Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fear fatigue, the maternal anxiety level and the climate crisis

My son is four years and eight or so months old. He's a platinum blonde blur, dashing here and there to see this or that, and always dragging the dog along with him. He has my strong, stubborn will and his dad's sense of action. He has a talent for drawing and painting that took me completely by surprise, and a facility with language that didn't.

Although really, he's been surprising me all along, starting with the discovery of his existence in the first place. As I've stumbled along in the last five years, screwing up regularly alongside getting a few things right, one thing has become clear: the result of attaching so fiercely to another human being has come to animate everything I do. He is the axis on which so much of me turns. He has strengthened parts of my worldview, and totally retrenched others.

I've never been remotely comfortable with vulnerability, and the realization that a significant part of my emotional fate was in hands other than my own introduced me to an anxiety that never completely leaves. It's always there, lurking just close enough to the surface that I must constantly ask myself whether any action or inaction is an attempt to protect myself, at his expense, from the possibility of pain. (And sometimes, I'm pretty sure I either forget to ask the question or I don't answer it honestly.) I wrote a little bit about that here.

This isn't all bad, of course. While certain things terrify me more now, this probably makes me a better citizen. Before him, my environmental concerns were mostly about wilderness and open space -- the issues that bore directly on me and my next backpacking trip.* Now they revolve more intensely around climate change, which will directly affect his future and thus looms large in my thoughts. This is why I write about the issue, attend rallies, participate in an environmental reading group, and badger friends and family to watch An Inconvenient Truth.

But you know, sometimes I just need to get the hell away from that godawful drumbeat of doom. And yet sometimes it seems there's no end to it. We have ten years till we're irrevocably screwed. Meanwhile, the United States has rejected the overarching emissions goals of the European Union, saying that we prefer to focus on "specific sectors." Mmm-hmm. Then there's the University of Alaska economist who estimates that global warming damage could cost Alaska up to ten billion dollars over the next few decades.

And on and on and on.

It's a perilous line to walk, between sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "la la la la la!" and knowing what the score is and just needing an occasional break from the worry. But for the near future, here's my line: If we don't change dramatically in the next ten or so years, the next generation is going to live in a very different world, and it'll probably be pretty grim. Period. But for awhile, I'm going to try and talk about the good news instead of offering up a relentless parade of horrors about which Antarctic ice shelf cracked up and which species is on the verge of extinction. My mental health requires it just now.

But, uh, if you haven't seen it, you really should watch An Inconvenient Truth.

*One non-commenting reader of this blog may remember a discussion over burritos one day, six or seven years ago, in which I casually dismissed the issue of fuel economy. I hope she's kind enough not to abuse me for such a silly position -- she has been so far.


kris said...

Trailhead - I love to read your posts. You have such passion and a poetic way of writing prose. I guess balance is the ideal most of us strive for - easier said than done. Good luck to you. (An Inconvenient Truth is on our list at Netflix - sad to say, I haven't seen it yet.)

Lori said...

HI Trailhead, I stumbled onto your post from a google alert for climate change articles on the web. I clicked on it because of the "maternal anxiety level" line. Fantastic. Global warming resonates with me at different levels, but the strongest level of concern arises from my role as mom to my two kids. I think mothers can be the instrument of change on this issue, because of our natural protective instinct to protect our young. See my personal response in my blog if you're interested. You write beautifully and with a flow as if speaking. Very nice and entertaining to read. Best wishes.

Trailhead said...

Thanks to you both!

Kris, Interestingly, I found AIT to be actually entertaining in addition to disturbing. It follows how Al Gore got back into climate issues following the 2000 election -- it's interesting. Once it gets to the top of your queue I think you'll enjoy it.

Lori said Global warming resonates with me at different levels, but the strongest level of concern arises from my role as mom to my two kids. I think mothers can be the instrument of change on this issue, because of our natural protective instinct to protect our young.

Exactly. While I feel somewhat guilty that my panic over global warming is fueled so much by my own self-interest, I think that's entirely human. Plus, it's effective -- mamas protecting their cubs tend to be a formidable force. And, like you, it's not by any means the only level on which I'm concerned about it.

I'm off to check out your blog now!