I wrote climate porn

A peek behind my apocalyptic feature on climate conflict for The New Republic.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

-W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming.” 1919.

Welcome to Week 2 of HEATED.

Today’s newsletter will focus mostly on “The Blood-Dimmed Tide,” the final piece I wrote as a staff writer for The New Republic, published this morning. It the first and only feature story I ever wrote for the print magazine, and it’s about how climate change could change the face of war and conflict across the world. It’s a worst-case scenario story, which means some people might call it “climate porn” and yell at me. I’m ready. You can read it here, and yell here: emily@heated.world

We’ll also cover some climate-related highlights from Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate on ABC News. I know I said I wouldn’t, but I can’t help it.

Finally, remember that 7-hour presidential climate town hall on CNN earlier this month? MSNBC is airing a similar climate forum for presidential candidates on Thursday and Friday, in partnership with the climate newsletter Our Daily Planet. I spoke about it late last week with MSNBC’s Ali Velshi, who is moderating the forum with Chris Hayes. The conversation made me optimistic, but I was disappointed to learn that some very prominent Democratic candidates plan on skipping it.

It’s a lot to get through on a Monday, but I truly believe you can accomplish anything if you just drink a glass of water, eat a banana, and do 10 push-ups or sit-ups. That’s usually what I recommend if you’re feeling bad or sad.

Did you do it? Do you feel better? Cool, me too. Now let’s do the news.

Another gloom-and-doomer.

I truly hope you will read my feature story on climate change and global conflict in today’s New Republic, though I understand why you might want to skip it. It isn’t exactly flowers and unicorns. (Or, if you’re me, push-ups and bananas).

Here’s a brief summary of the two-section piece.

  • Section 1: An imagined worst-case scenario future. In this future, it’s the year 2100, and the world’s major powers continued to resist climate action until about the year 2035. Nationalist ideologues like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro also continued to gain power across the world. Combined, these circumstances caused the atmosphere to warm by 4 degrees Celsius, and various terrifying conflicts have broken out across the globe: things like mass migrations, famines, and resource-wars.

  • Section 2: How did we get here, and how do we prevent this future? Bill McKibben and former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck help me reflect on the past—how we allowed ourselves to get to a place where this terrifying scenario of constant war and conflict is a real possibility. Then, Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security, weighs in on how we might prevent this future, and prioritize the climate crisis as a threat multiplier it truly is.

It’s a scary article, I think—but I didn’t write it to scare you. I wrote it so you could be aware of what climate scientists are actually seeing when they research what global conflict might look like under longer-term pressures of climate change. Because the worst-case scenario I lay out in the piece isn’t simply a product of my imagination. (No brain models here, folks). It’s based on a scientific scenario called Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 3, or SSP3.

This carefully-crafted future—where nationalism rises and countries do little to significantly reduce carbon emissions for the next two decades—is one that climate scientists are already using to game out what global society, economics, policy, and demographics might look like in a climate-changed world. And I wanted to tell you about the conflict-aspect of this worst-case scenario, because people with power aren’t. I wanted you to see how policymakers on both sides of the aisle have been actively choosing for decades to never prepare us for this scenario, thereby increasing the likelihood that it will occur.

I’m not here to coddle you.

There are a lot of climate communications people who say it’s not good strategy for journalists to focus on the worst potential outcomes of climate change. But I think one of the biggest reasons society hasn’t mobilized around large-scale climate action is because most people haven’t internalized what truly terrible things could happen if we do nothing.

For decades, most media institutions, politicians, and even some climate activists have shied away from communicating science that might be considered “alarmist.” Or, at the very least, they’ve couched their communications of that science with coddling rhetoric that everything’s probably going to be OK.

I wrote this because I want you to know that if things keep going the way they are—with nationalism and carbon emissions both rising—everything’s not going to be OK. That’s the truth. My job as a journalist is to tell you the truth.

But the truth is also that things don’t have to keep going the way they are. That’s why several paragraphs of my New Republic piece are devoted to how humanity, Americans in particular, can prevent the likelihood of global dystopia by the end of the century. Yes, some truly terrible things could happen if we do nothing. But like I said last week, some really awesome and amazing things could also happen if we do everything.


The debates still aren’t doing much, though.

I can’t express how nice it was to be able to watch Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate like a normal human being, feeling no obligation to write something about it afterward. I watched it at my local beer garden and wore my beloved banana shoes—just like I did earlier this month for the CNN climate town hall. (See below for proof/shoes).

Step 1: eat a banana
Step 2: sign up for @heated.world
September 5, 2019

It turns out, however, that even my favorite shoes are not enough to give me peace. At least not when these debates are still treating climate change like a bottom-tier issue, even though climate change remains either the number one or number two priority of Democratic voters next to healthcare. Like every debate before it, healthcare dominated Thursday night’s discussion, while climate change got the short end of the stick, as Media Matters reports:

The climate crisis was the topic of 7 percent of questions during the ABC/Univision Democratic presidential primary debate in Houston on September 12. The moderators posed a total of 85 questions or invitations to speak on a topic, and just six were climate-related.” …

The moderators [also] did not turn to climate change until nearly the third hour.

Now, climate change is not even close to being a priority for independent or Republican voters. So perhaps I could understand the issue getting this type of billing in a regular presidential debate.

But these are the Democratic primary debates. So to me, it just doesn’t make any sense that they’re basically ignoring climate change. It also doesn’t make sense because climate change literally threatens the future of human civilization and this election will be crucial to determining whether we blow past the 1.5 degree threshold of dangerous warming by mid-century. But also, the polling!

Also, the first question was about whether Cory Booker wants to make everyone be vegan—which, just, come on.


Climate forum drama!

Fortunately, though, there will be another opportunity to hear the Democratic presidential candidates explain why they’re the most qualified to take on the climate crisis. On Thursday and Friday, starting at 3 p.m., MSNBC will air live, climate-focused interviews with both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates (not Donald Trump, calm down).

The event will be cosponsored by the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, Our Daily Planet, and New York Magazine. It will be moderated by MSNBC anchors Ali Velshi and Chris Hayes.

There are a few candidates, however, who are not attending: Former Vice President Joe Biden, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Senators Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris.

All are citing scheduling conflicts, said Our Daily Planet founder Monica Medina. One commonly cited conflict for the 20th is an LGBTQ presidential forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Friday, she said. But Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro are attending both. “Some made time,” Medina said. “Some did not.”


What they’ll be missing

Now, normally I’m pretty skeptical of major television networks’ ability to hold effective climate conversations with politicians—especially when those conversations are moderated by reporters who are not climate change reporters. But I’ve been heartened by the fact that Velshi and Hayes have been reaching out to climate reporters in advance of the forum to get their perspectives on what they should be asking.

In my conversation with Velshi, he told me he’s essentially been undertaking a crash course of climate reporting to prepare for the forum. “I’ve gotten much smarter on this in the last week, and I'm hoping to be much smarter next week,” he said.

Part of that preparation has been simply reporting from Grand Bahama, which was just devastated by Hurricane Dorian. Velshi’s been covering hurricanes for the last 14 years; his first was Hurricane Katrina, when he reported live during the evacuation of an oil rig. With hurricane coverage in particular, he said he’s been struck by how much things have changed. “Always throughout my career, if you ever brought up climate change during a hurricane, people would say ‘This isn't the time to discuss it,” he said. “Now, between hot summers and declining crop yields and rising water levels, people are willing to make connections they weren't willing to make before.” Ding ding ding!

I mentioned that I feared television networks avoided important climate policy questions because climate policy can be complicated. Velshi replied that he trusted his viewership. “I’ve found that, if we give it to them, the viewer doesn't turn away when they get something smarter than they expect,” he said.

That’s probably why this newsletter already has more than 10,000 subscribers, am I right?? Because people like smart climate stuff!

OK, that’s all for now—thanks so much for reading HEATED!

If you liked it, it would mean the world to me if you forwarded it to a friend or three. If you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up to receive daily Monday-Thursday emails below.

And as always, if you have questions or comments on anything you read in this issue, or want to pitch me a story idea, my inbox is open: emily@heated.world.

See you guys tomorrow.