Thursday, 24 April 2014

I Am Sam Carana - A Climate Psychosis Photo Story

An ode to climate change and global civilization.


My introduction to climate change came from Al Gore, in his 2006 award winning An Inconvenient Truth. I became aware of the issue, but never gave it much more thought. It wasn’t until I heard former head of NASA's Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, on CBC in 2009 that I became really interested in the issue, and started researching it online and reading avidly about it on The Economist. Over the next 3 years I would read over 100 books on climate, energy and related, and countless websites. Obsession with a topic is a symptom of bipolar, although some could argue that everyone should be a little obsessed with climate change, in order to stop it. For my favorite books and documentaries see my blog bio.

Al Gore, the political figure that has done the most for the climate movement.

The books that hit me hardest were James Hansen’s Storms of My Grandchildren, James Lovelock's The Vanishing Face of Gaia, and Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, while the websites that affected me most were Peak Oil forums, Sam Carana’s Arctic News blog and Cory Morningstar's The Art of Annihilation . Of countless documentaries, the best were The Age of Stupid, 6 Degrees Could Change The World, and Collapse by Jared Diamond. I was flabbergasted. The injustice! We were screwed. There was little to no hope. Serious scientists were predicting famine and war caused by climate change in the near term. I was depressed and suicidal. I would break down crying all the time. I barely slept. I stopped eating. I read day and night, non-stop - books, energy forums, climate forums - I read it all. Then the Occupy movement erupted in 2011. I was ecstatic. Change! I met tons of great fellow activists there and made life long friends. I finally had a place to express my activism. I’d do activism with the Occupy group but sometimes i’d also go alone to the university and show off my climate artwork. These were full size 1 metre tall paintings.

Interpret this one as you will.

Some students stopped to look, others didn't. It didn't matter, activism was the only thing giving me hope and in my mind felt like the only thing that mattered. One day Professor Andrew Weaver walked by and stopped to look at my artwork. He was impressed and chatted with me. I was ecstatic – I got to talk to Andrew Weaver! Suddenly it was all worth it. But the stress of climate change didn't end, it only got worse. To do more climate activism, and get a sense of accomplishment, I intended to cycle across Canada in 2011, and made it from Victoria to Calgary with flyers and a trailer that advertised climate change, but I fell incredibly hard and injured myself when I raced downhill without holding the handlebars. My dogs in the trailer flew overhead me and I crashed hard into the rocky roadside. There were tons of cars on the highway so i'm glad I, nor the dogs, didn't topple into traffic. Lesson learned - hold the handlebars! I didn't hand out any flyers because I didn't like what I had to say, and i'm also quite shy to approach people.

I saw my puppies fly.

In 2012 a combination of extreme stress from climate change and bipolar disorder put me into a psychosis. The trigger may have been a report that came out from some Russian Arctic scientists that said the oceanic East Siberian Arctic Shelf may be venting up to 3.5 billion tons of methane a year from plumes "over a km in diameter". How much is 3.5 billion tonnes? A lot, and its very bad news for the climate. It turns out that this was simply a proration and not an actual measure of total emissions. But the discovery of thousands of methane plumes, some over a km in diameter, is real, and can be seen here. I genuinely believed we were at the start of runaway climate change, and if you asked me today, i'd still say there is strong evidence that we may have passed tipping points. In any case, I thought I was being sent signals to go out and start a massive university student movement across Canada to “save the world”, and started seeing signs and signals that I was supposed to be Sam Carana. I printed out perhaps 500-1000 (or was it 2500) flyers and intended to cycle across Canada hitting all the universities. As it happens there also happened to be an Occupy group WALKING across Canada from Victoria. I initially started my trip with these guys but ditched them when I claimed a guy who looked like the No Country For Old Men bad guy, had a grenade and was going to blow the group up. When I left on my bike ride I was at the peak of my psychosis, and I thought the Arctic Methane Emergency Group was sending me signals to be Sam Carana. Sam Carana is the anonymous author of many blogs including Arctic News blog, Geoengineering blog, Feebate blog, ClimatePlan blog, Methane Hydrates blog, and Transport Electrification blog. I don't know who Sam Carana really is, but I suspect he's a whistleblower who would lose his position if he said such things publicly. Why else be anonymous when posting volumes of such good work? Sam has been supportive of my climate activism and my attempt at an Earth Year movement, a group I wanted to start calling for an Earth Year rather than an Earth Day. Sadly my project never got off the ground because I am either incompetent or because people don't really care about earth's future. But anyway, in my psychosis I thought I was being sent signals by AMEG to be Sam! It was a simple mistake on my part. If you break down Sam Carana’s name its Am SC, Ar SC, An SC, A SC. I was SC! I was Shaheer Cassim. I was supposed to be Sam Carana. The signals were arriving  through Facebook and music (The Dreaming Moon-The Magnetic Fields), but also ambumlances (Sambulances), licence plates, signs, art and a quite a few other things. But anyways I'M NOT Sam Carana.

My first stop on my bike ride was Camosun college. I tried to enter a class of exchange students to hand out flyers. But I wasn't allowed in - I had to sign in first. I tried signing in as myself but they wouldn't let me in, I wasn't on the list, then I tried signing in as Sam Carana but still I wasn't allowed in. I didn't get it! What was I doing wrong? I was just following the AMEG peoples instructions and going to hand out flyers to exchange students. An administrator for the exchange students sent out a counseller to talk to me and I broke down crying. What a sight I must have been - shaved completely bald and without eyebrows, bawling my eyes out. I left Camosun and continued on my bike ride.  Unfortunately, my electric bicycle broke down early in the trip and so I proceeded on foot.  While walking the highway, I thought I was being sent signals to strip naked, so I did, on the Malahat highway. I found a rainbow colored duster thing and paraded in the middle of the highway, completely nude. The police picked me up and took me to jail. Who was I? I wasn't sure and and claimed to the police to be both Shaheer Cassim and Sam Carana. They gave me paper clothing and a bun and cup of juice. I spent the night in jail. The next day I went to an Occupy meeting with my paper jail clothes on, and my friends realized something was wrong. They called my parents, who flew out and admitted me to hospital. Somehow the police got to talking to my parents, and told them I was doing a good thing and more people should be doing climate activism.

Me, at the start of my trip. Victoria, BC, Mile 0.

In the psyche ward, I looked at the DVD's and found a movie called I am Sam. There it was. Proof. I was supposed to be Sam! Even the nurses called me Sam. I became more suicidal and during my 3 hr breaks the hospital would give me daily with my parents, my parents had to stand between me and the road because they never knew if I was going to jump in front of a car. I was convinced I had failed these mysterious AMEG or whoever people and was going to be assassinated. There was a guy in the psyche ward who looked like Clint Eastwood and I was convinced he was sent there to kill me. I was petrified. One day while on break I escaped my parents and ran to the top of my apartment building and prepared to jump. But I chickened out, thankfully. In the psyche ward I found Jesus (they were sending me signals to be Christian), read nearly the entire bible, and became vegetarian (signals, again); after my electro-convulsive therapy I lost Jesus again and became a meat-eater once more. All in all I spent 10 weeks in hospital on a variety of anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety pills, and had to be given 9 treatments of electro-convulsive therapy. Even after the ECT I was in residual psychosis for a few more months.

AMEG assassin. This man is terrifying.

According to Sam Carana and Malcolm Light and AMEG, a 80% emission reduction by 2020 and a variety of geo-engineering techniques can dramatically slow down the extinction process. Maybe they're overestimating the threat and response but maybe they're not. Even if we believe the highly conservative IPCC's targets of 85% reduction by 2050 to have a 50% chance of limiting warming above 2 degrees,  it's still a tall order (2 degrees is baaaad...up to 30% of all species will be extirpated and countless populations will be reduced to minuscule numbers),. Recently the IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri said parts of Africa will lose 50% of their crop production by 2020. Seriously? This is a disaster. But is it really too late? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Is activism still worth it? I believe the near term climate collapse argument but I also believe we will geo-engineer in desperation, and it will somewhat work, buying us precious years. The proof is in global dimming. Sure there will be losers, but maybe the world will come together, people will eat vegetarian, and there will be enough food to spare to the starving countries. Maybe i'm just dreaming. Is Jeremy Rifkin right that we are an Empathic Civilization? Or are we crude, selfish, short-sighted, and greedy? If i’m 99% sure that we’re going to experience an extinction event in the coming decades, can I live off 1% hopium? Don’t take my hopium away. James Lovelock, you took my hopium. You left me bare and naked. And then you have the gall to retract your two books, saying you, Tim Flannery, and whoever else were alarmist? Did you retract because you genuinely believe things will progress slower than you predicted in your alarming books, or because you feel bad about making people like me hopeless and suicidal? Are the recent death plunges in Arctic sea ice, and methane erupting from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf not evidence that things are progressing much faster than expected?

Summertime Arctic sea ice is in rapid decline and could be gone by 2017. When the Arctic sea ice is gone this is known as a blue ocean event. It takes the same amount of energy to raise water 0 to 81 degrees C, as it did to melt that ice at 0 degrees C. This means things get very hot very fast once that ice is gone, and this can lead to methane hydrate destabilization. The result of this according to Peter Wadhams is an abrupt climate change that civilization could not withstand. The blue ocean event will only last a few weeks at first, and within a decade or two might be year-round. Under such circumstances, it is inconceivable how methane hydrates will stay locked up on the Arctic ocean floor.

A 1 km wide methane plume, an example of what's occurring in the Siberian sea.

Global dimming, caused by sulfur released during coal burning, reflects sunlight and so temporarily combats global warming. Over the past 15 years, China has so massively increased their coal burning sulfur pollution that it is masking the full effect of global warming by up to 50%.

After leaving hospital it took me a while to learn that everything that I thought transpired was just in my head. I really thought the purple econobox car in my parkade was a sign that I was doing my Sam Carana bit right. I really believed my parents controlled my dogs with hand movements. I really believed the signs in the elevator and on my hospital roomate's whiteboard were messages for me. I really believed the power line towers zapped my electric bike and broke it. I really believed I was going to be killed.  I was in psychosis for at least 4 months. When I got out of the hospital I was so pissed off at climate change that I threw out 5 of my 9 pieces of artwork. I gave up climate change completely. I numbed my brain with movies and StarCraft 2. Finally a year and a bit after my psychosis I got back into climate change and started doing activism again, against my parents wishes. I managed to convince a few old Occupy friends to hold small climate rallies with me downtown and at the university, with our picket signs, guitars, and flyers. It was mostly pointless and didn't achieve anything. There is a darker side to my activism though. I'd sometimes go out alone with a chloroplast sign advertising something climate change. Doing activism alone sucks and is anxiety inducing. Some people are nice and give you props, others think you're crazy for being a solo activist. The longest I ever spent on a street corner alone downtown was 6 hours. During that time, a guy stopped and asked me what the hell I was doing, that I looked like a bum, that I should just accept climate change as a fact of life, and that he would beat me up if he saw me out here again. Then he offered to smoke a joint with me. In any case I quit doing solo activism after that. But I still have urges to go out alone. Maybe someday people will be outraged enough to want to take to the streets too.

StarCraft 2, another obsession. 6100 matches to date. Over 10000 of StarCraft 1. That's over 150 full days of StarCraft! I rank platinum.

The stark conclusion of it all is that we CAN dramatically slow down an extinction event. We can't prevent it, but we can slow it down. And the reality is that stratospheric sulfur geoengineering is a very promising tools in the fight against climate change. Nonetheless, it's unlikely we will take appropriate action. It will be too little, too late. I've decided to be open with my climate-psychosis experience. It's kind of a funny story, and as far as I can tell no one has had a reaction as bad as I have. I'm medicated to prevent a repeat psychosis and mania, but sometimes I still think i'm supposed to be Sam Carana, and wonder if what I experienced was really real or just psychosis. It felt so real. At least once a week I get dreams of being a climate activist and changing the world. But it's all for naught. I don't believe real change is possible in the climate realm. Fossil fuel civilization is a one-way death march for the biosphere. And human consumption and breeding behaviors are too culturally ingrained to change. Being in hospital wasn't a particularly bad experience, the ward is like a hotel and I met my ex-girlfriend there. But being in a psychosis was truly one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever felt, more scary even than near term climate collapse. 
I quit my career as a commercial pilot due to a general boredom with flying (and cause pilots shouldn't be bipolar), and am returning to school to become a health care assistant. Canada will be one of the most favorable places in the world to experience climate change. As James Lovelock would say, "move north young man" (or woman). Packing up and migrating, leaving old friends behind, is hard work. Those people who are heavily invested in the land will probably stay behind and suffer first from climate change. Those with nothing to lose and are willing to travel, will survive the longest. The world isn't going to fall apart overnight. It might take half a lifetime or longer if we make the right decisions. (How long is the lifetime of a dieing child?). But the time to move is now. Abrupt climate change is now. Natalia Shakhova, Igor Semiletov, Peter Wadhams, Sam Carana, Paul Beckwith, Malcolm Light, James Lovelock, David Wasdell, Gwynne Dyer, Hans Schellnhuber and AMEG can't all be full of shit. It would be really easy to simply paint their work as shit. The prediction of a 50 billion ton pulse of methane (enough methane to bring extremely dangerous climate change forward two decades) releasing from the East Siberian Arctic Shelf after 2015 was posited from decades of research. It's not simply shit. But anyway, none of this might happen. I think it will and i'm certain in my own mind that it will - but I have to accept it might not. How much are you willing to bet that it will not? I'll take that wager. Anyway the top priority should be food. We'll need to produce much of our own food locally. We'll need to build resilient communities that can endure disaster.

For more information on climate change, see my supplementary information. I've decided to paste here the estimated temperatures for our future (Courtesy of Guy McPherson).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (late 2007): >1.8 C by 2100 (up to 4.5 C, depending upon emissions scenarios)
Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (late 2008): ~2 C by 2100
Later in 2008, Hadley Center’s head of climate change predictions Dr. Vicky Pope calls for a worst-case outcome of more than 5 C by 2100. Joe Romm, writing for Grist, claims, “right now even Hadley [Centre] understands it [> 5 C] is better described as the ‘business-as-usual’ case.”
United Nations Environment Programme (mid 2009): 3.5 C by 2100
Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (October 2009): 4 C by 2060
Global Carbon Project, Copenhagen Diagnosis (November 2009): 6 C, 7 C by 2100
United Nations Environment Programme (December 2010): up to 5 C by 2050

And a few more by me...

Hans Schellnhuber: 15 C+ by 2200. In other words complete surface extinction and hydrogen sulfidication of the oceans.

Malcolm Light: 4 C by 2030, 8 C by 2050 based on exponential Arctic methane.

James Lovelock: 2 C+ by 2025 (inferred from books). This means 3.5 C for Africa, in other words total annihilation. 95% of my family lives in Africa. This is especially disconcerting. 6 C+ before end of century.

Paul Beckwith: 5-6 C+ by 2025-2035 based on exponential sea ice decline and methane emissions. 7 m SLR by 2070.

For quotes from climate books, see climate books blog.

Sorry for the broken dreams..