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A lot of the time, it feels pretty hopeless advocating to protect the climate.  The banshees drown out every sane word or thought, and there are too many of them.  

Here are some recent lessons that not only give us hope, but also suggest an approach to change the climate when it comes to climate.  We see how the impossible can become established fact very suddenly, after years of what appeared to desperately little progress.  When the shrieks are loudest - it's when we are closest.

Legal and political possibility are the headliners when it comes to the big decisions.  Politically and legally, real climate action in the US appears DOA.  It's a bad thing.

Since most of us are not big time lawyers, nor congresscrittters, the area we can change is the area of social possibility, that at times can liberate someone in a position of power to do the right thing, or at other times can force them.

We need to take actions that will expand the Social Possibility that we, as a community or as a state or country, can choose to stop expanding carbon pollution.   On purpose!

Then, the wave of that possibility needs to break over all those comfortable bubble people who think that they are the only decision makers.

To see how social possibility turns into political possibility, then necessity, and finally legal possibility, we have an excellent ongoing example, which is marriage equality.  It's a great example because we are still close enough to remember when it was completely impossible.

Let’s look at the four stages of possibility for marriage equality and see if this example helps us out.

For any two men or two women, it’s been possible to get married since they invented the words “I Do.”  Possible, but not socially possible for most of history.  

There was this process, of creating social possibility, that went on for years.  About 20 years ago, you started hearing about “partners.”  I remember exactly when I first heard this term, my friend Don introduced me to his partner and I didn’t know what he meant.  Were they in business together?  And then I got it!  Congratulations guys!  Partners!

Just a few years ago, marriage equality was politically impossible.  But there was no stopping the underlying social current which, past a certain tipping point, becomes political necessity and very quickly legal possibility.  After that, it’s just great news for photographers and event planners!  

It will take some time for every corner of our country, but marriage equality has arrived.  In just a few more years, it’s going to be pretty embarrassing for certain people to have to admit that they were against love and family.

That’s pretty inspiring.  We can get where we need to be.  Once a critical mass of understanding is reached, the impossible can become simply fact, faster than you think is possible.

Here in Washington State, we had the recent surprise that marriage equality just seemed to arrive from nowhere!  Like in other states, the conventional wisdom said it was not a political winner, and the governor was timid.  Then all of a sudden, the moment was here.

It's not exactly clear whether the governor was freed to do what she had always known was right, or whether she was pushed into it by civil rights leaders such as WA Senator Ed Murray.  But, there is one case where it's absolutely clear: Republican State Senator Maureen Walsh not only voted for the bill but she told us all exactly why in a totally amazing, must see, narrative of personal growth.  This is someone who was liberated to do the right thing by the arrival of social possibility.

So what happened in the years leading up to the arrival of the wave?  You might naturally look to the headliners, like the governor, as being the people who made it possible, but I have a different theory.  

I think it was my friend Don, back in Virginia in 1995.  By that I mean him, and a million people who talked to their friends, and non-friends, about equality, dignity, love and family.  Some of those people realized that they didn't want to hurt their neighbors any more.  And then some of them talked with their friends.  Activists were then able to expand that conversation at every level from personal to national.

When it comes to carbon pollution, we find ourselves stuck somewhere deep in the question of social possibility.  Beyond the huge educational hill to climb, we face a well funded set of professional liars whose entire mission in life is to prevent the truth about carbon pollution from coming out.

Possibility ... Now ... Love ... Joy
To create the underlying social possibility of reducing carbon pollution, we need to help people to connect the dots.  All of those local impacts, all the NIMBYs that motivate us to action in our specific areas, are inseparable from the fact of being a big carbon project, from local poisons all the way to global warming and the acidification of the world's oceans.  It is not possible to have a new big carbon project without creating a swath of destruction everywhere along its path, and then leaving an oily film or dusty coating of pollution.

Political and legal action is important.  I endorse it.  But, at the end of the day, there will be no political or legal progress unless there is a social wave, composed entirely of people we talk to, educate, convince, and motivate.

They may own most of the airwaves, and the sponsored links any time you Google an energy or environmental topic.  The legions of paid trolls may drown out any semblance of conversation in the comments sections of online news.

But, they cannot own the conversation that individuals have with each other, however much they may try.

You know of whom I speak
I have a very difficult assignment for anybody who will consider it.  Your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to start conversations with the people in your lives (and not the people would typically read Daily Kos).  You know of whom I speak.

In those conversations, I challenge each of you to expressly take on the big cahuna: We have to stop expanding carbon pollution.  It's not just global warming.  Carbon pollution poisons our air, land and water, whether it's fracking, hazardous air pollutants, ocean acidification, global warming, shredded landscapes, or any of the myriad other effects.

The most important thing is to have the conversations.  You don’t have to “win” a given discussion.  Just communicating to someone, that this is something that matters,  accomplishes something.  If you can't convince your father in law, it may be that at the same holiday dinner table, your cousin Bob has been thinking about these things but not known who to talk to, until now.

In the next few years, there will be a series of decision points on various new big carbon pollution plans.  Elected officials and bureaucrats will make their decisions.  These decisions absolutely will be affected, deeply, by the sense of the people who elected the officials.

When our county, our state, and our country convey to these people that it is perfectly reasonable to stop a big carbon project, just because that’s what it is, then good decisions will follow.  But not otherwise.  We have a very small number of years to build that condition.

For marriage equality, that social change didn’t happen by itself.  It took millions of people like my friend Don, who decided it was time to have that conversation, and had the courage to start it.

Is it enough just to stop new big carbon?  Nope, it's not enough.  But it's required, and it creates the next level of possibility, of reducing carbon pollution.

So everybody, right now is the time to have the conversation about carbon pollution with the people in our lives.  Don't be silenced when our habitat is at stake.

Our Future - Worth Saving
Wedding photos copyright Frank Blau Photography, with special permission from Danielle (thanks!).

Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 11:03 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Climate Pirate's suggestion (15+ / 0-)

    At the blog climate pirate, he had a similar suggestion about how a cultural shift can help climate change messaging:

    When we speak up, we won’t try to change deniers’ minds (because we can’t). Instead we’ll help create a new norm where it’s good to call for action and not good to resist it. We’ll speak to inspire those who already want action to raise their voices too (“Inspire the Choir”), and a side effect will be to shush deniers. - thoughts on energy, the environment, and society.

    by barath on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 01:14:54 PM PDT

  •  it was great to see such a crowd at B'ham HS (4+ / 0-)

    over the GP coal dump.
    As I walked up what got my attention first were the police cars near the entrance and it did get my attention.  After seeing that it was a good surprise to not see a heavy presence inside, dressed with a 'ready to rumble' look.
     But they were very low key and helpful. It was one of them that came over to the small crowd I was sitting with ( listening to the speaker) to tell us there was now room for ten more people.
    That event was almost a teach-in on how to work against the coal dump when you consider the explanations on what the scoping process is and how people can be involved.

     I was just happy to see so many people from different economic levels, the poor beside the financially comfortable opposing the coal dump (my Doc is part of Whatcom Docs) and that tiny group there in support of the dump.

    In fact before Channel 5 started their interview with me she told me they were having trouble finding someone to interview that was in favor of the coal terminal (big smile time). Maybe they thought I looked like someone that supported the coal dump, but figured they were wrong and decided to do the interview anyway.
    Either way the next day I got an email from someone (on one of the groups against the terminal) with a link to the broadcast and they'd cut about 99% of what I said. But I did get a few sentences in the final cut mentioning the noise, pollution, and the constant traffic of 1.5 mile long trains.
    What I didn't like about the newscast is how it sounded like it was an event with a lot of people attending and some were for the terminal, while others oppose it. That's basically true of course, but without noting the big difference in numbers it's misleading.
    I asked two friends if that was the impression they got from it and they both agreed it sounded like it was a big event with a lot of people...for and against. Bunk.

    without the ants the rainforest dies

    by aliasalias on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 01:39:41 PM PDT

  •  I don't thing Marriage Equality... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cynndara a good model for this problem.

    People come to support marriage equality only after they see LGBT couples in their community. When they see that these people are OK and that they don't cause the world to end, they loosen up.

    Global warming is the exact opposite. We can't see it. We can't feel it. And what we can feel, like an early spring, feels pretty good.

    I can see my gay neighbors and I know they're OK. I can't see CO2, so I don't really know that it's bad. Even if I intellectually understand it, my heart doesn't understand the danger.

    •  I thought about this (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cocinero, John Crapper, SolarMom, Chi, louavul

      and perhaps there is a clearer way to state it, but the analog to marriage equality is not global warming; rather the opposite.  The analog is gaining social acceptance for the very concept of limiting the expansion of big carbon, for any of a number of reasons, and for positive actions in that direction.

      When people first (re)started recycling when I was a kid, the first people who did it (including my parents) were regarded as odd.  Now it's mainstream; every house on my block has the recycling bins out on pickup day.

      The acceptance, and mainstreaming, of positive behaviors and attitudes that will limit the growth of big carbon is the goal described.

    •  People can see others acting responsibly (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells, SolarMom, louavul

      to reduce their carbon footprint in a variety of ways.

      In the case of marriage equality, the media played a roll. Even if people were unable to see LGBT couples in their community, they increasingly saw them on the screen and their TVs. Rock Hudson was gay?! Tom Hanks in Philadelphia, Ellen Degeneres (Who could dislike Ellen?) etc.

      An Inconvenient Truth was a start, but because it was identified with Al Gore, it immediately politicized the issue. Now we need to see more on the big and small screen about reducing carbon pollution. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry has enormous resources to produce sophisticated spin (like all the BP ads). The opponents of marriage equality have some funding, but nothing to compare with big oil and big coal.

    •  But I think the weather has been so crazy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells, cynndara

      so far this year, that people really are starting to see it and with the help of lots of conversations ready to start thinking more realistically.

      I know the time is short and maybe already too late, but we can't just do nothing.

      Share Jim Hansen's TED talk with a friend, for example.

      Have some kind of conversation with someone.  Just help to get the ideas out there.

    •  climate instability (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells, cynndara, louavul

      Is how I often discuss the topic.  Climate change sounds like there will just be a new normal to adjust to.  Conservatives hate instability.

      We kidnap. We torture. It's our policy. Embrace it or end it!

      by Mosquito Pilot on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 06:25:30 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Maybe seeing the world doesn't end (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells

      You will find people claiming that to deal with climate change "we have to go back to the caves" which is total nonsense.  If people see others buying renewable power and driving electric cars and using public transit, they'll realize thwart we can reduce our footprint by &0% and the world doesn't end

  •  You are speaking my language. This is such a (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Wells, SolarMom, Lorikeet, louavul

    right on the money diary.   I needed to read this today.  I was out gardening in Seattle on a beautiful day and rededicating myself.  I love nature, I love spring, and I love the climate.  We need to take care of our climate for ourselves.  Thank you James W. for this inspiring message.  It is a message of new birth and I needed it today.  

    If we really want to straighten out all this crap we need to really think about shit!

    by John Crapper on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 06:36:45 PM PDT

  •  Try explaining to 3 billion developing nation (0+ / 0-)

    citizens that they should happily pay much more for energy and forgo the development model that our grandparents enjoyed in the first world.  Maybe you can make a case but I'm not getting it here.

    Where are we, now that we need us most?

    by Frank Knarf on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 08:35:39 PM PDT

    •  Not really true (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Wells, cynndara, louavul

      There are some very hopeful signs in the developing world - a lot of leapfrogging going on.  For example, solar panels are going up in remote villages in Africa and India to bring local power, forgoing the need for long transmission lines connecting to big dirty new plants. Cell phones are replacing the need for land lines.

      I'm not saying there isn't also gas and coal, but both gas and coal are not the only path, or even the cheapest path, in more and more instances.

      Also, much of the developing world is particularly vulnerable to the ravages of climate change: drought, floods, and rising seas.  They are not unaware of this.

      “Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” -- FDR, 1936

      by SolarMom on Sat Mar 24, 2012 at 09:02:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a wonderful diary. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Wells

    Thank you for writing it and putting it in the context you did.  I've been feeling so hopeless lately and just not feeling that there was anything I could do to make a difference, but you have shown me the way.  

    I loved your series of thoughts -- "waves of possibility" and putting it in the context of marriage equality, makes it so hopeful.  It seems that a corner really has been turned that wasn't even clearly obvious only a couple months ago.  

    There's an excellent, recent Jim Hansen TED talk

    and I've been thinking of having some friends over to watch it with me and as I was an economics major maybe helping explain some of the carbon reduction ideas.

    It might not help, but who knows and just getting started doing something would make me feel better, too.

    Thank you for helping me see that just making things seems possible is the first step.

  •  YES (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    James Wells

    This is how change really happens.  
    Don't try to change someone's mind in a single conversation.  Plant seeds that you nurture over time.
    For the truly hoodwinked, just making them aware that serious people can have a different and informed point of view is a huge step.

    We kidnap. We torture. It's our policy. Embrace it or end it!

    by Mosquito Pilot on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 06:18:49 AM PDT

  •  Gawds (0+ / 0-)

    I've been trying to have this conversation with The Little Brother for the last four years.  This winter I threw in the towel.  You know the bit about first ignoring, then attacking, etc?  He started getting absolutely, personally vile to me any time I broached SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION about climate change.  And this is after HE started the conversation by dumping a thirty-page denialist PowerPoint in my lap and asking me to comment.  And after I was NICE in how I pointed out the errors and gave him my references all academic-like.  And after I tried appealing to his faith in mathematic economics with a phrase I read on DKos: "You cannot map an infinite plane (growth) onto a finite sphere (the Earth)."

    I can't do any more without being banished from the family Solstice gatherings.  As it is I dread even speaking to him, he's gone so off the deep end.  And, umm, I don't KNOW anybody else who needs convincing.  Sure, I do reiterate the basics to retail clerks every time I go garden-shopping or comment on the weather.  But I don't get any argument there, it's just a general re-inforcement process.  And of course I do what I can to heighten distrust of the big fossil-fuel companies, which is hardly difficult among the working class.  But the one who can do the most harm and/or good -- the NASA engineer with a couple of million in net worth -- is in foaming-at-the-mouth denial, and ready to bite anything that even LOOKS like an environmentalist.  And gawds, we came out of the same pod -- his fangs are toxic.

  •  What an excellent... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    louavul, James Wells

    ...approach to this subject.  

    Me?  I write letters and put on concerts, and I talk to people about this all the time.

    Let's keep the pressure on.  Things have to change.  They must.

    Freedom isn't "on the march." Freedom dances.

    by WarrenS on Sun Mar 25, 2012 at 09:29:24 AM PDT

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