''The Cli-Fi Report'' is the world's only portal for all things "cli-fi," a stand-alone literary genre of its own, with news links from blogs to videos to Wikipedia to Twitter to news links and Facebook Groups. See the portal, the only Cli-Fi portal on the Internet at cli-fi.net / MEDIA inquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nat Rich's 30,000-word essay in NYT mag this week ''LOSING EARTH'' will become a paperback book in early 2019 and be compared favorably with John Hersey's 1946 nonfiction book ''HIROSHIMA''. Film rights for both straight docu HBO style and Hollywood cli-fi film with ensemble cast.
''With more and more cli-fi novels and movies on tap, I cannot stop thinking about how it is now possible to mine affecting, resonant drama out of the certainty of climate change catastrophe. It's no longer science fiction. What I'm saying here is that living through the twilight of humankind is gonna be worth it for future cli-fi novels and movies.''
-- Stephen Kelly, UK culture writer in London
New Adventures in 'Cli-Fi' -- Taking the temperature of a new literary genre. -- A 2018 BLOG POST FROM MERRIAM WEBSTER DICTIONARY
In appreciation of Amy Brady's hard work on boosting the fortunes of the cli-fi genre through her monthly cli-fi column and her podcasts and forum appearances, an appreciation...with a hat tip to her partner Village Voice film critic Alan Scherstuhl, a native of Kansas City and a graduate of the Annenberg School at the University of South California in Los Angeles, class of 2011. Amy, native of Topeka, Kansas, has a PHD in Literature, received in 2013 from UMass-Amherst, with a Phd thesis titled "Staging the Depression:The Federal Theater Project's Drama of Poverty 1935-1939." She also has a Masters degree from the Univeristy of Missouri - Kansas City. Her day job is as a manager of the grants and development at a major college in Manhattan. She and Alan got married in Topeka, Kansas in 2012. They are now a power couple in literary and cinema circles in New York. Bravo!
Allegra Hyde: I’m guessing “cli-fi” is here to stay. What will be interesting to watch, however, is how this kind of fiction evolves alongside our rapidly changing world. Is climate-fiction going to become more and more darkly dystopic? Or is it going to serve as a vehicle for imagining solutions?
In late July 2018, the New York Times Sunday Magazine announced that its August 5th issue would contain just one long article, a book-length investigation by reporter Nat Rich, titled "Our Coming Climate Issue: Losing Earth." The glossy elitist magazine has devoted an entire issue (plus advertisements for expensive cars and watches and luxury homes for the wealthy) to an important issue of concern to every nation on the planet, not just America.
The single-themed edition called "Losing Earth," looks at scientific discoveries and decisions made from 1979 to 1989 through the story of a former NASA scientist, James Hansen, who has a new book coming out in October titled "Sophie's Planet," a series of letters to his 20-something grand-daughter Sophie.
Nat centers his story on two white American Christian men, Rafe Pomerance, an environmental activist and former NASA scientist James Hansen, one of the first to warn Americans about the dangers of a climate change and global warming and a Greenhouse Earth.
But Nat places most of the blame on the failure of political leaders to stop greenhouse gases on "human nature." So it is true that we can lay all the blame on human nature, and not on anything else? Many readers around the world who will be eating up every word of Nat's book-in-progress "Losing Earth" will be wondering where the blame lies and many will be coming up with their own conclusion. Maybe it's not human nature. Maybe it's capitalism, maybe it's a corrupt political system, maybe it's a corrupt United Nations, maybe it's scientists in denial or scientists too much alarmed by things that cannot pin down to a science. We shall see what the fallout from Nat's risky venture into controversial issues like greenhouse gases ensues.
Nat told a TV reporter a few days before the story broke: "By 1979, there was a strong consensus within the scientific community about the nature of the problem. The fundamental science hasn’t really evolved since then. It’s only been refined really. There was no politicization of the issue throughout the decade. A number of prominent Republicans were leading the charge to insist on a major policy, and industry, which we now blame for much of our paralysis, had not turned against science or truth and if anything, especially in the early part of the decade, was engaged in trying to understand the problem and determine solutions. Over the course of the decade, the issue rose to major national attention and a process for a global treaty was in hand. We failed at the end of that to sign a binding agreement."
Why did things fall apart?
"Well, there’s sort of a simple political answer, a very narrow answer I suppose you could make which is that in the first George Bush administration, his chief of staff -- former governor of New Hampshire John Sununu who is an engineer, a Ph.D. -- was very skeptical about the science and he suspected that it was being used by a cabal of folks who wanted to suppress growth and economic advancement and all of that, and he managed to win an internal fight within that White House against action," Nat said. "That’s that’s kind of the most limited possible answer. That piece tells the story of that political conversation."
The story that the Times is running is titled ''Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change.'' Notice the use of the "we" in the subtitle. Does "we" mean white American policy makers making policy for the entire world, where billions of ''people of color'' in Africa and India and Asia and following non-Christian religions live and raise families? Or does that "we" mean the entire planet of humankind, mankind, womankind. The editors of the Times need to address this issue and hopefully they will after this tempest in a global teapot dies down. If it ever dies down.
''I think the larger answer has to do with how we as a species try to reckon with vast technological problems that will only affect folks decades or generations from now," Nat added, when speaking with a PBS-TV reporter. ''Of course, that’s not the case anymore. But in the early 1980s, that was how the conversation was being constructed. And so I think there’s a kind of larger conversation to be had about why we were so unable to tackle this when we had a great opportunity to do so, and then there’s the more narrow conversation about the inside politics of the matter."
Jake Silverstein, editor of the Sunday magazine which set this issue up in conjunction ace reporter Nat Rich, put is this way in an online advertisement letting readers know that something was brewing at the Times: "Next week's issue of The New York Times Magazine is an unusual one. It's dedicated to a single long story, by writer-at-large Nat Rich, about the ten-year period from 1979 to 1989, the decisive decade when humanity settled the science of gteenhouse gases and came surprisingly close to finding a solution. The world was ready to act. But 'we' failed to do what was necessary to avoid a catastrophe. Nat's story is a gripping narrative that reads like a historical whodunit.''
Again with the "we." Who is this "we"? Is America and the Times trying to say that only Americans can save the planet and that only the U.S. government can solve the problems we face. Not the scientists or politicians of Australia or Britain or Germany or Norway or South Africa or Japan or China? Just leave it to white American policy makers to serve as "saviors" of the entire planet, just as Jesus is said to be the ''savior/messiah'' of all mankind? Is the New York Times asleep the wheel again?
Accompanied by a series of stunning photos from around the world by George Steinmetz, “Losing Earth” will forever alter the way you see the world, the Times wants readers to believe. But it's not true. The Times story will merely serve to provoke more arguments and more scientific forums and more government meetings and Congressional hearings? Under the administration of Donald Trump, "we" are in for one wild ride. Hold on!
As the world warms, and things get hot and hotter, publishers in several nations will be looking more and more at the rising genre of cli-fi and trying to figure out how to publish such novels and short stories. Sci-fi they understand already. It's easy to publish. But this new subgenre of sci-fi, how to publish it? And will the public take to it?
To find out, I asked a few people in the publishing industry in London, New York and Sydney for their take of how to publish and promote ''cli-fi'' in a Post-Apocalypse world. Here is some of what I've heard:
''As an acquiring editor at a major firm, I feel that if cli fi takes off the way that sci-fi did years ago, this could
be a very good publishing event for all of us. And good news, too."
"I am not sure if cli-fi will work, but the term makes sense in this
age of climate fear and loathing. Maybe there's something here."
"I would love to see people submitting cli-fi genre novels. I see a
big market there and with a lot of territory to explore."
"If we want to save the world, maybe this cockamamie cli-fi term might
help. I would love to see some major authors tackle the theme."
''As a publisher and with a concern not only for our bottom line but
also for the fate of the Earth, and believe me, i am sincere about
this, I think cli-fi novels have a future with us."
''As a director of book marketing, I think our PR and marketing people will go
for cli-fi in a big way. It's in the air. Everyone is talking about it now. Come 2025 and beyond,
it will much more popular with the public."
So cli-fi? Really? Let me explain.
In 2005, British nature writer Robert Macfarlane wrote an essay titled “The Burning Question” in the Guardian in which he asked: in this time of climate change, where is all the climate change literature?
The same year, American writer Bill McKibben posed the same question in an essay in Grist magazine.
I hope one of them, or both of them, will revisit their 2005 pieces and update their ideas to 2018 and 2019, since now there is an answer that they might find useful: the emergence of a new literary genre that’s been dubbed “cli-fi” (for “climate change fiction" novels and stories and movies).
I know a little about cli-fi because I coined the term just for this purpose, and I think it is resonating with writers and readers around the world now. Will publishers come aboard? Time will tell.
One teenage girl in Norway sent me a class paper she wrote (in Norwegian) about climate change novels in her country and about her own understanding of how cli-fi could serve as a useful wake-up call about climate issues. She’s not the only one. In school classrooms around the world, young students are learning about and discussing cli-fi themes in novels and movies.
You might say that cli-fi has arrived.
While more and more authors are penning cli-fi novels — with movie scriptwriters creating cli-fi screenplays to try to sell to Hollywood as well — classrooms worldwide are now focusing attention of this rising genre of literature and cinema.
“Literary fiction has dreamed up many versions of the end of the world, but how is contemporary fiction dealing with the threat of climate change?” asks professor Jenny Bavidge at the University of Cambridge, who has taught a class on cli-fi at the Institute of Continuing Education there.
Cli-fi is a catchy abbreviation for the genre of “climate fiction,” much in the same way that “sci-fi” is a nickname for “science fiction.” With news articles about the rise of cli-fi appearing in the Guardian and the New York Times, teachers now see an opportune time to introduce “cli-fi” classes into the curriculum. And book publishers can't be too far behind either.
Bavidge tells her students in the introduction to her classes: “This course will focus on works by contemporary authors, including Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan, and will ask whether “cli-fi” imagines solutions as well as ends.”
“As people living through this particular historical moment, we may want to ask how far [cli-fi] novels contribute to efforts to better understand our relationship with the planet and its ecosystems,” she said.
One of my mentors in the world of literature is the American sci-fi novelist David Brin. I once asked him about how climate change themes have been influencing sci-fi novels and movies, and he told me by email: “Global warming and flooding were important in my 1989 novel ‘Earth,’ but they were earlier featured in the film ‘Soylent Green’ based on Harry Harrison’s novel ‘Make Room, Make Room!’”
Several non-English speaking countries are also looking at ‘’cli-fi’’ and how it impacts their own literary cultures, including Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany and France.
Now “cli-fi” is finding a room of its own as well.
Look at just two of the many course titles that I have seen so far archived online: “Cli Fi: Stories and Science from the Coming Climate Apocalypse,” and “Cli-fi: Science Fiction, Climate Change, and Apocalypse.”
Novels discussed in one college class last year included Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Windup Girl,” Barbara Kingsolver’s “Flight Behaviour,” and Ian McEwan’s “Solar.” There was at least one “zombie apocalypse” in the curriculum, too!
So there you have it. “Cli-fi” has reached into the minds of readers and writers and publishers today. It answers the important question posed by Bill McKibben and Robert Macfarlane in 2005.
It’s a worldwide trend now because global warming impacts us all, and literature and cinema always respond to the things that matter. In a post-Apocalypse world. cli-fi has arrived if not on a silver platter then on a hot and heavy metal one!
English version here first, Italian version below:
The storm was raging across the plain, the gusts of wind cut the fields and scrubland, the blizzard screamed his anger at the houses, which, as if terrified, seemed to cling to them again more with each other. The snow hissed in the air, a dry and icy snow, which took root everywhere
wind wanted to crash it.
And right in a snowy mound, precariously frozen against
the door of an old house, we find the protagonist of our history. A shy snowflake,
which by now the truth seemed more ice than snow, with a long adventure to tell.
Because it will seem strange, but our snowflake long before taking part in the attack
barbarian we just described, it was just a drop of seawater, lying and sleepy
in the Mediterranean Sea.
He had been in fact there for years: every now and then a few waves swept her away
a few kilometers; but otherwise his favorite occupation was to doze on
Indeed, not right on the surface, because that was the place reserved for those
he had to leave, easy prey for vaporization, which during the hottest hours would take as many as possible
drops possible, and then transport them along the ascending motions of the convection towards the troposphere.
Ah, no! Our heroine preferred the quiet and safe life of the sea drop.
After all, there were no dangers, there was no humiliating transformation into gas and no one
he risked being tossed by the winds inside some terrible cumulonimbus with his own
absurd rising and descending motions, which would have made even the healthiest of the drops go crazy
marine! Sleeping, lounging, dozing, lounging, taking a nap, hanging out, standing with your hands
hand: here is the maximum of happiness!
And instead, as always in life, the unpredictable happened.
A huge blue whale suddenly turned towards the arm of the sea where our drop
lay down placidly. At first he did not notice anything, it seemed only an anomalous wave, a little more
big of the others.
And instead, in a moment, he found himself sucked in by a huge force toward
the huge mouth of the whale. Terror seized our drop: find yourself unexpectedly
prisoner of a closed place.
Never had he experienced a similar emotion. Darkness, chaos, screams
of the other drops, the fear of the fish, everything seemed to dispose of the worst, when suddenly one
new immense force sucked the water contained in the mouth of the whale towards the breather.
The violent spray that ensued certainly did not mark the end of the unfortunate adventure for ours
heroine, but rather the beginning of its long journey towards the great storm we have described
at the beginning.
In fact, the spray of the whale made for a few vulnerable instants the drops to the heat of the
Sun. Distant from the calm and safe expanse of the sea, the drops found themselves at the mercy of the sun's rays
and it was precisely then that the metamorphosis took place: the drop of sea water became one
evanescent H2O molecule. Water vapor, so to speak.
Headache, feeling faint, panic attack: and how to blame her. To pass like this, from a
moment to the other from the liquid state, so reassuring and enveloping, in the gaseous state, like this
evanescent and totally at the mercy of any breeze or draft of air. Our drop, ops, the
Our water vapor molecule did not even have time to try to get used to the new one
condition, which impetuous winds and not at all reassuring dragged along with other billions of
molecules to the mainland.
He could not know, but it had ended up in an extratropical cyclone, of those that regularly
they form at medium latitudes. The latter, however, was of considerable proportions and presented values
really low pressure. In short, it was a highly respected cyclonic vortex, and it was happening
directing, as we have already said, towards the lands of the Italian peninsula. But they were not just the strong ones
winds to worry about our water vapor molecule: the air inside the vortex was
What could have happened to her, only the God of rain and water knew it.
Destiny wanted the vortex to be born of the clash between air masses of Arctic origin and masses of air
much milder, settling in the central Mediterranean.
While he was dragged upwards and
driven back downwards, in a continuous and infinite turning of ascending and descending motions, the
water vapor molecule underwent its second transformation. An incredible thing happened to her:
sublimated! Already the word inspires fear. But it would be more correct to say that it underwent a process of
In fact, the very low temperatures that were on the medium-high part of the clouds whirling, they turned it into ice, skipping the passage of water.
But how: from the gaseous to the solid, so, without even a small liquid refreshment?
And it's not that he could ask the neighbors: it was in fact small pieces of ice
overwhelmed, coming from the Arctic regions, which were expressed in dry and short guttural sounds,
absolutely incomprehensible to the poor drop, or rather molecule, indeed excuse ice crystal
originating in the Mediterranean. And it was a continuous giving of clash, colliding with this and that,
to apologize in French and to be answered in Icelandic, to find oneself embraced by a crystal
Norwegian and immediately after being driven back by a jolt towards a soft Neapolitan crystal.
In short, absolute chaos!
Our crystal had now understood that the purpose of these violent clashes was to unite
together more pieces of ice in order to form a bigger and more pleasing sight: the
Snowflake. And so he decided to surrender to destiny and to participate actively in this dance
of love among the various frozen corpuscles, of all sizes. He immediately found a pleasant dendrite
Spanish, with whom he did not disdain to join. But not even the time to just crown the wedding
happened as it should, that a rough Frisian prism merged with the couple turning a
delicate engagement in a barbarous and uncivilized crowd. So much so that other crystals came,
hexagonal plates, prisms, dendrites, ice grains. By now it was no longer a family, it had become
And so was born the snowflake that was found, reluctantly, to participate in the barbaric raid above
described. As soon as the vortex found a mountain range in its path, the storm began
blizzard, the whirlwind, the icy storm, the cyclone that upset the mountain village for
a few hours.
And now here it is, our snowflake, amalgamated and now indistinguishable with another hundred pieces of
ice, of every ethnicity and of every form. But already the sun is coming out, the warm Mediterranean sun, and already
our snowflake begins to feel itself again. A new force is untying him from the barbarian clan and again he feels that he is about to begin his journey to the sea. [THE END]
La bufera imperversava su tutta la pianura, le raffiche di vento tagliavano i campi e le boscaglie, il
blizzard urlava la sua rabbia contro le case, che come terrorizzate sembravano stringersi ancora di
più luna con laltra. La neve sibilava nell;aria, una neve secca e gelata, che attecchiva ovunque il
vento avesse voglia di schiantarla. E proprio in un cumulo nevoso, precariamente ghiacciato contro
la porta di una vecchia casa, troviamo il protagonista della nostra storia. Un timido fiocco di neve,
che ormai a dir la verità sembrava più ghiaccio che neve, con una lunga avventura da raccontare.
Perché sembrerà strano, ma il nostro fiocco di neve molto prima di prendere parte all'attacco
barbaro che abbiamo appena descritto, era solo una goccia di acqua marina, sdraiata e sonnolente
nel Mar Mediterraneo. Se ne stava infatti lì da anni: ogni tanto qualche mareggiata la spostava di
qualche chilometro; ma per il resto la sua occupazione preferita era quella di sonnecchiare sulla
superficie del mare. Anzi, non proprio sulla superficie, perché quello era il posto riservato a chi
doveva andarsene, facile preda della vaporizzazione che durante le ore più calde rapiva quante più
gocce possibile, per poi trasportarle lungo i moti ascendenti della convezione verso la troposfera.
Ah, no! La nostra eroina preferiva la vita tranquilla e sicura della goccia marina.
In fondo non si correvano pericoli, non si subiva quella umiliante trasformazione in gas e non si
rischiava di trovarsi sballottati dai venti all'interno di qualche terribile cumulonembo, coi suoi
assurdi moti ascendenti e discendenti, che avrebbero fatto impazzire anche la più sana delle gocce
marine! Dormire, poltrire, sonnecchiare, oziare, appisolarsi, bighellonare, starsene con le mani in
mano: ecco il massimo della felicità!
Ed invece, come sempre nella vita, accadde l'imprevedibile.
Un enorme balenottera azzurra virò improvvisamente verso il braccio di mare dove la nostra goccia
poltriva placidamente. All'inizio non si accorse di nulla, sembrava solo un'onda anomala, un po' più
grande delle altre. Ed invece, in un attimo, si ritrovò risucchiata da una forza immane verso
l'enorme bocca della balena. Il terrore si impadronì della nostra goccia: ritrovarsi inaspettatamente
prigioniera di un luogo chiuso. Mai aveva sperimentato una emozione simile. Il buio, il caos, le urla
delle altre gocce, la paura dei pesci, tutto sembrava disporre al peggio, quando all'improvviso una
nuova forza immane risucchiò l'acqua contenuta nella bocca della balena verso lo sfiatatoio.
Il violento spruzzo che ne seguì non segnò di certo la fine della spiacevole avventura per la nostra
eroina, ma piuttosto l'inizio del suo lungo cammino verso la grande bufera che abbiamo descritto
all'inizio. Infatti lo spruzzo della balena rese per pochi instanti vulnerabili le gocce al calore del
sole. Distanti dalla placida e sicura distesa marina, le gocce si ritrovarono alla mercé dei raggi solari
e fu proprio allora che avvenne la metamorfosi: la goccia d'acqua marina si trasformò in una
evanescente molecola di H2O. Vapore acqueo, per intenderci.
Mal di testa, sensazione di svenimento, attacco di panico: e come darle torto. Passare così, da un
momento all'altro dallo stato liquido, così rassicurante e avvolgente, allo stato gassoso, così
evanescente e totalmente in balia di qualunque brezza o spiffero d'aria. La nostra goccia, ops, la
nostra molecola di vapore acqueo non fece nemmeno in tempo a provare ad abituarsi alla nuova
condizione, che venti impetuosi e per nulla rassicuranti la trascinarono insieme ad altri miliardi di
molecole verso la terraferma.
Non poteva saperlo, ma era finita dentro ad un ciclone extratropicale, di quelli che regolarmente si
formano alle latitudini medie. Quest'ultimo però era di proporzioni notevoli e presentava valori
pressori davvero bassi. Insomma, si trattava di un vortice ciclonico di tutto rispetto, e si stava
dirigendo, come abbiamo già detto, verso le terre della penisola italica. Ma non erano solo i forti
venti a preoccupare la nostra molecola di vapore acqueo: l'aria all'interno del vortice era
freddissima. Cosa mai le sarebbe potuto accadere, lo sapeva solo il Dio della pioggia e delle acque.
Destino voleva che il vortice fosse nato dallo scontro tra masse d'aria di origine artica e masse d'aria
molto più miti, stanziali nel Mediterraneo centrale. Mentre si trovava trascinata verso l'alto e
ricacciata verso il basso, in una continua ed infinita girandola di moti ascendenti e discendenti, la
molecola di vapore acqueo subì la sua seconda trasformazione. Le accadde una cosa incredibile:
sublimò! Già la parola incute timore. Ma sarebbe più corretto dire che subì un processo di
brinamento. In effetti le temperature bassissime che si trovavano sulla parte medio-alta delle nubi
vorticose la trasformarono in ghiaccio saltando il passaggio dell'acqua.
Ma come: dal gassoso al solido, così, senza nemmeno un piccolo ristoro liquido?
E non è che potesse chiedere ai vicini: si trattava infatti di piccolissimi pezzetti di ghiaccio
sopraffuso, provenienti dalle regioni artiche, che si esprimevamo in suoni gutturali secchi e brevi,
assolutamente incomprensibili per la povera goccia, anzi molecola, anzi scusate cristallo di ghiaccio
originario del Mediterraneo. Ed era un continuo dar di cozzo, scontrarsi con questo e con quello,
chiedere scusa in francese e sentirsi rispondere in islandese, ritrovarsi abbracciati ad un cristallo
norvegese e subito dopo venire ricacciati da uno scossone verso un morbido cristallo napoletano.
Insomma, il caos assoluto!
Il nostro cristallo ormai aveva capito che lo scopo di questi violenti scontri era quello di unire
insieme più pezzetti di ghiaccio per poter costituire una forma più grande e piacevole alla vista: il
fiocco di neve. E così decise di arrendersi al destino e di partecipare attivamente a questa danza
d'amore tra i vari corpuscoli ghiacciati, di tutte le dimensioni. Trovò subito una piacevole dendrite
spagnola, con cui non disdegnò di congiungersi. Ma neppure il tempo di coronare le nozze appena
avvenute come si deve, che un rozzo prisma frisone si fuse con la coppietta trasformando un
delicato fidanzamento in una ammucchiata barbara e incivile. Tanto che giunsero altri cristalli,
piastre esagonali, prismi, dendriti, grani di ghiaccio. Oramai non era più una famiglia, era diventato
E così nacque il fiocco di neve che si trovò, suo malgrado, a partecipare alla razzia barbarica sopra
descritta. Non appena il vortice trovò sulla sua strada una catena montuosa, iniziò la bufera, il
blizzard, il turbine, la burrasca ghiacciata, il ciclone che sconvolse il paesino di montagna per
Ed ora eccolo lì, il nostro fiocco di neve, amalgamato e ormai indistinguibile con altri cento pezzi di
ghiaccio, di ogni etnia e di ogni forma. Ma già sta uscendo il sole, il caldo sole mediterraneo, e già
il nostro fiocco di neve inizia a sentirsi di nuovo se stesso. Una nuova forza lo sta slegando dal
barbaro clan e di nuovo sente che sta per iniziare il suo viaggio verso il mare.
''I am really struggling to understand how this NYT PR characterization, if it indeed reflects the content of the Aug 1st issue, will be anything other than revisionist defeatism that ignores or absolves the very real forces working to stymie action on climate.''
China's per capita fossil fuel use is still a fraction of USA's - and they are investing heavily in bending the curve, while USA is not. latest example: 350,000 electric buses in China, 350 in the USA Rich is generalizing US politics to "human nature."
No one here *wants* climate change to be bigger than a political problem, but climate math is unforgiving. All the gains on renewables in China are impressive, but so is the long tail of fossil fuel needs there and globally. Ask Jim Hansen... 1/2
It's a Twitter thing.. I'll be out your way soon. Happy to chat
Today, we live with the problem of climate change as if it were an inevitability. But that wasn’t always the case. During the ten years from 1979 to 1989, we came very close to solving the problem of global warming. Science, industry, government, the international community—everyone was on board and ready to act. How we got there, and why we ultimately failed, is the subject of a major new project from The New York Times Magazine.
On August 5, the entire magazine will be dedicated to a single story by Nathaniel Rich, a writer at large for the magazine, that tells the story of this critical decade in the planet’s history, and the individuals who tried to warn us. Rich’s narrative is accompanied by a series of stunning photos from around the world by George Steinmetz that show the profound effects of mankind’s inability to effectively address this slow-moving catastrophe. This story will change the way you think about climate change.
Please join us for a special launch event to mark the publication of this landmark issue at TheTimesCenter on Wednesday, August 1. Jake Silverstein, editor in chief of The New York Times Magazine, will be in conversation with Nathaniel Rich and two of the primary subjects of his story, the former NASA geophysicist James Hansen and the environmental activist Rafe Pomerance.
The special issue, which will go online earlier that day, is published in partnership with the Pulitzer Center.
Seating will be first come first serve.
Looking for the Enemy
''Is NYT Magazine’s Nat Rich Going Full Pogo on Us?''
According to Jake Silverstein, the editor in chief of the New York Times Magazine, “the August 5 issue of @NYTmag will be dedicated entirely to a one book-length essay -- a single story -- a captivating, revelatory history about the decade we almost stopped climate change, but didn’t.” [1979-1989 OLD HISTORY!]
And the breathless hype doesn’t stop there, Silverstein lauds the author, Nat Rich, tweeting the piece as: “a remarkable piece of historical journalism that will change the way you think about global warming.”
Unfortunately the early hints suggest that Rich’s piece will do anything but that.
On April 20, 2018, Nat spoke at a Boston University Symposiumwhere he appeared to preview his thesis (since he had already written his piece in preparation for the NYT PR stunt and a future book he will publish of the same text). Nat spoke to one of the key questions about climate change: why have we delayed so long in taking action?
And in contrarian style, he threw down a challenge to the assembled. Mid-way through his presentation, Nat offered:
“I question whether partisanship is really our biggest problem. And I question whether the industries’ misinformation campaign, as cynical and clownish as it is, is the problem.”
And a bit later, Rich doubles down, going on to say:
“I question additionally whether a lack of public concern is our biggest problem.”
“What is our problem? The shortest, most simple answer, I believe, is human nature. We’re a medium-term species. We plan ahead, but only so far. We’re willing to sacrifice comfort in the present for security in the future, but within reason.”
It is at this point that Rich effectively throws out 30 years of political history, and blames you and me for climate change. He’s gone ''full Pogo,'' declaring he has met the enemy and it is us.
Forget the fossil-fuel industry, forget the ideological mind-lock of the Republican party in the United States. Forget the clean energy investments Germans have made, forget the spectacular investments being made in China right now. Humans just can’t do it.
One might be willing overlook this re-write of history and accept Silverstein’s hype simply on the basis of originality. But there is nothing new here. Promoting climate change as a problem beyond the ability of humans to overcome goes back decades. The idea gets recycled regularly, coming out under new labels such as “super wicked.”
Normally it might make sense to wait and read all of what Rich has to say. After all a 5-minute preview presentation is not the same thing as an entire NYT Magazine dedicated to a single story.
I hope I’m wrong about Rich, and I would love to be pleasantly surprised by the NYT Magazine special issue. But I don’t think it makes sense to wait before speaking up.
It’s important to start the conversation now, before the special single-issue splashes down and the tsunami follows. The mighty NYT Magazine machine is already in full promotion marketing branding PR mode, hyping both the coming special issue and a launch event at the Times.
Others, far more well versed than I, will no doubt parse Rich’s thesis in detail. But to help prime the pump, below are some comments on his symposium presentation, offered as annotations to transcript excerpts.
[And one can watch the entirely of Rich’s 5-minute symposium presentation here, going from time marks 49’30” to 54”20”.]
Rich begins his version of history here:
“…By 1979, the basic scientific picture was well established and accepted by those at the highest levels of the federal government and industry, and attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to a refinement of the predicted consequences.
Global warming was not a partisan issue. Many Republicans, including some in the executive branch, argued in favor of taking action…” This line of thinking held throughout the 1980s. George Bush, during his presidential campaign, promised that he would solve climate change….”
Up to this point, Rich’s account, while rosy to the point of setting one’s teeth on edge, might be deemed faithful enough to reality to keep reading. But from here, he goes off the rails entirely:
“The fossil fuel industry itself had not yet brazenly embraced the role of comic book villain. As late as 1989, the American Petroleum Institute’s publicly declared position on climate change was to promote international cooperation and to encourage any policy measures that were consistent with broader economic goals, which is to say actions with other immediate benefits, including public health benefits.”
Here’s it worth noting that Scientific American shares a different history: “In June 1988, when NASA scientist James Hansen told a congressional hearing that the planet was already warming, Exxon remained publicly convinced that the science was still controversial. Furthermore, experts agree that Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion. By 1989 the company had helped create the Global Climate Coalition (disbanded in 2002) to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change.”
And Rich goes on straight from there to say:
“Yet the US and the world failed to pass any binding international climate treaty, and we’ve never really come close again. So I question whether partisanship is really our biggest problem. And I question whether the industries’ misinformation campaign, as cynical and clownish as it is, is the problem.”
And it is precisely here that Rich waves away thirty years of political history, from 1990 to now. While action stopped in the U.S. thanks to Republican leadership, Europe and other developed countries took a much different course, and started working to de-carbonize. The poster child of that Kyoto movement might be Germany which embarked on it’s Energiewende. The Germans made sweeping investments in solar power that drove production of solar power panels to economies of scale that sent prices plunging (just as economists predicted), much to the delight of consumers in America where utility-scale solar power is now cheaper than coal-fired power.
Meanwhile back in the U.S., George Bush Jr. ran for President telling voters he would move forward on climate change and then performed an about-face after winning the election, reneging on his campaign pledge according the New York Times after “a cabinet-level review had concluded that Mr. Bush’s original promise had been a mistake inconsistent with the broader goal of increasing domestic energy production.” Does that sound like the limitations of the human species or more like the greed of the fossil fuel industry?
From here Rich moves on to polling to make his argument about the limitations of our species:
“What about concern over climate change?…Today two-thirds of Americans are concerned about climate change, yet a majority of Americans in every state, starting with West Virginia, say that the United States should participate in the Paris climate agreement. Overall, Americans support joining the Paris Accord by a factor of five to one. So I question additionally whether a lack of public concern is our biggest problem.”
What Rich doesn’t acknowledge is that while public support in the U.S. for action is a mile wide, it’s also only an inch deep. Poll after poll reports that climate change ranks dead last as a priority for American voters, voters who for the most have no clue as to the depth of the hole into which we’ve dug our-selves, no appreciation of the staggering carbon debt we are passing to our children, and little understanding of the firm link between fossil fuel pollution and the amplification of climate disasters that has inflicted billions of dollars in damages already.
This kind of playing field, where voters are half-blind and largely see the issue as a problem for tomorrow, is perfect for deeply-invested and extremely powerful political players who are trying to block action today.
And from there Rich moves to his thesis conclusion.
What is our problem? The shortest, most simple answer, I believe, is human nature. We’re a medium-term species. We plan ahead, but only so far. We’re willing to sacrifice comfort in the present for security in the future, but within reason.
I don’t think we’ll be able to change human nature, but we can do better to prepare ourselves for the changes that await us, and to moderate their severity. As we do so, as we try to exploit our species’s greatest strengths, we will also have to reckon with our greatest weaknesses.
Ironically Rich himself would appear to be exhibit A for his argument about the limitations of human vision. However, I hope I’m wrong about that, and I look forward to reading the NYT special issue. Regardless, there is a huge range in the natural variability of the human species. Better pundits with clearer vision are out there.
Triggering climate change was the “planetary/species destiny” part. What happens next is up for grabs. Do we evolve new behaviors or flare out as just another planets’ failed experiment in tech building intelligence.