Extinction is not political

Floating ice floes along one edge of Fram Strait. Photograph: Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace

I don’t write about politics on this blog. There is exactly one topic that is considered political I will not shut up about, though – the climate crisis, or rather the climate catastrophe. We are way beyond “climate change” – it had already changed. It is not done changing. Why “considered”? Because no matter what the politicians tell you, extinction is not going to be limited to the voters of this or that party, although yes, some voters will stay around longer and in much nicer conditions. Specifically, the ones with money, the ones living in richer countries and trying to keep everyone else from coming in.

I’m lower middle class. We can afford to buy a nice starter house in the suburbs, which isn’t a lot considering that we’re not exactly in the “starter” age range, but still – we can get a mortgage. We live in Amsterdam, which sounds glamorous and is everything but. Our income is comfortable, neither hand-to-mouth nor Scrooge McDuck takes a bath in coins. We will survive a while longer than a lot of other people, at least until all of the Netherlands goes under water.

 

Money makes the world go HOT

“‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive”, Damian Carrington, The Guardian:

The world is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers, a report from a UN human rights expert has said.

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the impacts of global heating are likely to undermine not only basic rights to life, water, food, and housing for hundreds of millions of people, but also democracy and the rule of law. […]

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction,” Alston said.

This is why I mentioned our middle class-ness. I have some ways out. I can go to the local supermarket and spend a surprisingly long time in the dairy section before someone asks me what I am doing – I look weird, but not the homeless sort of weird. I can spend an hour in the shower and water the flowers as much as I want without worrying about water. There are no wildfires here – yet – but they’re coming. Arctic Circle experienced wildfires last year. We don’t have a car (not unusual in Amsterdam), a garden, or stocks in BP, Shell, and so on. We don’t have AC.

 

My personal climate crisis

I’ve spent a week in Warsaw recently, visiting my mum, who is in her sixties. She doesn’t work anymore, so she can afford to get up very early, do her shopping before 8am, shut the windows, the curtains, then more or less breathe and change cold compresses on her forehead. Around 10pm she can open the windows again. She does not have air conditioning.

We didn’t exactly spend quality time together. We just boiled in near-silence, interrupted by sighs and brief exchanges about how hot it is.

Husby and I spent two days at a mall – mum didn’t want to join. We spent terrifying amounts of money on ice coffees we sipped on slowly just to be able to sit there, because the mall is fully air-conditioned and this was what we were really paying for. Around 4pm we would go back, eat with my mum, then spend the evening breathing, cooling ourselves down, and saying things like “it’s below 30 [86 Fahrenheit] degrees inside, wow, I think I feel a draft”.

Once we made it back home, I was sick for two days, because we had to deal with a change from what seemed to be middle of the summer – summer hadn’t started yet – to early April weather. Then Amsterdam went “oh, I’m tardy to the party” and turned into an oven as well. Two days ago I continued writing with ice blocks under the laptop, as I have a deadline looming and wasted nine days being either too hot or too sick from suddenly not being too hot. I would replace the ice brick every 2-3 hours. Yesterday I had to give this up as well, replacing them every 30 minutes just to make sure the laptop wouldn’t die – I was doing a massive backup job and couldn’t just shut it down. I sat in my boxers, wrapped in a wet towel, my feet in a bowl of water, a fan in front of me, windows shut, curtains closed to keep the sun outside. We don’t have air conditioning either.

My aunt, who is 70, exercises a lot. She can’t afford a gym membership, so she exercises outdoors. When the heat started, she tried to exercise early in the morning, in the shade, until she got so sick she finally went to see a doctor. Polish medical care is, at best, patchy. She spent the whole day in the waiting room, then went home with nothing. But the waiting room was cooler and she felt better. She owns a small apartment in a small town. That’s all she has. I’m not sure whether she knows what an AC unit looks like.

 

Time goes by

I moved to Amsterdam in 2006. My job interview took part in the summer, during a heatwave in Europe. When I came here I breathed in relief, satisfied to find out there was no heatwave here, it was 24 Celsius (75 Fahrenheit). I would soon find out that was the heatwave. Temperatures above 21 were at that time practically tropical. Yesterday temperature reached 34 Celsius (93 Fahrenheit), which coupled with Amsterdam’s humidity feels a lot like being trapped in a sauna. Today it dropped to 18 (64 F) and I am kind of dizzy, hoping not to get sick for two days again. Coming days will be cool, 24-25. Thirteen, not thirty or three hundred years ago I would have phrased this sentence as “coming days will be a heatwave”.

Climate catastrophe is not a matter of voting and politics. I have a climate crisis in my living room, in my bedroom, at my mum’s house. But I have ways and means to survive – for a while. My biggest problem is that I can’t exercise, which makes my spine injuries worse; that Husby ate all the ice cream and didn’t tell me; that my laptop is overheating. The Polish government’s cuts to pensions left my aunt below poverty level. She gets her relief from sitting for hours at a doctor’s waiting room despite never actually getting to see the doctor. But then, who cares? It’s not like she buys a lot of stuff.

 

Rich white men will survive

After Republican Protest, Oregon’s Climate Plan Dies, UPR:

The cap-and-trade policy, a plan to cap carbon emissions and make polluters pay for their greenhouse gas production, is a Democratic priority in this year’s session.

As a walkout by Republican senators over the cap-and-trade bill entered its sixth day — and in an apparent attempt to bring them back — Courtney gave assurances that the bill would die in the Senate chamber. […] Republican Sen. Cliff Bentz said Tuesday morning he had only just heard of Courtney’s announcement and that he had questions about its meaning.

“The question becomes, ‘What are they trying to do?’ ” said Bentz, who is believed to be staying in Idaho while the boycott plays out. “Are they trying to make some sort of arrangement? If they are suggesting they don’t have the votes, what’s the procedure they’re going to use to kill the bill?”

I am not going to even go near American politics, as I am hardly an expert. I have to admit that I am surprised, though, that senators can just decide not to show up at all until bills they don’t like are removed from the voting agenda, and not only nobody holds them accountable, but the senators also demand to know HOW those bills will get killed before they come back to work. (How many other jobs exist where you have this sort of power over your employer?!)

Resistance against the fact that we are living under threat, or rather near-certainty of our own extinction so badly doesn’t surprise me so much when it comes from politicians, because politicians get paid to say and do things. This is called “lobbying” and “financing campaigns”, and a few other things. The things that confuse me lie elsewhere. First, with their voters, who I assume are not all paid by the fossil fuel sector. Are all of those people rich? Don’t they have children? Do they think that ‘Mad Max’ is a documentary and that they will all be Mel Gibson? I am aware of what money can do – look at the Johnson & Johnson family friendly opiates lawsuit as a random example. But nobody voted for Oxycontin.

Politicians don’t have to deal with climate crisis, not personally. They move between air-conditioned houses, air-conditioned limousines, air-conditioned hotels, air-conditioned airports, air-conditioned Senate rooms (if they can be bothered to go at all). The life of a politician has very little in common with the lives of their voters. WHO WILL DIE. The life of a stockholder of a fossil fuel company, or anyone who profits, is cool in more than one way. They still seem to miss the fact that their products need to be bought by other people. WHO WILL DIE… but then… those too poor to be able to afford heating in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer aren’t buying much, right? So maybe the Guardian “Climate apartheid” article is right? Maybe it’s as simple as “who cares about your aunt”?

 

Human beings?

I don’t really consider stockholders who insist on more profit at any price (specifically, price paid by other people) to be human. I feel closer to Sarah Dahl:

I’m 41 and lie awake at night with fear. Plain fear and much rage. My little daughter and my autistic son tried tirelessly to be heard today, in Aachen at the so far biggest climate crisis demo in Germany. […] And we all come home to which news?

The EU AGAIN makes our future a literal footnote.

The ladies and gentlemen EU politicians AGAIN didn’t manage to even WANT TO tackle the fire raging in this house we all live in. I’m not even saying “to put out” – that is a global effort of all people involved. But the will to even pick up the fire hose and seriously start seems to be absent in these air-conditioned offices.

God, you are so weak. [Emphasis mine – B.]

The house is burning – next week with near 40 degrees, record after record – and nobody ACTS. The facts are on the table – but nobody starts. The people, the children and their allies, the seeing, take to the streets and demonstrate, do petitions, rage. But no.

From those nice offices it probably looks like we are weak. Can’t we just buy ourselves a nice air-conditioned office? I saw an ad yesterday – “you too can be join the 1%”. Isn’t this how maths work? We can all be the 1% and 99% will be… um, I don’t know. My aunt? She’s definitely weak. Politicians are going strong.

I was born in Poland. The president of the country opened a climate summit by saying:

“There is no plan today to fully give up on coal,” President Andrzej Duda said in his opening remarks on Monday. “Experts point out that our supplies run for another 200 years, and it would be hard not to use them.”

Do you know what will be hard, Mr. President? It will be hard to explain to your voters, WHO WILL BE DEAD, why you thought saying this at a climate summit was a good idea. At a climate summit. Do you know what is already hard, Mr. President? Spending a day at my mum’s living room. Perhaps you would like to come over, cook in her kitchen, do her groceries in the middle of the day. She would appreciate it. She drinks a lot of mineral water. Bring her 12 bottles, like we did when we went there. We did it at 9pm, because before that the thought alone of going out to do groceries was beyond our imagination. We had to go twice, because the water was sold out on the first evening.

I don’t buy the “fossil fuels generate jobs” excuse anymore. It made sense maybe even ten years ago. Today it’s like saying that the Chernobyl explosion generated jobs, because somebody had to build that sarcophagus. Multiple studies confirm that switching to green energy will generate more jobs. You’re just saying that you’re paid to say, Mr. President.

 

The Greta Effect

Greta Thunberg, the “climate crisis superstar”, inspires other teenagers – luckily. (Is there a way to lobby the Nobel Prize committee?) A few days ago I read that a Polish 13-year-old, Inga Zasowska, sits outside the Polish parliament building every Friday with a sign “VACATION CLIMATE STRIKE”. No matter how hot it is. As the article continues to explain, during the first day two politicians from the Green Party (not in the parliament, support below 1%) came by to tell her they “support her”. That was the support she got. More powerful politicians had much more to say in air-conditioned TV studios. “They’re just kids,” they would start, then swiftly move on to “…brainwashed by adults”. What are you doing then, adults, other than spewing vitriol on the kids who dare to want to survive?

 

Photo courtesy of Sarah Dahl. Used by permission.

 

Sarah Dahl again:

YOU MESSED THIS UP. Again. Irreversibly. Ignoring the needs and demands of the children in your families, of the generations to come. You’ll be dead, and they won’t be able to pull the chestnut that is this planet out of YOUR fire. […]

Postponers. Someone at some point will have an idea. Someone with courage. With power. With guts.

You don’t have all that. You’re messing it up – for good.

But it is US who lie awake at night, WE have to answer our kids’ questions. I don’t have an air-conditioned office that protects me from this feverish world, from kids’ questions, and from fear.

I disagree with Dahl on one point. They have the idea. They know what should be done. They have the power. They even have the guts – it takes lots of guts to open a climate summit with an address about how the country is going to harness coal energy for another 200 years. They have air-conditioning, cool drinks served by minions, they have TV cameras to look at with a concerned facial expression. And no, in this case I have no problem driving a wedge between us and them. I don’t believe myself to be a part of the same species as fossil fuel industry’s lobbyists and stockholders. If only because they will survive the climate catastrophe and I will not.

We – as in we, the grown-ups – should be horribly ashamed that the children are the only ones with enough brains to understand that the planet we will leave for them will be a post-Ragnarök landscape. Instead, you – not me this time – vomit all over those kids’ heads, telling them that they’ve been brain-washed.

Before you tell me I’ve been brain-washed, spend a day in my mum’s living room and do her groceries in the middle of the day. You are not allowed to use a car. You can drink water, though, once you bring it home from the store. She’s lucky – she has access to drinking water 24/7, even if she has to use filtered tap water. Many, many people don’t have that luxury. And I haven’t even touched on animals, because this post is already very long.

 

What are we gonna do about the rich?

It used to baffle me how the rich think that their demands for constant profit growth are not going to crash when the buyers of their products are DEAD until I read that “climate apartheid” article over and over three times. It makes perverse sense. The poor can die out. We (as in “we, the politicians and stockholders”) don’t need them. They don’t buy enough, they get sick, need healthcare, some of them even demand that corporations and the rich would pay higher taxes. Yeah, they should go. Faced with a choice between a new sponsored yacht or allowing thousands of people to just survive, the politicians pick the yacht. Then they appear in front of TV cameras, their faces concerned, saying nice, round words like “protecting the jobs”. DEAD PEOPLE DON’T NEED JOBS. The politicians know that.

The climate summits end with promises and agreements that are 1) signed mostly by countries that don’t actually produce much pollution anyway and 2) nevertheless broken or forgotten. Like there is some sort of weird hostage situation negotiation going on. “Say, Mother Nature, we agreed to lower the emissions by 30% by 2030. Can you now stop with the wildfires and droughts? They’re affecting our ratings in the polls. We are giving you a CONCESSION. We are being REASONABLE. Would you like to go on a nice holiday, maybe? A new car? Say a word. We have so much to offer you. 10% ownership in this or that?”

Climate catastrophe is non-negotiable. It is a fact. You don’t get to negotiate with a fact. You can’t be only 10% dead. Instead, you can try and make sure only 10% of the population turns 100% dead. If we’re lucky and act fast, which will not happen.

 

Say hello to your new planet

The Arctic permafrost is thawing. As in, completely.

Since the start of the satellite era in 1979, the summer Arctic has lost 40% of its extent and up to 70% of its volume,  says [Till] Wagner. Other scientists calculate the rate of decline at 10,000 tonnes a second. Much of the multiyear ice is now gone. Most of what is left is the younger, thinner layer from the previous winter, which is easier for the sun to melt and the wind to push around. Wagner expects ice-free summers in 20 to 40 years, which would allow ships to cruise all the way to the north pole.

Averages don’t work the way most people think. When a report says that temperatures will go up by, say, 1.5 Celsius, this doesn’t mean that the temperature on an average hot summer day in Amsterdam will no longer be 22, but 23.5 degrees. Those effects accumulate in spots. When the Arctic ice thaws, it generates incredible amounts of water. It changes the currents worldwide, destabilising the distribution of heat all over the world. Places that were once surrounded by warm currents may actually end up turning into permafrost – the fact that politicians use the extremely cold winters as proof that there is no “global warming” is a whole new level of cynicism. The lands where the heat was somewhat dispersed by cold currents will experience the opposite fate. The currents change the winds – the heatwave in Europe is caused by the winds from Africa. (Does anybody even remember Africa exists and really doesn’t need to turn any hotter…? Nah. They don’t buy stuff.) We will both burn and freeze, depending on our location.

Icelandic glaciers are melting as well, by the way.

 

What can you do to help the future?

Join Greta Thunberg and others inspired by her, then think before you vote.

Of course it helps to use less plastic, only use reusable bags, eat less meat, pay to offset CO2 when you fly (like Mother Nature takes money), and so on. But ultimately as long as politicians are bought by fossil fuel companies, you can go vegan, try to bicycle from London to Paris, make your own bags from your cat’s hair, and one signature of a politician will create a million times more damage than all of us could prevent.

Don’t believe in the “green oil and coal” bullshit. It’s like “animal friendly meat products” and anti-smoking campaigns by tobacco producers. So Shell is spending $300 million on green energy over three years? Shell has annual income of $24 billion. Colour me unimpressed. Quote: “When I checked with the company, it told me it had no discrete figure for its income from low-carbon technologies. Nor could it tell me how much it invested in them last year. But it did pour $25bn of investment into oil and gas in 2018.”

I’ve said this before. Mother Nature has no morals, doesn’t own 4x4s, yachts, airplanes, stocks, factories. She doesn’t care whether insects, humans, fish, polar bears survive. Mother Nature just is. We started taking Her for granted, assuming that arrogance, money, and fire power is enough to make her do what we want.

“I don’t think so,” says Mother Nature. Her tone is neutral, almost like she doesn’t care about Shell’s profits and Greta Thunberg and about Oregon Republicans and even about you or me. “I am the Queen here and frankly I don’t mind ruling over ashes. I am both a lake and a desert. I am ice and I am fire. I am fish, dead or alive, and I am mosquitoes, spiders, camels, I am a coal mine, a waterfall, and a Polish president. I don’t mind you being dead, I see this as me getting a makeover. You’ve been around for a very long time. I hope you had a nice time.”

“But,” say the politicians, “we could lower the emissions by 10% by 2030 and offset the CO2 levels to poorer countries!”

“Frankly, humans, I don’t give a damn.”

Image: Floating ice floes along one edge of Fram Strait. Photograph: Denis Sinyakov/Greenpeace

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