Amy Westervelt: The Case for Climate Rage (Popula)
People in power have never willingly dismantled the systems that benefit them. Thus David Wallace-Wells earned an eye-popping advance for The Uninhabitable Earth, a book in which he makes some solid and necessary points, and then concludes, in the absence of credible evidence, that “we,” who are responsible for climate change, will solve it with geoengineering; Nathaniel Rich was given a whole issue of the New York Times Magazine in which to wax poetic about “our” failure to stop climate change, a story optioned almost instantly for a book and a film; Jonathan Safran Foer will soon join them with his own version of the “we are all to blame” narrative, We Are the Weather, in which he argues first, incorrectly, that human diets are the primary cause of climate change, and then that “we” need to tackle it by making the necessary lifestyle changes. There are more, believe. The system explicitly rewards these men for visualizing the future as a parallel system that leaves the patriarchal, capitalist pyramid intact. It’s all they know how to imagine, and all the rest of us are permitted to imagine: a future in which the right politicians, coupled with the right scientists and corporate executives, will turn climate change into an opportunity, not a crisis, with jobs and profits for all!
It’s an epic saga in which they are the heroes, an apocalyptic sci-fi video game or movie in which a few good men will just get rid of the bad guys in the third act. No need to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy, envision a different and better way of living, re-think economic and societal structures, or remove power over the fate of humanity from the hands of a self-interested few.
There was also a lot of talk back then about natural gas stores and how to make them profitable, and eventually US companies developed the technology to do just that (via hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”), and exported it around the world. When other countries said no thanks to contaminating their water sources for the sake of natural gas, U.S. companies said no worries, we’ll frack here and export it. That’s one reason the U.S. became the world’s number-one energy supplier and why, at a time when scientists are saying we need to have started on a path toward zero emissions yesterday, global emissions are climbing.
How exactly was the general public supposed to stop that?
Rather than imagining an industrial or corporate-friendly response to the crisis, what it would look like to shut down fossil fuel production tomorrow? What if conversations about “adaptation” focused on acclimating to that new reality?
It matters because the same patriarchal elites have remained comfortably in power for so long that their imaginations are unequal to the task we face. Arguments for civility, for “forgiveness,” for “we’re all in this together”, for a preservation of the status quo with just a few tweaks, won’t keep us all from going over the cliff.