Poor polar bear. The long-time poster child for a warming world, it’s dying despite scientists’ direst warnings — and, lately, it’s become a symbol of how bear-hugging big green groups for too long ignored the humans living on the frontlines of climate change.
But the polar bear is also staging a surprising comeback: This time, as co-star in the upcoming second season of The North Pole, a justice-focused YouTube series set in North Oakland and produced by actress-slash-activist Rosario Dawson and writer-slash-producer Josh Healey, who was named a Grist 50 Fixer in 2018.
The polar bear mostly comes in as a metaphor for people of color, who are being gentrified out of their neighborhoods, just as the bear has been forced from its melting habitat. But there’s also a dude in a bear costume, voiced by Boots Riley, who serves as the main character’s conscience as she and her pals fight gentrification, tech-industry greed, and other forces of evil (including, yes, climate change).
A little strange, for sure, Dawson told us the other day, but that’s kinda the point. The series “shows how everyday people grapple with really serious issues,” Dawson said. “It helps us … look at these things with humor and love and light, so that we’re not so overwhelmed, and so that we can actually make the impacts we want to see.”
Read on for more tales of resilience and resistance, and tips for turning lemons into lemonade. As always, feedback about Shift Happens is welcome, and please encourage your friends to sign up.
— Chip, Grist Founder
1. Your new heroes
Eli Goldstein & Aaswath Raman
What better way to beat the heat than curling up next to the air conditioner? The number of room air conditioners is expected to skyrocket from 1.2 billion units worldwide today to 4.5 billion units by 2050, representing about 15% of our global carbon emissions, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.
That’s why Silicon Valley startup SkyCool Systems is trying to drag AC technology into the space age. Literally. The company is cooling office buildings — and freezing ice cream — using the cold of space.
SkyCool’s chief science officer, Aaswath Raman, explains that the company has created a material that’s so effective at reflecting the heat of the sun that it can take advantage of a natural phenomenon called sky cooling, which was previously only possible at night. “Some of the heat is effectively escaping the Earth itself, because what’s outside our atmosphere is space” — and space, Raman says, is “really cold.”
We talked to Raman and his co-founder, CEO Eli Goldstein, about their new technology, why it could be a game changer for a warming world, and even what kind of ice cream they like best. Check out the Q&A here.
Photos: Hector Garcia-Molina, Rich Polk / Getty Images for Environmental Media Association
2. Your reading list
Polar bears aren’t the only old-school environmental symbol that’s recently taken on new life. In Richard Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Overstory, trees inspire a range of unlikely environmental activists to rise up against a timber company, but more important, they are featured as complex, interconnected characters themselves.
Writing The Overstory changed Powers’ own relationship with trees. Over the course of writing the novel, he moved from Palo Alto, the center of Silicon Valley, to the wild of Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains. But he hopes the book changes readers’ perception of nature’s nonhuman characters, wherever they are.
“My absolute favorite letters are like the one I received from a man in a Midwestern city who wrote, ‘I’ve been living on this street for 23 years, and I never bothered to look at who I was sharing it with,’” Powers said earlier this year. “That, more than anything, is what I’d like to bring to a reader: the feeling that we are not here alone, that it’s worth meeting the neighbors.”
3. Your pick-me-up
- HEAT WAVE: Are cooler temperatures a human right? New York increasingly thinks so, and the city has taken some pretty significant steps to make sure people have access to them.
- WE’VE GOT THE POWER: Electrifying most of the vehicles in Colorado would save the state more carbon emissions than revamping its entire electricity infrastructure — plus, it’d save drivers some serious bucks.
- ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE: This year’s Ojai Playwrights Conference gathered a group of theatre big shots around the eternal question: Can art spur action on climate change? Spoiler: Yes. Yes it can.
- THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM: The deeper the roots a plant has, the more carbon it can often store, so why not engineer common crops to send their roots deeper? Funny you should ask: Scientists recently discovered a gene that determines root depth in thale cress, and hope to translate that work to corn and soy.
- RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE: Emotional responses are a totally reasonable, even righteous response to the climate crisis, Amy Westervelt argues in “The Case for Climate Rage.” She points out that women in the environmental movement, especially women of color, are leading the charge.
- SPEAK FOR THE TREES: L.A. just hired its first-ever top forest official. In addition to planting 90,000 trees by 2021, Chief Forest Officer Rachel Malarich is tasked with increasing the city’s shade-providing urban canopy, especially in underserved areas. Guess that whole Lorax thing is a full-time job!
4. Your next move
- GET PLANTING: Trees are like natural AC for cities — and once the summer’s hottest days are over, it’s the perfect time to plant. Volunteer for a tree-planting effort! Just make sure folks from the neighborhood are involved.
- BREATHE EASY: Wildfire season is in full swing, so if you live in an area affected by smoke, consider buying a few extra N-95 masks and distributing them to those in need, or donate to a center that does.
- ROLL WITH IT: Still driving a car? Get that tire pressure checked. It’s an easy way to cut your emissions (and, if we’re being honest, gas money).
5. Your Sunday plans
If the good folks behind The North Pole can find humor and hope in the climate apocalypse, we can turn lemons into some damn lemonade. This boozy lemonade from Taste of Home (with some obvious adaptations) is perfect for those of us who need a little extra fortitude for the climate fight ahead. There’s an equally good version without the rum, too.
- 2¼ cups sugar
- 5 cups water
- 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
- 1¾ cups lemon juice
- 1 cup light rum or vodka
- Ice cubes
- Lemon slices
- In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, 1 cup water, and lemon zest. Cook and stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Stir in lemon juice and remaining water. Pour into a 2-qt. pitcher; refrigerate until chilled. While you wait, start watching the first season of The North Pole.
- Stir in rum (ideally while dancing).
- For each serving, place ¾ to 1 cup ice in a Collins or highball glass, or a big pineapple-shaped one with a crazy straw.
- Pour lemonade mixture into glass. Garnish with lemon slices as desired.
Sometimes, all it takes is a glass of ice-cold lemonade — and time watching the madcap adventures of a pack of neighbors fighting for what’s Good and Right — to make the future look a little brighter.
Photo: Seyfettinozel / Getty Images