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Hey, Joe, Where You Going With That
Climate emergency declaration in your hand
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I started writing this piece on June 9. The more I wrote, the more overwhelmed I felt. Climate stuff is overwhelming of itself, but these days I have reason to take it more personally than usual. Assuming all goes as well as it could, my soon-to-be grandson will live to see the end of this century, when the fullest expression of our failure to reform the pyromaniacal tendencies of our society will be in bloom.
Scientists will have a lot more climate data then than we do now; hence, a much better understanding of exactly how screwed the species is, and how screwed all the other species are.
Not that things aren’t pretty clear already, but in 2023 we can still take refuge in near-magical thinking. Some technological miracle will arise, some political miracle; something that will ward off the consequences of what we continue to do.
Anyway: I was thinking about what I can do to ensure my grandson survives in relative whatever the future brings, climate-wise, which is, basically, nothing.
I mean, really. Not a goddamn thing. I am reduced to guessing where his parents can live to be most insulated from the ravages.
I wasted almost no time in spiral mind-fucking myself; this probably would have been a good moment to quit reading all the shit that I read, but no, I just kept at it.
Then some other anxiety-inducing stuff happened, including a stupid, low-speed, immensely frustrating automobile accident (not my fault, nothing I could have done to avoid it), and a few days after that I ran across this headline:
That’s from a June 23 New Republic story about the bad air Canada is exporting to regions in the U.S. that are generally seen as most resistant to the hazards of climate change—specifically Buffalo, New York, and the northern-most parts of the northern Midwest, but it could have been anywhere with fresh water and a more or less temperate climate.1
Both parents are about half a language short of trilingual; likely the baby will be too. So they do, and he will, have options about what countries they can comfortably live in. So that’s good.
Anyway. I don’t know what I could have done in the day to ameliorate the situation in the day, or what I can do now. And it’s awful.
June 9, 2023
We are (still and forever) in a climate emergency.
I spent much of yesterday cowering in my sunlit abode—”the light, it burns”—after visiting the ophthalmologist; hence, not writing.
Let us now bow our heads and cross our fingers that the bloated orange tick may be partially dislodged from the body politic(k).
Busy coupla days, what with the indictment and at least two disagreeable people shuffling off their mortal coils: First, Pat Robertson, and then Reagan’s interior department guy, James Watt, who saw every undeveloped inch and ounce of public lands and waters as a sin and a personal affront.
It’s a fine morning, here—about 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a mellow trade wind attenuating the 76% humidity. Couldn’t ask for a better start than what we’ve had this year to what is expected to be a more than usually active hurricane season. Knockin’ on wood.
The air quality index (AQI) stands at 19, which is near average for days when volcano stuff isn’t blowing up from the Big Island. That’s 390 points lower than what Manhattan’s was on Wednesday, give or take, and 200 or so lower than Our Nation’s Capitol’s was yesterday, with similar numbers for locales in between.
Back in July of last year, when these united states were variously broiling, flooding and going up in flames, John Kerry, who had been appointed by Joe Biden as the US climate envoy, floated the notion of the latter declaring a climate emergency to level up his administrative powers for dealing with what was, and is, and will remain, a climate emergency.2
That trial balloon popped with a vengeance, never to be heard of again, a few days later when details of the deal that Biden and Chuck Schumer cut with Joe Manchin started to emerge. This was for the Inflation Reduction Act, the tattered and nonsensically-named remnant of Biden’s Build Back Better proposal.
The Manchin deal included a measure requiring large-scale leasing of federal lands and waters for drilling as a trigger for spending the fair dollop of money aimed at more environmentally sound proposals.
One can see how the administration would balk at declaring a climate emergency just as they were about to overtly contribute to it; that, and the chorus of praise for the legislation from congressional Democrats, fans at large, and fossil fuel executives, washed the declaration down the memory hole.
(Manchin’s biggest ask was expedited approval for his pet pipeline project, which, despite a mountain of cash thrown at an agreeable Schumer by the pipeline companies last year, he didn’t get until the recent debt limit deal.)
Here we are, then, with no official climate emergency despite some millions of Americans attempting to breathe atomized Canadian charcoal briquettes, with our own worst summer weather and fires to come. As usual, children and the working poor assume the most risk.
One can find some hilarity in the hazard of breathing the D.C. air, what with one party and their factotums refusing to acknowledge climate change, and the other and theirs refusing to do anything substantive about it, and with no apparent penalty for either stance.
Terms and conditions apply, with, again, the requisite passages punishing children and the lower classes generally.
Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises character Mike Campbell is probably the guy most responsible for the “gradually and then suddenly” (or “slowly, then all at once”) answer to how just about anything anybody fancies happens; in his instance it was bankruptcy, but you’ll see it in relation to all sorts of beginnings and ends.
That’s more or less how global warming has progressed. A 2012 Popular Mechanics article, often republished in abbreviated form, seems to be the first widely-circulated one advancing the theory that a man-made increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide could, and probably would drive global temperatures higher.3
(The author wasn’t really alarmed by the prospect, reckoning that 200 years of industry wouldn’t do as much harm as it would good, and that even though brilliant, courageous Americans were the drivers of all progress, so does “the dull foreigner, who burrows in the earth by the faint gleam of his miner’s lamp … add to the carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere so that men in generations to come shall enjoy milder breezes and live under sunnier skies.”)
A century later we’re well into the “suddenly” stage, as warming accelerates and volatility increases even as the dull foreigner digs less and less coal, but the degree of alarm in 2023 hasn’t much outgrown 1912’s; more strident, certainly, but in terms of addressing the problem, not that much greater than when scientists weren’t certain it even needed addressed.
Sound and fury, signifying more than nothing but a very great deal less than enough. “The green dream, or whatever.”
The House of Representatives has three climate-related caucuses: The Conservative Climate Caucus, which has been as useful as one would expect; the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which, ditto; and the Safe Climate Caucus, a Democratic venture which if not frozen in carbonite may as well be.
Why, you might ask, are suitably inclined congressional Democrats not banding together with outside agitators to declare a climate emergency themselves? What would be the genuine obstacle to a Climate Emergency Caucus? For that matter, why couldn’t the House progressive caucus declare themselves that? They’re not all progressive, but surely the majority think themselves so.
I have no answer. Maybe they did but are keeping it secret.
That’s the point at which I stopped writing. I even stopped listening to music lest the music interfere with my listlessness. But there’s no more point to not writing than there is to doing it.
And speaking of writing, for print or the teevee, the journalists at the Substack newsletter Heated note that almost none of the stories about the apocalyptic heat waves and other severe weather link the occurrences to climate change.4
Only five percent of TV stations that covered the heat waves in Texas and the Southwest connected them to the climate crisis, a new study from Media Matters found. The majority of major TV networks failed to report the direct link between global warming and record-breaking temperatures.
ABC, CBS, and NBC aired a combined 123 segments about the heat wave, but only seven mentioned climate change. Major cable networks did no better: CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC aired 187 segments about the heat waves, but only 8 mentioned climate change.
At this point, failing to connect extreme heat to climate change is more than oversight—it’s misinformation.
The same piece notes that a prominent climate diplomat has renounced all faith in fossil fuel companies doing anything of substance to address the crisis they’ve created. I thought they were referring to John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, who has expressed similar reservations but with a shrug;5 instead, it was a serious diplomat, from Costa Rica.
Just about all of the television news outlets covered the story of an Iowa meteorologist who quit his job in the face of unrelenting harassment about his coverage of climate change; maybe that’s why they’re choosing not to make the same link in their own coverage of extreme weather.6
It is a choice, obviously.
That’s all I got. Anyone who has suggestions about how to save the young folk, let me know. (This excludes voting in a responsive Congress over the course of the next 200 years; don’t want to hear it.)
Be well, take care, stay chilly.