d be willing to pay higher taxes–you don’t have to do anything. But if you have to go out of your way …

What about when things change, what might you be able to do to make things easier for the people around you?

The people around me … I don’t know, it depends on the situation. As far as helping other people? If it meant having days in the summer where you don’t use electricity, to conserve electricity for the neighborhood, I might do that … I think for a lot of people it’s something out there, it’s not concrete enough–it’s abstract to a certain degree.



Over the course of the next year, D became poor.

It happened gradually. He didn’t lose his job or his home, but his sister in Oklahoma lost hers to storms and flash flooding, and she and her two sons came to stay with him, filling up the house–you can’t say no to your own sister. She was used to running the A/C all day and he had to say look, no, the house isn’t really set up for that. The kids signed up for summer ball, that cost money. Food was getting a little more expensive and the amount that teenagers eat is really incredible–he would never have expected it.

Some things were actually cheaper–the short-order clinics were free, but the lines were long. D wasn’t used to having to wait in line for things he needed. And then Terry next door had a stroke and all of a sudden D’s sister was over there part of every day, helping him out. “You can pick the kids up from practice or you can go help Terry get to the bathroom,” his sister said.

“He isn’t even paying you,” D said. His sister gave him a hard look. “The kids can walk,” D said. “It’s good for them, they’ll be fine.” It was true that there were more people on the street, just overall, especially in the evening on low-charge days, when the street felt like it was floating. It made D nervous. When he came home and saw that she’d put a clothesline up and was hanging clothes out on it with the boys, he started swearing: the birds were gonna shit on it, it was gonna stretch out, what did they have a dryer for… The other three stood still, not rigid. “You look like mom!” he blurted.

“You sound like dad,” she said, still calm. When you’re poor, what are you poor in? Where do you feel the strain? “Make sure you check yourselves for ticks,” she called after the boys as they fled inside. “Everywhere, even under your balls. Don’t ‘Mom!’ me.”

The following year, D’s household joined the subdivision’s mortgage strike.

The year after that, one of the boys got Lyme–more waiting in long clinic lines, more stress, more weariness. Terry died, and they all went to the funeral.

The year after that, the bank declared a jubilee year for the subdivision–all debts cancelled. It was a low-charge day, so the dance party had to wait till tomorrow. The nephew with Lyme drank what he called “some herbal bullshit” for his joint pain, and he and D sat on the front steps breathing the thick night air, which they could afford.


2 thoughts on “Alternate Histories: 5/20, 4/8

  1. Pingback: Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/27/15 | climateanxietycounseling

  2. Pingback: Alternate Histories: 8/5, 8/16 | climateanxietycounseling

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