Turning the Tide on Global Warming

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Tompkins Weekly   5-22-24

 By Claire Nickell

I came to climate activism late in the game.

In 2019 I was in my mid-40s. I had started trying to educate myself on the science of climate change (albedo, radiative forcing, carbon cycle, and so on). I started writing a blog with what I was finding. I wanted to help people understand the science of climate change but also to find hope and to see how they could have an impact by making changes in their life and behaviors.

Then I came across the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2018 special report which warned that “humankind has less than 12 years to avoid potentially irreversible climate disruption.” More specifically, they were referring to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7F), the number agreed to at the Paris Accords in 2015 which should be the preferred upper limit of warming.

Claire Nickell. Photo provided.

As I put my energy into understanding what this all meant, it also became clear that climate change was not something that would happen in the future- it was happening now. Climate scientists and activists had switched from climate change to climate crisis to climate disaster. That 2018 report was not warning us it was coming, only of the potential for “irreversible climate disruption”. This was an existential threat.

I spent a lot of time focusing on my own personal carbon footprint, agonizing over packaging choices, foregoing meat and castigating myself for still eating dairy.

I’ll tell you: it is not easy caring about the environment while embedded in a system that favors growth and wealth over all else, no matter the cost.

We are far beyond what individual actions can possibly hope to accomplish at this point in the crisis. Solar panels, recycling, composting. All important, we still each have a role to play in finding a way to live more gently on this earth.

But remember: the idea of a Personal Carbon Footprint isn’t a scientific tool or concept. It was developed by British Petroleum as part of a $100 million per year marketing campaign between 2004 and 2006. Its aim? To direct attention away from corporate polluters, and to shift the burden of action and blame to you and me.

For more recent proof, see the US House and Senate report from April 2024: “Denial, Disinformation, and Doublespeak: Big Oil’s Evolsing Efforts to Avoid Accountability for Climate Change”.

That IPCC special report came out 6 years ago.

Since then?

Recent research indicates that 2023 was 1.5 degrees hotter than the pre-industrial baseline.

This past winter was 5.4 degrees hotter than the long term average, shattering previous records. Maybe you noticed the winter here, what they are calling The Lost Winter.

Climate change is here. People around the world are suffering from its effects now.

So what should we do?

The really great news is that we already know exactly what we need to do to start turning the tide. The ideas are simple, if not easy:

  • Divest from fossil fuels
  • Dissociate from the fossil fuel industry
  • Decarbonize our campuses and communities

But climate breakdown will not be healed with the same mindset that created it. These demands require decolonization by adopting an Indigenous and reparative stance.

We are on the cusp, a liminal space between the Holocene and the Anthropocene, between a livable climate in which humans may still adapt to our changing world, and climate chaos and societal collapse, between a possible future for humanity and the potential extinction of our species.

This is a call: Act Now, Join Us. We need everyone who thinks that the climate emergency is a problem to join us, collectively. No changes for the better were ever handed over without sustained action. Chattel slavery, workers rights, civil rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, none of it was ever just handed over. Every single movement has been a result of many people working together. We need everyone who thinks this is important out on the streets, in collective action.

Claire Nickell is a climate activist with Extinction Rebellion Ithaca, a fiction writer, and a firm believer in the power of collective action. She believes that how we act towards one another in this crisis is just as important as what we can save.

Signs of Sustainability is organized by Sustainable Finger Lakes.

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