By Wendy & Jesse & Hayley & Teresa
Three of the most intense hurricanes ever recorded just ripped through Puerto Rico and the southern US — within weeks of each other! Ash rained from the sky in Seattle and Portland for weeks. Record monsoons swept through Asia. Parts of Sierra Leon and Niger are underwater. San Francisco recorded its hottest day ever and Europe endured a triple-digit heat wave they called “Diablo.” The fucking devil is here man, and its name is climate change.
But despite all this, no one is talking much about it — and even more lacking are concrete, urgent and massive plans to immediately and dramatically cut the carbon and other emissions that are driving the increasingly abnormal weather. What the hell is going on? How can most people realize we’re tipping the world into a sixth mass extinction which fundamentally threatens human society, and be so easily distracted, so resigned, so apathetic?
There are many feedback loops in nature and in human social interaction in which particular events feed on themselves. These loops can cause downward spirals, but sometimes there are also virtuous cycles in which particular actions succeed and in so doing, open doors for even greater success.
At the moment, our failure to meet climate change head-on with massive social action is taking us on a downward spiral. As carbon concentrations rise, it becomes harder to imagine any hope, harder to feel like anything anyone can do will make any difference, and it gets easier to checkout. This is causing diverse psychological and cultural trauma. Arguably the rise of nationalism and the break-down of communication across social and political divides is a symptom of the fear and loss of hope we’re feeling as the threat of human extinction sinks in. A tiny number of corporations and elites who run the fossil fuel-based system are doing everything they can to keep people distracted and fighting amongst themselves.
What we need right away is to step off this vicious cycle, and step onto a virtuous cycle, which is just within our reach. Turning away from fossil fuels will mean more than just changing fuel sources — it requires changes in the way we relate to the earth and other people. As we move away from an extractive, centralized model, there are huge opportunities to reorganize the economy away from inequality, racism, oppression and meaninglessness and towards cooperation, diversity, mutual aid and engagement. Each step forward can make the next step easier as together we reclaim a future worth living that is sustainable and in harmony with the earth. Deliberately and meaningfully dealing with climate change will allow us to stay calm and focused so we can keep forward momentum. There’s a world to be won in this transition, and nothing to lose.
But right now, what can you do to make a difference? Sure, you can strive to live a low-carbon lifestyle, boycott cars and meat, but still, even if you get your personal carbon footprint down to zero, all around you people are still pumping carbon into the atmosphere like they’re on a suicide mission and plan to take out the whole planet with them. We don’t get to have hope that climate change will be avoided — that ship has sailed. If we’re going to get out of this capitalist planetary death wish with anything resembling a habitable planet left, we’re going to need a diversity of tactics.
On a psychic level, we need to hold in our heart how success looks — a world where people get what they need, where our lives aren’t serving a system at odds with the earth, but where people serve their own needs and the needs of those around the and the earth. To hell with living large — we need to re-learn how to live close to the ground valuing simplicity, freedom, cooperation, art, music and pleasure more than our stuff. Once we can see it, it’s up to all of us to discuss it and start working out the details.
We can do this. Massive shifts in social structures as well as technological norms aren’t just possible — they’re inevitable if you look at how human societies have changed just over the last few hundred years. A lot of the racism and oppression we’re struggling with now are legacies of slavery and feudalism. People argued that both of those systems were inevitable and permanent, too, but both were swept away.
We’re at another historical tipping point — corporate capitalism has run its course. The difference this time is that these oppressive structures have exceeded the earth’s limits — we’re in a race to kill capitalism before it kills us. Systems and historical epochs don’t change on their own, and many people will cling to the old ways until the last moment. This shift requires fearless, humble, clever humans willing to fight like hell.
We need to continually test for weak spots and run with whatever works — being flexible and willing to accept alternatives that may only be partial answers but still move us forward.
It’s time to talk about taboo topics — like encouraging people to have fewer children or none at all for the next few generations to take pressure off the earth. Like supporting more urban density which dramatically reduces emissions, even when doing so changes things we love about how our cities are now. Like pointing out that rebuilding houses in hurricane country or in flood plains is crazy given near certainty that violent weather events will increase — people may need to move. Like admitting that bike sharing programs cut emissions and keep cars off the roads and there need to be anti-capitalist options that don’t have ugly corporate logos on them.
It’s time to point out the obvious, refuse to participate, and change: taking uber and lyft rides still puts carbon into the air — the better option is always to ride the bus! We need to demand better public transit, and do everything we can to get cars off the road. Why are so many products shipped thousands of miles, when we have the recourses to grow and build almost everything locally?! Folks need to stop idling their car when they’re just talking on a cell phone. Do you need to put your clothes in that dryer on the hottest day of the year? Cooperative businesses and housing save resources and are the bottom up solutions we need right now — they’re not just for hippies anymore.
We can’t let ourselves off the hook just because we’ve individually figured out how to live a low-carbon lifestyle — we have to look towards the bigger picture of how to make it easy for everyone else on the planet to likewise make the same changes. We are going to have to get creative, and we are going to have to get fierce if we are going to take down the 90 corporations that are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. This will mean facing them in court, and in the streets! Seriously, we need to sue these fuckers for everything they’re worth for destroying our futures (and our present!) and do all we can to make it sure it’s no longer ever lucrative to pump carbon into the air.
Kicking the carbon habit requires social, legal, and political change, but there’s a technological aspect, too. Right after the US entered World War II, almost all factories were rapidly converted to war production, and thousands of new technologies were rapidly developed and deployed almost overnight. We’ll know we may have a chance against carbon emissions when we start seeing something similar in the form of a massive green energy boom. Right now most investment is still in dirty technologies with, at best, a trickle of money going into solar, wind, batteries, grid improvements, electric cars, conservation, high speed rail, and other transitions to carbon free tech. Let’s fight any new investment in fossil fuels — not just a few pipelines but all of it. This means, if you’re saving up for retirement or whatever, do the research, find out if any of your money is invested in fossil fuels, and if so, move your damn funds! Same with your bank: find out if your bank invents in fossil fuels, and if so, get your damn money out of there and into a credit union that only invests in clean energy!
How frequently do we write to our climate scientists and thank them for their work? Recently, Hayley was speaking to a climate scientist friend who informed her of the incredible amount of hate mail that he and his colleagues receive. At least once a week, he’ll get a threatening email from a climate change denier. Climate scientists often work at public universities, so their contact info is online. Send them thank you letters—it will really help their morale! And while you’re at it, give yourself a treat, too. Maybe a walk amongst trees or find some friends to sing with. Let’s celebrate the awesome beauty of being alive on this living planet as we work to keep it that way!