My name is Jay and I caused global warming.
It was the winter of 1996. This was back before we used ominous words like 'global warming' and 'climate change.' We called it greenhouse gasses then but that sounded like a good thing. Who doesn't love a greenhouse? And gas? We loved gas. Gas was good.
I was in my cabin cleaning the kitchen when I found, by smell, a plastic bag that contained the raw bloody juices of a salmon I had cooked a week earlier. I stabbed this nasty fish bag with a fork, held it at arms length, and said, "I am not going to wash this." I walked over to the wood stove, opened the door - and here's where it happened - I threw the stinking plastic fish bag into the flames.
Within the week I began hearing the terms global warming and climate change in the news. No more with the cozy greenhouse gasses, now it was the the real thing, the beginning of the end. It was no longer just a theory, it was happening. What had tipped the scale I wondered. What had been the last straw? Then the hairs on the back of my neck bristled. I remember it so clearly. I was sitting in my green easy chair eating buckwheat pancakes when the answer came to me like a bright and shining bolt of absolute, indisputable truth that I felt to the very marrow of my bones. It was the fish bag.
Obviously I can't take all the blame for global warming. I know that within a trillasecond it would have been someone else who tipped the scale. Global warming was going to happen whether or not I burned a stinking fish bag, but because it was this act that was the final straw I became the unwilling poster child for climate change.
Of course, only I knew this and I kept quiet. Still though, imagine how I felt. I'd turn on the CBC and hear the headlines: Polar bear habitat threatened by global warming. "Oh no," I'd say. "Not the bears." Penguin colonies dying off due to global warming. "But I love the penguins," I'd cry. I felt so bad. I took on all the guilt and shame and sadness. I was global warming's poster child and it was my cross to bear. It had to be someone.
The newspapers never let up. I'd turn on 'As It Happens' on the radio and listen to the horrible things I do to hammerhead sharks and monarch butterflies, the three toed sloth (it got slower), and the lesser-crested jibblywink of Greater Zambozia. The list went on and on and on. I'd even effected the California wine industry. "Oh no," I'd yelp. "Not the grapes, too."
I was so sad. Look at what I'd done to all these poor creatures. I'd filled their good lives with fear and cancer and death. Eventually the news was too much for me. I stopped being sad and instead became irritated. "Enough already," I snapped at the radio. "Stop harping at me. You're always harping at me." There's nothing more I can do to atone. I live in a tiny cabin, I catch rainwater for the house, I use a solar panel, I don't drive, I eat roots and berries. I can't live more simply. I even compost my own shit, for god's sake.
I thought about coming out then. I needed people to know what a blow this had been to my sense of self and maybe they would have a little compassion for the position I was in. I didn't want this job but now that I have it everyone hates me. My self esteem was in the gutter as you can well imagine. There are no support groups for the poster children of global disasters.
But I didn't come out then. I was too scared. I imagined revealing my secret at a press conference in Ottawa. Immediately after I'd be whisked away for an exclusive interview with Peter Mansbridge. He'd smile warmly and say, "I'd like to thank you for coming in to the studio today to talk with me, Ms. Warming. Or may I call you Global?" And, of course, I'd want to be friendly so I'd say, "Just call me Glo', Peter. All my friends call me that." Then Peter Mansbridge, who had seemed so warm and friendly in the green room, would say, "But do you have any friends, Ms. Warming?"
I imagined looking down at my shoes, my lower lip would tremble. "Well, no," I'd mutter. "I'm Global Warming. Nobody likes me." The very first question and Peter had come out on the attack. I was so naive.
There was also my own physical safety to think of. If I came out how would the world treat me? Would I be tarred and feathered? That was a good old fashioned punishment. But of course the tar would be an issue, being a product of oil and carcinogenic. You couldn't champion the environment and then use toxins to do it. Molasses, that may be the solution. Organic Blackstrap Molasses and feathers. But the feathers would likely come from a factory farm and molasses isn't local. Honey, then. Honey and thumb tacks. But the vegans would come out against honey. And the tacks, well, nobody likes taxes. Another committee would be formed, and another, and another, and there would never be consensus. I knew I would be safe. Environmentalists can't make decisions. They're too sensitive.
So I'm coming out now. To hell with all your stupid penguins and polar bears, screw your B.O. emissions or whatever the hell they're called. If the world thinks I'm bad then, dammit, I'll be bad. "Oh but what about the tree frogs?" you breathy environmentalist flakes will say. I don't give a rat's patoot about the tree frogs. Get away from me with all your flapdoodle and hoo haa. You can't hurt me anymore. I can burn you all to crispy bits of long pork and your David Suzuki can't help you now. Where's the DDT, wheres the agent orange? Everyone has a bottle of Round-Up or Draino or Killex in the back of the cupboard under the sink. It's the guilty secret that has been tucked behind the unbleached paper towels and the biodegradable dish soap and the rusty SOS pads for 20 years because you don't know where it should go. Give them to me and I'll spread them hither and yon like a toxic, modern day Johnny Apple Seed. And that moldy foam mattress that's been been taking up space in my shed for 18 years because it's not allowed at the dump? Burn baby burn. When I go to the outhouse I'll drive. And I won't even carpool to get there. I'll burn coal. I'll harpoon whales. I'll squash bees. And I will always, always choose plastic over paper bags.
My name is Jay and I am global warming.
Jay Rainey is an artist living on an island in British Columbia, Canada.