Facing Down Year Zero on Climate Action



Rebecca Solnit As in 2004 and 2008, Rebecca Solnit and her blue-state henchwomen and men will probably invade northern Nevada on election week to swing with one of the most swinging states in the union. She is, however, much more excited about 350.org’s anti-oil-company campaign and the ten thousand faces of Occupy now changing the world. Rebecca Solnit is the author of 15 books, including two due out next year, and a regular contributor to TomDispatch.com. She lives in San Francisco, is from kindergarten to graduate school a product of the once-robust California public educational system, and her book A Paradise Built in Hell is the One City/One Book choice of the San Francisco Public Library this fall. She was named an Utne Visionary in 2010  

As this wild year comes to an end, we return to the season of gifts. Here’s the gift you’re not going to get soon: any conventional version of Paradise. You know, the place where nothing much happens and nothing is demanded of you. The gifts you’ve already been given in 2012 include a struggle over the fate of the Earth. This is probably not exactly what you asked for, and I wish it were otherwise -- but to do good work, to be necessary, to have something to give: these are the true gifts. And at least there’s still a struggle ahead of us, not just doom and despair. 

Think of 2013 as the Year Zero in the battle over climate change, one in which we are going to have to win big, or lose bigger. This is a terrible thing to say, but not as terrible as the reality that you can see in footage of glaciers vanishing, images of the entire surface of the Greenland Ice Shield melting this summer, maps of Europe’s future in which just being in southern Europe when the heat hits will be catastrophic, let alone in more equatorial realms. 

For millions of years, this world has been a great gift to nearly everything living on it, a planet whose atmosphere, temperature, air, water, seasons, and weather were precisely calibrated to allow us -- the big us, including forests and oceans, species large and small -- to flourish. (Or rather, it was we who were calibrated to its generous, even bounteous, terms.) And that gift is now being destroyed for the benefit of a few members of a single species. 

The Earth we evolved to inhabit is turning into something more turbulent and unreliable at a pace too fast for most living things to adapt to. This means we are losing crucial aspects of our most irreplaceable, sublime gift, and some of us are suffering the loss now -- from sea snails whose shells are dissolving in acidified oceans to Hurricane Sandy survivors facing black mold and bad bureaucracy to horses starving nationwide because a devastating drought has pushed the cost of hay so high to Bolivian farmers failing because the glaciers that watered their valleys have largely melted. 

This is not just an issue for environmentalists who love rare species and remote places: if you care about children, health, poverty, farmers, food, hunger, or the economy, you really have no choice but to care about climate change.  

1/11/2013 6:21:23 PM

Why doesn`t the author bring up the subject of human over population? Seems to me we can not keep ignoring that issue. If you connect the dots as she says we ought to then addressing human over population in connection with climate action, must be on the table. I found her article rambling and she could have edited out about 1/2 of it with the same message coming across.

Santussika Bhikkhuni
1/2/2013 9:30:25 PM

Dear Rebecca, For all the reasons you've mentioned, I'm committed to joining 350.org and the Sierra Club in the demonstration in D.C. to stop the Keystone XLP on Feb 17, 2013. It sounds like something you might be interested in doing, too. As a Buddhist nun, traveling from the SF Bay Area, I cannot go alone. Maybe you would like to go together. It might offer you a perspective that you haven't fully experienced as yet. -- You can contact me through the following website: www.compassionmonastery.weebly.com

Gary Shapiro
12/31/2012 9:48:10 PM

I feel no need to question your political skepticism. But shrinking our fossil fuel footprint is not a technological problem, it's a people-power problem. Countries other than USA have made progress that can show us at least part of the way. Look at what Germany has done and is doing, for example, and their solar exposure is way less than the USA's.

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