If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Ugly glass building is still there, but the rhino sculpture is now gone

It’s after midnight; we’re walking home from a jazz club; and our street – bathed, from atop historic lamp posts, in too-bright LED light – is abuzz with a haunting symphony of AC units.

It’s midday in the Village, and on block after block, cars are idling with people inside them – eating, writing, listening, sleeping, talking to each other or on their cellular phones – but most of all, seeking shelter from the heat.

It’s late afternoon and as I approach Astor Place, still on foot, I witness yet another stranger dumping bottled water over own head. When I reach the searing brightness at the corner – the Cube, Cooper Union, the hideous tower where Watson “lives” – I’m struck by the absence of The Last Three; the sculpture (of the last three northern white rhinos) has disappeared, gone the way that one of the rhinos already has and the other two – the species with them – soon will.

Taking shelter in the shadow of that monstrosity – home to IBM, a Carlyle Group subsidiary, others – as I wait for the 3rd Avenue light to change, I take my phone from my bag – late to meet someone; messaging I’ll be there soon – only to discover an email from a friend in Toronto who’s been working diligently in recent years to sponsor and support Syrian refugees as they “come to Canada and start a new life”; for a moment, I’m overwhelmed and feel I might begin to weep on the corner in the shade.

There is so much wrong. Sometimes one has to cry.

In his brilliant new book, The Progress of This Storm, Andreas Malm writes of pretrauma – the feeling (often channeled in pop culture and the mass media) associated with the disquieting knowledge that we are almost certainly rapidly speeding ever deeper into an era of chaos, catastrophe, and breakdown, an era which Malm aptly names “the warming condition.” I have reflected of late myself on this problem of naming; a keen interlocutor pointed out – in view of my use of the term “climate breakdown” – that it is not so much climate that is breaking down, only one instantiation of it, and he was absolutely right. Climate persists, and odds are that a new climate steady-state will be reconstituted, even if millennia from now and one far less hospitable to human life; it is only from a human standpoint that one can really speak of breakdown and imminent collapse.

Such may be my thoughts at the corner as I gather myself, put my phone away. The need for urgent, drastic action could not be clearer – news of heat records being broken globally marred the holiday festivities in the United States, or should have – and yet here we are – city- and world-wide – idling, dumping bottled water on steaming pavement, running AC day and night.

And who can blame us? It’s hot.

Only that it stands to get hotter, and we may yet live to blame ourselves.

What I’m Doing

Given that my previous newsletter went out less than a week ago, I’ll keep this brief:

  • I gave a private talk on climate issues to a handful of people of varying political dispositions and levels of concern about climate disruption. There is a chance that I’ll record a version of the same remarks to share online.
  • I’m attempting to have a #PlasticFreeJuly. I encourage you to do this same.
  • I’m urging friends – in the form of this newsletter and otherwise – to get serious about adjusting to our new climate normal; we could learn from a Japanese initiative. To quote Wikipedia: “Cool Biz… is a Japanese campaign initiated by the Japanese Ministry of the Environment from summer 2005 as a means to help reduce Japanese electricity consumption by limiting the use of air conditioning. This was enabled by changing the standard office air conditioner temperature to 28 °C (or about 82 °F) and introducing a liberal summer dress code in the bureaucracy of the Japanese government so staff could work in the warmer temperature. The campaign then spread to the private sector.” Post-Fukushima, these efforts were ramped up further (think khaki shorts and “Hawaiian” shirts at Goldman Sachs) under the name Super Cool Biz. We need a Cool Biz and a Super Cool Biz campaign of our own here in New York, the world’s most wasteful megacity. No more thermostats set to 65 degrees Fahrenheit while some people arrive at work, in the heat of the summer, in full suits, and others shiver and keep a sweater at their desk. Like it or not, we need to get used to the heat; get to work on ending our reliance on fossil fuels in a matter of decades; and in the meantime, stop making the climate problem worse as we seek to avoid its already unfolding consequences. In the meantime, by reducing our energy consumption here in NYC, we might also eliminate the need for the immense network of fracked gas infrastructure currently being installed – owing to our excess – across Upstate New York.
  • I joined the Climate Working Group of the DSA, and look forward to getting more involved with their great work, including around resistance to construction of pipelines and other fracked gas infrastructure.

What I’m Reading

The Progress of This Storm – a dense, sweeping, admirably short, and surprisingly funny survey of the current state of climate theory. Best book I’ve read on climate matters in some time.

Handbook on the Geographies of Energy – namely, the chapter by our friend Deepti Chatti; sadly, as an academic text, this book carries a hefty price-tag, but I can attest that the portion I’ve read is excellent.

The demise of the nation state – good “long read” by Rana Dasgupta, whose book, Capital – on contemporary Delhi – is also worth reading.

Rapid Spread of Polio in the Congo Threatens Global Eradication Efforts – frightening reminder of what’s at stake as we consider the global impacts of escalating climate disruption; this (horrifying) polio outbreak is not caused by climate breakdown, but climate breakdown can certainly take the bad and make it worse.

Minnesota just approved a new tar-sands pipeline. Activists say they will fight it.


Good news, Seattle has “become the first major city in the U.S. to ban plastic straws, utensils and other single-use plastic items.”

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