I rang in last new year with a post, “The First Climate Decade“, that included this line: “Contrarian though the position sounds – barring a not-unforeseeable rapid ice-sheet collapse scenario – NYC is relatively well-positioned among major US cities from a climate standpoint, at least for ~the rest of this century.”
Unfortunately, with the release of the recent report from the International Thwaites Glacier Collaboration – covered here not too sensationally in Rolling Stone by Jeff Goodell, whose journalistic work on sea-level rise I’ve pointed to in the past – the unfolding in the next decade of that not-unforeseeable scenario has now grown much more imaginable. Hyperbolic though this may sound, this news is easily the most unsettling I’ve heard in years, and if you’re inclined to think that’s only because I live in a low-lying coastal metropolis, just consider what the simultaneous disruption/inundation over the course of potentially only a few years (Note: there is huge uncertainty about when/if/how/and over what time horizon the Thwaites Glacier might collapse, and what the knock-on consequences of such a collapse might be for the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and thus for global sea levels, nor would I pretend to understand the underlying science here well) would look like relative to our current global supply chain issues.
Lots of people have been talking about (and praising) Don’t Look Up. I thought the movie was bad, but hope it inspires people to take climate action. I tweeted my take in a nutshell, but to offer a little more depth, here’s what I had to say in a text exchange with a friend on the subject:
I think by choosing a comet strike, which is something that could actually happen, they muddied the metaphorical waters. Further, while human (and corporate) agency is involved in the origins of climate crisis, comets are naturally occurring celestial bodies. Basically, they gave the fossil fuel industry a free pass, while shifting the blame/demonization to big tech (in line w/current priorities in DC) in the form of the sociopath CEO. They also elide the entire global climate movement in favor of a few heroic technocrats and scientists. These choices in turn undercut the satire’s effectiveness in my view.
Speaking of tweets, and in view of the Thwaites news, I believe it’s a matter of when, not if, New York City comes to terms with the obvious and converts the entire low-lying extent of the West Side Highway and FDR Drive into a sea wall/beautiful berm park, and I hope that when the conversion happens, it is not executed in a panic; the berm park option is chosen and offers a beautiful amenity for all New Yorkers/Manhattanites; and that we understand that these sorts of mega-projects can also strike a blow for rewilding, against car culture, and in favor with a more rooted and less consumerist way of being. I could go on, but I believe that the current dynamics of rapidly and radically escalating climate crisis are such that we have to look to muddle through as rapidly as we can, even in view of all the contradictions, hypocrisies, and complexities embedded in attempting to avert worst-case-type scenarios given our historical realities and current global political economy.
So, finally, coming to the title of this post, I believe – a third and final time for now – that we’ve now crossed over from a time when working to address climate crisis was a rather marginal activity (the type of thing people patted you on the back for, bless your heart), to a time (say last year) when a growing number of smart, ambitious people were proactively choosing to work on climate given the urgency, to a time (now, today, happy new year! And welcome to 2022) when it is increasingly becoming necessary for people who 1) enjoy the luxury of some amount of choice in their work/about their personal financial situation; 2) are not already doing work that relates to a core human/societal need (eg, birth work, being an ER doc, keeping the MTA running, working for the DSNY); and 3) have a conscience to ask themselves, if they’re not already working to address climate crisis: Why not? And when, and how soon, can I start?
One case in point, the organizing work I’ve been engaged in around climate policy in NYC would be a hell of a lot easier if more people gave a shit, got informed, and got involved. But that’s just the tip of the melting iceberg, so if you’re reading this, and asking yourself: When? And why not? I encourage you, grapple with the question, dive deep, and then get started already, and feel free to reach out if you like. I’m always happy to be a resource.