Reading Climate News: from Hope to Despair and Back Again

Every morning I make a cup of coffee and read the climate news (and cringe); listen to my local progressive radio station (and wince); and then somehow summon the resolve to keep nurturing Fossil Free California and our divestment campaigns for another day.

This morning (thanks to the Daily Climate) I read three pieces from the Washington Post:

The good news: US greenhouse gas emissions fell slightly in 2019, mostly in response to the decreased use of coal for electricity generation. Take that, Trump! But my elation was short-lived: the article goes on to say that GHG emissions in other sectors continued to grow, and we are still not on the path that would keep total warming below 2 degrees Celsius.

The bad news: Trump is proposing changes to the venerable National Environmental Policy Act that would speed approvals for pipelines, oil and gas leases, highway construction and other kinds of development. The law, which was last updated in 1978, has proved one of the most potent stumbling blocks to President Trump’s push to accelerate oil, gas and coal extraction across the country.

The worst news: We (as a species) may already have reached the “tipping point” at which runaway climate change becomes irreversible, thanks to the recent fires in the Amazon, and as evidenced by the more-rapid-than-predicted melting of the Arctic permafrost and the Greenland ice sheet.

At this point I wanted to turn off the computer and go for a nice long bike ride, or take a long self-pitying bath.  But then I turned to another news source: Emily Atkin’s excellent online journal Heated, “a newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis”.  Anger is a completely legitimate and appropriate response to climate news, and this journal serves up plenty of news you can use to channel your anger into practical actions. As Emily Atkin explains:

It is not your fault that the planet is burning. Your air conditioner, your hamburger, your gas-powered car—these aren’t the reasons we only have about a decade to prevent irreversible climate catastrophe.

No; the majority of the blame for the climate emergency lies at the foot of the greedy; the cowardly; the power-hungry; the apathetic. And that’s why I created this newsletter: to expose and explain the forces behind past and present inaction on the most existential threat of our time.

Today’s issue of Heated has a terrific article on how the American Petroleum Institute, which predicted the rise of youth activism in response to the climate crisis with an eerily prescient “scenario” exercise in 1998, is launching a multi-million dollar advertising campaign to convince us that the oil majors really do care about the climate. As Atkin puts it:

API’s communications strategy is becoming more sneaky and deceptive. Instead of downplaying the certainty of the science, they’re saying they acknowledge climate change and want—nay, need—to do something about it. Instead of saying what climate policies we shouldn’t do, they’re focusing on the climate policies they do support—which is just capturing carbon already emitted into the atmosphere, not actually reducing emissions.

Heated is a bracing antidote to hand-wringing: the modest subscription fee is well worth it.  In this new year of 2020, we are seeing increased resolve to combat the climate crisis from major national nonprofits and local grassroots groups alike. Find the news that feeds your outrage and spurs your action. Join us in this new, hopeful divestment year.