Action 90. Listen to as much climate reality as I can take in 24 hours.

I just finished up watching Climate Reality’s 24 hour broadcast, The Cost of Carbon (OK, not ALL 24 hours, just some of it- I’m not that obsessed/sadistic). If you missed this whirlwind tour that includes some of the most visually devastating realities of the climate change, Mashable has a summary of 6 of the major videos that were covered in this broadcast, looking at climate change across six major continents.

There was some very compelling footage and discussions, particularly relevant to the impacts of climate change on marginalized people and areas around the world. The social justice issues were made very apparent: for example,  many countries in Africa contribute very little to carbon emissions, but they are likely to pay a brutal price under climate change in terms of drought, water stress, and resulting food and economic insecurity. There were also some great bright spots in this fairly depressing day-long impact-fest, such as Al Gore talking about how the vatican is aiming to be the first carbon-neutral state, saying “they are small, and they have God on their side, but its inspiring!” And how Denmark gets 30% of its energy for wind power. 

But for 24 hours of coverage, I found this event to be in some ways fairly superficial. I wanted a more organized approach: not only statistics, more information, more cause-and-effect, more in depth on the physics of climate change that is getting us where we are, but done in a way that was less of a scattershot and more of a comprehensive review by topic of causes and effects. This might be a hard thing to achieve without being overly pedantic or dry, but I felt like this event went too far towards devestating visuals and factoids, to the detriment of a coherent picture of climate change. Most importantly, I wanted more on the vast networks of solution-minded, progressive people around the world that are trying to dig us out of the hole we are in, and how we as viewers can join those causes. What mostly left an impression on me was that they got, and articulated, the many ways in which our inability to account for the cost of carbon is costing us, both ecologically and economically. And they did a great job with the visual coverage of the devastating effects of climate change: lots, and lots, and lots of visual reinforcement that the intersection of sea level rise, extreme weather events, increased wildfire extent and severity, and all the other “natural” disasters are bad and getting worse. But to have the overall effect be more overwhelming than informative to me felt like a lost opportunity in some ways.

I do think these presentations could have been in many cases more sophisticated- as we know, we cannot link every individual tornado, hurricane and wildfire to climate change, and yet the impression given in this coverage was that pretty much every natural disaster we look at around the world is linked to it. But overall, I get their point- these are events that are getting more frequent and more severe, with climate change, and let’s look at them and face the fact of how devastating they are to us. However, as someone who reads about this stuff all the time and is very familiar with it, to me it just felt like preaching to the choir, and I wonder how many of my fellow viewers felt similarly. On the other hand, I understand what Climate Reality is trying to do, which is to drive home the point about the severity and the criticality of where we are, and where we are going, if we don’t get on the ball.

I also think the message that was being pushed, “put a price on carbon”, is very problematic in the way it was presented. I totally agree- the costs of carbon are huge, and we’re not accounting for them in almost any way. We need to recognize that and we need to repair it. But our strategies of putting a price on carbon have so far been pretty dismal failures, the EU’s debacle of a carbon market being a massive and unfortunate recent example. I don’t think Climate Reality is suggesting we go down this same path- but what path or paths they were suggesting remains unclear to me. I don’t know if I missed more strategic discussion of their objectives, but I sure didn’t see anything that lead me to understand what they really meant by accounting for carbon’s cost, beyond the very obvious first step that we need to globally recognize that we are sorely overlooking the very real costs of carbon emissions. I am afraid that in their hopes of sending a clear and simple message, they boiled their strategy down to a mantra that is so oversimplified and under-explained, their viewership doesn’t really know what to do with it. I liked what they had to say about enumerating and quantifying carbon’s very, very real effects in a huge number of areas. But let’s move that a step further, because there are SO many things they could be talking about, including:

  • having a real discussion about the actual political reality of a carbon market, why its been failing in the EU and, if we were to implement it elsewhere, what we might need to do to actually make it work
  • what are the policies we need that incentive clean technology development and implementation
  • how do we upgrade and diversify our energy grids to support alternative energy technologies
  • what we are doing “from the ground up”, and how do we as individuals support those movements- e.g., in the absence of a federal carbon policy, we have municipalities in the US that are doing amazing work in many ways to combat climate change, including divesting their portfolios from fossil fuels and moving towards carbon neutrality with a combination of changes in efficiency, alternative energy investments, and offsets
  • crowdsourcing alternative energy development
  • mitigation planning for climate change: we know its here, we know its getting worse even if we jump on the carbon control bus tomorrow, so we have to get out in front of it. There was a little bit of high-level discussion with some examples of folks helping countries start down this path, but I dont feel like the conversation happened at a level where people could really understand the practical details of what mitigation planning means.

That list can truly go on and on, those are just some of the things I would have loved to see more of. Twenty-four hours of live broadcasting is an amazing opportunity to provide an in-depth look at the suite of solutions and approaches we have at our fingertips. I do profoundly appreciate Climate Reality’s being out there as a voice crying out about the severity and importance of this issue. But preaching to what I am guessing is mostly the choir of web viewers that chose to tune in that are likely already aware of and concerned about these issues, is not enough: we need their leadership, their action, and their organization to galvanize this choir and extend beyond it into solutions that will work.

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