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Expired · 14th February 2010
Ray Grigg
Not everyone was weeping like Mardi Tindal. But this was her personal expression of grief, the uncontrollable overflow of disappointment, despair and foreboding that overtook her after she returned from December's failed international climate talks in Copenhagen.

Weeping in a car on the way to church with her husband was not likely her style. As the newly elected Moderator of The United Church of Canada, she is probably disciplined, resolute and strong, combining these leadership qualities with generous portions of sensitivity, compassion and insight. So, as she said in an interview with the National Post (Jan. 19/10), she knew she wasn't depressed. "The difference between depression and what I was experiencing is that I wasn't suppressing or finding myself in a place of isolation. I simply wept. My tears were quiet but I spoke through them... for the millions of lives that have been lost as a result of what did and did not happen in Copenhagen. [My lament was] an expression of pain for the world's suffering."

Her lament eventually took the form of a personal letter, hand delivered to the Governor General of Canada, to the Prime Minister, to leaders of the opposition parties and mailed to every Member of Parliament. It was also read aloud to parishioners in more than 200 United Church congregations across the country.

She wrote that she was "heartbroken because it was clear to me, as it was to many of you, that the talks in Copenhagen needed to succeed. That it is no longer safe for us to go on as we have before.... Our moment of opportunity came and then went, and here we are now, the fate of civilization and of millions of the planet's life forms hanging by the frayed thread of inaction."

Her letter compared our present situation to those faced by the prophets of her faith tradition, to the slave abolitionist William Wilberforce, to the suffragette Nelly McClung, and to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. who said that people have a "moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws". She wrote in her letter that King "refused to wait and called on everyone to act. I too believe the time for waiting has run out."

She is not alone. Worldwide, many millions of other people have similar feelings. Although their concern may not be expressed as weeping, it will be manifest in other forms, a process noted in the journal Psychological Medicine (Ibid.). Climate change could have "significant negative effects on global mental health", the report concluded. Its author, UK psychiatrist Dr. Lisa Page, wrote that people will experience "psychological distress, anxiety and traumatic stress" from the occurring and predicted environmental disasters.

This is what we would expect. As social creatures, people are inherently empathetic, caring and concerned about the welfare of others. Witness the huge outpouring of sympathy and assistance for the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. But this tragic event was not connected directly to any human cause – tectonic plates simply shifted abruptly and perhaps 200,000 people died. Climate change will be different. Because the environmental trauma will be almost certainly caused by our collective behaviour, "by what we did and did not" do, the level of guilt will be exponentially greater. Hapless victims will become true victims, the collateral casualties of some combination of our own indulgence, negligence and indifference. The psychological equation will have a wholly new calculation. And the guilt quotient will both soar and be inescapable.

Dr. Page anticipates an increase in stress and psychiatric disorders as people are confronted with "altered patterns of infectious diseases, injuries from severe weather events, food and water scarcity, and population displacement", events that could cause "an increase in the overall burden of mental disorder worldwide." She cites that schizophrenia increases with population densities, that suicides are more common above a certain temperature threshold, and that "impulsivity and aggression could be triggered during periods of hot weather" (Ibid.).

But these may pale beside the complications arising from guilt. If the greenhouse gas emissions coming principally from developed nations do cause droughts and floods, scorching heat and crop failures, together with rising sea levels that inundate coastal cities and displace many millions of lowland people, how will the perpetrators respond to the victims? If responsibility for the damage is indisputable and remediation to the wronged is impossible, how will the perpetrators deal with their inner anguish? And how will the victims respond to the perpetrators? These are the psychological forces that could make the world community a tense mixture of accusation and denial, of hostility and defence, of blame and excuse, of incalculable destruction and insufficient reparation, of grave injustice and futile restitution. The debt owed will be impossible to pay and the hurt imposed will be impossible to assuage.

In Mardi Tindal's sensitive exploration of her own grief, she envisions that "...lament leads to imagination, and we move through lament to hope." Perhaps. But her weeping is the response of a perpetrator who is feeling guilt, not of a victim who is suffering harm. Her tearful lament comes from someone who is wealthy enough to fly to Copenhagen and back to Canada, to drive in a car with her husband, and to live in an affluence beyond the reach of most of humanity. For the poor and innocent victims of climate change, to those inflicted with further displacement and even more destitution, what will their imaginations concoct? Their lament could just as easily become resentment, bitterness, anger and hatred. Then the hope, so devoutly desired by Mardi Tindal, may be lost in the unfolding tumult.
have a nice day
Comment by luise grav on 26th February 2010
have a nice day