Humanity’s Last Stand?
With the latest worldwide Climate Strike set for tomorrow, Alina Utrata offers some personal observations.
I don’t know much about the climate crisis. I don’t, actually. But I know some facts.
I know about the burning of the Amazon, the world’s biggest carbon sink. Farmers in Brazil, clearing land for livestock, emboldened by the populist president Jair Bolsonaro, are about to unleash a cascade effect from which the Amazon will never recover.
I know about this summer’s heat wave, the hottest July on record. Paris was 42C, Belgium 41C, London over 38C. India and Pakistan — over 50C. Temperatures so hot that if they continue, parts of the earth will soon become uninhabitable.
I know the Arctic circle has been on fire. 50 megatons of CO2 released in the atmosphere (more than the total annual emissions produced by Sweden).
I’ve read about Hurricane Dorian devastating the Bahamas and about the first funeral for a glacier.
I know about the risk to Biodiversity, too. One million species at risk of extinction.
Remember when we used to talk about the threat to polar bears and saw those videos of them clinging to ever-smaller ice floes? Now, article after article has moved on to ask a more threatening question: will human civilization survive climate change?
Prince Charles told a reception for Commonwealth foreign ministers this year, “I am firmly of the view that the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival.”
I don’t know much about climate change. I live on the California coast, and my governor keeps telling me that in a few years the land my house is sitting on will be in the sea. Last year, my friends and I bought face masks with floral patterns when three days of smoke descended on San Francisco, and we watched videos of people driving their cars through walls of flames. Paradise burned to the ground. The President showed up for a photo-op, got the name of the town wrong and suggested people rake the forest floor.
Humans caused the climate crisis. This is a fact. Humanity is a tiny blip on the timeline that is the history of the earth, and already we’ve managed to disrupt the normality of nature in the name of progress — and almost destroyed ourselves in the process. Humanity, oh humanity.
I like humanity as a word. It’s so . . . inclusive. I’m part of you humanity; so are you. There’s a great equalizing feel about the word humanity, you know? Like all six billion of us decided to do something, in a giant citizen’s assembly. So natural. So organic. So — what’s the word? Inevitable.
But the climate crisis invites a type of existential dread. It causes us to despair inward, about our personal moral failings — about those extra moments we took in the shower; how we didn’t walk to work; how we are not vegan, even though we really should be. How we don’t know that much about climate change. Humanity, oh humanity! How could we have done this to ourselves?
I don’t know much about climate change. But I do know that a 2017 study found that just 100 companies are responsible for 70% of global emissions.
Humanity didn’t cause climate change. Humans did. Specifically, the humans who were in charge of running the fossil fuel industry, and the politicians who took their money. We’ve known about climate change for more than 50 years. Scientists testified about it. Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich sat on a couch and told America we were going to stop it. And then fossil fuel CEOs thought — no, thanks all the same.
Scientists at Exxon Mobil have consistently misled the public about climate change since the 1970s. Fossil fuel corporations pumped massive amounts of money into lobbying politicians and causing public confusion. This was not humanity. These were humans.
During the recent CNN Town Hall program on the climate, someone asked Elizabeth Warren about whether she supported regulations for lightbulbs’ energy efficiency.
“Oh, give me a break,” Warren said. “This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants us to talk about. . . They want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, around your straws, and around your cheeseburgers, when 70 percent of the pollution, of the carbon that we’re throwing into the air, comes from three industries.”
Warren’s climate platform, adapted from the one promoted by former candidate Governor Jay Inslee, who made climate change the central plank of his campaign, targets the three industries which cause 70% of emissions in the US: electricity, transportation, buildings. The $3 trillion plan would “subsidize the economic transition to clean and renewable electricity, zero emission vehicles, and green products for commercial and residential buildings.” Oh, and it would be totally paid for by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations. (Full disclosure: I love Elizabeth Warren.)
At the other end of the cost scale in terms of potential solutions, Warren’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, also has a ‘Green New Deal’ plan, which calls for decarbonizing transportation and power generation, the two largest sources of emissions, by 2030, and is estimated to cost upwards of $16 trillion.
Humanity didn’t cause climate change. Humans did. Those humans are invested in you tuning out of depressing climate facts, getting upset about lightbulbs and vegan hamburgers, and despairing about how your own climate-hypocritical consumer choices are just the type of banal human evil that caused the climate crisis to be inevitable in the first place. They’re not.
Climate change is a structural issue. Climate change is a corruption issue. Climate change is a political issue.
I don’t know much about climate change, but I do know something about politics. I’ll let climate activist Greta Thunberg say it: “Activism works. I’ll see you in the streets.”
I’ll see you in the streets.
The latest Global Climate Strike begins this Friday, from September 20 to 27. Sign up here to find a climate strike near you.
We have a feeling there might be one in Derry:
You might also enjoy these other recent pieces at Northern Slant:
Swimming alone — How environmental science can inspire environmental change
Originally published at Northern Slant.