350.org and Bill McKibben have been barnstorming the U.S. since the election with their Do the Math tour. I caught the show in Berkeley, my home town. It's a stirring, heartfelt, unpasteurized, unhomogenized effort to spark a new grassroots movement aimed at breaking the climate-action deadlock by putting pressure on the fossil-fuel industry.
I highly recommend catching the presentation in person if you can. But if you can't, Sunday's event in Washington, D.C., is being live-streamed. Things begin at 1 p.m. Eastern time, and you can watch along right here:
Beginning today I'm excited to introduce a new thing here at Grist: monthly themes!
As you may surmise, this is something that will happen every month. And every month has its own theme.
You can't hum our themes. (At least I think.) But you'll be able to see them play out each month in different aspects of our coverage, our posts, our tweets and Facebook postings, our chats, and everything else we do.
Our theme for November is: What's next for the climate? Now that we know who'll be sitting in the White House and running Congress come 2013, and now that we've seen a devastating storm pummel our most populous city, it's time to take stock.
We'll have our own Grist team as well as smart observers and movement leaders weigh in on what's going to happen -- and what should be happening -- as the Earth's warming becomes an ever more tangible presence in our lives.
Think of it as our post-election hangover survival guide. In fact, that's one of the pieces we've got in the works. Here's a smattering of the other stuff we've got on tap:
Bill McKibben and other environmental leaders lay out their visions for the next year's conversation around climate.
U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) explains his carbon-tax bill.
Alex Steffen will debut Carbon Zero, his vision for how the city of the future can solve today's climate dilemmas.
Author Steven Johnson talks with us about his new Future Perfect and what the "peer progressive" movement has to offer the climate.
What sort of effect will the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations have on clean energy, green jobs, and the environment?
You can find all of our theme-related pieces here.
We'll do our best to pull together the strands of this theme and those to follow -- and, this being Grist, to keep them funny wherever we can. As we do all this, we want to hear from you, of course. In comments below, or in email, by telepathy -- whatever works for you! -- tell us how you think we should approach this month's theme, and what other themes you think we should be tackling in coming months.
Barack Obama is still president. The Democrats still control the Senate. The Tea Party Republicans still control the House.
Meanwhile, the planet is still warming. And we still don't have a plan to do anything about it.
So did anything at all happen during this election? Was it all just a mad dream of dueling polls, pugnacious debates, and SuperPAC-funded attack ads? Did red and blue just fight a draw, leaving a deadlocked status quo to stew in its bitter juices?
No: The political landscape looks the same but the tectonic plates have moved beneath the surface. Here are four big reasons why.
Obamacare lives: The president's reelection served as an effective second ratification of his healthcare plan (third, if you count the Supreme Court ruling). That's a huge deal. A President Romney might not have been able to get full repeal through a Democratic Senate, but he'd have wielded a lot of executive power to wreck Obamacare.
Democrats enter "fiscal cliff" negotiations with a strong hand: If Republicans in Congress don't find a way to compromise with President Obama, the new year will automatically bring a radically progressive agenda into law: taxes will go up as the Bush tax cuts expire, and heavy cuts to military spending will kick in. It's a risky road -- all that austerity might also tip the nation back into recession. But it gives the president a very strong hand to play both before and after Jan. 1.
The Supreme Court is safe(r) for four more years: With one more Supreme Court appointment, a Republican president could tip the court decisively for a generation in the direction of the originalist fundamentalism embraced by the court's right wing. Among many other things -- including reproductive rights -- we could kiss many of the nation's most significant environmental regulations goodbye.
The climate has a fighting chance: Obama disappointed climate hawks in his first term. His "all of the above" energy strategy promises no sharpening of policy or change of heart. But at least his party is willing to speak about the issue without dismissing science.
In the wake of Sandy's coastal devastation, there's at least a chance of reopening the national conversation about global warming. It would be great for that conversation to be led by a president who's a real climate crusader.
Obama hasn't been one, so far. But at least we're not getting a denier in the White House.
It has long looked like the 2012 election season would go down in history as the Election That Didn't Talk About The Climate. This week, the planet stepped in and said, in no uncertain terms, that attention must be paid. Climate change isn't a graph or a number; it's a storm and a flood. It's not in Greenland or Vanuatu; it's in New York and New Jersey.
Neither candidate has exactly been itching to address this subject. Obama has been mostly climate-mum since 2009. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has walked back from his carbon-cutting Massachusetts policies and embraced the current GOP orthodoxy, which is to mock anyone -- including the president -- who suggests taking the issue of the planet's warming seriously.
Yet here comes Bloomberg -- a former Democrat turned Republican turned independent who many thought might run for president himself on a third-party ticket -- throwing his support behind Obama, citing climate as the proximate reason for his hop off the fence:
Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it may be — given the devastation it is wreaking — should be enough to compel all elected leaders to take immediate action. ... One [candidate] sees climate change as an urgent problem that threatens our planet; one does not. I want our president to place scientific evidence and risk management above electoral politics.
The importance of Bloomberg's move is twofold. First, as the headline on his endorsement reads, the mayor is voting "for a president to lead on climate change." In other words, he's not just saying, "Four more years." He's casting his vote less for the man than for climate-change leadership -- something that Obama, however disappointing he has been to climate-hawk supporters, is more likely to deliver than his opponent.
Second, Bloomberg is one of the last inhabitants of U.S. politics' mythical Land of the Centrists. As such, his insistence on the primacy of climate in picking a candidate carries less partisan spin and is harder for the Beltway punditocracy to discount. Denialists on the right aren't going to be swayed, of course, but they're going to have a much harder time dismissing Bloomberg than, say, Al Gore.
I don't want to overstate the importance of the moment. This endorsement, though unexpected, was consistent with Bloomberg's longstanding positions; he has been putting his voice and his cash into the climate fight for a long time. It doesn't guarantee that Sandy will be remembered as a transformative moment of the public dialogue over climate change akin to, say, Walter Cronkite's criticism of the Vietnam War effort.
But for those of us who've been waiting a long time for someone to shout "fire" in our overcrowded political theater, it's a bracingly notable event. Now the challenge is to keep this conversation rolling.
Consciousness isn't a finite resource, but if people don't act on it, it can and will ebb away. It was only a handful of years ago that An Inconvenient Truth spread its do-something-about-the-climate gospel; that momentum petered out and is a distant memory today.
Sandy hit more of us harder, where we live. Those who experienced it are much more likely to understand that climate change is neither a hoax nor a movie but a fact and a crisis. Bloomberg's endorsement added a line of bright highlighter yellow to this picture. It was politics, sure, but also, in its way, art.
We're heading into the final two days of our Kickstarter campaign to fund "I, Party Cup," our documentary biography of a celebrated throwaway American icon. And we really need your help!
Our filmmaker, John Pavlus of Small Mammal Productions, is ready to start work. He's champing at the bit. A hundred people have already pledged to support the project. The party's all set to go. All we're waiting for is ... you.
Remember that on Kickstarter, we don't get a cent from you, or anyone else, unless we reach our goal. So if we're going to make it to the finish line, we're going to need you to pitch in.
Because this is the internet, silly, we got comments when we announced this project. I'd like to address one of them here:
I hate red plastic cups! They destroy the Earth! Why are you celebrating them?
"I, Party Cup" isn't intended to glorify or fetishize a dumb piece of plastic that too often pads out the trash. But this thing is a part of our world, for better and worse. We can just denounce it and watch as the landfills keep growing. Or we can try to understand the decisions that shaped a tiny, ubiquitous part of our world -- an element that we would otherwise take entirely for granted.
As Pavlus explains it in his trailer for the project, it's all about curiosity. And, I'd add, also about having a little fun along the way.
No, but really, you're supposed to be all about sustainability at Grist, and here you are raising money for a film about a plastic cup?
Sure, we're playing against type here. But also: Who of us is pure? We all participate in a disposable world. The Red Party Cup is a part of our lives. Let us understand it better even as we try to use it less.
All right, actually, a video. Online. About disposable red party cups.
That's right: Grist is partnering with filmmaker John Pavlus to produce I, Party Cup -- a documentary that asks: Who made this people's chalice such a ubiquitous part of our disposable world? Why'd they do it? And what can that tell us about the small decisions and little things that shape our world in big ways?
So: We need your help. We're funding this project on Kickstarter -- the innovative platform that's become, in a few brief seasons, a buzzing hive connecting creative artists and people who want to support their work.
Why should you support a film about a cup? I could just tell you. But listen to John, he'll do it better:
This is an experiment for us at Grist. We've cut our nonprofit teeth on our ability to mobilize contributions from supporters like you. But we're new to this crowdfunding thing and this is our first time on Kickstarter.
And wait, there's more: Every dollar you decide to contribute to support this project will be matched in the form of another dollar donated by an anonymous benefactor to support Grist's independent green news and advice.
Many thanks from all of us. Cry havoc, and let loose the Red Party Cups!
New York Times columnist David Brooks may be a (sorta kinda) conservative. But by all accounts, he also has the ear of President Obama. And in his column today, Brooks -- trying to imagine some big initiatives that the president might push as he prepares to accept his party's nomination for a second term -- offers Obama a bold idea: put climate change at the top of his policy agenda.
President Obama has occasionally said he’d like to do something about climate change if he gets a second term. Given the country’s immediate economic and fiscal problems, this seems obtuse to me. But if this is really where Obama’s passion lies, he should go for it.
Chris Hayes spins elaborate thoughts on complex issues into diagrammable sentences -- and makes that process look as easy as breathing.
Normally he performs this stunt on cable TV as MSNBC's weekend morning host. Recently he gave us an in-person demonstration at Grist HQ, where he paid a visit to talk about his new book, Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy, and how its ideas relate to the political deadlock over climate change.
Hayes spoke for an hour with David Roberts and other Grist staffers about his analysis of the paralytic dysfunction of the American elite. He paints the 1% as an overcompensated tribe of hyper-competitors who jealously propagate their privileges yet cling to the delusion that they are self-made superpeople. "We are cursed," he says, "with an overclass convinced that they are scrappy underdogs."
Hayes' arguments on the state of media were especially fascinating to me, and I'll pick up their thread again soon in another post. But first, here are some excerpted and lightly edited highlights from Hayes' talk.
It's been three years since the U.S. Senate talked about the climate: three years in which the already solid scientific understanding of what all our carbon-burning is doing to the planet further strengthened. Three years in which our chances to change the dangerous vector we're on narrowed. Three years in which every single one of us got three years closer to the parched, scorched, desolate future we're barreling towards.
So when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee finally held hearings on this subject yesterday, did it sound the alarm? Did it call for action? Did it put forth concrete proposals for change?
No, it did not. Watch:
Videos like this will make for bitterly, ruefully funny viewing a couple decades from now.
[Video courtesy our partners at the Climate Desk.]
Today we pull the (biodegradable) wrap off our new home page design here at Grist. Come on in! Sit! Coffee? We're glad you're here.
This overhaul is intended to be a substantial evolution in our design -- not a radical overhaul, but not a baby step, either. That means we're still lighting up your screen with a little splash of orange (think of it as beta-carotene!). We're still showing you one section for our features and another of our shorter, bloggier, newsier items. But we're bringing our front page look into line with the changes we introduced earlier this year on our article pages. Because, you know, ever since then the inconsistency has been bugging us. And we've been holding our breath. And that's just not healthy.
The first big change you'll notice is that we've put the old rotating carousel to rest. (It has earned its retirement, is grateful for the break, and was last seen feeding the slots at Vegas.) We'll use our lead-story spot to highlight one story that we think is crucial for you to read, or especially urgent, or perhaps splutteringly funny -- with, as often as we can, an image that makes you go "wow" or "sheesh" or "mmmm." Over on the left, you'll always see the latest posts from our tireless team of Gristmill news bloggers and Grist List curators. Down the page, you'll find a reverse-chronological listing of all of our recent feature articles and posts.
We've also reorganized our navigation bar and rearranged the top-of-the-page area. That row of highlighted stories next to the Grist logo is meant to feature recent posts of the Must. Click. Now. variety. If you've already stopped reading this because of them, they've done their job.
If you came to this post via our home page at grist.org you probably noticed the difference; if you didn't, go have a look around! And of course tell us what you think. Because we're not done. We're never done. We plan to use this revamp as the starting point for further change -- tiny tweaks and big experiments alike. So the feedback you give us -- in comments right here; on our contact form; on Facebook or Twitter; we'll even read your faxes if that thing in the corner still works -- really does make a difference.
Scott Rosenberg was Grist's executive editor. He's the author of Say Everything and Dreaming in Code, founder of MediaBugs.org and co-founder of Salon.com. He covered technology for a decade and wrote theater and film reviews for another decade, and has yet to resolve the resulting left-brain/right-brain conflict.