Information • Education • Action
My public writing has been, of late, unabashedly polemical. It has been, and is, my feeling that people – most specifically, rich people living in rich countries – are living in denial about climate breakdown.
Just this morning in my inbox: from the mundane – that climate change might “Make Rockslides Worse” – to the catastrophic, that global insect populations appear to be plummeting, threatening “ecological armageddon.”
I believe that we, collectively, have been, to varying degrees, aware for a very long time about the damage we have been doing to the Earth system, and the fact that, at some level, this damage threatened, and threatens, to have serious human consequences. Still, as I walked by the Hudson this morning, I saw contractors engaged — no doubt at significant expense to the City (or perhaps the Hudson River Park Trust?) — in repairing aging bulkheads along the River; the Zone 1 building boom continues unabated citywide; and even “progressive” politicians (like Bill de Blasio) and farsighted visionaries (like Fred Wilson) continue to support the construction, at a cost of more than $2 billion, of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (the so-called BQX – just look it up).
It seems that, even with all the talk of being “woke” and of people “waking up” to the climate crisis, at the most substantive political, economic, and social levels – whatever that means – we still are not taking the reality of imminent/immanent climate breakdown seriously. It is here; it will get worse; by failing to take action now, we only make our future situation more dire.
And yet, as I write more — and have welcome conversations and written exchanges with friends and loved ones about these issues — I find that the flipside of this coin — which has, for heads, ignorance and denial — is, in fact, a long tails of despair, hopelessness, defeatism, and apathy. Many of the smartest, richest, most powerful and connected people in my life seem convinced that democracy is dead — that its failure is to blame for our current predicament — and that the human race is doomed, as if by fate, to drive itself into extinction, or at very least an increasingly desperate, bitter, and Hobbesian future.
There are long conversations to be had here about the roles of capitalism — and its fellow travelers slavery, genocide, colonialism, and imperialism — and most particularly, of neoliberalism in all its vicious contemporary manifestations (austerity, precarity, militarism, neocolonial plunder, etc.) in our current crisis (and in the undermining of democracy), but as I have devoted a great deal of time in the past to just those issues, and found it a rather thankless task, here, I’m going to make a pivot.
For better or worse, I am also into a part of my workyear when there simply are not enough hours in the day, and so, for the time being, I plan to devote my weekly essays to: 1) providing basic information; 2) encouraging readers to pursue self-education (and offering resources to that end); and finally, 3) calling you, and all of us, to action.
Put in brief and reductive fashion: 1) information is raw data about the world. Taken comprehensively, such information could, in the mind of an anthropocentrist, be conceived as coterminous with the world itself; 2) education has to do with what happens when human minds encounter information, ideally in the most holistic and life-affirming fashion and context possible; and 3) action is engendered when education meets moral, ethical, ecological, pragmatic, personal, economic, etc., etc. motivations and imperatives.
It is not too late to prevent, and perhaps reverse, many of the worst impacts of global climate breakdown, and we have an imperative to act now — on the basis of deep education based on sound information — to restore and maintain livable balance on planet Earth, while embracing and establishing sane and just ways of being.
Starting with what feels most basic of all, at the moment, here’s a chart showing the exponential increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere over the last 300 years or so:
It is important to note that concentration of carbon dioxide is measured in parts per million (ppm); that the concentration in Earth’s atmosphere has risen from around 280 ppm — at which approximate level it was steady for more than 10,000 years (during the Holocene), so for the entirety of the duration of human civilization on the planet — to, since 2013, above 400 ppm; and that it continues steadily rising.
To listen to: Doug Henwood’s illuminating interview with Christian Parenti on Behind the News. (Starts at around 26 minutes.)
To watch: The Gasland films by Josh Fox.
For a short read: The Global Calculus of Climate Disaster, from The Boston Review.
For a longer one: Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement — a sweeping, humane, and accessible examination of contemporary climate issues, through a literary lens.
Bonus: short NowThis News segment on Decolonize This Place’s anti-Columbus Dady action/tour and slightly longer (~20 min) documentary on the same.
And in the spirit of baby steps, if you reside in the United States, check out Arcadia Power, and consider signing up. I have some unanswered questions myself about their model, but for the pittance they charge per kilowatt-hour, I am happy to have a good way to more readily track our home electricity usage, while perhaps offsetting/reducing the burning of coal.