The science is solid, but where is global ambition?

WMO climate report 2018 cover
State of the Global Climate report

With all the drama over the Mueller Report and Brexit in the news right now, it isn’t difficult to put aside the work that tens of thousands of dedicated people continue to do towards solving Earth’s climate crisis. And it clearly IS a crisis now.

This week there was a High-level meeting on Climate and Sustainable Development for All, hosted by the UN in New York. Fresh from the two-day long meeting, Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres, Maria Fernanda Espinoza, President of the current UN General Assembly, and WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas held a briefing for the media. Taalas gave a presentation of the latest report on Climate for 2018, followed by statements by Fernanda Espinosa and Gutteres. (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/03/1035681)

Ms. Fernanda Espinosa urged everyone listening towards action. She stated,

“We need to connect political times to the times of Nature. We need to act, and to act now. The numbers and data are extremely worrisome…We are capable, we have the science, we have the knowledge, we have the tools in hand to push back on global warming,”

Secretary-General Guterres was equally emphatic in his statement to the press. Concerning the upcoming Global Climate Summit to be held in New York in September, he said,

“It is important that we tackle climate change with much greater ambition. I’m telling leaders, Don’t come with a speech, come with a plan.”

“New technologies are already delivering energy at a lower cost than the fossil fuel-driven economy. Solar and onshore wind are now the cheapest sources of new power in virtually all measured economies. This means ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and high-emitting, unsustainable agriculture, and shifting towards renewable energy, electric vehicles and climate-smart practices.”

Of course, none of the stern warnings and emphatic urgings of these high-level diplomats and scientists are new to anyone who seriously cares about the state of our planet. We have been hearing similar warnings and dire reports of climate warming and its effects for the better part of the past decade. It’s feeling more and more like the boiling frog cartoon, made infamous by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth film in 2006—where the frog is sitting in a bathtub that’s slowly filling with boiling water, as it is boiling to death without really noticing. Except that some of us are finally noticing.

The signs of collapse are everywhere, all around us now.  Yet we continue to sit in the boiling tub, apparently unaware that all we need do is to GET OUT OF THE TUB and turn off the hot water!!   Humans are a strange bunch. One look at the stories abounding in the New York Times or The Guardian, especially in the Culture and Arts sections, show where people’s minds, hearts and souls are focused in these times. And it’s not pretty. People are telling stories and creating theatre, music and art exhibits about seriously frightening, dark, and horrific stuff. The stuff of one’s worst nightmares. And people are paying good money to view, listen to, or otherwise experience them. This is happening in major urban centers throughout the planet, if the artists have the freedom to express what’s inside them without censorship, which is another matter for another blog post.

Living in the world at this point in human history is, in a word, exhausting. The sheer amount and degree of human suffering across our globe is truly beyond comprehension. From the largest, sweeping issues, such as those the UN leaders are working so diligently to somehow manage, to the smallest events that an individual experiences in the course of a day on Earth, there is anguish everywhere.

And yet, the chaos and intense suffering is not the whole story. Simultaneously, there are also incredible moments of courage, daring, skill, intelligence, astounding beauty and grace occurring all across the world. The best of times, the worst of times, to borrow from Dickens.  We’ve got to hold onto HOPE. Moments of grace are such a blessing in the middle of all the sorrow. Here’s a song by Michael Franti and his band, that pretty much sums it all up for me right about now. I offer it as a small balm for those of you who feel similarly.

Roma’s Breakthrough Moment for Social Justice

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Image credit: https://www.vox.com/2018/11/20/18102734/roma-review-netflix-cuaron

I got the chance to see Alfonso Cuarón’s new film, Roma, this past weekend. Now that it has garnered many Academy Award nominations, in addition to myriad other prestigious Best Picture awards globally, the buzz around this film has grown huge. Cuarón has created a masterful film in the tradition of the great 20th century filmmakers, such as Bergman and Fellini. Roma is shot in black and white, filled with quiet, contemplative moments, symbolism and authentic touches to give the viewer a true-to-life portrait of his childhood family’s life in Mexico City 50 years ago.

Many reviewers have already written of the nuances and reasons why Cuarón’s film has become an instant classic; therefore I won’t go into those details in this post. I have, however, been pondering an equally, or perhaps even more important aspect to this film’s worth. I would argue that Roma couldn’t be made before now; that it is only in the late 2010s that Western society has evolved enough to understand and accept the nuances of Cuarón’s childhood story, as told from his middle-aged perspective. For the protagonist of his film is Cleo, his family’s young, shy, lovely indigenous housekeeper and nanny. From the opening scene until the last, the story unfolds from Cleo’s unsentimental point of view. We watch her daily life unfold, intricately entwined with her employer’s family’s lives during the years 1970-71. Together they experience the joys and heartbreaks of life within a socially separate, yet loving relationship. Cuarón unflinchingly and tenderly shows us Cleo’s story: arising before the family, helping all four children get ready for school, taking the youngest son (Cuarón himself) to school after the older siblings have left, cleaning, washing the family laundry on the roof by hand (during the days before modern washing machines had arrived for upper-middle class urban Mexicans), along with all the hundreds of small acts of service that a domestic worker does for her employer in the course of a day.

Cleo, like most indigenous Mexican domestic workers, comes from a poor, rural village in the countryside. In the middle of the story, the family and she have gone to visit other family members at a country hacienda for the winter holidays. They walk up and down the hills and valleys of the sunny day, as Cleo reminisces about her home village. She remarks that it looks similar, and the sounds and scents are the same. The wistfulness and longing for her home are apparent, even with English subtitles. Hers is not an easy life, and yet her employer’s family is kind, loving, and obviously care for her a great deal.

There are other striking things about this film. Because it is Mexican-made, Cuarón had the artistic freedom from censorship that American films do not typically enjoy. During a love scene between Cleo and a young man, Fermin, it is he who is nude in the hotel room, while Cleo is discreetly covered by the bedsheets. Cuarón is very careful throughout the entire film to respect the actress who plays Cleo, Yalitza Aparicio, and takes pains to keep her body protected. This was a refreshing reversal from typical American films which have no problem with the feminine body being completely revealed, while the masculine continues to be censored, even in 2019.

In fact, the entire film portrays Cleo with the utmost respect and even reverence. For me, the fact that the housekeeper is the star of the film, and the White-European Mexican mother (excellently played by Marina de Tavira) is the supporting character, proves that we have reached a tipping point for social and class justice in the Americas. The subtext throughout Roma suggests that now, 50 years later, we can finally honor and recognize the invaluable contribution of indigenous laborers to Mexican (and consequently, American) society. In the current state of extreme class and social chaos in which we find ourselves here in the Americas, Cuarón dares us to embrace the indigenous as a beloved part of ourselves, to realize that we are all intimately connected, to move beyond the notion of us vs. them, and to admit that our lives work best when we put love for one another above the false ideas of separation and hierarchy.

If you haven’t yet seen Roma, and are interested in its themes and social commentary, please find a theatre in your area and treat yourself to this important film. And if you’ve already seen it, feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and feelings in the comment box.