Why we don’t give a crap about climate change.

I often wonder how in the face of images like these, we as humans have failed to take action on climate change. It’s led me down a rabbit hole of psychology, the persuasion, and how we make decisions. The threat of global warming has been around since the 70s. Since then we’ve been debating whether humans cause it, how much damage we’ve done, and who’s responsible. Why has policy moved at a snail’s pace? Why does the world refuse to rally? Why don’t we care enough to act?

One aspect of evolutionary biology forces us to deal with immediate threats. Like, “Ow! My hand is on fire” or “I need shelter away from the bears tonight” or the feeling of choking on a piece of plastic. Our ability to see the long view and foresee problems that could happen in 150 years just isn’t that strong.  It’s probably why so few Americans stress about this next month’s rent but fail to open retirement accounts. Or why my wife doesn’t like to put on sunscreen. The effects are only felt much much later.

Another reason is that we don’t enjoy thinking of our demise. Watching a doomsday scenario is much more fun on screen, preferably with Bill Pullman as our President saving the day at the end. This tendency works to our benefit. Just imagine stepping outside everyday consumed with the certainty that you’re going to be attacked by your neighbor’s pitbull or hit by a truck. That feels paralyzing to me. Positive thinking helps us lead positive lives. A plane may go down over there, but my 747 is totally bulletproof. Or missile proof, if you live near Russia.

Some people view climate change as a conspiracy.  This stance may be due to motivated reasoning. That happens when we twist or ignore information because it conflicts with an opposite held belief. That can be based on identity or affiliation – a political party or a sports team. For instance, you think a referee made a shitty call when it hurts your team, but the right one when it helps. You believe in small government and thus, any type of regulation,  even ones that protect our air and minimize pollution, are an infringement on our rights. Motivated reasoning is why science can be seen as trash or in the words of Michelle Bachman, “voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.” In a way, the brain can’t resolve these two opposite ideas. Psychologists calls this cognitive dissonance. For some, it’s either A or B, but  not both. At that point, we’re not breaking down arguments. We’re breaking down bonds in the brain, which are made of really tough spider silk.

But perhaps the most common and defeating reason is that I’m just one person, and global warming is just too big for me to make any kind of dent. So we’re not all Ghandi or George Washington. But there are examples of big sweeping movements where humans rallied to solve a crisis.  A story: before anesthesia was invented, life really sucked for the wounded. Patients were intoxicated to dangerous levels, held down by big burly men, and limbs were sawed off. Then on November 18th, 1846 a report was published in Boston by Henry Bigelow on the discovery of “insensibility of inhalation.” Nitrous oxide was applied and spread like wildfire because it helped people. By mid-December, doctors adopted the idea in Paris and London. By June, most regions of the world were using it. These were the days before twitter and the Internet, and still the world rallied because it helped all of humanity. We did the same during the Japanese tsunami or earthquake in Haiti. During WWII the United States underwent a total rework of supplies and rationed everything – gas, rubber, food. All to help people. When are we going to do it again to protect our planet, and ourselves?

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BEACH HOUSE

I.

In the summer,
we’d do cannonballs
at the public pool.
freedom for two bucks
an extra dollar for ice cream
jackknives and coffins
biggest splash wins.
extra points
if you get kicked out
when all the girls are watching

II.

look! there are my toes
wriggling in between the sand
and sand
in between my toes
and you, oh mom,
in your sun hat and black aviators
reading books in Hebrew,
waving at me
eating watermelon
with juice all over my face
I’m so in love

III.

at paradise cove, at two p.m.
you could see dolphins
if you wanted.
Me and you, brother
we’d bury each other
up to our necks
where the small waves broke.
the sun reached its summit
and we couldn’t afford more freckles.
So we smeared sunscreen
on each other’s backs,
then let the water
wash it all away.

IV.

twenty minutes
after killing tuna sandwiches,
we’re on our boogie boards
paddling,
swimming,
holding on for dear life.
wave crests crashing over our heads
our tiny, little heads
“Twenty feet, at least”
I scream over the water to no one.
you got scared,
and went back.
so I followed.

V.

castles in the sand
we dug wells,
captured sand crabs
that I wanted to take home
to start a farm
name them silly things
like Herbert and Roger and Nancy and Sherbet.
when the tide got high
you took the cup
let them all go,
like Moses freeing the slaves.
I was so proud
and so sad.

This is my Dad

tennis with Jack on Sundays; a twenty five year old mustache that was cut off; the luckiest backgammon player I’ve ever fucking seen; hits the treadmill level 13, speed  3.9 three times a week; afraid of dogs, cats, or anything that can jump up past his waist (though he claims he once had a dog for about three weeks); wavy, Hungarian hair; pink nose; smart enough to win Jeopardy; loves television; sad to see 24 end its run; he hates Larry King and news anchors – all of them – but because he loves television so much he’ll sit through it if we’re watching.

He know three great Jewish jokes, and is a master at telling them; he’s been to India twice and wants to take us there; he’s never been to Auschwitz and hates Germans; I’ve seen him make three things in my entire life: toast with cream cheese, matzo brie, and tuna with celery.  My brother Gil says my Mom and Dad are getting older now. “You’re away now and don’t see it,” and now he’ll ask them if they want tea or a sandwich or some cut up fruit.

He wakes up every morning at 6:15 for his first shower of the day, shaves his face (my dad has no neck), and suits up. Black for court. Gray for the office. Always pump. On Friday he has no clients – so he’ll wear a twenty seven year old pair of Levis and an orange Ralph Lauren polo I got him as a present when I was thirteen. He ends all his emails with love, always Aba and I think it’s the double lower case which makes me soft inside every time I read it.

At 7:20 every morning, has a cup of regular French Vanilla coffee and a wheat bagel smothered with cream cheese. Sometimes he puts the coffee in a paper cup, sometimes he doesn’t. But he wraps his bagel in a napkin and rips off a mouthful before the front door. The impact of his large teeth, the softness of the bagel, and his tough hands cause one sixth of the cheese to get smeared into the napkin. A quarter of the cheese will not make it into his mouth – it will smear into the paper napkin, or onto his shirt. In which case my dad will utter, “Fuck” or “Goddamn it” himself, without anyone of us hearing a word.

the man in burning man – photos+words

The more I asked what Burning Man was like, the more evasive my roommates became. Every discussion culminated with Michael bending his head forward exasperatedly. “Just buy your ticket and GO. Then you’ll get it.”

So I did.

First night we spent in an underground earthship in Cedar Edge. The trip took 17 hours. There were four of us: two beekeepers honey magnets from Longmont, a fifty year old software engineer in a tie-dye tank top + John Locke’s hippie twin, and me, a Burner Virgin with no expectations of what the next nine days would bring.  We arrived at the gates at 2.30, watching the sunrise blank out the stars as the line moved along. I met up with my camp early on, running into them at Center Camp. Amazing.

First some definitions:

BRC

<Black Rock City or BRC> The official name of the land area that holds the festival.
<The Playa> The open space of BRC. Where the Man, the Temple, and art installations live and art cars roam.
<Esplanade> Burning Man is composed of rings, like a giant C. Esplanade is the inner most ring, full of theme caps and sound systems.

Playa dust is magnetized with luck and divine occurence. Manifestation is built right into the alkaline sand. Wish for something and it will come your way. Pancakes and chai tea in the morning, goths in steampunk sidecars, talk ofthe paradigm shift in 2012, a ride back to Boulder. Anything. It will happen.

Picture 15

We camped at 4.30 and J. Next to the veggie disco, the suck ‘n fuck saloon, and the hammock hangout. A guy stood at our intersection during morning bathroom runs, yelling at people on a bullhorn to watch out for the invisible children. “Just killed another one! Please look out! The road is littered with the invisible carcasses of all the invisible children you keep running over. Have a great day!”

Burning Man is more than just a party, even if the event is entirely drug inspired. How can I put this? An alien organism of creations, a psychedelic freak show of fire. The Disneyland Main Street parade on a triple dose of acid that grows more chaotic every day. Always circusy, sometimes sinister,  both spiritual and hallucinatory. There are no words equipped to describe what it’s like to stand frozen in the middle of the playa, spinning 360 degrees, overwhelmed by the lights and fury, the sight of gigantic polar bears, two story steampunk haunted mansions, and dubstep magic carpet rides. (These are the art cars, better named mutant vehicles).

Picture 10

It’s impossible and dishonorable to articulate the synthetic pandemonium, exploding brilliance, 30 foot mindfuck sculptures, the crisscrossing of bike lights against the backdrop of firedom. I’m in the middle of the fucking desert, fucking Nevada, fucking NOWHERE, wondering what portal I just stepped into, and how I can stay here forever.

Even with the frenetics there are those moments where you find yourself completely alone and zapped away from the chaos around you. Riding along in the dirt trails left by others, onto to the the next episode. Dust storms and scraping winds stripping replace masks. The lone venture outward (and thus inward) sinks in gently. The playa is mine – to protect, cherish, and explore.

Picture 9

Then the sun goes down. Flamethrowers light up the sky like vintage artillery. Sound systems come alive to celebrate the lull in heat, the heavy bass telling you what’s up as it shakes the cartilage in your knees. Momentum builds as Black Rock residents come together. Thursday night we raged past dawn, and the streets were empty, silent. It’s as everyone operated on the same schedule.

The night of the man. Our crew dressed all in white. I had been wearing the same clothes for about three days by then, living off of body wipes, Bloody Marys and Clif Bars.  The dust storms were brutal that day; I jumped on the Veggie Disco art car, cruising around the playa in a dust mask and goggles, and even WE had to hold still during a blaring white out. You can’t see 6 feet in front of you. It was bad. But U2 and Michael Jackson held it down. Anyways.

Picture 10

Our crew hunkered down in the blue bus. Levi, Joe, Andrew, KJ, Brooke, Lyndsey, Me. Sanjeev was playing drums by then, shedding past lives by the firedancers. It was like being in Baghdad with a bunch of exhausted, wheezing, playful kids, ready for some fun. The dust soon died down. The bombscare was over. Justice was playing on Drew’s iPod. Camelbaks filled, food packed, glowsticks broken. Goggles on. Let’s get walking.

Art cars surrounded the 40 foot man in a ring of sounds. Heavy on the trance, cutting up it up with the glitch. The boost starts to rise up, as torches set the pyre ablaze. The flames are slow and steady, and it looks like it will take some time. No one there is ready for what happens next. Red and blue and orange and yellow sparks of light explode into the sky, straight up out of the sockets of the man. It was the most amazing pyrotechnics show any of us have ever seen.

Picture 17

The cataclysmic energy seeps up into the sky. The passion is tremendous with the breaking open of the heavens and everything we know instantly shatters as the man bursts into an overwhelming ball of fire none of us can take it our hearts explode further and further, smashed into the fabric of the man in all of us. We are growing, we are dying, we are nothing, we are growing, we are growing, and we are everything all at once.

Picture 18

This is now. This is life. This is living. Breathe this all in. THIS IS HAPPENING ALL THE TIME.
You are not dreaming any of this.  None of it. You are the main character and this is your movie. How will yours play out?

Picture 16

To Friends of Soren (by Dave Gordon)

Reprinted via Dave Gordon from FB. friend, copywriter, man of wisdom.

To Friends of Soren
(This was the speech I gave at Soren Hellner’s memorial. I hope it brings you some comfort in this sad time.)

————–

I hate spicy food. And whenever Soren and I would go to get Mexican food or Indian food or really any type of food (it could have been McDonalds) he would he ask for it to be spicy.

Say we were at a Thai restaurant, the waiter would laugh when Soren asked for it to be really spicy. Soren would convince the waiter that he used to live in Thailand and that he could handle it.

When it finally came, the smell of it would make my eyes water, but Soren would dive into it.

Then he would try and convince me to have some “Try it, it’s good for you.” He’d say with a mischievous smile.

It’s good for me? How exactly would searing my stomach lining be good for me? Maybe you’re suggesting that these toxins that you drench your noodles in will somehow condition my body better to fight off infections?

But, looking back, I don’t think that’s what he meant. I really think he was teaching me about trying something new and different and to welcome the unknown.

This is how Soren lived his life and it is one of the many lessons he taught me over the two years I was blessed to call him a friend. But it wasn’t the most important. You’ll have to wait for that.

Another lesson he taught me was to be passionate about the things he loved. Among other things, he was so very passionate about FCKopenhagen, his football team (soccer to us silly Americans). He even would carry around 2 computers on the days when they had games just so he could watch it while working. And when they won, he would smile for hours, so happy for his beloved FCK.

But, conversely, he also taught me how to take life a little less seriously. When I was stressed out, trying to get everything finished for class, he would calmly laugh and say “One game”. That, of course meant foosball. And yes, I’ll admit it, he was better than me. And every game he won, he’d smile and say “Good game, Gordo”.

He also taught me a lot about Denmark. I always thought the Vikings were from Norway. “Nope” he’d smile about his proud heritage. The Vikings ruled most of Europe at one time… but then they gave it away for some vodka or something he’d joke. So maybe that’s where he got it?

And clearly, he taught me how to dress. Some people may not realize this, but whenever the opportunity arose, whether it was someone’s birthday, a going away party, someone’s graduation, it didn’t even have to be his, he’d wear a suit. He’d walk through the crowd at the party, smiling and saying he just felt like wearing the suit.

Strangely enough, Soren also taught me how to dance. Stick one hand up in the air and put on the biggest smile you could. I think it was because he didn’t like dancing. Because whenever he got uncomfortable, he would smile and laugh. This is something I’ll always remember, instead of running away from something that bothered him; he would welcome it with that trademark and unmatched smile.

That, I think was the very most important lesson Soren taught me. To always smile. Whether you are in a new environment or new situation, smile. If you’re meeting someone new or you’re nervous about a presentation, smile. Even if you’re scared or sometimes a bit sad, smile even wider. Because that’s really what Soren was all about and why I’ll miss him so much – his everlasting optimism and his great smiling heart.

So while we are here today, mourning and missing such a beautiful person and my best friend, we should try and smile. It’s what Soren would want. And it’s good for you.

Depressions from the Sea

On Tuesday, Ed McMahon went off in search of the stars
Farah Fawcett waved a red kiss goodbye
And the King of Pop popped some pills for his one big last Thrill
And yet none of these struck me with any significance
Until currents of water pulled my friend under
When that light washed out, and fairness was torn asunder.

Soren. My friend.  Some things I won’t forget:
Your love of techno, Belgian beer, and tight pants.
How you turned your head sideways for every Facebook photo.
How you smiled at those you knew – and at those you didn’t.

I remember a long day in December.
It was raining outside so I decided to bother you.
“Do Danish people eat Danishes? Isn’t that like cannibalism?”
I thought I was being clever.
You took it seriously.
I never thought I’d spent an entire afternoon discussing pastries.

Soren I can see you now
Walking slowly, lighting up the streets in Paris
Or standing tall across the ocean
Teaching the penguins how to fly
In a world full by brands, yours was the best.
I’d buy a million of you if you came in smaller packages.

When all seems fleeting
We suffer and wonder how.
How we can sustain ourselves through the morning.
But somehow, from somewhere, we gain the strength to move forward.
To move beyond moments like this one.
Where each breath comes easier than the one before,
where laughter fills the space where before there was only black.
What’s strange and painful,
bittersweet and lovely
is that this will happen to us
without us noticing at all.

Picture 5

Soren Hellner (1979-2009)