The Problem of the Twenty-First Century Is the Problem of the Climate Crisis

In paraphrasing Du Bois, I risk both appropriation and reduction, for the “problem of the color-line” still disfigures the present, and climate crisis can only rightly be understood as a manifold convergence of mega-phenomena that threatens to broach key planetary boundaries. Keeping the Earth within these boundaries is the work of the decade, as of the century, ahead.

As the worst of the (first wave of the) pandemic has passed in New York, and I’ve circled back to my primary focus on climate crisis, a few conclusions are clearer now than ever:

  1. Although there are no “solutions” to climate crisis (by which I mean not just the buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, but the above mentioned convergence that threatens to push the Earth beyond the threshold of key boundaries), only through public action at every level of government – but most especially at the national and supra-national levels – is there hope for mobilization commensurate to the scale of the challenge.
  2. Through the shock, trauma, and inspiration engendered by the pandemic, its corollary economic crisis, and the national protest movement in the United States, a new consensus is emerging – for which the foundation had already been laid by Indigenous, environmental justice, climate, and youth activists – that issues related to climate crisis, racial and economic justice, and public health are interrelated; that the root causes for these various ills lie in capitalism (and/or neoliberalism, the current dominate mode of the global capitalist order); and that to confront any one of these challenges effectively will likely mean confronting all of them simultaneously and coherently.
  3. Thankfully, in the Green New Deal (and perhaps, even more, in the Red Deal), such a coherent, justice-oriented plan for taking commensurate action to confront these intersecting and interlocking ills already exists.

To date, relative to climate crisis, I’ve committed my time and energy to writing, education work, and modest but sustained engagement with a number of mostly local- and state-level political advocacy and organizing efforts. In approaching a multi-faceted problem of such scope (basically, the call is to entirely remake the world), it is, of course, challenging to figure out what to do as an individual. I’m finding it productive to articulate clearly the character and scope of the problem, and to identify the types of actions and strategies that stand a meaningful chance of “success” as I grapple with the question: What more can and should I be doing?

In this way, I hope to avoid self-delusion and false promise: I’ll keep recycling, but the plastics industry should be shut down. I’ll be mindful of our residential energy consumption, but a comprehensive overhaul of national energy infrastructure and housing stock is necessary. I’ll support local retailers and regional organic farms, but unless the entire population has access to real food, my choices reflect only privilege and constitute only luxury. I won’t fault startups tracing carbon footprints or selling offsets (unless they are fraudulent or worse), but neither will I pretend that these are meaningful “climate solutions.” I’ll fly less (and how easy that’s become!), but unless an equitable, just, binding international agreement is reached – an agreement which centers those least responsible for climate crisis, and most immediately threatened by it – regarding global emissions, my personal choices in this regard will amount only to so much ethical purity in keeping a few metaphorical drops out of an ocean-sized bucket.

The stakes, scope, and character of the defining issue of our age are increasingly coming into focus, as are the potential pathways to confronting it, and thus – hopefully – averting global cataclysm. In the months to come, I plan to examine the current state of (climate) affairs with redoubled intensity. I hope you’ll join me in the process.

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