As a result of California’s hottest heat waves and flood warnings from Hurricane Kay, climate anxiety is on the rise. The question that now arises from these anxieties is; “How close are we to extinction?” From what I’ve found, I am certain there will be suffering, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
The path of the next decade seems pretty clear to me. A Youtube video titled Timeline of the Next 80 Years, by Cool Worlds, breaks down projections written in the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Officials are certain that we will hit a temperature rise of 1.5°C by the end of this decade, regardless of
intervention strategies. According to the National Public Radio, a 1.5°C rise means a major loss of coral reefs, double the amount of heat waves and droughts, followed by floods, melting ice caps with rising sea levels, and storms like never before. This will affect the ability to produce goods because of crop damage and will restrict access to infrastructure, like the energy grid. The Office of the Attorney General says California specifically will experience issues like worsened fire seasons, coastal erosion, losses to water supply, and much more. Homelessness will be increasingly more problematic due to damaged homes, and California will lack access to resources because of production shortages. All-in-all, the assumption of the climate crisis leading to our extinction will not occur, but, within this decade, climate-related weather issues will get drastically worse.
Although we may wish to be optimistic that we will not advance beyond the 1.5°C mark, I am doubtful that this will be the case. According to the Climate Clock, we have about 7 years to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C by following guidelines within the Green New Deal. Some climate scientists seem wary of the possibility of meeting this goal, as we are far behind in doing so. We may exceed the 1.5°C mark to 2°C or even higher, more intolerable numbers by the end of this century. We are behind the curve because of corporate holds on industries, such as the fossil fuel industry. In a truly sustainable world, it would be incredibly difficult to find a way to profit off of natural and readily available resources. Due to corporate greed, communities will be sacrificed, and while we have an idea of who, it could be any of us. Certain populations, like those from third-world countries, are much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than those of us in wealthier areas. The human race will survive, but we cannot let whole communities disappear. I have hope that we will reach a time where profit doesn’t get in the way of a net zero world, simply because we need to in order to survive. I believe that humanity is intelligent, and at its core, kind. I know that if I do my part in order to keep moving towards the light at the end of the tunnel, we will make it. The importance of staying optimistic is what will keep us going. There are reasons to believe that things will get better because lots of hard work is being done. Luckily, I feel that the two best approaches to fixing this problem are: one lies on the individual and community level, and the other on a more systemic one.
The first thing to acknowledge regarding the notion of how we are presently dealing with climate change systematically, is that individuals are being kept distracted from more concrete issues by methods such as greenwashing or the carbon footprint sham. Greenwashing, coined by environmentalist Jay Wesrerveld in 1986, is a term that describes a phenomenon where companies put more effort into marketing themselves as green than actually becoming green. An effect of the greenwashing problem is the narrative regarding carbon footprints. We have been led to believe that the majority of people’s carbon footprints are significant enough to change the environment, compared to those whose footprints are exponentially larger. This framework also does not take into account that making more ethical purchases requires privilege. Some communities are not capable of reducing their carbon footprints, and narratives like this can create class-infighting. You can see this in plastic-or-paper-straws-themed debates, where conversations regarding the manufacturers of the products are left out.
The first step in creating systemic change is reconstructing the narrative of who is really at fault for climate disasters. One group, the Global Climate Crimes Project, has created a list of people they deem as Climate Criminals, like Richard Edelman, Charles Koch, or Nick Akins. They first identify different Climate Criminals by pointing out who has committed at least one of five types of crimes: denial, extraction, subsidization, financial, and retail. Then, they target disinformation online whilst gaining movement to fight a case with the International Criminal Court, the goal being Degrowth. Degrowth is an idea in alignment with the Green New Deal, which states that exponential economic growth is unsustainable. This organization strategy emphasizes a transition to small-scale companies, a basic income, an income ceiling, and limiting exploitation of natural resources through regulations, taxes, and compensations. We can engage with these ideas in a professional setting, or choose to do so in our personal lives and within the campus community.
As college students, we have great opportunities to gain the skills to overcome the systemic challenges that are previously discussed. You could study topics that deal with Degrowth or climate criminals, or you can choose to study things that promote community engagement. Outside of class, we can take on community projects to get hands-on experience. For instance, one could refer to a method like Mutual Aid, which is an organizational technique in which resources and services are shared mutually, and ideally without monetary exchange, in order to subvert political problems. Some examples are food drives, eviction defense, or child care, created without requirements such as welfare or food stamps. A large part of this theory deals with intersectionality and privilege. It is important to recognize that making climate change one of our priorities is a privilege because others can experience limitations such as racism or poverty. With the rise of natural-disaster-displaced refugees, there will be more intermingling between cultures, and unfortunately, bigotry will be a part of that.
With that said, we need to first make sure that our community is a safe space through ideas like mutual aid before we can start expecting everyone to pitch in on solving the problem. Community reliance in this way will keep us safe when climate disaster hits, because we will have the systems required for survival already in place. I want to stress that no matter how hopeless the situation may seem, we should never open Pandora’s box. We will continue to face disastrous weather conditions and shortages, but we can always work within the system to limit corporate exploitation, or within our communities to work around the system. We should let this hope propel us into the future and continue to work towards the success of humanity.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus