Climate movement can learn from black history, Windfall, and "the boy who harnessed the wind"
The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate.
Issue No. 64
Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. February is black history month, so we plan to highlight the contributions of African American’s to the climate struggle over the coming weeks.
The climate movement can learn from studying black history.
Every year, Americans dedicate a single month to black history. But, it has become abundantly clear that black history is American history. It is impossible to understand the social, economic or political structure of the United States without also grappling with the history of African-Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. illustrated this fact in a 1965 speech on the steps of the Alabama state capital, in which he explained how segregation shaped the broader class struggle. Toward the end of Reconstruction, King said, poor Southerners, both white and black, began to unite against the wealthy elite. “To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society,” with the aim of dividing the working class, he said. The result was that when the white man’s “wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.”
As King made clear, institutionalized racism or “caste” was used to get poor white Southerners to line up behind wealthy, white elites. The study of black history illuminates a key fact about the broader class struggle in the United States. Ideologies of ignorance — race, caste, xenophobia, even climate change denial — are used to divide the working class.
The climate movement would do well to learn this lesson. The continued reliance upon fossil fuels will enrich corporate elites, while working-class Americans will pay the rising cost of climate change. Climate denial, like chaste ideology, is a plutocratic farce, a hoodwink of the common man. Rather than treat climate denial as a matter of science, advocates should treat it as a matter of justice, acknowledging, as Dr. King did, how ideologies of ignorance buttress the interests of the wealthy elite.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” - James Baldwin
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NOW, LET’S GO DEEP!
Climate quotes that will inspire you
1 “We don’t call water a resource; we call it a sacred element. The relationship we have with everything that Earth offers, it’s about reciprocity. That’s the only way we are going to learn how to shift our culture from an extraction culture to a balanced and harmonious culture with the land.” ~ Xiye Bastida
One aspect of climate change that often gets neglected is the spiritual one. Xiye Bastida is an indigenous activist from Mexico who tells us in this quote that we need to completely reorient our way of relating to Nature. We need to see the planet not as a resource that we can endlessly extract and profit from but as something that we need to respect and live in harmony with.
2 “While the walls fall and the world burns/Seas rise and the clock turns. The earth fighting back with hurricanes/And the earthquakes and the pouring rain.” ~ Xiuhtezcatl (Broken)
Few artists are making music on the climate crisis as vivid and bold as rapper Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez – a lifelong youth environmental activist.
Take his song “Broken”, for example. In just one track, he grapples with (at least) three important truths:
First, the climate crisis is already taking a devastating toll across the planet:
“While the walls fall and the world burns. Seas rise and the clock turns. The earth fighting back with hurricanes. And the earthquakes and the pouring rain.”
Second, the climate crisis is an unprecedented intergenerational justice issue:
“How will you look your child in the eyes and tell them. Their future wasn’t worth fighting for, could’ve done more but didn’t listen. Didn’t wake up, didn’t speak up, didn’t fight back when there was still time.”
And third, if we can change there is still hope to avoid the worst of the climate crisis:
“The apathy is so poisonous and it’s killing us…Gotta recognize that the change we want in the world has to start inside us…Fight for what we love, start healing the world’s hate. Build beauty from the ashes after the world breaks.”
3 “Where water is the boss there the land must obey.” ~African Proverb
As humans continue to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, oceans have tempered the effect. The world's seas have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat from these gases, but it’s taking a toll on our oceans. Average sea levels have risen over 8 inches (about 23 cm) since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. Every year, the sea rises another .13 inches (3.2 mm).
Sea level rise knows no borders. (W. McLeod)
Written by McKenzie Funk
McKenzie Funk spent six years reporting around the world on how we are preparing for a warmer planet. Funk shows us that the best way to understand the catastrophe of global warming is to see it through the eyes of those who see it most clearly—as a market opportunity.
Global warming’s physical impacts can be separated into three broad categories: melt, drought, and deluge. Funk travels to two dozen countries to profile entrepreneurial people who see in each of these forces a potential windfall.
The melt is a boon for newly arable, mineral-rich regions of the Arctic, such as Greenland—and for the surprising kings of the manmade snow trade, the Israelis. The process of desalination, vital to Israel’s survival, can produce a snowlike by-product that alpine countries use to prolong their ski season.
Drought creates opportunities for private firefighters working for insurance companies in California as well as for fund managers backing south Sudanese warlords who control local farmland. As droughts raise food prices globally, there is no more precious asset.
The deluge—the rising seas, surging rivers, and superstorms that will threaten island nations and coastal cities—has been our most distant concern, but after Hurricane Sandy and failure after failure to cut global carbon emissions, it is not so distant. For Dutch architects designing floating cities and American scientists patenting hurricane defenses, the race is on. For low-lying countries like Bangladesh, the coming deluge presents an existential threat.
Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all.
To understand how the world is preparing to warm, Windfall follows the money.
Creed Comments: Elon Musk probably loves this book. Written in 2014, Funk has penned one of the more fascinating accounts of the economic impact of climate change. Rather than exploring the science or politics of an alarmingly warming world, the author has focused exclusively on the economics and opportunism developing around climate change. The result is part eco-thriller, part adventure story, part investigative exposé. There’s a wildly speculative and entrepreneurial game being played out there by some forward-thinking risk takers. Not a hand-wringer among them, these are the gamblers who see profit where others see doom.
Impressively researched over six years, Windfall takes us to the front lines: to the deck of a Canadian battleship, where the author blasts a machine gun into the ice cap; to formerly frozen Siberian lands, which investors envision as future mega-farms; to the Sudan, Greenland, Wall Street, and beyond. Like a mashup of Michael Lewis and Mark Twain, Funk is an intrepid investigator and a lively, smart writer. From eco hedge funds to dam building to desalination plants, he shows how climate change is creating new opportunities and a potential boon for cowboy entrepreneurs. This is the rare book that’s both important and highly readable. (excerpted by Neal Thompson of Amazon)
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a 2019 British drama film written, directed by and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in his feature directorial debut. The film is based on a memoir titled the same by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.
The film is based on a true story about a 13-year-old boy, William Kamkwamba, who lives in an impoverished village devastated by a famine in Malawi, Africa.
Early in the story, William is kicked out of school because his family can no longer afford the cost. He begins sneaking into the library where he learns how to build a windmill in hope of bringing water to his village, and eventually saving them from the drought and political riots taking place against the government.
The story talks about the political upheaval in Africa at the time that William and his family lost their land to the government and their grain to another city. The family is at a point where only one person can eat per day and rain hasn’t fallen in months, preventing the plants from growing. People became desperate, and some died.
The movie has powerful acting throughout, though I thought the director of the film tried too hard to make some moments overly dramatic, and it came off cheap. The movie captivated my attention and took me through a roller coaster of emotions, even though some parts confused me. For example, every time there was a death, dancing spirits arrived, and they were not explained in the film.
A majority of the film is in Chichewa, which is a commonly spoken language in Malawi. Due to this, most scenes in the movie include subtitles, but throughout, different Chichewa words would appear on the screen with their English translation underneath, which made the film an interesting experience. The words correlated with the movie, such as “hunger” and “harvest.”
At the end of the film, it explains what happened to William and his family. William is granted a scholarship to continue his education and eventually graduates from Dartmouth College in America. His windmill went viral and led William to give a TED talk on his story. William continuously sends money and brings more engineering back to his village where his family still lives and his sister is married to a professor with children.
Creed Comments: This is an incredible film to watch with your family or friends (we watched it on Netflix). William is never deterred, despite overwhelming odds against him. Here are 3 inspirational lessons I took from William’s story:
Use what you have
William is today seen as an engineering genius, but he didn’t always have what he needed to make the things he wanted to make. He didn’t have a fancy laboratory or even electricity. But he used what he had around him- scrap metal, to achieve his goal. If you want to be a photographer but can’t yet afford a camera, maybe start by taking photos with your phone. The most important thing is not the materials or equipment you have, but to practice your craft and hone your skills.
Take criticism to your head, not your heart
Some people in William’s village looked at him collecting scraps and thought he had gone crazy. If you have big dreams, many people will criticize you and be skeptical about whether your ideas will succeed. That’s ok---remember that if you’re doing something people have not seen before, they may not understand your vision or see what you see. Listen to criticism if it’s constructive, but avoid being discouraged by pure negativity.
Innovation is right where you are
Look around you and observe your environment very carefully. What problems do you see? What can be improved? Many times, the things that improve our lives (what many people call innovations) come from making simple observations and designing a solution that addresses the challenges you see. So don’t wait for others to solve the problems in your society. Use your creativity to think of solutions. You never know what exciting innovations lie in your head until you try.
The Keeling Curve a daily record of global atmospheric CO2 concentration.
Congressional Policy Tracker a summary of current federal energy legislation.
Click Clean your favorite apps and tech company clean power rankings.
Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy Jobs a report by the Brookings Institute.
Understanding ESG a series of ESG-focused thought leadership webinars for business and investors, presented by Baker McKenzie.
Temperature Check, a weekly podcast about climate, race, and culture hosted by Andrew Simon.
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