My Year As A Believer, Part 5

WHICH, like everything else, brings us ineluctably back to climate change.

We’d decided early on to raise the baby in our beliefs. Later, if Hunter chose to abandon the science as an informed adult, we’d respect that mistake. We might not love him or her quite as much—can anything really restore the filial bond after that kind of rupture?—but it’s not as though we’d disinherit our own child just for being a climate denier, unless we had other children by then.

All well and good. But how do you teach a pre-verbal homunculus everything they need to know about the most complex, multidisciplinary science in human history—a field so ambitious in scope it’s known simply as ‘the’ science? I know how I’d do it, obviously, but how is the average parent, without even a fraction of my education, supposed to pull it off? (Tell us your struggles in comments below.)

You’re probably thinking resources. There must be resources of some kind, right? Well, if your postcode is anything like mine, the newly-endowed Keating Wing of the local library is dedicated exclusively to climate-change fiction for all ages. But what good is the most engaging bedtime story ever written if Mum and Dad are mid-doctoral quitters who don’t even know how to pronounce some of the words?

It’s hard. Hard as this Great Southern Land I love so much. I mean this sincerely: I admire you people more than I let on. You’re the backbone.

In any case, I must have been working pretty hard on the problem of neonatal climate pedagogy (subconsciously, I mean) as I leafed through the Age classifieds one fateful Tuesday. Only priming theory can explain the way my peripheral vision seized on its quarry in one effortless, inerrant saccade: a tiny call for Expressions Of Interest, placed in error, in 11pt Tahoma, in the sex-work section. Yet there it was: the anxiolytic to all our money Angst! A cool hundred grand, tax-free, for the taking.

And all I had to do was convince the University of Melbourne that I was the guy to write the world’s first My First Big Dictionary of Global Warming. To short-change you on what is a long and riveting story an sich, let’s just say they called back. I got the money. Not only that, both the other applicants were disoriented prostitutes, so I didn’t have to split it with a soul.

To say I was hypomanic when I put down the receiver would be understating the symptoms. Proof at last: there was a Gaia! The atmosphere and the oceans were finally looking out for the Keyeses. And on a floodlit December day on the perimeter of Australia, who would dare say otherwise?

The Year of the Dictionary

I’m no lexicographer by any definition of the word, but I’d seen Blackadder, season 3, episode 2, so I knew better than most people how not to write a dictionary. Twelve months seemed like a realistic time-frame, at two weeks per letter.

The ancient rituals of lunchtime would serve as the start, the centre and the anchor of my daily process. Single-origin coffee would be sipped over single-origin news from The Age, just to be sure the climate hadn’t changed without my knowledge. Next I’d put in an evening of Stephen-King-like discipline in front of my iMac. And finally, wearily, I’d walk on padded feet to the baby’s room to focus-test my latest definitions. Pending critical approval from Hunter I could then reward myself by reheating whatever Oriental amuse-geules-in-a-box my wife hadn’t eaten.

Bedwards then—to sleep the sweet sleep of the buggered. You’ve earned it, Brad. But don’t visit too long at the house of Orpheus. It all starts again at the crack of noon.

It was an elegant routine, if I say so myself, well worth the month I’d spent mind-mapping, mind-refining and mind-fracking it to perfection.

But where to start? It was February. My First Big Dictionary of Global Warming. Let me think.

The principle of cerebral parsimony told me to do whatever a simpleton would expect. The simplest ton of all was Baldrick from Blackadder, I reasoned, so let’s take a leaf from his lexicon and start at A.

A, A, A.

aaaa, AAA. The Alpha and the Omega. (Well, not so much the Omega.) Alef to Xanadu. Where Alph, the sacred river, ran.

I stole another glance at It wasn’t even the middle of May and I’d already had a major breakthrough: I finally knew why I hadn’t written anything yet. Like any discovery worth discovering, it was sorta obvious now that I thought about it: I’d forgotten to remember my audience. D’oh! Always remember to remember your audience, kids.

Speaking of kids, how in Gaia’s name was I meant to come up with a global-warming glossary for kids? The audacity of the assignment was insane. Almost insane enough to give the money back.

Pull yourself together, Brad. It’s June. You’ve already spent most of the grant. That bridge across the Rubicon is burned. Anyway, this was your idea in the first place, remember? What were you thinking?

Well, I was thinking of something like Skeptical Science dot com. You know, with its “Basic” answers to the top ten myths troubling today’s pre-tweens.

It’s the sun! No it’s not.

We didn’t start the fire! Then who did? Ghosts?

Polar bears can swim! Sure, but they’re crap.

That’s the register I had to hit. If I could just crack the monosyllabic code, I could speak John Cook. Then no reader would be too dumb for this dictionary. Foetuses would demand it. Embryos would understand it. The easier entries at least.

If I spoke John Cook, the beasts in the field and the birds in the wood would buy my book.

So that was step one. Let’s see, July was just beginning. Time was still on my side; I just had to steward, husband and shepherd it well. Cancel a funeral here, a bris there. Pulverize a few boxes of Ritalin, weaponize the precious dust; black out the windows; check coffee supplies. Caffeine: the most important meal of the day after off-label methylphenidate.

Coffee supplies good.

“A flurry of productivity ensued,” my biographers would one day write of these menses mirabiles, “the likes of which Keyes hadn’t imagined himself capable of since his late teens. In the first week alone the book grew from adiabatic lapse rate to Doran, Anderegg et al. [2009].

“The nine crystal orbs that make up the atmosphere, according to top denier physicists, seemed to align in the project’s favor—or so Keyes might have put it if he still embraced such superstitious science. His emails and texts from the time express a euphoric conviction that nothing was going to interfere with the great work.

“It soon became clear, however, that his synaptic vesicles were writing checks his body couldn’t cash,” the authors of Keyes and Stalin: Completely Unrelated People would continue, rather ominously.


  1. attribution

    1. that which Wegman’s grad student forgot to give, thus validating the Hockey Stick

    2. the allotment of criminal/moral blame (esp. by a conference of parties) for milder winters

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brad, If you started with “adiabatic lapse rate” you missed the opportunity for an illustration of “an adventurous aardvark advancing across aa-aa” : a vision much endeared by climate illiterate foetuses (or is it foetii?)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brad. In your lexiconographic haze you may question the climatological relevance of aa-aa and aardvark. You would be unwise to do so. Vis
    Aardvarks collectively consume vast quantities of ants and termites which otherwise would emit enormous quantities of the deadly GHG methane. They are “good guys”, unlike some other horrid animals, see ruminants and fart.
    Aa-aa formed from gassy lavas, the source of our original pristine atmosphere that we have contaminated with our hateful industry. Like pahoehoe, words to giggle about.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Initially I concluded that every word would have some relevance to climate change, but must admit that I am currently struggling with antidisestablishmentarianism. But Brad with your entire year of untrammelled lexigraphizing, you should have no difficulty, whatsoever. Give us your best shot!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An important function of the climate consensus is to redefine words. Please, can you give some insights on how to keep up with the regifting of language?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Beth,

    just deserts? And will just deserts ever get so green, kids no longer have to eat their environmentalists first? Climate parenting is so complex! I suppose this is just what we deserved.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hunter,

    chill mon. It’s not the kill, it’s the thrill of the chase. I know regifting can seem stressful, at this time of year no less!, but mon up, pick yourself up and pick yourself up a copy of my eaudiobook How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my New Addiction to Inhaling Dental-strength Giftgas. Available for rent from only 99c/day at eaudible dot com, it’s the gift that keeps on gifting. If you’re not completely convinced that disputes over the meanings of words are pure semantics after 30 days, simply cancel your subscription at any time.


  8. Disputes over the meanings of words ? Dilemmas regarding complexities of climate parenting? You’ll find Lewis Carroll has the answers… Jest don’t put up with any nonsense.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. From Fernando L, occasional poster, comes this wonderful addition to your edition:
    “Climate Change Activist:
    A person who fights against climate change by trying to make others reduce their CO2 emissions.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Hunter

    oh, that Mr L! Alas, I don’t think I would have been psychically equal to even conceiving such Ambrose-Bierce-worthy Satanic Parses during the period I’m recounting, my year as a believer.


  11. Brad. Are you up to “P”, for there “pneumono-ultra-microscopic-silico-volcano-coni-osis” lies in wait for the sick and unhyphenated? Tinies will love it.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. How did you cope Brad with “LLAN-FAIR-PWLL-GWYN-GYLL-GO-GER-YCH-WYRN-DROB-WLL-LLAN-TY- SILIO-GO-GO-GOCH-O-PHOBIA?” Not really part of your Strine vocab?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. To everyone from Alan to Serf, Beth The, with especial emphasis on Hunter:

    I hope you and your kin had a happy Christmas and are now “on track” to experience once-per-century levels of merriness in the New Year, which (just to put that in perspective) would represent an even merrier New Year than any of our models dare dream plausible. Indeed if I had my druthers, extreme merriness events would soon be the new normal. The dice would be loaded with steroids, with the result that happiness titres once confined to the Book of Revelations would become a quotidian fixture of the hedonic landscape.

    Alan, please don’t read anything into the fact that I haven’t written anything to you. Rest assured, I’m enjoying all your comments. You have broken my dictionary, but never mind—it was just the modern English kind, not an Oxford Dictionary of Climate Gibberish or anything like that. So in the forgiving spirit of the season I’ll just buy another one and make it my NY resolution to refrain from looking up any Kendallisms with 6-sigma cromulence or above.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis and Llanfair-PG (shortened to save electrons) are not Kendallisms, but are bone fide contenders for the world’s longest words. I’m sure there must be German contestants.
    The word “Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” should not be spoken out loud in one go by those suffering from it.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hi Alan—far be it, far was it and far has it ever been from me to impugn the actuality—nay, the aseity—of the dreaded black-lung disease p45.

    It was rather the briefer strings of characters, including aa-aa, vis and lexiconographic, whose referentiality my OED proved unequal to the task of verifying.

    And don’t get me started on German, whose infinite tolerance for agglutination invalidates any contest with English. Verbum sapienti, however: not every word in the Duden korpus is in the Duden per se. People forget this! You’d be amazed how may people assume that just because it’s in the Duden korpus it must be in the Duden proper. (Please tell me you weren’t so naïve, Alan, and that I’m banging on about the Duden’s strict inclusion within its own corpus praeter necessitatem.) The twilit web is awash with ad hoc hapax legomena about Danube steamboat captaincy certifying regalia damage insurance associations und so weiter, to which you should adopt a policy of giving shrift inversely proportional in length to that of the pseudo-specimens themselves.


  16. Brad. “And don’t get me started on German,…” But, but, but, you started without moi.

    Difficulty with aa-aa? The word that every good dictionary should begin with. Did you totally give up on pahoehoe? To add to your basic hawaiian volcanological expertise (other than mai-tai which I’m sure you know ) try “kīpuka.” When you are next lost on a volcanic lava plane and spot trees in the distance on a rise, you can delve into your volcanological word bag and utter the word that will big you up most – namely kīpuka.
    My NY gift to you.

    BTW. some “Kendallisms” are entirely the responsibility of my evil spellchecker.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Your saga reminds me of the progress of my own Master’s thesis in mechanical engineering, written over the period 1980-1983, but actually in three weeks right before my course credits would begin to expire. It got me my degree, and a Hugo. Subsequently, I’ve written several childrens’ books…just not on purpose.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Michael Kelly,
    Your story of the bracing effects of fear as an influence on momentum and the production of surprising results is fascinating. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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