Doing What We Can’t Not

A great many tree branches came down in New York during the recent snowstorm, no doubt owing, in part, to our ever-more-delayed fall

The holiday season is upon us in the United States. I try not to succumb to the frenzy of excess and consumption that constitutes the most sacred celebration of our way of life. Still, it’s hard to find time and space of mind at the moment. I fear that the continuation of my Infrastructure Series will likely have to wait until next summer; however, continue it will, and in the meantime, I’m going to offer a skeletal sketch of my vision for climate action in 2019 and beyond.

First, I’m sure regular readers will have noted the barrage of alarming climate news in recent months. Following the October release of the IPCC’s Special Report (here’s the still-long Summary for Policymakers), came the White House’s own Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (here’s sample coverage from the Chicago Tribune). Meanwhile, reality bore out the dire predictions: Hurricane Michael did tens of billions of dollars of damage and left 45 people dead in Florida (and at least 15 more people dead in Central America); Super Typhoon Yutu caused massive damage and multiple fatalities in the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands; and fires across California killed close to 100 people and left tens of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed.

Even a summary attempt at a global round-up of bad climate news would have us here all day (it would probably have to start with the election of Jair Bolsanaro as president of Brazil), and I continue to try to keep my focus actionable, practical, and pragmatically optimistic. In a nutshell, there is emerging global consensus that “The next 10 years will be the most important in the next 10,000 years in terms of shaping a future where humans can have a hope for an enduring place within the natural systems that keep us alive.” Calendars are arbitrary relative to the biogeochemical processes of the Earth, but we live by them all the same, and readers who are grappling with how to meaningfully take or deepen their own climate action (ideally in collaboration with others as part of growing popular movements for climate sanity and justice) may find it helpful to set some time-based goals.

Here in the US, we have two more years of fighting for harm reduction. There are arenas beyond the national political, but federal headwinds hamper all of our climate actions. So perhaps it makes sense to see 2019 and 2020 as years of building, of planning, and of personal and social transformation, as well as as a time to limit the damage done. Of course, courageous individuals, communities, and activists have been fighting for climate sanity and justice for decades and generations; however, as a great many people contemplate for the first time the realities of imminent (and already unfolding) climate catastrophe, I suspect it will be productive to make space for ourselves and others to ask: “What’s next? What’s my role? What actions do science and my conscience demand?”

I’ve previously offered a very rough framework/roadmap for thinking about different levels of climate action that individuals might consider taking. Here, I’ll simply suggest that as we approach the new year of one particular calendar, and those of us in the US – whether we like it or not – are catapulted through another cycle of capitalist death and rebirth, that you set an intention to devote substantial time and energy in 2019 to making a climate audit of your own life and commitments; that you do so with an eye towards taking real and lasting climate action in 2020 and beyond; and that you embrace (and promulgate) the understanding that, if we fail to make the years 2021 through 2030 the most globally transformative in human history in a good way, then the years and decades that follow will be among the most globally transformative in human history in a bad.

What I’ve Been Reading

Some recommended (holiday) climate reading. In the US, it’s already an overwhelming time, so maybe just pick one or two pieces that speak to you and read them with care:

How Extreme Weather Is Shrinking the Planet – Bill McKibben’s long New Yorker article on the current state of the global climate and global climate justice movement. (There’s an audio version as well.)

Select Committee for a Green New Deal – Draft text regarding the new House committee the formation of which has been proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. (Here’s a ThinkProgress piece on the same.)

Averting Climate Catastrophe: What DSA Should Do – as the title suggests, this outlines how the DSA is thinking about holistic climate action. Short and very worth the time.

Call climate change what it is: violence – a 2014 essay from The Guardian by Rebecca Solnit which I came across in her new collection of essays, Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays). I encourage you not to buy it on Amazon.

New York’s transit woes and the looming climate crisis are inextricably linked – one example of the excellent NYC transit coverage from Aaron Gordon (as well as from Jonathan English, of CityLab). Incidentally, Gordon’s weekly newsletter on mass transit in NYC, Signal Problems, is superb – this reminder that recently-reelected Gov. Cuomo bears a great deal of responsibility for hamstringing our remarkable mass transit system was drawn from it.

Climate reports, a coal plant bribery, & military solar power – those of you in the American South may especially appreciate the good reporting being done by Southerly.

The Tiny Corner Of America Where Oil Titans Will Stash 2 Million Gallons Of Gas – because no newsletter should pass without a reminder that fracking is terrible, and we have an obligation to stop it (along with all fossil fuel extraction) and roll back the massive build out of fracked gas infrastructure currently being rammed through nationwide. (Corrupt politicians – like our Governor – and political appointees are making this buildout possible.)


Can’t bring yourself to read one more word online than life and work already require? I understand. Perhaps you’ll enjoy:

  • This compelling interview from Democracy Now! with George Monbiot on why he embraced a plant-based diet and you should too.
  • This audio segment (also from DN!) with Noam Chomsky on the existential threat climate change poses to “organized human life on Earth.”
  • This short explainer from The Story of Stuff Project on the high human and ecological cost of Amazon’s free shipping. (More on Amazon here. I stopped using it years ago and have not missed it at all. Like giving up meat, I think you’ll find it’s much easier than you expect if you just take the plunge. And an aside: it’s truly obscene that the word amazon has become synonymous with the monopolistic tech giant at the same time that a neo-fascist in Brazil threatens wholesale destruction of the actual Amazon, that is, the most glorious rainforest on Earth.)
  • This upbeat episode of City of the Future – the techno-positive podcast from Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet company) – on Closing the Recycling Loop and the future of recycling in NYC (a nice complement to my piece from September on solid waste management in New York).
  • Finally, guessing that other New Yorkers will be as entranced as I was by this video from 1905, taken of a moving subway train.

We have momentous years ahead. So please, wherever you are, start (or keep) thinking about what you can do, and what you can’t not.

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