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My Top Ten: Climate inspo for 2023
And a Florida sketch diary
Is the world getting better? Are we arc-ing the moral universe towards justice? It seems folly to suggest as much, with shows like Is It Cake? on the air. (I mean, it should always be cake). Perhaps the better question is: What are the good things that are happening now, and how can I build upon them? If we go with the latter (let’s!), it’s helpful/hopeful to find the harbingers for inspiration and direction, as we set course for this year.
This Bloomberg list itemizes the exact things I’m excited and inspired about: The IRA, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment, COP last-minute saves, and a turning tide of (or at least not a scarlet red wave) of political fortunes. This is not to say that things aren’t challenging with our carbon budget narrowing to nearly nil, but for the first time in a long while, we have the tantalizing prospect of climate momentum (in the form of serious U.S. climate legislation) supported by an ever-growing public awareness and desire to take action. Here are ten things, not including cake, that have me excited for 2023.
1 | Wind at your electric back
We have tailwinds now. The work is to leverage them by wearing a very blowsy shirt. The Inflation Reduction Act is important not just for the power of what it might do stateside, but for how it will inspire other nations (cough cough, Canada) to pump up their own programs. Make it as easy as possible for homeowners to get all of the fossil fuels out of their homes and some will start this work immediately. Which makes it easier for the ones who come after them. Which is good, because everyone needs to do this. There are eight people on my street who got heat pumps in 2022. This year, we’ll get even more people to make the switch. And then invite them over for some bubbly. (See item 10 on this list!)
2 | Climate comms minus the qualms
TALK TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO DO THINGS AND GIVE THEM THINGS TO DO. This is the #1 rule. But also, I’m inspired by thorn-to-billionaires Anand Giradharadas and his turn to thoughtful conversion in his latest book, The Persuaders. The right has always been much better at persuasion than the left. Through a series of chats with lived-experience persuaders, he gleans great insight. “Really, it’s about taking people seriously where they are…And letting them stay where they are, thinking new thoughts, instead of trying to pull them up the mountain,” the activist Loretta Ross tells him. “The only way you get people to a different place is by walking with them,” says the Black Lives Matter organizer Alicia Garza. I highly recommend this book, and Anand’s hair, which I’ve really come around to. Is this the year climate comms catches up? Yes, yes it is.
3 | Personal action gains magnetic traction
The facts are on our side, but, like, even more now! We know that facts don’t inspire acts…at the macro level, when it comes to climate. Climate is not visually salient, the effects don’t feel directly attributable, blah blah blah. BUT the deleterious home health effects of gas ARE becoming increasingly known, most recently in a paper co-authored by my brilliant colleague, Talor, in which 12.7% of childhood asthma was found to be directly attributable to gas stoves. People take action for the people they love. And the people they love are often members of their family. Swapping out gas stoves for clean electric/induction ones is just such a no brainer, and a foot in the door to the whole home to whole planet de-fossil fueling that we need.
4 | Good to great
Prices will go down. Innovations will get more innovative. But I do tire of breathless overpromising around all the New! Clean! Tech! That said, we don’t really understand learning curves, and as such, we perhaps underestimate them. This paper, Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition, came out in September and made a bit of a splash.
Here’s the gist of it: “Rapidly decarbonizing the global energy system is critical to addressing climate change, but concerns about costs have been a barrier to implementation. Most energy-economy models have historically underestimated deployment rates for renewable energy technologies and overestimated their costs.”
5 | Amazon back
“The environmental agenda was destroyed by the previous government. Climate change policy was dismantled to the point that Brazil became an environmental pariah in the world.”
— Marina Silva, Brazil’s new environment minister.
The headline might seem hyperbolic, and it’s foolish to heap so much responsibility onto one individual, but … we do the opposite all the time, so why not?
Writes Andre Pagliarini:
The moves on the environmental front represent what is likely to be Lula’s strategy in his third term: marrying a commitment to strengthening democracy and easing inequality at home with a reassertion of Brazilian relevance in global affairs. During Lula’s previous stint in office, Brazil emerged as a world leader on matters of poverty reduction, wealth redistribution, and environmental protection. Under Lula, for instance, deforestation plummeted by a stunning 70%. The message of the incoming administration is clear: Brazil is back as a reasonable and effective player on the international stage.
6 | Race pace will be ace
I write and think about time a lot, our climate pace, my human pace, my human lack of pace. How do we make sure we’re running but not missing the mark, busy but not lacking in awareness of what’s most important. It’s what I was trying to get at last week, how to make sure you’re consistently reminded of the things that matter to motivate action and pace, even if I worry that my spin on it was a little GoodVibesOnlyish. This bit from this Ezra Klein interview with Judith Shulevitz gets closer to it. They were talking about the famous Princeton Theological Seminary study, wherein researchers asked people to hurry to a chore or not, and this determined whether these individuals stopped to help someone in grave need or not:
They also found that some of the students hadn’t even seen the guy. They just hadn’t even noticed that he was there. And their conclusion — it’s just a line I really like — “time quickening narrows the cognitive map.” Meaning that your ability to perceive things shuts down because you’re so focused on getting done what you have to get done by the deadline.
The binary of climate action is that we have to move at great speed … and not miss the story. How do we create the cognitive maps that will allow us to forge this delicate balance? This is the task this year, and henceforth, because we’re running a marathon. Don’t worry, there’s orange Gatorade.
7 | Kids as kids, not saviors
Radical Young Hope. Billie Eilish, and more models of youthful climate action. I don’t love a lot of the messaging here (reductionist individual action — if everyone did just a little bit!), but holy hell I love that it is Billie having convos with brilliant activists like Xiye Bastida and sharing an empowering, actionable vision. I’ve written much about how vexing it is when people say the kids will save us. It isn’t their responsibility to clean up this mess, nor should they lose their childhoods to anxiety and grief. It’s up to the adults in the room to do right by the planet, and the kids to demonstrate all the ways you can live in this world.
8 | Let’s get radical
Andreas Malm. I FINALLY finished How to Blow up A Pipeline and it was neither as didactic nor as revelatory as the title might suggest, but nonetheless chock full of little gems worth knowing. Particularly on climate fatalism, expansiveness of ways to mobilize (we need them all), and one-percenter consumption (“Rich people cannot have the right to combust others to death.”)
“The more people who tell us that a radical reorientation is ‘scarcely imaginable,’ the less imaginable it will be,” Malm writes. And also, “no more is required to maintain a minimum of hope: success is neither certain nor probable, but possible.” He then segues to the brilliant Rebecca Solnit: “Hope is not a door, but a sense that there may be a door somewhere.” (One you are allowed to break down in case of emergency. And guess what, it’s an emergency!)
9 | Litigate the liars
Why 2023 will be a watershed year for climate litigation. I like this prediction from Isabella Kaminski in The Guardian, and not just because I like whenever anyone calls anything a watershed. She writes:
Although the bulk of climate lawsuits have been filed in the US, most have been thrown out of court or bogged down in procedural arguments. This year will, however, finally see a case go to trial when a group of children and young people between the ages of five and 21 square off against the state of Montana.
Over two weeks in June, they will argue that the US state is failing to protect their constitutional rights, including the right to a healthy and clean environment, by supporting an energy system driven by fossil fuels. They will also say climate breakdown is degrading vital resources such as rivers, lakes, fish and wildlife which are held in trust for the public.
10 | Community is climate. Climate is community. Both are a party.
I’ve written much about how disappointing a poorly organized rally can be. My friend Laurna and I once again commiserated over this sorry state of party affairs at last month’s Greenbelt rally — where was the drumline? I feel, with no evidence, that this is the year we will get better. We will figure out the party this year.
Tim, who has been helping install heat pumps on my street, wrote me a perfect note last week. Shouldn’t we have a heat pump party? As the person who is always proposing the party first (it’s your half-birthday, it’s a Thursday, i have a lot of wine that needs drinking), I was pumped! Of course we’ll throw a street pump party. Of course, we’ll make this fun. There is no other way.
Of course, I’m still worried. About inaction, keystone kops in government, feedback loops, and just not moving fast enough. But to point to the things that are working, and work to make them work more, seems, well, workable. Let’s work it.
What excites you about this year? Let me know!
Oh my goodness, Bill in Gimli, thank you for this:
Your question - how do I remind my self …
I pray every morning
this is a prayer I say every morning
my daughter kindly had it printed and framed
it hangs on our kitchen wall
I say the words, caressing my beleaguered and eager brain, soothing it., thanking it for how hard it tries, calming it
Remembering that soul inhabits every cell of every organ of my body and every cell of all life, of the earth
The prayer helps me remember my soul self
and to send love to my human self
White Noise. I couldn’t watch the movie, but I’m here for any dance credits starring André Benjamin breaking it down with a box of generic cookies.
Thanks so much for reading. As always, let me know what I’ve gotten wrong, how to make it better, and your favorite flavour of ice cream. Hope you are happy and healthy.
Have a beautiful weekend,