"A Polemical, Upbeat, Monster-Fish Assessment of the Climate Crisis in the Disenlightenment," by Mark Spitzer
David Wallace-Wells scared the crap out of me, and he should scare the crap out of everyone in the same way that air raid sirens go straight to the nerve centers of those within bombing distance. That’s why, in my new fugly fishbook, In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet (University of Nebraska Press), Wells figures into the most pivotal chapter. That’s where I’m fishing for stingray and tarpon in the Gambia and trying to figure out what I’m really fishing for when I get smacked in the face by epiphany. It’s the moment in the narrative when everything changes due to a thought offered by fishing writer Thomas McGuane. I won’t get into that major revelation now, but here’s the point where DWW fits into the equation:
"… it’s not like we’re guaranteed more than a century on this planet anyway. As I’ve been pointing out, at the rate we’re going, we won’t have any ice caps left in a century. Add to that the reality that we are past the tipping point of a pH level of 7.8, plus the fact that all that melting ice contains carbon that can evaporate as methane, which is almost thirty-five times more powerful than carbon dioxide in veiling the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, and we get David Wallace-Wells’s apocalyptic warning from New York Magazine: 'we have, trapped in Arctic permafrost, twice as much carbon as is currently wrecking the atmosphere of the planet, all of it scheduled to be released at a date that keeps getting moved up, partially in the form of a gas that multiplies its warming power 86 times over.' Wallace-Wells expects such heat to come stock with severe drought, phenomenal floods, dire diseases, imminent crashes in world crops and the human immune system, terrifying plagues of insects, debilitating ozone smog, and mass-die offs of marine life from ocean acidification. And as the journal Geophysical Research Letters points out, there are also 32 million gallons of mercury, which is 'a potent neurotoxin and serious threat to human health,' thawing out in the Arctic right now."
Cheery stuff, eh? But whatever the case, that’s what we’re looking at. So even if we get it together by cutting all carbon emissions, going full on solar, cleaning up all that plastic in the ocean choking the whales and sullying the shores, and even if we cure cancer, we’re still gonna be walking around with or without gasmasks on and giving birth to children with defective genes in an ever-melting, nonstop neurotoxic soup--
(Imagine: when I was invited to write this guest blog, it came with the statement, “We could use your upbeat presence!”)
Okay, that’s what we’ve got, that’s where we’re at, so what’s the solution? Answer is: We’re out of time. Answer is: There ain’t no solution. Answer is: This is the Disenlightenment, an era in which “fake news” and corporate mendacity have run out the clock and confused masses capable of demanding drastic action now—to the point that hundreds of millions of citizens in this country alone are impotent in our objections, so we might as well just live the American Dream by gassing up our SUVs, spraying more Monsanto on our lawns, and going out for sushi at every sub-suburban strip mall in Interstate Oklahoma as world tuna populations continue to crash (80% in 40 years), as wild salmon continue to crash (less than .5% of Alaskan chinooks returning to native streams), as all the Aleutian halibut flee for colder waters while deep-sea, bizarro blobfish hijack the biomass--
(Okay, still not as “upbeat” as I could be…)
But the thing is, even though we’re going to hell in a handbag, we can do better than this. We can try to slow our slide. But where to start when Brian Merchant notes in his 2015 Motherboard article “Apocalypse Neuro: Why Our Brains Don’t Process the Gravest Threats to Humanity” that our brains are not “wired to process slow-moving crises like climate change” because they’re programmed to react to immediate, in-your-face threats rather than those that take years to develop? As Merchant states, “Humans have, historically, proven absolutely awful, even incapable, of comprehending the large, looming . . . slowburn threats facing their societies . . . Our grey matter is set up to instruct us to cope with the here-and-now, and flails in the face of long, uncertain future threats.”
Well, there’s part of the answer right there, which I also address in In Search of Monster Fish: “We need to face the damage we’re doing with the intensity of those cigarette packages that show graphic images of blackened lesions and infected gums. Because looking away from what we’re doing, refusing to register the consequences of our actions, that’s just suicide.”
Yep, that’s right, we need to be freaking out! We need to be screaming in the streets! We need every school kid in America and Canada and Greenland and Siberia to see photos on their cereal boxes of cities sinking into the seas and mass migrations of emaciated refugees groveling for a suck of mud. We need to scare the crap out of everyone we can on this planet to get the message through our thick skulls that there’s nothing more important right now than patching up this jalopy we are driving to death!
Fear-mongering, however, is for unconscionable authoritarians running for office who know the reach and teeth of propaganda and is best used for throwing competition under the bus. I’m talking “scaring the crap out of people” in an optimistic sense. Through campaigns to educate, inform, get real, transcend! I’m talking getting past the B.S. and getting down to business with the 121,356 things we need to do right fracking now! I’m talking about seriously taking a serious look at the solutions outlined in In Search of Monster Fish!
“Radical! Revolutionary! We can’t have that!” That’s what the naysayers say. But remember, they want us to remain lazy, ignorant, incapable of making informed decisions. That’s where they get their power: through the Slothery of the fact that there are those among us who will gobble up whatever we’re fed.
OMG, I’m starting to sound like a raving, ranting conspiracy theorist, but that’s the point, and that’s what this sixth-extinction planet needs to appeal to people’s most raw emotions. Because get this: there is something we can take from the white supremacists, the climate change deniers, the birthers, the NRA, and even the GOP… a way of talking to a base, a way of overloading the circuit boards, a way of getting at the most important triggers human beings are programmed to react to so that we can survive. Not through lies and manufactured caravans, but through the damn truth—which is that we don’t have to give up the possibilities in all this fantastic beauty we’re frittering away! That’s what I’m talking about!!!
So who’s on board? What are you waiting for when nothing less than doing something is unacceptable for your born or unborn children? Or children that aren’t even yours, who you don’t give a damn about because you can’t envision them? Or can you? (Hell, I care more about animals) And if you do give a crap, what are you doing to counteract complacency? Nothing, something, not enough?
Anyway, just saying….
Mark Spitzer, novelist, poet, essayist and literary translator, received an MA in creative writing from the University of Colorado. After living on the road for some time, he found himself in Paris, as Writer in Residence for three years at the bohemian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, where he translated French criminals and misanthropes. In 1997 he moved to Louisiana, became Assistant Editor of the legendary lit journal Exquisite Corpse, and earned an MFA from Louisiana State University. He is now associate professor of creative writing at the University of Central Arkansas. His most recent book is In Search of Monster Fish: Angling for a More Sustainable Planet (U of Nebraska Press 2019).