My headline here kind of says it ALL. I mean, no one has ever had a Climate Czar before. No one has moved as rapidly to undue the damage done by The Cheeto Burrito. It might now be a horse race, instead of a jump over a cliff. But the race will be tight. Still, if we are trying – we can fail and in the long long run, win.
The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news.
This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.
In the American Southwest, birds fell dead from the sky by the tens of thousands, succumbing mid-flight to starvation, emaciated by climate change.
Across the horn of Africa swarmed 200 billion locusts, 25 for every human on earth, darkening the sky in clouds as big as whole cities, descending on cropland and chewing through as much food as tens of millions of people eat in a day, eventually dying in such agglomerating mounds they stopped trains in their tracks — all told, 8,000 times as many locusts as could be expected in the absence of warming.
The fires, you know. Or do you? In California in 2020, twice as much land burned as had ever burned before in any year in the modern history of the state — five of the six biggest fires ever recorded. In Siberia, “zombie fires” smoldered anomalously all through the Arctic winter; in Brazil, a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, was incinerated; in Australia, flames took the lives of 3?billion animals.
All year, a planet transformed by the burning of carbon discharged what would have once been called portents of apocalypse. The people of that planet, as a whole, didn’t take much notice — distracted by the pandemic and trained, both by the accumulating toll of recent disasters and the ever-rising volume of climate alarm, to see what might once have looked like brutal ruptures in lived reality instead as logical developments in a known pattern. Our time has been so stuffed with disasters that it was hard to see the arrival of perhaps the unlikeliest prophecy of all: that the plague year may have marked, for climate change, a turning point, and for the better.
When trying to share good news about climate, it pays to be cautious, since so many have looked foolish playing Pollyanna. A turning point isn’t an endgame, or a victory, or a cessation of the need to struggle — for speedier decarbonization, for a sturdier future, for climate justice. Already, a future without profound climate suffering has been almost certainly foreclosed by decades of inaction, which means the burden of managing those impacts equitably will be handed down, generation to generation, into an indefinite and contested climate future.
Go there and read (hurrah). More next week.