Guest Post – from Janis Bookout
Janis Bookout is the cofounder of the Austin Climate Alliance, a collective of austin climate organizations working together to accelerate austin’s climate solutions. She is also the outreach manager and cofounder of 2020 or Bust, a nonprofit organization that seeks to end the climate crisis by helping people all over the world reduce their own personal carbon footprint.
In this blog, Janis shares her thoughts on the newly recently documentary from Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power.”
If this were a film review, I would give “Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” five out of five stars. The content of the film is extraordinary. But reviewing the film at all would be missing the point, and the final rating is yet to be seen — because your action following the film will ultimately be the final rating.
Anyone walking away from the theatre after seeing “Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” will be very clear about a few key points: 1) the impacts of climate change are already happening all over the world; 2) the renewables industry is experiencing exponential growth; 3) people’s minds are changing about the reality of climate change.
As someone who has gone through the Climate Reality Leadership Training, I am proud of both the work accomplished by this film, the incredible efforts of Climate Reality to train tens of thousands of people, and all of the work from the leaders who have come out of the training.
But let’s be clear about one thing – sitting down to watch a movie will not end the climate crisis. Neither will attending conferences, conducting studies, reading books, making agreements, having discussions or debates (definitely not debates), participating in marches, signing petitions, or even writing this blog. Of course, this is not to say that all of these things are not important. In fact they are quite possibly critical for our awareness and our understanding.
One thing and one thing only will end the climate crisis – action. And not just any action. It needs to be collective human action sufficient to accomplish zero GHG emissions before the carbon budget is used up and before other natural feedback systems trigger uncontrollable global temperature increase.
Be clear about one thing – This. Is. Not. Happening. We are NOT on track for ending the climate crisis. In fact, what has largely been considered our best shot (the Paris Agreement), if fully implemented, would get us to about 3.5 degrees warming (almost double the internationally accepted limit for a sustainable future). And it is probably already too late.
Simply put, the carbon budget is the amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere before we lock in an increase in temperature that by all peer-reviewed scientific accounts puts our global ecosystem beyond the point of sustainability. Critics will say this is alarmist, but when the house is on fire, and you want to actually put the fire out – you sound the alarm.
And folks, the house is indeed on fire. Currently we are on track to use up the carbon budget for 2 degrees by 2033. That’s long term. This long term goal becomes nearly impossible if, in the short term, we don’t get on track with our emissions by 2020. It looks like we need to reduce our average annual emissions from 52 to 44 gigatons by 2020. It is the basis of Mission 2020 and the global cities initiative Deadline 2020.
But while actions are being taken, we are far from coordinating the action sufficient to make the difference necessary to end the climate crisis. This is not a bad thing, or a negative thing. It’s just, well, reality. Being negative will not help our situation. Neither, however, will being positive.
What I appreciate most about Al Gore’s work in both “Inconvenient Sequel” and in the Climate Reality Training, is the focus on current impacts. Mostly, when you hear about climate change, you hear about what is predicted to happen — future sea level rise, worsening weather, drought, and an extraordinary loss of biodiversity.
That future is already happening. “Inconvenient Sequel” gives a litany of examples of the undeniable impacts already having a tremendous impact on our ecosystems, peoples, economies, and landscapes. Consider the following:
- 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have happened after 2001
- In the year between May of 2015 and May of 2016, our own Houston, Texas had two 500-year floods and one 1,000-year rain
- Incidents of worldwide extreme weather catastrophes have increased steadily from just over 200 per year in 1980 to over 700 per year in 2016.
- Increased average temperatures in Colorado have caused the pine beetle to reproduce twice as often, resulting in dead forests that are prime for forest fire, which has increased significantly over the last few decades.
- In the Western US, the average fire season is now 105 days longer than in the 1970s
These are only a few of the undeniable facts presented in Al Gore’s trainings and movie. You just can’t ignore those facts.
I also appreciate that the movie addresses the disproportionate impact on people of color, although I do wish that more attention in the film was given to how this plays out in the U.S.
Historically, race has been the number one factor in the placement of toxic facilities like fossil fuel plants, resulting in higher incidents of cancer and asthma in people of color. Cancer alley is one of many examples. But adding insult to injury, communities of color:
- Have less access to fresh food
- Have had less access to city services
- Have historically been sold homes in areas more vulnerable to flooding
- Have less access to the resources necessary to overcome the impacts of a changing climate
The “Halloween Flood” in Onion Creek is a prime example of of the disproportionate impacts of climate change. Cheap housing built in the floodplain was marketed primarily to the Hispanic community. The City of Austin has acknowledged many of these issues right here at home and is working to address them. But all over the world, as climate events intensify, so will the disproportionate impacts.
Another undeniable reality that “An Inconvenient Sequel” lays bare is the exponential growth of the renewables industry. With the cost of production, infrastructure, and storage going down and capacity going up, groups everywhere are buying solar and wind energy at the residential, commercial, and industrial level. As of June 2017, 36 US cities have committed to 100 percent renewable energy. It’s happening all over the world. Chile’s 13.3 Gigawatts of committed solar projects is nothing less than stunning. And as of this year, just north of Austin, the very conservative Mayor Dale Ross of Georgetown has successfully led the way in making Georgetown the first almost 100 percent renewable city in Texas. Why? Because it’s cheaper.
However, while “An Inconvenient Sequel” paints a clear picture of the state of our world when it comes to the climate crisis and the available solutions, there is one very important aspect of “An Inconvenient Sequel” that leaves me concerned, and that is the idea that anyone would be left with the experience of being hopeful in the face of this crisis. And I am not talking about hope in the religious sense. I am talking about being hopeful. Consider that being hopeful is on the continuum with being hopeless, being a victim, being powerless. Why? Because being hopeful leaves you powerless in the face of reality. When one is being hopeful, what actions are there to take?
Being hopeful is not the same as being empowered. When one is empowered, one gets clear about, accepts, deals with reality, and then stakes a claim in the future in the face of that reality — absent of delusion.
I get it, I do. Human beings love hope. We want to believe in a future that will turn out, without having to deal with the specific actions to be taken in specific timeframes to have that future happen. But holding on to hope is no longer appropriate when the house is burning down.
Consider that being hopeful is just one of the many faces of denial. Being hopeful does not leave us empowered in the face of reality. And what are some of the others? Finding an explanation, defending our opinions, predicting the future, knowing why and who to blame. And we think that by knowing people, understanding people, explaining we can somehow change their behavior. This is what will make a difference.
But in reality, none of that makes any difference. If it did, we would have a sustainable planet by now. In reality, what matters is action — and not any kind of action — the kind of action that comes from a future in which the crisis has ended. And not just any future. Because the future has not happened and cannot be predicted. Ending the climate crisis has never been done. There is no pathway. The answer will not come from what we can predict.
What will end the crisis is action from a future we stand for and realize with our action. And the kind of people who are up to that kind of task are just like you and me. In fact, those people ARE you and me.
We are not some set way that can be described or understood. We are not limited by what the past says is possible. We can, in any moment, create and stand for a future in which the crisis has ended. I can. You can.
2020 or Bust is a global initiative to bridge that critical 8 gigaton gap by 2020 and put the world on track for a sustainable future (and to make that happen though the actions of individuals). With 2020 or Bust, we put the power to end the climate crisis in your hands. Download 2020orBust app on your iPhone or Android. Or visit 2020orBust.org to read more about what you can do personally.
The role of the individual has been dismissed time and again the global conversation, but I ask you this – which of the seven billion people on our planet is not an individual? And which one, exactly, has no say in our future? The truth is, like it or not, the end of the climate crisis is in YOUR hands. Or at least, it could be, should you choose to claim it.
Please note – editorials and sponsored posts are written by guest writers to inform and educate the community on a variety of different viewpoints, as well as to share information about local eco-friendly businesses and organizations. However, they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Austin EcoNetwork.