A bunch of years ago I’m driving down that Manchsexy section of 128 at dusk and inside my skull my brain yells, “Ostrich!”
Looking down the road I see the unmistakable shape of that large, flightless bird in the middle of the highway. “Meatpuppet, be aware, the object obstructing the road is an ostrich!” (my most distinct internal voice obnoxiously refers to the rest of me as “meatpuppet” and I wish it wouldn’t).
What happened next stuck in my memory, because it defined the way I and I think a lot of us deal with issues and threats considered “out of the norm”. From differing corners of my mind other opinions, not the “observation and reaction” part I consider my “brain”, but a disparate chorus of doubts sparked up. It was like a busy channel on maritime radio, with different vessels reacting to the same scenario from unique perspectives. “Memory” reminded me I’ve never seen any similar thing on the highway before, insisting I look again. “Logic” recited Occam’s Razor, which states that if I see an ostrich in New England it’s statistically more likely to be a turkey and a trick of the light. “Guilt” reminded me of the time I did mushrooms in college, how it totally knew this would happen, hallucinating weird shit all over the place, even decades later, you stupid, stupid man.
“Meatpuppet, ignore these fools!” My actual “Brain” yelled, trying to override the cacophony. “That is an ostrich! I have searched memory, judged size against distance accounting for our forward velocity and I know what a fucking turkey looks like and this is not one. There is an ostrich in the road! Avoid collision and alert the authorities!”
“Maybe it’s, like…weird trees…” said “Imagination”.
For the record, it’s loud inside my head, pretty much all the time. But, also for the record, it turns out there was indeed an actual fucking ostrich (or a close cousin) in the road. Somebody had been keeping emus over in West Gloucester, one got out and wandered onto the highway. In retrospect, this seems simple. But it was an impossible conclusion to resolve at the time. This is how most of us, myself included, deal with life. It’s a massive mental lift to face a new and unexpected set of facts, even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
After Bomb Cyclone Grayson (alert aspiring DJs for solid potential name) we are having what social/economic/historical theorists call a Black Swan Event and which I call an “Ostrich Somewhere in the Vicinity of Exit 16 Event”. A Black Swan Event is something that should have been predictable, but no one accounted for and denied right up to the point it eventually changed history. Personal computers, the fall of the Soviet Union, the housing bubble crash and most notably 9/11 are all things that were, in hindsight, predictable but no one did anything appreciable about at the time in terms of preperation. Humans suck at acting on predictions, even good ones. We extrapolate the future from past experience because it used to serve as a pretty good guide when change was at a normal pace. But change now, including the climate, is not happening at a “normal” pace. Technology, income disparity and the climate are all hitting the metaphorical meth pipe and we’re going to have to learn to deal. Ostriches are on the road, my friends. EMUS ON METH! (alert aspiring speed metal bands…)
Black Swan events all share the same characteristics:
- The event is a surprise (to the observer)
- The event has a major effect
- After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected; that is, the relevant data were available but unaccounted for in risk mitigation programs. The same is true for the personal perception by individuals.
The worst thing about global climate change as Black Swan is an added 1a, which states: “A bunch of douchebags got Fox News to convince people it won’t happen, even while it’s happening all over the place.”
So here we are. Post Black Swan/Ostrich/Emu
What the fuck do we do now? (This has become a somewhat classic Clamquestion)
On Facebook, seeing all the pics I posted of the floods around Gloucester, an old friend of mine from the Netherlands messaged me:
Her: You need stormvloedkering
Her: Like weirs
Her: Barriers against the sea. We have them in Zeeland in our country. We also have decriminalized cannabis, pervasive cycling infrastructure and nationalized health care.
Me: But we had to save your butts in World War II.
Her: Yes. But you still need stormvloedkering. I’m sure someone here will show you the plans, in thanks for World War II.
So the Dutch are sassy, in a chill sort of way. But they also know how to hold back an angry sea. And that’s what this is, folks. The sea is pissed. For the first few centuries of our history Gloucesterites have been going out to face it, and now it’s coming to meet us at home.
And nobody is out ahead of this. Not the federal government, which as of this writing is too busy taking on the essential task of tweeting insults at itself to mitigate the potential destruction of a major population, cultural and economic center. Not our underfunded local government which is trying to manage a dozen full-blown crises at any given time on shoestring budgets. And not most of us citizens who are just trying to go about our lives, decidedly not thinking “how will global climate change be affecting my choice of parking spot/lunch meetup/pet shampoo?”
And that’s gotta change. On all levels. It’s up to us, folks. Running for city council Jen Holmgren said climate change was one of her top priorities, and I of all people counseled her to talk about issues closer to home. Three days into her term, Newell Stadium and Rocky Neck go under. Also the Mayor made climate change a key piece of her inauguration speech. As she was reciting it, on the stage, I noticed a few of the councilors rolling their eyes when she started talking dealing with climate challenges facing Gloucester. Roll them at your peril now, everyone is on blast for this issue after Grayson, me included. Clear?
We live by the sea. We’re going to have to get used to the fact that the very same sea is rising and getting more violent. It’s tempting to point fingers (see Black Swan rule 3), like blaming people for parking in a lot which hasn’t seen that kind of flooding in a century. This is not useful. In the same way as blaming the city for not knowing the lot would flood. The city is made up of people (shocker), they have access to the same prediction tools as the rest of us. Back to the classic Black Swan example: Someone in the government clearly should have insisted, “assholes with box cutters and Microsoft Flight Simulator could destroy the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon”, but obviously no one was convincing enough in that prediction. And, to be honest, even if they were doing full body searches and spending tons of money on air marshals before that event, most of us air travelers would have been total dicks about the “unreasonable preparations for a highly unlikely circumstance” and complaining to our representatives and the media and probably writing snarky blog posts about it.
So, I’m considering this the “wake up call”. There aren’t “we didn’t know” excuses from now on. We know. It’s happening. And this is not the kind of thing where we’re going to really get much wiggle room for divisiveness around. You are either on the stormvloedkering or off the stormvloedkering.
I think I got that right. Holy crap we are so behind on this.
I love your writing. Just love it. Please promise never to stop.
Clamsplaining at its finest. Thank you.
Right on the button! And I do think or hope to think people here will follow a leader in facing this problem. Most people don’t seem to have logic in their skill set but are good worker bees.
Always read your posts and the Clam. Hail to logic!
I was told ther would be stroopwaffle
Flood is so bad, he even produced a U2 album.
Love the Black Swan theory, Love Stroopwafel, and love the Clam! But Black Swans are common birds in other parts of the world, the Dutch managed to keep out the sea in low-tech Times, and we have these US govt maps that tell us that certain areas (like GHS) are in an area likely to flood – right? So while I get that hindsight is often (not always) 20-20, I still don’t get why this event is a Black Swan. Take a low-lying area, a prediction of a “bomb-cyclone” (woah!), and is it really the same thing as predicting box cutters on Flight 11? Can’t we learn something from other underprepared cities and the new-era devastations from hurricanes Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Maria? Why can’t we be more predictive, or at least concerned, about things like low areas during a massively predicted huge storm? Not trying to cast blame here, but I’m missing something!!!
Black swan States we do predict, but don’t act if it’s outside of our experience. Tons of psychological data on this too- adding a dancing gorilla into a video subjects have seen before and they don’t notice it. We have to start acting on reasonable predictions before it’s too late. As for the car thing- if we ask for the government to guarantee secure parking at their liability rather than simply making municipal lots available, what kind of liability are we asking them to take on? This is an honest question, I don’t know the answer, but if we demand off street parking for snow removal with plowed sidewalks and so on, at what point is that too much of a burden? Can the city say, “we can’t afford to guarantee your parking in our lots, so you’re on your own?”
I too noticed these councilors lack of respect when the Mayor brought this issue up in her speech and the arrogance & party-line toeing sickened me.
They say you can’t fix stupid, I hope “they’re” wrong. There’s stupid, and then there’s stuck, stubborn and stupid.
These same people jump on board the “science train” pretty damn fast when it suits them.
Let’s hope Fox News does a 180 on Climate Change so these councilors can get on board with reality.