My brother died three years ago this fall. He was 44 and addicted to alcohol, fatally so. Despite rehab attempts, he never was able to remain sober. His last years were lived essentially jobless, living apart from his family with a woman in California who supported him and his alcohol use as well as her own.
One day in 2012 my brother was swimming in a swimming pool. I can only imagine, knowing my brother, that he was probably showboating – demonstrating his prowess at swimming from one end of the pool to the other without coming up for air. I can practically hear the bravado in his gravely baritone voice in my head as I write this.
He never did come up for air. His heart stopped under the water. His partner couldn’t lift his large frame out of the water. He was out too long, declared brain dead and days later the ventilators were turned off.
My brother left behind four of the absolute best kids in the world. Sweet, loving, silly, fascinating people. And my god did he love them. So it really shows to me the depth of his addiction to alcohol that he was never able to stop, even after doctors told him that if he continued he would certainly die.
At the risk of sounding macabre or opportunistic, I thought of my brother when I was thinking about climate change this morning. My thought process on climate change often goes something like this:
“We’re creating too much carbon and it’s going to mean terrible things for the planet.”
“Oh gosh, we’ve got to do something before it’s too late!!”
“But I am one tiny person and all the people with a lot of power are actively working against this.””Fuck, this is depressing,”
“I’m going to think about something else.”
But every time I read another alarming study, I go back to the main question: Why in God’s name are we not doing more to address what is bound to be a ginormous undertaking and growing ginormous-er by the year? Today the phrase that popped into my head was “addiction to oil” or more accurately addiction to fossil fuels.
And that got me thinking about my big brother Matt.
My brother knew what he was consuming would have catastrophic effects. He did it anyway. He couldn’t stop. It was how he lived his life and he couldn’t make the laborious but necessary changes. He, frankly, wasn’t strong enough.
How many more balls-shriveling scientific studies have to come out before we wake up and make some changes, World?
After my brother died, I thought there was nothing I wouldn’t have given to go back in time and do something. Make some sort of change. Say something to get him to change this terrible outcome. I’m still making peace with the fact that that’s not possible.
Many times I was told after my brother’s death that there was nothing I could have done. Alcoholism and addiction is a decision that has to be made by the user. If they can’t stop themselves, no one can.
I am petrified about the state of our global environment and the changes that have started and will continue over the coming decades as a result of our inability to stop using carbon-based fuels. I feel this sadness, this gloom.
What can we do to stop our global usage of oil and coal? What can we do to stop this catastrophic event from devastating human life?
As I wrote this piece, I wasn’t sure what conclusion I expected to come to. Perhaps simply to say that we do have an addiction. That we need to make the changes.
Instead I’m left wondering if we are doomed to repeat my brother’s mistake. If we never will have the fortitude to stop our energy usage and greed for growth at all costs. If perhaps the destruction of global climate change is already as inevitable as was my brother’s death.