Baby, It's Cold (and Hot) Outside

Counterintuitive Climate Change. And Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels | ISSUE SIX | 01.30.19

ONE | Fossil Fuel Farewell. TWO | The Polar Express. THREE | Spiking a Fever Down Under. FOUR | When You Are Claumatized. FIVE | ‘Ha! We’ve Got Them Now!’ SIX | When Science Fiction Comes to Life. SEVEN | Paging ‘Angry Optimism.’ EIGHT | What American Climate Change Looks like. NINE | The Depravity of Climate Denial. TEN | PS: You Promised Cartoons

Image by Brandon Harvey |

First, the non-dire news. I’m old enough to recall from college the drip-drip-drip of the disinvestment campaign in South Africa, credited with driving negotiations that led to the dismantling of apartheid. A similar movement is afoot with fossil fuel investment with stakes affecting every country on Earth. Bill McKibben, iconic environmentalist and founder reports this week on the billion-dollar news out of Vermont’s Middlebury College, where he teaches:

The college initially rejected the notion a half-dozen years ago, McKibben tweets. Much has changed:

The climate crisis deepened; renewable energy plummeted in price; it became clear that fossil fuels was a lousy investment; and it was revealed that the oil companies had lied through their teeth (which matters at academic institutions)... As a result, even places with deep Wall St. ties are re-examining their thinking—NYC and London pension funds for instance, which are the two biggest financial capitals on earth, have recently divested.

“It’s freezing outside,” says climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, kicking off an instructive “Global Weirding” episode. “So, clearly all that global warming is a bunch of hooie, right?” Here’s her guidance on how to talk back to that chestnut. She also considers the indications record warm temperatures in recent Arctic winters “may be opening the freezer door, so to speak, letting Arctic air spill down over the mid-latitudes.” The result is a counter-intuitive idea: bitterly cold weather may be caused by a warming planet. PS: I’m not sure there’s a standard spelling for ‘hooie,’ but an alternative one might be ‘t-r-u-m-p.’ PS: Subscribe here to the bi-monthly “Global Weirding” episodes.

THREE | Spiking a Fever Down Under
While America bundles up, Australia is running a terrible fever. This 01.30.19 Daily Kos story describes it as “a heat event even more deadly than the cold sweeping across the United States.”

Temperatures have run over 45 degrees Celsius (about 113 Fahrenheit) in city after city, day after brutal day. In some areas, temperatures have hovered close to 120 F, while overnight temperatures have been barely dipping below 100 F. The continuing heatwave in Australia is a genuine ecological disaster … As the New York Times reports, we have entered “an age of weather extremes.” And those extremes are simply becoming more … extreme year by year as we drive the system into greater spasms of instability.

Crystal A. Kolden, an associate professor in the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources, told the Times that “When something happens — whether it’s a cold snap, a wildfire, a hurricane, any of those things — we need to think beyond what we have seen in the past and assume there’s a high probability that it will be worse than anything we’ve ever seen.”…

The author adds the caveat that not every extreme weather event is climate change. “But the reason that this is the age of the extreme, the age when records just keep falling, and when the 20 warmest years on record have all happened in the last 22 years, is certainly the result of climate change.”

FOUR | When You’re Claumatized
Spend too much time around climate news and you can easily get freaked. I call it ‘claumatized’ (I hereby claim the debut of a new word/hashtag). Much less how front-line climate scientists feel after cameras stop rolling, as portrayed in the hard-to-take-in-one-sitting 06.20.18 Esquire article “When the End of Civilization Is Your Day Job.”. We’ll return to the article in another newsletter.

But I want to highlight Oregon clinical psychologist Dan Rubin and the International Transformational Resistance Coalition, whose aim is “building human resilience for climate change.” The ITRC comprises more than 250 mental health, trauma treatment, resilience, education, faith, climate, and other professionals. (And— if they’ll have me—this tiny newsletter editor, who submitted to join, hoping they count fledgling climate change communicator/curators in their mission.)

A major ecological--turned mental health--turned social-political crisis is underway that has yet to be fully acknowledged or addressed: the harmful impacts of climate change on personal mental health and psycho-social-spiritual well-being…. The ITRC's mission is to promote and support comprehensive preventative initiatives in North America and internationally to proactively build psychological and psycho-social-spiritual resilience for climate change. 

Now, there’s a movement to get behind.

FIVE | ‘Ha! We’ve Got Them Now!’

Climate Change Tweet of the Week:

SIX | When Science Fiction Comes to Life
I am of two minds about the burgeoning “cli-fi” field (Start here and here). This newsletter took up climate science fiction as a regular beat, starting with Issue Two, Item Seven. And again in Issue Three, Items Seven and Eight (where I come clean with my own cli-fi-ing). But I can only take so much dystopia in my fiction. That’s especially so as climate science headlines are like the apocalyptic sci-fi some of us relished as kids, come to Frankenstein life. But this 01.15.19 BBC article is a good overview of how sci-fi/cli-fi can educate, not just eviscerate, one’s hopes.

As diplomats draft the rulebook for the global response to the climate crisis and engineers race to produce better solar panels, writers have found their role, too: telling what (science fiction writer Kim Stanley) Robinson calls “the story of the next century”. In doing that, they might be helping readers across the world comprehend the situation in which we currently find ourselves… “Science fiction gets people thinking in a way that another report on climate change doesn’t,” says Shelley Streeby, a Professor of Literature and Ethnic Studies at UC San Diego.

Personally, I’ll be checking out “solar punk,” a movement of writers who imagine a better future.

Authors like the New Mexico-based Sarena Ulibarri dislike the doom-and-gloom tone of dystopian literature, deciding instead to show what a fairer world – powered by renewables – could look like… “Any near-future science fiction that does not engage with climate change is fantasy,” says Ulibarri.

SEVEN | Paging ‘Angry Optimism’

The article above quotes a character in Kim Stanley Robinson’s cli-fi novel “New York 2140” (which envisages a Venice-drenched New York), who bashes the economic system, arguing “the world is a mess because of the assholes who think they can steal everything and get away with it. So we have to overwhelm them and get back to justice.” The kid in question is asked whether conditions are ripe? He responds:

“Very ripe. People are scared for their kids. That’s the moment things can tip.” One could wonder whether the characters are talking about concerned parents in 2140 or in 2018 and, as with most good dialogue in science fiction, it is hard to know. Robinson calls his approach “angry optimism”: it can get better, yes, but only if people are ready to shake things up.

Be it known, the Changing Climates Times is auditioning climate change organizing principles beyond just overwhelming angst. We begin our climate change motto quest (CCMQ) with: “Angry Optimism!”

The lines lick higher on California wild fires apparently spurred by climate change. | Washington Post graphic

EIGHT | What Climate Change in America Looks Like
Journalism’s “death spiral” can obscure cutting-edge work done by still-thriving outfits like the Washington Post (it helps to have a cueball, evil genius billionaire buy you). When you feel rested and ready, pull up WaPo’s remarkable, you-are-there 01.29.19 multimedia showcase on your phone or laptop, “GONE IN A GENERATION: Across America, Climate Change Already is Disrupting Lives.” Prepare to be impressed by state-of-the-art multimedia reporting. Then, disturbed by the state of climate change right here, right now, today, from sea (California wildfires) to shining sea (New Bern, North Carolina flooding).

The changes are especially acute in the West, where human-caused climate change is a significant factor in worsening wildfires, scientists at the University of Idaho and Columbia University in New York found. The hotter and drier conditions parch soil and wither plants and brush, increasing fuel for more forest fires. Climate data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows a clear correlation between very hot and dry years, like 2017 and 2018, and more destructive fires. One of the most alarming developments: These more explosive and rapidly spreading fires leave communities with little notice or chance to evacuate. Such fire behavior stood out in the deadly 2018 Carr and Camp Fires in California…

PS: Afterwards, if you need a pick-me-up, click through the many hits when you Google “Is Jeff Bezos evil?” I don’t really think the richest dude in the world is. But Amazon Prime might be, given how, Voldemort-like, it sucks the life out of your checking account.

NINE | The Depravity of Climate Denial
When Paul Krugman unloads on the right target, his aim is dead to rights. In a 12.03.19 NYTimes column, “Climate Denial Was the Crucible for Trumpism,” Krugman traces a line not clearly traced before. How Donald Trump’s conspiracy theorizing and menacing of critics was first seen in the trenches of G.O.P. climate denial. Importantly, he notes the G.O.P. wasn’t always anti-environment and anti-science. George H.W. Bush introduced a cap-and-trade program “that largely controlled the problem of acid rain. As late as 2008, John McCain called for a similar program to limit emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.”

First, If we fail to meet the challenge of climate change, with catastrophic results — which seems all too likely — it won’t be the result of an innocent failure to understand what was at stake. It will, instead, be a disaster brought on by corruption, willful ignorance, conspiracy theorizing and intimidation.

Second, that corruption isn’t a problem of “politicians” or the “political system.” It’s specifically a problem of the Republican Party, which has burrowed ever deeper into climate denial even as the damage from a warming planet becomes more and more obvious.

Third, we can now see climate denial as part of a broader moral rot. Donald Trump isn’t an aberration, he’s the culmination of where his party has been going for years. You could say that Trumpism is just the application of the depravity of climate denial to every aspect of politics.

TEN | PS: You Promised Cartoons
Indeed. Please pass the newsletter forward. And subscribe for free if you caught the pass! Thanks. Douglas Imbrogno, @douglaseye