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General News    H3'ed 3/14/19

Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, A Mother Swept Away by Climate Change

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Yes, it's happening. It really is. And I'm not just thinking about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal and the support it's getting from Democratic presidential candidates or the controversy it's generating. I'm also thinking about Washington State Governor Jay Inslee's entry into the 2020 presidential race on a platform that boils down to a climate-change crusade. I'm thinking about the way Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- not your usual definition of a radical thinker or activist -- is now planning to make global warming a key issue in the 2020 elections. I'm thinking about the fact that some Democrats suddenly are convinced the subject will be a winner on the campaign trail. I'm thinking about the fact that a book on climate change, David Wallace-Wells's The Uninhabitable Earth, has just hit the bestseller list. I'm thinking about the strike-for-the-future movement, all those Generation Z kids that TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan writes about today who have started a wave of global protests about the increasingly degraded world they're likely to inherit.

And I'm also thinking about the fact that every new study of climate change seems to offer worse news about the fate of the planet -- greater potential temperature rises; more drought and famine; larger population displacements; faster-melting Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets leading to radically rising sea levels; more unexpected climate feedback loops that will only heighten the ravages of global warming; record levels of greenhouse gases still entering the atmosphere; and, most recently, the unexpected phenomena of heat waves not on land (yes, they're coming, too, and they're likely to be devastating) but in the planet's oceans that could, among other things, significantly reduce fish populations and so humanity's food supplies yet more.

In other words, don't think of the recent rise in climate-change attentiveness and concern among Americans as a passing thing. It's not for the simplest of reasons: climate change itself isn't passing. Human-caused it may be, but it's not faintly part of human history in terms of its potential time scale, and whatever effects we're already feeling are essentially nothing compared to what's likely to come. So in a country that, in 2016, elected history's greatest crew of climate-change aiders and abettors, men who may one day be seen as the worst criminals in history, something's finally starting to happen, even if just what it is still isn't exactly clear. Under the circumstances, parents like Frida Berrigan have a tough job ahead. They're going to have to explain to their children just how we adults have so royally screwed up this planet, the one that should have been their birthright. And that, as she makes clear today, is the necessary conversation from hell. Tom

Parenting the Climate-Change Generation
Or Will They Parent Us?
By Frida Berrigan

Kids are taking over the streets in other countries, rallying and chanting and refusing to go to school one day a week.

Young people across the world are striking to draw attention to the ravages of climate change. They are demanding -- with their bodies and their voices -- that the catastrophe each of them will inherit be a priority for the grown-ups around them. They are insisting that we adults make some sacrifices to keep their planet from becoming uninhabitable.

"We are the voiceless future of humanity... We will not accept a life in fear and devastation. We have the right to live our dreams and hopes." You know who said that? A teenager. Actually, lots of them, since it's part of a letter, a call to action, from the organizers of Fridays for a Future. I'm hearing them loud and clear and it's driving me crazy!

The map of activities that those teenagers planned for their March 15th global day of action represented a mind-popping collection of locations, including Tromso, Norway; Port Louis, Mauritius; Diliman, the Philippines; Osorno, Chile; Whitehorse, Canada; Bamako, Mali; and Tehran, Iran. You don't have to be a cartographer to notice that there are way more actions planned around the world than in Donald Trump's United States.

This clarion call comes from teenagers, the crew we characterize here in America as eye-rolling creatures suspended in a helpless state of consumerism, hyper-sexualization, and crushing academic pressure. Of course, there are kids in the streets (and sitting in at congressional offices) for climate change (and for a host of other issues) here, too, but, there are far more doing nothing but playing Fortnite on their phones or tablets and uploading DIY lip-balm videos on YouTube.

Seventy-three percent of Americans now acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change -- by far the biggest number since the question was first asked in 2008 -- but too few want to pay to make it go away. Asked if they'd spend even $10 a month to address the crisis, 72% of Americans took a hard pass, 57% of them opting for $1 a month instead. Set that against the cost of your favorite large iced latte with a shot of caramel, a Netflix subscription, or the Uber ride you summoned when you could have walked.

If global warming continues at current rates, however, Solomon Hsiang, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues found that it would impact our economy in a huge way. It would shave "3 to 6 percentage points off of the country's gross domestic product by century's end -- the warmer it gets, the bigger the hit to the economy." The Trump administration's own report assessing the risks of climate change found that global warming "is expected to cause substantial net damage to the U.S. economy throughout this century... With continued growth in emissions at historic rates, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century -- more than the current gross domestic product of many U.S. states."

Time for another latte, folks, because this is our problem, whether we're facing it or not.

How Do We Parent Generation Hot?

I'm almost 45. My kids, Seamus and Madeline, are five and six; my stepdaughter Rosena is 12. They are part of what journalist Mark Hertsgaard calls Generation Hot, "some two billion young people, all of whom have grown up under global warming and are fated to spend the rest of their lives confronting its mounting impacts."

On a good day, I quip that "I'm halfway to 90." On a bad day, I can't imagine what the world will look like in 2064, for me or them.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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