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and Oceans had tested for a huge variety of diseases and poisons but hadn’t turned up a cause of death. He thought the deaths could be explained in terms of normal natural processes, and he went on to make just that kind of explanation, convincingly.

This should have been a relief. But the starfish showed that something had changed in me. My gut reaction to finding a handful of unusual creatures had shifted from delight to dread. I realized I was carrying around a load of barely conscious, anxious anticipation. It makes me think of these lines from Karen Solie:

An inaudible catastrophic orchestra is tuning, we feel it in the air impelled before it, as a pressure on the brain.

On the beach, I became aware of the pressure on my brain.

Even though Leighton had delivered good news about the starfish, the good news felt provisional. It’s only a matter of time before I encounter some other aberration that justifies the tightness in my chest. So I didn’t exactly feel relieved. I was also not relieved because a tiny perverse part of me wanted to have the dread confirmed. Selfishly, I wanted all the talk of climate change to turn into something material. I wanted it to hit home. I felt that literally: I wanted it to hit my home. That was also the last thing I wanted.

To me, this experience with the starfish seems to have taken place on the near edge of what Tim Lilburn calls “a new sadness.” He writes,

The nature of the sadness that is and will be experienced in the face of the effects of global warming . . . struck me as unlike anything in memory or imagination. It occupies an entirely new category. Though it may contain aspects of malaises we know quite well, like regret, nostalgia, penthos, depression and despair, there [is] an unnamed something else; it seems as a whole to be other than conditions we are familiar with, other even than these in novel arrangement, with an unidentified intensifier.

I glimpsed this new sadness. Others have had more profound experiences of it, and I feel almost envious as I write because it seems these people have a clearer view than I do, are more intimate with reality, though it’s at a cost.

What is the reality? Climate change is stoppable, but enough has changed that there are already consequences—Canadians have only to look to our melting Arctic ice to see them. And because of the warming oceans, there will be more consequences even if the global community cuts all carbon emissions this minute. It may be possible to reverse climate change by harvesting carbon from the air, though no one is sure where to put it afterwards, and it’s not clear that the political will exists to take any of these measures, especially given the current fate of the Paris Agreement.

Do we need to muster the political will required to take the measures still available? Absolutely. But do we also need to consider how to encounter the reality of climate change, how to feel it, how to live with feeling it? I think we do, though it scares me. T. S. Eliot wrote

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