Amid dire climate change projections, a new book argues that hope still matters – Marketplace
Current climate projections predict a 2.7-degree Celsius increase in global temperature by the end of the century, which is well above the 1.5-degree cap agreed to at the Paris climate accord of 2015. In recent years, the U.S. has suffered a billion-dollar natural disaster every 18 days on average; 40 years ago, one occurred every 82 days. And research shows that approximately 150 million people are living on land that will be below the high-tide line by 2050.
It’s scary stuff, and it can make you feel a bit hopeless.
But a new book proposes that we reframe the conversation around climate change to one of possibility rather than despair. Rebecca Solnit is co-editor and one of the authors of “Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility.” The well-known author joined Marketplace’s Amy Scott to talk about the power of hope and why we shouldn’t view climate change as a battle that we’ve already lost. An edited transcript of their conversation follows.
Amy Scott: You and your co-editor, Thelma Young Lutunatabua, have a very specific audience in mind for this book. Who is it for?
Rebecca Solnit: We do see it as for everyone, and we’ve had people say for experts who are burned out and exhausted that the book can be a kind of refresh or a reminder of, you know, what’s possible, why we care, what we’ve done so far. But this is the decade of decision. We need people to participate. And so this book is really a toolbox to equip people with the ideas, the hope, the confidence, the context, to, you know, go forth and do something.
Scott: As you say at the outset of the book, hope is not the same thing as optimism. And I’m wondering why that distinction is important and why is hope different.
Solnit: For me, optimism is really confidence that everything will be fine, and if everything is going to be fine, nothing is required of us. Hope, for me, is facing the uncertainty of the future, the fact that it’s being created by what we do or fail to do in the present and really engaging actively with what those possibilities are.
Scott: One thing you talk about is that hope takes a long time to become success or victory. And there’s a great story about the young people who showed up at Standing Rock in 2016 to protest a pipeline. Tell me about this station wagon full of folks from New York who arrived at that protest [in North Dakota].
Solnit: Oh, I feel like this is one of the great lesser-known stories of the last 15 years or more. Standing Rock became this huge gathering of Native and non-Native people. For so many non-Native people, it was a crash course in understanding both climate change and oil pipeline politics, and Indigenous rights in history. And so in the middle of that incredible gathering of thousands of people at Standing Rock, a station wagon set out from New York City with a bunch of young friends in it. And one of them was so influenced by what she experienced there — the commitment, the hope — that she went home and changed her life and changed from really feeling despairing and powerless to feeling she could do something. And as it happens, she decided to run for Congress. And of course, you all know her now as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the person who introduced the Green New Deal. And so indirect consequences are something I find really exciting. Standing Rock did not stop the pipeline, but it really impacted a generation. And so one of the things we really wanted to talk about in “Not Too Late” is the way that change works — which is often in these indirect, protracted and complicated ways that nevertheless matter tremendously.
Scott: And the book is filled with examples of direct successes that may have taken a long time, but you have, actually, a list, an incomplete list, of climate victories, which is pretty remarkable to read through. What was it like for you to kind of step back from the doom and gloom and recognize what people have been able to accomplish?
Solnit: I never stepped forward into gloom and doom. I am hopelessly hopeful, partly out of sheer stubbornness and my sense that the fossil fuel companies would like us to give up and feel powerless. And the hell I’m gonna give it to them. One of the stories I’m incredibly excited about in the book is by Renato Constantino, a Philippines-based climate organizer. He and others in the climate-vulnerable nations forced the world to set the threshold with the Paris climate treaty at 1.5 degrees, not 2 degrees. Nowadays, people think, you know, like it came down on the tablets of the law from Mount Sinai or something, but it was really a fighting point. And they fought a battle most people thought they couldn’t win and won it against the 192 nations who are signatories. So, so many of the good changes come from the margins and the edges, from people who are officially deemed to be powerless and ultimately change things at the center.
Scott: As you just mentioned, you’re not the sole author on this. We get to hear from lots of different voices through essays and conversations in the book. What was it like for you to work with others from all over the world and hear this perspective of scientists and activists and writers who are joined in this fight?
Solnit: Thelma and I assembled what we call our dream team. We thought of what we needed to cover the science, the politics, the policy, the activism, the kind of moral and philosophical and emotional perspectives. And we have two [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] climate scientists. And it’s important to say that these people who are in the deepest policy workings and the scientific world are not hopeless either, and their voices were such an important part of the chorus we assembled.
Scott: Yeah, I was really struck by those two. Of course, in the most recent IPCC Synthesis Report, you know, you talked about the 1½ degrees Celsius threshold. It leaves us with a very urgent sense that if we’re not too late, we are very close to being too late to escaping hitting that threshold. And one of the things I took away from the book is that even if we do, there are things worth saving.
Solnit: Absolutely. There will always be something worth saving. It is never too late in that sense. We feel a lot of despair, shame, anxiety about it. A world in which we didn’t feel those things would be richer in these deep and profound ways. And that’s worth working towards.
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