Today, as young people around the world participate in the largest climate action in history, read excerpts from n+1’s archive of writing on climate change and climate activism. And as Climate Week continues, join n+1 and Sunrise NYC next Thursday in our office for a panel discussion about parenting in the age of climate crisis, featuring contributors Jedediah Purdy, Katy Lederer, Christine Smallwood, and more.
Can They Read? by Katy Lederer
At first Thunberg’s strike was a solitary affair, but news of her salient campaign quickly spread, inspiring other schoolchildren around the world to strike in solidarity, and also disappointment—at the powerful adults who had ignored the alarming science, and the governmental bodies that had promised solutions that seemed always just over the horizon. How puzzling, then, that those same adults would, in short order, begin inviting Thunberg to conferences and political assemblies, asking her to elucidate an admittedly boring document—the most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—that many of them, in one form or other, had a hand in commissioning.
“Decouple now” and “Renewable or bust” don’t seem likely to harness the diverse interest groups currently opposed to Trump and the Republican Party. Most of us prefer to remain in the dark when it comes to energy. It’s still far easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of carbon-based capitalism. But what other choice do we have, America? Let’s get right down to the job — nearsighted, psychopathic, queer, angelic, diabolical, whatever we are, harness that most renewable of resources, human will, and put our shoulders to the wheel.
What Is Energy Dominance? by Katy Lederer
In 2016, energy expenditures accounted for nearly 6 percent of GDP, according to the Energy Information Administration. But that statistic obscures how integral the sector is to the American standard of living. As the postwar European economist E. F. Schumacher, erstwhile economic adviser to Britain’s National Coal Board in the 1950s and ’60s, and later a foundational figure in the nascent environmental movement, put it: “There is no substitute for energy: the whole edifice of modern life is built upon it. Although energy can be bought and sold like any other commodity, it is not ‘just another commodity,’ but the precondition of all commodities, a basic factor equally with air, water, and earth.” In some sense, then, energy is the economy, at least as we now know it, and a materialist President like Trump who values wealth above all would naturally find fossil fuel energy—basically money found in unimaginably large quantities under the ground—impossible to resist.
At the center of the Anthropocene lies what the PNAS scientists refer to as the “present dominant socioeconomic system.” Capitalism as we know it has not simply steered the global human ecological niche off course; it has driven us completely into a ditch. “High-carbon economic growth” and “exploitative resource use” are constitutive of this system, not incidental to it. And this resource exploitation is not limited to fossil fuels and rare-earth metals. Everything from the augmented mental health regimes of white-collar workers in the Global North to increasingly destabilized and dispossessed farmers and fishermen in the Global South are part of its extractive circuit. Its causal tendrils snake back through the history of colonization, of coal and oil, of geopolitics, and, of course, profit.
Our climate change group provided a metastudy about the 97 percent scientific consensus on climate change. Because scientists never say that something is 100 percent true, and because scientists, by nature, are often poor at communicating on an emotional level and tend to resist alarmist scenarios, the climate-change deniers have been able to point to that 1 to 3 percent of doubt. (Ninety-seven percent is also the proportion of scientists who support the theory of plate tectonics.) We also learned that 61 percent of Americans say climate change is important to them, but they rarely or never discuss it with people they know. Our homework was to become climate-change evangelists for a month. To prepare, we discussed how to raise the topic with a stranger. “Sure is hot these days,” or “How often do you take the train? Trying to save on fossil fuels?” or “Do you ever remember it being ninety-seven degrees in October?”
What Will They Think of the Megadisasters to Come? by Erica Eisen
Though the Paris Agreement sought to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C by the end of the century—a goal in accordance with which Extinction Rebellion’s demand for carbon-neutrality by 2025 was calibrated—it seems increasingly likely that, absent serious action, we are staring down the barrel of a temperature increase of 4º or more, which will raise the sea levels around Britain by multiple meters. The non-profit group Practical Action has translated this information into a Tube map for the year 2100 highlighting all of the areas projected to be underwater should such predictions come true. The list of stations soon to be absorbed by the glacier-melt-swollen River Thames includes Southwark, the one from which I emerge on Friday evening. A bit further down, a group of folk musicians are jamming for a rapt audience, one fiddler perched on a blow-up globe. During a lull between songs, the accordion player turns to some of the other musicians and announces, “Jamie’s mum got arrested!” “My grandma got arrested!” replies the tambourinist.
In a world of relative stability, governments can make decisions with relative leisure and even magnanimity. They think twice about bombing one another; they sometimes indulge ideals of generosity, equity, humanitarianism. This cannot remain true of a world where the most fundamental stability of all—the sameness of climate on which agrarian civilization was founded—has been casually discarded. Exiled from a more or less predictable world, we will become desperate and confused, and no computer program can model that desperation. Our President has declared a perpetual borderless war as a consequence of a single unforeseen attack; even a much saner administration may become unhinged when nothing, least of all the weather from one year to the next, can be relied on. Skirmishes or worse will flare as resources dwindle. Our isolation will grow as millions of fellow species become extinct.
Desperation Time by Greg Afinogenov
The future shaped by global climate change is more sobering. Its egalitarian variant, socialism, is a communism with lower ambitions: survival, not utopia. Frase imagines Ubers and geoengineering projects of the left, enrolling technology in a project of hardscrabble solidarity. Exterminism, the darkest of the dystopias, draws on the film Elysium to conjure a future in which plutocrats use their resources to segregate themselves physically and socially from the oppressed, kept in line via climate change-induced devastation and militarized policing. (To be sure, most people are not in fact being exterminated; Frase is careful to leave each future a window to become some other.) Here, inadequately perhaps, climate change is seen chiefly as a matter of scarcity rather than apocalyptic threat.
Eating the Frog by Katy Lederer
Years and decades of high-level diplomatic negotiations and protests like those of at the Keystone Pipeline and at Standing Rock, for all of their gravity and laudable passion, have done little to roll back the tide on our GHG emissions in any material way. On the other hand, most diplomacy has taken place under an aegis in which major countries, particularly the US, have been unwilling to commit to international agreements with teeth. Meanwhile, the global climate movement has for much of this time been nascent, not yet strong enough to force the issue.
Interior Imperialism by Megan Black
The Interior Department under Zinke looks to be less interested in maintaining this fiction. The construction of the contested pipelines has already been put into motion. The Department of Energy, too, will be encouraged to cut corners on regulations of nuclear energy facilities in service of capitalist profits. Employees on the government payroll from the NPS to the EPA, meanwhile, have been prohibited from offering criticism to an unprecedented degree. The lack of official capacity to place a check on sprawling engines of capitalism is, in part, why and how we get the rebel park rangers. In the global context, the American government no longer feigns disinterest in foreign minerals, a longstanding symbol of imperialist and capitalist exploitation across the world. In the absence of these ethical commitments, the Trump administration, through arms of the State Department and others, will lay claim to resources across the globe by fiat and without concern for potential contributions to climate change. In Exxon we trust.
While the Iron Is Hot by Dayna Tortorici
Strike are by nature about value. To withdraw your participation in work, even for a day, is to ask others to consider the value of that work. How long can they go without it? When they lose a day of your labor, what do they lose?