In Denial “we see what we expect”

Ice dissipation is only invisible in denial [1].

If we expect that we are small, just one in the 7 billion humans, then it comes naturally to believe that our individual impact on the earth is miniscule. Denial comes easy, that we are just one person and that in changing our habits nothing will change in the greater world. But for one second imagine — every human sides with denial and no human recognizes their environmental impact… then what?

While I have always loved the environment, it was not until two years ago I realized the depth of my passion. Issue being I had spent the previous four years (denying my true passion) pursuing medicine and then biomedical engineering. Denial being the theme of this post, I want to layout my intention: to draw a line between the denial we face in our daily life choices and the denial faced on a communal scale against scientifically validated trends… Yes! I am referring to climate change.

I often overflow with emotion when the topics of the environment, and the state of the climate arise in conversation… maybe too much so — I have regular fears that my passion for the environment creates a bold front that destructs the importance of  conversation– particularly into topics regarding consumption. Nevertheless, I feel this response has become a normal occurrence due to a numb denial commonly directed towards climate science. The rare engagement into meaningful climate discussion runs my blood hot with the urge to feel a connection over an issue I lose sleep for.

Several months back during the holiday season, following one such meaningful discussion, I received a deeply philosophical gift from my brother-in-law: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (PTK). Inside the cover, a note reads:


This book belongs in the bookcase of anyone who is passionate about the environment.

” -D.

For me the words of Annie Dillard, resounded as cries to regain a childlike vision of  the world.  The pages create a heightened sense like wandering alone in the forest. When the mind and body realize they are only a guest (a pilgrim). It is that principle of being a proponent of the natural world that humans have lost through artificial light from the darkness, insulation from the cold, and ultimately denial from the cruelty of the natural world. But denial, will not break that cruelty and a reckoning will come. One day, humans will have to face the earth, and she will judge us not for any material, but the state of the oceans, the soils and the trees.

I too fancy myself a pilgrim. Recently, I ventured to the south of Chile where I trekked the famous Torres del Paine “W”. While there is no denying my experience was visionary, the trek was rather carnal. As with all trafficked attractions, evidence of humans remained even on trails far from the lodges. Ironically, the most inspirational part of my journey did not come at the feet of Las Torres nor the elements of Valle Francés. Rather it came later – in a city – in the form of a man. Here, I will call him Fruend.

Under the dim streetlight in the city of Punta Arenas my wallet was lost to the night; whether to a hand or a street, the effect remains the same. In a sense stranded, I was seemingly alone in the south of chile without money or ID. It was in the hours that followed I came to realize that the contents of our wallet are only a characteristic of civil society. Fruend did not carry a wallet, he carried a plastic bag with pesos and an ID.

I spent two incredible days with this man, yet the connection runs like a deep cerebral cavern. Fruend was an exceptional man. The only thing you must know is that his feet have ventured thousands of miles through hundreds of countries; and his camera has captured all of the faces that shape his life. While his story is incredible, it is a story for another time.

“Seeing” Chapter 2 (PTK). This chapter stood out to me. I loved each page as Dillard’s character struggled to see a world invisible to a naked eye:

“I’m bony and dense; I see what I expect.” (PTK, pg. 20)

Only conscious humans have an ability to see the air suspended between a trees branches. I believe Fruend is the most conscious human I have ever met. He allowed me to accompany him as he photographed, and for 8 hours, we wandered through the streets and shoreline. Sitting on the shore of the Magellan Straight, I was living a real moment. Free. Because, denial can only exist as a loss of presence.

The weight of my wallet was the last to lift before I could gain aspiration and “see”. I will always be grateful to this man for giving me his eyes for a day .

I believe it is through real human interaction and “seeing” we will deface the denial masking our impact on the earth. Denial stands in the face of productivity, it stands between what is (looming climate crisis) and what could be (a healthy human and nature interaction). Where there is objectification there is denial. Denial stands in the objectification of women in the same way it stands in the objectification of children-factory workers in Bangladesh. Denial allows gratification in consumption without the guilt of facing the exported travesties. While denial helps us sleep at night, our lack for concern slowly- and not so slowly- kills the earth. If we expect that we are small, just one in the 7 billion humans, then we will never see human impact for what it is.

What is undeniable?

In November of 2016 the total global ice levels were 1.5 million square miles below the historic average. The sea ice extent for both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere are the lowest recorded since the study began in 1979 [2]:


IMG_0125The linear decline of Arctic Sea ice is about 42.7 thousand kilometers [3]… This means we lose ice equivalent to the surface area of Denmark (16.57 square miles) each year…

The earth is not a resource, the earth is an elaborate ecosystem. To survive climate change, we must rid ourselves of denial and recognize the deeply complex relationship we have with the earth. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below.

Stay Lovely- LL

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