Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Climate Fiction and Climate Change

I just read a very erudite essay by Gregers Andersen called "Cli-fi: a Short Essay on its Worlds and its Importance." Andersen, who just received his Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen with a dissertation called "Climate Changed Existence and its Worlds. Global Warming in Fiction and Philosophy" says (though I'm simplifying his argument) that fiction about climate change prepares us for a world changed by global warming. He notes that, though the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes has given us a great deal of information in the reports it has been publishing for the past 25 years, nowhere in them "does one find characters forced to live in the future living conditions sketched." This is because reports are full of data, but "fiction typically depicts human beings in action..."

Not every piece of fiction that shows human beings in extreme climates is climate fiction, Andersen says, and he goes on to define cli-fi as fiction that "depicts or in some other way employs the motif of climate change generated by humanity's emissions of greenhouse gasses in their plot." These fictions have, he goes on to say, five basic and recurring themes: Social Breakdown in which individuals are shown battling over limited resources; Judgment in which Nature revolts and punishes humanity; Conspiracy in which climate change is part of a cover-up to promote private interests; Loss of Wilderness in which climate change is the end of nature; and Sphere in which the biosphere is destroyed but humans create their own artificial atmospheres. Interestingly, he describes fiction that applies Social Breakdown and Judgment themes to show a climate-modified human way of being in the world as "unheimlich" or uncanny. This usually refers to the experience of something familiar becoming something strange.

Recently I made my own small contribution to cli-fi, a short story called "The Relocation Specialist," which is in the current issue (#74) of DoorKnobs & BodyPaint. I suppose it best fits the Social Breakdown theme, as set out by Andersen. It's only a small (450-word) story, but having written it, I am especially interested in what Andersen says about cli-fi – fiction takes the data about what our future can and will hold and converts it into the actions and reactions of human beings. In this way, it helps prepare us for what our future will be like if we don't act now.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Public Transit Helps Make a City Great

The David Suzuki Foundation does a lot to remind people how important the natural world is for all of us, and his 30 X 30 Challenge is going on again this year. Suzuki also addresses issues like climate change and wildlife habitat in his blog, and today I was pleased to read his post called "Transit investments drive positive change."

He starts out by asking what makes a city great and then answers, "Among other things, great cities welcome ethnic diversity, support and foster the arts, have access to venture capital to spur entrepreneurship and innovation and benefit from healthy environments that provide clean air and water." He cites the importance of public transit in great cities from New York to San Francisco, Markham and Toronto in Canada to Curitiba in Brazil. He says that good transit in Toronto helps new immigrants, and he advocates for more transit investment in other Canadian cities.

Here in Tucson we have an uphill struggle to keep our bus system from declining, and it will be interesting to see how things change when the new streetcar begins operation in July. The streetcar line will operate more frequently and later in the day than the buses do, but it will only serve a small part of the city between downtown Tucson and the University of Arizona. Members of the Bus Riders Union fear that the streetcar line will be used as an excuse to force riders from other parts of the city to make time-consuming transfers when routes are cut that duplicate the streetcar’s coverage area. As David Suzuki notes, the greatness of a city depends on its commitment to transit, and Tucson would benefit from strengthening transit for all its citizens, not just a select few.    

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Starting My Climate Change Journal

This version of “Other Homes and Gardens,” is a combination of two of my old blogs – “Other Homes and Gardens” and “Fashion Sense by Alice.” Though I have talked about climate change in both blogs (see among others High Water in Prague in 2013), I recently have had the life-changing experience of taking Professor Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics MOOC. This Massive Open Online Course at Coursera (which is still going on) addresses issues like what we owe to the global poor, animal rights, and affirmative action. The section on climate change a couple of weeks ago featured a lecture by Dale Jamieson, whose new book Reason in a Dark Time I’m currently reading. All of this has made me think deeply and seriously about climate change, and  I decided to use this blog as a Climate Change Journal so I can keep track of local and global aspects of climate change and delineate some of the ways I will work to reduce my carbon footprint. I also plan to address the issue of how Climate Change makes the lives of the poor more difficult and dangerous. To help reduce my carbon footprint, I have made the following pledges: 1) To reduce my use of heating and air-conditioning (though I haven’t decided yet how to quantify that); 2) To be a vegan -- at every meal, every day; and 3) To limit riding in a car to two round trips per week.

Here in Tucson I walk a lot, but this city exemplifies sprawl, so I often have to make trips by car or bus. I am one of 1,500 members of the Tucson Bus Riders Union, which in its current incarnation relies heavily on the organizing might of Casa Maria, a Catholic Worker community. The Bus Riders Union has done a tremendous amount to keep the city from raising fares and cutting service. All the members were encouraged to attend Tuesday night's city council meeting, and as you can see from the photo at the CasaMaria site, we showed up in large numbers, wearing our bright yellow Bus Riders Union tee shirts. Organizations that sent representatives included Service Employees International Union, Sustainable Tucson, Derechos Humanos, and Veterans for Peace. As Brian Flagg noted in his post yesterday, the Daily Star failed to mention the Bus Riders Union in its article, "City Council scraps bus changes in budget plan," but there's no doubt that BRU played a major part in the Council's decision to hold off on route changes. Unfortunately, this is just a temporary respite, and the fare increases and route cuts will be back on the City Council agenda in the fall. Which is why Brian Flagg concluded his post by saying, "The time is now to organize bigger and better."

A Fifth and Final Ekphrastic Essay About Our 2022 Road Trip: the Prairie and the Dust Bowl

  Erosion No. 2, Mother Earth Laid Bare by Alexandre Hogue When Greg and I were planning our 2022 road trip, our goal was to visit friends a...