So here we are on the 1st of February 2021... We can finally exhale - just a bit. After a gruelling US election complete with a botched post-truth coup, and, a devastating pandemic that deepened for most people over the festive season, it is time for a synopsis of the climate emergency.
The Dance of Salome, Robert Fowler, 1885
It’s only been eleven days since the inauguration of US President Joe Biden but no matter where in the world you live, if you are concerned about the climate emergency, Biden's historic moment would probably have brought a tear to your eye. With the USA's rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement there is now a glimmer of hope, and, as importantly, the chance to sleep properly at night.
A recalibration of expectations
Of course with a staggering 70 million people still voting for former President Trump ~ despite all his chaos, over 30,000 lies, the excessive US Covid-19 deaths, and his general incompetence, and with no signs of the Trump wannabe-dynasty bowing out of politics ~ the chances of Trump: The Sequel returning like a zombie in a bad '80's horror flick are all too high. We can sleep a bit better, but only for now...
"What does this matter for climate change?" And, "Why does a Trump sequel matter if I don't live in the United States?", you may well ask. The answer, quite simply, lies in the emboldening effect that leadership has. For better or worse. That's actually what it is for.
Until leading conservative voices acknowledge the urgency of climate change - climate change and its mitigation will remain the domain of progressives, and hence, overwhelmingly political. Any person who is receptive to logic, facts and science will most likely not be hoodwinked by conspiracy fantasists who peddle emotion designed to appeal towards individuals' more selfish instincts; nativism, tribalism and more recently~ "the children". Not even children are safe from the likes of Q-Anon. It would appear that until there is a conservative global leader who can sell climate change as an inherently selfish thing to care about, climate change will remain a prime target in the culture war. So let's not hold our breath.
Nevertheless, for now, in the exhausted afterglow of the storming of the US Capitol, we may ~ thanks to the social media giants finally banning alt-right conspiracy spreaders and their super-spreader in chief ~ have a moment to refocus on climate change as our most urgent existential threat. Which of course it is.
As we have argued on Climate Change Cities since our founding, our focus is not to debate the existence and causes of climate change, but rather to report and invite conversations on three key strategic areas that operate at the city planning and public level:
1- CO2 reduction to achieve globally agreed targets.
2- Climate Change resilience and mitigation.
3- Design of new settlements in response to climate change migration and preparedness.
Doing this via journalism, especially through social media, has inevitably drawn the ire of coal industry lobbyists, conservative keyboard warriors and we have even suffered systematic bot attacks from god-knows where. It has been a harrowing experience and so much of our energy has been misspent in the process of defending our journalism and the very existence of climate change. Much like the distraction that the Trump show caused.
After four years of climate denialism the damage that Trump wreaked on the environment and will take decades to undo, and Joe Biden certainly has his work cut out for him and his cabinet, all of whom are briefed with a climate change agenda. If only this were the case in Australia where Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to double down on coal.
So, as much as we may want to purely focus on design strategies for climate change, the reality is that the war over facts is far from over. We need to temper our expectations. Joe Biden is not going to save the planet on his own. We all need to continue our public pressure on problematic issues and dangerous people wherever possible and make good choices in our private lives as consumers too.
Animals watch the Cherry Hills Fire, Adelaide - 25 Jan 2021, Source: Twitter
It is still WAY TOO HOT!
Although Australia is currently experiencing an El Niña weather system, bringing much more rain than normal, 2020 still went down as the world's second hottest year on record for the land and its hottest for the ocean. Bushfires this year have not eclipsed last year's, hopefully they never will, but the season is far from over and the fuel loads are still high.
Cities are still getting hotter, and more and more coastal cities are predicted to be submerged, or too hot to live in if we don't stem global warming.
Almost three years after Greta Thunberg's watershed climate protest, climate science continues to improve and new revelations unfold. And of course climate disasters continue relentlessly too. As understandable as climate change fatigue is, we simply cannot afford complacency. In order to keep engaging with one another we need to see the conversation as a dance...
A dance between the rather pessimistic and alarmist realism of facts that bring us to our senses, and an essential optimism that is the human spirit; our desire to live and leave the world a better place. A call to action that appeals to both head and heart.
It is great to be able to report the generous philanthropy of not only Elon Musk, but also the calls for city planning co-ordination at a national level in Australia, which would be a major breakthrough for the federation. Big thinking backed by commensurate action is what is required for the saving of not just ourselves, our children, or our tribe, but all people, all species.
We can only do it together after all. No more dancing on our own.
Don Albert is the design principal of SOUND SPACE DESIGN Architecture, Urban Design & Interiors and Founder of Climate Change Cities.