A headline about the latest assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offered a sort of TL;DR take, "The IPCC Has a Message: This is our last window to act." The Climate Reality Project then offers five key takeaways from the report. The list starts with:
- We are living with climate change now— and we always will.
- Climate-fueled destruction is already immense— and worse than we thought.
- Climate change will accelerate suffering and inequality— no two ways about it.
- We cannot simply adapt our way out— Not in the ways we have been.
- This will be the decade humanity decides.
What will we decide? Whether or not to "secure a livable future." That sounds sufficiently urgent.
The history of climate change reveals how little attention these appeals ever get. For example, Al Gore founded The Climate Reality Project in 2006. It's hard to imagine that he saw anything surprising in the IPCC's conclusions. The last line of theirFebruary press release reads:
The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a livable future."
A livable future requires us to break free from inaction grounded by broad claims of too much uncertainty.
Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard University, often explains that environmental policy is "structurally difficult." On an episode of Slate's Amicus podcast last November, Lazarus described how the causes and effects are too spread out, escaping the boundaries of any single country or even one lifetime.
You're always regulating activities at one place, at one time for the benefit of people, at another place, another time... It makes it uncertain, and it makes it hard to elect people to office who say, I'm going to regulate the here and now for the benefit of there and then.
The legislative process leaves lots of room for skepticism to grow. Democracy is a complicated business, so we might be tempted to give ourselves a free pass for the current crisis.
Our problem, however, isn't a democracy problem. We might understand it as user error.
In First Democracy, Paul Woodruff argues that the first practitioners of democratic government "cultivated rhetoric and good judgment for their power in sorting out better uncertainties from weaker ones."
That's the part we have avoided by pretending to debate climate change itself.
We have a good example to follow. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens demonstrated this approach in a decision he authored in 2007, Massachusetts v. EPA. Considered one of the most important environmental cases in our history, Massachusetts vs. EPA required the court to sort through the uncertainties that the Environmental Protection Agency cited when justifying its decision not to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
During the Bush Administration, the EPA had determined that regulatory action would be unwise. Acting wisely would require resolving what it called "residual uncertainty" about the causal link between human activity that increased concentrations of greenhouse gases and rising global temperatures.
If they could resolve every instance of uncertainty, the agency would follow a more comprehensive approach to the problem that included technological innovation, programs to promote voluntary private-sector reductions in emissions, and additional research. President Bush had a plan like this, and it did not require regulation.
Wise policy decisions required final answers on the science of climate change and total solutions.
Justice Stevens started sorting through the claims using the language of the law itself as his guide:
EPA has refused to comply with this clear statutory command. Instead, it has offered a laundry list of reasons not to regulate...
That EPA would prefer not to regulate greenhouse gases because of some residual uncertainty... is irrelevant. The statutory question is whether sufficient information exists to make an endangerment finding.
The relevant question in 2007 was one of harm and whether or not the government could act to reduce that harm. That's the question confronting us today. It can enlist us all in the work of a livable future.
Too many other questions are dangerous distractions. It's our job to focus on the more vital questions — how can we act now to shape a better future?
"Men argue. Nature acts."
—Voltaire, French Enlightenment writer
Let’s make it easier to start thinking together.
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For Your Reading List
While watching the fight to protect democracy overseas, some political observers have questioned the strength of our convictions at home. There's one story about Jan. 6 that made all the headlines:
Jan. 6 White House logs given to House show 7-hour gap in Trump calls by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa for The Washington Post
While reporting elsewhere makes this out to be a smoking gun, Woodward and Costa carefully present the evidence— what's there and what isn't. Be sure to test your conclusions against the original reporting.
The question of what's missing might be more intriguing, but there are plenty of questions made possible by what's there.
For this, look to Greg Sargent's Three big takeaways from Trump's missing Jan. 6 phone logs. These are the questions to ask when it comes to what's next.
The Post has also assembled a timeline of events that day as complete as possible from public information. Visit their interactive timeline "Before During After The Attack"
Another headline made a bit of a mess of the details of a case, prompting many to think a criminal investigation of President Trump was imminent. That headline grabbed attention by declaring: Federal Judge Finds Trump Most Likely Committed Crimes Over 2020 Election
Writing for Lawfaire Blog, Benjamin Witness offers a careful walkthrough of Judge David Carter's findings in the case Eastman v. Thompson. At issue in the case was whether or not John Eastman could withhold documents from the Jan. 6th committee. Wittes explains what the actual impact of this finding is:
An important preliminary matter of background: The specific context of Judge Carter’s opinion matters a great deal. The point of this opinion was not to determine whether the former president committed crimes but whether privilege protects certain documents against production to the committee.
Wittes offers another careful treatment of the facts. That makes it an essential read for understanding what laws we actually have "on the books" for holding our officeholders accountable when our democratic principles are at stake.
For Believing in Democracy
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with consequences. "On the Horizon," an art installation by Ana Teresa Fernández, places 6-ft. tall columns of sea water on the beach. She explains, "The columns are a window into our future, into ourselves." Artists interacting with the exhibit include "On the Horizon Dance," "Hornas at Playas de Tijuana", and, less formally, "Ocean Beach Girls."
The artist's website includes a call for action:
Our bodies can feel what's coming if we don't respond. We need to move to contain all that is in peril. Standing still is not an option."
Wildly viable alternatives. No punchline here. On April 1st, Wirded.com published, "The Best Reusable Products We Actually Love.". My household ditched paper towels in the early days of COVID and we're not going back to "normal" on that one.