28 – The Tragedy of Climate Injustice

28 – The Tragedy of Climate Injustice

Developing nations are particularly vulnerable to impacts of global heating, including widespread destruction and death from storms, droughts, and floods. This is not just bad luck, it’s tragic climate injustice. Wealthy countries have run up a vast planetary and ecological bill with a century of resource extraction and greenhouse gas emissions. The bill has come due, but whenever possible we leave the bill at the door of developing countries – countries which are least able to pay, and which have done almost nothing, relatively speaking, to contribute to the climate and ecological crisis. Central to humanity’s attempt to save itself must be a massive effort by wealthy nations to take responsibility for paying the cost of the comforts they now enjoy.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
The Climate Crisis As a Bill That Has Come Due
Reparations for Climate Injustice
Seeing Our Connection to the Fate of Developing Nations
Taking Responsibility for Paying the Cost of Amassing Wealth


climate injustice

Pakistan floods – Displaced people fleeing Sindh streamed into Balochistan. PHOTO: Abdul Majeed Goraya / IRIN | www.irinnews.org

As of yesterday, September 7th, 2022, almost 1/3 of the country of Pakistan was under water.[i] 33 million people are affected, 6.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, 1.7 million homes have been damaged or destroyed, and at least 1,355 people have died.[ii] As flood waters abate, it will take years for Pakistan to rebuild schools, hospitals, homes, and infrastructure, and for its agriculture and businesses to recover. Even before the flooding, Pakistan was in danger of economic collapse, appealing to the International Monetary Fund for a $1.7 billion relief package. The costs of the recent flooding are expected to be well over $10 billion.[iii]

The primary causes of the massive flooding in Pakistan are heavier-than-usual monsoonal rains and accelerated glacial melting. Both causes are exacerbated by global heating, making the people of Pakistan victims of the climate crisis even though they have done relatively little to contribute to the problem.


The Climate Crisis As a Bill That Has Come Due

Ironically, wealthy countries have driven global heating and ecological breakdown with their resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution – but they now tend to be more insulated from catastrophic climate-related impacts due to their northern locations, wealth, and far superior infrastructures. Even when wealthy countries experience terrible climate-related events or conditions, they are far better able to prepare for, mitigate, and recover from them.

For a hundred years or more, industrialized nations have plundered our planet’s natural resources as if there was no cost to paid for this – beyond that incurred while extracting, processing, and consuming them. But there was a cost, just a delayed one. Our bill has come due, but whenever we can, we leave it at the door of developing nations. Not only that, as the developing nations struggle to cope, they fall deeper in debt to wealthy ones, thereby making the imbalance even worse.

There is more and more discussion about how wealthy countries owe reparations to the developing ones now on the frontlines of the climate crisis. This seems not only fair and just, but also, of course, humane. How wonderful it would be if the richest countries in the world – including the U.S., Canada, European nations, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Japan[iv] – quickly mobilized a massive rescue effort in Pakistan, just as they would for their own citizens. Because developing nations in particular are paying the price for the comfort the wealthy nations now enjoy.


Reparations for Climate Injustice

However, the discussion about climate reparations has largely remained just that – discussion. Starting in 2009, the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set a goal of providing $100 Billion a year to assist developing nations by 2020 – not just for climate change compensation, but to help them develop in climate-friendly ways as possible. At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, it was acknowledged that wealthy nations had increased their contributions in this area but had fallen short of the $100 Billion a year goal.[v]

$100 Billion may sound like a lot of money, and we can hope that this kind of assistance will be happening soon, but consider that Pakistan’s recent flooding could eat up 10-20% of that amount – and that would simply be for recovery, not for investment in climate-friendly development. And that’s just one country facing unprecedented and destructive climate-related events (think also of millions of people facing food shortages in the Horn of Africa due to their worst drought in 40 years[vi] and recent floods in Bangladesh that some called the worst in 100 years,[vii] to name just a couple current situations in developing countries).


Seeing Our Connection to the Fate of Developing Nations

It’s human nature to care most about what it close to us – to feel concern about and generosity toward our families, friends, and people in our immediate communities. To be focused on what’s happening within our own country, or within the groups with which we identify. It’s easy to look through pictures of floods in Pakistan and feel sorry for the people affected, but then to stash our knowledge of this situation away in our minds, along with subtle, semi-conscious rationalizations like, “They always have monsoons in that area of the world,” or “They’ll get over it.”

Despite the extremity of the situation in Pakistan, when I went to search for the latest reports on the flooding, I found the issue was no longer on the front pages of the digital editions of the New York Times, Guardian, or Washington Post. I had to search for “Pakistan Flooding” in Google and set the time frame for the search to the last 24 hours in order to get anything current.

Imagine having lost your home and livelihood in a flood, even though you lived in an area that has never flooded in living memory – even in the monsoon season. When the waters finally rose far enough to force you to evacuate, you were utterly shocked. Imagine huddling with your children and elders in a leaky, makeshift shelter, without enough food or clean water, skeptical that any help will be coming any time soon. All support systems are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people affected by the floods. You talk with other refugees, and some of them say the crazy weather over the last 5-10 years is caused by the greenhouse gas emissions from rich countries like the United States. You wonder if anyone in those rich countries is thinking about how their way of life has destroyed yours. You see no end to the difficulties you are facing.


Taking Responsibility for Paying the Cost of Amassing Wealth

Bearing Witness to the tragic injustice of the climate crisis is not meant to make you feel guilty, although guilt may be an appropriate emotion when we have participated in something wrong. However, as I’ve discussed before on this podcast, no one of us is responsible for our climate crisis.

I think it’s valuable for us to face the injustice of the climate and ecological crisis because it shifts our sense of the problem. We see it not as a merely physical matter of finding sources of energy that don’t emit so much greenhouse gas and mitigating the effects of pollutants we’ve already emitted while enriching ourselves. Instead, we see it as an issue of humanity, justice, and fairness. Almost any indigenousness culture of the world could have told us that carelessly and greedily plundering earth’s natural resources would have a cost, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Now that the bill has come due, it is our duty to pay it – to mitigate, correct, and repair damage caused by global heating, wherever it occurs. We do this NOT because poor people in a foreign country need our charity, but because it’s our responsibility – and to dodge our responsibility in this case is reprehensible.

Over the coming years, you will probably hear more about climate justice, climate reparations, or climate compensation. I hope any of us with blessings like shelter, food, safety, and education will be open to seeing these matters as part of our responsibility as moral and respectful global citizens.



[i] https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/09/07/pakistan-floods-dire-millions-children

[ii] https://reliefweb.int/report/pakistan/pakistan-floods-fact-sheet-3-fiscal-year-fy-2022

[iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/07/opinion/environment/pakistan-climate-change-floods.html

[iv] https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/NGDPDPC@WEO/OEMDC/ADVEC/WEOWORLD

[v] https://ukcop26.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Climate-Finance-Delivery-Plan-1.pdf

[vi] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/7/droughts-and-hunger-what-is-happening-in-the-horn-of-africa

[vii] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/6/22/bangladesh-floods-experts-say-climate-crisis-worsening-situation


Photo Credit:

Pakistan floods – Displaced people fleeing Sindh streamed into Balochistan. PHOTO: Abdul Majeed Goraya / IRIN | www.irinnews.org. Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

26 – The Trauma of No Longer Being Able to Depend on Nature

26 – The Trauma of No Longer Being Able to Depend on Nature

I think it’s important we Bear Witness to the fact that we are losing the luxury of depending on nature, and that this is deeply traumatic – although the trauma is happening to us relatively slowly, and we’re not yet sure exactly how it is going to manifest for each of us, or in our wider societies.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
Nature as Eternal, Dependable, Ever-Present
No Longer Being Able to Depend on Nature
Bearing Witness to Our Loss


I missed giving you a new episode last week because I went on a short backpacking trip into the wilderness. That’s a lame excuse, I know, but it was very restorative. I am the teacher and executive director of a Zen center with 80 members and also maintain a Zen podcast from which I make part of my living, so I’m usually burning the candle at both ends in order to also do the Climate and You podcast. I really wanted this podcast to be weekly, but what I can actually maintain is probably three episodes a month. I hope you will continue to listen!

Nature as Eternal, Dependable, Ever-Present

One of the things I find most rewarding about getting out in the wilderness is encountering settings of striking beauty – like an alpine meadow, a cool forested glade, a quiet spot along a river, a waterfall, or a whole mountain when it comes into view – and contemplating how this scene endures serenely year after year, decade after decade, human lifetime after human lifetime. The character of the scene changes with the seasons, but seasonal cycles also continue in a steady and predictable way while all kinds of human dramas unfold elsewhere. At any given moment, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, this waterfall continues to flow and put on a show, regardless of whether any human is watching.

We know a given tree might die and fall, or a fire may temporarily alter the ecology, or successional changes may result in a different mix of species in a given area, but as a whole, nature endures. Compared to our human sense of time, nature seems eternal and dependable – a vast field surrounding and supporting us at all times, whether we’re aware of it or not. And when we’re able to set aside our human affairs for a while and enter those places where nature takes up more space than humans do, the alpine meadow and forested glade are there for us, calming our hearts and expanding our perspectives.

Of course, nature isn’t always serene and pleasant. There have always been terrible storms, fires, droughts, floods, and other natural disasters. We understood that nature could be cruel sometimes. However, if we survived these relatively rare disasters, we knew nature would settle back down and make her bounty available again, as she has for as long as humans can remember. Nature’s occasional departures from the expected, however distressing, happened in the context of climate and weather patterns that had been more or less stable for millennia. Whatever misfortunes befell us in our personal lives, or to our families, clans, or societies, nature went on – implacable, predictable at least over the time scale of multiple years, ever-present, more or less unchanging.

No Longer Being Able to Depend on Nature

I think it’s important we Bear Witness to the fact that we are no longer able to depend on nature the way we used to, and that this is deeply traumatic – although the trauma is happening to us relatively slowly, and we’re not yet sure exactly how it is going to manifest for each of us, or in our wider societies.

Farmers can no longer count on water from lakes, streams, and water tables that have been providing for centuries but are now drying up. Farmers can no longer be sure that the crops they have grown for generations are suited to the new climate of their farmland. Extreme droughts, floods, storms, and heat waves are coming too often for people to cope with and still maintain their homes and livelihoods. The forest and grassland ecosystems that filter water, sequester carbon, and provide humans with lumber and grazing land are unraveling. The vast ocean is permeated with garbage and plastic and is acidifying, threatening the survival of the fish populations on which so many people depend. Whole villages – inhabited by people and their ancestors for as long as anyone can remember – are being lost by rising water and melting permafrost. We can no longer count on our favorite birds passing through our yards every year, and the flowers and trees that used to be just right for our area are dying.

When I contemplate making a trip to the wilderness ten years from now, I fear I will see the breakdown of natural systems even in the remote meadow and glade. I fear I will watch a trickle of water over a waterfall while hearing people reminisce about how it used to be a torrent. That the rivers will be empty of insects, frogs, and birds. That the forests will be dying, diseased, or burned. That the seasons will be nothing like what we remember, and that even the mountains will start wearing away, deprived of their blankets of snow and vegetation.

Thinking of this loss of nature as we have known it, this loss of stable and predictable natural systems, I touch a grief more profound than I am capable of embracing. It’s just too big. Integrating such a grief leaves you facing an abyss of further loss, rather than allowing you to recover and appreciate the steady ongoing pulse of life. There’s not only grief, there’s also a sense of being disoriented, adrift, lost, without context. And, of course, there’s fear.

Bearing Witness to Our Loss

We can hope that humanity is going to course-correct quickly enough that not all will be lost. That we will put the brakes on this accelerating climate and ecological breakdown and give nature the space to recover. She has amazing powers of recovery! I plan to talk about just that in some future episodes.

In the meantime, though, in many ways we have already lost the luxury of depending on nature the way we used to. The term “solastalgia” was coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht in his 2003 book Solastalgia: a new concept in human health and identity. He defined it as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home,”[i] because your environment is changing in rapid, negative, and probably permanent ways. It’s often used to talk about the experience of people and populations dealing with the loss of their homes, livelihoods, communities, and culture due to climate change or destructive practices like mining.

People who are less directly connected to and dependent on the natural environment in their daily lives are less likely to report experiencing solastalgia, but I wonder if anyone is going to be able to escape it in the coming years.

It’s important to acknowledge if we’re feeling something like solastalgia. Turning our mind toward such an experience can be painful… but we can’t avoid our feelings by ignoring them. Ignored, our grief, anxiety, anger, fear, and solastalgia can fester quietly until they undermine our health, decrease our openness to life, and compel us to speak or act in ways that don’t necessarily reflect our values. Bearing Witness to our feelings, though, can encourage us to connect with others who are feeling likewise, and motivate us to help protect what we love.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solastalgia


Picture Credit

Image by Hermann Traub from Pixabay


21 – Climate Timeline: A Crisis That Didn’t Need to Happen

21 – Climate Timeline: A Crisis That Didn’t Need to Happen

In this episode I discuss why it’s important for us to know the history of our understanding that burning fossil fuels and the way our governments have responded – or failed to respond to – that understanding. Then I illustrate that climate timeline with direct, published quotes from people and reports from the last 60-plus years – letting the people of each decade tell the story of their relationship to climate in their own words. It’s my hope that this episode will give you a better basis for judging whether the current responses of our governments are adequate to the task of averting the worst catastrophic climate consequences.


Note: Episode audio is divide into three parts.




Quicklinks to Article Content:
Bearing Witness to How Long We’ve Known but Failed to Act
The Climate Timeline: A That Crisis Didn’t Need to Happen
1908 – 114 Years Ago – Arrhenius predicts industry will cause global warming
1959 – 63 Years Ago – Teller warns the American Petroleum Institute about melting ice caps
1965 – 57 Years Ago – President Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee predicts significant climate changes by the year 2000
1977 – 45 Years Ago – National Academy of Sciences warns mistakes made now will not be easily rectified
1979 – 43 Years Ago – First World Climate Conference in Geneva
1980 – 42 Years Ago – Jorling argues action should be guided by whether we know enough not to recommend changes in policy
1988 – 34 Years Ago – Hansen testifies before the U.S. Congress that climate change effects are manifesting now
1989 – 33 Years Ago – Companies invested in fossil fuels form the Global Climate Coalition to oppose “drastic and unilateral” remedies to global warming
1992 – 30 Years Ago – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is signed in Rio by 154 nations
1997 – 25 Years Ago – Thirty-six countries commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2012 by signing the UN Kyoto Protocol
2001 – 21 Years Ago – The IPCC confirms significant warming due to human activities and predicts adverse effects unless greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are stabilized
2006 – 16 Years Ago – Stern Review warns inaction will end up being much more costly to economies than action
2012 – 10 Years Ago – UN’s Emissions Gap Report demonstrates country climate pledges insufficient to keep global warming below 2°C
2014 – 8 Years Ago – IPCC provides detailed predictions of catastrophic consequences of climate change if global greenhouse gas emissions persist
2016 – 6 Years Ago – 196 Nations commit to climate action in the Paris Agreement
2018 – 4 Years Ago – IPCC issues a deadline for humanity: 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to stay at or below a 1.5°C temperature rise
2021 – Last Year – The International Energy Agency says net zero emissions for the global energy sector by 2050 means investment in new fossil fuel supply projects must stop immediately, and COP26 admits the world is very far from meeting the IPCC’s recommendations
2022 – This Year – U.S. oil production predicted to increase, and governments respond to rising fuel costs with rapid expansion of the extraction and export of natural gas, a fossil fuel incompatible with a pathway to staying under 1.5°C warming
Closing Thoughts on Our Climate Timeline


Bearing Witness to How Long We’ve Known but Failed to Act

This is a Facing the Truth Episode. When we practice Facing the Truth, we set aside time and space for bearing witness to the truth of the climate and ecological emergency, in order to truly absorb it and allow it to touch our hearts and minds. We may think the way to peace of mind is to keep the emergency safely compartmentalized in our psyche, occasionally glimpsing over at it but for the most part ignoring it. But the approach of denial comes at high spiritual, emotional, and psychological cost. Part of us remains aware of what’s going on and we experience a subtle but pervasive sense of dread and anxiety. Part of us feels guilty or crazy for living in denial, and we end up shutting down some of our natural empathy, compassion, and sense of connectedness to nature and all living things. Fortunately, if we make a practice of Facing the Truth – mindfully balancing it with Staying Strong and Taking Action – we find that it’s not as traumatic as we might have expected, and it has substantial benefits.

Today I want to bear witness to the fact that the people in power in our world have known exactly what was coming with respect to global heating and its catastrophic consequences for at least fifty years. Now, we can hear that fact stated and let it flow in one ear and out the other with it impacting us much. If you’re anything like me, you hear that scientists have been predicting global heating and ecological collapse due to the burning of fossil fuels for fifty years, but you reflexively minimize the statement in your mind. Maybe it was just a few fringe scientists who speculated that global heating was possible. Maybe the scientists published obscure papers about their concerns and no one knew about them. Maybe there was widespread disagreement about whether burning fossil fuels would really be that bad. Maybe those in power heard about global heating but had no other choices than the ones they made – maybe there were no other options than ending up where we are now.

In reality, though, the science has been pretty clear from the beginning. Global warming is one of those things you might as describe as “not being rocket science.” Although it’s difficult for human beings to wrap their minds around being able to influence the climate of the entire planet with their everyday activities, the increasing and unceasing emission of greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere is like slaughtering an animal species faster that it can reproduce. Or dumping all your garbage into the ocean. Or destroying one ecological system after another to extract resources for profit. Once you understand the very basic physics of the situation, even a small child can stand back and observe, “Hey, if you keep doing that, eventually you’re going to face a really ugly situation, aren’t you?” Do something with harmful, cumulative effects long enough and there will be a reckoning. You will inevitably drive species to extinction, end up swimming in your own garbage, and find yourself struggling to survive because the ecosystems that used to support you are dead.

Most adults in the developed world – and the wealthy few in developing nations – are partly culpable for the fact that there has been almost no attempt to prevent our climate and ecological emergency over the last few decades. We have continued to enjoy the benefits of systems based on burning fossil fuels, overexploiting resources, and degrading ecosystems. However, it’s very important for all of us to realize that there are much larger forces at work here than the desire of the average person for comfort and pleasure.


The Climate Timeline: A That Crisis Didn’t Need to Happen

For the last forty or so years, governments in developed nations, multinational corporations, and the ultrarich have – in many cases deliberately and knowingly – kept us on a course heading straight for climate disaster. These “inactivists” have been deeply invested in keeping us dependent on sources of energy, food, and other resources that maximize their profits, while carefully fighting or minimizing concerns about the fact that these sources pump greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere. The inactivists have diligently obstructed or dismantled projects that would have gradually shifted us away from carbon-intensive activities over the last 30 years – a shift which would have been much easier and less costly than the radical changes we now need to undertake, and a shift which would have significantly decreased the severity of the climate-related destruction and suffering we are now experiencing and will experience in the near future.

It did not have to be this way. Renewable, low-carbon energy, sustainably managed natural resources, sustainable farming, equitable distribution of wealth, efficient, low-carbon transportation – all of these things have been well within our reach for the last fifty years. The idea that it was necessary to burn our way into the climate emergency in order for ordinary people to live happy and comfortable lives is nothing other than a massive lie fed to the public by the inactivists so we would go along with their plan.

Sadly, the only reason we’re waking up to the climate crisis now is because we are witnessing or experiencing the destructive effects of global heating every day. Do you realize how bad things have gotten for the effects of global heating to be evident to the naked eye? For the changes in weather, climate, ecosystems, wildlife distribution, disease spread, and farming to be obvious and observable to the average person, even if they’re not trying to pay attention to the state of the so-called “environment?” Scientists predicted exactly what’s happening now decades ago, but they desperately hoped we would never actually see the day. That fact that we all can observe climate change firsthand now is a sign that our biosphere should be rushed to intensive care.

As I mentioned in the last episode, The Trap of Green Consumerism, it’s essential that we stop blaming ourselves for the climate and ecological emergency and demand those with power stop sacrificing our lives to amass even more obscenely unnecessary wealth. We should pressure the ultrarich and multinational corporations, but ultimately, they don’t owe us anything and can be expected to milk the carbon cow up until the last possible second. Our governments, however, are meant to protect us and look out for our interests. It’s absolutely unacceptable that they continue to subsidize and enable carbon-intensive systems that are already causing untold human misery.

For the people in power, inaction over the last fifty years was not a matter of lack of knowledge or doubt about the science, although they will claim that’s the case. That’s what I aim to illustrate in today’s episode. I’m going to give you a relatively brief timeline of the history of our understanding of how the human emission of greenhouse gasses would inevitably lead to catastrophic global heating, and our understanding of what we needed to do about it. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to illustrate that history with direct, published quotes from people and reports from the last 60-plus years – letting the people of each decade tell the story of their relationship to climate in their own words. This is, of course, far from a full history, and focuses on what we knew – not on government action or inaction on the climate issue over time, or the persistent and deliberate efforts to undermine action on climate by those invested in business as usual. To learn more about the history of the human relationship to climate, check out Nathaniel Rich’s book Losing Earth or Alice Bell’s Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis.

As I share quotes I will name the source, but full citations and links for all of this episode’s content can be found on the episode page of the Climate and You website. Now, settle back and enjoy our trip through time. For anyone listening to this in the future, note that this was published in 2022.


1908 – 114 Years Ago – Arrhenius predicts industry will cause global warming

Henry Ford’s Model T goes on sale for $850

Swedish physicist Svante Arrhenius writes about CO2 – which he refers to as carbonic acid – in his book, “Worlds in the Making”:

“To a certain extent the temperature of the earth’s surface, as we shall presently see, is conditioned by the properties of the atmosphere surrounding it, and particularly by the permeability of the latter for the rays of heat…

“If the quantity of carbonic acid [CO2] in the air should sink to one-half its present percentage, the temperature would fall by about 4°; a diminution to one-quarter would reduce the temperature by 8°. On the other hand, any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth’s surface by 4°; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8°…

“Although the sea, by absorbing carbonic acid, acts as a regulator of huge capacity, which takes up about five-sixths of the produced carbonic acid, we yet recognize that the slight percentage of carbonic acid in the atmosphere may by the advances of industry be changed to a noticeable degree in the course of a few centuries.”[i]


1959 – 63 Years Ago – Teller warns the American Petroleum Institute about melting ice caps

Hawaii is admitted as the 50th U.S. State – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is measured reliably for the first time by C. David Keeling and is 315ppm [ii] (as humans evolved during the past several hundred thousand years, atmospheric CO2 cycled between about 200 and 300ppm [iii])

Physicist Edward Teller gives a speech at a symposium organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business, which includes over 300 government officials, oil industry executives, scientists, historians, and economists:

“Ladies and gentlemen, I am to talk to you about energy in the future. I will start by telling you why I believe that the energy resources of the past must be supplemented. First of all, these energy resources will run short as we use more and more of the fossil fuels. [….] But I would […] like to mention another reason why we probably have to look for additional fuel supplies. And this, strangely, is the question of contaminating the atmosphere. [….] Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. [….] The carbon dioxide is invisible, it is transparent, you can’t smell it, it is not dangerous to health, so why should one worry about it?

“Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect [….] It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecaps and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.”[iv]


1965 – 57 Years Ago – President Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee predicts significant climate changes by the year 2000

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leads a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, and the first American ground combat troops arrive in Vietnam – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide reaches 320ppm [v]

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee publishes their “Report on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide”:

“By the year 2000 the increase in atmospheric CO2 will be close to 25%. This may be sufficient to produce measurable and perhaps marked changes in climate, and will almost certainly cause significant changes in the temperature and other properties of the stratosphere.”[vi]

Frank Ikard, president of the API, speaks about the PSAC report at the annual API meeting:

“This report unquestionably will fan emotions, raise fears, and bring demand for action. The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out.

“One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts. The report further states, and I quote: ‘… the pollution from internal combustion engines is so serious, and is growing so fast, that an alternative nonpolluting means of powering automobiles, buses, and trucks is likely to become a national necessity.’”[vii]


1977 – 45 Years Ago – National Academy of Sciences warns mistakes made now will not be easily rectified

The movie Star Wars is released, and the first home pregnancy test becomes available over the counter – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide reaches 333ppm [viii]

Frank Press, his chief science adviser to U.S. President Carter and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, writes a memo to the president titled “Release of Fossil CO2 and the Possibility of Catastrophic Climate Change:”

“Fossil fuel combustion has increased at an exponential rate over the last 100 years. As a result, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is now 12 percent above the pre-industrial revolution level and may grow to 1.5 to 2.0 times that level within 60 years. Because of the ‘greenhouse effect’ of atmospheric CO2 the increased concentration will induce a global climatic warming of anywhere from 0.5 to 5°C…

“The potential effect on the environment of a climatic fluctuation of such rapidity could be catastrophic and calls for an impact assessment of unprecedented importance and difficulty. A rapid climatic change may result in large scale crop failures at a time when an increased world population taxes agriculture to the limits of productivity. The urgency of the problem derives from our inability to shift rapidly to non-fossil fuel sources once the climatic effects become evident not long after the year 2000; the situation could grow out of control before alternate energy sources and other remedial actions become effective…

“As you know this is not a new issue. What is new is the growing weight of scientific support which raises the CO2-climate impact from speculation to a serious hypothesis worthy of a response that is neither complacent nor panicky. The authoritative National Academy of Sciences has just alerted us that it will issue a public statement along these lines in a few weeks.”[ix]

Although the memo was stamped “seen by president,” America’s first secretary of energy, James Schlesinger, attached his own note in response:

“​​My view is that the policy implications of this issue are still too uncertain to warrant Presidential involvement and policy initiatives.” [x]

As promised, the Natural Academy of Sciences issued a statement later that month:

“It has become increasingly apparent in recent years that human capacity to perturb inadvertently the global environment has outstripped our ability to anticipate the nature and extent of the impact. It is time to redress that imbalance… Examination of the possible long-term effects of energy use is particularly timely. With the end of the oil age in sight, we must make long-term decisions as to future energy policies. One lesson we have been learning is that the time required for transition from one major source to another is several decades. We cannot make major mistakes and expect to rectify them quickly.”[xi]

1977 and every one of the subsequent 45 years have been seen an average global temperature higher than the 20th century average.[xii]

1979 – 43 Years Ago – First World Climate Conference in Geneva

Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 336ppm [xiii]

1980 – 42 Years Ago – Jorling argues action should be guided by whether we know enough not to recommend changes in policy

Price of a gallon of gas is $1.22 and John Lennon is shot [xiv] – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 338ppm [xv]

Moderator Thomas Jorling, from the published notes of the U.S. National Commission on Air Quality Carbon Dioxide Workshop:

“”Increasing problems facing human society are simply awesome in their dimensions. CO2 build-up, stratospheric changes, massive production and release into the biosphere of long-lived chemicals are all issues descending on us with great speed. To use a poor metaphor, we are flying blind, with little or no idea where the mountains are…

“Often in a gathering like this the refrain is heard as a bench mark for discussion, whether we know enough to recommend a change in policy. That, however, is a seriously deficient guidepost in making judgements on the global impact [of things] such as CO2 build-up, given the speed and momentum of human affairs, given the time requirements and the difficult to even phase in change, given the overriding complexity of the interactions among human activities and their impacts on the life-sustaining environment, given these dynamics and the implications of not acting, we must develop a more responsive guide. And that is whether we know enough not to recommend changes in existing policy.

“The existing policy in this case is the ever-growing combustion of fossil fuels and widespread land clearance which are activities developed not in any way as a result of conscious design or choice, but rather are simply the net result of what we do.

“Thus we are faced with an unavoidable fact: Not recommending policy changes constitutes, either explicitly or by inference, a recommendation to continue present policy.”[xvi]


1988 – 34 Years Ago – Hansen testifies before the U.S. Congress that climate change effects are manifesting now

The concept of the World Wide Web discussed for the first time, and the price of a movie ticket is $4 [xvii] – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 351ppm [xviii]

James Hansen of the NASA Goddard Space Institute gives testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

“I would like to draw three main conclusions. Number one, the earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship to the greenhouse effect. And number three, our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to affect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.

“Causal association requires first that the warming be larger than natural climate variability and, second that the magnitude and nature of the warming be consistent with the greenhouse mechanism…  The warming [we have observed] is almost 0.4 degrees Centigrade by 1987 relative to climatology, which is defined as the 30-year mean, 1950 to 1980 and, in fact, the warming is more than 0.4 degrees Centigrade in 1988. The probability of a chance warming of that magnitude is about 1 percent. So with 99 percent confidence we can state that the warming during this time period is a real warming trend.”[xix]


1989 – 33 Years Ago – Companies invested in fossil fuels form the Global Climate Coalition to oppose “drastic and unilateral” remedies to global warming

1989 – The Global Climate Coalition is formed by the National Association of Manufacturers. Members include the American Petroleum Institute and the National Coal Association, and by 1992 included Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, DuPont, Enron, Texaco, and the American Electric Power Service Corporation.[xx] The group opposes “‘drastic and unilateral’ remedies to mitigate global warming,”[xxi] and later opposes ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

1992 – 30 Years Ago – The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is signed in Rio by 154 nations

President Bush and Boris Yeltsin meet at Camp David and formally declare the Cold War is over [xxii] – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 356ppm [xxiii]

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is drafted at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, which was signed by 154 states and entered into force in 1994. It states:

“The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner…

“The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects.  Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures, taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost.”[xxiv]

The parties who signed the convention agreed to hold annual meetings called Conferences of the Parties (COPs), where they would report on their anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and their progress on the convention’s commitments, including, according to the convention, efforts to:

“…mitigate climate change by addressing anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, and measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change… Promote sustainable management, and promote and cooperate in the conservation and enhancement, as appropriate, of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol, including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems… [and] Promote and cooperate in education, training and public awareness related to climate change and encourage the widest participation in this process, including that of non-governmental organizations.” [xxv]

1997 – 25 Years Ago – Thirty-six countries commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2012 by signing the UN Kyoto Protocol

Princess Diana dies in a car accident and IBM’s “Deep Blue” chess-playing computer defeats chess champion Garry Kasparov – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 363ppm [xxvi]

Two months before the UN climate conference in Kyoto, Mobil energy takes out an ad in the New York Times titled “Reset the Alarm,” saying, “Let’s face it: the science of climate change is too uncertain to mandate a plan of action that could plunge economies into turmoil.”[xxvii]

Later in the year, 37 countries commit to limit and reduce greenhouse gases “in accordance with agreed individual targets” by signing the Kyoto Protocol, which operationalized the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Part of the protocol states:

“The Parties included in Annex I shall, individually or jointly, ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases listed in Annex A do not exceed their assigned amounts, calculated pursuant to their quantified emission limitation and reduction commitments inscribed in Annex B and in accordance with the provisions of this Article, with a view to reducing their overall emissions of such gases by at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels in the commitment period 2008 to 2012… Each Party included in Annex I shall, by 2005, have made demonstrable progress in achieving its commitments under this Protocol.”

The US refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol in 1998, after “intense opposition from oil companies and the Global Climate Coalition.[xxviii] All remaining 36 countries participating in the Kyoto Protocol complied with it by 2012, but although they reduced their emissions, the total global emissions increased by 32% from 1990 to 2010.

2001 – 21 Years Ago – The IPCC confirms significant warming due to human activities and predicts adverse effects unless greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are stabilized

September 11th terrorist attack in New York City and Apple introduces the iPod – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 371ppm [xxix]

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, publishes its Third Assessment Report. The IPCC is a scientific body established by the UN in 1988 to report on anthropogenic climate change, its impacts, and possibilities for mitigation. The Third Assessment Report states:

“There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” (p 5) “Carbon dioxide concentrations, globally averaged surface temperature, and sea level are projected to increase under all IPCC emissions scenarios during the 21st century.” (p 8)

“Projections using the SRES (Special Report on Emissions Scenarios) emissions scenarios in a range of climate models result in an increase in globally averaged surface temperature of 1.4 to 5.8°C (2.52°F to 10.44°F) over the period 1990 to 2100. This is about two to ten times larger than the central value of observed warming over the 20th century and the projected rate of warming is very likely to be without precedent during at least the last 10,000 years, based on paleoclimate data.” (p 8)

“Projected climate change will have beneficial and adverse effects on both environmental and socio-economic systems, but the larger the changes and rate of change in climate, the more the adverse effects predominate.” (p 9) “Overall, climate change is projected to increase threats to human health, particularly in lower income populations, predominantly within tropical/subtropical countries.” (p 9)

“Adaptation has the potential to reduce adverse effects of climate change and can often produce immediate ancillary benefits, but will not prevent all damages.” (p 12) “Greenhouse gas forcing in the 21st century could set in motion largescale, high-impact, non-linear, and potentially abrupt changes in physical and biological systems over the coming decades to millennia, with a wide range of associated likelihoods.” (p 14)

“Inertia is a widespread inherent characteristic of the interacting climate, ecological, and socio-economic systems. Thus some impacts of anthropogenic climate change may be slow to become apparent, and some could be irreversible if climate change is not limited in both rate and magnitude before associated thresholds, whose positions may be poorly known, are crossed.” (p 16)

“Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to stabilize their atmospheric concentrations would delay and reduce damages caused by climate change.” p 21[xxx]


2006 – 16 Years Ago – Stern Review warns inaction will end up being much more costly to economies than action

Facebook becomes open to anyone over age 13, and Al Gore releases the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 382ppm [xxxi]

A report called “The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review,” is commissioned by the UK government, published in October:

“The scientific evidence is now overwhelming: climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent global response. This Review has assessed a wide range of evidence on the impacts of climate change and on the economic costs, and has used a number of different techniques to assess costs and risks. From all of these perspectives, the evidence gathered by the Review leads to a simple conclusion: the benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.

“Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world – access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms.

“Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more. In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.

“The investment that takes place in the next 10-20 years will have a profound effect on the climate in the second half of this century and in the next. Our actions now and over the coming decades could create risks of major disruption to economic and social activity, on a scale similar to those associated with the great wars and the economic depression of the first half of the 20th century. And it will be difficult or impossible to reverse these changes.”[xxxii]


2012 – Ten Years Ago – UN’s Emissions Gap Report demonstrates country climate pledges insufficient to keep global warming below 2°C

Google’s Gmail becomes the world’s most popular email service, and Hurricane Sandy results in 110 deaths and $50 billion in damage and closes the New York Stock Exchange – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 394ppm [xxxiii]

From The Emissions Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme:

“The assessment clearly shows that country pledges, if fully implemented, will help reduce emissions to below the Business-as-Usual (BaU) level in 2020, but not to a level consistent with the agreed upon 2°C target, and therefore will lead to a considerable “emissions gap”.

“Emission scenarios analyzed in this report and consistent with a “likely” chance of meeting the 2°C target have a peak before 2020, and have emission levels in 2020 of about 44 GtCO2e (range: 41-47 GtCO2e). Afterwards, global emissions steeply decline (a median of 2.5% per year, with a range of 2.0 to 3.0% per year).”[xxxiv]


2014 – 8 Years Ago – IPCC provides detailed predictions of catastrophic consequences of climate change if global greenhouse gas emissions persist

The top song in the US was Happy by Pharell Williams, and Russia invades and annexes Crimea – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 398ppm [xxxv]

The IPCC publishes its Fifth Assessment Report:

“Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise…

“Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development…

“Climate change is projected to undermine food security (Figure SPM.9). Due to projected climate change by the mid-21st century and beyond, global marine species redistribution and marine biodiversity reduction in sensitive regions will challenge the sustained provision of fisheries productivity and other ecosystem services (high confidence). For wheat, rice and maize in tropical and temperate regions, climate change without adaptation is projected to negatively impact production for local temperature increases of 2°C or more above late 20th century levels, although individual locations may benefit (medium confidence). Global temperature increases of ~4°C or more above late 20th century levels, combined with increasing food demand, would pose large risks to food security globally (high confidence). Climate change is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources in most dry subtropical regions (robust evidence, high agreement), intensifying competition for water among sectors (limited evidence, medium agreement).

“In urban areas climate change is projected to increase risks for people, assets, economies and ecosystems, including risks from heat stress, storms and extreme precipitation, inland and coastal flooding, landslides, air pollution, drought, water scarcity, sea level rise and storm surges (very high confidence). These risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in exposed areas. {2.3.2}

“Climate change is projected to increase displacement of people (medium evidence, high agreement). Populations that lack the resources for planned migration experience higher exposure to extreme weather events, particularly in developing countries with low income. Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks (medium confidence). {2.3.2}

“Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, global emissions growth is expected to persist, driven by growth in global population and economic activities. Global mean surface temperature increases in 2100 in baseline scenarios—those without additional mitigation—range from 3.7°C to 4.8°C (6.66°F to 8.64°F) above the average for 1850–1900 for a median climate response. They range from 2.5°C to 7.8°C (4.5°F to 14.04°F) when including climate uncertainty (5th to 95th percentile range) (high confidence). {3.4}”[xxxvi]


2016 – 6 Years Ago – 196 Nations commit to climate action in the Paris Agreement

Playing Pokemon Go becomes a worldwide fad and Donald Trump is elected U.S. President – Hottest Global Temperature since records began in 1880, 0.94°C (1.69°F) higher than the 20th century average [xxxvii] – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 404ppm [xxxviii]

The Paris Agreement, adopted at COP21 in December 2015, is entered into force on November 4th 2016. The 196 participating parties agree to aim to limit global warming to well below 2C, and commit to nationally determined contributions (NDC’s) to climate action, including specific targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and steps to increase resilience and adaptation in response to the negative impacts of climate change. Parties agree to renew commitments to cutting emissions every five years, so the next big Paris agreement meeting was supposed to take place in 2020 but was postponed because of COVID. In 2017 President Trump announces the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, calling it “unfair at the highest level to the United States,”[xxxix] but that withdrawal didn’t take effect until November 2020.

2018 – Four Years Ago – IPCC issues a deadline for humanity: 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to stay at or below a 1.5°C temperature rise

90 people die in the Camp Fire in California, which destroys the town of Paradise – Sixth hottest Global Temperature since records began in 1880 [xl] – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 408ppm [xli]

From the IPCC’s Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C:

“Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

“Climate models project robust differences in regional climate characteristics between present-day and global warming of 1.5°C,and between 1.5°C and 2°C. These differences include increases in: mean temperature in most land and ocean regions (high confidence), hot extremes in most inhabited regions (high confidence), heavy precipitation in several regions (medium confidence), and the probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions (medium confidence).

“In model pathways with no or limited overshoot of 1.5°C, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 (40–60% interquartile range), reaching net zero around 2050 (2045–2055 interquartile range).

“Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems (high confidence)…

“Estimates of the global emissions outcome of current nationally stated mitigation ambitions as submitted under the Paris Agreement would lead to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 of 52–58 GtCO2eq yr−1 (medium confidence). Pathways reflecting these ambitions would not limit global warming to 1.5°C, even if supplemented by very challenging increases in the scale and ambition of emissions reductions after 2030 (high confidence). Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030.”


2021 – Last Year – The International Energy Agency says net zero emissions for the global energy sector by 2050 means no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and COP26 admits the world is very far from meeting the IPCC’s recommendations

The U.S. rejoins the Paris Agreement – Sixth hottest Global Temperature since records began in 1880, with 12 of the 13 hottest years on record having occurred since 2010, and 19 of the hottest 20 years have been since the year 2000 [xlii] – Global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide 416ppm[xliii]

In May, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a report “Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector.” (The IEA is an independent intergovernmental group composed of 31 members countries, established in 1974 after the 1973 oil crisis, and it’s stated mission is “shaping a secure and sustainable energy future for all.”)

“The world has a viable pathway to building a global energy sector with net-zero emissions in 2050, but it is narrow and requires an unprecedented transformation of how energy is produced, transported and used globally, the International Energy Agency said in a landmark special report released today… Building on the IEA’s unrivalled energy modelling tools and expertise, the Roadmap sets out more than 400 milestones to guide the global journey to net zero by 2050. These include, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects, and no further final investment decisions for new unabated coal plants. By 2035, there are no sales of new internal combustion engine passenger cars, and by 2040, the global electricity sector has already reached net-zero emissions.”[xliv]

According to the Glasgow Climate Pact, the outcome of COP26, the COP:

“Notes with serious concern the findings of the synthesis report on nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, according to which the aggregate greenhouse gas emission level, taking into account implementation of all submitted nationally determined contributions, is estimated to be 13.7 per cent above the 2010 level in 2030.”[xlv] (Recall that the IPCC said we need to be 40% below 2010 levels in 2030.)

The Glasgow Climate Pact then calls upon all parties to return in a year – 2022 – with more ambitious climate goals and plans. One of the things critical to the US being able to keep its promises was the passage of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill. Given the U.S. political system, it is essentially impossible for this legislation to pass.

2022 – This Year – U.S. oil production predicted to increase, and governments respond to rising fuel costs with rapid expansion of the extraction and export of natural gas, a fossil fuel incompatible with a pathway to staying under 1.5°C warming

63 years since Teller warned the American Petroleum Institute about climate change; 45 years since Press sent a memo to President Carter warning of “Catastrophic Climate Change; 30 years since the UN Convention on Climate Change was signed in Rio; 4 years since the IPCC gave a deadline for radical action this decade

In a press release dated January 11, 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) says:

[The EIA] “forecasts that U.S. oil production will average 12.4 million barrels per day during 2023, surpassing the record high for domestic crude oil production set in 2019.

“U.S. coal consumption increased by 14% in 2021 in response to growing demand for coal-fired electricity. EIA expects U.S. coal consumption to decrease by 2% in 2022 and remain relatively unchanged in 2023. Despite the decrease in consumption, EIA forecasts that coal production will increase 6% in 2022.”

In May, carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked at 421 parts per million, “pushing the atmosphere further into territory not seen for millions of years.”[xlvi] Scientists estimate that we need to limit CO2 to 430ppm in order to avoid overshooting our goal of a maximum 1.5°C global temperature increase.[xlvii]

climate timeline

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the holocene (yrs. -10.000–2016) from Pixabay https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:DeWikiMan

From the IPCC report Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change:

“Without a strengthening of policies beyond those that are implemented by the end of 2020, GHG emissions are projected to rise beyond 2025, leading to a median global warming of 3.2 [2.2 to 3.5] °C [5.76°F, or 3.96°F – 6.3°F] by 2100.”[xlviii]

June report from Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis that tracks government action on climate, “Global reaction to energy crisis risks zero carbon transition”:

“There is a dangerous rush to build new LNG infrastructure across the world, not only for European import facilities, but several gas-producing countries are also planning to either ramp up existing export facilities, or build new ones altogether…

Natural gas is not a bridge or transition fuel, this is a common misperception. As with all other fossil fuels, natural gas needs to be phased out as soon as possible to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Under the IPCC’s 1.5°C-compatible scenarios, demand for natural gas should have peaked in 2020 (IPCC, 2018).”[xlix]

As Wikipedia explains clearly: “The extraction and consumption of natural gas is a major and growing contributor to climate change. Both the gas itself (specifically methane) and carbon dioxide, which is released when natural gas is burned, are greenhouse gases. When burned for heat or electricity, natural gas emits fewer toxic air pollutants, less carbon dioxide, and almost no particulate matter compared to other fossil and biomass fuels. However, gas venting and flaring, along with unintended fugitive emissions throughout the supply chain, can result in natural gas having a similar carbon footprint to other fossil fuels overall.”[l]

June 30th: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that the executive branch’s Environmental Protection Agency does not have broad authority to induce a shift to cleaner energy sources at power plants under current legislation.[li]

Closing Thoughts on Our Climate Timeline

Nathaniel Rich, in Losing Earth: A Recent History[lii]:

“If an eventual 5- or 6-degree warming scenario seems outlandish, it is only because we assume that we’ll respond in time. We’ll have decades to eliminate carbon emissions, after all, before we are locked into 6 degrees. But we’ve already had decades—decades increasingly punctuated by climate-related disaster—and we’ve done nearly everything possible to make the problem worse. It no longer seems rational to assume that humanity, encountering an existential threat, will behave rationally.”

Alice Bell, in Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis[liii]:

“We’ve inherited a position of having to radically change the world’s economy to have even a snowball’s chance in hell of staying anywhere near 2°C, let alone 1.5°C. What’s more, we have to make these enormous changes while also tackling challenging climate change impacts…

“One of toughest things about campaigning on climate change is that you can’t really win, because in many ways we’ve already lost. The more optimistic spin on this is that because climate change happens by degree, there is still always something to fight for. Because 1°C is better than 1.5°C, 1.5°C is better than 2°C, and that will continue to be the case for some time to come.”


It’s easy to feel discouraged when you read this climate timeline and contemplate how scientists and economic experts have been warning our governments to take action for over 30 years. I find it especially poignant to hear references in their statements to how the effects of global warming are going to be evident by the year 2000, speaking prophetically about a world we have now personally experienced. It’s also maddening to hear how wise people repeatedly that it would take decades to transition away from fossil fuels, so we should have started in a substantial way in the 1980’s. Recall that the National Academy of Sciences said in 1977:

“With the end of the oil age in sight, we must make long-term decisions as to future energy policies. One lesson we have been learning is that the time required for transition from one major source to another is several decades. We cannot make major mistakes and expect to rectify them quickly.” [liv]

The words from the story I have just told which stick with me the most are those of Thomas Jorling, at the U.S. National Commission on Air Quality Carbon Dioxide Workshop:

“Often in a gathering like this the refrain is heard as a bench mark for discussion, whether we know enough to recommend a change in policy. That, however, is a seriously deficient guidepost in making judgements on the global impact [of things] such as CO2 build-up, given the speed and momentum of human affairs, given the time requirements and the difficult to even phase in change, given the overriding complexity of the interactions among human activities and their impacts on the life-sustaining environment, given these dynamics and the implications of not acting, we must develop a more responsive guide. And that is whether we know enough not to recommend changes in existing policy.” [lv]

It is encouraging that nations of the world have been gathering on a yearly basis for 20 years to tackle climate change, but progress is extremely slow. As our story revealed, even the Paris Agreement falls way short of what’s required. Many Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, are impressive – for example, the U.S. commits to “an economy-wide target of reducing its net greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52 percent below 2005 levels in 2030”[lvi] – but just because a country sets a goal doesn’t it mean it can or will follow through. (You can view a list of each nation’s NDC online at the UN’s Climate Change NDC Registry.) Ambitious goals by some nations, even if met, may be offset by more gradual changes in other countries, such as China, which says it will “strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”[lvii] Stay tuned for the results of this year’s COP27 in Egypt, where countries will be asked to present more ambitious goals, and where there will be global “stocktake” on progress on the Paris Agreement goals. These goals include not just climate mitigation and adaptation in each country, but also a substantial transfer of funds and technology from developed to developing countries to enable them to meet climate goals while still improving the lives of their citizens.

We all need to be clued into what our governments are doing to transition to a low-carbon future as quickly as possible. We need to hold them accountable to their own promises, recorded conveniently in their Paris Agreement NDCs. If we let another decade or two drift by without commensurate action, the toll of human misery will be incalculable. After all, the misery that has already been caused by 1.1°C of global warming is incalculable – the results of superstorms, megafires, droughts, killer heat waves, water shortages, crop failures, the decline of fisheries, mass migration, the spread of parasites and disease. For all the talk about efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F), we need to remember that this is not a number chosen because it’s healthy for humanity, it’s a number chosen to keep the catastrophe from unfolding faster than we can adapt. We need to make sure our climate timeline involves radical decarbonization over the next few years – something that improve the well-being of all life on this planet.

Thanks for sticking with this episode and bearing witness to the human response to anthropogenic global warming. Just allowing this story into your heart and mind is climate action. I’ll be back next week with a new episode, thanks for listening.


[i] Arrhenius, Svante. Worlds in the Making. 1908. Pages 46, 53 & 54 https://archive.org/details/worldsinmakinge01arrhgoog/page/n73/mode/2up

[ii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[iii] https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/what-ideal-level-carbon-dioxide-atmosphere-human-life

[iv] On its 100th birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jan/01/on-its-hundredth-birthday-in-1959-edward-teller-warned-the-oil-industry-about-global-warming

[v] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[vi] Restoring the Quality of Our Environment. Report of the President’s Science Advisory Committee Report on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. https://www.climatefiles.com/climate-change-evidence/presidents-report-atmospher-carbon-dioxide/

[vii] ‘Time is Running Out,’ American Petroleum Institute Chief Said in 1965 Speech on Climate Change. By Sharon Kelly. https://www.desmog.com/2018/11/20/american-petroleum-institute-1965-speech-climate-change-oil-gas/

[viii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[ix] The 1977 White House climate memo that should have changed the world. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/14/1977-us-presidential-memo-predicted-climate-change

[x] The 1977 White House climate memo that should have changed the world. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/14/1977-us-presidential-memo-predicted-climate-change

[xi] Energy and Climate: Studies in Geophysics (1977). National Academy of Sciences. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/download/12024#

[xii] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series

[xiii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xiv] https://popculturemadness.com/PCM/1980/1980-history-fun-facts-and-trivia/

[xv] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xvi] 1980 National Commission on Air Quality Carbon Dioxide Workshop Part One. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4807362-National-Commission-on-Air-Quality-Carbon#document/p37/a451460

[xvii] https://popculturemadness.com/PCM/1988/1988-fun-facts-trivia-and-history/

[xviii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xix] Congressional Testimony of Dr. James Hansen, June 23, 1988. https://www.sealevel.info/1988_Hansen_Senate_Testimony.html

[xx] http://www.anzam.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf-manager/1355_MCGREGOR_IAN-274.PDF

[xxi] https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1989/06/21/environmentalists-hope-for-scorcher/ff02e0cf-8b5b-4a52-87e2-edf8082821a3/

[xxii] https://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/02/world/bush-and-yeltsin-declare-formal-end-to-cold-war-agree-to-exchange-visits.html

[xxiii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxiv] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/conveng.pdf

[xxv] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/background_publications_htmlpdf/application/pdf/conveng.pdf

[xxvi] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxvii] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/10/climate-emergency-global-action-way-off-track-says-un-head-coronavirus; Half a century of dither and denial – a climate crisis timeline, by Jonathan Watts

[xxviii] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/10/climate-emergency-global-action-way-off-track-says-un-head-coronavirus; Half a century of dither and denial – a climate crisis timeline, by Jonathan Watts

[xxix] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxx] IPCC Third Assessment Report (Synthesis) https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar3/syr/

[xxxi] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxxii] https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/20100407172811/https:/www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/Summary_of_Conclusions.pdf

[xxxiii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxxiv] The Emissions Gap Report 2012 http://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8526/-The%20emissions%20gap%20report%202012_%20a%20UNEP%20synthesis%20reportemissionGapReport2012.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

[xxxv] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxxvi] IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.

[xxxvii] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series

[xxxviii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xxxix] https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/335955-trump-pulls-us-out-of-paris-climate-deal/

[xl] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series

[xli] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xlii] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series

[xliii] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1091926/atmospheric-concentration-of-co2-historic/

[xliv] IEA (2021), Net Zero by 2050: a Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Press Release: https://www.iea.org/news/pathway-to-critical-and-formidable-goal-of-net-zero-emissions-by-2050-is-narrow-but-brings-huge-benefits

[xlv] Glasgow Climate Pact https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cma2021_10_add1_adv.pdf

[xlvi] https://www.noaa.gov/news-release/carbon-dioxide-now-more-than-50-higher-than-pre-industrial-levels

[xlvii] https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/what-ideal-level-carbon-dioxide-atmosphere-human-life

[xlviii] IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. doi: 10.1017/9781009157926.001

[xlix] Global reaction to energy crisis risks zero carbon transition. Climate Action Tracker. https://climateactiontracker.org/documents/1055/CAT_2022-06-08_Briefing_EnergyCrisisReaction.pdf

[l] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_gas

[li] https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/3542752-read-full-text-supreme-court-decision-curbing-epa-climate-powers/

[lii] Rich, Nathaniel. Losing Earth: A Recent History. (p. 5). Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

[liii] Bell, Alice. Our Biggest Experiment: An Epic History of the Climate Crisis. (p. 329). Catapult. Kindle Edition.

[liv] Energy and Climate: Studies in Geophysics (1977). National Academy of Sciences. https://nap.nationalacademies.org/download/12024#

[lv] 1980 National Commission on Air Quality Carbon Dioxide Workshop Part One. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4807362-National-Commission-on-Air-Quality-Carbon#document/p37/a451460

[lvi] United States NDC, UN Climate Change NDC Registry, https://unfccc.int/NDCREG

[lvii] China’s NDC, UN Climate Change NDC Registry, https://unfccc.int/NDCREG

18 – The Climate Movement Is Failing Miserably

18 – The Climate Movement Is Failing Miserably

Just in case you had great hopes for it, the climate movement is failing miserably. A relatively small group of activists – no matter how dedicated – can’t bring about change by themselves. The primary role of action campaigns is to engage and mobilize the public, and this is proving incredibly difficult to do with respect to the climate and ecological emergency even though it threatens everything we love.



I share pictures and stories of my climate activism on this podcast, and on social media. I hope to inspire others to join me, or to participate in similar activities wherever they are. At the very least I hope that people will be reminded that we are not powerless – that we have a voice beyond voting for the lesser of two evils when elections roll around. However, despite the fact that the people I know cheer me on and thank me for my activism, almost no one joins me.

Last Friday I participated in the youth-led Portland Climate Strike.[i] There was a one-hour rally in downtown Portland in front of City Hall, followed by a two-mile march through the city, ending at a day-long climate festival with booths and music. The vast majority of the marchers were high school students who had opted out of school to participate. To use their words, “I skipped my lessons to you one.” Energy was high, and it was encouraging to see so many youth clear and defiant. Signs read, “You’ll die of old age. I’ll die of climate change.” And “Your greed will kill us.”


I had hoped to participate in the climate strike with several people from my local Climate Action Now affinity group. Following the recommendations I shared in the last episode, 17 – Stay Strong and Take Action: Get Together with Friends, I’ve been trying over the last couple years to build a small group of like-minded folks who support one another in climate action. Our group is still very small, 6-7 people at the most. Conflicting schedules, illness, and COVID concerns meant that only 3 of us showed up on Friday. For most of the march, I was grateful to have one friend walking with me, but it was hard not to feel lonely.

There were an estimated 2,000 people at the Portland Climate Strike.[ii] You might think that’s pretty impressive. But 2,000 people can gather and march through a city almost unnoticed. The march was clearly organized with the full knowledge and cooperation of the authorities, as we had light and friendly police presence throughout. A host of bicyclists moved ahead of the parade route in order to block off side streets, so no cars got stuck watching the whole march go by. For all of about 2 ½ hours, we caused minor inconveniences to traffic. Witnesses to the march were probably outnumbered by the marchers themselves.

Then it was all over. It will probably be another year before there’s a youth-led climate strike of any significant size. The next few climate actions on Portland’s calendar are likely to be attended by a few hundred people at most.

I say all of this not in order to disparage Friday’s march or the youth who showed up. Not at all! They are all taking action, putting themselves out there and trying to make a difference. I speak of the limited size and impact of this march to make a point. In her groundbreaking research on nonviolent civil resistance in the 20th century, Erica Chenoweth[iii] found that movements and campaigns tended to succeed if they could get a mere 3.5% of the population actively involved. When this happened, major change was possible as long as you had an additional 50% of the population that was passively supportive. Good news, right? You don’t need 51% of the population on the frontlines of activism devoting significant time and energy, taking risks, and making sacrifices.

However, 3.5% is still a significant number. The Portland metro population is around 2 million people. A turnout of 2,000 is 0.1% of the local population. A tenth of one percent. Not only that, this 0.1% does not reflect people who, by Chenoweth’s definition, are actively involved in the climate movement. Showing up to an organized, legal, 3-hour climate march is pretty much the easiest climate-related activity you can do, short of signing online petitions. There’s no risk involved, and almost no sacrifice. There’s no obligation to do more after the march is done. You can post a few pictures of yourself marching and for at least a few months feel satisfied that you’ve taken action. My estimate of the number of people in the Portland area actively involved in the climate movement in an ongoing way is about 200 people. That makes our numbers more like 0.01%. One hundredth of one percent.

The fact is that the climate movement is failing miserably. This isn’t because climate activists aren’t working hard and giving it their all. It isn’t because the climate movement isn’t at least trying to be creative, inclusive, collaborative, justice-oriented, and intersectional. Activists offer all kinds of ways to get involved, from sending emails to your legislators to participating in sacrificial, dramatic, nonviolent civil disobedience, and everything in between. Our efforts are diligent and inspired. We are far from perfect, but we work very hard.

However, as long as the climate movement is made up of one hundredth of one percent of the population, we will utterly fail to prevent the breakdown of earth’s natural life-support systems. Without people power, what we can do is extremely limited. Our governments don’t listen to the demands of tiny, if vocal, groups of people perceived as being fringe or special-interest – especially not when the demands are to radically reorganize almost all of our systems immediately, starting with energy, economic, agriculture, transportation, and housing. The primary function of activist movements is to engage and mobilize the public. Commensurate action – that is, action matching the scale of the problem – will only come when a majority of the population demands it. Mobilization of that majority is nearly impossible with only 0.01% of us working on it.

As I marched on Friday with my sign, I walked with determination but also while feeling deep despair. India recently shut down exports of wheat at a time when the war in Ukraine is already threatening global food supplies.[iv] An unprecedented heat wave has cut wheat yield in some areas of India by half,[v] and the Indian government understandably is concerned about feeding its own population. Many of us are insulated from the suffering this current food shortage will cause, but this is just a sign of things to come. Sooner or later our grocery store shelves will be empty, too. Sooner or later our own taps will run dry, and most of us will realize our homes are ridiculously far from a suitable source of safe drinking water. Sooner or later those fleeing from areas of the world made uninhabitable by global heating will only be kept out of the more fortunate areas by violence, and our nations will be drawn deeper into war and conflict. Governments will crumble or be drawn in totalitarianism.

When will people rise to demand commensurate action on our climate and ecological emergency? Will it only happen when our grocery store shelves are empty? Will the motivation have to be that immediate, that tangible? Will it happen in five years, or ten years? By then, so many lives and livelihoods will have been needlessly lost. So much preventable but irreparable damage will have happened in those intervening years. It’s an anthropotragedy.

In the meantime, those climate activists who don’t burn out will keep up what momentum they can, ready to channel the energy of the masses when they finally recognize this is not someone else’s problem, and that no one else is going to save them. I look forward to the day when 3.5% of Portland’s population shows up in the streets to demand action. When we stand 70,000 strong outside City Hall or the state capital and refuse to leave until our governments prioritize people over profits.



[i] https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/546592-437501-portland-students-stage-walkout-against-climate-change-pwoff

[ii] Ibid

[iii] https://smile.amazon.com/Why-Civil-Resistance-Works-Nonviolent-ebook/dp/B005SZEEXQ/

[iv] https://www.cnn.com/2022/05/14/business/india-wheat-export-banned/index.html

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/21/india-wheat-farmers-40c-heat-food-security

16 – Waking Up to Our Anthropotragedy

16 – Waking Up to Our Anthropotragedy

This is a Facing the Truth episode, and I ask you to do me the favor of listening to it even though it may make you feel sad, uncomfortable, or even fearful. This is the practice of Facing the Truth: Taking the time to face and absorb what is going on in our climate and ecological crisis. To let it touch you, affect you, and inform you. We should be gentle with ourselves we do this; a little Facing the Truth can go a long way. My next episode will focus on something you can do to both Stay Strong and Take Action, so in the meantime know that you are doing something extremely important and valuable simply by listening.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
Living in an Anthropotragedy
Stepping Out of Our Usual Perspective
A Way to Perceive Our Anthropotragedy
Expanding Our Imaginations


Living in an Anthropotragedy

When we step back and look honestly at humanity, it’s clear we are living in the midst of an unfolding tragedy of our own making. I suggest we create a word for it, “anthropotragedy, “anthropo” being a prefix meaning “pertaining to human beings.”[i]

According to Dictionary.com, “tragedy” can be either:

  1. a lamentable, dreadful, or fatal event or affair; calamity; disaster.
  2. a dramatic composition, often in verse, dealing with a serious or somber theme, typically involving a great person destined to experience downfall or utter destruction, as through a character flaw or conflict with some overpowering force, [such] as fate or an unyielding society.[ii]

So, my definition of anthropotragedy would be: The lamentable, preventable, disastrous downfall and utter destruction of humanity through our own actions.

Sometimes we use the word “tragic” to describe something that happened by chance and is truly awful, but it’s also used to describe a terrible situation that was, theoretically, preventable. It didn’t have to be thus. Something is classically tragic when a possibility of great potential is ruined or squandered because of a character flaw in the protagonist or in the people opposed to them. Thus anthropotragedy; humanity is capable of so much good, but our greed is our undoing.

Stepping Out of Our Usual Perspective

Most of the time we miss the forest for the trees. We’re unaware of our anthropotragedy because we’re focused on jobs, economies, politics, and all the rest. It’s only when we manage to step back and take a larger perspective that the tragedy of our situation becomes clear. Taking that larger perspective isn’t just a matter of including more information, though; it requires us to look at our world from the perspective of someone who is standing outside it in space or time.

For example, the other day I saw a comic in the New Yorker by Tom Toro which manages to convey anthropotragedy. A man in a bedraggled suit sits around a campfire with some children, who look like they are listening carefully to a story he is telling. He says, “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”[iii] Some people might resist the message of this comic because technically we aren’t destroying the planet, we’re just destroying all the life that’s currently on the planet, but either way the point remains intact.

From our current perspective, it makes perfect sense to do things like protect profits, grow economies, clear-cut forests, and expand fossil fuel supply in order to keep energy prices down. It’s only when you zoom out and look at things from the perspective of an alien, or your great-grandchild, or a good artist or commentator, that the actions of humanity look absurdly tragic, ridiculous, short-sighted, amazingly stupid, way out of proportion, and even obscene.

In order to truly Bear Witness to our climate and ecological emergency, it’s necessary to go beyond reading the news or memorizing statistics. We need to explore and open up to ways of seeing that reveal the tragic and fatal nature of the course humanity is on.

A Way to Perceive Our Anthropotragedy

For example, India and Pakistan recently experienced a terrible, unprecedented heat wave.[iv] In early May, the Guardian published a piece in which a man named Nazeer Ahmed described the conditions in his home in Turbat, Pakistan. Over the course of several weeks, temperatures repeatedly approached 50C (122F). Energy shortages meant air conditioners and refrigerators frequently couldn’t function. These are not normal conditions for the area. Ahmed said, “We are living in hell.”[v]

I can read this article and think, “Oh no, that’s terrible. See, we really need to do something about climate change!” But then I figure Pakistan’s probably hot anyway, and this too shall pass, and there are lots of bad things happening in the world right now, and anyway I have stuff to do. We’re like frogs in water that is slowly but surely coming to a boil. Those who are starting to boil don’t control the heat and the rest of us still aren’t sure what’s happening. From the outside our relative passivity while the world goes to hell in a handbasket looks like an unmistakable anthropotragedy, but from inside we’re just innocently living our daily lives.

I have a different relationship to this recent heat wave in India and Pakistan because of a book I’m reading called Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. It begins with a scene in the not-too-distant future when a heat wave in India brings about prolonged “wet bulb” temperatures that coincide with widespread power failures. A wet bulb temperature is one where heat and humidity combine such that a human being loses the ability to shed heat through sweating. If you have high humidity, this can happen anywhere above 35C (95F). In a matter of hours, people essentially broil and die unless they can cool off – and when it gets hot enough, such cooling can only happen with the use of energy to produce air conditioning or refrigeration. In the absence of power, there is no escape.

In Ministry for the Future, the protagonist is caught in the middle of a disaster where wet bulb temperatures drag on for days. Children and old people die first. Here’s a short excerpt from the story:

Four more people died that night. In the morning the sun again rose like the blazing furnace of heat that it was, blasting the rooftop and its sad cargo of wrapped bodies. Every rooftop and, looking down at the town, every sidewalk too was now a morgue. The town was a morgue, and it was as hot as ever, maybe hotter. The thermometer now said 42 degrees, humidity 60 percent. Frank looked at the screens dully. He had slept about three hours, in snatches. The generator was still chuntering along in its irregular two-stroke, the A/C box was still vibrating like the bad fan it was. The sound of other generators and air conditioners still filled the air. But it wasn’t going to make any difference.

He went downstairs and opened the safe and called Preeti again on the satellite phone. After twenty or forty tries, she picked up. “What is it?”

“Look, we need help here,” he said. “We’re dying here.”

“What do you think?” she said furiously. “Do you think you’re the only ones?”

“No, but we need help.”

“We all need help!” she cried.

Frank paused to ponder this. It was hard to think. Preeti was in Delhi.

“Are you okay there?” he asked.

No answer. Preeti had hung up.[vi]

In the story, once gas for generators is gone, people go sit in the lake even though it’s hotter than normal body temperature and filling up with corpses. Eventually millions die a slow, agonizing death.

Reading the play-by-play experience of someone in the middle of a fatal heat wave, even if it’s a fictional account, brings our anthropotragedy to life in a way that simply reading the news cannot. And how far in the future is the first heat wave that kills millions? It’s really just a matter of time.

Expanding Our Imaginations

We want to believe it’s really not that bad, but wishful thinking will not get us out of this mess. We need to use whatever methods we have at our disposal to get our minds and hearts around what’s going on, or we will not respond appropriately.

However, it’s important to remember that our story is not over. Right now, it looks like we’re actors in a vast anthropotragedy that future generations will ponder with disbelief and bitterness as they struggle to survive in an apocalyptic wasteland. But humanity may yet live out the hero’s journey instead – another archetypal story in which the hero overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to triumph in the end. Our potential to make a beautiful, sustainable world is exactly what makes our anthropotragedy so tragic. Let us not only inform ourselves about the climate and ecological crisis, let’s also expand our imaginations – because once decoupled from greed, human creativity is the strength that may overcome humanity’s flaws.



[i] https://www.etymonline.com/word/anthro-

[ii] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/tragedy

[iii] https://www.newyorker.com/cartoon/a16995

[iv] https://www.vox.com/23057267/india-pakistan-heat-wave-climate-change-coal-south-asia

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/02/pakistan-india-heatwaves-water-electricity-shortages?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

[vi] Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Ministry for the Future (p. 8). Orbit. Kindle Edition.


13 – Is a “Crazy” Response an Appropriate Response to Climate Insanity?

13 – Is a “Crazy” Response an Appropriate Response to Climate Insanity?

In this “Facing the Truth” episode, I give a brief update on the state of the climate and ecological crisis as reflected in the recent IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change. Then I reflect on our situation to help us absorb the insanity of it, and discuss whether or not a “crazy” response is an appropriate one. Finally, I invite you to give you to consider how we are experiencing entirely new kinds of human distress by living in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency.



Quicklinks to Article Content:
The Latest IPCC Report: It’s Now or Never
Insanity: Let’s Keep Drilling for Oil!
Absorbing the Insanity of Our Situation
Is a Crazy Response an Appropriate Response to Insanity?
Entirely New Kinds of Human Distress


This is one of my Facing the Truth episodes. As I’ve discussed previously on the podcast, I believe the only way we make a practice of living a sustainable, ethical, and authentic life in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis is by including three essential ingredients in our lives: Facing the Truth, Staying Strong, and Taking Action. It takes thoughtfulness and skill to balance these three ingredients. So, after two episodes on Taking Action, it’s once again time to make some space for reflection, and for Facing the Truth of what’s going on in our world with respect to the climate and ecological crisis.

First, I’m going to give you a brief update on the crisis. Then I’ll take some time to reflect on and absorb the information, and discuss the challenge we face in responding to the insanity of the situation without losing our minds.


The Latest IPCC Report: It’s Now or Never

A couple weeks ago, on April 4th, the United Nation’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) released the third and final installment of their Sixth Assessment Report. Remember, the IPCC celebrated it’s 30th anniversary recently, so they’ve been creating and releasing reports for a long time. The first part of the sixth report was on the “physical science basis” of climate change, and the second was on “impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability.” This most recent installment was about the “mitigation of climate change.” In other words, the first two parts of the report discussed the dire situation we’re in, while the third talks about what we’re doing about it.

There is some good news. As the IPCC’s press release states, “In 2010-2019 average annual global greenhouse gas emissions were at their highest levels in human history, but the rate of growth has slowed… there is increasing evidence of climate action… Since 2010, there have been sustained decreases of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries. An increasing range of policies and laws have enhanced energy efficiency, reduced rates of deforestation and accelerated the deployment of renewable energy.”[i]

The new report’s summary for policymakers goes into more detail, providing data on how successfully avoiding climate catastrophe is within our reach. We already know what to do, and addressing the problem on many fronts at the same time has the potential to limit heating, prevent ecological collapse, and actually result in a healthier and more equitable life for all. The report compares the relative costs and benefits of a host of mitigation measures that can be employed in energy production, industry, buildings, transport, agriculture, forestry and other land uses, and diet.

However, the press release goes on to say, “In the scenarios we assessed, limiting warming to around 1.5°C (2.7°F) requires global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030; at the same time, methane would also need to be reduced by about a third. Even if we do this, it is almost inevitable that we will temporarily exceed this temperature threshold but could return to below it by the end of the century.” [ii]

Jim Skea, the Co-Chair of the working group which produced the report, stated in the press release, “It’s now or never, if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F). Without immediate and deep emissions reductions across all sectors, it will be impossible.”[iii]

I’d have to refer to the first and second installments of the IPCC report to talk about the dire circumstances we’ll be facing if we fail to limit global warming to 1.5°C. Let’s just say that every fraction of degree of warming we fail to stop multiplies the catastrophic consequences.


Insanity: Let’s Keep Drilling for Oil!

Okay, so the IPCC has spoken again. It’s difficult to imagine their message getting clearer or more forceful. What has been the response to the latest report?

Well… there are a lot of decisions to be made about which global heating mitigation measures to focus on, but there’s one absolute no-brainer: Immediately stop the expansion of fossil fuel extraction activities. Development of new coal, oil and gas extraction sites, pipelines, refineries, and power plants locks investment into the major cause of the climate crisis for decades. Arguments are made by those in power that we must continue to explore and exploit new sources of fossil fuels so ordinary folks can have jobs and afford to fill their gas tanks, but we all know the real motivation isn’t the well-being of ordinary folks, it’s the expansion of the already obscene profits of the richest of the rich.

Gasoline prices have been rising recently. Some blame the war in Ukraine, some blame the oil companies (who in the meantime have managed to bring in record-breaking profits), and Republicans blame Biden. In any case, politicians are feeling pressure to expand drilling for oil and gas – ostensibly to increase supply and decrease prices, even though the effects of new drilling won’t be felt for years.[iv] During his campaign for president in 2020, Joe Biden said, “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period.” On Friday, April 15th, Biden broke that promise when his administration announced it would resume selling leases for new oil and gas drilling on public lands.[v]


Absorbing the Insanity of Our Situation

Let’s take a moment to reflect and to absorb the truth of what’s going on. The climate crisis is already unfolding before our eyes. Our daily lives play out within the disconcerting context of a visibly warming world and increasingly common “unprecedented” weather events. We already see growing political turmoil, mass migration, and anti-immigrant sentiment as global heating exacerbates existing problems. Dire warnings of mass extinctions, ecosystem collapse, and water shortages have become commonplace.

Hundreds of respected scientists from around the world just issued a collaborative report stating our global greenhouse gas emissions need to start decreasing within the next three years, or things will get much, much worse. That’s decreasing, not simply growing more slowly. But the US president, a Democrat who vowed to take action on climate and whose party controls both houses of congress, has been unable to do much of anything because our political system is broken. Not only that, he just opened public lands back up to new oil and gas drilling.

The insanity of our situation is difficult to comprehend. I find my mind shrinking away from it or sliding into denial by dwelling on the minutiae of various arguments. At times I almost buy the argument of those in power that we can’t get off the fossil fuel train because doing so will hurt the working class and poor – until I recognize this is really an argument that says, “If you stop the fossil fuel train, we’ll do nothing to help the working class and poor; we’ll take our money and run and let the poor folks deal with the consequences.”

Maybe it’s that the insanity of continuing business as usual when we’re obviously killing ourselves is just too much to face. I imagine good people in Nazi Germany looked the other way when they suspected something was amiss at concentration camps because they simply couldn’t imagine that such atrocities could happen. It was beyond belief. But just because we can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it can’t happen.


Is a Crazy Response an Appropriate Response to Insanity?

When I really open my mind to our predicament, when I let down my guard and absorb what’s happening, I’m reminded of the woman scientist, Kate Dibiasky, from the movie “Don’t Look Up.” (I plan to do a whole episode on that movie at some point, I highly recommend it as a modern morality tale about our climate emergency.) In the movie, the imminent threat to life on earth is a comet, set to strike the planet in 6 months. The two scientists who discovered the threat end up trying to convince the government to take action, but they encounter a surreal but entirely realistic quagmire of denial, distraction, greed, and sensationalism. At one point, after facing inane questions that make a joke out of the warnings the scientists are trying to give, Kate screams on live television, “There’s a 100% chance that we’re all going to die!” Everyone thinks she’s overemotional and crazy and the video of her outburst goes viral in the most denigrating ways.

What is an appropriate response to our climate emergency? Is a “crazy” response actually an appropriate response? This is an extremely isolating and painful question for anyone who actually believes the IPCC reports. I recently read an excellent piece called “Under the Weather” by Ash Sanders, published in the book All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. Sanders writes about her experience of climate anxiety. She obsessed over her own actions and how they contributed to the climate crisis. She got involved in radical activism. She worked nonstop because, “There was no pause button on climate change, so why should I get a break?”[vi] After eight years she was completely burned out, and retreated from everything for five years. When she found herself ready to return to the fight, she says:

“I was afraid of becoming shrill again, afraid of my urge to grab plastic bags out of people’s hands and force my partner to turn down the thermostat and try to fit animal extinction into casual conversation. I was afraid I would become a purist and a martyr, taking all the sorrow and all the suffering on myself because I didn’t know how else to reconcile my smallness with the hugeness of the problem.


“I wasn’t immune to social cues. I knew I was supposed to agree that biodegradable cups were helping or that the empathy of the next generation would pull us out or that not all life would be lost—and that humans, resilient, would go on. In each of these conversations, there was a subtext: This is where you nod and agree. This is where you choose this friendship over party-pooping facts. This is where you stop.”[vi]

What is an appropriate response to the breakdown of earth’s natural life-support systems, and to the human refusal to stop causing it? It seems pretty natural to get phenomenally depressed or desperate, and in her chapter, Sanders tells the stories of a number of otherwise normal folks who reacted this way to the climate crisis. Some of them found their way out of their despair by retreating into a life of denial, and who can blame them? But it sure seems like we need to find a middle way between denial and completely freaking out.

Of course, there’s no “appropriate response” we can define and then be done with whole issue. I think the best response we can offer is an ongoing attitude of humility and willingness to be real. Sometimes the appropriate response is to go out in our garden, breathe fresh air, and admire growing things. Sometimes the appropriate response is to crumple in a heap, weeping for all the pointless death and destruction that is happening and is yet to come. Sometimes the appropriate response is to take action, determined to save whatever we can.


Entirely New Kinds of Human Distress

It’s helpful to acknowledge to ourselves how incredibly difficult all of this is. Human beings are experiencing entirely new kinds of worry and pain we have no words for. Because we have no words, we have no concepts, and we can’t talk to one another about what we’re going through and get some support. Sanders found some solace in a little project called the Bureau of Linguistical Reality, the brainchild of two women, Alicia Escott and Heidi Quante. According to their website, “The Bureau of Linguistical Reality was established on October 28, 2014 for the purpose of collecting, translating and creating a new vocabulary for the Anthropocene.” The Anthropocene is a term for new geologic age where human beings are having such a massive impact on the planet, it will be forever evident in the geologic record.

I’d like to share a couple of the forty-or-so terms offered by the Bureau of Linguistical Reality. As I do so, notice if you relate to any of the feelings or experiences described – experiences your ancestors would not have understood. The words themselves don’t matter that much (the website even invites you to leave comments and suggestions for concepts in need of words), but I think the descriptions point at some very real and important experiences:

Psychic Corpus Dissonance: The conflict between mind and body that occurs when a person experiences unusually warm weather during a time that has historically been considered winter.  In this state the body experiences ecstasy to be in unusually warm weather while, simultaneously, the mind experiences worry and concern that weather patterns are deeply amiss, often resulting in a sensation akin to guilt or guilty pleasure.[vii]


Gelm: A sense of foreboding, threat and dread in response to every day encounters with the evidence of human-caused environmental and ecological destruction, such as traffic jams, the deformed feet of pigeons, the debris of litter from fast food outlets, the crush of urban life, the smog of pollution, the demise of garden birds, the abundance of cleaning products which end up in waterways, images of drought riven lands or flooding, or the sight of huge industrial complexes churning out smoke.[viii]


NonnaPaura: A strong natural urge for your children to have children mixed with an equally strong urge to protect these yet unborn grandchildren from a future filled with suffering as climate change accelerates and drastically alters the Earth. (From Nonna (Italian) meaning Grandmama + Paura (Italian) meaning Fear.)[ix]

Sometimes being given a word for something you experience helps you deal with it. At the very least, part of Facing the Truth is facing our own responses to what’s going on in the world. May you find strength and patience as you navigate this crazy time in our world.

Next week’s episode will focus on Staying Strong, so I hope you’ll tune in, thanks for listening.



[i] IPCC Sixth Assessment Report – April 2022 Press Release (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/resources/press/press-release)

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Biden Plans to Open More Public Land to Drilling. New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/15/climate/biden-drilling-oil-leases.html

[v] Ibid

[vi] All We Can Save (p. 233). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[vii] https://bureauoflinguisticalreality.com/portfolio/psychic-corpus-dissonance/

[viii] https://bureauoflinguisticalreality.com/portfolio/gelm/

[ix] https://bureauoflinguisticalreality.com/portfolio/nonnapaura/