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. 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, presumably because they loved us so much. 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 a letter.
The ancient rituals of lunchtime would initiate, centre and anchor my daily process. Single-origin coffee would be sipped over single-origin news from The Age, just to be sure the climate didn’t change without my knowledge. Next I’d put in an evening of Stephen-King-like discipline in front of the iMac. And finally, wearily, walk on padded feet to the baby’s room to focus-test my latest definitions. Pending critical approval from Hunter I could 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 is Baldrick, I reasoned, so 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 Calendar.app. 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 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?
I was thinking of something like Skeptical Science dot com, I guess. 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. .
“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.