As of 2019, the Big Picture for humanity was approximately as follows. Homo sapiens (that’s us), a big-brained bipedal mammal, had spent the Pleistocene epoch (from 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago) developing its ability to control fire, talk, paint pictures, play bone flutes, and make tools and clothes. Language dramatically enhanced our sociality and helped enable us to invade and inhabit every continent except Antarctica. During the Holocene epoch (the last 12,000 years), we started living in permanent settlements, developed agriculture, and built state societies with kings, slavery, economic inequality, full-time division of labor, money, religions, and armies. The Anthropocene epoch (more of a brief interlude, really) dawned only a couple of centuries ago as we humans started using fossil fuels, which empowered us dramatically to grow our population and per capita consumption rates, mechanize production and transport, and basically dominate the entire planet. The mechanization of agriculture, by making the landed peasantry redundant, led to mass urbanization and quickly pumped up the size of the middle class. However, the use of fossil fuels destabilized the global climate, while also vastly increasing existing problems like pollution, resource depletion, and the destruction of habitat for most wild creatures. In addition, over the past few decades we learned how to use debt to transfer consumption from the future to the present, based on the risky assumption that the economy will continue to grow forever, thereby enabling future generations to pay for the lifestyle we enjoy now.
In short, the Big Picture was one of ever-increasing power and peril. Suddenly it has changed. A pattern of furious economic growth, consistent over many decades since the dawn of the Anthropocene (with only occasional interruptions, primarily consisting of the Great Depression and two World Wars), has slammed precipitously into the wall of pandemic (un)preparedness. In an effort to limit mortality from the novel coronavirus, governments around the world have put their economies into a state of suspended animation, telling most workers to stay home and to avoid direct contact with others.
How is this development impacting trends that were already underway? Will future generations look back on the coronavirus pandemic as a blip or a game changer? Let’s review a few of the major trends that developed during the Anthropocene and engage in a little informed speculation about how they might be affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Climate change: In China, lockdowns of workers and closures of companies have led to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Over the coming weeks, emissions for the world as a whole could fall by ten percent or more. Note to climate warriors: don’t cheer too loudly; folks who are out of work won’t appreciate gloating greenies.
The world’s response to the coronavirus undermines the argument that governments cannot reduce carbon emissions because doing so would hurt their economies. Clearly, national leaders felt that the more immediate (though, in the larger scheme of things, much less significant) threat of pandemic justified shutting down commerce. Climate activists should now feel emboldened to make the following case: If economic degrowth is what it takes to preserve a habitable biosphere, then world leaders can and must find fair and humane ways to reduce society’s scale of energy usage, resource extraction, manufacturing, and waste dumping—all of which contribute to climate change.
However, the pandemic is not good news for the transition to renewable energy. Supply chains for solar and wind companies have been disrupted, and demand for new installations is down. And with super-cheap oil and gas in the offing (see “Resource Depletion,” below), market forces are likely to hinder rather than help both the renewables industry and the shift to electric cars.
Economic inequality: For the gig economy, and for people living paycheck to paycheck (which includes up to 74 percent of Americans earning hourly wages), the coronavirus lockdown is a catastrophe. Over the short term, existing economic inequalities will result in highly unequal levels of sacrifice and suffering. It may be relatively easy for low-wage workers to rationalize a mandated week or two at home as a forced vacation, but if tens of millions of Americans with no savings experience several months without income, regional social stresses could build to the breaking point. That’s one reason government officials are talking about cash handouts.
Over the longer term, recent absurd levels of inequality could get seriously snipped. In his book The Great Leveler, historian Walter Scheidel argues that, in the past, economic inequality has been reversed most dramatically by what he calls the “Four Horsemen”—mass mobilization for warfare, transformative revolution, state collapse, and plague. Currently many governments are undertaking economic re-allocation efforts equivalent in scale to those seen in the World Wars. For example, Denmark is paying 75 percent of wages (for salaries up to ~$50k/year) for companies that would otherwise have to lay off workers, for a period of three months. This not only enables quarantined workers to survive, but allows them to stay on the payroll and not have to go through a rehiring process later.
Thus, the current pandemic might arguably qualify as two of Scheidel’s Horsemen (mass mobilization and plague). The investor class is witnessing capital destruction at a prodigious rate and scale, while government efforts at maintaining civility and social well-being may entail providing a safety net for those with the least. Of course, this isn’t the way social justice advocates envisioned reining in inequality, but the result may end up being equivalent to another New Deal, and possibly even a Green New Deal.
Biodiversity loss: The novel coronavirus pandemic almost certainly began in wild animal markets in Wuhan, China. As Carl Safina put it in a recent article, “Humans caused the pandemic by putting the world’s animals into a cruel blender and drinking that smoothie.” While there have been other zoonotic epidemics in recent years, including HIV, the Marburg virus, SARS, and the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic, the global coronavirus outbreak could provide a teachable moment, when wildlife conservation organizations can call successfully for an international moratorium on the trade or sale of any non-domesticated animal species (with zoos providing a highly regulated exception).
Otherwise, don’t expect much of a change in the overall declining trend in the numbers of insects, reptiles, amphibians, and wild birds and mammals with which we share this little planet.
Overpopulation: A few cynical millennials have called the novel coronavirus the “Boomer Remover” due to its tendency to attack the elderly with greatest virulence. Because humanity has recently been adding 80 million new members per year (births minus deaths), an erasure of one year’s net growth in population is possible in a worst-case scenario. However, the potential for a short-term moderation of our overall pattern of demographic expansion could be at least partly offset by the results, starting nine months from now, of hundreds of millions of people of reproductive age worldwide staying home for weeks with little to keep them busy. For wealthy nations with falling fertility levels, a much bigger threat to human population stability will likely continue to be posed by the buildup of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the environment. For poor nations with high population growth trends, equal education opportunities for everyone regardless of gender will substantially help reduce growth rates.
Resource depletion: With manufacturing on the skids, demand and hence prices for most commodities are plummeting. The world’s most economically crucial commodity, oil, has seen its price fall from $50 a barrel to close to $20 (as of this writing); some analysts are forecasting prices in the single digits. With oil usage crashing, petroleum storage capacity will run out, at which point producers will have no choice but to mothball some oil wells. Oil companies will likely be bailed out, but cannot be profitable under current conditions. The prospect of ever ramping world oil extraction rates back up to recent levels seems dim. It is likely, then, that the long-anticipated moment of the world oil production peak has already occurred, with little fanfare, in November, 2018.
Of course, the blowout in oil markets is a result of economic disaster rather than sound policies of resource conservation. Therefore, adaptation on the part of industry and society as a whole will be chaotic. The international implications are fraught and hard to predict: several key Middle Eastern nations will see their economies shredded by low oil prices, and Great Powers (specifically, China and Russia) may seek to take advantage of the moment by seeking to realign alliances in the region.
Pollution: Marshall Burke of Stanford University has recently written that “the reductions in air pollution in China caused by this economic disruption likely saved 20 times more lives in China than have currently been lost due to infection with the virus in that country.” Reduced rates of manufacturing and consumption should help to reduce overall pollution, but of course this is the side effect of crisis, not the result of sound policy. Therefore, without environmental policy interventions, there’s no reason to expect pollution reduction benefits to be sustained. Just one example of how some temporary benefits could be balanced by new harms: The use of single-use plastics is likely to increase during the pandemic response.
Global debt bomb: The world economy is again in a deflationary moment, as it was in 1932 and 2008. For central banks and governments, all fiscal efforts will be geared toward re-inflating an economy that is otherwise hissing and flattening. There is a heightened risk that investors will realize that, in a no-growth world, their financial instruments are inherently worthless, forcing not just a collapse of the market value of stocks, but a repudiation of the very rules of the game. However, since the coronavirus epidemic itself will eventually subside, the more likely outcome is a period of defaults and bankruptcies mitigated by heroic levels of Fed bond purchases, and government bailouts (of the oil and airline industries, just for starters) and deficit spending. Eventually, if money printing goes exponential, hyperinflation is a possibility, but not soon. Big takeaway: the financial system has been destabilized and, like the oil industry, may never return to “normal.”
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Let’s return to the question posed above: Will humanity look back on the coronavirus pandemic as a blip or a game changer? The likely answer depends partly on how long the pandemic lasts, and that, in turn, will depend largely on how soon tests become widely available, and when treatments and vaccines are found. US Government documents marked “not for public release” suggest significant shortages not just of medical equipment, but also of general goods over the next 18 months for government, industry, and private citizens, if solutions are not quickly forthcoming.
The level at which the game is changed also depends on the degree of downturn in employment and GDP. Fred Bullard, President of the St. Louis Fed, has gone on record saying that the US unemployment rate may hit 30 percent in the second quarter because of shutdowns to fight the coronavirus, and that GDP could drop 50 percent. This would be economic carnage far beyond the scale of the Great Depression (the United States unemployment rate in 1933 was 25 percent; its GDP fell an estimated 15 percent). If the global economy falls that far, and remains locked down even for a few weeks, label the coronavirus “game changer, big time.”
But a change to what? Dystopian possibilities come only too readily to mind. However, in conversation, some of my think-tank colleagues have suggested the pandemic could turn out to be a “Goldilocks” crisis that would disrupt the global order just enough, and in such a way, as to foster a response that sets at least some societies on a trajectory toward cooperation, redistribution, and degrowth.
First, governments often deal with shortages (foreseen in the report cited above) through the tried-and-true strategy of quota rationing. As Stan Cox details in his indispensable book Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, quota rationing doesn’t always work well; but when it does, the results can be fairly admirable. During both World Wars, Americans participated enthusiastically in rationing programs for food, tires, clothing, and more. Britain continued its rationing programs well after the end of WWII, and surveys showed that, during the period of rationing, Britons were generally better fed and healthier than either before or after. In most imaginary scenarios for deliberate economic degrowth, quota rationing programs for energy and materials figure prominently.
Cox concludes that rationing programs tend to be more successful when people are united against a common enemy, and when shortages are believed to be temporary. Despite President Trump’s efforts to dub it the “Chinese virus,” SARS-Cov-2 has no inherent nationality, nor is it Democrat or Republican. It is indeed a common enemy, and people tend to become more cooperative when faced with a collective threat. Further, epidemiologists agree that the threat will have an end point, even if we don’t know exactly when that will be. Therefore, conditions for success in rationing exist, and rationing could help foster more communitarian and cooperative attitudes overall.
Also, as discussed above, the pandemic has the potential for significant economic leveling. Historically, not all leveling moments featured increased cooperation: when initiated by state collapse or transformative revolution, leveling has been accompanied by widespread suffering and bloody conflict. However, during the great leveling moments of the twentieth century—the Depression and the two World Wars—Americans managed to pull together with a sense of shared sacrifice.
Over the longer term, we are still faced with the challenges of climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, pollution, and biodiversity loss. While the pandemic might have minor or temporary spinoff effects that ameliorate these problems, it won’t solve them. Significant, sustained collective effort will still be required to transform energy systems, economies, and lifestyles (though the pandemic could transform economies and lifestyles in unpredictable ways). If the coronavirus response puts us on a cooperative footing, all the better. Of course, that would be at the expense of currently unknown ultimate numbers of fatalities and sicknesses, as well as widespread fear and privation. The potential bits of silver I’ve mentioned are the linings of a cloud; but, as Monty Python can still remind us via YouTube, it’s always good to look on the bright side of life.
Por Richard Heinberg, publicado originalmente por Resilience.org. Traduzido por Renzo Taddei.
25 de março de 2020
No ano de 2019, o panorama geral para a humanidade era aproximadamente o seguinte. O Homo sapiens (nós), um mamífero bípede de cérebro grande, passou a época do Pleistoceno (de 2,5 milhões de anos atrás até 12.000 anos atrás) desenvolvendo sua habilidade de controlar o fogo, conversar, pintar imagens, tocar flautas ósseas e fazer ferramentas e roupas. A linguagem aumentou drasticamente nossa sociabilidade e nos ajudou a invadir e habitar todos os continentes, exceto a Antártica. Durante a época do Holoceno (os últimos 12.000 anos), começamos a viver em assentamentos permanentes, desenvolvemos a agricultura e construímos sociedades estatais com reis, escravidão, desigualdade econômica, divisão de trabalho em tempo integral, dinheiro, religiões e exércitos. A época do Antropoceno (um breve interlúdio, na verdade) surgiu há apenas alguns séculos, quando nós humanos começamos a usar combustíveis fósseis, o que nos capacitou dramaticamente a aumentar nossa população e nossas taxas de consumo per capita, mecanizar a produção e o transporte e basicamente dominar o planeta inteiro. A mecanização da agricultura, ao tornar redundante o campesinato, levou à urbanização em massa e rapidamente aumentou o tamanho da classe média. No entanto, o uso de combustíveis fósseis desestabilizou o clima global, além de aumentar enormemente os problemas existentes, como poluição, esgotamento de recursos e destruição de habitat para a maioria das criaturas selvagens. Além disso, nas últimas décadas, aprendemos a usar a dívida para transferir o consumo do futuro para o presente, com base no pressuposto arriscado de que a economia continuará a crescer para sempre, possibilitando às gerações futuras pagar pelo estilo de vida que desfrutamos agora.
Em suma, o quadro geral era de poder e perigo crescentes. De repente, o quadro mudou. Um padrão de crescimento econômico furioso, consistente ao longo de muitas décadas desde o início do Antropoceno (com interrupções ocasionais, consistindo principalmente na Grande Depressão e nas duas Guerras Mundiais), chocou-se com força contra a parede do (des)preparo pandêmico. Em um esforço para limitar a mortalidade pelo novo coronavírus, os governos de todo o mundo colocaram suas economias em um estado de hibernação, dizendo à maioria dos trabalhadores para ficar em casa e evitar o contato direto com os outros.
Como esse desenvolvimento está impactando as tendências que já estavam em andamento? As gerações futuras olharão para trás e verão a pandemia de coronavírus como algo que simplesmente passou, ou como um fenômeno que mudou o curso da história? Revisemos algumas das principais tendências que se desenvolveram durante o Antropoceno e exercitemos nossa capacidade de especulação bem informada sobre como elas podem ser afetadas pelo surto de COVID-19.
Mudança climática: Na China, o lockdown de trabalhadores e o fechamento de empresas levaram a uma redução drástica nas emissões de gases de efeito estufa. Nas próximas semanas, as emissões do mundo como um todo podem cair dez por cento ou mais. Nota para os guerreiros do clima: não comemorem de forma muito efusiva; ambientalista exultantes não serão bem vistos pelas pessoas que estão desempregadas por causa da pandemia.
A resposta do mundo ao coronavírus mina o argumento de que os governos não podem reduzir as emissões de carbono porque isso prejudicaria suas economias. Claramente, os líderes nacionais sentiram que a ameaça mais imediata (embora, no esquema mais amplo, menos significativa) da pandemia justificava o fechamento do comércio. Os ativistas climáticos sentem-se encorajados a defender o seguinte argumento: se o decrescimento econômico é o que é necessário para preservar uma biosfera habitável, os líderes mundiais podem e devem encontrar maneiras justas e humanas de reduzir o uso de energia, extração de recursos naturais, atividade industrial e lançamento de resíduos – todos eles elementos que contribuem para as mudanças climáticas.
No entanto, a pandemia não é uma boa notícia para a transição para as energias renováveis. As cadeias de suprimentos para empresas de energia solar e eólica foram interrompidas e a demanda por novas instalações foi reduzida. E com a perspectiva de petróleo e o gás superbaratos (veja “Esgotamento de recursos”, abaixo), é provável que as forças do mercado atrapalhem, em vez de ajudar tanto a indústria de energias renováveis quanto a transição para carros elétricos.
Desigualdade econômica: para os freelancers e para as pessoas que vivem de salário em salário (o que representa 74% dos americanos que são horistas), o bloqueio do coronavírus é uma catástrofe. A curto prazo, as desigualdades econômicas existentes resultarão em níveis altamente desiguais de sacrifício e sofrimento. Pode ser relativamente fácil para trabalhadores com baixos salários racional recursos e aguentar uma ou duas semanas em casa como férias forçadas, mas se dezenas de milhões de americanos sem poupança ficarem vários meses sem renda, as tensões sociais regionais podem chegar ao ponto de ruptura. Essa é uma das razões pelas quais os funcionários do governo estão falando sobre distribuição de dinheiro.
No longo prazo, os recentes níveis absurdos de desigualdade podem ser seriamente rediuzidos. Em seu livro The Great Leveler, o historiador Walter Scheidel argumenta que, no passado, a desigualdade econômica foi revertida de forma dramática pelo que ele chama de “Os Quatro Cavaleiros” – mobilização em massa para guerra, revolução, colapso estatal e epidemias. Atualmente, muitos governos estão realizando esforços de realocação econômica equivalentes, em escala, aos vistos nas guerras mundiais. Por exemplo, a Dinamarca está pagando, por um período de três meses, 75% dos salários (para salários de até 50 mil dólares por ano) para empresas que, de outra forma, teriam que demitir trabalhadores. Isso não apenas permite que os trabalhadores em quarentena sobrevivam, como também permaneçam na folha de pagamento e não precisem voltar ao mercado de trabalho.
Assim, a atual pandemia pode se qualificar como dois cavaleiros de Scheidel (mobilização em massa e epidemia). A classe dos investidores está testemunhando a destruição de capital em taxa e escala prodigiosas, enquanto os esforços dos governos para manter a civilidade e o bem-estar social podem implicar a criação de uma rede de segurança para os mais pobres. Obviamente, não é assim que os advogados da justiça social imaginaram controlar a desigualdade, mas o resultado pode acabar sendo equivalente a outro New Deal, e possivelmente até a um Green New Deal.
Perda de biodiversidade: A nova pandemia de coronavírus quase certamente começou nos mercados de animais selvagens em Wuhan, China. Como Carl Safina colocou em um artigo recente, “os seres humanos causaram a pandemia colocando os animais do mundo em um liquidificador cruel e bebendo-os como um drink”. Embora tenha havido outras epidemias zoonóticas nos últimos anos, incluindo o HIV, o vírus de Marburg, a SARS e a pandemia de “gripe suína” (H1N1) de 2009, o surto global de coronavírus pode proporcionar um momento de aprendizado, em que as organizações de conservação da vida selvagem podem pedir com êxito uma moratória internacional ao comércio ou venda de qualquer espécie animal não domesticada (os zoológicos sendo uma exceção fortemente regulamentada).
Caso contrário, não espere muita mudança na tendência geral de declínio no número de insetos, répteis, anfíbios e pássaros e mamíferos selvagens com os quais compartilhamos este pequeno planeta.
Superpopulação: Alguns indívíduos cínicos da geração Y chamam o novo coronavírus de “Removedor de Boomers”, devido à sua tendência de atacar os idosos com maior virulência. Como a humanidade recentemente adicionou 80 milhões de novos membros por ano (nascimentos menos mortes), uma exclusão do crescimento líquido de um ano na população é possível no pior dos cenários. No entanto, o potencial para uma moderação de curto prazo de nosso padrão geral de expansão demográfica pode ser pelo menos parcialmente compensado pelos resultados, a partir de nove meses a partir de agora, de centenas de milhões de pessoas em idade reprodutiva em todo o mundo que ficam em casa por semanas com pouco o que fazer. Para nações ricas com níveis decrescentes de fertilidade, uma ameaça muito maior à estabilidade da população humana provavelmente continuará sendo representada pelo acúmulo de substâncias químicas no ambiente que causam desregulação endócrina. Para os países pobres com altas tendências de crescimento populacional, oportunidades iguais de educação para todos, independentemente do sexo, ajudarão substancialmente a reduzir as taxas de crescimento.
Esgotamento de recursos: com a produção industrial em queda, a demanda e, portanto, os preços da maioria das mercadorias estão caindo. A commodity mais economicamente crucial do mundo, o petróleo, viu seu preço cair de US$ 50 por barril para perto de US$ 20 (no momento em que este artigo foi escrito); alguns analistas estão prevendo preços em um dígito. Com a queda do uso de petróleo, a capacidade de armazenamento de excedente de petróleo acabará, e os produtores não terão escolha a não ser abandonar alguns poços. As companhias de petróleo provavelmente serão socorridas, mas não serão lucrativas nas condições atuais. A perspectiva de aumentar as taxas mundiais de extração de petróleo até níveis recentes parece fraca. É provável, então, que o momento tão antecipado do pico da produção mundial de petróleo já tenha ocorrido, com pouco alarde, em novembro de 2018.
Obviamente, a queda nos mercados de petróleo é resultado de um desastre econômico, e não de políticas sólidas de conservação de recursos. Portanto, a adaptação por parte da indústria e da sociedade como um todo será caótica. As implicações internacionais são difíceis de prever: várias nações importantes do Oriente Médio verão suas economias destruídas pelos baixos preços do petróleo, e as grandes potências (especificamente China e Rússia) podem tentar aproveitar o momento buscando realinhar alianças na região.
Poluição: Marshall Burke, da Universidade de Stanford, escreveu recentemente que “as reduções na poluição do ar na China causadas por essa perturbação econômica provavelmente salvaram 20 vezes mais vidas na China do que foram perdidas devido à infecção pelo vírus naquele país”. Taxas reduzidas de atividade fabril e de consumo devem ajudar a reduzir a poluição geral, mas é claro que esse é o efeito colateral da crise, não o resultado de uma política sólida. Portanto, sem intervenções em políticas ambientais, não há razão para esperar que os benefícios da redução da poluição sejam sustentados. Apenas um exemplo de como alguns benefícios temporários podem ser equilibrados por novos danos: o uso de plásticos descartáveis provavelmente aumentará durante a resposta à pandemia.
Dívida global explosiva: a economia mundial está novamente em um momento deflacionário, como em 1932 e 2008. Para os bancos centrais e governos, todos os esforços fiscais serão voltados para reinflacionar uma economia que está murchando. Há um risco de que os investidores percebam que, em um mundo sem crescimento, seus instrumentos financeiros são inerentemente inúteis, forçando não apenas um colapso do valor de mercado das ações, mas um repúdio às próprias regras do jogo. No entanto, como a epidemia de coronavírus acabará por retroceder, o resultado mais provável é um período de inadimplência e falências, mitigadas por níveis heróicos de compras de títulos do Fed e ajudas dos governos (para as indústrias de petróleo e companhias aéreas, por exemplo) e déficit de gastos. Eventualmente, se a impressão de moeda crescer de forma exponencial, a hiperinflação é uma possibilidade, mas não tão cedo. Ponto central: o sistema financeiro foi desestabilizado e, como a indústria do petróleo, pode nunca voltar ao “normal”.
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Voltemos à questão colocada acima: a humanidade voltará a olhar para a pandemia de coronavírus como um evento sem maior importância ou como uma transformação profunda? A resposta provável depende, em parte, de quanto tempo dura a pandemia, e isso, por sua vez, dependerá em grande parte da rapidez com que os testes se tornarem amplamente disponíveis e tratamentos e vacinas forem encontrados. Os documentos do governo dos EUA marcados como “impróprios para divulgação pública” sugerem escassez significativa não apenas de equipamentos médicos, mas também de bens em geral nos próximos 18 meses para governo, indústria e cidadãos, se as soluções não forem rapidamente encontradas.
O nível de mudança sistêmica também depende do grau de desaceleração do emprego e do PIB. Fred Bullard, presidente do Fed de St. Louis, afirmou que a taxa de desemprego nos EUA pode atingir 30% no segundo trimestre, devido a paralisações para combater o coronavírus, e que o PIB pode cair 50%. Isso seria uma carnificina econômica muito além da escala da Grande Depressão (a taxa de desemprego nos Estados Unidos em 1933 era de 25%; seu PIB caiu cerca de 15%). Se a economia global cair tanto e permanecer paralisada mesmo por algumas semanas, o coronavírus poderá ser chamado de “o grande divisor de águas”.
Mas uma mudança em que direção? As possibilidades distópicas vêm à mente com muita facilidade. No entanto, em conversas, alguns dos meus colegas que trabalham em think tanks sugeriram que a pandemia poderia se transformar em uma crise de tamanho suficiente para desorganizar a ordem global na medida certa e de tal maneira que promovesse respostas que induzissem pelo menos algumas sociedades à trajetória de cooperação, redistribuição e decrescimento.
Primeiro, os governos costumam lidar com a escassez (prevista nos documentos oficiais citado acima) por meio da estratégia testada e comprovada do racionamento de recursos. Como Stan Cox detalha em seu livro indispensável Any Way You Slice It: The Past, Present, and Future of Rationing, o racionamento nem sempre funciona bem; mas quando isso acontece, os resultados podem ser admiráveis. Durante as duas guerras mundiais, os americanos participaram entusiasticamente de programas de racionamento de alimentos, pneus, roupas e muito mais. A Grã-Bretanha continuou seus programas de racionamento bem após o final da Segunda Guerra Mundial, e pesquisas mostraram que, durante o período de racionamento, os britânicos eram geralmente mais bem alimentados e saudáveis do que antes ou depois. Na maioria dos cenários imaginários de degradação econômica deliberada, os programas de racionamento de energia e bens são os mais prováveis.
Cox conclui que os programas de racionamento tendem a ser mais bem-sucedidos quando as pessoas estão unidas contra um inimigo comum e quando se acredita que a escassez seja temporária. Apesar dos esforços do presidente Trump em chamá-lo de “vírus chinês”, o SARS-Cov-2 não tem nacionalidade inerente, nem é democrata ou republicano. É de fato um inimigo comum, e as pessoas tendem a se tornar mais cooperativas quando confrontadas com uma ameaça coletiva. Além disso, os epidemiologistas concordam que a ameaça terá um ponto final, mesmo que não saibamos exatamente quando será. Portanto, existem condições para o sucesso do racionamento, e ele poderia ajudar a promover atitudes mais comunitárias e cooperativas em geral.
Além disso, como discutido acima, a pandemia tem potencial para a redução significativa das desigualdades econômicas. Historicamente, nem todos os momentos de nivelamento econômico promoveram a cooperação: quando gerados pelo colapso do Estado ou por uma revolução, o nivelamento econômico foi acompanhado por sofrimento generalizado e por conflitos sangrentos. No entanto, durante os grandes momentos de nivelamento do século XX – a Depressão e as duas Guerras Mundiais – os americanos conseguiram se unir ao redor do sentimento de sacrifício compartilhado.
A longo prazo, ainda enfrentamos os desafios das mudanças climáticas, esgotamento de recursos, superpopulação, poluição e perda de biodiversidade. Embora a pandemia possa ter impactos positivos secundários ou menores sobre esses problemas, ela não os resolverá. Esforços coletivos significativos e sustentados ainda serão necessários para transformar sistemas energéticos, economias e estilos de vida (embora a pandemia possa transformar economias e estilos de vida de maneiras imprevisíveis). Se a resposta do coronavírus nos colocar em uma base cooperativa, tanto melhor. Obviamente, isso seria às custas de montantes desconhecidos de mortes, bem como do medo e da privação generalizados. Os elementos positivos que são sólidos como uma nuvem; mas, como Monty Python nos lembra pelo YouTube, é sempre bom olhar para o lado positivo da vida.
Brazilian rainforest expert warns that increased deforestation under President Bolsonaro’s regime is having a catastrophic effect on climate.
LONDON, 16 March, 2020 – Antonio Donato Nobre is passionate about the Amazon region and despairs about the level of deforestation taking place in what is the world’s biggest rainforest.
“Just when I thought the destruction couldn’t get any worse, it has,” says Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading scientists who has studied the Amazon – its unique flora and fauna, and its influence on both the local and global climate – for more than 40 years.
“In terms of the Earth’s climate, we have gone beyond the point of no return. There’s no doubt about this.”
For decades, he has fought against deforestation. There have been considerable ups and downs in that time, but he points out that Brazil was once a world-leader in controlling deforestation.
“We developed the system that’s now being used by other countries,” he told Climate News Network in an interview during his lecture tour of the UK.
“Using satellite data, we monitored and we controlled. From 2005 to 2012, Brazil managed to reduce up to 83% of deforestation.”
Then the law on land use was relaxed, and deforestation increased dramatically – by as much as 200% between 2017 and 2018.
It’s all become much worse since Jair Bolsonaro became Brazilian president at the beginning of last year, Nobre says.
Nobre argues that Bolsonaro doesn’t care about the Amazon and has contempt for environmentalists.
His administration is encouraging the land grabbers who illegally take over protected or indigenous tribal land, which they then sell on to cattle ranchers and soybean conglomerates.
For indigenous tribes, life has become more dangerous. “They are being murdered, their land is being invaded,” Nobre says.
In August last year, the world watched as large areas of the Amazon region – a vital carbon sink sucking up and recycling global greenhouse gases – went up in flames.
Nobre says the land grabbers had organised what they called a “day of fires” in August last year to honour Bolsonaro.
“Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone . It’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.”
“Thousands of people organized, through WhatsApp, to make something visible from space,” he says. “They hired people on motorbikes with gasoline jugs to set fire to any land they could.”
The impact on the Amazon is catastrophic, Nobre says. “Half of the Amazon rainforest to the east is gone – it’s losing the battle, going in the direction of a savanna.
“When you clear land in a healthy system, it bounces back. But once you cross a certain threshold, a tipping point, it turns into a different kind of equilibrium. It becomes drier, there’s less rain. It’s no longer a forest.”
As well as storing and recycling vast amounts of greenhouse gas, the trees in the Amazon play a vital role in harvesting heat from the Earth’s surface and transforming water vapour into condensation above the forest. This acts like a giant sprinkler system in the sky, Nobre explains..
When the trees go and this system breaks down, the climate alters not only in the Amazon region but over a much wider area.
Time running out
“We used to say the Amazon had two seasons: the wet season and the wetter season,” Nobre says. “Now, you have many months without a drop of water.”
The vast majority of Brazilians, he says, are against deforestation and are concerned about climate change – but while he believes that there is still hope for the rainforest, he says that time is fast running out.
Many leading figures in Brazil, including a group of powerful generals, have been shocked by the international reaction to the recent spate of fires in the Amazon and fear that the country is becoming a pariah on the global stage.
Nobre is angry with his own government, but also with what he describes as the massive conspiracy on climate change perpetrated over the years by the oil, gas and coal lobbies.
Ever since the late 1970s, the fossil fuel companies’ scientists have known about the consequences of the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“They brought us to this situation knowingly,” Nobre says. “It’s not something they did out of irresponsible ignorance. They paid to bash the science.” – Climate News Network
Jessica Rawnsley is a UK-based environmental journalist. She has written stories on the Extinction Rebellion movement and police tactics connected with demonstrations. She has a particular interest in campaigning groups and their influence on government climate policies.
Climate protection and public health have striking similarities. The benefits of both can be enjoyed by everyone, even by individuals who do not contribute to the collective efforts to address these problems. If climate change slows down, both drivers of gas-guzzlers and electric cars will benefit – although the former did not help in climate efforts. Similarly, if the spread of Coronavirus is halted (the so-called flattening the curve), individuals who refused to wash their hands, as well as the ones who washed them assiduously, will enjoy the restored normal life.
Most countries have gotten their acts together, although belatedly, on Coronavirus. Citizens also seem to be following the advice of public health officials. Could then the Coronavirus policy model be applied to climate change? We urge caution because these crises are different, which means that policies that worked well for Coronavirus might not be effective for climate change.
Different Penalties for Policy and Behavioral Procrastination
Climate change is the defining crisis of our times. Floods, hurricanes, forest fires, and extreme weather events have become more frequent and severe over the years. Although climate change generates passionate discussions in big cities and university campuses, there is inadequate public clamor for immediate action. Some types of decarbonization policies are certainly in place. However, carbon-intensive lifestyles continue (with “flying shame” in Scandinavia being an exception). Today In: Green Tech
This policy lethargy and behavioral inertia are due to many reasons, including concerted opposition by the fossil fuel industry to deep decarbonization. But there are other reasons as well. Climate change is cumulative and does not have a quick onset. Its effects are not always immediate and visible. Many individuals probably do not see a clear link between their actions and the eventual outcome. This reduces the willingness to alter lifestyles and tolerate personal sacrifices for the collective good.
In contrast, Coronavirus is forcing an immediate policy response and behavioral changes. Its causality is clear and its onset quick. Lives are at stake, especially in western countries. The stock markets are tanking, and the economy is heading towards a recession. Politicians recognize that waffling can lead to massive consequences, even in the short-term. Corona-skeptic President Trump has reversed course and declared a national emergency.
In the US, there is federal inaction on climate change. But Coronavirus seems different. 2020 is a Presidential election year, and perhaps this motivates the federal government to (finally) act decisively so that Coronavirus does not become Hurricane Katrina type of political liability.
Climate policies are hobbled by “spatial optimism,” whereby individuals believe that their risk of getting affected by climate change is less than for others. This reduces the willingness to tolerate personal sacrifices for deep decarbonization.
Coronavirus episode began with some level of spatial optimism in the Western world. After all, it was happening in China. But this confidence has quickly disappeared. Globalization means a lot of international travel and trade. China is the main global supplier of many products. Prominent companies such as Apple (AAPL) and Tesla (TSLA) depend on China for manufacturing and sales of their products. Spatial optimism has been overwhelmed by international travel as well as globalized supply chains and financial markets.
Belief in the Efficacy of Adaptation
Some might believe that climate change can be “managed.” Innovators will probably develop commercial-scale negative carbon technologies and societies will adapt to sea-level rise by building seawalls, or maybe relocating some communities to safer areas.
Coronavirus offers no such comfort. Unlike the seasonal flu, there is no vaccine (yet). It is difficult to adapt to the Coronavirus threat when you don’t know what to touch, where to go, and if your family members and neighbors are infected. Not to mention, how many rolls of tissue paper you need to stock before the supplies run out at the local grocery store.
Different Incentives to Attack Scientific Knowledge
On Coronavirus, citizens seem to be willing to follow the advice of public health professionals (at least when it comes to social distancing as reflected in empty roads and shopping centers). Every word of Dr. Anthony Fauci counts.
Why has this advice not drawn scorn from politicians who are suspicious of the “deep state”? After all, the same politicians attack scientific consensus on climate change.
Climate skeptics probably see substantial political and economic payoffs by delaying climate action. Stock markets have not penalized climate skepticism in the US: markets hit record high levels in the first three years of the Trump presidency. And, climate opposition is not leading to electoral losses. On the contrary, the climate agendas in liberal states, such as Oregon and Washington, have stalled.
Nobody seems to gain by attacking scientific consensus to delay policy action on Coronavirus. Airlines, hospitality, and tourism industries, who have taken a direct hit from social-distancing policies, probably want the problem to be quickly addressed so that people can get back to their “normal” lives.
US politicians who talk about the “deep state,” may want Coronavirus issue resolved before the November 2020 election. Attacking science does not further their political objectives. After all, the looming recession and the stock market decline could influence the election outcomes.
Depth, Scale, and Duration of Changes
Climate policy will cause economic and social dislocation. Decarbonization means that some industries will shut down. Jobs will be lost, and communities will suffer unless “just transition” policies are in place.
Coronavirus policies will probably not cause long-term structural changes in the economy. People will resume flying, tourists will flock to Venice, Rome, and Paris, and the basketball arenas will again overflow with spectators.
However, some short-term measures could lead to long-term changes. For example, individuals may realize that telecommuting is easy and efficient. As a result, they may permanently reduce their work-related travel. Coronavirus may provide the sort of a “nudge” that shifts long-term behavioral preferences.
In sum, the contrast between the rapid response to Coronavirus and policy waffling on climate change reveals how citizens think of risk and how this shapes their willingness to incur costs for the collective good. Further, it suggests that politicians respect science when its recommendations serve their political ends.
Nives Dolsak is Stan and Alta Barer Professor in Sustainability Science and Director of the School of Marine & Environmental Affairs. Aseem Prakash is the Walker Family Professor and the Director of the Center for Environmental Politics. Both are at the University of Washington, Seattle.
A year’s diary of reckoning with climate anxiety, conversation by conversation.
By Emily Raboteau Photo: Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Emily Raboteau, Anadolu Agency/Getty, Courtesy Emily Raboteau (4), Alex Coppel/Newspix/Getty, courtesy Emily Raboteau, Daniel Volpe/The New York Times/Redux, Courtesy Emily Raboteau (2), Kevin Hagen/The New York Times/Redux
Some scientists say the best way to combat climate change is to talk about it among friends and family — to make private anxieties public concerns. For 2019, my New Year’s resolution was to do just that, as often as possible, at the risk of spoiling dinner. I would ask about the crisis at parent-association meetings, in classrooms, at conferences, on the subway, in bodegas, at dinner parties, while overseas, and when online; I would break climate silence as a woman of color, as a mother raising black children in a global city, as a professor at a public university, and as a travel writer — in all of those places, as all of those people. I would force those conversations if I needed to. But, it turned out, people wanted to talk about it. Nobody was silent. I listened to their answers. I noticed the echoes. I wrote them all down.
Tuesday, January 1
At last night’s New Year’s Eve party, we served hoppin’ John. Nim said that when he used to visit relatives in Israel, he could see the Dead Sea from the side of the road, but on his most recent trip, he could not. It was a lengthy walk to reach the water, which is evaporating.
Chris responded that the beaches are eroding in her native Jamaica, most egregiously where the resorts have raked away the seaweed to beautify the shore for tourists.
Wednesday, January 2
After losing her home in Staten Island to Hurricane Sandy, Lissette bought an RV with solar panels and has been living off the grid, conscious of how much water it takes to flush her toilet and to take a shower, I learned at Angie’s house party. Get unlimited access to The Cut and everything else New YorkLEARN MORE »
Monday, January 14
At tonight’s dinner party, Marguerite said that in Trinidad, where they find a way to joke about everything, including coups, people aren’t laughing about the flooding.
Wednesday, January 16
On this evening’s trip on the boat Walter built, he claimed with enthusiasm that we might extract enough renewable energy from the Gulf Stream via underwater turbines to power the entire East Coast.
Moreover, Walter predicted with the confidence of a Swiss watch, no intelligent businessman will invest another dime in coal when there is more profit to be made in wind, solar, and hydrokinetic energy. Economic forces will dictate a turnaround in the next ten years, he said.
Monday, January 21
After Hurricane Irma wrecked her homein Key West, Kristina, a triathlete librarian, moved onto a boat and published a dystopian novel titled Knowing When to Leave, I learned over lobster tail.
Tuesday, February 12
We ate vegetable quiche at Ayana and Christina’s housewarming party, where Christina described the Vancouver sun through the haze of forest-fire smoke and smog as looking more like the moon.
Monday, February 18
In the basement of Our Saviour’s Atonement this afternoon, Pastor John said he’s been preaching once a month about climate change, despite his wife’s discomfort, and recently traveled to Albany to lobby for the Community and Climate Protection Act.
Saturday, February 23
When I see those brown recycling bins coming to the neighborhood, said a student in Amir’s class at City College in Harlem, it tells me gentrification is here and our time is running out.
Thursday, February 28
Just between us, Mik said over drinks at Shade Bar in Greenwich Village, it scares me that white people are becoming afraid of what they might lose. History tells us they gonna get violent.
Sunday, March 17
On St. Patrick’s Day, Kathy, who’d prepared the traditional corned beef and cabbage, conversed about the guest from the botanical garden in her master gardening class, who lectured on shifting growing zones, altering what could be planted in central New Jersey, and when.
Tuesday, March 19
Sheila, who brought weed coquito to the tipsy tea party, said that when people ask her, “What are you Hondurans, and why are you at the border?,” she says, “Americans are just future Hondurans.”
Monday, March 25
Mat recalled vultures in the trees of Sugar Land, Texas, hunting dead animals that had drowned in Hurricane Harvey, during which he’d had difficulty fording flooded streets to reach his mother’s nursing home.
Tuesday, April 16
After a bite of roasted-beet salad in the Trask mansion’s dining room, Hilary spoke of the historic spring flooding in her home state of Iowa, where the economic impact was projected to reach $2 billion.
Thursday, April 18
Carolyn warned me at the breakfast table, where I picked up my grapefruit spoon, that I may have to get used to an inhaler to be able to breathe in spring going forward, as the pollen count continues to rise with the warming world. My wheezing concerned her, and when she brought me to urgent care, a sign at the check-in desk advised, DON’T ASK US FOR ANTIBIOTICS. Valerie, the doctor who nebulized me with albuterol, explained that patients were overusing antibiotics in the longer tick season for fear of Lyme.
Tuesday, April 23
On his second helping of vegetable risotto, Antonius reflected that in Vietnam, where his parents are from, the rate of migration from the Mekong Delta, with its sea-spoiled crops, is staggering.
Sunday, April 28
Due to Cyclone Fani, Ranjit said he was canceling plans to visit Kerala and heading straight back to Goa, where he would be available for gigs, lessons, jam sessions, meals.
Michael said that beef prices were up after the loss of so much livestock in this spring’s midwestern flooding, and so he’d prepared pork tacos instead.
Friday, May 3
At the head of the table where we sat eating bagels, Aurash said we won’t solve this problem until we obsess over it, as he had obsessed over Michael Jordan and the Lamborghini Countach as a kid.
He added that, just as his parents weren’t responsible for the specific reasons they had to leave Afghanistan, in general the communities most impacted by climate change are least responsible for it.
Balancing an empty plate in his lap, Karthik said that New York City (an archipelago of 30-odd islands), with all its hubris, should be looking to Sri Lanka, another vulnerable island community, for lessons in resilience.
We have more in common, he went on, with the effective stresses of low-lying small-island coastal regions such as the Maldives, the Seychelles, Cape Verde, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Caribbean than with a place like Champaign, Illinois —
“I’m from Champaign!,” Pamela interrupted, her mouth full. “It’s in a flood plain too!,” she cried. We’re all sitting at this table now.
Tuesday, May 7
“Personally, I’m not that into the future,” said Centime, who had a different sense of mortality having survived two bouts of breast cancer. She uncorked the fourth bottle of wine. We’d gathered over Indian takeout for an editorial meeting to comb through submissions to a transnational feminist journal centering on women of color. “But I can respect your impulse to document our extinction.”
Sunday, May 19
Eating a slice of pizza at a kid’s birthday party in a noisy arcade, Adam reminisced about the chirping of frogs at dusk in northern Long Island — the soundtrack to his childhood, now silent for a decade.
“Sad to say,” he mused, “among the 9 million meaningless things I’ve Googled, this wasn’t one. It’s like a postapocalypse version of my life: ‘Well, once the frogs all died, we shoulda known.’ Then I strap on a breather and head into a sandstorm to harvest sand fleas for soup.”
Friday, June 7
Hiral, scoffing at what passes for authentic Punjabi food here in New York, was worried about her family in Gandhinagar and the trees of that green city, where the temperature is hovering around 110 degrees Fahrenheit weeks before monsoons will bring relief.
Sunday, June 9
After T-ball practice at Dyckman Fields, while the Golden Tigers ate a snack of clementines and Goldfish crackers, Adeline’s dad, an engineer for the Department of Environmental Protection, spoke uneasily of the added strain upon the sewage system from storms.
Saturday, June 15
Jeff, who’d changed his unhealthy eating habits after a heart attack, said, “We are running out of language to describe our devastation of the world.”
Lacy agreed, adding, “We need new metaphors and new containers with which to imagine time.”
Sunday, June 16
Keith confessed that he was seriously losing hope of any way out of this death spiral.
Tuesday, June 18
We sipped rosé, listening to Javier read a poem about bright-orange crabs in the roots of the mangrove trees of Estero de Jaltepeque in his native El Salvador, where the legislative assembly had just recognized natural forests as living entities.
The historic move protects the rights of trees, without which our planet cannot support us. Meanwhile, Javier discussed the lack of rights of migrants at the border, recalling the journey he made at age 9, unaccompanied, in a caravan surveilled by helicopters.
In Sudan, where Dalia (who read after Javier) is from, youth in Khartoum wish to restore the ecosystem through reforestation using drones to cast seedpods in the western Darfur region, hoping to stymie disasters such as huge sandstorms called haboob.
Owing to this month’s massacre, one of Dalia’s poems proved too difficult for her to share. “I’d be reading a memorial,” she said.
I strained to hear the unspoken rhyme between the rising sandstorms and the dying mangroves, hemispheres apart.
Wednesday, June 19
Salar wrote to me about the call of the watermelon man this morning in Tehran where groundwater loss, overirrigation, and drought have led to land subsidence. Parts of the capitol are sinking, causing fissures, sinkholes, ditches, cracks.
The damage was most evident to him in the southern neighborhood of Yaftabad, by the wells and farmland at the city’s edge. There, ruptures in water pipes, walls, and roads have folks fearing the collapse of shoddier buildings. The ground beneath the airport, too, is giving way.
Thursday, June 20
“Our airport’s sinking too!,” mused Catherine, who’d flown in from San Francisco for this evening of scene readings at the National Arts Club, followed by a wine-and-cheese reception.
Friday, June 21
“It’s not true that we’re all seated at the same table,” argued David, a translator from Guatemala, where erratic weather patterns have made it nearly impossible to grow maize and potatoes.
Retha, David’s associate, quoted the poem “Luck,” by Langston Hughes:
Sometimes a crumb falls
From the tables of joy,
Sometimes a bone
To some people
Love is given,
Then we went out looking for the Korean barbecue truck.
Saturday, June 22
“Say what you will about the Mormons,” said Paisley, who lives in Utah, “but they’ve been stockpiling for the end of days for so long that they’re better prepared.”
Sunday, June 23
At the Stone Barns farm, where tiara cabbages, garlic scapes, snow peas, red ace beets, zucchini flowers, and baby lambs were being harvested for the Blue Hill restaurant’s summer menu, Laura spoke hopefully of carbon sequestration in the soil.
Edgily, Lisa argued, “There’s not a single American living a sustainable lifestyle. Those who come close are either homeless or are spending most of their time growing food and chopping wood.”
Tuesday, June 25
S.J. said their car as well as eight of their neighbors’ cars, including a freaking Escalade, got totaled by a flash flood in the middle of the night in Charleston without warning. Living in a sea-level coastal city is becoming more terrifying by the day, said S.J. They now check the radar before parking.
Thursday, June 27
Magda turned philosophical before returning to Tepoztlán, Mexico. What is the future of memory and the memory of the future? she pondered. We were eating raw sugar-snap peas, remarkable for their sweetness, out of a clear plastic bag.
Her eyes, too, were startlingly clear. “My daughter’s 27 now,” she said. “By mid-century, I’ll be dead. I can’t imagine her future or recall a historical precedent for guidance …” Magda lost her thread.
Meanwhile, Roy had been pointing out the slowness of the disaster; not some future apocalypse, but rather our present reality — a world’s end we may look to culturally endure with lessons from Gilgamesh, the Aeneid, the Torah, and the Crow.
Friday, June 28
The other Adam sent word from Pearl River at breakfast: “Today’s temps at camp are going to reach 100. It will feel hotter than that. We’ll be taking it slower and spending more time in the shade. Don’t forget sunscreen, water bottles, and hats; they’re critical to keeping your kids safe.”
There was no shade at the bus stop in front of the Starbucks on 181st Street. “Why wasn’t climate change the center of last night’s Democratic presidential debate?,” asked Ezra, a rabbi.
“They didn’t talk about it at all in 2016,” pointed out Rhea’s mom, who preferred to see the glass as half-full. “This is progress!,” she cheerfully exclaimed.
Sunday, June 30
Ryan, Albert’s head nurse on the cardiac unit, feared the hospital was understaffed to deal with the upswing of heat-induced diseases. Delicately moving the untouched food tray to rearrange the IV tube, he said, “It’s hard on the heart.”
Tuesday, July 2
“My homeland may not exist in its current state, a bewildering, terrifying thought I suffer daily,” Tanaïs said of Bangladesh. “Every time I go to the coast, there’s less and less land and now a sprawling refugee camp. Every visit feels closer to our end.”
Wednesday, July 3
“Let’s lay off the subject tonight,” suggested Victor, as he prepared the asparagus salad for dinner with Carrie and Andy, who were back in town for the music festival.
Thursday, July 4
Holding court over waffles this morning in the stately dining room of the black-owned Akwaaba Bed and Breakfast in Philadelphia, Ulysses, who works to diversify the U.S. Geological Survey, said, “We need representation. Earthquakes affect us, too. Volcanoes affect us, too. Climate change affects us, too.”
Charlie stirred the gumbo pot. He speculated that his girls’ public school had closed early this year because its sweltering classrooms lacked air-conditioning to manage the heat wave. “Our seasons are changing,” he said, regarding the prolonged summer break.
While Lucy distributed glow necklaces to her little cousins on the Fourth of July, her aunt learned the fireworks display had been canceled by the Anchorage Fire Department owing to extreme dry weather conditions. Alaska was burning.
Cyrus yanked off his headphones with bewilderment and looked up from his iPad toward his mom. “It says there’s a tornado warning,” he cried. All through the airport, our cell phones were sounding emergency alarms, warning us to take shelter. A siren sounded.
“Take shelter where?” begged his mother in confusion. She clutched a paper Smashburger bag with a grease spot at the bottom corner. The aircraft was barely visible through the gray wash of rain at the wall of windows rattling with wind.
Sunday, July 7
Nadia, a flight attendant in a smart yellow neck scarf, served us Würfel vom Hahnchenkeulen in Pilzsauce on the delayed seven-hour red-eye from Philly to Frankfurt, on which each passenger’s carbon footprint measured 3.4 metric tons.
Monday, July 8
Owing to a huge toxic algae bloom, all 21 of the beaches were closed in Mississippi, where Jan was getting ready to start her fellowship, I learned before tonight’s dinner at the Abuja Hilton.
Jan ordered a steak, well done, and swallowed a malaria pill with a sip of South African wine. She referred to Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” which starts:
The world begins at a kitchen table.
No matter what, we must eat to live.
Wednesday, July 10
Eating chicken suya in the mansion of the chargé d’affaires, Chinelo spoke quietly of the flooding in Kogi state at the confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers.
Few Nigerians realize, Buchi said, that the longevity of Boko Haram in the Northeast, the banditry in the Northwest, and the herder-farmer crises in the North Central are a result of rapid desertification and loss of arable land even as the country’s population keeps exploding.
Thursday, July 11
Jide, a confident and fashionable hustler, slipped me a business card claiming his sneaker line was the first innovative, socially conscious, sustainable footwear brand in all of Africa. His enviable red-laced kicks said, “We’re going to Mars with a space girl, two cats, and a missionary.”
Stacey, a science officer for the CDC, was geeking out about the data samples that would help control the spread of vector-borne diseases like yellow fever and dengue when the waiter interrupted her epidemiological account with a red-velvet cake for my 43rd birthday.
“Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura / Ché la diritta via era smarrita!,” shouted Nicole, my college roommate from half a lifetime ago, before we had kids, before she went blind. We had memorized the opening lines of The Inferno, had crushes on the Dante professor, and knew nothing yet of pain.
Tuesday, July 16
Naheed said, “The southwest monsoon is failing in Nagpur. For the first time in history, the municipal corporation will only provide water on alternate days. There will be no water on Wednesday, Friday, nor Sunday in the entire city for two weeks.”
Chido told us that in Harare, she was one of the lucky ones on municipal rotation getting running water five days out of the week, until fecal sludge appeared, typhoid cases cropped up, and the taps were shut off entirely. “They are killing us,” she said.
Friday, July 19
Kate said the back roads of Salisbury, Vermont, were slippery with the squashed guts and body fluids of the hundreds of thousands of northern leopard frogs — metamorphosing from tadpoles in explosive numbers — run over by cars.
Centime sent a picture of a memorial for Okjökull, the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. “For your time capsule,” she offered. The plaque read, THIS MONUMENT IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WE KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING AND WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE.
Posed as a letter to the future, the message ended, ONLY YOU KNOW IF WE DID IT.
“What would you do if the power went out and you were stuck underground in a subway tunnel?” Lissette drilled, showing me the prepper items in her crowded backpack, heavy as a mother’s diaper bag: water, protein bars, flashlight, battery, filter, knife …
Saturday, July 20
“Bobby was stuck underground on the 1 train during last night’s commute for 45 minutes,” said his wife, Angela, describing the clusterfuck of six suspended subway lines. “And in this heatwave, too,” she griped. “Folks were bugging out! — ten more minutes and there woulda been a riot.”
Monday, July 22
Morgan wasn’t the only one to observe it was the poorer neighborhoods in Brooklyn that had power cut off in yesterday’s rolling blackout. The powerless scrambled to eat whatever food was in their fridges before it spoiled. Wealthier hoods were just fine.
Tuesday, July 23
“Can you rummage in my mind and take out the fire thoughts and eat them?,” asked 8-year-old Geronimo at bedtime. This was the ritual. He felt safer with his anxieties in my stomach than in his brain.
Just back in L.A. from an empowering trek to Sicily where she’d visited the Shrine to the Black Madonna despite sizzling temperatures, Nichelle shared her two rules for dealing with the global heat wave: “(1) Drink lots of water. (2) Watch how you talk to me.”
Wednesday, July 24
Marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the Reverend John sermonized, “You’d think after seeing the Earth from afar, we would do anything to protect this planet, this home. You’d think wrong.”
“We’ve become drunk on the oil and gas poisoning the waters that give us life,” he preached. “And we have vomited that drunkenness into the atmosphere. Truly, the prophet is right,” he said, quoting Isaiah 24:4. “The Earth dries up and withers. The world languishes and withers. The heavens languish with the Earth.”
“We have broken the everlasting covenant,” reasoned the Reverend John. “Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that God loves this world.”
Thursday, July 25
At last night’s “Intimate Dilemmas in the Climate Crisis” gathering at a software company on Madison Avenue, we were told to write our hopes and fears for the future on name tags as a silent icebreaker, then to stick these messages to our chests and walk about the room. Sebastian’s was only one word: war.
Mary, who left the event early, said she worried about her aging mother down South. “I’m the first person in my family born after Jim Crow. They fought battles so I could live the dreams my mother couldn’t. How can I talk to her about this existential grief of mine when she’s already been through so much?”
“Having one less child reduces one’s carbon footprint 64.6 U.S. tons per year,” Josephine from Conceivable Future informed us.
“Why is it so easy to police reproductive rights of poor women and so hard to tell the fossil-fuel industry to stop killing us?,” asked Jade, a Diné and Tesuque Pueblo activist in New Mexico, whose shade of red lipstick I coveted.
Friday, July 26
Ciarán set down our shepherd’s pie and Guinness on a nicked table at Le Chéile. On one of the many drunken crayon drawings taped to the walls of that pub were scrawled these lines from Yeats:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
Protesters from Extinction Rebellion Ireland staged a die-in at the Natural History Museum in Dublin, where Ciarán’s family is from, arranging their inert bodies on the floor among silent stuffed “Mammals of the World.”
Tuesday, July 30
Ari cooked lamb shoulder chops with eggplant and cilantro purée, a family recipe from Yemen, where swarms of desert locusts, whose summer breeding was ramped up by extraordinary rainfall, are invading crops, attacking farms, and eating trees.
Meanwhile, Yemeni villagers are eating the locusts, shared Wajeeh, catching them in scarves at nightfall, eating them with rice in place of vegetables, carting sacks of them to Sanaa and selling them, grilled, near the Great Mosque.
Wednesday, July 31
When Nelly and I chewed khat with Centime in Addis Ababa a decade ago, discussing creation myths at the New Flower Lounge while high as three kites, we never imagined that Ethiopia would plant 350 million trees in one day, as they did today.
Eric distributed Wednesday’s fruit share under a canopy in Sugar Hill, Harlem. I took note of the Baldwin quote on the back of his sweat-soaked T-shirt when he bent to lift a cantaloupe crate:
The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
Thursday, August 1
Off the rugged coast of Devon, where Jane grew up picking wild blackberries, the Cloud Appreciation Society gathered to slow down and gaze up at the sky in gratitude and wonder. Nobody spoke of the modeled scenario released by scientists of a cloudless atmosphere.
“In the beginning,” said Elizabeth, who lives in Pass Christian, a block from the Mississippi shore, “before they closed the beaches, I saw the death with my own eyes. Dead gulf redfish, dead freshwater catfish dumped from the river. Thousands. I saw a dead dolphin in the sand.”
Friday, August 2
“I’m always so pissed at plastic bags and idling cars, but I feel like there’s no point in caring anymore,” said Shasta upon learning that between yesterday and today, more than 12 billion tons of water will have melted from the Greenland ice sheet.
Saturday, August 3
Meera grew disoriented when she returned to the Houston area to finish packing up the house that her family had left behind and could not sell; it was languishing on the market for a year as if cursed.
Sunday, August 4
Because he dearly loved taking his boys camping in the Mojave Desert, Leonard felt depressed about the likely eventual extinction of the otherworldly trees in Joshua Tree National Park.
Monday, August 5
The El Paso shooter’s manifesto said, “My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist … If we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”
In her kitchen, Angie nearly burned the platanos frying in oil on her stovetop. “That ecofascist targeted Mexicans,” she said, swatting at the smoke with a dish towel. “He called us invaders.”
Wednesday, August 7
“In the Black Forest,” said Daniel, “there are mainly firs and spruces. Many of them die because it is too dry. We used to have something called land-rain. That was light rain for days. It’s gone. When it rains (like now) it feels like an Indian monsoon. What I really want to say to you about Waldersterben (dying forest): Come now, as long as the Black Forest exists.”
Friday, August 9
Claire, a former Colorado farmer, spoke of intensifying forest fires. “The mountains are full of burn scars like this,” she said, sharing a shot from a blaze near Breckenridge.
None of us will be able to say later that we didn’t know we were doing this to the Earth.
Thursday, August 15
Isobel stopped planning our 25th high-school reunion to study the weakening of global ocean circulation and the tanking of the stock market when the Dow dropped 800 points today. Back to back, she traced with a painted fingernail the lines of the inverted yield curve and the slowing Gulf Stream.
Friday, August 16
Zulema wasn’t surprised when Pacific Gas & Electric went bankrupt from the billions of dollars in liability it faced from two years of raging California wildfires, though it wasn’t a downed power line that ignited the Detwiler fire she fled. It was a discharged gun.
On being evacuated from Mariposa for six days by that fire, whose smoke reached Idaho as it burned 80,000 acres of trees dried into tinder by bark beetles and drought, she said over soup dumplings: “I almost lost my house. It’s surrounded by charred forest now. We’re like those frogs in the boiling pot.”
Sunday, August 18
“The developers don’t live here, so they don’t care,” said Jimmy, the tuxedoed waiter who served me linguini with clam sauce for lunch at Gargiulio’s on Coney Isalnd, where the new Ocean Dreams luxury apartment towers are topping out despite sea-level rise. “All they care about is making a buck.”
Monday, August 19
Manreet said she felt anxious. Yesterday in Delhi, where her sister in-law lives, the government sounded a flood alert as the Yamuna River swelled to breach its danger mark.
“Punjab, where I come from, means ‘The Land of Five Rivers,’” she explained. “It’s India’s granary. After a severe summer left the fields parched, the brimming rivers are now flooding them. It’s worse and worse each year. I feel weirdly resigned.”
Tuesday, September 3
Although the sky directly above her wasn’t blackened by smoke from the burning Amazon rain forest, Graduada Franjinha saw protests along the road to a capoeira competition in Rio. “It’s so sad to see how humankind destroys the lungs of the earth that gives us breath,” she said.
Saddened by the loss of 28 wild horses in Pamlico Sound to a mini-tsunami, Chastity remembered seeing them as a kid and swearing to commit them to her forever memory. “You don’t see beautiful things like that and question whether there’s a higher being,” she said. “You just don’t.”
Wednesday, September 4
Chaitali said she can’t stop thinking about Grand Bahama after learning that 70 percent of it is now underwater. “Where are all those people going to go?,” she asked, mystified and horror-struck.
It is an unprecedented disaster, said Christian, struggling to control his voice. He had cut his hair since last I saw him. Dorian was still hovering over his birthplace of Grand Bahama. “Natural and unnatural storms reveal how those most vulnerable are disproportionately affected,” he said.
Friday, September 6
At last night’s party, Jamilah, a Trini-Nigerian Toronto-based sound artist and former member of the band Abstract Random, took a bite of pastelito and said she’d like to get to the Seychelles before they drop into the Indian Ocean.
Saturday, September 7
“Eat the fucking rich,” said Jessica, in reply to a quarterly investment report on how to stay financially stable when the world may be falling apart.
Thursday, September 9
Arwa feared that the plight of 119 Bahamian evacuees thrown off a ferryboat to Florida for being without visas they did not legally need was a sign of climate apartheid.
Wednesday, September 11
“Ma’am, I am the heat,” Maurice replied to the woman in New Orleans’s Jackson Square who warned him against jogging outdoors because of the heat advisory in effect.
Thursday, September 12
Maya, proud owner of a Chihuahua–pit bull–mini-pin mix in Montclair, was saddened to learn that nearly 300 animals had drowned at a Humane Society shelter in Freeport during the hurricane.
Melissa, incensed, asked why they didn’t let the animals out of their damn crates.
“Well, if it’s any consolation, a shit ton of people died too,” argued Sanaa.
Tons of babies, tons of elderly and infirm people, even perfectly healthy people died, too. Over 2,500 people are still missing, and 70,000 now homeless.
“Did you not see the videos of people trapped in their attics with the waves crashing over their houses? Y’all sound fucking stupid,” Sanaa fumed.
Friday, September 13
“Did you hear the NYC Department of Education approved absences from school for the youth climate strike next Friday?,” Elyssa asked during the Shabbat Schmooze while the children swarmed around a folding table tearing off hunks of challah and dunking them in Dixie cups of grape juice.
“I’d rather go to school,” said Jacob. His dislike of large crowds outweighed his dislike of third grade.
Wednesday, September 18
Amanda, whom I last saw at Raoul’s, where we ate steak au poivre and pommes frites, said she had to sell off half the herd on her family’s Texas cattle ranch after a drought left the tanks dry, the lake depleted, and the hayfield shriveled.
She mentioned, almost as an aside, that they’d lost half the honeybees in their hives to colony-collapse disorder in the past five years too.
“Everyone here is linked to someone who works in oil,” she said. “It’s the center of the damage, and all that industry makes my efforts feel small. Sailing in Galveston Bay after a tanker spill, I wondered if my soaking-wet clothes were flammable.”
Thursday, September 19
TaRessa, from Atlanta, said, “I have always loved awakening to birdsong. This year, for the first time, I hear none.” A third of North American birds had vanished from the sky in the span of her lifetime.
Friday, September 20
“I’m here to sign out my child for the climate strike,” said a dad to Consuelo, the parent coordinator in the main office at Dos Puentes Elementary.
“By the time they’re our age, they won’t have air to breathe,” worried Consuelo. “They’ll be wearing those things on their faces — mascarillas respiratorias.”
Ben’s sign said, I’M MISSING SCIENCE CLASS FOR THIS. He was 6, in the first grade and studying varieties of apples, of which he knew there were thousands. He’d also heard that as many as 200 species were going extinct every day.
Shawna told her daughter on the packed A train down to Chambers Street that a teenage girl had done this, had started protesting alone until kids all over the world joined her to tell the grown-ups to do better, had sailed across the ocean to demand it.
Along Worth Street toward Foley Square, the signs said:
SHIT’S ON FIRE, YO
COMPOST THE RICH
THIS IS ALL WE HAVE
I WANT MY KID TO SEE A POLAR BEAR
SEAS ARE RISING AND SO ARE WE
MAKE EARTH GREAT AGAIN
SAVE OUR HOME
In yellow pinafores, Grannies for Peace sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” while a nearby police officer forced a protester to the ground for refusing to move off the crowded street to the sidewalk. “Shame!,” chanted the massive crowd in lower Manhattan.
“When our leaders act like kids, then we, the kids, will lead!,” shouted a gaggle of outraged preteen girls in Catholic-school uniforms. Their voices grew hoarse, though the march had not yet begun.
Saturday, September 21
Humera’s Sufi spiritual guide, Fatima, said, “Alhamdulillah! Let’s offer a Fatiha for the young generations who are inheriting a heavy, sad burden left by their predecessors but who are in process of finding their own voice of goodness. This is a movement of consciousness. “
Thursday, September 26
“You need to use an AeroChamber that goes over his nose with the pump so he gets all the asthma medicine,” La Tonya, the school nurse, instructed me. Her office was full of brown boys like our son, lined up for the first puff of the day.
Friday, September 27
“The point of the shofar is to wake us up,” Reb Ezra said, lifting the ram’s horn to his mouth. He blasted it three times with all he had. “Shana tova!,” he shouted. The table was dressed for the New Year with apples and honey.
“Who shall perish by water and who by fire?,” went a line in the Rosh Hashanah service as we were asked to think about atonement. So began the Days of Awe.
Sunday, September 29
Namutebi said at Andrew’s memorial service that in the 25 years since that picture of him holding his son in Kampala was taken, Uganda has lost 63 percent of its trees.
Monday, September 30
“The Rollerblades are $5,” said Abby, who sold books, clothes, toys, puzzles, and games she’d outgrown, spread over a blanket on the sidewalk leading to the Medieval Festival, to make money to fight climate change.
Tuesday, October 8
Danielle made risotto in the pressure cooker for dinner tonight in Marin County to feed her 91-year-old grandparents, who are staying over because they lost power in Sonoma as part of the huge, wildfire-driven blackout.
“I’m almost scared they aren’t turning off our power and we’re going to end up engulfed in flames,” said Danielle. “My grandfather keeps asking when the storm is coming, and I keep trying to explain to him that this isn’t like a hurricane.”
She was curious about how the rest of America sees this — 800,000 people without power as risk mitigation by the gas-and-electric company against wildfires during high winds. She asked, “Do they know this is how we live now?”
Wednesday, October 9
“We are okay, but it is starting to get smoky, and we are sorry about our friends closer to the fire,” Zulema alerted us. The Briceburg fire was 4,000 acres and 10 percent contained. “PG&E will cut power to the northern part of the county,” she said.
Friday, October 11
“You’re going to feel some discomfort,” Dr. Marianne warned me at yesterday’s annual gynecological checkup. She inserted the speculum. I stared at the wall with a picture of her taken five years prior on the white peak of Kilimanjaro.
“Are you in pain?,” the doctor asked, discomfited by my tears. The glaciers that ring the mountain’s higher slopes were evaporating from solid to gas, the wondrous white ice cap towering above the plains of Tanzania for as long as anyone can remember disappearing before our eyes.
Saturday, October 12
In the highlands of Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda — where Damali is from — the climate is no longer hospitable for growing coffee. Damali will likely serve hot milky spiced tea at the family gathering she invited us to with a proper note card through the mail.
Baby Kazuki’s mother feared her breastmilk had sickened him after she reintroduced eggs into her diet. And she feared for the 8 million people ordered to evacuate their homes, as Typhoon Hagibis flayed Tokyo, including the house where her father was born.
Sunday, October 13
In the park this morning, Ana said her Realtor had advised against the offer she wished to make on purchasing her first home through the subsidized Teacher Next Door program. The house she’d fallen in love with was in a flood zone.
Tuesday, October 15
Romy sent us video of the churches in Damour ringing bells before sunrise to warn people of the raging wildfires. “Lebanon is burning,” Romy said. “Probably the biggest fire this country has seen. Please send help.”
Amaris said, “Mount Lebanon, the refuge of persecuted native minorities and their history in the Middle East, is on fire. For a place that represents holy land for us, I’m not joking when I say I feel my soul has been set aflame.”
And then, as if by listing the scorched villages, she could turn them verdant again, she mourned their names: “Mechref, Dibbeyye, Damour, Daqqoun, Kfar Matta, Yahchouh, Mazraat Yachoua, Qournet El Hamra, Baawarta, Al Naameh …”
Wednesday, October 16
Yahdon, bred in Bed-Stuy, bought his gold Maison Martin Margiela designer sneakers secondhand to stay sustainably fly, he said.
Tuesday, October 22
Amelia posted a picture of the view from her kitchen window in Quito last week. “Gracias a Dios, we escaped the fire and the house is still standing!,” she said amid nationwide civil unrest, wherein protesters clashed with riot police and a state of emergency was declared.
“Fossil-fuel subsidies were reinstated to stop the protests in Ecuador, a petrostate where the price of an unstable, fossil-fuel-dependent economy is paid by the poor. It’s been a tough week,” said Amelia, following up with a picture of a chocolate cupcake. “We all need a treat sometimes.”
“What’s your position on public nudity?,” slurred Elliott, my seatmate on this morning’s flight to San Francisco. In Melbourne, where he’s from, Extinction Rebellion activists had stripped for a nudie parade down Exhibition Street.
Thursday, October 24
“Are we under the ocean or in the clouds?,” asked Geronimo, looking up at the illusion of undulating blue waves made by a trick of laser light and fog machines at tonight’s Waterlicht show, both dream landscape and flood.
“Anyone else have their fire go-bag ready just in case?,” asked Lizz, who paints wrought iron in San Diego and writes about brujas. Six hundred fires had burned in California in the past three days.
“For me as a parent, knowing that my ancestors have overcome the brutality of colonialism gives me hope for the future,” said Waubgeshig, originally from the Wasauksing First Nation near Parry Sound, Ontario. “My people have seen the end before.”
Tuesday, October 29
Salar, just back from Beirut, described a contrast between streets of festering trash and citizens forming a human chain, across sect, at the start of revolution. “It’s like we forgot the planet was our house until it grew so dirty we had to wake up,” he said.
Wednesday, October 30
Felicia, Mark, Dean, Robin, Dara, Kellen, Alexandra, Roxane, Alethea, Susan, David, and Roy all marked themselves safe in Los Angeles during the Getty fire, which started near I-405 and Getty Center Drive, destroying 12 homes and threatening 7,000 more.
No word as yet on the safety of Samara, Marisa, Nkechi, Josh, Kelela, Anika, or Laila.
Thursday, October 31
“It’s because of global warming,” said Geronimo, dressed as a wizard, when his father recalled having to wear a winter coat over Halloween costumes during his own New York City childhood. The jack-o’-lanterns were decaying. It was 71 degrees when we walked to the parade.
Friday, November 1
Naheed brought us back a painting of Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, and his wife Parvati, from the Dilli Haat handicraft bazaar in New Delhi, where schools have closed because of the dirty, toxic air.
Tuesday, November 5
“I feel guilty,” said Alejandra, a City College student, at the first Extinction Rebellion meeting held on campus, the same day 11,000 scientists declared a global climate emergency.
“Is there going to be food at this meeting?,” Hector asked, poking his head in the door of the nearly empty classroom with mismatched, broken chairs. Down the hall was a food pantry. “You’d get more students to act if you offered food,” Hector said, then left.
“Our aim is to save humanity from extinction,” said Tom, an Iowa native. He’d volunteered to give the presentation, having joined the protest back in August. The slideshow included a picture of him drenched in fake blood at the feet of the Wall Street bull.
“This is a decentralized movement. Our nonviolent civil-disobedience actions are theatrical. We disrupt the status quo by occupying space. This was my first time getting arrested,” Tom said. “You can do this too.”
“Not me,” said Cedric, referencing the obstacles to his participation, as a black man. “If I get arrested, will it go on my record? Who pays my bail?”
Valentin, a full-time rebel since graduating with a degree in architecture, said we could address the criticism of the rebellion as a white movement that fetishizes arrests at our next house meeting. Demanding divestment, he added, should be on the agenda.
Wednesday, November 6
“Back home in Ontario, the backyard rinks are gone,” lamented Michael, the man we met playing solo street hockey in the schoolyard of PS 187. He showed my boy, wobbling on new inline skates, how to balance himself with a hockey stick, how to gracefully sweep the puck across concrete.
Sunday, November 10
At Václav’s baby shower, Yana, who’d ordered the usual Mediterranean platter, told him to just rip the wrapping paper off the gift. That’s how Americans do it, she said. Vaclav held up the bibs, booties, and dresses she’d bought for his baby, due in five weeks.
“Is it just me or does it feel like this is the last baby we will produce?,” whispered Renata, depressed by our aging and shrinking department in an age of endless austerity with several retirements on the horizon but no new hires. “It feels like Children of Men.”
Monday, November 11
Geronimo climbed into our bed with The Children’s Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Monsters open to a page of flood stories, floods delivered by vengeful gods: Utnapishtim, Viracocha, Zeus, Vishnu, Noah, and Chalchiuhtlicue.
“ ‘The Mexican goddess of rivers and lakes once flooded the whole world to get rid of all those who are evil, but those who were good were turned into fish and were saved,’ ” he read. “Will I be saved?”
“You will be safe because we are privileged, not because we are good,” I said, torn between wishing to comfort him and wanting to tell him the truth. “Those who are less safe aren’t drowning because they are bad but because they are poor.”
Thursday, November 14
“Samantha’s got serious respiratory issues now too,” said her mother, as we waited for the school bus to drop off our kids outside our building around the corner from a busy bus terminal in a neighborhood at the nexus of three major highways and the most heavily trafficked bridge in the world.
Friday, November 22
“Are we rebels or are we not?,” asked Lena, a French international student studying environmental biotechnology. “The best way to make people know the movement is to plan an action and make demands,” she said.
Saturday, November 23
“Wow, and here I thought it was going to be just another game,” said Aaron, class of ’98, after student activists from both schools disrupted today’s Harvard-Yale football game, rushing the field to demand fossil-fuel divestment. “I guess I should have gone in to bear witness instead of hanging out at the tailgates.”
Friday, November 29
Next to me at Kathy’s Thanksgiving table sat her eldest son, who’d driven up for the holiday from Virginia, where he said his neighbors in the coalfields knew their industry was dead and were understandably fearful of the transition into new lines of work.
Sunday, December 8
The Ghost of Christmas Present encouraged Ebenezeer Scrooge to do the most he could with the time he had left, in the Harlem Repertory Theater’s opening-night production of A Christmas Carol. The last ghost waited in the wings.
Monday, December 9
Sujatha said it was getting harder to see outside in Sydney, but the failure of state and federal government action was clear: No mitigation policy. No adaptation policy. No energy-transition policy. No response equal to the task of this state of climate emergency.
“I am worried,” she said, as ferries, school days, and sports were canceled because of air quality 11 times the hazardous levels. Mike bought air filters for the house, face masks for their two kids. Shaad had asked her, “Will this be the future?”
Friday, December 13
The other Ben had been at the U.N. climate conference in Madrid all week and felt depressed about our chances of getting through this century “if it wasn’t for these kids,” he said, sharing a picture of teens with eyes drawn on the palms of their upheld hands. “They are watching and awake.”
“We’re not here for your entertainment. The youth activists are not animals at a zoo to look at and go, Awww, now we have hope for the future. If you want hope for the future, you have to act,” said Vega, a Swedish Fridays for Future leader.
Wednesday, December 18
“You know it’s bad when the sun looks red and there’s ash on every windshield,” said Sarah from Sacramento, who could feel it constricting her lungs.
“What’s the right balance of hope and despair?,” asked the other Laura.
Friday, December 20
In the Netherlands, where Nina just submitted her doctoral-dissertation proposal to the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch Supreme Court ruled that the government must protect the human rights of its citizens against climate change by cutting carbon emissions.
“Everyone not from Australia, I’m begging you,” said Styli in Sydney. She feared international ignorance due to the lack of celebrity and location. “The truth is, our country is burning alive,” she said, on the nation’s hottest day on record, one day after its prior record.
Sunday, December 22
“It looks like an alligator’s head,” said Ben from the backseat on the drive to Nana’s for Christmas. “No, a hydra,” said Geronimo. Billowing smoke from the towers of the oil refinery and petrochemical plant to the side of the New Jersey Turnpike at Linden took shifting monstrous shapes.
Monday, December 23
“It’s always the women who pick up the mess at the end of the meal,” sighed Angie, doing the dishes at the kitchen sink in a pink T-shirt that said, SIN MUJERES NO HAY REVOLUCIÓN.
Tuesday, December 24
Though it was the third night of Hanukkah, Rebecca was still preoccupied by the Parshas Noach she’d heard weeks before, admonishing her to be like Noah, who organized his life around saving his family despite the part of him that couldn’t fathom the flood.
The hardest pill for her to swallow was this: Knowing that a single transatlantic flight for one person, one way, is equivalent to commuting by car for an entire year, she now feels flying to Uruguay to see friends and family for the holidays is a kind of violence.
Friday, December 27
Home in Bulawayo for the holidays during Zimbabwe’s worst drought of the century, NoViolet described hydropower failure at Kariba Dam. Downstream from Victoria Falls, shrunken to a trickle, the Zambezi River water flow was too anemic to power the dam’s plants, and so, NoViolet said, there was no running water three to four days a week, and power only at night, “A terrible living experience.”
“The time of the month can be a nightmare for women and girls. Showers are a luxury. Those who can afford to turn to generators and solar power, but for the poor, it means adapting to a maddening and restricted life,” she said.
Saturday, December 28
“Mom!,” called Geronimo from the bath. “I can’t breathe.”
Sunday, December 29
Ben was disturbed by the dioramas on our visit to the American Museum of Natural History. “Who killed all these animals?,” he demanded. “Don’t they know this is their world, too?”
“I learned to fish at my grandparent’s house on the beach, and now my kids enjoy its calm waters,” said Trever from Honolulu. “Every year, the ocean inches higher. We will sell the house next year.”
Monday, December 30
From Gomeroi Country, Alison wrote, “Even away from the fires, we saw a mass cockatoo heatkill on the Kamilaroi Highway near Gunnedah. Willy-willy after willy-willy followed us home down that road. I can’t find it in me to be reflective about the decade right now. Love to everyone as you survive this, our night.”
“The worst part is feeling helpless, held hostage at the whim of an abusive, inconsistent parent who wreaks havoc, then metes out arbitrary punishment in the name of protecting us,” said Namwali from Zambia, about the failing of the hydroelectric company and the failures of those in power. “In a word, capitalism.”
Tuesday, December 31
Another New Year’s Eve. In distant parts of the planet, it was already tomorrow. The future was there and almost here. We drank prosecco at Angie’s party, awaiting the countdown while thousands of people in the land Down Under fled from the raging bushfires and headed for the beach, prepared to enter the water to save their lives on New Year’s Day.
The screen of my phone scrolled orange, red, gray, black — fire, blaze, smoke, ash. A window into hell on earth. I shut it away to be present for the party and the people I loved. Before he kissed me, Victor said, “Here’s to a better 2020 for our country and the whole world.”
140 blocks to the south of us in Times Square, the ball is about to drop.
*A version of this article appears in the January 6, 2020, issue of New York Magazine.
Os dados, coletados pela Folha no Inmet (Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia), e pesquisadores indicam que a cidade enfrentará cada vez mais desafios na saúde pública, com mais mortes relacionadas a doenças cardíacas, por exemplo, que são mais comuns nas ondas de calor. E sofrerá cada vez mais problemas de infraestrutura, com mais alagamentos em alguns períodos e falta d’água em outros.
A chuva é um dos grandes exemplos da mudança no clima em São Paulo no período. Até 1980, a cidade havia enfrentado apenas um evento com mais de 100 mm em um dia. Na década de 2010, foram seis.
Patamar próximo a esse foi o que a capital paulista enfrentou no começo de fevereiro, quando os 114 mm foram suficientes para alagar trechos das marginais, ilhar moradores e suspender aulas e o serviço público.
Por outro lado, os períodos sem chuva estão cada vez maiores. A década de 1960 começou com período de até 15 dias sem precipitação em alguns anos. Nesta década mais recente, já se chegou a 51 dias secos, em 2012.
Após sequência de estiagens, a cidade sofreu com a crise hídrica de 2014, quando reservatórios chegaram a operar com 10% da capacidade, levando a racionamentos.
Os dados do Inmet, que vão de 1961 a 2019 e são coletadas na zona norte, mostram também mudança no padrão de temperatura.
Há diferentes formas de se avaliar essa variação. Considerando a diferença ano a ano, o acumulado desses 58 anos aponta para uma temperatura média 2ºC superior agora em relação ao período inicial (subindo da casa dos 20ºC para 22ºC).
Se analisada a variação das temperaturas mínimas, o aquecimento é ainda maior (quase 3ºC a mais, saindo da casa dos 8ºC para 11ºC).
Visto de outra forma, as temperaturas mínimas da década de 2010 estão 2,3ºC maiores do que de 1960, considerando as medianas (medida que identifica qual a temperatura é a que divide em dois o grupo analisado).
Como as mudanças no regime de chuvas e nas temperaturas têm sido constantes ao longo das décadas, climatologistas dizem que a situação atual deverá ser o novo padrão da cidade para os próximos anos. E as projeções apontam para presença ainda maior de eventos extremos nas próximas décadas.
“A situação exige melhoria significativa em ações para redução de desastres na região metropolitana”, escreveram o climatologista José Marengo e outros pesquisadores brasileiros em trabalho acadêmico publicado na revista da Academia de Ciências de Nova York, no começo deste ano.
A pesquisa enfocou o padrão de chuvas na região —a reportagem se inspirou nessa metodologia para a análise, acrescentando dados mais recentes.
Os cientistas destacam que as mudanças podem estar relacionadas à variação natural do clima, mas também podem ser fruto do aquecimento global e da urbanização da região.
“O aumento das temperaturas é um processo natural, que pode ser acelerado pela ação humana, com urbanização, queima de combustível fóssil e desmatamento”, disse à reportagem o cientista Marengo, do Cemaden (centro nacional de monitoramento de desastres naturais). “O que não foi estabelecido é saber qual porcentagem é natural e qual é humana.”
Mesmo que a causa das mudanças no clima da cidade ainda não esteja totalmente definida, já há pesquisas sobre o impacto na saúde da população decorrente das temperaturas mais altas e pelo novo padrão de chuvas.
A população idosa parece ser mais sensível ao aumento do calor. Uma das razões é que o corpo nessa idade tem mais dificuldade para se adaptar à mudança de temperatura. E também tarda mais para perceber o aumento do calor, demorando também para se hidratar.
As pesquisas mostram que aumento da temperatura está relacionado a mais casos de mortes decorrentes de doenças cardiovasculares e respiratórias.
Em pesquisa feita no IAG-USP (instituto de ciências atmosféricas), o meteorologista Rafael Batista avaliou o impacto de altas temperaturas nos óbitos de idosos.
O trabalho verificou que houve mais mortes do que o esperado em fevereiro de 2014 na região metropolitana de São Paulo, quando ocorreu forte onda de calor (26 dias consecutivos com máximas acima dos 30ºC).
Outro impacto do aumento do calor é a elevação do consumo de água, aponta o professor da Faculdade de Saúde Pública da USP Leandro Giatti.
E a situação pode se agravar porque o novo padrão de chuvas, com pancadas cada vez mais fortes, alternadas com períodos secos mais longos, não é o ideal para se acumular águas nos reservatórios.
Nas chuvas intensas, a água passa muito rapidamente pelo solo, não sendo absorvida para os aquíferos, além de levar sujeira e sedimentos para os reservatórios.
Ela verificou que houve aumento de internações devido a essas doenças nos períodos mais chuvosos em Rio Branco (AC), entre os anos de 2008 e 2013.
Todos esses problemas devem se intensificar, de acordo com os cientistas.
A pesquisa do meteorologista Rafael Batista, do IAG-USP, estimou como deverá ser a temperatura na região metropolitana até 2099, considerando a evolução nas últimas décadas.
Segundo esse cálculo, o número de dias de risco por altas temperaturas (médias acima de 25ºC) passará a ocupar 40% do ano, dentro das próximas seis décadas; hoje, são apenas 8% do ano.
“O inverno pode passar a ficar parecido com o que conhecemos do verão”, disse o climatologista Fábio Gonçalves, do IAG (instituto de ciências atmosféricas), da USP. A unidade também faz monitoramento do clima, a partir de ponto na zona sul na cidade, e possui observações semelhantes ao verificado pela Folha.
Governos ainda tropeçam para frear problema
As temperaturas mais altas e a frequência maior de eventos extremos ganham contornos mais graves quando se pensa que a cidade não para —nem em população (cresceu uma média de 100,8 mil habitantes por ano na última década) nem em mancha urbana (que hoje ocupa 878,6 km², o equivalente a 57% do território da cidade).
A Prefeitura de São Paulo lista intervenções como a construção de piscinões, a melhoria da drenagem e a implantação de parques como respostas. Por outro lado, reportagem da Folha no começo do mês mostrou que a cidade tem ao menos 17 grandes obras de drenagem atrasadas.
A cidade instituiu em 2009, na gestão Gilberto Kassab, sua Política Municipal de Mudança do Clima, que estabelece ações para mitigar os efeitos das mudanças ambientais.
São Paulo também tem como meta reduzir em 45% as emissões de gás carbônico nos próximos dez anos em relação ao nível de 2010, e promete neutralizar as emissões de gases que provocam efeito estufa até 2050.
“Os preâmbulos de todos os planos diretores, desde o Plano Urbanístico Básico, de 1968, até o Plano Diretor Estratégico de 2014, têm capítulos dedicados a chuvas, ao meio ambiente”, diz o professor Valter Caldana, da Arquitetura e Urbanismo da Universidade Mackenzie, que afirma que o respeito a variáveis ambientais é um dos fundamentos da boa arquitetura, mesmo antes de se falar em mudanças climáticas.
É preciso mudar o modo como se produzem cidades, diz o urbanista. E cita coisas práticas: cuidar do mobiliário urbano, aumentar a capacidade de drenagem, acabar com a exigência de recuos de edifícios (o que faz com que se desperdice espaços), fazer com que empresas abram espaços verdes para uso público.
“Antigamente São Paulo tinha bolsões de calor. Hoje a cidade inteira virou um bolsão de calor. Tem que parar de agir só na emergência e agir cotidianamente”, diz.
Secretário de Infraestrutura e Obras da cidade, o engenheiro Vitor Aly afirma que a atual administração tem olhado os problemas derivados das mudanças climáticas de forma propositiva, e não mais reativa como no passado, quando, segundo ele, apenas atacavam os efeitos das enchentes.
“Os alagamentos acontecem no mundo todo agora. Veja Austrália, Inglaterra, Japão. É um problema da sociedade moderna. Fomos ocupando o território e agora precisamos nos ocupar do problema”, diz Aly.
Ele lista soluções estruturais que têm sido elaboradas pela prefeitura: a construção de piscinões (já foram entregues oito e planejam mais cinco para 2020); um estudo para alteamento de pontes e pontilhões, que funcionam como represas quando enchem os rios; um mapeamento das 104 bacias hidrográficas e das manchas de inundação da cidade, com o propósito de alertar moradores e construtoras com precisão dos riscos de cada região.
Um dos compromissos previstos no plano de metas da atual gestão é o de reduzir em 12,6% (2,77 km²) as áreas inundáveis da cidade.
Ele avalia que a limpeza de ramais e de bocas de lobo e a retirada de resíduos de córregos fizeram com que a água da chuva tivesse fluidez no último episódio de chuvas, por exemplo. Segundo ele, a drenagem da cidade levou toda a água para os rios Pinheiros e Tietê —”foram essas artérias que não suportaram todo o volume”, afirma Modonezi. A manutenção dos dois rios é incumbência do governo do estado.
“Nas outras regiões da cidade tivemos alagamentos pontuais, pequenos, lâminas de água que acabaram sendo drenadas depois de passada a chuva”, completa.
O plano de metas dedica diversas rubricas à problemática: recuperar 240 mil metros lineares de guias e sarjetas; limpar 2,8 milhões de metros quadrados de margens de córregos; retirar 176.406 toneladas de detritos de piscinões, entre outros.
Em 2019, o prefeito Bruno Covas (PSDB) anunciou compromisso de elaborar um plano de ação climática para zerar a emissão de gases que provocam efeito estufa nos próximos 30 anos. A proposta do tucano está alinhada às metas do Acordo de Paris, repetidamente atacado pelo presidente Jair Bolsonaro (sem partido) nos últimos anos.
Ricardo Viegas, secretário adjunto de Verde e Meio Ambiente, diz que o plano será apresentado em junho, mas diversas ações para controle do aumento de temperatura e do efeito estufa já têm sido feitas. Ele diz que um grande esforço tem sido feito em relação ao transporte na cidade.
A chamada “lei do clima”, sancionada pelo então prefeito João Doria (PSDB) em 2018, estabeleceu que as emissões de dióxido de carbono e de material particulado terão que ser zeradas até 2038 pela frota de ônibus municipal, por exemplo.
A resposta às ilhas de calor e ao aumento de temperatura vem por meio da ampliação das áreas verdes. Nesse sentido, Viegas afirma que a prefeitura implantará dez parques até o final do ano e revitalizará outros 58. A cidade hoje conta com 107 parques.
Outras propostas da gestão Covas que apontam para o longo prazo são a proibição do fornecimento de utensílios plásticos por estabelecimentos comerciais, a implantação de reuso de água em 100% dos novos equipamentos entregues e ampliação do atendimento da coleta seletiva para todos os endereços da capital.
Na África, está ocorrendo a pior invasão de gafanhotos dos últimos 25 anos, ou dos últimos 75, se considerarmos apenas o caso do Quênia.
Um enxame de insetos com quase o dobro do tamanho de toda a superfície de Roma está se movendo do nordeste do Quênia em direção ao sul do Sudão do Sul e a Uganda.
Estamos falando de quase 200 milhões de gafanhotos que há mais de um mês devastam colheitas e vegetações, devorando em um único dia uma quantidade de comida equivalente ao que 90 milhões de pessoas consumiriam.
É a enésima consequência da crise climática: os gafanhotos precisam de solo úmido e arenoso para depositar seus ovos e proliferar, condições que são verificadas devido a uma estação chuvosa anômala, que durou mais do que o normal.
A situação é dramática, mas, apesar da extensão da emergência, muito poucos estão falando sobre essa invasão devastadora, porque nos últimos meses as atenções se concentraram no Coronavírus.
A Etiópia, o Quênia e a Somália já estão tentando lidar com a escassez de recursos alimentares: as previsões indicam que mais de 1,3 milhão de crianças com menos de 5 anos de idade sofrerão fome em 2020, mesmo sem a invasão dramática dos gafanhotos.
Também devido à crise climática, no ano passado, os três países enfrentaram um longo período de seca seguido de uma longa estação chuvosa: as consequentes inundações atingiram e destruíram grandes áreas cultivadas e pastagens, reduzindo os recursos alimentares.
Os insetos vorazes colocarão em dificuldade mais de 10 milhões de pessoas, entre crianças e adultos, que vivem em áreas rurais.
Se a situação piorar ainda mais, muitas pessoas serão forçadas a abandonar suas terras para sobreviver, dando origem a uma importante migração em massa para países onde – pelo menos por enquanto – os efeitos da crise climática ainda são suportáveis.
It is worth noting that tribal peoples tend to feel that it is they who depict and we who symbolise. Thomas McEvilley, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief
What does capitalism actually look like?
There’s a standard leftist answer to this question, from the great repertoire of standard leftist answers: we can’t know. Capitalism has us by the throat and wraps itself around our brain stem; we were interpellated as capitalist subjects before we were born, and from within the structure there’s no way to perceive it as a totality. The only way to proceed is dialectically and immanently, working through the internal contradictions until we end up somewhere else. But not everyone has always lived under capitalism; not everyone lives under capitalism today. History is full of these moments of encounter, when industrial modernity collided with something else. And they still take place. In 2007, Channel 4 engineered one of these encounters: in a TV show called Meet the Natives, a group of Melanasian villagers from the island of Tanna in Vanatu were brought to the UK, to see what they made of this haphazard world we’ve built. (It’s almost impossible to imagine anyone trying the same stunt now, just twelve years on. The whole thing is just somehow inappropriate: not racist or colonial, exactly, but potentially condescending, othering, problematic.) Reactions were mixed.
They liked ready meals, real ale, and the witchy animistic landscapes of the Hebrides. They were upset by street homelessness, confused by drag queens in Manchester’s Gay Quarter, and wryly amused by attempts at equal division in household labour. They understood that they were in a society of exchange-values and economic relations, rather than use-values and sociality. ‘There is something back-to-front in English culture. English people care a lot about their pets, but they don’t care about people’s lives.’ But there was only one thing about our society that actually appalled them, that felt viscerally wrong. On a Norfolk pig farm, they watched sows being artificially inseminated with a plastic syringe. This shocked them. They told their hosts to stop doing it, that it would have profound negative consequences. ‘I am not happy to see the artificial insemination. Animals and human beings are the same thing. This activity should be done in private.’
I was reminded of this episode quite recently, when reading, in an ‘indigenous critique of the Green New Deal‘ published in the Pacific Standard, that ‘colonists were warned by word and weapon that a system of individual land ownership would lead to ecological apocalypse, and here we are. What more could you ask from a system of truth and analysis than to alert you to a phenomenon like climate change before it occurs, with enough time to prevent it? That is significantly more than colonial science has offered.’
It’s not that the substance of this claim is entirely untrue (although it should be noted that many indigenous nations did have systems of private land ownership; land wasn’t denatured, fungible, and commodified, as it is in today’s capitalism, but then the same holds for European aristocracies, or the Nazis for that matter). Non-capitalist societies have persistently recognised that there’s an incredible potential for disaster in industrial modernity. Deleuze and Guattari develop an interesting idea here: capitalism isn’t really foreign to primitive society; it’s the nightmare they have of the world, the possibility of decoding and deterritorialisation that lurks somewhere in the dark thickets around the village. ‘Capitalism has haunted all forms of society, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes.’ Accordingly, the development of capitalism in early modern Europe wasn’t an achievement, but a failure to put up effective defences against this kind of social collapse. You can see something similar in the response of the Tanna islanders to artificial insemination. What’s so horrifying about it? Plausibly, it’s that it denies social and bodily relations between animals, and social and bodily relations between animals and people. The animal is no longer a living thing among living things (even if it’s one that, as the islanders tell a rabbit hunter, was ‘made to be killed’), but an abstract and deployable quantity. It’s the recasting of the mysteries of fecund nature as a procedure. It’s the introduction of what Szerszynski calls the ‘vertical axis,’ the transcendence from reality in which the world itself ‘comes to be seen as profane.’ It’s the breakdown of the fragile ties that hold back the instrumental potential of the world. When people are living like this, how could it result in anything other than disaster?
This seems to be the general shape of impressions of peoples living under capitalism by those who do not. These strangers are immensely powerful; they are gods or culture heroes, outside of the world. (The people of Tanna revere Prince Philip as a divinity.) At the same time, they’re often weak, palsied, wretched, and helpless; they are outside of the world, and lost. In 1641, a French missionary recorded the response of an Algonquian chief to incoming modernity. One the one hand, he describes Europeans as prisoners, trapped in immobile houses that they don’t even own themselves, fixed in place by rent and labour. ‘We can always say, more truly than thou, that we are at home everywhere, because we set up our wigwams with ease wheresoever we go, and without asking permission of anybody […] We believe that you are incomparably poorer than we, and that you are only simple journeymen, valets, servants, and slaves.’ At the same time, the French are untethered, deracinated, endlessly mobile. The Algonquians territorialise; everywhere they go becomes a home. The Europeans are not even at home in their static houses. They have fallen off the world. ‘Why abandon wives, children, relatives, and friends? Why risk thy life and thy property every year, and why venture thyself with such risk, in any season whatsoever, to the storms and tempests of the sea?’ And this constant circulation is a profound danger. ‘Before the arrival of the French in these parts, did not the Gaspesians live much longer than now?’
There’s something genuinely fascinating in these encounters. Whenever members of non-capitalist societies encounter modernity, they see something essential in what’s facing them. (For instance, Michael Taussig has explored how folk beliefs about the Devil in Colombia encode sophisticated understandings of the value-form.) But it seems to me to be deeply condescending to claim that this constitutes an explicit warning about climate change, that the methods of ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ are the same as the physical sciences, and to complain that ‘Western science has a lot of nerve showing up just as we’re on the precipice of a biospheric death spiral to brandish some graphs.’ The argument that the transcendent vertical axis estranges human beings from the cycles of biological life, with potentially dangerous results, is simply not the same as the argument that increased quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide will give rise to a greenhouse effect. It’s not that there’s nothing to learn from indigenous histories, quite the opposite. (I’ve written elsewhere on how the Aztecs – definitely not the romanticised vision of an indigenous society, but indigenous nonetheless – prefigured our contemporary notion of the Anthropocene.) But the claims in this essay set a predictive standard which ‘indigenous knowledge systems’ will inevitably fail; it refuses to acknowledge their actual insight and utility, and instead deploys them in a grudge match against contemporary political enemies.
Most fundamentally, the essay doesn’t consider this encounter as an encounter between modes of production, but an encounter between races. In the red corner, white people: brutally colonising the earth, wiping out all biological life, talking over BIPOC in seminars, etc, etc. In the blue corner, indigenous folk, who live in balance with the cycles of life, who feel the suffering of the earth because they are part of it, who intuitively understand climate atmospheric sciences because they’re plugged in to the Na’vi terrestrial hivemind, who are on the side of blind nature, rather than culture. This is not a new characterisation. The Algonquian chief complains that the French believe he and his people are ‘like the beasts in our woods and our forests;’ the Pacific Standard seems to agree.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but indigenous peoples are human, and their societies are as artificial and potentially destructive as any other. Being human means – Marx saw this very clearly – an essential disjuncture with essence and a natural discontinuity with nature. Ancient Amerindian beekeeping techniques are as foundationally artificial as McDonald’s or nuclear weapons. When humans first settled the Americas, they wiped out nearly a hundred genera of megafauna; the essay is entirely correct that ‘indigenous peoples have witnessed continual ecosystem and species collapse.’ Indigenous beliefs about the interconnectedness of life and social relations between humans and nonhumans are the mode of expression of their social forms in agrarian or nomadic communities. (Although some American societies were highly urbanised, with monumental earthworks, stratified class societies, and systemic religious practices. All of this is, of course, flattened under the steamroller of pacific indigeneity.) They are not transcendently true. They can not simply be transplanted onto industrial capitalism to mitigate its devastations.
The ‘indigenous critique’ suggests that, rather than some form of class-based mass programme to restructure our own mode of production, the solution to climate catastrophe is to ‘start giving back the land.’ (Here it’s following a fairly widespread form of reactionary identitarian discourse on indigineity.) Give it back to whom? To the present-day indigenous peoples of North America, who for the most part have cars and jobs and Social Security numbers, who have academic posts and social media, who do not confront capitalism from beyond a foundational ontological divide, but are as helplessly within it as any of the rest of us? (And meanwhile, what about Europe or China? Where are our magic noble savages?) Is ancestry or identity an expertise? Is living in a non-capitalist society now a hereditary condition?
Some indigenous beliefs about the interconnectedness of life and so on persist, long after the modes of production that gave rise to them have vanished. As we all know, the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. But they’re also an artefact of modernity, which ceaselessly produces notions of wholesome authentic mystical nature in tandem with its production of consumer goods, ecological collapse, and death. Unless this relation is established, beliefs are all we get. ‘Real solutions require a rethinking of our global relationship to the land, water, and to each other.’ Think differently, see things differently, make all the right saintly gestures, defer to the most marginalised, and change nothing.
This racialisation is particularly obscene when you consider who else has made dire warnings about the environmental effects of private ownership in land. The encounter between capitalist and non-capitalist society didn’t only take place spatially, in the colonial world, but temporally, during the transition from feudalism. And the same critiques made by the Ni-Vanatu, and the Algonquians, and many more besides, were also expressed by insurrectionaries within Europe. Take just one instance: The Crying Sin of England, of not Caring for the Poor, the preacher John Moore’s 1653 polemic against primitive accumulation and the enclosure of common land: this would, he promised, lead to catastrophe, the impoverishment of the earth, the fury of God, the dissolution of the social ties that keep us human, the loss of sense and reason, the decoding of all codes. The ruling classes, ‘by their inclosure, would have no poore to live with them, nor by them, but delight to converse with Beasts; and to this purpose turn Corne in Grasse, and men into Beasts.’ He, too, saw things as they were. And he was right. Here we are, in a world in which the ruling classes have disarticulated themselves from society in general, in which cornfields are swallowed up by the desert, in which people pretend to be like animals in order to be taken seriously. The solution is obvious. Find the descendants of John Moore, and give back Norfolk.
The world was supposed to have ended in 2012, as foretold by a Mayan prophecy that, in the end, only prophesied that the Mayans would need to buy a new calendar. As the prediction went, our solar system would align with the black hole at the center of the galaxy. The magnetic poles would sweep and switch and falter, leaving the atmosphere to be stripped away by a devastating solar wind; the enigmatic shadow planet Nibiru would collide into ours and turn solid ground into a spray of magma drifting through space.
It didn’t happen. But the prophecies will come back, before long. Isn’t every generation convinced it’ll be the last? People seem to enjoy imagining that they’ll live to see the curtains close on history, but it’s more than just enjoyment; a sense of finality seems to be built into our experience of the whole strange, senseless show that surrounds us. Either you die in the world, another speck to be mourned and then forgotten, or the world dies around you. Unknown planets or rising sea levels, whatever helps you imagine an ending.
Before the Mayan apocalypse, it was the year 2000 that was supposed to kill us all. Aside from the Y2K computer bug that failed to destroy all our soaring dial-up technology, mass-media preachers like Ed Dobson, Jerry Falwell, and Left Behind authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins confidently expected the final judgement of God to arrive in time for the new year’s celebrations. In turn they were drawing on a legacy of bimillennial fascination that includes medieval Catholic theologians, Marian apparitions, invented Nostradamuses, the Kabbalistic calculations of Isaac Newton, and cultists scattered across the centuries.
Jehovah’s Witnesses have separately predicted that the world would end in 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1994, and 1997. Various preachers in Britain and America spent most of the 19th century convincing their small bands of followers that the world was shortly to cease existence, extrapolating their figures from the dimensions of Noah’s Ark or the tent of the Tabernacle, watching the skies for comets, waiting for the ocean to boil, reading the newspapers to see when the Antichrist would reveal himself. And it never happened, not even once.
Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and the god of wind and learning. Werner Forman / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
But aren’t the oceans boiling? As the air fills with carbon dioxide, the seas are turning to acid mire, a soup of plastic particles and dead coral, where the fish are all dying and only the tentacled things survive. Revelation, chapter eight: “A great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died.” Doesn’t Donald Trump, a leering Antichrist in bronzer and self-regard, glower from the front page of every paper? And as warships surround a North Korea bristling with missiles, could the sky not soon be full of dazzling, falling stars, and then empty forever? Isn’t the end of the world really, actually, genuinely nigh? Aren’t we watching it happen, broadcast from our TV screens, right now?
For its critics, this sense of a looming end is an expression of the same spirit that made all those bloated celebrity prophets predict the Second Coming around the year 2000. Panicked jeremiads about climate change are just another form of religious nonsense — so, for some, is Marxism, with its deterministic charts of universal history. The philosopher Tom Whyman, for instance, wrote earlier this year that “we’ve successfully secularized the End Times.” It’s all a kind of wishful thinking, he argues; everyone wants to think that the end of the world is imminent, because it means that all the messy contingencies of life will finally become settled, and this desire is given form and propulsion by a still-dominant Judeo-Christian-Islamic conception of linear time. Once we expected to hear trumpets and angels; now it’s just the wandering honk of a puffed-up president announcing to the world that he’s pushing the button. But it’s the same thing.
Isn’t the end of the world really, actually, genuinely nigh? Whyman considers the end of everything to be a kind of universal blankness, an abstract negation, a “Great Nothing” that blankets all existence without distinction. I disagree. When people imagine that the world is about to end, it’s their particular world that’s doomed, and the nature of that end will always in some way reflect what’s being destroyed. People who live in the desert would not live in fear of a global flood. And the End Times aren’t a unique product of Christianity; some kind of eschatology is present nearly everywhere. Nearly. The pre-Islamic Turkic peoples of Central Asia, for instance, don’t seem to have had any myths about the destruction of the world, and why would they? They lived on an open steppe far from the ocean, where everything is flat and endless. Why would it ever end? Societies that believe in the Apocalypse tend to be those in which the seeds of the apocalypse that’s really happening are already planted. Cultures that have big cities, forms of writing, a discourse of history, and centralized power. Cultures like the old eastern Mediterranean that gave us the Biblical prophets and the Book of Revelation. Or cultures like the Aztecs.
Chalchiuhtlicue symbolized the purity and preciousness of spring, river, and lake water that was used to irrigate the fields. The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Aztec apocalypse is nothing like the Christian one. It comes out of an unimaginably different history and society to the world of Greece and Rome. But it’s a lot like ours. The collision with Nibiru or devastating magnetic pole shift might have a distinctly monotheistic tang, but it’s possible that the Aztecs might see in our worries over anthropogenic climate change, economic collapse, and senseless nuclear war something strangely familiar. Instead of considering apocalypses through their literary and conceptual lineages, we could think about them instead in terms of what kind of society gave birth to them. How much do modern Westerners really have in common with prophets of the Old and New Testaments like Ezekiel or John of Patmos? Might we be more like Itzcoatl or Huitzilihuitl, even if we’re less likely to know who they are?Our capitalist modernity isn’t a Mediterranean modernity, but a Mesoamerican one. The Aztecs, those strange and heartless people with their stepped pyramids and their vast urban civilization that never came out of the Stone Age or invented the wheel, are our contemporaries.
Original Aztec sources are patchy — most of their beautiful codices were destroyed during the Spanish conquests in the early 16th century — and tend to contradict each other, but what makes the Aztec apocalypse so different to that of any other mythology, and so similar to the one we face now, is that they believed it had already happened.
This world is not the first. There were four that came before it and were destroyed in turn, all in the usual fashion — usual, that is, for end-of-the-world stories. Each was made by and contested over by the two gods, Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl, as a series of staging-grounds for their constant battles, two cosmic children bickering over a toy. In the first, Tezcatlipoca turned himself into the sun, and a jealous Quetzalcoatl knocked him out of the sky with his club; in revenge, Tezcatlipoca set jaguars loose to wipe out all its people. Together the gods built a new race of humans, but they stopped worshipping their creators, so Tezcatlipoca turned them all into monkeys, and Quetzalcoatl, who had loved them for all their sins, destroyed them in a fit of spite with a hurricane. Tezcatlipoca connived the gods Tlaloc and Chalchiuhtlicue into destroying the next two with fire and with floods. The fifth one, ours, will be destroyed by earthquakes. But in every other respect it’s entirely different from the ones that came before.
Urn depicting Tlaloc, the rain god. DEA / G. Dagli Orti / Getty Images
After the creation and destruction of four worlds, the universe had exhausted itself. We live in the shadow of those real words; their echo, their chalk outline. In each of the four previous worlds, humanity was newly created by the gods. Present-day humans were not: we are the living dead. After the destruction of the fourth world, it lay in darkness for fifty years, until Quetzalcoatl journeyed into Mictlan, the Aztec hell, and reanimated the bones of the dead. In the four previous worlds, the sun was a living god. In ours, it’s a dead one. To build a new sun for this worn-out earth required a blood sacrifice: The gods gathered in the eternal darkness and built a fire, and their weakest deity, Nanahuatzin, a crippled god covered in sores, leapt into the center of the flames, and the sun was born.
But it was a weak sun, and it wouldn’t move. All the other gods, one after another, immolated themselves in the fire to bring the dawn, but it’s still not enough. The sun needs more sacrifices; it needs ours. This is why the Aztec priests slaughtered people by the hundreds, cutting out their hearts and throwing their corpses down the temple steps. This blood and murder was the only thing that kept the sun rising each morning; if they stopped even for a day, it would go black and wither to nothing in the sky, and without its light the earth would harden and crack and fall apart. And some day, this will happen: it’s earthquakes that will destroy us all, and when it crumbles there will be nothing left.
The fourth world was the last; we’re living in something else. A half-world, a mockery, a reality sustained only through death and suffering. The first four worlds were created by the gods and destroyed according to their wills or because of their squabbles, just like the four Yugas of Hinduism, or the creation of the Abrahamic God, whose Judgement Day will come whenever He sees fit. Our world is being kept alive only through human activity; it’s a world into which we have been abandoned. The Aztecs were stone-age existentialists, trembling before their misbegotten freedom. This is a theology for the anthropocene — our present era, in which biological and geological processes are subordinated to human activity, in which the earth that preceded us for four billion years is finally, devastatingly in our hands, to choke with toxic emissions or sear with nuclear bombs. But modern society isn’t treading new ground here: the Aztecs came first, five hundred years ago. And their response was to kill.
Most everyone knows about the Aztec sun-sacrifices, the mass daily executions carried out by the priests, but ritual human slaughter was everywhere in their society. Sometimes children were drowned, sometimes women were killed as they danced, sometimes people were burned alive, or shot with arrows, or flayed, or eaten. Hundreds of thousands of people died every year. At the same time, these were the same people whose emperors were all poets, whose young people went out dancing every night, and whose cities were vast gardens filled with flowers, butterflies, and hummingbirds. This might be the reason Aztec human sacrifice is still so horrifying — we’re much more likely to forgive mass killings if we can say for certain why they happened. The Romans killed thousands in their circuses, and in the 21st century we still watch death — real or feigned — for entertainment; it’s extreme but not so different. When the Spanish came to Mexico, they were horrified by the skulls piled up by the temples — but then they killed everyone, and we understand wars of profit and extermination too. But like any mirror, the Aztecs seem to show us everything backwards.
The Aztecs were stone-age existentialists, trembling before their misbegotten freedom.
Still, you can feel traces today. In the neoliberal economic doctrine that’s still dominant across most of the world, something strangely similar is happening. All the welfare institutions that ameliorate capitalism’s tendencies to extreme wealth and extreme poverty have to be destroyed, for the good of the economy. People die from this — in Britain, up to 30,000 people may have died in one year as a result of cuts to health and social care, and that’s in a prosperous Western country. In the United States, a faltering band-aid mechanism like Obamacare has to be wrenched off, with the excuse that it’s being replaced with market pricings, which are natural and proper and, in their own way, fair. But it’s all for nothing. The economics behind neoliberalism are nonsense, but the prophets — these days, drab old thinkers like Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman — have warned us that unless they’re followed, we’ll open up the road to serfdom. Ask a liberal economist why millions have to suffer, forced to live in drudgery under late capitalism’s dimming sun, and something horrifying will happen. A weak, indulgent, condescending smile will leak across their face, and they’ll say: that’s just how the market works. An echo of the Aztec priest, dagger held high, kindly telling his victim that his heart has to be pulled out from his chest, because that’s just how the sun works.
But neoliberalism really does work, it just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. It might not be any good for the population at large, but it has facilitated a massive upward redistribution of wealth; the poor are scrubbed clean of everything, and the rich drink it up. Class power creates both the excess of cruelty and the mythic ideology to justify it. Marxist writers like Eric Wolf have tried to find something similar operating among the Aztecs: Human sacrifice cemented the rule of the aristocratic elites — they were believed to literally gain their powers through eating the sacrificial victims — while keeping the underclasses in line and the conquered peoples in terror. But all contemporaneous societies were class-based and repressive; it doesn’t begin to explain the prescient nihilism of their theology. Something else might.
The Aztecs built an extraordinarily sophisticated state. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, whose ruins still poke haphazardly through Mexico City, might have been the largest city outside China when Europeans first made contact; it was bigger than Paris and Naples combined, and five times bigger than London. Stretching across the Mexican highlands, their empire had, in 150 years, conquered or achieved political dominance over very nearly their entire known world, bounded by impassable mountains to the west and stifling jungle to the east. Without any major enemies left to fight, they found new ways of securing captives for sacrifice: the “flower wars” were a permanent, ritual war against neighboring city-states, in which the armies would meet at an agreed place and fight to capture as many enemy soldiers as possible.
The Roman Empire could never defeat their eternal enemy in Persia, and the dynastic Egyptians were periodically overwhelmed by Semitic tribes to the north, but until the day the Spanish arrived the Aztec monarchs were presumptive kings of absolutely everything under the sun. The only really comparable situation is the one we live under now — the unlimited empire of liberal capitalism, a scurrying hive of private interests held together under an American military power without horizon. We have our own flower wars. The United States and Russia are fighting each other in Syria — never directly, but through their proxies, so that only Syrians suffer, just as they did in Afghanistan, and Latin America, and Vietnam, and Korea. Wars, like Reagan’s attack on Granada or Trump’s on a Syrian airbase, are fought for public consumption. There is a pathology of the end of the world: dominance, ritualization, reification, and massacre.
Tezcatlipoca, the supreme god, and the enemy of Quetzalcoatl. Werner Forman / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
The Aztecs were not capitalists, but their economy has some spooky correspondences with ours. While they had a centralized state, there was also an emerging free market in sacrifices, and a significant degree of social mobility: every Aztec subject was trained for war, and you could rise through society by bringing in captives for slaughter. The Oxford historian Alan Knight describes it as “a gigantic ‘potlatch state,’ a state predicated on the collection, redistribution and conspicuous consumption of a vast quantity of diverse goods. Sacrifice represented a hypertrophied form of potlatch, with humans playing the part elsewhere reserved for pigs.” The potlatch is a custom practiced by indigenous peoples further up in the Pacific Northwest, in which indigenous Americans ceremonially exchange and then spectacularly destroyed vast quantities of goods — blankets, canoes, skins, but most of all food — in a show of wealth and plenitude. In the sophisticated class society of the Aztecs, the grand triumphant waste was in human lives.
We are, after all, assembled from the bones of four dead universes. We were dead to begin with. Perched on the end of history, the Aztecs beheld a dead reality in which life becomes lifeless, to be circulated and exchanged. Four-and-a-half centuries later, Marx saw the same processes in capitalism. He describes it in Wage Labor and Capital: “The putting of labour-power into action — i.e., work — is the active expression of the labourer’s own life. And this life activity he sells to another person […] He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life.” (Emphasis mine.) Workers are cut off from their own labour and from themselves by a production process in which they are not ends but means, part of a giant machinery that exists to satisfy the demands not of human life but of “dead labor,” capital. From his 1844 Manuscripts: “It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.” His labour-power becomes a commodity; something to be bought and sold in quantifiable amounts, something inert. The worker under capitalism, like the captive walking up the temple steps, is consecrated to death.
We are, after all, assembled from the bones of four dead universes.
The Aztec world ended. When the Spanish came they found an empire of 25 million people; by the time they left only one million remained. Its people were killed with swords, guns, fire, famine, disease, and work. The beautiful garden-city of Tenochtitlan was torn down, a European fort built in its place. Sacrifices were no longer offered to the sun, and somehow it still kept rising every day. You can laugh at their credulity — they really thought the sun would stop rising, and look, everything’s still here! But the end of the Aztec world was dispersed throughout time, until it became isomorphic with the world itself.
Their disaster was not waiting for us in the future, a monumental bookend to history, like the Judgement Day of the people who destroyed them — they lived within it, in the ruins of a real world that died with the gods. This is the cosmology of the great German philosopher Walter Benjamin: to apprehend reality we should make “no reflections on the future of bourgeois society;” rather than a series of events leading towards an uncertain end, his Angel of History stands to face the past and sees only “one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet.”
We exist in that rubble. The Aztec Empire conquered its world, strip-mined its future, and turned human populations into fungible objects. Contemporary society too has nowhere else to go: capital has saturated the earth, and outer space is a void. Our world, with the monstrous totality of its stability and order, is relentlessly producing its own destruction. In fantasies of black holes and the wrath of God; in the actuality of an atmosphere flooded with carbon dioxide and a biosphere denuded of all life. We missed the apocalypse while we were waiting for it to take place. Baudrillard writes: “Everything has already become nuclear, faraway, vaporized. The explosion has already occurred.” Capitalism built a corpse-world. Its sun keeps rising every morning, whatever we do, but it’s growing hotter in the sky; poisoning the seas, frizzling farmlands to desert, carrying out Tezcatlipoca’s last act of revenge.
MADRI – A expectativa sobre a Conferência do Clima da ONU deste ano (COP-25) não era lá muito grande. Mas o clamor que veio das ruas ao longo de 2019 – impulsionado por dois novos relatórios científicos do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) que reforçaram a necessidade urgente de ações para conter o aquecimento global em até 1,5ºC até o final do século – dava uma esperança de que algo melhor poderia ser alcançado.
A COP de Madri, porém, foi um fracasso praticamente sob qualquer aspecto que se olhe. E bateu uma sensação de apatia e de desânimo de que talvez não haja mais vontade política para conter o desastre.
Pôsteres no centro de convenções de Madri onde ocorreu a COP pedem ação imediata contra as mudanças climáticas. Crédito: Giovana Girardi / Estadão
Em Paris todos toparam se esforçar para conter o aquecimento a planeta a bem menos do que 2ºC até 2100, e se possível deixá-lo em 1,5ºC – limite da tragédia principalmente para os países mais vulneráveis às mudanças sofridas pelo planeta.
Todo mundo ali sabia, no entanto, que as metas que cada nação estava voluntariamente oferecendo (as chamadas NDCs – contribuições nacionalmente determinadas) para ajudar o esforço global não seriam suficientes para isso. Elas ainda colocavam o mundo no rumo de aquecer 3ºC, o que pode ser trágico até mesmo para os países ricos e mais bem estruturados. Era preciso evoluir rapidamente. O Acordo de Paris, então, trouxe uma cláusula: de que em 2020 seria feita uma nova rodada para atualizar e melhorar as metas.
De lá pra cá, as condições pioraram. As emissões mundiais não estão caindo – chegaram a subir nos últimos dois anos –, e as concentrações de gases de efeito estufa na atmosfera estão cada vez maiores. De acordo com cálculos do Programa da ONU para o Meio Ambiente (Pnuma), as emissões precisariam cair 7,6% ao ano para colocar o planeta nos trilhos do 1,5ºC. Queimadas em tudo quanto é canto, ondas de calor e tufões são alguns dos eventos críticos que ocorreram neste ano atribuídos ao aquecimento global que mostram que este é um problema atual, não para o futuro.
O apelo, desse modo, era pra ter sinalizações mais concretas desse aumento de ambição já em 2019, na COP que era para ser na América Latina. Que era do Brasil, foi pro Chile após desistência do presidente Jair Bolsonaro, e foi pra Espanha após as convulsões sociais entre os chilenos. Faltaram rédeas curtas para a presidência chilena, mas, acima de tudo, faltou o espírito de Paris nesta COP. Ela terminou com um mera reafirmação do Acordo de Paris, sem acrescentar quase nada.
Nações mais pobres ou menores, que pouco contribuíram para a quantidade de gases de efeito estufa que sufocam hoje a Terra, foram as mais ativas. Se comprometeram a aumentar suas metas de redução de emissões, mas, juntas, elas não respondem nem por 10% das emissões do planeta. A União Europeia também se comprometeu com neutralidade de carbono até 2050, mas pode ser tarde demais.
Os Estados Unidos, que chegaram a Madri após apresentarem oficialmente sua “carta de demissão” do Acordo de Paris, abandonaram qualquer bom senso, assim como a Austrália, apesar de o país ter literalmente pegado fogo neste ano, e, para surpresa dos demais negociadores, o Brasil. O País, com forte tradição ambiental e diplomática, que em geral atuava destravando as negociações, adotou uma postura bem pouco construtiva.
O ministro do Meio Ambiente, Ricardo Salles, que chefiou a delegação brasileira, esteve na conferência do primeiro ao último dia, e passou boa parte do tempo cobrando seus pares a pagarem o Brasil por feitos do passado. Por emissões que o País reduziu quando cortou o desmatamento, nos governos Lula e Dilma, e por créditos emitidos no regime anterior, o Protocolo de Kyoto, que nunca foram pagos. Não se manifestou sobre as condições ruins que carregava nas costas – a alta de 29,5% no desmatamento neste ano.
Outros países chegaram a relatar constrangimento com a postura e houve críticas de que o Brasil estava dificultando o estabelecimento de um acordo, especialmente sobre o artigo 6 do Acordo de Paris, que estabelece mecanismos de mercado. Esse era um dos objetivos da COP de Madri – definir as regras para esses mercados, mas mesmo depois de a COP se prorrogar até este domingo – deveria ter fechado na sexta, 13 – não foi possível chegar a um acordo.
Brasil ganha “fóssil do ano’ por aumento no desmatamento, mortes de indígenas e por não ajudar na COP do Clima em Madri. Crédito: Giovana Girardi / Estadão
O Brasil chegou a ser chamado de pária ambiental e, por isso, foi por três vezes “homenageado” por ONGs internacionais como um problema para as negociações. Pela primeira vez na história das COPs, recebeu o prêmio “fóssil do ano“.
Nada deu certo. A decisão sobre mercado de carbono e sobre ambição ficou para a COP seguinte, em Glasgow, na Escócia. Parece cada vez mais impossível ficar em 1,5ºC.
Salles optou por fazer troça ao final da COP. Depois de postar um vídeo no seu twitter dizendo que a “COP-25 não deu em nada”, apesar “de todos os esforços do Brasil”, algumas horas publicou em suas redes sociais uma foto de um prato enorme de carne dizendo: “Para compensar nossas emissões na COP, um almoço veggie!”. A pecuária e sua expansão sobre a Floresta Amazônica são o setor responsável pelo maior fatia das emissões de gases de efeito estufa do País.
* A repórter viajou a convite do Instituto Clima e Sociedade (iCS)
Elton Alisson | Agência FAPESP – O nível do mar na costa brasileira tende a aumentar nas próximas décadas. No Brasil, contudo, onde mais de 60% da população vive em cidades costeiras, não há um estudo integrado da vulnerabilidade dos municípios litorâneos a este e a outros impactos decorrentes das mudanças climáticas, como o aumento da frequência e da intensidade de chuvas. Um estudo desse gênero possibilitaria estimar os danos sociais, econômicos e ambientais e elaborar um plano de ação com o intuito de implementar medidas adaptativas.
As conclusões são do relatório especial do Painel Brasileiro de Mudanças Climáticas (PBMC) sobre “Impacto, vulnerabilidade e adaptação das cidades costeiras brasileiras às mudanças climáticas”, lançado nesta segunda-feira (05/06) durante um evento no Museu do Amanhã, no Rio de Janeiro.
A publicação tem apoio da FAPESP e parte dos estudos nos quais se baseia são resultado do Projeto Metrópole e de outros projetos apoiados pela Fundação no âmbito do Programa FAPESP de Pesquisa sobre Mudanças Climáticas Globais (PFPMCG) e do Instituto Nacional de Ciência e Tecnologia (INCT) para Mudanças Climáticas, financiado pela Fundação e pelo Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).
“A ideia do relatório foi mostrar o estado da arte sobre mudanças de clima e cidades costeiras, baseado em uma exaustiva revisão de publicações internacionais e nacionais sobre o tema, e também identificar lacunas no conhecimento para que os formuladores de políticas públicas e tomadores de decisão no Brasil possam propor e implementar medidas de adaptação”, disse José Marengo, coordenador-geral de pesquisa e desenvolvimento do Centro Nacional de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais (Cemaden) e um dos autores e editores do relatório, à Agência FAPESP.
De acordo com dados do documento, entre 1901 e 2010 o nível médio do mar globalmente aumentou 19 centímetros – com variação entre 17 e 21 centímetros.
Entre 1993 e 2010, a taxa de elevação correspondeu a mais de 3,2 milímetros (mm) por ano – com variação entre 2,8 e 3,6 mm por ano.
No Brasil também há uma tendência de aumento do nível do mar nas regiões costeiras com algum grau de incerteza porque não há registros históricos contínuos e confiáveis, ponderam os autores.
“Ainda não conseguimos detectar o aumento do nível do mar no Brasil por conta das poucas observações existentes e de estudos de modelagem para avaliar os impactos. Mas já identificamos por meio de estudos regionais diversas cidades de médio e grande porte que apresentam alta exposição à elevação do nível relativo do mar e já têm sofrido os impactos desse fenômeno, particularmente na forma de ressacas e inundações”, disse Marengo.
Entre essas cidades, onde 60% da população reside na faixa de 60 quilômetros da costa, estão Rio Grande (RS), Laguna e Florianópolis (SC), Paranaguá (PR), Santos (SP), Rio de Janeiro (RJ), Vitória (ES), Salvador (BA), Maceió (AL), Recife (PE), São Luís (MA), Fortaleza (CE) e Belém (PA).
Nos estados de São Paulo e do Rio de Janeiro, por exemplo, têm sido registradas taxas de aumento do nível médio do mar de 1,8 a 4,2 mm por ano desde a década de 1950.
Na cidade de Santos, no litoral sul paulista, onde está situado o maior porto da América Latina, o nível do mar tem aumentado 1,2 mm por ano, em média, desde a década de 1940. Além disso, ocorreu um aumento significativo na altura das ondas – que alcançava 1 metro em 1957 e passou a atingir 1,3 m, em 2002 – e na frequência de ressacas no município.
Já no Rio de Janeiro, a análise dos dados da estação maregráfica da Ilha Fiscal – que tem a série histórica mais antiga do Brasil e fica no meio da Baía da Guanabara – indica uma tendência média de aumento do nível do mar de mais ou menos 1,3 mm por ano, com base nos dados mensais do nível do mar do período de 1963 a 2011 e com um índice de confiança de 95%.
Por sua vez, em Recife o nível do mar aumentou 5,6 mm entre 1946 e 1988 – o que corresponde a uma elevação de 24 centímetros em 42 anos. A erosão costeira e a ocupação do pós-praia provocaram uma redução da linha de praia em mais de 20 metros na Praia de Boa Viagem – a área da orla mais valorizada da cidade –, apontam os autores do relatório.
“Existem poucas observações como essas em outras regiões do país. Quando tentamos levantar dados dos últimos 40 ou 100 anos sobre o aumento do nível do mar em outras cidades do Nordeste, como Fortaleza, por exemplo, é difícil encontrar”, disse Marengo.
De acordo com os autores do relatório, as mudanças climáticas e um acelerado ritmo de elevação do nível do mar podem causar sérios impactos nas áreas costeiras do Brasil.
Os impactos socioeconômicos seriam mais restritos às vizinhanças das 15 maiores cidades litorâneas, que ocupam uma extensão de 1,3 mil quilômetros da linha costeira – correspondente a 17% da linha costeira do Brasil.
Entre as principais consequências da elevação do nível do mar, entre diversas outras, estão o aumento da erosão costeira, da frequência, intensidade e magnitude das inundações, da vulnerabilidade de pessoas e bens e a redução dos espaços habitáveis.
“Os impactos mais evidentes da elevação do nível do mar são o aumento da frequência das inundações costeiras e a redução da linha de praia. Mas há outros não tão perceptíveis, como a intrusão marinha, em que a água salgada do mar começa a penetrar aquíferos e ecossistemas de água doce”, ressaltou Marengo.
As projeções do quinto relatório (AR5) do Painel Intergovernamental sobre Mudanças Climáticas (IPCC) são que a elevação do nível do mar globalmente varie entre 0,26 e 0,98 metro até 2100 – em um cenário mais pessimista. O relatório apresenta estimativas similares para a costa brasileira.
Considerando que a probabilidade de inundações aumenta com a elevação do nível do mar pode ser esperada uma maior probabilidade de inundações em áreas que apresentam mais de 40% de mudanças no nível do mar observadas nos últimos 60 anos – como é o caso de várias metrópoles costeiras brasileiras, ressaltam os autores.
As inundações costeiras serão mais preocupantes no litoral do Nordeste, Sul e Sudeste, e também podem afetar o litoral sul e sudoeste da cidade do Rio de Janeiro. Os seis municípios fluminenses mais vulneráveis à elevação do nível do mar, de acordo com estudos apresentados no relatório, são Parati, Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro, Duque de Caxias, Magé e Campos dos Goytacazes.
“A combinação do aumento do nível do mar com tempestades e ventos mais fortes pode provocar danos bastante altos na infraestrutura dessas cidades”, estimou Marengo.
Exemplo de plano
O documento destaca o Plano Municipal de Adaptação à Mudança de Clima (PMAMC) da cidade de Santos como exemplo de plano de ação para adaptação às mudanças de clima e os seus impactos nas cidades [Leia mais sobre o assunto em http://agencia.fapesp.br/21997/].
A elaboração do plano foi baseada nos resultados do Projeto Metrópole, coordenado por Marengo.
O estudo internacional estimou que a inundação de áreas costeiras das zonas sudeste e noroeste de Santos, causada pela combinação da elevação do nível do mar com ressacas, marés meteorológicas e astronômicas e eventos climáticos extremos, pode causar prejuízos acumulados de quase R$ 2 bilhões até 2100 se não forem implementadas medidas de adaptação.
O estudo é realizado por pesquisadores do Cemaden, dos Institutos Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) e Geológico (IG) e das Universidades de São Paulo (USP) e Estadual de Campinas (Unicamp), em parceria com colegas da University of South Florida, dos Estados Unidos, do King’s College London, da Inglaterra, além de técnicos da Prefeitura Municipal de Santos.
“Nossa intenção é aplicar essa metodologia utilizada em Santos em outras cidades litorâneas brasileiras para termos pelo menos uma estimativa inicial do custo de adaptação à elevação do nível do mar”, disse Marengo.
Subestimar os conhecimentos tradicionais que se perpetuam por gerações é um ato de ignorância que tem se repetido por décadas. No contexto das mudanças climáticas, essa constatação se torna mais evidente, pois a vivência dos povos indígenas e suas relações cosmológicas ancestrais são experiências que dialogam de forma concreta com a Ciência e trazem aprendizados a um campo político e econômico controverso, cujos interesses conflitam com o que a sabedoria e a razão científica expõem. Por meio das analogias e inferências, da relação entre o comportamento das estrelas e constelações ou das aves com o uso da terra e o ecossistema, os efeitos das ações antrópicas emergem nesta transcendência cadenciada.
Em tempos de Conferência das Partes da Convenção-Quadro das Nações Unidas sobre Mudanças Climáticas (COP-23), que acontece em Bonn, na Alemanha, entre 6 e 17 de novembro, abrir a escuta, sem ranços, para esses olhares transversais pode dar mais respostas para a inovação de paradigmas de desenvolvimento em um palco político antagônico, que tem impedido reais avanços localmente e de forma global e podem emperrar acordos já firmados, desde a COP-21, em Paris. Um desenvolvimento ainda calcado em um mundo tratado como mercadoria.
O vídeo-documentário “Vozes Indígenas Num Clima em Mudança”, produzido pelo Instituto Sociedade, População e Natureza (ISPN), traz uma escuta interessante de diferentes representantes de etnias sobre o tema. O sensível documentário “Para onde foram as Andorinhas?”, do Instituto Socioambiental e Instituto Catitu, é outro canal de comunicação audiovisual que possibilita reflexões, como também a publicação “Mudanças Climáticas e a Percepção Indígena”, da Operação Amazônia Nativa (OPAN). As falas de todos os indígenas, da Amazônia ao Xingu, entoam um grito de alerta sobre a relação conflitante do homem branco com a terra, as águas, ou seja, com todo o planeta Terra (Pachamama).
Esses povos têm diferenças culturais, que traduzem suas histórias e identidades, entretanto, não impõem fronteiras em seus discursos ao tratar do “bem-viver”, do respeito entre os mundos material e imaterial, e reverberam o propósito de bem coletivo aos parentes, aos povos tradicionais e à toda sociedade. São Baniwa, Guajajara, Idioriê, Kayabi, Krenak, Manoki, Mehinako, Munduruku, Wará, Xavante, entre outros.
Com a lente de aumento sobre todo o país, trata-se de um universo de 305 etnias e de pelo menos, 896,9 mil indígenas, de acordo com o Censo Demográfico do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) de 2010. Hoje também existe o Comitê Indígena de Mudanças Climáticas, com representantes das cinco regiões do país. Um espaço de incidência política que merece mais reverberação.
Por meio da construção de uma cartografia que tem a contribuição estratégica dos mais idosos nas aldeias, com o subsídio de calendários do uso da terra indígenas, que usam elementos de sinalização como os animais, os processos de mudanças em duas décadas reportam a um estado de apreensão. Esses dados resultam, segundo ele, na reação atual do seu povo para buscar caminhos para a sustentabilidade e bem-viver em seus territórios. Para isso, há reuniões coletivas para discutir o assunto.
“…O calendário indígena de cada povo Baniwa (de acordo com o território que vivem) é diferente. Acompanha estrelas e constelações, cada período da fase importante para a agricultura, para a pesca. Algum sinal de passarinho, andorinha antes da pesca, por exemplo, significa fartura de peixe. Hoje não existe mais este movimento, são sinais práticos…O tucunaré diminuiu de tamanho nos últimos 20 anos”.
Segundo ele, as piracemas não existem mais de forma organizada… “Agora tem muita chuva no Rio Negro e não tem peixe. Observamos, desde 2002, esse processo de cheias frequentes. Cobriram pedras antigas (lugares sagrados), que temos sobre o entendimento do mundo…”.
Nesse diálogo entre a Terra e o mundo espiritual, André sinaliza que a natureza está dando alertas. “…Atualmente há trovejadas constantes na região das aldeias, o que não ocorria. Estamos procurando entender o que isso significa. Isso nos preocupa, porque (no campo das relações sociais e políticas) nossos direitos estão sendo ameaçados e é consequência de decisões políticas, nos grandes centros do mundo…Se não houver mudança de atitude…”, deixa este alerta.
O indígena já havia levado a sua mensagem ao Espaço do Clima da Sociedade Civil, na COP-21, ao lado de outros parentes, sobre a questão climática, em evento realizado pelo Instituto Socioambiental (ISA), quando destacou: “Os xamãs do povo Baniwa dizem que esse mundo vai parar daqui a algum tempo e não haverá sinal de vida. Será um período silencioso, na nossa previsão…”.
André ainda destaca o importante trabalho de pesquisa que está sendo realizado por outros parentes, como os Tukano e de outras etnias. Uma amostra dessa interação dos povos indígenas com o processo das mudanças climáticas é o levantamento Ciclos Anuais dos Povos Indígenas do Rio Tiquié. com apoio do ISA.
WELLSTON, Ohio — To Gwen Beatty, a junior at the high school in this proud, struggling, Trump-supporting town, the new science teacher’s lessons on climate change seemed explicitly designed to provoke her.
So she provoked him back.
When the teacher, James Sutter, ascribed the recent warming of the Earth to heat-trapping gases released by burning fossil fuels like the coal her father had once mined, she asserted that it could be a result of other, natural causes.
When he described the flooding, droughts and fierce storms that scientists predict within the century if such carbon emissions are not sharply reduced, she challenged him to prove it. “Scientists are wrong all the time,” she said with a shrug, echoing those celebrating President Trump’s announcement last week that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.
Mr. Sutter during his Advanced Placement environmental science class. He was hired from a program that recruits science professionals into teaching.Credit: Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times
For his part, Mr. Sutter occasionally fell short of his goal of providing Gwen — the most vocal of a raft of student climate skeptics — with calm, evidence-based responses. “Why would I lie to you?” he demanded one morning. “It’s not like I’m making a lot of money here.”
She was, he knew, a straight-A student. She would have had no trouble comprehending the evidence, embedded in ancient tree rings, ice, leaves and shells, as well as sophisticated computer models, that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the chief culprit when it comes to warming the world. Or the graph he showed of how sharply it has spiked since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began pumping vast quantities of it into the air.
Thinking it a useful soothing device, Mr. Sutter assented to Gwen’s request that she be allowed to sand the bark off the sections of wood he used to illustrate tree rings during class. When she did so with an energy that, classmates said, increased during discussion points with which she disagreed, he let it go.
When she insisted that teachers “are supposed to be open to opinions,” however, Mr. Sutter held his ground.
“It’s not about opinions,” he told her. “It’s about the evidence.”
“It’s like you can’t disagree with a scientist or you’re ‘denying science,”’ she sniffed to her friends.
Gwen, 17, could not put her finger on why she found Mr. Sutter, whose biology class she had enjoyed, suddenly so insufferable. Mr. Sutter, sensing that his facts and figures were not helping, was at a loss. And the day she grew so agitated by a documentary he was showing that she bolted out of the school left them both shaken.
“I have a runner,” Mr. Sutter called down to the office, switching off the video.
“It was just so biased toward saying climate change is real,” she said later, trying to explain her flight. “And that all these people that I pretty much am like are wrong and stupid.”
Classroom Culture Wars
As more of the nation’s teachers seek to integrate climate science into the curriculum, many of them are reckoning with students for whom suspicion of the subject is deeply rooted.
In rural Wellston, a former coal and manufacturing town seeking its next act, rejecting the key findings of climate science can seem like a matter of loyalty to a way of life already under siege. Originally tied, perhaps, to economic self-interest, climate skepticism has itself become a proxy for conservative ideals of hard work, small government and what people here call “self-sustainability.”
Jacynda Patton, right, during Mr. Sutter’s class. “I thought it would be an easy A,” she said. “It wasn’t.”Credit: Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times
The Alliance for Climate Education, which runs assemblies based on the consensus science for high schools across the country, received new funding from a donor who sees teenagers as the best means of reaching and influencing their parents.
Idaho, however, this year joined several other states that have declined to adopt new science standards that emphasize the role human activities play in climate change.
At Wellston, where most students live below the poverty line and the needle-strewn bike path that abuts the marching band’s practice field is known as “heroin highway,” climate change is not regarded as the most pressing issue. And since most Wellston graduates typically do not go on to obtain a four-year college degree, this may be the only chance many of them have to study the impact of global warming.
But Mr. Sutter’s classroom shows how curriculum can sometimes influence culture on a subject that stands to have a more profound impact on today’s high schoolers than their parents.
“I thought it would be an easy A,” said Jacynda, 16, an outspoken Trump supporter. “It wasn’t.”
God’s Gift to Wellston?
Mr. Sutter, who grew up three hours north of Wellston in the largely Democratic city of Akron, applied for the job at Wellston High straight from a program to recruit science professionals into teaching, a kind of science-focused Teach for America.
He already had a graduate-level certificate in environmental science from the University of Akron and a private sector job assessing environmental risk for corporations. But a series of personal crises that included his sister’s suicide, he said, had compelled him to look for a way to channel his knowledge to more meaningful use.
The fellowship gave him a degree in science education in exchange for a three-year commitment to teach in a high-needs Ohio school district. Megan Sowers, the principal, had been looking for someone qualified to teach an Advanced Placement course, which could help improve her financially challenged school’s poor performance ranking. She hired him on the spot.
Mr. Sutter walking with his students on a nature trail near the high school, where he pointed out evidence of climate change.Credit: Maddie McGarvey for The New York Times
But at a school where most teachers were raised in the same southeastern corner of Appalachian Ohio as their students, Mr. Sutter’s credentials themselves could raise hackles.
“He says, ‘I left a higher-paying job to come teach in an area like this,’” Jacynda recalled. “We’re like, ‘What is that supposed to mean?”’
“He acts,” Gwen said with her patented eye roll, “like he’s God’s gift to Wellston.”
In truth, he was largely winging it.
Some 20 states, including a handful of red ones, have recently begun requiring students to learn that human activity is a major cause of climate change, but few, if any, have provided a road map for how to teach it, and most science teachers, according to one recent survey, spend at most two hours on the subject.
Chagrined to learn that none of his students could recall a school visit by a scientist, Mr. Sutter hosted several graduate students from nearby Ohio University.
On a field trip to a biology laboratory there, many of his students took their first ride on an escalator. To illustrate why some scientists in the 1970s believed the world was cooling rather than warming (“So why should we believe them now?” students sometimes asked), he brought in a 1968 push-button phone and a 1980s Nintendo game cartridge.
“Our data and our ability to process it is just so much better now,” he said.
In the A.P. class, Mr. Sutter took an informal poll midway through: In all, 14 of 17 students said their parents thought he was, at best, wasting their time. “My stepdad says they’re brainwashing me,” one said.
Jacynda’s father, for one, did not raise an eyebrow when his daughter stopped attending Mr. Sutter’s class for a period in the early winter. A former coal miner who had endured two years of unemployment before taking a construction job, he declined a request to talk about it.
“I think it’s that it’s taken a lot from him,” Jacynda said. “He sees it as the environmental people have taken his job.”
And having listened to Mr. Sutter reiterate the overwhelming agreement among scientists regarding humanity’s role in global warming in answer to another classmate’s questions — “What if we’re not the cause of it? What if this is something that’s natural?” — Jacynda texted the classmate one night using an expletive to refer to Mr. Sutter’s teaching approach.
But even the staunchest climate-change skeptics could not ignore the dearth of snow days last winter, the cap to a year that turned out to be the warmest Earth has experienced since 1880, according to NASA. The high mark eclipsed the record set just the year before, which had eclipsed the year before that.
In woods behind the school, where Mr. Sutter had his students scout out a nature trail, he showed them the preponderance of emerald ash borers, an invasive insect that, because of the warm weather, had not experienced the usual die-off that winter. There was flooding, too: Once, more than 5.5 inches of rain fell in 48 hours.
The field trip to a local stream where the water runs neon orange also made an impression. Mr. Sutter had the class collect water samples: The pH levels were as acidic as “the white vinegar you buy at a grocery store,” he told them. And the drainage, they could see, was from the mine.
It was the realization that she had failed to grasp the damage done to her immediate environment, Jacynda said, that made her begin to pay more attention. She did some reading. She also began thinking that she might enjoy a job working for the Environmental Protection Agency — until she learned that, under Mr. Trump, the agency would undergo huge layoffs.
“O.K., I’m not going to lie. I did a 180,” she said that afternoon in the library with Gwen, casting a guilty look at her friend. “This is happening, and we have to fix it.”
After fleeing Mr. Sutter’s classroom that day, Gwen never returned, a pragmatic decision about which he has regrets. “That’s one student I feel I failed a little bit,” he said.
As an alternative, Gwen took an online class for environmental science credit, which she does not recall ever mentioning climate change. She and Jacynda had other things to talk about, like planning a bonfire after prom.
As they tried on dresses last month, Jacynda mentioned that others in their circle, including the boys they had invited to prom, believed the world was dangerously warming, and that humans were to blame. By the last days of school, most of Mr. Sutter’s doubters, in fact, had come to that conclusion.
“I know,” Gwen said, pausing for a moment. “Now help me zip this up.”
2.jun.2017 – Post da Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral no Instagram. Instagram/Reprodução
Em nota publicada no Instagram nesta sexta-feira (2), a Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral afirmou que deixará de prestar atendimentos climáticos aos EUA. A medida será mantida “enquanto perdurar a falta de bom senso do presidente Donald Trump com relação a retirada dos EUA do Acordo de Paris, rompendo o acordo global firmado em dezembro de 2015 com mais de 190 países para reduzir a emissão de gases que produzem o efeito estufa”.
A entidade esotérica diz, em seu site, que sua missão é “minimizar catástrofes que podem ocorrer em razão dos desequilíbrios provocados pelo homem na natureza”. Também diz ser orientada pelo Cacique Cobra Coral, “espírito que teria sido de Galileu Galilei e Abraham Lincoln”.
O presidente americano afirmou que pacto climático internacional é injusto, representa um enorme fardo econômico para os EUA e não seria eficaz o suficiente. Em seu discurso, a expressão “mudança climática” não foi mencionada sequer uma vez. Trump preferiu falar de mais dinheiro e empregos.
“O Acordo de Paris sobre o clima é simplesmente o mais recente exemplo de que Washington cedeu a uma resolução que penaliza os Estados Unidos para beneficiar outros países. Deixa os trabalhadores americanos, que eu amo, e o contribuintes absorverem o custo, em termos de perda de empregos, menores salários, fechamento de fábricas e enorme redução na produção econômica”, disse Trump.
By Bruno Latour, from The Great Regression, a collection of essays edited by Heinrich Geiselberger that will be published next month by Polity. Latour is a philosopher and the author, most recently, of An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. Translated from the French by Andrew Brown.
Ever since the American elections of November 2016 things have become clearer. Europe is being dismembered: it counts less than a hazelnut in a nutcracker. And this time around, it can no longer rely on the United States to fix anything.
Perhaps this is the time to reconstruct a United Europe. Not the same one that was dreamed up after the war, a Europe based on iron, coal, and steel, or the one more recently built on the deluded hope of escaping from history via standardization and the single currency. No — if Europe must reunite, it is because of the grave threats it is facing: the decline of its states that invented globalization; climate change; and the need to shelter millions of migrants and refugees.
By far the most significant event is not Brexit or the election of Donald Trump but the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, where on December 12, 2015, delegates finally came to an agreement. The significant thing is not what the delegates decided; it is not even that this agreement will take effect. (The climate-change deniers in the White House and the Senate will do everything they can to hamstring it.) No, the significant thing is that all the countries that signed the accord realized that if they were to go ahead and follow their individual modernization plans, this planet simply would not be big enough.
If there is no planet, no earth, no soil, no territory for the globalization to which all countries at COP21 claim to be heading, what should we do? Either we deny the existence of the problem or we seek to come down to earth. This choice is what now divides people, much more than being politically on the right or the left.
The United States had two options after the election. It could recognize the extent of the change in global circumstances, and the enormousness of its responsibility, and finally become realistic, leading the free world out of the abyss; or it could sink into denial. Trump seems to have decided to let America dream on for a few more years, and to drag other countries into the abyss along the way.
We Europeans cannot allow ourselves to dream. Even as we are becoming aware of many different threats, we will need to take into our continent millions of people — people who, thanks to the combined impact of war, the failure of globalization, and climate change, will be thrown (like us, against us, or with us) into the search for a land where they and their children can live. We are going to have to live together with people who have not hitherto shared our traditions, our way of life, or our ideals, who are close to us and foreign to us — terribly close and terribly foreign.
The thing we share with these migrating peoples is that we are all deprived of land. We, the old Europeans, are deprived because there is no planet for globalization and we must now change the entire way we live; they, the future Europeans, are deprived because they have had to leave their old, devastated lands and will need to learn to change the entire way they live.
This is the new universe. The only alternative is to pretend that nothing has changed, to withdraw behind a wall, and to continue to promote, with eyes wide open, the dream of the “American way of life,” all the while knowing that billions of human beings will never benefit from it.
Most of our fellow citizens deny what is happening to the earth but understand perfectly well that the immigrant question will put all their desires for identity to the test. For now, encouraged by the so-called populist parties, they have grasped only one aspect of the reality of ecological change: it is sending huge numbers of unwanted people across their borders. Hence their response: “We must erect firm borders so we won’t be swamped.”
But there is another aspect of this same change, which they haven’t properly realized: for a long time, the new climate has been sweeping away all borders, exposing us to every storm. Against such an invasion, we can build no walls. Migration and climate are one and the same threat.
If we wish to defend our identities, we are also going to have to identify those shapeless, stateless migrants known as erosion, pollution, resource depletion, and habitat destruction. You may seal your borders against human refugees, but you will never be able to stop the others getting by.
This is where we need to introduce a plausible fiction.
The enlightened elites — they do exist — realized, after the 1990s, that the dangers summed up in the word “climate” were increasing. Until then, human relationships with the earth had been quite stable. It was possible to grab a piece of land, secure property rights over it, work it, use it, and abuse it. The land itself kept more or less quiet.
The enlightened elites soon started to pile up evidence suggesting that this state of affairs wasn’t going to last. But even once elites understood that the warning was accurate, they did not deduce from this undeniable truth that they would have to pay dearly.
Instead they drew two conclusions, both of which have now led to the election of a lord of misrule to the White House: Yes, this catastrophe needs to be paid for at a high price, but it’s the others who will pay, not us; we will continue to deny this undeniable truth.
If this plausible fiction is correct, it enables us to grasp the “deregulation” and the “dismantling of the welfare state” of the 1980s, the “climate change denial” of the 2000s, and, above all, the dizzying increase in inequality over the past forty years. All these things are part of the same phenomenon: the elites were so thoroughly enlightened that they realized there would be no future for the world and that they needed to get rid of all the burdens of solidarity as fast as possible (hence, deregulation); to construct a kind of golden fortress for the tiny percent of people who would manage to get on in life (leading us to soaring inequality); and, to hide the crass selfishness of this flight from the common world, to completely deny the existence of the threat (i.e., deny climate change). Without this plausible fiction, we can’t explain the inequality, the skepticism about climate change, or the raging deregulation.
Let’s draw on the threadbare metaphor of the Titanic: enlightened people see the prow heading straight for the iceberg, know that shipwreck is inevitable, grab the lifeboats, and ask the orchestra to play lullabies so that they can make a clean getaway before the alarm alerts the other classes.
From the ship’s rails, the lower classes — who are now wide awake — can see the lifeboats bobbing off into the distance. The orchestra continues to play “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” but the music is no longer enough to cover the howls of rage.
And “rage” is indeed the word to describe the disbelief and bafflement that such a betrayal arouses.
When political analysts try to grasp the current situation, they use the term “populism.” They accuse “ordinary people” of indulging in a narrow-minded vision, criticizing their fears, their naïve mistrust of elites, their bad taste in culture, and above all their passion for identity, folklore, archaism, and boundaries. These people lack generosity, open-mindedness, rationality; they have no taste for risk. (Ah, that taste for risk, preached by those who are safe wherever their air miles permit them to fly!)
This is to forget that “ordinary folk” have been callously betrayed by the elites, who abandoned the idea of modernizing the planet for everyone because they knew, before everyone else, better than everyone else, that this modernization was impossible.
Trump’s originality lies in the way he brings together, in a single movement, a mad dash for maximum profit (the new members of his team are billionaires), a whole nation’s mad dash backward to ethnic divisions, and, finally, an explicit denial of the geologic and climatic situation.
Just as fascism managed to combine extremes, to the surprise of the politicians and commentators of the time, Trumpism combines extremes and deceives the world with its trumpery. Instead of contrasting the two movements — forward toward globalization and back toward the old national terrain — Trump acts as if they can be fused. This fusion is of course possible only if the very existence of a conflict between modernization on the one hand and material realities on the other is denied. Hence the role of climate change skepticism, which cannot be understood without this denial. And it is easy to see why: the total lack of realism in the combination — billionaires encouraging millions of members of the so-called middle classes to return to protecting the past! — is blindingly self-evident. For now, it’s nothing more than a matter of remaining completely indifferent to the geopolitical situation.
For the first time, a whole political movement is no longer claiming that it can seriously confront geopolitical realities and is instead placing itself outside any constraint, offshore, as it were. What counts most of all is that they should not have to share with the masses a world that they know will never again be held in common.
It is remarkable that this innovation comes from a real estate developer who is forever in debt, going from one bankruptcy to another, who became a celebrity thanks to reality TV (another form of escapism). The complete indifference to facts that marked the campaign is simply a consequence of claiming you can live without being grounded in reality. When you’ve promised those who think they’re heading back to a country they once knew that they will indeed rediscover their past there (and are actually dragging them toward a place that has no real existence), then you can’t be too picky about empirical evidence.
It’s pointless to get angry that Trump’s electors don’t believe the facts: they’re not stupid. The situation is quite the opposite: it’s because the overall geopolitical situation has to be denied that an indifference to facts becomes so essential. If they had to realize the huge contradiction, they’d have to start coming down to earth. In this sense, Trumpism defines (albeit negatively, by taking up the opposite position) the first ecological government.
And it goes without saying that “ordinary folk” shouldn’t have too many illusions about how the venture is going to turn out. You don’t need to be very bright to foresee that the whole thing will end in a terrible conflagration. This is the only real parallel with the different fascisms.
The challenge to be met is tailor-made for Europe, since it is Europe that invented the strange story of globalization and then became one of its victims. History will belong to those who can be the first to come to earth, to land on an earth that can be inhabited — unless the others, the dreamers of old-style realpolitik, have finally made that earth vanish for good.
Confidential documents show that Shell sounded the alarm about global warming as early as 1986. But despite this clear-eyed view of the risks, the oil giant has lobbied against strong climate legislation for decades. Today we make Shell’s 1991 film, Climate of Concern, public again.
By Jelmer MOMMERS
Shell Oil Company has spent millions of dollars lobbying against measures that would protect the planet from climate catastrophe. But thanks to a film recently obtained by The Correspondent, it’s now clear that their position wasn’t born of ignorance. Shell knows that fossil fuels put us all at risk – in fact, they’ve known for over a quarter of a century. Climate of Concern, a 1991 educational film produced by Shell, warned that the company’s own product could lead to extreme weather, floods, famines, and climate refugees, and noted that the reality of climate change was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists.”
The question, ladies and gentlemen, is what did Shell know and when did they know it. The Correspondent would like to enter into evidence Exhibit A: Climate of Concern.
I know what you want from me—what we all want—which is some small solace after the events of Election Day. My wife Sue Halpern and I have been talking nonstop for days, trying to cope with the emotions. I fear I may not be able to provide that balm, but I do offer these remarks in the spirit of resistance to that which we know is coming. We need to figure out how to keep the lights on, literally and figuratively, and all kinds of darkness at bay.
I am grateful to all those who asked me to deliver this inaugural Jonathan Schell Lecture—grateful most of all because it gave me an excuse for extended and happy recollection of one of the most generous friendships of my early adulthood. I arrived at The New Yorker at the age of 21, two weeks out of college, alone in New York City for the first time. The New Yorker was wonderfully quirky, of course, but one of its less wonderful quirks was that most people didn’t talk to each other very much, and especially to newcomers 50 years their junior. There were exceptions, of course, and the foremost exception was Jonathan. He loved to talk, and we had long colloquies nearly every day, mostly about politics.
Ideas—not abstract ideas, but ideas drawn from the world as it wound around him—fascinated him. He always wanted to dig a layer or two deeper; there was never anything superficial or trendy about his analysis. I understood better what he was up to when I came, at the age of 27, to write The End of Nature. It owes more than a small debt to The Fate of the Earth, which let me feel it was possible and permitted to write about the largest questions in the largest ways.
In the years that followed, having helped push action on his greatest cause—the danger of nuclear weapons—that issue began to seem a little less urgent. That perception, of course, is mistaken: Nuclear weapons remain a constant peril, perhaps more than ever in an increasingly multipolar world. But with the end of the Cold War and the build-down of US and Russian weapon stocks, the question compelled people less feverishly. New perils—climate change perhaps chief among them—emerged. Post-9/11, smaller-bore terrors informed our nightmares. We would have been wise, as the rise of a sinister Vladimir Putin and a sinister and clueless Donald Trump remind us, to pay much sharper attention to this existential issue, but the peace dividend turned out mostly to be a relaxing of emotional vigilance.
However, for the moment, we have not exploded nuclear weapons, notwithstanding Trump’s recent query about what good they are if we don’t use them. Our minds can compass the specter of a few mushroom clouds obliterating all that we know and love; those images have fueled a fitful but real effort to contain the problem, resulting most recently in the agreement with Iran. We have not been able to imagine that the billion tiny explosions of a billion pistons in a billion cylinders every second of every day could wreak the same damage, and hence we’ve done very little to ward off climate change.
We are destroying the earth every bit as thoroughly as Jonathan imagined in the famous first chapter of TheFate of the Earth, just a little more slowly. By burning coal and oil and gas and hence injecting carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, we have materially changed its heat-trapping properties; indeed, those man-made greenhouse gases trap the daily heat equivalent of 400,000 Hiroshima-size explosions. That’s enough extra heat that, in the space of a few decades, we have melted most of the summer sea ice in the Arctic—millennia old, meters thick, across a continent-size stretch of ocean that now, in summer, is blue water. (Blue water that absorbs the sun’s incoming rays instead of bouncing them back to space like the white ice it replaced, thus exacerbating the problem even further.) That’s enough heat to warm the tropical oceans to the point where Sue and I watched with our colleagues in the South Pacific as a wave of record-breaking warm water swept across the region this past spring, killing in a matter of weeks vast swaths of coral that had been there since before the beginning of the human experiment. That’s enough heat to seriously disrupt the planet’s hydrological cycles: Since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, we’ve seen steady increases in drought in arid areas (and with it calamities like wildfire) and steady, even shocking, increases in downpour and flood in wet areas. It’s been enough to raise the levels of the ocean—and the extra carbon in the atmosphere has also changed the chemistry of that seawater, making it more acidic and beginning to threaten the base of the marine food chain. We are, it bears remembering, an ocean planet, and the world’s oceanographers warn that we are very rapidly turning the seven seas “hot, sour, and breathless.” To the “republic of insects and grass” that Jonathan imagined in the opening of The Fate of the Earth, we can add a new vision: a hypoxic undersea kingdom of jellyfish.
This is not what will happen if something goes wrong, if some maniac pushes the nuclear button, if some officer turns a key in a silo. This is what has already happened, because all of us normal people have turned the keys to our cars and the thermostat dials on our walls. And we’re still in the relatively early days of climate change, having increased the planet’s temperature not much more than 1 degree Celsius. We’re on a trajectory, even after the conclusion of the Paris climate talks last year, to raise Earth’s temperature by 3.5 degrees Celsius—or more, if the feedback loops we are triggering take full hold. If we do that, then we will not be able to maintain a civilization anything like the one we’ve inherited. Our great cities will be underwater; our fields will not produce the food our bodies require; those bodies will not be able to venture outside in many places to do the work of the world. Already, the World Health Organization estimates, increased heat and humidity have cut the labor a human can perform by 10 percent, a number that will approach 30 percent by midcentury. This July and August were the hottest months in the history of human civilization measured globally; in southern Iraq, very near where scholars situate the Garden of Eden, the mercury in cities like Basra hit 129 degrees—among the highest reliably recorded temperatures in history, temperatures so high that human survival becomes difficult.
Against this crisis, we see sporadic action at best. We know that we could be making huge strides. For instance, engineers have managed to cut the cost of solar panels by 80 percent in the last decade, to the point where they are now among the cheapest methods of generating electricity. A Stanford team headed by Mark Jacobson has shown precisely how all 50 states and virtually every foreign nation could make the switch to renewable energy at an affordable cost in the course of a couple of decades. A few nations have shown that he’s correct: Denmark, for instance, now generates almost half of its power from the wind.
In most places, however, the progress has been slow and fitful at best. In the United States, the Obama administration did more than its predecessors, but far less than physics requires. By reducing our use of coal-fired power, it cut carbon-dioxide emissions by perhaps 10 percent. But because it wouldn’t buck the rest of the fossil-fuel industry, the Obama administration basically substituted fracked natural gas for that coal. This was a mistake: The leakage of methane into the atmosphere means that America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions held relatively steady or perhaps even increased. This willingness to cater to the industry is bipartisan, though in the horror of this past election that was easy to overlook. Here’s President Obama four years ago, speaking to an industry group in Oklahoma: “Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.” Hillary Clinton opened an entire new wing at the State Department charged with promoting fracking around the world. So much for the establishment, now repudiated.
Trump, of course, has famously insisted that global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese and has promised to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. His election win is more than just a speed bump in the road to the future—it’s a ditch, and quite likely a crevasse. Even as we gather tonight, international negotiators in Marrakech, stunned by our elections, are doing their best to salvage something of the Paris Agreement, signed just 11 months ago with much fanfare.
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But the real contest here is not between Democrats and Republicans; it’s between human beings and physics. That’s a difficult negotiation, as physics is not prone to compromise. It also imposes a hard time limit on the bargaining; if we don’t move very, very quickly, then any progress will be pointless. And so the question for this lecture, and really the question for the geological future of the planet, becomes: How do we spur much faster and more decisive action from institutions that wish to go slowly, or perhaps don’t wish to act at all? One understands that politicians prize incremental action—but in this case, winning slowly is the same as losing. The planet is clearly outside its comfort zone; how do we get our political institutions out of theirs?
And it is here that I’d like to turn to one of Jonathan’s later books, one that got less attention than it deserved. The Unconquerable World was published in 2003. In it, Jonathan writes, in his distinctive aphoristic style: “Violence is the method by which the ruthless few can subdue the passive many. Nonviolence is a means by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few.” This brings us, I think, to the crux of our moment. Across a wide variety of topics, we see the power of the ruthless few. This is nowhere more evident than in the field of energy, where the ruthless few who lead the fossil-fuel industry have more money at their disposal than any humans in the past. They’ve been willing to deploy this advantage to maintain the status quo, even in the face of clear scientific warnings and now clear scientific proof. They are, for lack of a better word, radicals: If you continue to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere past the point where you’re melting the polar ice caps, then you are engaging in a radicalism unparalleled in human history.
And they’re not doing this unknowingly or out of confusion. Exxon has known all there is to know about climate change for four decades. Its product was carbon, and it had some of the best scientists on earth on its staff; they warned management, in clear and explicit terms, how much and how fast the earth would warm, and management believed them: That’s why, for instance, Exxon’s drilling rigs were built to accommodate the sea-level rise it knew was coming. But Exxon didn’t warn any of the rest of us. Just the opposite: It invested huge sums of money in helping to build an architecture of deceit, denial, and disinformation, which meant humankind wasted a quarter of a century in a ludicrous argument about whether global warming was “real,” a debate that Exxon’s leaders knew was already settled. The company continues to fund politicians who deny climate change and to fight any efforts to hold it accountable. At times, as Steve Coll makes clear in his remarkable book Private Empire, the oil industry has been willing to use explicit violence—those attack dogs in North Dakota have their even more brutal counterparts in distant parts of the planet. More often, the industry has been willing to use the concentrated force of its money. Our largest oil and gas barons, the Koch brothers—two of the richest men on earth, and among the largest leaseholders on Canada’s tar sands—have promised to deploy three-quarters of a billion dollars in this year’s contest. As Jane Mayer put it in a telling phrase, they’ve been able to “weaponize” their money to achieve their ends. So the “ruthless few” are using violence—power in its many forms.
But the other half of that aphorism is hopeful: “Nonviolence is the means by which the active many can overcome the ruthless few.” When the history of the 20th century is written, I’m hopeful that historians will conclude that the most important technology developed during those bloody hundred years wasn’t the atom bomb, or the ability to manipulate genes, or even the Internet, but instead the technology of nonviolence. (I use the word “technology” advisedly here.) We had intimations of its power long before: In a sense, the most resounding moment in Western history, Jesus’s crucifixion, is a prototype of nonviolent action, one that launched the most successful movement in history. Nineteenth-century America saw Thoreau begin to think more systematically about civil disobedience as a technique. But it really fell to the 20th century, and Gandhi, to develop it as a coherent strategy, a process greatly furthered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his associates in this country, and by adherents around the world: Otpor in Eastern Europe, various participants in the Arab Spring, Buddhist monks in Burma, Wangari Maathai’s tree-planters, and so on.
We have done very little systematic study of these techniques. We have no West Point or Sandhurst for the teaching of nonviolence; indeed, it’s fair to say that the governments of the world have spent far more time figuring out how to stamp out such efforts than to promote them. (And given the level of threat they represent to governments, that is perhaps appropriate.) What we know is what we’ve learned by experience, by trial and error.
In my own case over the last decade, that’s meant helping to organize several large-scale campaigns or social movements. Some have used civil disobedience in particular—I circulated the call for arrestees at the start of the Keystone XL pipeline demonstrations in 2011, and observers said the resulting two weeks of nonviolent direct action resulted in more arrests than any such demonstration on any issue in many years. Others have focused on large-scale rallies—some in this audience attended the massive climate march in New York in the autumn of 2014, organized in part by 350.org, which was apparently the largest demonstration about anything in this country in a long time. Others have been scattered: The fossil-fuel divestment campaign we launched in 2012 has been active on every continent, incorporated a wide variety of tactics, and has become the largest anticorporate campaign of its kind in history, triggering the full or partial divestment of endowments and portfolios with nearly $5 trillion in assets. These actions have helped spur many more such actions: Keystone represented a heretofore very rare big loss for Big Oil, and its success helped prompt many others to follow suit; now every pipeline, fracking well, coal mine, liquid-natural-gas terminal, and oil train is being fought. As an executive at the American Petroleum Institute said recently—and ruefully—to his industry colleagues, they now face the “Keystone-ization” of all their efforts.
And we have by no means been the only, or even the main, actor in these efforts. For instance, indigenous activists have been at the forefront of the climate fight since its inception, here and around the world, and the current fight over the Dakota Access pipeline is no exception. They and the residents of what are often called “frontline” communities, where the effects of climate change and pollution are most intense, have punched far above their weight in these struggles; they have been the real leaders. These fights will go on. They’ll be much harder in the wake of Trump’s election, but they weren’t easy to begin with, and I confess I see little alternative—even under Obama, the chance of meaningful legislation was thin. So, using Jonathan’s template, I’ll try to offer a few lessons from my own experience over the last decade.
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Lesson one: Unearned suffering is a potent tool. Volunteering for pain is an unlikely event in a pleasure-based society, and hence it gets noticed. Nonviolent direct action is just one tool in the activist tool kit, and it should be used sparingly—like any tool, it can easily get dull, both literally and figuratively. But when it is necessary to underline the moral urgency of a case, the willingness to go to jail can be very powerful, precisely because it goes against the bent of normal life.
It is also difficult for most participants. If you’ve been raised to be law-abiding, it’s hard to stay seated in front of, say, the White House when a cop tells you to move. Onlookers understand that difficulty. I remember Gus Speth being arrested at those initial Keystone demonstrations. He’d done everything possible within the system: co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council, chaired the president’s Council on Environmental Quality, ran the entire UN Development Program, been a dean at Yale. But then he concluded that the systems he’d placed such faith in were not coming close to meeting the climate challenge—so, in his 70s, he joined that small initial demonstration. Because his son was a high-powered lawyer, Gus was the only one of us able to get a message out during our stay in jail. What he told the press stuck with me: “I’ve held many important positions in this town,” he said. “But none seem as important as the one I’m in today.” Indeed, his witness pulled many of the nation’s environmental groups off the sidelines; when we got out, he and I wrote a letter to the CEOs of all those powerful green groups, and in return they wrote a letter to the president saying, “There is not an inch of daylight between our position and those of the people protesting on your lawn.” Without Gus’s willingness to suffer the indignity and discomfort of jail, that wouldn’t have happened, and the subsequent history would have been different.
Because it falls so outside our normal search for comfort, security, and advancement, unearned suffering can be a powerful tool. Whether this will be useful against a crueler White House and a nastier and more empowered right wing remains to be seen, but it will be seen. I imagine that the first place it will see really widespread use is not on the environment, but in regard to immigration. If Trump is serious about his plans for mass deportation, he’ll be met with passive resistance of all kinds—or at least he should be. All of us have grown up with that Nazi-era bromide about “First they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew…” In this case, there’s no mystery: First they’re coming for the undocumented. It will be a real fight for the soul of our nation, as the people who abstractly backed the idea of a wall with Mexico are forced to look at the faces of the neighbors they intend to toss over it.
Lesson two: These tactics are useful to the degree that they attract large numbers of people to the fight. Those large numbers don’t need to engage in civil disobedience; they just need to engage in the broader battle. If you think about it, numbers are the currency of movements, just as actual cash is the currency of the status quo—at least until such time as the status quo needs to employ the currency of violence. The point of civil disobedience is rarely that it stops some evil by itself; instead, it attracts enough people and hence attention to reach the public at large.
When the Keystone demonstrations began, for instance, no one knew what the pipeline was, and it hadn’t occurred to people to think about climate change in terms of infrastructure. Instead, we thought about it in the terms preferred by politicians, i.e., by thinking about “emissions reductions” far in the future from policies like increased automobile efficiency, which are useful but obviously insufficient. In the early autumn of 2011, as we were beginning the Keystone protests, the National Journal polled its DC “energy insiders,” and 93 percent of them said TransCanada would soon have its permit for the pipeline. But those initial arrests attracted enough people to make it into a national issue. Soon, 15,000 people were surrounding the White House, and then 50,000 were rallying outside its gates, and before long it was on the front pages of newspapers. The information spread, and more importantly the analysis did too: Infrastructure became a recognized point of conflict in the climate fight, because enough people said it was. Politicians were forced to engage on a ground they would rather have avoided.
In much the same way, the divestment movement managed to go from its infancy in 2012 to the stage where, by 2015, the governor of the Bank of England was repeating its main bullet points to the world’s insurance industry in a conference at Lloyd’s of London: The fossil-fuel industry had more carbon in its reserves than we could ever hope to burn, and those reserves posed the financial risk of becoming “stranded assets.” Note that it doesn’t take a majority of people, or anywhere close, to have a significant—even decisive—impact: In an apathetic world, the active involvement of only a few percentage points of the citizenry is sufficient to make a difference. No more than 1 percent of Americans, for instance, ever participated in a civil-rights protest. But it does take a sufficient number to make an impression, whether in the climate movement or the Tea Party.
Lesson three: The real point of civil disobedience and the subsequent movements is less to pass specific legislation than it is to change the zeitgeist. The Occupy movement, for instance, is often faulted for not having produced a long list of actionable demands, but its great achievement was to make, by dint of recognition and repetition, the existing order illegitimate. Once the 99 percent and the 1 percent were seen as categories, our politics began to shift. Bernie Sanders, and to a lesser extent Donald Trump, fed on that energy. That Hillary Clinton was forced to say that she too opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was testimony to the power of the shift in the zeitgeist around inequality. Or take LGBTQ rights: It’s worth remembering that only four years ago, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton still opposed same-sex marriage. That’s difficult to recall now, since at this point you’d think they had jointly invented the concept. But it was skillful organizing for many years that changed less the laws of the land than the zeitgeist of the culture. Yes, some of those battles were fought over particular statutes; but the battles in Hollywood, and at high-school proms, and in a dozen other such venues were as important. Once movements shift the zeitgeist, then legislative victory becomes the mopping-up phase; this one Trump won’t even attempt to turn back.
This is not how political scientists tend to see it—or politicians, for that matter. Speaking to Black Lives Matter activists backstage in the course of the primary campaign, Hillary Clinton laid out her essential philosophy: “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.” This is, I think, utterly backward, and it explains much of the intuitive sense among activists of all stripes that Clinton wouldn’t have been a leader. As Monica Reyes, one of the young immigration activists in the Dreamer movement—great organizers who did much to shift public opinion—put it: “You need to change the culture before you can change laws.” Or as that guy Abraham Lincoln once put it: “Public sentiment is everything.”
By forever straddling the middle, centrist politicians delay changes in public sentiment. The viewpoint of the establishment—an appellation that in this case includes everyone from oil companies to presidents—is always the same: We need to be “realistic”; change will come slowly if it comes at all; and so forth. In normal political debates, this is reasonable. Compromise on issues is the way we progress: You want less money in the budget for X, and I want more, and so we meet in the middle and live to fight another day. That’s politics, as distinct from movement politics, which is about changing basic feelings over the great issues of the day. And it’s particularly true in the case of climate change, where political reality, important as it is, comes in a distinct second to reality reality. Chemistry and physics, I repeat, do what they do regardless of our wishes. That’s the difference between political science and science science.
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There are many other points that Jonathan gets at in his book, but there’s one more that bears directly on the current efforts to build a movement around climate change. It comes in his discussion of Hannah Arendt and Mohandas Gandhi. Despite widespread agreement on the sources of power and the possibilities for mobilization, he finds one large difference between the two: Whereas Gandhi saw “spiritual love as the source and inspiration of nonviolent action, Arendt was among those who argued strenuously against introducing such love into the political sphere.” Hers was not an argument against spiritual love, but rather a contention that it mostly belonged in the private sphere, and that “publicity, which is necessary for politics, will coarsen and corrupt it by turning it into a public display, a show.” I will not attempt to flesh out the illuminating arguments on both sides, but I will say that I have changed my mind somewhat over the years on this question, at least as it relates to climate change.
Gandhi, like Thoreau before him, was an ascetic, and people have tended to lump their political and spiritual force together—and, in certain ways, they were very closely linked. Gandhi’s spinning wheel was a powerful symbol, and a powerful reality, in a very poor nation. He emphasized individual action alongside political mobilization, because he believed that Indians needed to awaken a sense of their own agency and strength. This was a necessary step in that movement—but perhaps a trap in our current dilemma. By this I mean that many of the early efforts to fight climate change focused on a kind of personal piety or individual action, reducing one’s impact via lightbulbs or food choices or you name it. And these are useful steps. The house that Sue and I inhabit is covered with solar panels. I turn off lights so assiduously that our daughter, in her Harry Potter days, referred to me as “the Dark Lord.” Often in my early writing, I fixed on such solutions. But in fact, given the pace with which we now know climate change is advancing, they seem not irrelevant but utterly ill-equipped for the task at hand.
Let’s imagine that truly inspired organizing might somehow get 10 percent of the population to become really engaged in this fight. That would be a monumental number: We think 10 percent of Americans participated in some fashion in the first Earth Day in 1970, and that was doubtless the high point of organizing on any topic in my lifetime. If the main contribution of this 10 percent was to reduce its own carbon footprint to zero— itself an impossible task—the total impact on America’s contribution to atmospheric carbon levels would be a 10 percent reduction. Which is helpful, but not very. But that same 10 percent—or even 2 or 3 percent—actually engaged in the work of politics might well be sufficient to produce structural change of the size that would set us on a new course: a price on carbon, a commitment to massive subsidies for renewable energy, a legislative commitment to keep carbon in the ground.
Some people are paralyzed by the piety they think is necessary for involvement. You cannot imagine the anguished and Talmudic discussions I’ve been asked to adjudicate on whether it’s permissible to burn gasoline to attend a climate rally. (In my estimation, it’s not just permissible, it’s very nearly mandatory—the best gas you will burn in the course of a year.) It has also become—and this is much more dangerous—the pet argument of every climate denier that, unless you’re willing to live life in a dark cave, you’re a hypocrite to stand for action on climate change. This attempt to short-circuit people’s desire to act must be rejected. We live in the world we wish to change; some hypocrisy is the price of admission to the fight. In this sense, and this sense only, Gandhi is an unhelpful example, and a bludgeon used to prevent good-hearted people from acting.
In fact, as we confront the blunt reality of a Trump presidency and a GOP Congress, it’s clearer than ever that asceticism is insufficient, and maybe even counterproductive. The only argument that might actually discover a receptive audience in the new Washington is one that says, “We need a rapid build-out of solar and wind power, as much for economic as environmental reasons.” If one wanted to find the mother lode of industrial jobs that Trump has promised, virtually the only possible source is the energy transformation of our society.
I will end by saying that movement-building—the mobilization of large numbers of people, and of deep passion, through the employment of all the tools at a nonviolent activist’s disposal—will continue, though it moves onto very uncertain ground with our new political reality. This work of nonviolent resistance is never easy, and it’s becoming harder. Jonathan’s optimism in The Unconquerable World notwithstanding, more and more countries are moving to prevent real opposition. China and Russia are brutally hard to operate in, and India is reconfiguring its laws to go in the same direction. Environmentalists are now routinely assassinated in Honduras, Brazil, the Philippines. Australia, where mining barons control the government, has passed draconian laws against protest; clearly Trump and his colleagues would like to do the same here, and will doubtless succeed to one extent or another. The savagery of the police response to Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us how close to a full-bore petro-state we are.
And yet the movement builds. I don’t know whether it builds fast enough. Unlike every other challenge we’ve faced, this one comes with a time limit. Martin Luther King would always say, quoting the great Massachusetts abolitionist Theodore Parker, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”—meaning that it may take a while, but we are going to win. By contrast, the arc of the physical universe is short and it bends toward heat. I will not venture to predict if we can, at this point, catch up with physics. Clearly, it has a lot of momentum. It’s a bad sign when your major physical features begin to disappear—that we no longer have the giant ice cap in the Arctic is disconcerting, to say the least. So there’s no guarantee of victory. But I can guarantee that we will fight, in every corner of the earth and with all the nonviolent tools at our disposal. And in so doing, we will discover if these tools are powerful enough to tackle the most disturbing crisis humans have ever faced. We will see if that new technology of the 20th century will serve to solve the greatest dilemma of our new millennium.
Novo modelo mostra que esteira oceânica que transporta calor à Europa é mais vulnerável ao aquecimento global do que se imaginava, mas só pararia em séculos não de anos; Brasil seria afetado
Cientistas chineses trabalhando nos EUA trouxeram nesta quarta-feira uma notícia agridoce sobre um dos efeitos mais temidos do aquecimento global. Um modelo climático feito por eles mostra que a corrente oceânica que leva calor dos trópicos à Europa é mais vulnerável do que se imaginava às mudanças do clima, e desligará completamente caso a quantidade de gás carbônico na atmosfera siga aumentando. Por outro lado, esse desligamento ocorreria em séculos, não em anos ou décadas.
Conhecida como circulação termoalina do Atlântico, essa imensa esteira oceânica é um dos principais sistemas de regulação do clima da Terra. Sua face mais conhecida é a Corrente do Golfo, uma corrente quente que migra pela superfície do Atlântico tropical até as imediações do Ártico. No Atlântico Norte, ela fica mais fria e mais salgada (devido à evaporação da água no caminho), afundando e retornando aos trópicos na forma de uma corrente fria submarina. A dissipação de calor dessa corrente é o que mantém a Inglaterra e o norte da Europa com um clima relativamente tépido, mesmo estando em uma latitude elevada.
Desde os anos 1980 os cientistas têm postulado que o aquecimento global, ao derreter o gelo e a neve do Ártico, lançaria grande quantidade de água doce no oceano, diluindo o sal da corrente e impedindo que ela afundasse. O efeito imediato seria a suspensão do transporte da calor para a Europa, que mergulharia numa espécie de era do gelo. Isso já aconteceu há 8.200 anos e resfriou o Velho Continente por dois séculos. Poderia acontecer de novo de forma rápida e causar problemas sérios à civilização, caricaturados no filme-catástrofe O Dia Depois de Amanhã, de 2004.
Observações feitas até aqui, que são esparsas, têm mostrado que justamente desde 2004 esteira oceânica está em sua menor potência nos últimos mil anos, provavelmente por causa do aquecimento global. Alguns cientistas temem que o colapso já tenha começado.
Ocorre que os modelos computacionais que simulam o clima da Terra no futuro, usados pelo IPCC (o painel do clima da ONU), têm falhado sistematicamente em apontar instabilidade no sistema. Por consequência, o desligamento repentino da corrente é considerado pouco provável pelo painel.
Entram em cena Wei Liu, da Universidade da Califórnia em San Diego (hoje na outra costa do país, na Universidade Yale), e colegas. Em estudo publicado nesta quarta-feira no site da revista Science Advances, o grupo aponta que os modelos padecem de um viés: uma distorção faz a corrente parecer artificialmente mais estável do que é de fato.
A origem do problema está longe da Europa, no Atlântico Sul. Essa região do oceano tropical, perto do equador, recebe chuvas constantes na chamada Zona de Convergência Intertropical, o cinturão de tempestades onde massas de ar aquecido dos dois hemisférios se encontram.
Liu e colegas dizem que os modelos do IPCC assumem que há mais água doce oriunda dessas chuvas na corrente do que há de fato. Isso causaria nos modelos uma ilusão de estabilidade – quanto mais água doce no trópico, menor a diferença de salinidade perto do Ártico, portanto, menos suscetível a perturbações a corrente seria. Esse viés, afirma Liu, já havia sido sugerido por outros estudos no passado.
O que o chinês e seu grupo fizeram foi ajustar um dos modelos de acordo com parâmetros de salinidade que eles consideravam mais realistas. Mas não apenas isso: a correção do viés tornou a corrente mais instável e vulnerável ao próprio aquecimento da água do mar – algo que casa melhor com as observações. “O aquecimento reduz a densidade da água e impede a convecção”, disse Liu ao OC. “O método não é perfeito, mas é o melhor que podemos fazer agora para corrigir o viés e fazer uma projeção mais confiável.”
Os pesquisadores usaram o modelo ajustado para estimar o que acontece com a esteira oceânica caso o nível de CO2 na atmosfera duplique – algo que acontecerá por volta de meados do século se medidas radicais de controle de emissões não forem tomadas.
Aqui vem a nota de alívio do estudo: o colapso da corrente ocorre nas simulações apenas 300 anos após a quantidade de CO2 dobrar na atmosfera. Questionado sobre se isso era uma boa notícia, Liu foi cauteloso: “Sim, 300 anos são muita coisa comparado a uma vida humana, mas mudanças notáveis podem ocorrer antes de a circulação colapsar”, disse. “Além disso, nosso resultado é baseado em um modelo e em um cenário simples de aquecimento.” Liu e seus colegas não consideraram, por exemplo, o fator que até agora tem sido invocado para explicar a redução da corrente: o efeito do degelo da Groenlândia. Ao lançar excesso de água doce sobre o oceano no Ártico, o derretimento poderia agravar a situação de uma corrente que já seria impactada pelo aquecimento da superfície.
Um efeito esperado dessa redução na corrente, por exemplo, é uma mudança nos padrões de chuva em várias regiões do planeta. Um dos lugares que seriam afetados é o Brasil. Estudos do grupo do geólogo de Francisco Cruz, da USP, já mostraram que fases de redução da circulação termoalina no passado corresponderam a chuvas torrenciais no Brasil, devido ao deslocamento da Zona de Convergência Intertropical para o sul.
“Precisamos aplicar essa metodologia a mais modelos climáticos e a cenários de aquecimento global mais realistas”, afirmou Liu.
Study confirms steady warming of oceans for past 45 years
January 4, 2017
University of California – Berkeley
Scientists calculated average ocean temperatures from 1999 to 2015, separately using ocean buoys and satellite data, and confirmed the uninterrupted warming trend reported by NOAA in 2015, based on that organization’s recalibration of sea surface temperature recordings from ships and buoys. The new results show that there was no global warming hiatus between 1998 and 2012.
A new UC Berkeley analysis of ocean buoy (green) and satellite data (orange) show that ocean temperatures have increased steadily since 1999, as NOAA concluded in 2015 (red) after adjusting for a cold bias in buoy temperature measurements. NOAA’s earlier assessment (blue) underestimated sea surface temperature changes, falsely suggesting a hiatus in global warming. The lines show the general upward trend in ocean temperatures. Credit: Zeke Hausfather, UC Berkeley
A controversial paper published two years ago that concluded there was no detectable slowdown in ocean warming over the previous 15 years — widely known as the “global warming hiatus” — has now been confirmed using independent data in research led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Berkeley Earth, a non-profit research institute focused on climate change.
The 2015 analysis showed that the modern buoys now used to measure ocean temperatures tend to report slightly cooler temperatures than older ship-based systems, even when measuring the same part of the ocean at the same time. As buoy measurements have replaced ship measurements, this had hidden some of the real-world warming.
After correcting for this “cold bias,” researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concluded in the journal Science that the oceans have actually warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius (0.22 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade since 2000, nearly twice as fast as earlier estimates of 0.07 degrees Celsius per decade. This brought the rate of ocean temperature rise in line with estimates for the previous 30 years, between 1970 and 1999.
This eliminated much of the global warming hiatus, an apparent slowdown in rising surface temperatures between 1998 and 2012. Many scientists, including the International Panel on Climate Change, acknowledged the puzzling hiatus, while those dubious about global warming pointed to it as evidence that climate change is a hoax.
Climate change skeptics attacked the NOAA researchers and a House of Representatives committee subpoenaed the scientists’ emails. NOAA agreed to provide data and respond to any scientific questions but refused to comply with the subpoena, a decision supported by scientists who feared the “chilling effect” of political inquisitions.
The new study, which uses independent data from satellites and robotic floats as well as buoys, concludes that the NOAA results were correct. The paper is published Jan. 4 in the online, open-access journal Science Advances.
“Our results mean that essentially NOAA got it right, that they were not cooking the books,” said lead author Zeke Hausfather, a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group.
Long-term climate records
Hausfather said that years ago, mariners measured the ocean temperature by scooping up a bucket of water from the ocean and sticking a thermometer in it. In the 1950s, however, ships began to automatically measure water piped through the engine room, which typically is warm. Nowadays, buoys cover much of the ocean and that data is beginning to supplant ship data. But the buoys report slightly cooler temperatures because they measure water directly from the ocean instead of after a trip through a warm engine room.
NOAA is one of three organizations that keep historical records of ocean temperatures — some going back to the 1850s — widely used by climate modelers. The agency’s paper was an attempt to accurately combine the old ship measurements and the newer buoy data.
Hausfather and colleague Kevin Cowtan of the University of York in the UK extended that study to include the newer satellite and Argo float data in addition to the buoy data.
“Only a small fraction of the ocean measurement data is being used by climate monitoring groups, and they are trying to smush together data from different instruments, which leads to a lot of judgment calls about how you weight one versus the other, and how you adjust for the transition from one to another,” Hausfather said. “So we said, ‘What if we create a temperature record just from the buoys, or just from the satellites, or just from the Argo floats, so there is no mixing and matching of instruments?'”
In each case, using data from only one instrument type — either satellites, buoys or Argo floats — the results matched those of the NOAA group, supporting the case that the oceans warmed 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade over the past two decades, nearly twice the previous estimate. In other words, the upward trend seen in the last half of the 20th century continued through the first 15 years of the 21st: there was no hiatus.
“In the grand scheme of things, the main implication of our study is on the hiatus, which many people have focused on, claiming that global warming has slowed greatly or even stopped,” Hausfather said. “Based on our analysis, a good portion of that apparent slowdown in warming was due to biases in the ship records.”
Correcting other biases in ship records
In the same publication last year, NOAA scientists also accounted for changing shipping routes and measurement techniques. Their correction — giving greater weight to buoy measurements than to ship measurements in warming calculations — is also valid, Hausfather said, and a good way to correct for this second bias, short of throwing out the ship data altogether and relying only on buoys.
Another repository of ocean temperature data, the Hadley Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom, corrected their data for the switch from ships to buoys, but not for this second factor, which means that the Hadley data produce a slightly lower rate of warming than do the NOAA data or the new UC Berkeley study.
“In the last seven years or so, you have buoys warming faster than ships are, independently of the ship offset, which produces a significant cool bias in the Hadley record,” Hausfather said. The new study, he said, argues that the Hadley center should introduce another correction to its data.
“People don’t get much credit for doing studies that replicate or independently validate other people’s work. But, particularly when things become so political, we feel it is really important to show that, if you look at all these other records, it seems these researchers did a good job with their corrections,” Hausfather said.
Co-author Mark Richardson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena added, “Satellites and automated floats are completely independent witnesses of recent ocean warming, and their testimony matches the NOAA results. It looks like the NOAA researchers were right all along.”
Other co-authors of the paper are David C. Clarke, an independent researcher from Montreal, Canada, Peter Jacobs of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and Robert Rohde of Berkeley Earth. The research was funded by Berkeley Earth.
Zeke Hausfather, Kevin Cowtan, David C. Clarke, Peter Jacobs, Mark Richardson, Robert Rohde. Assessing recent warming using instrumentally homogeneous sea surface temperature records. Science Advances, 2017; 3 (1): e1601207 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601207
International research team presents findings from frozen ‘climate archive’ of Antarctica
January 5, 2017
University of Bonn
About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again.
Iceberg in the southeastern Weddell Sea region. Credit: Photo: Dr. Michael Weber
About 15,000 years ago, the ocean around Antarctica has seen an abrupt sea level rise of several meters. It could happen again. An international team of scientists with the participation of the University of Bonn is now reporting its findings in the magazine Scientific Reports.
University of Bonn’s climate researcher Michael E. Weber is a member of the study group. He says, “The changes that are currently taking place in a disturbing manner resemble those 14,700 years ago.” At that time, changes in atmospheric-oceanic circulation led to a stratification in the ocean with a cold layer at the surface and a warm layer below. Under such conditions, ice sheets melt more strongly than when the surrounding ocean is thoroughly mixed. This is exactly what is presently happening around the Antarctic.
The main author of the study, the Australian climate researcher Chris Fogwill from the Climate Change Research Center in Sydney, explains the process as follows: “The reason for the layering is that global warming in parts of Antarctica is causing land based ice to melt, adding massive amounts of freshwater to the ocean surface. At the same time as the surface is cooling, the deeper ocean is warming, which has already accelerated the decline of glaciers in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.” It appears global warming is replicating conditions that, in the past, triggered significant shifts in the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.
To investigate the climate changes of the past, the scientists are studying drill cores from the eternal ice. Layer by layer, this frozen “climate archive” reveals its secrets to the experts. In previous studies, the scientists had found evidence of eight massive melting events in deep sea sediments around the Antarctic, which occurred at the transition from the last ice age to the present warm period. Co-author Dr. Weber from the Steinmann Institute of the University of Bonn says: “The largest melt occurred 14,700 years ago. During this time the Antarctic contributed to a sea level rise of at least three meters within a few centuries.”
The present discovery is the first direct evidence from the Antarctic continent which confirms the assumed models. The research team used isotopic analyzes of ice cores from the Weddell Sea region, which now flows into the ocean about a quarter of the Antarctic melt.
Through a combination with ice sheet and climate modeling, the isotopic data show that the waters around the Antarctic were heavily layered at the time of the melting events, so that the ice sheets melted at a faster rate. “The big question is whether the ice sheet will react to these changing ocean conditions as rapidly as it did 14,700 years ago,” says co-author Nick Golledge from the Antarctic Research Center in Wellington, New Zealand.
C. J. Fogwill, C. S. M. Turney, N. R. Golledge, D. M. Etheridge, M. Rubino, D. P. Thornton, A. Baker, J. Woodward, K. Winter, T. D. van Ommen, A. D. Moy, M. A. J. Curran, S. M. Davies, M. E. Weber, M. I. Bird, N. C. Munksgaard, L. Menviel, C. M. Rootes, B. Ellis, H. Millman, J. Vohra, A. Rivera, A. Cooper. Antarctic ice sheet discharge driven by atmosphere-ocean feedbacks at the Last Glacial Termination. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7: 39979 DOI: 10.1038/srep39979
Congressional Committee tweets don’t usually get much attention. But when the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology sent out a link to a Breitbart story claiming a “plunge” in global temperatures, people took notice. The takedowns flew in, from Slateand Bernie Sanders, from plenty of scientists, and most notably from the Weather Channel, which deemed Breitbart’s use of their meteorologist’s face worthy of a point-by-point debunking video.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about Breitbart screwing up climate science, but the House Science Committee is among the most important scientific oversight bodies in the country. Since Texas Republican Lamar Smith took over its leadership in 2012, the Committee has spiraled down an increasingly anti-science rabbit hole: absurd hearings aimed at debunking consensus on global warming, outright witch hunts using the Committee’s subpoena power to intimidate scientists, and a Republican membership that includes some of the most anti-science lawmakers in the land.
The GOP’s shenanigans get the headlines, but what about the other side of the aisle? What is it like to be a member of Congress and sit on a science committee that doesn’t seem to understand science? What is it like to be an adult in a room full of toddlers? I asked some of the adults.
“I think it’s completely embarrassing,” said Mark Veasey, who represents Texas’s 33rd district, including parts of Dallas and Fort Worth. “You’re talking about something that 99.9 percent—if not 100 percent—of people in the legitimate science community says is a threat….To quote Breitbart over some of the most brilliant people in the world—and those are American scientists—and how they see climate change, I just think it’s a total embarrassment.”
Paul Tonko, who represents a chunk of upstate New York that includes Albany, has also called it embarrassing. “It is frustrating when you have the majority party of a committee pushing junk science and disproven myths to serve a political agenda,” he said. “It’s not just beneath the dignity of the Science Committee or Congress as a whole, it’s inherently dangerous. Science and research seek the truth—they don’t always fit so neatly with agendas.”
“I think it’s completely embarrassing.”
Suzanne Bonamici, of Oregon’s 1st District, also called it frustrating “to say the least” that the Committee “is spending time questioning climate researchers and ignoring the broad scientific consensus.” California Rep. Eric Swalwellcalled it the “Science” Committee in an email, and made sure I noted the air quotes. He said that in Obama’s first term, the Committee helped push forward on climate change and a green economy. “For the last four years, however, being on the Committee has meant defending the progress we’ve made.”
Frustration, embarrassment, a sense of Sisyphean hopelessness—this sounds like a grim gig. And Veasey also said that he doesn’t have much hope for a change in the Science Committee’s direction, because that change would have to come from the chairman. Smith has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign support from the oil and gas industry over the years, and somehow finds himself in even greater climate change denial than ExxonMobil.
And of course, it isn’t just the leadership. The League of Conservation Voters maintains a scorecard of every legislator in Congress: for 2015, the most recent year available, the average of all the Democratic members on the science committee is 92.75 percent (with 100 being a perfect environment-friendly score). On the GOP side of the aisle, the average is just over three percent.
(I reached out to a smattering of GOP members of the Committee to get their take on its recent direction. None of them responded.)
Bill Foster, who represents a district including some suburbs of Chicago, is the only science PhD in all of Congress (“I very often feel lonely,” he said, before encouraging other scientists to run for office). “Since I made the transition from science into politics not so long ago, I’ve become very cognizant of the difference between scientific facts, and political facts,” he said. “Political facts can be established by repeating over and over something that is demonstrably false, then if it comes to be accepted by enough people it becomes a political fact.” Witness the 52 percent of Republicans who currently believe Trump won the popular vote, and you get the idea.
I’m not sure “climate change isn’t happening” has reached that “political fact” level, though Smith and his ilk have done their damndest. Recent polls suggest most Americans do understand the issue, and more and more they believe the government should act aggressively to tackle it.
“Political facts can be established by repeating over and over something that is demonstrably false, then if it comes to be accepted by enough people it becomes a political fact.”
That those in charge of our government disagree so publicly and strongly now has scientists terrified. “This has a high profile,” Foster said, “because if there is any committee in Congress that should operate on the basis of scientific truth, it ought to be the Science, Space, and Technology committee—so when it goes off the rails, then people notice.”
The odds of the train jumping back on the rails over the next four years appear slim. Policies that came from the Obama White House, like the Clean Power Plan, are obviously on thin ice with a Trump administration, and without any sort of check on Smith and company it is hard to say just how pro-fossil fuel, anti-climate the committee could really get.
In the face of all that, what is a sane member of Congress to do? Elizabeth Esty, who represents Connecticut’s 5th district, was among several Committee members to note that in spite of the disagreements on climate, she has managed to work with GOP leadership on other scientific issues. Rep. Swalwell said he will try and focus on bits of common ground, like the jobs that come with an expanding green economy. Rep. Veasey said his best hope is that some strong conservative voices from outside of Congress might start to make themselves heard by the Party’s upper echelons on climate and related issues.
An ugly and dire scenario, then, but the Democrats all seem to carry at least a glimmer of hope. “It’s certainly frustrating and concerning but I’m an optimist,” Esty said. “I wouldn’t run for this job if I weren’t.”
Dave Levitan is a science journalist, and author of the book Not A Scientist: How politicians mistake, misrepresent, and utterly mangle science. Find him on Twitter and at his website.
Com menos dinheiro no orçamento, ciência pode ser uma das áreas mais afetadas
COLABORAÇÃO PARA A FOLHA
A eleição de Donald Trump pode pressagiar um período de declínio para a ciência nos Estados Unidos.
Noves fora a retórica que lhe ganhou a Casa Branca, os planos que ele apresenta para a próxima gestão podem significar cortes orçamentários significativos em pesquisas.
A campanha do republicano à Presidência bateu fortemente em duas teclas: um plano vigoroso de corte de impostos, que reduziria a arrecadação em pelo menos US$ 4,4 trilhões nos próximos dez anos, e um plano de investimento em infraestrutura que consumiria US$ 1 trilhão no mesmo período.
Na prática, isso significa que haverá menos dinheiro no Orçamento americano que poderá ser direcionado para os gastos “discricionários” -aqueles que já não caem automaticamente na conta do governo por força de lei. É de onde vem o financiamento da ciência americana.
“Se o montante de gastos discricionários cai, o subcomitê de Comércio, Justiça e Ciência no Congresso receberá uma alocação menor, e eles terão menos dinheiro disponível para financiar suas agências”, diz Casey Dreier, especialista em política espacial da ONG Planetary Society.
Entre os órgãos financiados diretamente por esse subcomitê estão a Fundação Nacional de Ciência (NSF), a Administração Nacional de Atmosfera e Oceano (Noaa) e a Administração Nacional de Aeronáutica e Espaço (Nasa).
Existe a possibilidade de o financiamento sair intacto desse processo? Sim, mas não é provável. Algum outro setor precisaria pagar a conta.
Ao menos no discurso, e fortemente apoiado por nomeações recentes, Trump já decidiu onde devem ocorrer os cortes mais profundos: ciência climática.
Que Trump se apresenta desde a campanha eleitoral como um negacionista da mudança do clima, não é segredo. No passado, ele chegou a afirmar que o aquecimento global é um embuste criado pelos chineses para tirar a competitividade da indústria americana.
(Para comprar essa versão, claro, teríamos de fingir que não foi a Nasa, agência americana, a maior e mais contundente coletora de evidências da mudança climática.)
Até aí, é o discurso antiglobalização para ganhar a eleição. Mas vai se concretizar no mandato?
Os sinais são os piores possíveis. O advogado Scott Pruitt, indicado para a EPA (Agência de Proteção do Ambiente), vê com ceticismo as políticas contra as mudanças climáticas. E o chefe da equipe de transição escolhido por Trump para a EPA é Myron Ebell, um notório negacionista da mudança climática.
O Centro para Energia e Ambiente do Instituto para Empreendimentos Competitivos, que Ebell dirige, recebe financiamento das indústrias do carvão e do petróleo. Colocá-lo para fazer a transição entre governos da EPA pode ser o clássico “deixar a raposa tomando conta do galinheiro”.
Como se isso não bastasse, durante a campanha os principais consultores de Trump na área de pesquisa espacial, Robert Walker e Peter Navarro, escreveram editoriais sugerindo que a agência espacial devia parar de estudar a própria Terra.
“A Nasa deveria estar concentrada primariamente em atividades no espaço profundo em vez de trabalho Terra-cêntrico que seria melhor conduzido por outras agências”, escreveram.
Há consenso entre os cientistas de que não há outro órgão com competência para tocar esses estudos e assumir a frota de satélites de monitoramento terrestre gerida pela agência espacial.
Além disso, passar as responsabilidades a outra instituição sem atribuir o orçamento correspondente é um jeito sutil de encerrar o programa de monitoramento do clima.
Se isso faz você ficar preocupado com o futuro das pesquisas, imagine os climatologistas nos EUA.
De acordo com o jornal “Washington Post”, eles estão se organizando para criar repositórios independentes dos dados colhidos, com medo que eles sumam das bases de dados governamentais durante o governo Trump.
Ainda que a grita possa evitar esse descaramento, a interrupção das pesquisas pode ter o mesmo efeito.
“Acho que é bem mais provável que eles tentem cortar a coleção de dados, o que minimizaria seu valor”, diz Andrew Dessler, professor de ciências atmosféricas da Universidade Texas A&M. “Ter dados contínuos é crucial para entender as tendências de longo prazo.”
E O QUE SOBRA?
Tirando a mudança climática, a Nasa deve ter algum suporte para dar continuidade a seus planos de longo prazo durante o governo Trump -talvez com alguma mudança.
De certo, há apenas a restituição do Conselho Espacial Nacional, criado durante o governo George Bush (o pai) e desativado desde 1993.
Reunindo as principais autoridades pertinentes, ele tem por objetivo coordenar as ações entre diferentes braços do governo e, com isso, dar uma direção estratégica mais clara e eficiente aos executores das atividades espaciais.
Isso poderia significar uma ameaça ao SLS (novo foguete de alta capacidade da Nasa) e à Orion (cápsula para viagem a espaço profundo), que devem fazer seu primeiro voo teste, não tripulado, em 2018.
Contudo, o apoio a esses programas no Congresso é amplo e bipartidário, de forma que dificilmente Trump conseguirá cancelá-los.
O que ele pode é redirecionar sua função. Em vez de se tornarem as primeiras peças para a “jornada a Marte”, que Barack Obama defendia para a década de 2030, eles seriam integrados num programa de exploração da Lua.
(Tradicionalmente, no Congresso americano, a Lua é um objetivo republicano, e Marte, um objetivo democrata. Não pergunte por quê.)
Trump deve ainda dar maior ênfase às iniciativas de parcerias comerciais para a exploração espacial. Em dezembro, Elon Musk, diretor da empresa SpaceX e franco apoiador da campanha de Hillary Clinton, passou a fazer parte de um grupo de consultores de Trump para a indústria de alta tecnologia.
Assessores de Trump querem tirar da agência a função de estudar a Terra em favor da exploração espacial
Nasa Goddard Space Flight Center/Flickr
Imagem feita pela Nasa
Scott Pruitt, indicado para Agência de Proteção do Ambiente, já processou o órgão por limitações impostas à indústria petrolífera. A agência pode perder força e deixar certas regulações a cargo dos Estados
Spencer Platt-7.dez.2016/Getty Images/AFP
Scott Pruitt chega a Trump Tower, em 7 de dezembro, para encontro com Donald Trump
Rex Tillerson, executivo da petroleira ExxonMobil, foi indicado para o posto de secretário de Estado, o que dá mais sinais de que o governo Trump não deve se esforçar para promover fontes de energia limpa
Stanford, Calif. — THE good news got pretty much drowned out this month: Yes, 2016 is on track to become the hottest year on record, but thankfully also the third year in a row to see relatively flat growth in global greenhouse gas emissions. With global economic growth on the order of 3 percent a year, we may well have turned a corner toward a sustainable climate economy.
The bad news, of course, is that the world’s wealthiest nation, home to many of the scholars scrambling to reverse global warming, has elected a new president with little or no interest in the topic. Or an active disinterest. Donald J. Trump is surrounding himself with advisers who are likely to do little to challenge his notion of climate change as a Chinese hoax. People like to think of us as living in an age of information, but a better descriptor might be “the age of ignorance.”
How did we get into this predicament? Why are we about to inaugurate the most anti-science administration in American history?
As a graduate student at Harvard in the 1970s and early 1980s, I was astonished to find how little concern there was for the beliefs of ordinary Americans. I was in the history of science department, where all the talk was of Einstein and Darwin and Newton, with the occasional glance at the “reception” of such ideas in the larger literate populace.
I had grown up in a small town in Texas, and later in Kansas City, where the people I knew often talked about nature and God’s glory and corruption and the good life. At Harvard, though, I was puzzled that my professors seemed to have little interest in people outside the vanguard, the kinds of people I had come from, many of whom were fundamentalist Christians, people of solid faith but often in desperate conditions. Why was there so little interest in what they thought or believed? That’s Point 1.
Point 2: Early in my career as a historian, I was further bothered by how little attention was given to science as an instrument of popular deception. We like to think of science as the opposite of ignorance, the light that washes away the darkness, but there’s much more to that story.
Here my Harvard years were more illuminating. I got into a crowd of appropriately radicalized students, and started to better understand the place of science in the arc of human history. I learned about how science has not always been the saving grace we like to imagine; science gives rise as easily to nuclear bombs and bioweapons as to penicillin and the iPad. I taught for several years in the biology department, where I learned that cigarette makers had been giving millions of dollars to Harvard and other elite institutions to curry favor.
I also started understanding how science could be used as an instrument of deception — and to create or perpetuate ignorance. That is important, because while scholars were ignoring what Karl Marx dismissively called “the idiocy of rural life” (Point 1), tobacco and soft drink and oil companies facing taxation and regulation were busily disseminating mythologies about their products, to keep potential regulators at bay (Point 2).
The denialist conspiracy of the cigarette industry was crucial in this context, since science was one of the instruments used by Big Tobacco to carry out its denial (and distraction) campaign. Cigarette makers had met at the Plaza Hotel in New York City on Dec. 14, 1953, to plan a strategy to rebut the evidence that cigarettes were causing cancer and other maladies. The strategy was pure genius: The claim would be that it had not been “proved” that cigarettes really cause disease, so there was room for honest doubt. Cigarette makers promised to finance research to get to the truth, while privately acknowledging (in a notorious Brown & Williamson document from 1969) that “Doubt is our product.”
For decades thereafter, cigarette makers poured hundreds of millions of dollars into basic biomedical research, exploring things like genetic and viral or occupational causes of cancer — anything but tobacco. Research financed by the industry led to over 7,000 publications in peer-reviewed medical literature and 10 Nobel Prizes. Including consulting relationships, my research shows that at least 25 Nobel laureates have taken money from the cigarette industry over the past half-century. (Full disclosure: I’ve testified against that industry in dozens of tobacco trials.)
Now we know that many other industries have learned from Big Tobacco’s playbook. Physicians hired by the National Football League have questioned the evidence that concussions can cause brain disease, and soda sellers have financed research to deny that sugar causes obesity. And climate deniers have conducted a kind of scavenger hunt for oddities that appear to challenge the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists.
This latter fact might be little more than a historical quirk, were it not for the fact that we’ll soon have a president whose understanding of science is more like that of the people in the towns where I grew up than those scholars who taught me about Darwin and Einstein at Harvard.
We now live in a world where ignorance of a very dangerous sort is being deliberately manufactured, to protect certain kinds of unfettered corporate enterprise. The global climate catastrophe gets short shrift, largely because powerful fossil fuel producers still have enormous political clout, following decades-long campaigns to sow doubt about whether anthropogenic emissions are really causing planetary warming. Trust in science suffers, but also trust in government. And that is not an accident. Climate deniers are not so much anti-science as anti-regulation and anti-government.
Jeff Nesbit, in his recent book, “Poison Tea: How Big Oil and Big Tobacco Invented the Tea Party and Captured the G.O.P.,” documents how Big Tobacco joined with Big Oil in the early 1990s to create anti-tax front groups. These AstroTurf organizations waged a concerted effort to defend the unencumbered sale of cigarettes and petro-products. The breathtaking idea was to protect tobacco and oil from regulation and taxes by starting a movement that would combat all regulation and all taxes.
Part of the strategy, according to Mr. Nesbit, who worked for a group involved in the effort and witnessed firsthand the beginning of this devil’s dance, was to sow doubt by corrupting expertise, while simultaneously capturing the high ground of open-mindedness and even caution itself, with the deceptive mantra: “We need more research.” Much of the climate denial now embraced by people like Mr. Trump was first expressed in the disinformation campaigns of Big Oil — campaigns modeled closely on Big Tobacco’s strategies.
We sometimes hear that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, but a “repeat” is perhaps now the least of our worries. Judging purely from his transition team, Mr. Trump’s administration could be more hostile to modern science — and especially earth and environmental sciences — than any we have ever had. Whole agencies could go on the chopping block or face deliberate evisceration. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan may be in jeopardy, along with funding for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Grumblings can even be heard from Europe that if the Paris climate accord is abandoned, the United States may face carbon taxes on its export goods. Ignorance and its diabolic facilitator — the corruption of expertise — both have real-world costs that we ignore at our peril.