The nice (?) thing about writing on this topic is there will never be a shortage of material to discuss. Events are piling up around us, and the challenge is constructing mental models that allow us to fit these occurrences into a larger picture.
New York this week passed a statewide version of the Green New Deal - a landmark bill that commits the state to zero carbon in its electricity by 2040, and economy-wide decarbonization by 2050, with strong commitments to social and economic equity in getting there.
"New York accomplished this feat the exact same way all those other states [CA, NM, etc.] did it: by electing overwhelming Democratic majorities."
Or, as Ramez Naam puts it: "The election of Donald Trump has, paradoxically, advanced climate policy in the US. Just not at the federal level."
Melting and Drying
This has also been a week of dramatic climate-driven events and newly-released studies.
The heatwave in India has continued, and now "the four reservoirs supplying the bulk of [Chennai's] drinking water have completely dried up" - meaning "most of Chennai's more than four million-strong population is now relying solely on government tankers to provide their water". As the NYT notes,
Chennai, a hot, muggy city on the Indian Ocean coast, should be in the throes of the monsoon by now. But the rains are late across India. And Chennai has received virtually none of the rain it should have seen by now.
Greenland ice is undergoing a massive melt event, and Himalayan glaciers (which supply water for a billion people, including those in South Asia affected by the current heatwave) are melting twice as fast as they were 20 years ago. To drive the point home, "permafrost in the Canadian Arctic is melting 70 years earlier than predicted, triggered by a series of unusually hot summers".
But why enumerate these bummers? Because the right answer isn't "we're fucked", but rather: "How are we going to manage this transition? And, in particular, are we going to even recognize the decisions before us and confront the implications with some agency?"
Here's one formulation: What happens when cities and regions that were livable under a certain level of infrastructure assumptions become...not?
If there’s not enough money to protect every coastal community from the effects of human-caused global warming, how should we decide which ones to save first?
After three years of brutal flooding and hurricanes in the United States, there is growing consensus among policymakers and scientists that coastal areas will require significant spending to ride out future storms and rising sea levels — not in decades, but now and in the very near future. There is also a growing realization that some communities, even sizable ones, will be left behind.
The point I want to make is: in the absence of a coherent, serious political response, the poor and marginalized will bear the brunt of these disruptions. Our societies will adapt one way or another to the climate crisis as it unfolds - that much is certain. Where we can make a huge difference is in the equity of those changes and transitions - who benefits, who suffers, who lives and who dies.
I really enjoyed this piece about whether to eat beef by Jonathan Foley, head of Project Drawdown. Unlike most treatments of the impact of our personal decisions on the climate, it leans into the thorny systems issues that are always right below the surface. Even with the best intentions and conscientiousness, it is difficult to know how and to what degree our actions impact the climate (we'll talk about recycling and composting here at some point). In the face of this uncertainty, he concludes with some simple rules to serve as a guide:
1. Eat much less beef
2. Waste none of it
3. Source it from soil-building grasslands
I'll close with this for today: There are many ways in which the limitations of the individual human mind drive and exacerbate the climate crisis - our tribalism, our preference for evidence that confirms our existing beliefs, our preference for individual blame over systems explanations - but one that gets relatively little attention is our difficulty in imagining counterfactuals. These are events and timelines that could have occurred, but didn't.
What if America and the Soviet Union had tipped into nuclear conflict in one of the several close calls of the cold war, for example?
What if People Like Us don't do this work today?
Thoughts? Questions? Just hit reply...