We’re eight weeks into the new decade, and, so far, we’ve had the warmest January ever recorded. (Indeed, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that 2020 is more than ninety-eight per cent likely to be one of the five warmest years ever measured, with a nearly forty-nine-per-cent chance to set a new annual record.) We’ve seen the highest temperature ever measured on the Antarctic continent, and also record swarms of locusts descending
on the Horn of Africa, a plague which scientists assure us will “become more frequent and severe under climate change.”
I’m calling this new newsletter—and welcome aboard—The Climate Crisis because this is what a crisis looks like. I’ve been at this beat for so long that when I first started writing for The New Yorker on this topic, in the nineteen-eighties, we called it the “greenhouse effect.” “Global warming,” “climate change”—those are fine, too. But they don’t capture where we are right now: not facing some distant or prospective threat but licked by the flames. Thousands of people huddled on Australian beaches this year, ready to wade into the ocean as their only protection from the firestorms raging on the shore. This is not only a crisis—it is the most thorough and complete crisis our species and our civilizations have ever faced, one there is no guarantee that we will survive intact. Does that sound extreme? Consider the conclusions of a team of economists from the world’s largest bank, in a report to
high-end clients which leaked to the British press, last Friday: “Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”
But the name of this newsletter is also a nod to W. E. B. Du Bois, and the magazine that he founded a hundred and ten years ago, at the start of the N.A.A.C.P. The Crisis was, and is, a crucial journal in the analysis of the race hatred that mars and shames and undermines our collective life to this day; it linked readers to news from around the world, so that they could examine the currents roiling their lives. I’ll do the same in a section we’re calling Climate School—perhaps, if only by long exposure, I have some sense of how emerging science, economics, and politics fit into the larger picture. I mostly won’t be doing original reporting. (Check out Emily Atkin’s excellent daily newsletter, Heated, for that.) And I won’t shy away from talking about the activism and organizing that many people—myself included—are now engaged in. Du Bois’s The Crisis was an organ of action, constantly suggesting ways that its readers could move forward. “Is a toothache a good thing?” Du Bois asked, in the first issue. “No. Is it therefore useless? No. It is supremely useful, for it tells the body of decay, dyspepsia and death.” A toothache, he declared, “is agitation,” and agitation is necessary “in order that Remedy may be found.” Since I am an agitator as well as a journalist, I’ll include many suggestions about where a push might help us make progress.
My sense is that we’ve reached a place where many people are eager to help. National polling released this month, in a study by researchers at Yale and George Mason Universities, found that one in five Americans said that they would “personally engage in non-violent civil disobedience” against “corporate or government activities that make global warming worse” if a person they liked and respected asked them to. If that’s anywhere close to true, then it’s possible to imagine a movement big enough to make a difference—a movement one can see already emerging with the school climate strikers, the extinction rebels, and the Green New Dealers. I hope to introduce you to many of these people, and to the scientists, entrepreneurs, and policy wonks whose work undergirds their activism—people I’ve met in my years as a journalist and a volunteer at 350.org, the global climate campaign. Most weeks, I’ll include a short interview that lets them address you directly.