Dahr Jamail is the author of the best-seller, The End of Ice, and a celebrated contributor to Truthout. We’ve been honored to get to know Dahr as a friend, as well as a favorite guest on Retake on the Radio. On Wednesday, Aug. 10, we talked for 40 minutes (show airs Aug. 20, 8:30 am, KSFR) and what a rich conversation it was. Today I share a link to the interview video and offer commentary on the implications of what was said. Spoiler alert: It’s not time to give up, but perhaps it is time to rethink how we devote our scarce time and resources. A short post. READ ON!
A Heads Up
Before we dive into a discussion of climate change adaptation, a brief heads up about NM Voices for Children’s 10th Annual Kids Count Conference, Thursday, August 18, 10 am-noon, all virtual.
After hearing opening remarks from Lt. Governor Howie Morales and Amber Wallin, MPA, Executive Director, NM Voices for Children, the conference will feature a review of data on shifts in the well-being of NM children and families. Following this presentation, Anne E. Price, MA, President, Insight Center, will speak about a new vision for thinking about and addressing the wealth gap and the need for a more expansive definition of wealth to include land, relationship, and other goods and ideals that communities value beyond the limited notion of financial wealth. She will also speak to how extraction is deeply intertwined with barriers to building wealth, specifically for communities and families of color.
Following her presentation, a panel of Voices policy experts will discuss Centering Kids in Public Policy to Create Generational Change. It should be a most informative day and at $30 to register, quite a bargain. Click here to register. You must register to participate.
Dahr Jamail Interview
Our conversation covered a good deal of ground. I suggest that you watch the video and then read the rest of this post, which will recount some of what was said and extend the discussion to consider the implications of points made in the interview.
After allowing Dahr to introduce himself and explain how he became a climate journalist, I asked him how he had come to believe that at this point in the unfolding climate change trajectory we should prepare to adapt to what is coming and stop putting energy into activism focused on getting the powers-that-be to act responsibly and prevent the damage coming.
Dahr offered a brief synopsis of what he had written in his book, The End of Ice, where he outlined how so much of the change to come is now “baked” into the ocean, the rainforest, and the permafrost and there is zero we can do about it. These processes will unfold no matter how much we reduce emissions and no matter what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its signatories eventually attempt to do. The permafrost will melt and release huge amounts of trapped methane into the atmosphere and ice into the oceans; Greenland’s ice shelf will melt into the sea, along with glaciers from the Arctic and Antarctica, raising sea level to the point that coastal cities will become uninhabitable; the oceans have already warmed and acidified to the point that the coral reefs can’t be saved. Dahr ticked off these climate realities before turning to politics and the Earth’s governance.
He then asked how much evidence is there of the U.S, the IPCC or anyone else seriously advancing anything like the kind of bold actions that would have made a difference 5-10 years ago. I’ve seen little, and I would add NM to this list of do-littlers.
He made a strong case that there is an inexorable force that will raise temperatures well beyond the IPCC goal of “just” a 1.5 degrees Celsius gain. Then he talked about how focusing on adaptation, building community relationships, and developing community wealth and personal and community resilience was the only kind of meaningful action one could take, as he feels that trying to influence national and international leaders is utterly pointless; they are too committed to their comforts and to economic growth, whatever the consequences.
I then mentioned that I’m about two-thirds of the way through Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, a compelling futuristic novel of a different kind, a non-fiction projection into an unspecified near future, but likely 2030-2040 or so. I explained that the book begins with a devastating description of an extreme heat wave in India, in which tens of millions of people die of thirst or from heatstroke, while the world does nothing. After the heat wave ends, the Indian government excoriates most of the world for not doing nearly enough to protect the Global South and announces plans to release tons of volcanic ash into the atmosphere to create a kind of umbrella over the earth in hopes of lowering the earth’s temperature by a degree or two. The IPCC Accord signatories cry foul, as the Accord explicitly prohibits this kind of technological effort, to which India lifts its middle finger and lambasts the world for doing nothing for decades and doing nothing to rescue India from the heat wave, and then criticizing India for trying to protect itself from harms caused by the Global North. I then asked Dahr if he viewed this as a fair projection of what is to come.
Dahr didn’t focus so much on whether the book fairly predicts the future march of climate change, but instead on how much he dislikes Robinson’s work for projecting how, in the end, technology could rescue us. He pointed out how the hubris in even beginning to think this was possible is exactly the kind of hubris that has afflicted man forever and that it is merely one more effort to manipulate nature rather than live within its constraints and limits.
When we finished talking about The End of Ice, Dahr shared that its dire conclusions had left him somewhat frozen and uncertain how to act. I felt the same way after reading it, but Dahr spent years on the field research and then steeped in writing, basically living the book for years. I spent one rough week reading it. Nonetheless, his book left me feeling almost hopeless.
We then turned to his new book, We Are the Middle of Forever, a series of conversations with Indigenous Americans on the climate crisis, the future of the Earth, and how to grapple with the increasingly bleak future. He described how Indigenous peoples of North America have experienced centuries of displacement, not due to climate but due to colonization, something to which they had to adapt repeatedly. He told me that this was a book he needed to write — he needed wisdom about how to live his life in the face of The End of Ice.
In part from his own thinking and in part from the wisdom imparted during the interviews, he landed on pursuing adaptation.
Implications from Our Discussion: Local Resilience and Adaptation
Just as the Earth has finite resources, so do each of us. And so it is important to be prudent in allocating the limited resources we each have available. No matter how much you want a specific result (e.g. halting rising seas or preventing the collapse of the coral reefs), at some point you have to stop and consider how much progress you’ve made in achieving those goals and whether putting your energy into some other important goal might make more sense. Dahr Jamail suggests we’ve reached that point. But what does it mean to shift focus to adaptability? When I asked Dahr this question, we were almost out of time and so I have only a snippet of direction here. Dahr suggested focusing energy locally, growing your own food and developing local food systems, and building community wealth and power, which strengthens communities and makes them more resilient and better able to adapt to the economic and climate chaos to come. He stressed that while environmentalists and progressives have minimal influence at a national level, in many states and in many local jurisdictions, these groups may exert far more influence.
Here, we’d like to introduce a caveat: While activism around U.S.climate policy may result in climate legislation riddled with compromise and may do little to slow the warming of the planet, it can provide resources that help individuals, systems and local communities achieve greater resilience. It isn’t as if we are recommending, turn off the news, what happens in D.C. doesn’t matter, we are merely stating that states and local communities would be imprudent to wait for/hope for salvation from international or even national sources and is best served by building their own capacities to adapt, some of which may be accelerated by federal policy. Plus asmore states and communities develop models of resilience that knowledge will be shared, facilitating broad replication. All of this may not even slow global warming, but it will make us better prepared for what is to come.
Caveat 2: Focusing on state and local policy, does not mean closing our eyes to the suffering of those in the Global South who wil face the most immediate and drastic consequences of climate change, who bear little responsibility for it and who do not have the resources or time to adapt. We [Global North, capitalism] are largely responsible for the boiling planet, but how does an individual, a ommunity or a single state do anything meaningful to support these nations and their people? Please offer comments below on all that has been shared today. This is a very thorny issue, but one that needs to be considered and discussed.
When Retake was formed in 2016, its express purpose was to work at state and local levels, precisely because we felt we had little-to-no influence on decisions made in Washington, unquestionably true during the Trump administration and nearly as true in this administration. But at the state level, we felt much more was possible. If you look at the bills Retake anticipates supporting in 2023, you will note a clear effort to focus on bills that build personal or community resilience:
- Public Power — With public power we can determine our own energy sources, create our own renewable energy sources, lower energy costs, create local jobs, free ourselves from being exploited by investor-owned utilities, and create energy independence and resilience.
- Health Security Act — The HSA will reduce the cost of health insurance, offer broader coverage with no or far lower co-pays, ensure stable healthcare costs over time, and strengthen the resilience of the NM health system, all of which again builds personal resilience and financial security.
- Guaranteed Basic Income Pilots — NM has six GBI pilots in various stages of development with more in the design phase. With GBI pilots, specific under-served populations are offered a monthly payment, generally with no strings attached. To date, pilots have targeted new immigrants; young low-income parents attending Santa Fe Community College; and homeless students in Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Cuba, and ABQ. In each case, the payments are designed to create financial stability while participants build their personal skills and resilience in school.
- State Public Bank — A state public bank would be able to use its deposits to partner with community banks and make loans to small businesses who need capital for start up or business expansion. An initial focus would be on building the capacity of farmers and ranchers to process their own products rather than shipping them out of state. The Public Bank would also work with farmers, ranchers, and local jurisdictions to construct or strengthen programs that build local food systems and shorten the path from farm to table, again, building local resiliency.
- Water Policy and Planning. Here we have an obvious need but no real plan. Hence, our advocacy will focus on pressing the state to commit resources to developing a 50-year water plan because we live in a desert and, without water, resilience of any kind is impossible.
As our new 501c3 Rethink Our Democracy unfolds, a major focus will be researching programs that effectively build community wealth and resilience. We will then use that research to educate our communities and our elected officials of opportunities to implement. Our 501c4, Retake our Democracy, will support candidates who embrace our platform of policies and lobby at the Roundhouse to support passage of legislation that advances community capacity building and resilience.
So it is not time to give up. Working to build personal and local community resilience is not giving up, it is strategically focusing resources where they can have the greatest impact.
Of course how one allocates ones own time and resources is a personal decision, we merely want to offer insights into factors that might impact your decision-making. Please offer comments below.
That’s it for today. Look for our next post, in which we will build on our prior research on hydrogen development and offer still stronger evidence that hydrogen is yet another false promise, another path to nowhere. Also coming soon: an analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act, leaning on the Center for Biodiversity and Mother Jones for their highly critical views and the NY Times and Heather Cox Richardson for a more balanced view. However you feel about the balance sheet of pros and cons on the bill, there is no question that it will bring relief to many millions of Americans and opportunities to build local resilience to many states.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne
Categories: Climate Justice, Local-State Government & Legislation
Good stuff. Also reference Andreas Malm, who advances another strategy altogether. Indigenous tribes in North America adopted different strategies in the face of the European invasion: appeasement, assimilation, armed resistance, and infinite versions of these main strategies. We are still here.
What an interesting conversation this could be within a larger environmentalist/activist group. I, for one, believe we should be pushing in ALL directions to get through this climate crisis, whatever that looks like. We should be doing everything possible each step of the way. I don’t think there is a wrong direction in which to push, nor do I think there is a silver bullet. This is a directional push I had not actually considered, and a valid one!
Dahr Jamail always has my respect. But in my view techno-pessimism is just as misguided as techno-optimism. No, we should not complacently assume technology will save us. But neither should we throw up our hands and say ‘game over’. Real progress is being made on fusion, carbon capture, deep geo-thermal and other systems. Not to mention innovative ways to scale up existing renewable sources and conserve energy. And the social and political movements to cope with warming and limit its scope are not exhausted either.
Three months ago I had given up on meaningful climate legislation. I cursed Joe Manchin every day. OK, he’s still not my favorite Senator, but things changed. Not nearly enough, but enough to show that persistence and the slow boring work of politics can pay off.
I want to suggest a way to accelerate climate action, through a Citizen’s Climate Assembly. This has been tried in France and Washington State with good results. A Citizen’s Assembly is a process that sidesteps existing elective bodies and asks a representative group of citizens, chosen by lot (sortition), to look closely at a problem and make concrete suggestions. In France (2019) and Washington (2021) this led to legislative and executive action and raised public awareness of climate issues. In Ireland a National Assembly led to radical changes in abortion law. What if we tried this here in New Mexico?
For more on Citizen’s Assemblies, see http://www.citizenassembly.ie/, and https://www.resilience.org/stories/2022-06-13/how-citizens-assemblies-are-revitalizing-democracy/
As an old guy who has had the experience of living during a historical period of peak cheap (carbon) energy overlapped by a more limited period of general prosperity for the average American (peaking in the early 1970s), there are three broad areas where I expect to focus whatever activist energy I have left. The first, BUILDING COMMUNITY resilience and sustainability, has been noted above, as have novel organizational strategies to promote such. Secondly, DE-GROWTH. Here’s a challenge: most of us in the US could reduce our consumption by 1/3 without affecting our general well-being. I realize that this can be taken as an insult by those of us who are, for example, food-insecure; but the majority of Americans can have a pretty damn good life with 2/3 of what we typically use up–from clothing to food to gasoline–pretty much all consumables. Boomers who were attentive to stories by parents and relatives living during the Great Depression might be aware of this. Thrift and simplification (even minimalism) are behaviors that have psychic value for the individual as well as for the community as a whole. Finally, it is my conviction that what has corrupted the USA nation state the most during my lifetime is the perpetual and ever-increasing war economy. This obscenity has gripped its tentacles around every domestic and international policy consideration. We must fight for a PEACE ECONOMY to replace the disgusting entrenched narrative that has been accepted and promoted by the political class and the media. Personally, I will not support any federal officeholder who votes for continued military budgets at anywhere near the level they are today. This means all of them, no matter how enlightened their stances on any other subject are. This is easily the most difficult of the three prescriptions, and I suspect that future events, outside of our agency, will play a big role in dismantling our current war economy. We shall see.
“At an awards ceremony for health care workers at a high-end hotel with a cocktail dress code on Tuesday night, Gov. Michelle Lujan….”
The above is from the opening paragraph from a SourceNM article. At a time when we’re faced with almost unlimited funding for GOP candidates and a radical loon candidate, Mark Ronchetti, for governor, we see yet another example of how out of touch our current governor is. And yet we absolutely must see her reelected.
My concern is what will happen to efforts to turn around NM dependence on oil and gas once she appoints a new PRC next year. She has shown her alliance to NMOGA. This conundrum is disheartening.
For all the good contained in the IRA, I fail to see how a $7000 tax reduction for solar and other green initiatives is viable for folks other than wealthy households. Lower income folks don’t have a high enough tax burden to make this feasible. I’ve seen that some can be carried over to the next tax year but it still seems like somewhat unrealistic for the majority who could really benefit from such a program.
I yearly try to augment our food needs from my little garden but each year it gets increasingly hammered with ever rising heat and rising water cost and availability.
Sorry for not keeping my pessimism in check. It’s not helpful and self defeating. Apologies to all. Best!