By Chris Lennard
An ancient proverb says that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. I am very fortunate to have a friend of some 20 years like this. I am known as his “Ugly twin brother Chris” and likewise he is my “Ugly twin brother Bruce”. He is married to “my other wife” Liz and I have known his children, Emily and Gus, since they were a bump in her tummy. Over the decades we have camped, kloofed, climbed, cycled, run, raced, paddled, swum and laughed a lot, generally causing chaos wherever we found ourselves. We revel in each other’s company. I learned much from Bruce about what it means to be a husband and a father and watched as he and Liz raised their children to be prepared for unforeseen eventualities. About 10 years ago the family moved to the UK and I have been able to visit on a number of occasions as opportunity has afforded. The only thing that changes is amount of hair on our heads and the kids getting silly English accents, and taller. Our eldest son thinks Gus is the most awesome boy ever because they jumped on the trampoline together and chased chickens in the rain. Whenever we are together, no matter how long between visits, the revelry resumes as though time has had no say.
But it has…we buried Bruce last Friday.
Three years ago he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The tumour was successfully removed and the doctors were optimistic. He responded superbly to treatment and when we saw him about 18 months ago our hopes were up. Then eight months ago we learned the cancer had come back, and he was given to the end of this year to live. I was going to see him one last time in October to say good-bye but on Friday 23 June at 11:30 he succumbed to the cancer. The funeral was one of conflicting emotions, much laughter as many stories were told of the mischief he got up to during his life, and much sadness because his life ended 50 years too early and we go on without him. It was wonderful to spend Thursday with Liz and the kids reliving memories, it was good to say tearful good-byes on Friday, it was awesome to walk into the arrivals hall at Cape Town airport and have my boys run up to me shouting “Daddy, Daddy” and to get viciously snuggled, and to embrace my wife. Then sadness knowing how intimate Bruce was with Liz, Angus and Emily…
This grieving process got me thinking a bit.
In my 46 years I have lived through an increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of about 82 ppm. This is the range of atmospheric CO2 concentration change that occurs during the transition from a glacial to interglacial epoch. It usually happens over a few thousand years. Not forty-six. This increase has warmed the planet and there is substantial literature now showing the impact of this warming is already being felt across the world through extreme weather events. It is during these events that people die. The 2003 European heat wave claimed about 70,000 lives. Children lost their parents and parents lost their children, mostly babies and toddlers. On a massive scale (usually reserved for wars) families experienced the pain of never seeing a son or daughter or husband or wife ever again.
So I’ve been thinking a bit about climate change and personal loss. Bruce’s death while premature was natural. He was taken from us by cells in his brain that went haywire, not by a climate going haywire because of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. How many people then will be taken from us over the next 20 – 40 years as a result of a climate change? How can we measure the emotional pain this will cause? Could we pair each ppm CO2 increase with the grief of a mother who has lost her child to heat stroke? Or maybe we could map a husband’s heartache to each 0.3 degrees of warming as he buries his starved family? What metric is there for a child who is left alone in the world because a mudslide took her parents away? Who is responsible and how do we hold responsible parties to account? Am I responsible? As a climate scientist, what role should emotion play in informing my research questions?
I wrote the section about Bruce through tears. And although there were no tears when I wrote the next section at least I’m thinking about it (I don’t know where it’s going to lead to). I’m also thinking about something closely related: my two beautiful boys aged 2 and 4. They will probably live through a CO2 concentration increase of 400 ppm on the way to the year 2100, maybe 200 ppm if a miracle happens. Your kids may too. I think these are both terrible scenarios and I find it really difficult to imagine what it means for them and their generation globally. I can only hope that we will have equipped them to walk the difficult path we have set them to follow, supporting each other as brothers in arms. It is going to require an inner fortitude that Bruce was so good at developing in the people he met….I’m going to miss him.
PS. Atmospheric CO2 concentration for June 2017 at the Mauna Loa observatory was 408.84 ppm and in May 2017 409.65.
PPS. June 2017 was the 3rd warmest June on record, after June 2015 and June 2016.