Focusing on a Just Transition

Today’s original art for The Phoenix is by Laila Arêde.

We are in a climate emergency. And you were born at just the right moment to help change everything.

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Last week, in our first Tuesday Threads, we talked about what you’re hoping to get out of The Phoenix. Your answers came through with resounding affirmations for the kind of climate journalism you’re wanting me to pursue.

You’re wanting a resource for radical change, not a glossy storybook.

You’re wanting an interactive community, not a one-sided lecture.

You’re wanting a richly illustrated guide, not solution-ism.

You’re wanting brave and bold action that everyone can be a part of.

I’m going to keep shaping The Phoenix through conversations like these, and in the meantime I’m going to focus my storytelling on a Just Transition, specifically on the folks who are leading by example. [As an aside: The best guide I’ve seen to a Just Transition is here, from Climate Justice Alliance.] I’m going to focus on what both individual and systemic action looks like in practice as we’re building a better world together.

I get it, transitions can be scary. We are already in a year full of transition. But transitions are ultimately about becoming what you were always meant to be.

As William Defebaugh, Editor-in-Chief of Atmos Magazine wrote recently, “Perhaps it’s not just our transformation they fear, but the idea that they might be capable of it too.”

Later today, we’ll be doing our next Tuesday Threads on a Just Transition. I’ll be joining the conversation live from 5-7pm ET.

Here’s a little of what you shared with each other last week:

there is no time for false optimism, and reportage on humanitarian crises is necessary because people need help TODAY.

continue focusing on solutions, justice, what IS being done, and what MORE can be done

showing how things happen is way more important than just reporting that they did.

I'd be utterly curious to hear more about existing practices/stories of events and phenomena of destruction & rebuild, devastation & resistance, injustice & solidarity

climate as being one piece of a justice kaleidoscope, all interrelated. When it comes to "what do we do about it", I think we know what to do. What I am looking for here is new, more effective story telling that I can take back into my family, community, and volunteering to broaden support for what we all need to do.

the more you can explore how global inequities (structural and historic) make those disasters worse, the better.

We're entering the most dramatic period of transformation in human history and its going to be a fascinating story - it already is. Reporting these stories will help those doing it see themselves in a bigger context, and draw others in to where the action is - and into community.

"Doom & gloom" or "positive & hopeful" is a false dichotomy; these are all the same side of a coin. A complex. Grasping for hope involves the wish that our lives and world could go on more or less as they have been in the past, while reality is more and more loudly saying "not going to happen." All of that goes together, like one side of a coin. The question is, what could be the "other" side? That is what I think we need to explore and live into.

the climate change narrative is woefully lacking in describing how bea-u-ti-fullllll this world can be once we step back to let abundance return.

Give people tools. Whether it's storytelling, resilience, faith, adaptation, or tools for protest and disruption. Give me something I can use to move forward.

I know we need drastic change but I don't know what are the best things to do.

focus on telling the story of the changemakers and the work they are doing. We're entering the most dramatic period of transformation in human history and its going to be a fascinating story - it already is. Reporting these stories will help those doing it see themselves in a bigger context, and draw others in to where the action is - and into community.

your audience is looking to you to say, "Okay, this is what we need to do."

provide tools or insights into how to do the hopeful work, with possible examples of people doing it. If we are born at the right moment to change everything, can you help us do that?

So that is what I’m going to do. I’m going to focus on what a Just Transition looks and feels like.

Programming note: My kids have gone into distance learning and homeschooling is taking up most of my time and energy, so newsletters might be a little less frequent for awhile. Sending peace and strength and good health to everyone right now.

A Just Transition is the heart of climate action

We are in a moment of profound change. We’ll need climate action that’s consciously focused on anti-racism and a transition away from 500+ years of predatory individualism and colonial capitalism to move into an uncertain world full of grief, joy, and justice.

That’s gonna be really, really hard. And right now, you’re probably feeling a lot of different things about it.

Individual action is the heart of radical societal change and a society based on mutual aid and interdependence. Ultimately, we can only control our own actions. We can transform the world when we care about each other.

This is a very very long journey ahead of us. We exist not only for ourselves. We’re living on multiple timescales at once.

Daily - in our rhythm of eating, sleeping, and care work for our loved ones.

Seasonally - as part of the ecosystem around us.

Yearly - as beings capable of growth and wisdom.

Decades - as we teach the new generation and learn from our elders.

Centuries - as we see the patterns of injustice in need of healing.

Millions of years - as we contemplate the consequences and fruits of our actions throughout geologic and cosmic time.

We are doing this work together.

What does a Just Transition actually look like?

The question of this moment, and the question of the rest of our lives is if the pleasures of a thriving, flourishing world should exist only for a few, or for everyone.

US emissions will fall this year by the biggest drop of any year in history. But we do not want a climate policy borne of pandemic austerity. We want a world in which we can thrive.

The idea of public abundance, of public luxury even, is at the heart of a Green New Deal. In a circular economy, an economy without waste, there can be enough for everyone to live a good life. Research out earlier this year showed that it’s possible to have a thoroughly modern standard of living for every person on the planet and radically reduce carbon emissions at the same time.

But that might not always play out like you think.

It’s that fear of transition that’s tearing the Democratic Party apart right now in the US. Over the weekend, in a scene reminiscent of the Sunrise Movement sit-in two years ago in Nancy Pelosi’s office, Representative-elect Cori Bush joined Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal advocates to campaign outside the Democratic National Committee Headquarters for a more progressive future.

“We’re calling on the Biden Administration right now to save lives,” Representative-elect Cori Bush said. “Save lives, there’s no other alternative. We need bold leadership.”

And we’ve got a long way to go to get there.

Take electric cars for example:

In the past few days, the UK announced a target for net zero emissions by 2050, and if matched by every other country in the world, would be in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of striving for a world consistent with 1.5°C warming. Part of that pledge will likely be banning internal combustion engines by 2030.

Electric vehicles, on face value, seem like a good thing. They virtually eliminate carbon emissions from road transportation, about 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally. It’ll help reduce the millions of deaths from air pollution each year. It might destroy the oil industry once and for all.

But if you take just a tiny step back, you’ll quickly realize that’s not nearly far enough. Switching vehicles from oil to batteries probably won’t stop the horrendous number of people that die every year in car crashes – about 1.3 million people every year, the same number who have died this year from Covid-19 globally.

And electric vehicle incentives can increase inequality, if they’re not done carefully:

Countries across the Western world have spent more than 100 years building cities built for cars, not people. We’ve reached a point where some US cities have more paved area than all other uses combined. That’s just not compatible with a livable future.

There’s a justice story embedded in every action we take. Maybe the solution looks like getting rid of streets altogether.

What is *your* vision of a better world?

We’ll have our own brainstorming session later today, but I also wanted to share a project that the International Federation of the Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies’ Climate Center is putting on right now: A time capsule of love letters to the year 2050.

Repeating again: Later today, we’ll be doing our next Tuesday Threads on a Just Transition. I’ll be joining the conversation live from 5-7pm ET.