Monday, 19 May 2014

Eroding the cliffs of pain…


The more we learn about climate change and its effects, the more we realize – simply put – that…
  1. we still have a great deal to learn (as with most – if not all – areas of science);
  2. it’s not just about “global warming”;
  3. it’s already here;
  4. what were acute once-in-a-century events – such as flooding, large coastal storms, widely fluctuating seasonal temperatures – are becoming more and more frequent – if not the norm; if not chronic (you only have to look at the record of flooding in Stratford to see evidence); however,
  5. once the effects of these “events” wear off, we carry on as if the crisis were over – seemingly, we learn nothing from the experience.

A recent article by George Monbiot sums the situation up perfectly:

Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.

Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend? And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?


I have hinted before that, as well as the persistent pain (described as “background pain”) I experience, on top of it I then have “breakthrough pain” events) – which are akin to the usual, acute pain that most people experience. Dealing with these is a lot more difficult than the constant, thrumming discomfort: because of its suddenness and unpredictability – but there are precautions (and medications) I can take to lessen their impact: although, sadly, unlike preventative measures for unusual weather events, they do not work long-term; and only (if I am lucky) take the edge off my pain. (I sometimes think a sharp knife is preferable to such a blunted one – usually because of the accompanying side-effects.)

However, for most people, when you cut yourself, suffer a bruise or even a broken leg, you understand – from experience, or from your mum kissing it better… – that its impact on you will be finite; that you may end up with a scar (visible and external; or invisible and internal), but the pain will recede, then disappear; and you may well even forget what caused that funny mark on your left shin, or that cut on your finger. Was it the dog? A foul, when playing football? A careless collision with the furniture? A paper cut, perhaps?

For me, though, obviously, the pain has never gone away; and, after nearly eighteen years, it is still with me, getting microscopically worse with each passing day. The British Pain Society, defines such “chronic pain” as…

…continuous, long-term pain of more than 12 weeks or after the time that healing would have been thought to have occurred in pain after trauma or surgery.


The funny – if that’s the right word… – thing is that, eventually, you do learn to live with it (although it has taken me a very long time to accept this…). You can’t ignore it, but you can cope with it. Turning this back to our climate, though, we don’t seem to be coping at all; but we are ignoring it extremely well – now that the floods have dissipated; and the crisis is over… – and I struggle to understand why we (meaning government, as well as the majority of individuals) seem so keen on keeping our empty heads buried so deeply. A little (relatively) long-term (preventative) investment, now, would be a lot more effective – but less expensive – than dealing with each individual weather event, piecemeal, as it occurs (with repeated (cosmetic?) surgery, if you would...), in the future.

When we discuss climate change – the chronic pain we cause our planet – we’re not really talking about saving the Earth, though, are we? Just as I care more about ameliorating my experience of inhabiting this body; we only care about our experience of living on this planet: not the planet itself. As James Lovelock has posited, it can probably get by quite well – if not better – without us; and I have wondered, for a while, if my body would be better off in the long term if I stopped trying to make my life easier for myself in the short term….


For the last eighteen years, I have fought this pain – and my disability – daily; but it was a war that I always knew (if I was honest) I could never truly win. There have been some landmark victorious battles – for instance, eight years ago, I could barely move, or feel, the left-hand side of my body; or move my neck to the left: but a major operation resolved these problems (now, inevitably, returning slowly). Occasionally, medication, or physiotherapy, would help – usually temporarily – with a particular symptom. But the fighting has caused problems of its own – quite frequently a hefty dose of disappointment when I have set my goals unrealistically high (my theory having been that aiming high, stretching myself, was the only way to achieve anything); or raising my blood pressure with a self-defeating rant of blame at the people responsible for the accidents I was in.

Now, though, I have finally accepted my plight; I have come to terms with it; signed a truce, a peace pact. In a way, it’s similar to the last stage of grieving: and I feel a huge weight lifting from my shoulders. I’m not quite there, yet: but, instead of concentrating on the things that damage my quality of life, the things I can’t do, I shall – as Christopher Reeve once wisely said – think about all the thousands of things I can still do.

In a way, it’s not just about tolerating and understanding my situation, or even ignoring it – especially as I know, as with old age, that continuing deterioration is inevitable… – it’s about focusing my energies elsewhere. Yes, there may be medical advances in the future that could help me (the operation I had would not have been possible, twenty, thirty years before…) – but there’s no point constantly stressing about something “possible”, vague and intangible.


The thing is, though, when you consider the status of the health of the planet we live on, there are things that we could (should) be doing (or doing at much larger scales) to make things better; to improve our stay; things that are worth “stressing about”. But we are ignoring them – we have passively drifted far too early into that “acceptance”… – and relying on the fact that “things” will not get much worse during our lifetimes. What about those who follow us, though? They will not thank us for abandoning them and their planet when there were so many proven ways of stopping the damage we have caused; so many ways of even turning things around.

The breakthrough weather events are becoming chronic; and a lot of damage has been done. Now is not the time to stand idly by, or just throw our arms in the air in desperate acceptance; or in the hope that someone else will ride to our rescue.

What is needed is a collective decision as momentous as my personal one feels to me (and those close to me). As a rule, most people don’t like change (I know I am an odd exception…) – but change is already here; and will only get worse… unless we change our attitudes, our behaviour, the way we live our lives. Instead of accepting the status quo, we need to start fighting with all our might, hearts, minds, actions; rather than just vacantly mumbling about the weather, and attributing the liability elsewhere.

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