Memoirs

This is not about fiction.

No, I come to you to write about the story in the non-fiction.

Like any good piece declaring the benefits of non-fiction as a literary force, I will draw largely on experiences of my own, fusing my own story into my plea for more on the climate movement in the memoir section of my local library.

In particular, I come to you inspired by an event that I decided to attend last minute. A couple of weeks ago, Terry Tempest Williams came to speak at my campus. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Terry Tempest Williams is an environmental activist, naturalist, and a renowned American author. She has focused on the effect of the environment on human society, and the effect of human society on the environment, as well as the environment within religion.

In 2008, she published a book called “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” from which she read excerpts at this particular speaking event.

At the time that I saw her, I was tired. I’d been traveling, I had a lot of work to catch up on, and I was feeling down about my role in this great climate movement. I feel (and felt) as though I have been working so hard on communicating a story that I’m not fully partaking in – I’m not actually helping to make the solutions that the other people in my various organizations are doing. I’m like the helper, the temp who writes up and proofs important documents at a publishing company.

Then, a friend tipped me off to this event. She was one of the planners, as a Wesley Scholar and an English Major, and she wanted to be sure that students would be in attendance.

I began skeptical. I had heard of the author, but I hadn’t heard much. I didn’t even know in what style “Finding Beauty in a Broken World” was written.

Then she began to speak.

Two years ago, Williams was tired herself. Silenced. Her muse had dried up, she felt the pressure of writing another book, but couldn’t find what it was she needed to write on. So she went in search of a new experience, something to underscore her career and bring her back to the activism of pen and paper.

Her journey brought her to a mosaic class in Italy, to a speaking engagement on the art form of mosaic in Utah, and ultimately to the opening of a genocide memorial in Rwanda.

She outlined this story with anecdotes, poetry, peppered here and there with stories to illustrate the interconnectedness of human existence, and the surprisingly sophisticated society of Prairie Dogs as evidence that we are not as special as we think we are. Speech is an incredibly powerful art form; in the right venue, a good speech can change the direction of a nation. We saw that in 2008, when Barack Obama’s stories of self, us, and now changed the way that rhetorical games played out in national politics.

And it is most certainly a form of communication that is reserved for very special people.

What was particularly striking about Williams’ speech, other than form, was that it was deeply personal. It was lifted from her life, streamlined, and placed in a specific order for it to make sense to us.

I took a creative writing class a year ago, and in that class we talked about the rise of the memoir. It has gained popularity sharply for the past ten years, and now it would appear that American readers can’t get enough of it. I can think of a couple reasons for this. First, that the supposed truth of the memoir draws people in – particularly if that truth is unexpected, “abnormal.” Second, that having such an intimate experience with someone else’s life is inspiring to people. It could be like an advice column without having to ask a question, or like a test-run for your own life.

I have never personally been pulled toward the category of memoir. If I want to escape, I tend to escape into a land of fantasy, mythology, or any other type of novel – fiction. But as I was listening to Williams speak, I felt like I could almost see myself in her position, years from now. I felt so deeply connected to her, to her writing/speaking style, and to her personal life-journey that I walked away rejuvenated.

I doubt that my life will ever be as full, and I doubt that I will ever have as much affect on the world as Terry Tempest Williams, but I felt a connection between her form of activism and mine. I love to write, I love to research, and I love speaking. I would like, someday, to be able to write the sorts of books that she does, to be able to make writing a primary action.

As an avid reader, there is something romantic about the world of books and writing. As a writer, I have often found myself creating new worlds – only slightly different from our own – through which to pull apart this human existence at this particular moment.

Writing is terribly persuasive, and if it’s not, it can inspire people to go on and prove the author wrong.

So often, books have helped me to define a particular moment in my life. I may be overestimating the power of books in others’ lives, but so often books are what help me to define the moment in which I’m living.

Perhaps this is just a window into my life and psyche, but I don’t think it’s entirely incorrect to assume that there are other people for whom this is true.

I want to see the memoirs of the youth climate movement. We need to tell our stories, to show people just what is possible. I know so many people who have done amazing things, and I want other people to know what we’ve done.

Statistics are good. They can be used to prove that we’ve done something. But they don’t resonate on their own. We need to tell the stories along with the stats. Lists of accomplishments are great for resumes, but they don’t have the lasting potential of a story.

Not only do I want to read these memoirs, but I want to read the Great American Novel of the climate generation.

Guess I’d better find some more time to write …

Global Climate Change is an American Problem

I understand that some people don’t believe in climate change. I know that science disproves things, it doesn’t prove them. I am not willing to take the chance that we could lose our planet.

I look at what happened in Copenhagen with anger – absolute fury – and with weariness. I feel that this is the greatest challenge of the day, and if we fail, we lose everything. But I also know that we are creatures of great potential, and that humans can withstand so much. I also feel that the changes that need to happen to make the future truly sustainable, will only help us.

As others have said in other forums before me, I believe that perhaps this failure at Copenhagen is necessary. Now, now we can get angry. Now the sense of urgency has heightened, and there is more potential to make real change within our nation.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I feel it important to do a re-cap of what’s happened, so that all of my readers are on the same page.

For a comprehensive summary of the Copenhagen talks, you can refer to this post. It’s very accurate – I’ve checked it’s research cred, and it’s good. Here’s my brief summary:

1. According to National Public Radio news, the US and China were the two countries that mattered the most in these negotiations, and despite the meeting of leaders to talk about climate emissions weeks before the conference, were unable to reach an agreement before the conference started. This means that they weren’t able to have a strong agreement that they could spend the Copenhagen conference convincing other nations to sign on to the agreement. In other words, Obama hadn’t done the correct legwork to make Copenhagen a success.

2. A recent article on the Washington Post’s website summarized the final deal of the Copenhagen Talks thus:

President Obama helped broker a climate deal with a group of leading nations that provides for monitoring emission cuts by each country but sets no global target for cutting greenhouse gases, and no deadline for reaching a formal international climate treaty. The deal falls far short of many countries’ expectations for the summit and leaves a comprehensive battle plan for climate change potentially years away. Although the agreement included some major players — China, India, Brazil and South Africa — it was not universally agreed upon by the 193 nations attending the summit. In fact, some leaders left early Friday in apparent frustration.

The deal itself is only three pages long, and doesn’t provide answers, but outlines ideas. Each country is to pledge its own carbon emissions standards, and it sketches out ideas to “help poor nations go green and prepare for the impact of a warming earth.” (Eilperin and Faiola, Washington Post)

By customizing the deal to each country, industrialized nations are able to slip through the cracks and continue to emit as much carbon as they deem necessary. However, the other side of this is that perhaps, if all goes well, individual nations can come up with something realistic and achievable. (Even I am not this naive)

3.  This draft climate agreement has dropped 2010 as the deadline for a strict international treaty. The draft offers no new due date, and no exact figures for carbon cut.

Let’s take a look at some of these individual nations’ targets:

United States: 17% by 2020 of 2005 levels

China: Reduce carbon intensity (carbon emitted per unit of GDP) by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels; proposed as non-binding in an international framework

India: Reduce carbon intensity 20-25% by 2020 from 2005 levels; non-binding.

European Union: 20% by 2020 below 1990 levels; 30% by 2020 below 1990 levels if other developed nations make similar binding commitments

Japan: 25% cut below 1990 levels; as long as other countries commit to an ambitious deal in Copenhagen

Australia: 5% by 2020 below 2000 levels; will commit to 15-25% by 2020 below 2000 levels if an ambitious deal is reached in Copenhagen

Information found here, please read for further analysis. Also note, these are the commitments as of December 9th. They may have changed since then.

Considering that most emissions are being produced by a relatively small number of nations (according to many credible sources, the US and China produce over 40% of the world’s carbon), the raging debate about emissions standards for developed vs. developing nations, and the question of effectiveness of the UN and accountability measures that haven’t been realized, perhaps a world-wide climate treaty really isn’t what we want.

So what does this mean? It means that we, as Americans, are in an incredibly powerful position. We must focus on activism at the national level, to cut back our emissions by a significant level to keep our planet livable.

350 ppm carbon in the atmosphere is the number. This number shouldn’t be seen as one of sacrifice, but rather of survival. This generation of people is in such an important position. That’s what scientists are saying, Bill McKibben’s entire organization is based around the simple decrease to 350.

In the wake of the strong Copenhagen treaty that never was, many are attempting to regroup and find new strategies for what happens now. Honestly, this is partially to be expected. I hoped that a strong treaty would be possible, but that didn’t end up happening.

That is a post for another day. But after this initial reflective post will come a more refined post detailing possible solutions. This will take so much brainpower, and I think that if we really put our collective minds to it, we will be able to win this battle for the earth.