Beyond Blue

I’ve never been so excited to freeze my buns off.

Ever since the temperatures dropped into the single digits (with wind chill) a few days ago, I’ve been dancing around the house in my Irish wool sweater singing, “We’re not going to burn up! Yeah! Yeah! Maybe not in my lifetime!”

Ah, the joy of seeing my breath as I yelled to Eric in our driveway, “Unlock the bloody car! I’m freezing!” Because on days like today I feel a little less guilty about what I’m doing to the planet (along with the rest of the industrialized world).

Thoughts of global warming keep me up at night. Many nights. How do you not freak out when reading headlines like the one in the “Washington Post” a few days ago: “Humans Faulted For Global Warming: International Panel of Climate Scientists Sounds Dire Alarm”?

With every grave headline I make a new promise: I’ll use cloth diapers (and change Katherine every half hour instead of twice a day). Eric and I will exchange our Nissan Pathfinder for a more fuel-efficient car. I’ll walk the kids to preschool. I’ll use sandpaper (i.e. recyclable) toilet paper. I won’t air-condition the house this summer. I’ll turn the lights off whenever I leave a room. I’ll ask Santa for a set of solar panels instead of an espresso machine.

And with every urgent call for proper stewardship of our planet, I panic. I surf online for real estate in Michigan and Minneapolis. Because, according to some scientists’ math, Annapolis will be underwater. David doesn’t get to feed the ducks at the city dock with his kids. Katherine can’t run around the Naval Academy with her baby jogger. By the time my kids reproduce, it’s “Under the Sea”, as we sing so often around here (from “The Little Mermaid“).

Question: what does a person with fragile brain chemistry do when reading the following paragraph in an op-ed by Kofi Annan?

“A study by a former chief economist of the World Bank, Sir Nicholas Stern of Britain, called climate change ‘the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen,’ with the potential to shrink the global economy by 20 percent and to cause economic and social disruption on par with the two world wars and the Great Depression. The scientific consensus, already and incontrovertible, is moving toward the more alarmed end of the spectrum. Many scientists long known for their caution are now saying that warming has reached dire levels, generating feedback loops that will take us perilously close to a point of no return.”

Answer: screams hysterically, “The word is ending! Tomorrow! The world is ending!” And then goes to her favorite prayer that makes sense out of confusion, finds order in madness, and paves a path in disaster.

What insight Reinhold Niebuhr offered the world with his Serenity Prayer:

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Here’s what it means to me in terms of our planet:

Some things I cannot change: that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” (according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change); that by the most conservative IPCC scenario, our world will be 4.5 degrees hotter by 2100, and that’s enough to cause global mayhem–massive species extinction, floods (bye-bye Naval Academy), droughts, devastating hurricanes and tropical storms (and we thought Katrina was bad)–that could be irreversible within a human lifetime.

Some things I can change: potty-train Katherine so that I’m not filling land with poopy, plastic diapers that are not biodegradable (even though they rock at absorbing); raise awareness of our planet’s steamy state by writing blogs and articles about everything I should be doing; publish more online and less in print to save the trees that eat carbon dioxide; forgo my “Hawaii” fantasies in the shower, where I imagine myself (for a long time) under a warm spring all alone; do less laundry (yippie!) by wearing dirty clothes and washing full loads in cold; buy energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs; have Eric clean the air filters (he cares about the planet too); carpool when I can (let my friends buy the minivans?); reduce waste by buying minimally packaged goods (like Princess and Superman fruit-flavored snacks?) and choosing reusable products over disposable ones (use Princess and Superman lunchboxes instead of paper bags); have Eric install better, energy-saving windows; plant trees in our yard and don’t purchase plastic Easter eggs to hang on them; and vote for green people (not aliens, environmentally-conscious folk).

And on how to distinguish the two—what I can change and what I can’t—I’ve got to go to God. Because I can’t figure it out so much of the time. Especially on a cold day like today.

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