Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Big Short: A Climate Parable

On December 11, 2017, writer and director Adam McKay tweeted that we need a WWII scale climate mobilization to his almost 1 million followers.

 McKay directed The Big Short: one of the strongest climate films to come out of Hollywood.  Ok, I know The Big Short isn’t technically “about” the climate crisis, but hear me out: 

  1. The Big Short confronts the climate crisis more explicitly than most movies do. For example, Brad Pitt’s character, Ben, believes societal collapse is imminent and that “seeds will become new currency.” In the closing credits we see that Dr. Michael Burr, the genius behind shorting the housing market is now trading in just one commodity: water. The implication is that some of the most prescient forecasters in the world are also foreseeing massive environmental collapse.
  2.  But more importantly, the Big Short is basically a parable about the climate crisis. For this reason, it has been on The Climate Mobilization’s “Recommended Films” list for years. A small group of people know that imminent collapse is coming and hardly anyone, and no institutions, believe them. In the “Jenga scene” banker Jared Vennett illustrates how fragile the housing market truly is (as well as how callously racist the culture on Wallstreet can be). When you pull out too many rungs, the whole thing comes crashing down.

    We can imagine a Jenga game labeled with all the things that make civilization possible. Instead of A, B, AA, etc the blocks could say things like,  “wheat yields,” “water access” “public health” and so on. When the climate crisis damages too many of these, the whole tower will fall: civilization itself will collapse.
  3. Finally, The Big Short illustrates how  it feels to understand that a crisis is coming while most people and institutions are blithely optimistic, continuing with business as usual.

Paul Gilding described this feeling in 2009:

It’s like belonging to a secret society. Conversations held in quiet places, in cafes, bars and academic halls. Conversations held with furrowed brows and worried eyes. Conversations that sometimes give you goosebumps and shivers, and a sense of the surreal – is this conversation really happening? This is what it’s felt like over the past few years, to spend time with some of the world’s leading thinkers and scientists on issues around climate change and sustainability. In public this group generally puts a positive, while still urgent interpretation of their views… But in private, often late at night, when we reflect on what we really think and wonder if the battle is lost, it’s a different conversation. The talk goes to the potential for self-reinforcing runaway loops and for civilization’s collapse. We discuss geopolitical breakdown, mass starvation and what earth would be like with just a few hundred million people.

The characters in The Big Short struggle with the social, personal, and professional consequences of predicting collapse. Their jobs are threatened and they are mocked, “They call me Chicken Little, they call me bubble boy,” Vennett says of the professional disdain he experiences for telling the truth about the coming housing crash.

People who tell the truth about the climate crisis and advocate for emergency climate mobilization understand the social costs of being outside the norm. We have made many family members, dinner party guests, and dates uncomfortable. We have experienced alienation, and relief at finding fellowship with others who understand the truth and are dedicated to solving the crisis.

Profiting from vs Preventing Collapse

The characters in The Big Short sought to profit from the coming collapse. Imagine if instead the forecasters had started organizing and getting the best progressive politicians to recognize the danger of the financial collapse and start introducing policies to reign in these financial institutions before it was too late?

That’s basically what we at The Climate Mobilization are trying to do. We could seek personal profit — shorting insurance or agricultural futures, perhaps, or buying land in Siberia. But instead, we are focused on preventing collapse.

After The Climate Mobilization spent  months campaigning for WWII scale climate mobilization in Iowa, in the lead up to the Iowa Caucuses, Bernie Sanders started talking about the need for WWII scale climate mobilization in debates and town halls. Our ally Russell Greene got the need for WWII scale climate mobilization into the Democratic Party Platform.

Now we are working locally, getting resolutions passing in Hoboken NJ, and Montgomery County MA, declaring a climate emergency and committing the city to reaching zero emissions at emergency speed. In Los Angeles, we have supported the introduction of a motion calling for a Climate Emergency Mobilization Department — a city department that would oversee the rapid transition to zero emissions, as well as spread the need for emergency climate mobilization to people and other government bodies.

Seeking personal profit would be absurd, because ultimately the climate crisis threatens us all. The stakes of the housing bubble pale in comparison to the climate stakes. The only safety, the only profit, will come from preventing the Jenga set of human civilization from falling down. We want to cancel the apocalypse, and we know the only way to do that is through an all-hands on deck climate mobilization that brings America, and then the world, to zero emissions at emergency speed, and draws down excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Check out The Big Short to get a good picture of the eerie feeling of knowing collapse is imminent while everyone is acting normal. And then please consider organizing with or financially supporting The Climate Mobilization. 

 

 

 

Life in The Climate Crisis: A Discussion Series

Before starting The Climate Mobilization, I was training to become a clinical psychologist. Psychology was the first lens I used to examine my own and others’ responses to the climate crisis: grief, terror, denial, dissociation and more. My most impactful writing has been on the psychology of the climate crisis.

In January, I started a  psychological discussion series, with the goal of creating a fellowship with others who are grappling with climate truth as they go through their lives every day. The discussions will open to all Mobilizer Backers — The Climate Mobilization’s sustaining donors.

These 90 minute monthly calls will be a time to share and learn about the under-discussed personal, emotional side of the climate crisis. The format will vary, but the basic questions we will explore will include: What is it like to live in these times? How does it feel? How does the climate crisis affect your relationships? How does it affect your identity?? How does it affect how you plan your future and make major decisions?

On the next call, upcoming on 2.18, I will also share and discuss the step-by-step guide I am working on to “Go all in on the climate emergency,” intended to help people take responsibility for the climate crisis and leap into becoming climate warriors. Mobilizer Backers will be invited to read the (draft) guidebook chapters before the call. The topics we discuss will include “Build emotional muscle,” “Welcome all Thoughts and Feelings,” “Curiosity and Compassion,” “Grieve the life you thought you were living,” and “Fear: It’s there to help us.”

I will discuss these topics, share from the guide, and ask callers to share their thoughts and experiences. 

The Mobilizer Backer Program will also feature a monthly “Strategy and Politics” call, which will bring on leaders from within TCM, as well as esteemed guests, to talk about TCM’s strategy and the work they have been doing, comment on current events, the state of politics and the climate movement. Mobilizer Backers will ask questions and offer feedback. The next call is 2.22 and features John Mitchell, our lead engineer, explaining the brilliant implementation plans he has created for cities

Mobilizer Backers are the foundation of the Climate Mobilization. They provide us with reliable income and support the spreading of climate truth and the building power for emergency climate mobilization all over the country. Because we leverage a huge amount of volunteer capacity, your gift will have a much greater impact. Please become a Mobilizer Backer today. I hope to see you on the calls soon!

Margaret Klein Salamon, PhD