Friday, October 16, 2015

If you wait long enough, it doesn't matter any more...

I got married in January of 1991, and that summer R and I had our picture taken together. We were goofing around in the courtyard of Da’s new place on West 50th Street and a photographer friend captured a few lovely images of us as newlyweds.  (“You’re looking at him like he’s an ice cream cone!” she giggled when she saw the prints.)

Da loved those photos, and he hung the best one prominently in the living room, everywhere he lived after that. But of course time passes, and people change, and eventually, Da asked me if R and I would have another portrait done together, so he could have a more current picture of us, too.

My Da was secretly a tender man, but his default exterior persona was professorial and gruff. That he asked was all I needed to know about how much he wanted that new image. He lived in Manhattan and we were living in Seattle, and we didn’t see each other often enough.  My Da wanted another picture to remember us by, and I fucked it up.

For years I thought about getting that portrait done. I plotted cool locations – naked (but tasteful) in a hot tub!  in motor cycle leathers on the roof of a building on the lower east side! - and researched photographers. But I never did anything concrete.

For one thing, I hate having my picture taken. R is tall and lean and classically handsome (think a really, REALLY lovely Chiwetel Ejiofor) and I’m... not. I'm zaftig and florid and red in the face, with pale, bushy eyebrows. I have tiny teeth and small lips. I make lots of funny faces. Don't get me wrong - I'm pretty - but when your own mother says "you really aren't terribly photogenic dear," you know you're not photogenic. So between my natural bent for procrastination and my fear of the camera’s all-seeing gaze, I put it off.  And off.  And off. 

But I had time!  Da's mother lived to be 97, and his father to 83. His older sibs all died in their 90s. His Aunt Sis was 100 when she attended her little sister’s 90th birthday party. If the rest of the family was any indication, he wasn't going anywhere for a long time.

And then he died.  He was 76. 


The diagnosis of lung cancer came out of the blue.  Da was lucky. As an actor, his excellent union insurance got him screened frequently, so it was caught very early. That same excellent insurance got him whisked into surgery within a couple of days. The nodule came out. It hadn’t metastasized, so he wouldn't need radiation or chemo. He recovered fast, and went home.

It was just before the first Obama election (Da was over the moon about Obama and the election results were the first thing he asked about in the recovery room). R and I had our plane tickets for a Thanksgiving visit. Then one night the week before Thanksgiving Da was pulling on his robe after a shower and dropped down dead of a cerebral aneurism.

I was still thinking about getting that portrait done - maybe for Christmas that year? - when suddenly, I had waited long enough that it didn't matter anymore. Da was dead, and no one else was asking for a picture of R and me.

When I read this piece on Skeptical Science, I wondered if we’re at the same point with climate change.  If you're concerned about climate change you’ve probably read it by now, but if not, here’s a taste:

“In only three years there will be enough fossil fuel-burning stuff—cars, homes, factories, power plants, etc.—built to blow through our carbon budget for a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise. Never mind staying below a safer, saner 1.5°C of global warming. The relentless laws of physics have given us a hard, non-negotiable deadline, making G7 statements about a fossil fuel-phase out by 2100 or a weak deal at the UN climate talks in Paris irrelevant.”

And then there’s James Hansen’s new paper.  Hansen has authored a lengthy study outlining a  

“...scenario of potentially rapid sea level rise combined with more intense storm systems. It’s an alarming picture of where the planet could be headed — and hard to ignore, given its author.  In the new study, Hansen and his colleagues suggest that the “doubling time” for ice loss from West Antarctica — the time period over which the amount of loss could double — could be as short as 10 years. In other words, a non-linear process could be at work, triggering major sea level rise in a time frame of 50 to 200 years. By contrast, Hansen and colleagues note, the IPCC assumed more of a linear process, suggesting only around 1 meter of sea level rise, at most, by 2100.”

And David Suzuki, of all soft spoken people, is calling the recent G-7 agreement a "horrifying joke."  Yes, he wrote that.  

So…. have we waited too long?  Are we at the point where no matter how fast we act, and how drastic the action we take, it’s no longer possible to avoid catastrophic warming? Have we waited so long that it doesn’t matter anymore?

Is it time to just fling up our hands, approve the Keystone pipeline, call off the #ShellNo kayakers and drill, baby, drill? Is it time to start work on our time capsules, so we can leave a message for whatever sentient species makes it through the nightmarish hellscape of the future? To start writing down our stories and recording our songs so we can bury them deep in an impregnable bunker, to be found by someone else after we are all gone?

Is it time to start preparing our children for the inevitable, and ourselves for the terrifying road ahead?  What do we do? Build sea walls? Build underground fortresses? Migrate north en masse? 

Or do we stay where we are and hunker down, buy better auto insurance for the next time a wildfire hops the freeway and sets our car on fire, then surf the web to learn more about the Kardashians, and watch trashy TV?

It's a serious question.  And I don't know the answer.