Denial

“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.”

William Goldman.

 

The above quote is intended to describe the chaotic, unpredictable nature of the film industry, but I think it applies to a great deal more. As in, everything else.  

As a child, I was fairly certain that the adults in the world knew what they were doing. I really did. Growing older, you slowly begin to understand that people don’t change all that much beyond their twenties and thirties, that wisdom doesn’t necessarily accompany age.

Watching the internet dissolve the old boundaries is both fascinating and utterly horrifying. The astounding, almost unfathomable level of incompetence, the dribbling ineptitude openly displayed by our leaders is remarkable – it never fails to astound me.

There is a catastrophe coming, an apocalyptic event that our leaders should have been preparing for, should have been trying to halt. It’s not around the corner, but at our doorstep, and we’ve known about it for a very long time.

This short news article summarizes it nicely, stating that the effect of burning massive amounts of coal is inevitably going to lead to an increase in carbon dioxide, with the subsequent rise in global temperature thought to be “considerable in a few centuries.”

That article was written in 1912.

We’ve gathered a great deal more information about the upcoming calamity since, and aside from a growing sense of underlying anxiety, of impending doom, our solution has been, essentially, to try not to think about it too much.

Those at the top, those with the power to halt the environmental apocalypse, decided to ignore the problem, to actively suppress, smear, and ridicule proposed solutions, even simple efforts to spread awareness.

Our increasingly deadly deadline has been intentionally ignored for decades; humanity is like a student who desperately needs to study for a life-altering exam, but can’t stop indulging in intoxicants for long enough to consider the future. The survival of the entire human race hangs in the balance, but for some reason, the increased stakes make the reality of the situation much more difficult to absorb, and easier to ignore.

It’s been suggested that the narratives we tell ourselves, the stories that put reality into context, are not designed for a calamity of this nature. There is no big, bad antagonist to battle, no single messiah that can come to the rescue of the planet. The problem is practically unnoticeable, the solution requires radical, collective action, and our stories aren’t really structured like that.

We’ve all watched ecologically themed films, from the artful animations of Hayao Miyazaki to the blockbuster spectacle of Avatar. But in those stories, the planet is saved by a single hero, a battle between good and evil. There is no binary battle regarding climate change, no two opposing forces; every single one of us is trapped in an exploitative, wasteful system that is systematically destroying our habitat. It’s simple, and yet, immensely complicated.

Individual efforts to recycle and reduce waste are one way to actively reduce the destruction of the Earth, but amount to mere droplets in a tsunami. It’s not enough. Even those who loudly and proudly preach that lifestyle understand that, and it’s incredibly frustrating to know, despite one’s very best efforts, that one can’t clean the oceans or clear the smog from the skyline single-handedly. There’s an inherent impotence in sustainable living (though it’s infinitely better than nihilism).

The most successful story ever told about climate change is denial.

And sometimes, the stories involving denial manage to acknowledge the reality of climate change, but warp the message. I once took the time to look into the “chemtrail” conspiracy theory, and it was rather remarkable.

The theory states that “the elites” are controlling us from above, changing Earth’s atmosphere using airplanes, spraying chemicals into the air which shorten our lifespans, poison our minds, and … change the climate. This convoluted theory would be amusing if it wasn’t so frustratingly close to the truth – the wealthy are indeed causing all of these symptoms, indirectly, through pollution.

The difference lies in the intent.

In reality, the men responsible for climate change are not cackling villains, but shortsighted profiteers. Their intention is not to make our lives awful – that’s merely a side-effect. They’re not even our enemies – most of us would likely behave in the exact same way, if we were in such a privileged position. It is the system itself that is incentivizing this self-destructive behaviour, and that is much less appealing than the concept of an insidious cabal of elites, controlling the world from the sky.

There is no superhero film in which the superhero seeks to change the world; instead, they protect the status quo, from supervillains who seek to drastically alter the way we operate.

Until we work out a way to properly communicate the problem, a narrative in which people can get excited, inspired to solve the issue, many are going to continue to choose denial; even when the evidence is staring at them in the face.

Because it’s not about evidence – it never has been. That article from more than a century ago proves that, as does the continued assurance from climate scientists that we have a major problem. It’s the fact that the solution feels abstract, at best, and deeply uncomfortable at worst.

Fighting a bloody battle against an evil force is infinitely more palatable than restructuring our entire society. War might be hell, but it never changes. And that familiarity, that simplicity, is oddly comforting.

We’re going to have to figure out a way to tell this particular tale, to take inspiration from the conspiracy theorists and climate-deniers, and come up with a story that people want to believe, and act upon.

And as cynical as this article might sound, I’m confident that we can, and will, do it. We might know nothing, our leaders might be hideously incompetent, but somehow, we always manage to stumble upon solutions.

Twisting complete disasters into compelling narratives is something that humanity has always excelled at – Hollywood does it now, and the holy books have always done it. We can do it with climate change.

But it’s going to be a close call.

Frightened Rabbit

The other day, the family and I were taking a walk through the local nature trail (I say nature trail, but it’s really just a footpath with trees). While Kate was giving me a step-by-step rundown of Kim Kardashian’s latest feud with Krunchy Kardashian, I was staring into space and nodding sagely.

“That’s insane. Krunchy should not have spoken to her like that,” I said, making sure to throw in a slow head-shake, to express my sincere disapproval at Krunchy’s brazen, on-camera disrespect to her sister, or cousin, or whatever.

“Right? So Kim says that there’s no place for that in her family. None whatsoever. And so I was thinking we should apply the lessons learned from this blatantly false feud to the genuine disagreements I sometimes have with my sister, and listen to Kim Kardashian’s hollow, soulless advice that is so far removed from my reality, it might as well be an infomercial, which I think it might be, and tell my sister there’s no place for that in our family. None whatsoever,” Kate said, while texting her sister a message to go fuck herself.

“You should,” I nodded. “That sounds like the actions of a sensible person. Hey look – is that a rabbit?”

In front of us, in the bushes, there was a flash of brown fur. We all hurried over to catch a glimpse, and sure enough, within the bush lay a terrified, yet adorably photogenic, baby rabbit.

“Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww,” Kate said, practically collapsing in a teary-eyed heap. “Can we take him home?”

She was perfectly serious. But in her defense, I think the many demands of motherhood warp your perspective a little bit. In fact, before Kate became a mother, she didn’t give the slightest shit about baby animals, viewing them as a potential snack that hadn’t yet gone through the meat-grinder.

But sometime during the middle of pregnancy number 1, Kate had a dramatic, hormone-fuelled change of heart, and can now be brought to tears at the sight of a mama cat licking her kittens, or of a baby elephant doing absolutely anything.

The eldest’s eyes widened. This wasn’t an option he had ever considered, but it came out of the mouth of mom, so it must be legitimate.

“I want to bring him home, daddy.”

I thought for a second, and decided I didn’t want to be viewed as an asshole, because as the father, that’s usually your role. So I said, “Sure. If you can catch him, we can take him home.”

Obviously, the baby rabbit, whose heart was pounding in his tiny chest, would bolt the second we got a step closer; it was a safe bet that’d make me look momentarily well-intentioned.

Kate edged closer, and reached for the rabbit. He didn’t react at all. He even let her stroke his fur.

“What the fuck?” I thought.

Kate was as taken aback as I was. No doubt, the creature was paralyzed with fear, but the eldest interpreted it as consent to be taken captive.  

“Pick it up mummy!” he shouted, a steely glint in his eye.

Kate gently wrapped her fingers around the rabbit and was weirded out by how gross it felt, or something, because she screamed and let go. Finally, the bloody thing scampered off, out of sight.

The eldest gave out a loud, frustrated yell. The youngest giggled, always amused by the eldest’s despair.

“That’s a shame,” I shrugged, trying to conceal my relief. “If you caught him, we could have taken him home. But he’s gone now. That sucks.”

“Look, he’s right there!” Kate cried, pointing to the path ahead.

I couldn’t believe it. The wretched creature was sitting three steps ahead of us, right on the path, frozen with terror again. Clearly, the thing had no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, and was destined to be devoured by the next fox that happened to pass by.

“Can you pick it up and take it home, daddy?” the eldest begged.

Kate looked at me with her giant anime eyes, pleading silently.

Goddammit. What the hell was wrong with this thing?

I edged toward it, making as much noise as humanly possible. The rabbit didn’t move a muscle. It was right there – if I picked it up, I don’t think it would have protested in the slightest. And I was just about to, when a comment I read on Reddit the other day flashed through my brain. Read it here, and be prepared to be paranoid about contracting rabies every time you step outside, for the rest of your life.

In a nutshell, the commentator describes how the slightest scratch, or bite, from a wild animal could result in a deranged descent into incurable madness and death, even several years after the seemingly-innocuous scratch. After reading, I had resolved to never-ever touch so much as a squirrel.

What if this weird little bunny bit me? There was clearly something wrong with it, at least from an evolutionary perspective. I moved closer, and the creature’s instincts finally kicked in, and it ran off, away into the deepest part of the trail, to a place that I decided was unreachable.  

The eldest gave out another wail of anguish. The youngest giggled again. Kate was sincerely disappointed.

“Why didn’t you pick it up? It was so cute.”

The eldest echoed her sentiment, with more exclamation marks.

Later that night, after putting the kids to sleep, we finally relaxed on the sofa and put on Netflix, trying to avoid thinking about all the tasks we had to do tomorrow.

Kate sighed satisfactorily, and said, “I’m like, so glad you didn’t pick up that rabbit. I’m not in the mood to deal with that right now.”