Today we're going to talk less about how exactly climate change is wrecking our shit and more about how we're responding to it. This response, slash lack thereof, is why I'm writing this series. And if it's not clear from the title, this and the following letters are going to be heady, so consider this a big ol' Trigger Warning. We're going to be talking some depressing realities, and we're not even going to be talking about fascism. Probably.
I could link the couple dozen awful things that are happening in the world right now that climate change has affected, but that would be a waste of time. We've talked about the excessive and long-lasting heat in the South and Southwest. We've talked about heat overseas. An enormous amount of rain is falling in the Northeast as I write this, as well as in Japan, India, and Spain. Last week, the planet went three (or four?) consecutive days breaking records for hottest day ever recorded. Two weeks before that, wildfire smoke, for a second time, blanketed much of the United States from Canada, making the air hazardous to breathe in some regions. By the time this letter is published, this list will probably be short a few items. It's beside my point.
We have talked about all this before. We have had this coming talk, effectively, before. About once a year I feel like the waters are rising up to my eyeballs and I have a come to Jesus moment with where things stand. And to be clear it's not because I think we're about to collapse. It's not because I think imminent destruction is around the corner. And despite the title of this newsletter, it's not because I am a doomer. It is, in fact, the opposite.
The Worst Is Going to Happen
A few days ago, a clip of Obama recounting a conversation with his daughter went semi-viral. In it, the former president talks about how we should be realistic but hopeful about the future because, while we might not limit global warming to 2°C(!), every incremental degree averted matters. This is a complicated clip because it is both true and deeply, deeply unserious. 2°C is already the ballgame, but Obama goes on to say we may not even avert 3°C, but avoiding 3.1° or 3.2° is still worthwhile. It is disturbing to hear a leader who was supposed to be a progressive champion act so blasé about climate change. 1.5°C is the absolute limit. We're not there just yet, and we already face so much. 2°C all but guarantees every tipping point falls over. 3°C and above are cataclysmic on a much shorter timescale. To practically say "pshaw" to blowing past the limits that all of modern science agrees upon is just the kind of perspective in politics that has me certain of our trajectory.
A few weeks ago, this piece came out in the Washington Post. The Post, now, not some leftist substack. It lists possible scenarios through which human action slows or stops emissions, sucks up excess CO2, and averts destruction. For the piece, the authors worked with experts and ran 1,200 scenarios with variabilities on methane emissions, CO2 emissions, the speed with which these emissions were curtailed, and the amount of which were sequestered and at what rate. Of those 1,200 scenarios, 26 allowed for a reasonable overshoot of 1.5°C, which might allow for the continued stability of the various tipping points and keep the planet on track. Of those 26, using the study's definition of reasonable use of emissions and deployment of carbon sequestration technology, no scenario remained viable. Only "challenging" usage allows for even the possibility of remaining below 1.5°C. Now, as a reminder, carbon sequestration is a critical part of both these scenarios and the very real approach of world governments–but carbon sequestration is nowhere near viable yet. This is analogous to promising to put out a fire with rainwater that isn't even in the forecast.
The present state of emissions is predictable. 2022 saw the highest ever level thereof, and for a snapshot of where we're at in 2023, consider this: @flightradar24, an account that keeps track of worldwide air traffic, saw its busiest day ever on July 6th–you know, one of those three hottest days in a row the world ever saw. So we're probably not doing great this year, either. And even if we don't break the record this year, it's no cause for celebration. Anything short of a massive decrease–greater than that caused by the lockdowns in 2020–is immaterial to our plight.
My conclusion, folks, if it's not already obvious, is that we're gonna miss the boat. The world's various governments are not going to do enough to curtail emissions and draw down atmospheric CO2 to avert catastrophe. It is, in reality, nigh-on impossible for them to. It may seem early for me to call it, but I'm calling it. The greed of humankind (but mostly the West, and mostly the rich and powerful in particular), has doomed us. I just don't see how we turn this greed around. I don't see the disaster so shocking that it wakes us up and makes us act. And we are so near the precipice–history may in fact say we have already fallen over, should there be anyone to write it–that anything short of immediate action toward a complete halt of emissions is likely too late. And, terrifyingly enough, there are complicating factors even for that path of action.
All Is Not Lost
We will get into the details of what falling over this proverbial edge looks like next week. For now, I want to assure you that just because the rich and powerful of the world have failed does not mean that we are goners. We're doomed in the sense that there is an inevitable catastrophe on the horizon, and it is going to change our lives in a way that we are not, as yet, prepared for. But that's why you're here, right? It's why I'm here. The position that we're in right now is our bread and butter. We plan and prepare for bad things. That's the whole point of this project.
In the weeks ahead, we're going to talk about embracing the reality that climate change has gotten away from us, and that at least some of the worst scenarios we've been discussing for actual years now will come to pass. But we're also going to talk about not just readying for these eventualities but fighting back and doing what we can to mitigate further damage, and ensure that our loved ones and everyone in our communities have a chance at not just surviving in this new and extreme reality, but thriving in it.
You see, part of what makes the climate crisis so awful is that it removes us from the status quo, which for many of us–including myself–is extremely comfortable and even quite steady. But there are other ways to live, and other ways to work, which are more sustainable, more adaptable, and more healthy in every sense of the word. I won't say it's utopian, because it's not. But it is something worth working and fighting for. And we're gonna talk about that, too. This is the third step in the preparedness trilogy, as it were, and it starts with the swan song of capitalism.