Annals of a Warming Planet
No Comment: The Debate Is a Reminder That, Right Now, Words Don’t Mean Much
By Bill McKibben
September 30, 2020
If President Trump wins a second term, our federal government will spend the next critical years stoking the fires that are now heating our planet.Photograph by David McNew / Getty
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Apologies. I had prepared a detailed and careful account of the emerging debate over carbon pricing for this week’s column, but, after watching Tuesday night’s debate, I’m pulling it for now. We are not in a moment when nuanced analysis matters. The President, with the cursed energy of a true narcissist, is trying to bully and bluster his way to another ruinous term. If he gets it, our federal government will spend the next critical years stoking the fires that are now heating our planet. I’m going to spend the rest of the week making phone calls for his challenger.
Passing the Mic
Sasha DiGiulian is an internationally renowned rock climber based in Colorado, with first ascents and world-championship medals to prove it. She’s also a member of a team of athletes from Protect our Winters that is trying to register young voters in the run-up to the November balloting. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You’ve spent a lot of time in the world’s wild places. Can you see the face of climate change?
I’ve seen the effects of climate change both in my own personal experiences as well as with those of my close friends. I’ve lost multiple friends in avalanche accidents that occurred due to a warming snowpack. It’s hard to pin all rockfall on climate change; however more and more there are less consistent weather patterns because of the changing climate. On an ice-climbing expedition to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, I saw firsthand the volatile shift in the integrity of an ice climb that could’ve endangered my life and those with me. In many ways, both in my sport but also in day-to-day life, like the wildfires sweeping the West and resulting smoke filling the air here in Colorado, the warming planet is having a major impact.
So what do you say to the kids camped in a van at Joshua Tree or Camp 4 to get them to actually mail in their ballots, or to take a day off from climbing and actually drive to the polls?
Obviously, they’ve invested time, energy, and money toward facilitating their passion for climbing. And so I’d tell them that, in order to continue to be able to access places like Joshua Tree or Yosemite, they need to be willing to speak out for the future of the outdoors. The places we love to climb and find our solace are under threat from the effects of climate change and fossil-fuel-industry-backed legislation. The only way to protect them is to vote for politicians who will champion, or at least vote for, policies that will slow global warming and protect public lands. If every person who recreates outside, all fifty million of us, turns out to vote, we can have a tremendous impact in insuring a future for outdoor recreation. Protect Our Winters has made that really easy with​, where they help you register, request a mail ballot, and return it in time, all in one place. So you don’t even have to take a day off to make it to the polls, you just have to make a plan early. I would hope that for the future of our planet and for the way that we want our freedom and safety within the outdoors to thrive, that everyone of age votes, and recognizes that it is worthy of a rest day (if needed) to cast a ballot.
When you took a stand in the 2016 election against Donald Trump, people on social media told you to “crawl under a rock,” or “focus on climbing, sweetie.” Do you ever think, I could do without all this politics? What keeps you engaged?
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I believe in the power that sport has in changing the world, and in its ability to connect communities. I know that, as a professional climber with a large platform, it’s my responsibility to take an active stance on issues affecting our world rather than simply acknowledging them. I’m proud to be an active advocate with organizations like Protect Our Winters, the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund, the Women’s Sport Foundations, Right to Play, and Up2Us Sports, and know that I have informed opinions that can make a difference. I refuse to be a passive bystander. What’s the point of having a platform if I don’t use it to amplify the causes that I believe in?
Climate School
Don’t expect a retreat from the new high level of climate disasters: a recent paper from an Oxford professor argues that we now live in an era of “regression to the tail” instead of “regression to the mean.” A Times survey of climate scientists makes the same argument in journalistic rather than statistical terms.
The BBC offers a short but comprehensive assessment of all the ways that the fossil-fuel industry has lied about climate change over the past three decades.
In August, I wrote about a new training program that turns North Dakota’s oil-field workers into wind-turbine technicians. Jeff Berardelli, of CBS, covered the same story from a much better angle—three hundred feet up.
Anyone who cares about the wilder corners of this Earth, and the indigenous people and animals that have successfully inhabited them, should know the work of Richard Nelson, a remarkable anthropologist and superb writer who died last year. A fine introduction to his life can be found in a new biography, “Raven’s Witness,” by Hank Lentfer.
“Kiss the Ground,” a new film about soil and carbon, débuted on Netflix last week. It features, among others, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (that feels weird to write) and the actress Rosario Dawson.
A new Oxfam study found that the richest one per cent of humans contributed more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the poorest fifty per cent of humanity. Think about that for a minute.
A dozen big cities, from Berlin to Durban to Vancouver, announced plans to divest their municipal assets from fossil fuels.
Warming Up
The musician Kenny White, who has produced hundreds of commercials over the years, is a nimble and clever songwriter—and his new update of his tune “Never Like This” is a good prelude to election season.
Bill McKibben is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign and a contributing writer to The New Yorker. He writes The Climate Crisis, The New Yorker’s newsletter on the environment.
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