The Climate Change Blues

The Green New Deal isn’t big enough

Climate change will force 120 million people into poverty

What I learned writing about climate change and the US south for a year

The outlook is full of distressing signs. A climate change blues plays in heavy rotation on our interior Spotify. It echoes the rainstorm that never quits, the drought that never ends. Try applying analytical reason or talking about solutions, and you confront boundless examples of human inertia, narcissism, bias and denial.

One problem is the vast scale that a viable solution requires. The Green New Deal by itself can’t stave off calamity even if the US adopted it. It’s not nearly enough because the problem is global and historic. The U.S. and other wealthy nations will have to kick in vast amounts of money in “climate finance” to mitigate emissions in developing countries, not to mention their own. Electorates show no sign of being willing to do this.

The leaders of developing nations aren’t suckers, and they know how dire the problem is. They have something rich countries want (emissions reductions), and they’d be fools to just give it away for free, even if they could. If we want them to succeed, it’s going to cost us, and we’ll need to move quickly. The science is clear: We do not have another decade to waste.

Likewise, Philip Alston, author of a devastating UN report, finds that

mainstream discussions about climate change are remarkably out of touch with the scale of the crisis and the economic and social upheaval it will bring. Political leaders have failed to put forward a vision for avoiding catastrophic consequences or protecting those most affected. . . . 

[Climate change] will impoverish hundreds of millions, including middle class people in wealthy countries. It will push 120 million people into poverty by 2030 alone, and could lead to a “climate apartheid” scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.

While American attitudes toward the climate crisis vary significantly, many people in rural regions like the South have powerful interests in promoting denial. A climate reporter for The Guardian comments:

A Pew survey indicated that white evangelical protestants are the least likely to profess a belief in climate change. Power companies, developers and conservative politicians have a vested interest in deregulation and maintaining the environmental status quo, and many paint environmental concerns as nothing but liberal pagan ideas.

In a region that recapitulates decades of delay and denial, some plan to stick it out at any cost and go down with the ship. Is it really any different with the rest of the country? Although their scale and threat have dramatically increased, floods, famine and extreme weather events have always been with us. Bessie may help us remember that “when it thunders and lightnin’ and the wind begins to blow /there’s thousands of people ain’t got no place to go.”

The Worst Case Scenario, in Summary

Human Civilization Isn’t Prepared to Survive Climate Change

If you need to be brought up to speed on the worst horrors possible with climate change, this piece is a good place to begin. Author Luke Darby interviews David Spratt, research director of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia.

The very broad strokes aren’t too different from last year’s report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that we have just over a decade to prevent the absolute worst climate outcomes. That report focused on the now-inevitable two degrees of warming, the temperature at which 411 million people living in cities will face water scarcity, crops begin failing, and all coral dies off. But Spratt and Dunlop wanted to know what the absolute worst could be. . . .

P.S. (June 25, 2019):
‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said. Developing countries will bear an estimated 75% of the costs of the climate crisis, the report said, despite the poorest half of the world’s population causing just 10% of carbon dioxide emissions.