…and there is no Detour Sign visible
A Parable (which actually happened – embarrassingly – to me)
Once upon a time, in Bathurst N.B., there was a foolish and hasty youngish man (me) rushing to charge his electric car at the only charging station in town. He had a deadline (don’t we all?): he had to make the Rimouski ferry to cross the St. Lawrence river at 3, the last crossing of the day. As he neared the only highway entrance ramp that he knew there was a small “road closed” sign, with orange tape across most of the road – but there was an open lane coming from the opposite direction. The young man looked around for a detour sign, but could see none, and when the car in front of him proceeded to advance around the ‘road closed’ sign he figured, based upon the poor signage he had experienced elsewhere in New Brunswick, that the sign didn’t really mean that the road was closed and that the guy in front of him, being a local, knew what he was doing. Wrong. Dead wrong. Half-way through the blocked off zone the car in front of him veered off to a side street (not the highway); he stopped to try to figure out what to do next when out of the blue a truck belonging to a guy in the construction crew drove up beside him. Sadly, he had not seen him driving up to him and was taken totally by surprise when the construction worker asked: “Didn’t you see the ‘road closed’ sign?” Now this would have been the perfect moment to be grateful and ask for some assistance and ask: “Where is the detour sign?” However, given the fact that many of us (this young man included) are stubborn and take offence when none is intended, he rather rudely said: “I saw the ‘road closed’ but followed the car in front of me so I followed him because there was no detour sign”… and then he sped off trying to find his own way to the highway. Ouch. That hurts – admitting to such immature behaviour. Of course he actually knew of another, longer route that would get to the charger, but, let’s face it, asking for directions would have been much more polite and much smarter too.
The good news for you, dear reader, is that while charging for an hour I had lots of time to talk with my wife about how this embarrassing event is a perfect metaphor for how many of us are responding to the “road closed” sign sitting in front of the fossil fuel -consumption based economy we are all part of. So, let’s make the metaphors in the parable clear.
- ‘Road Closed’
- many warning signs tell us that climate disruption is happening and that as it caused by our CO2 emissions: we must stop burning fossil fuels, it is a dead end!
- The lack of a ‘detour’ sign
- Most people cannot see another way to live that will maintain their current high standard of living (which they want to maintain) so they keep on doing they know are actually making things worse but they feel that they have no choice
- Following the other car
- People are sheep – if we see another person doing something which supports what we want to do it justifies us to not seek an alternative as ‘everybody else is doing it so it must be fine’
- Construction worker in truck
- The climatologists and activists are telling that we in big trouble and that there is another way to live: technologies and lifestyle choices are available now that, while different, can still maintain a high quality of life without destroying our climate system and the many species dependent upon it – which, by the way, includes us. Rather than being grateful for their insights we treat them rudely and consider their advice a threat
- Rudeness and not even listening to the construction worker
- My rudeness happened because I was stressed and in a rush – pretty much the case for the average citizen in North America every day. Our lifestyle breeds unhealthy levels of stress which make it hard for us to listen to people who tell us things that we don’t really want to hear and who feel like a threat to us. The resultant rudeness and dangerous political polarization is described by Jarrod Diamond in his latest book Upheaval as the greatest threat to North American democracy and its ability to make the changes needed to adapt to the threat of climate change and species extinction.
“The most ominous problem now threatening American democracy is our accelerating deterioration of political compromise. For example, in the USAs first 220 years the Senate only 68 presidential nominees by filibusters: but during Obama’s first term alone the Republicans blocked 79 Obama nominees.”
This parable is partly about our need to notice that our current way of life is a dead end and that there are road blocks happening every day to make the point to us all. Like the “young man” in New Brunswick we seem not be really paying attention to the warning signs, as evidenced by the fact that we continue on our merry way of life without change. For example from the CNN July 11 news report:
New Orleans faces a never-before-seen problem with
Tropical Storm Barry
“Look, there are three ways that Louisiana floods: storm surge, high rivers and rain,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. “We’re going to have all three.”
However, there is a deeper problem made clear in the parable: our lack of civility, our inability to truly listen to each other, our need to be right which precludes compromise. This deeper social breakdown almost guarantees that we cannot deal with climate change until it is too late to avoid the pain and suffering of millions.
So, please, don’t just try to be right, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and when somebody cuts you off while driving don’t give them the ‘royal 1 finger salute’ but just slow down and let them in – they are probably having a bad day and need some grace. Then, and only then, can we , together, roll up our sleeves and deal with the climate crises, which, I think, will not turn out to be such a big deal once we realize that we are all on the same side. George Bernard Shaw said it well: