What can we do to bring the temperature down?
+ drawings, dances, and digressions
Hi! It’s been a spell. I just couldn’t put cursor to screen. My friend Geoff captured my feelings best in the days after October 7th. Since then, I’ve been spending all my time reading, stewing, listening, advocating, absorbing the scholarship and insights of so many wise people. Maybe you have, too. How to keep climating with so much pain and loss of life? How not to? How to find creativity? I’m not sure. How to be alive at this moment? I’m still not not sure. But I’m giving myself the grace of not grading that self-administered questionnaire. Yesterday, I read this mother’s words and my own thinking when I wrote Can you do hard things feels so limited now.
War heats up the world, adding physical terrors to the methane-induced ones. What can we do to create light? What can we do to bring the temperature down?
My mantra has alway been Grieve, Breathe, Seize. But a more cheerful version comes by way of my friend Hannah’s pal, Ziya: Gloom, then Bloom. Whatever your framework, keep it close, and let it guide you. I’m feeling grieve-y, so I’ll go with that for now
I’ve followed Zeke Hausfather for a while, and not just because of his ridiculously cool name. Where I disagree with his carbon removal bullishness, I admire his scholarship. So when he put whimsical wordery to the truly aberrational warming of this September, it hit.
The first global temperature data is in for the full month of September. This month was, in my professional opinion as a climate scientist – absolutely gobsmackingly bananas. JRA-55 beat the prior monthly record by over 0.5C, and was around 1.8C warmer than preindutrial levels. pic.twitter.com/mgg3rcR2xZ
— Zeke Hausfather (@hausfath) October 3, 2023
As Chris Hatch wrote in his sobering dispatch around that time, the shock of it all was exacerbated by the complete awareness chasm between the grievously climate concerned and the normals. “If some of this is news to you, you’re not alone. I have yet to run into any normal people who have any idea what’s been happening.”
Hatch’s note was written on October 6th, so the horrors became braided a bit in the following weeks. I loved this quote from Félix de Rosen at GenDread as it articulates perfectly the idea that the opposite of positivity, in these realms, is not negativity, but…grief:
The alternative to toxic positivity is not a pendulum swing to toxic negativity – the type of negativity I had initially misidentified in Just Stop Oil. Instead, it is a sane realism, one that honors the full spectrum of human emotions, the severity of the ecological crisis, and the impact we still have in determining the future. There is much to grieve for, and much to keep on loving. Without the comfort of sugarcoated narratives, we are free to move forward with awe, courage, and care.
No matter the years of training, I forget to breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Oh look a TikTok of tiny cherubic twins dancing with their dad! Sarah, breathe.
I also forget to limit the absorption of the horror. I know it’s bad. Another chart or photo gallery or social media post will not feed my energy to do the work, but sap it.
Breathing extends to a way of being, with myself and with my friends. I’ve always thought myself a community person, but these last few months have been about putting away the reading, and inviting friends over even more. It’s strange to be so simultaneously tired of talking and in need of conversation. And beverages.
It is nigh impossible for me to check out, but I have given myself the task of doing it, for a few days of the break. I’ve seen people I admire commit to as much. Can I do it? Don’t tempt me by sending me your beautiful thoughts, as usual! Oh please do. Especially if they involve letting me know how you remind yourself to breathe.
Plowing energy into the work of holistic transformation is easier when we can point to the markers of progress. And finally, it feels like we can. Even as the timelines grow tighter, the progress is accelerating.
It’s an occupational hazard for me to constantly seize upon the harbingers of green growth, but I see what we have dubbed the pace of progress everywhere. From the quantitative of runaway solar and surging EV sales to the qualitative of chatting with country-dwelling uncles who seem open to electric… “when the technology is ready, in a year or two,” this is happening, and it is up to us to make it happen easily, equitably, faster, and with cookies.
It felt like 2023 was the year of People Getting Ready to Do Things and 2024 must be the year of doing things, or in the parlance, the year of implementation. We will fail on lots of fronts of course, but we’ll fail better. And while COP didn’t have our backs per se, it allowed for the Overton window to shift a dab. No bold goals, but also, no more gaslighting. I like this acknowledgement by David Fickling in Bloomberg that we have created the conditions for government and investors to do right by us, so that we can in turn find it easier to do right by the world:
That doesn’t stop fossil fuel consumers doing far more to cut their demand by switching to cleaner, substitute sources of energy. It’s those decisions by elected governments and investors that will make more difference than the wording of a climate treaty. The ambition of climate diplomacy shouldn’t be to succeed so much as to fail — but to fail better with each passing year, until finally the arc of history bends.
As people living in this time of great upheaval, this process of reimagining is our responsibility – whether we like it or not. Rather than inspiring dread, however, it actually poses a great opportunity. Where past generations have stayed conservatively close to the mainstream, inching towards incremental change, we have the opportunity to imagine a completely different world. Crises are the spaces where the impractical suddenly becomes the imperative, opening up whole new realms of possibility.
Oh how I know this final line to be true. Last year at Rewiring America, we suggested the crisis in the Ukraine signaled an imperative to mobilize, to use the Defense Production Act to spur homegrown production of heat pumps. Reader, it worked, with $169 million set to flow shortly, and more to come.
Never let a good crisis go to waste is a gross phrase to use when people are dying. But not using a crisis to work towards a better world is a gross abdication of privilege. How can we create the conditions for a phalanx of phoenixes?
I’d love to know what you want to do in 2024. While I’ve been working to upend my very traditional notions of type-A progress, not using rando temporal markers as my guideposts…I love a fresh year, a fresh calendar page, a fresh notebook. I always have the phrase of Tamara Shopsin’s memoir Arbitrary Stupid Goal in my brain as a self-chiding mechanism. And yet I love an awesome arbitrary goal. Send me yours!
Fully electrify my house! (1.5 appliances left).
Go to dance class every single week.
Last planet: Can you do hard things?
This talk of toughness and resilience reminds me of the wonderful documentary Four Winters, about the Jewish partisans who fought a guerilla-style war against the Nazis. They were urban, middle-class young people who lived and fought in the forests for four years, including four winters, where they slept under a blanket of snow, often had little food, and didn't have the down jackets and snowpants of today. One of the more striking visuals is photos of a woman in a leopard print coat with a bandolier of bullets across her chest. She wasn't a survivalist, or some paramilitary person, she was a city person who fled with the coat on her back and learned to be a resistance fighter. She rose to what was asked of her despite hardship and unspeakable atrocities. Even if we love soft pillows and wi-fi, I think we too can answer that call.
YES!!!! CLIMATE FRIENDLY ACTIONS ARE SO FUN! My best outfits are thrifted! my best food is fresh! my best friends live close by!
Thank you both so much!
How are you doing? What will you do this year? Lemme know!
⚡️Jobs! Come work with our excellent team! Designers, social media creators, writers, we need ya. ⚡️⚡️⚡️
⚡️OMG my friend Karishma is a hilarious and effective genius, Champagne Papi knows it’s methane gas now.
⚡️If you must sequester carbon, make it fizzy.
😡 US utility firms offer builders cash and trips to fit new homes with gas. Great piece in The Guardian by Dharna Noor.
⚡️Electric fireplaces, now in almost real looking, and cute.
⚡️10 climate tech innovations that give us hope for 2024. Fast Company.
⚡️I made this vid and David Byrne WATCHED it. (dies, gets up, does a little jig, dies again.)
(A little bit of the thought behind it here).
😡 I tuned out of the Substack convo and missed the whole Nazi thing. I am not a fan of Nazis. I like what Anne Helen Petersen says here. I’ll make a call before my next email.
Thank you for reading this newsletter, for sharing it, for your thoughts and poems. Everyone ends every note these days with an expression of be kind to each other, but that does seem to be the only thing that matters. And I’m delighted by the kindness of the people in my world. Thank you.
I hope you are working and/or resting towards peace, as per your needs. The world feels fraught and fragile, but it was ever thus. I hope you are safe, healthy, warm, dancing.
P.S. I stole this PS from the most excellent Carson Ellis.