A theatrical metaphor for climate change: Alcoholism

A survey of climate change in theater here and in the UK in the New York Times focuses mostly on "This Clement World,"  a new musical play by Cynthia Hopkins, and includes a telling quote from the writer:

“Alcoholism is an excellent metaphor for the climate change crisis,” she announces at one point onstage. “We’re addicted to behavior that is making us sick.”

Idea makes sense, if you think that denial is central to alcoholism and our culture's response to climate change. 

Here's a trailer, narrated by the playwright. 

I admire the thoughtfulness, but what sticks with me is the kazoo. 

Comments (6) Add yours ↓
  1. Steve Bloom

    That’s no kazoo, Luke. :)

    February 11, 2013 Reply
  2. Steve Bloom

    Hed: “Naive California journo meets Art as practiced in the Big Apple” :)

    February 11, 2013 Reply
  3. Kit Stolz

    I’m still not cynical enough. it’s been a problem for years.

    February 11, 2013 Reply
  4. Amy Scanlon

    I don’t see much connection between alcoholism and climate change at all.

    And coming from a family with a lot of alcoholics, I hate comparing a list of things from racism, to climate change, to even obesity to alcoholism.

    I totally reject the 12 step model about alcoholism coming from a deep seated psycho-spiritual disease with strong cultural underpinnings. Even though I’m NOT an atheist, I firmly believe that alcoholism is a neurochemical disorder with a very, very strong genetic component. Any psychological or spiritual problems in alcoholics are for the most part “secondary harm”. And the whole children of alcoholics things, is not a good model for kids who grew up with functioning and non-violent alcoholics. While it’s never good to watch a parent do that to themselves, I don’t think the ACOA label is all that useful.

    The new model for treating alcoholism is the Pennsylvania Model (The dominate Minnesota Model consists of 12 step meetings and the way most substance abuse counselors in America today operate), which consists of medication (Naltrexone, often Campral and/or Zofran-these lower cravings and DO NOT make you puke if you drink-along with anti-depressants when appropriate) along with intensive cognitive behavioral therapy, often SMART meetings (which has a meeting format like 12 step but is based more on Albert Ellis’s model of REBT or another form of cognitive therapy which is about rooting out distorted thinking, and destructive beliefs about alcohol or drugs, and changing behavior through evidence based psychology), and leaving religious choices to the individual. (One of the top myths about secular recovery is that it’s only for atheists and nonbelievers, but actually you have just as many, if not more people who’d rather stick with the church they’ve been with for X number of years, instead of introducing this new quasi religious element to their lives.)

    That said, I think few alcoholics are “in denial”, and most realize that they do have a problem.

    Also my response to the idea that Italian or French kids “learn responsible drinking from watered wine” is that it’s not true. Alcoholism is underdiagnosed in France (which has the highest rates of cirrhosis and drunk driving in Western Europe) but also Italians and to a lesser degree the French benefit from their Mediterranean ancestry.

    While there is no such thing as “race” it’s true that rates of alcoholism in different countries has more to do with genetics than culture. And it’s largely a function of how long alcohol has existed in a particular human population. Beer was first invented in Egypt and alcoholic drinks were common in the Mediterranean basin and some parts of Central Asia long before they were introduced to any other part of the world. So except in some population who carry almost a genetic antabuse (like most Han Chinese), or who metabolize it extremely quickly (Vietnamese people), what you generally see is that populations who have only had alcohol for a few hundred years tend to have very high alcoholism rates, and the lowest rates tend to be in Southern European and North African people. While Italians, most Jews, and non-Muslim North Africans can calmly enjoy the biological luxury of giving even their little kids watered wine with no worries about them growing up to have a drinking problem, people from Irish, Russian or most of all American Indian extraction will meet a son’s first drink with trepidation and worry.

    And there are so many reasons why I think it’s an awful idea to compare things like racism or climate change to alcoholism-that I’m not sure just where to start or how to separate them.

    What we truly need for climate change is new sources of energy and fuel, that don’t hurt the environment in some other way.

    February 12, 2013 Reply
  5. Kit Stolz

    I’m going to stand up for metaphor, for thinking poetically about issues like climate change. The imagination is arguably our species’ greatest gift; to put it aside because there is no known material connection between alcoholism and global warming would be to deprive us of one of our greatest powers, potentially.

    An example to cite from the past would be from the Orwell related post, which links a relevant quote:

    A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

    George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

    In his elegant way, Orwell sees a parallel between alcoholism and bad political writing/thinking. In fact, there is no inherent connection, but the metaphor helps us see past the obvious, and avoid distracting questions of guilt and blame. Useful.

    February 12, 2013 Reply
  6. Steve Bloom

    Here‘s the queen of the scene, FYI.

    February 14, 2013 Reply

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