Action or despair? What’s the result of “climate deadline” rhetoric?

So I’m going to read the new IPCC report, and see if I have more in-depth commentary on it, but I wanted to say a couple words about the rhetoric surrounding the report, and a strategy I think basically anyone making six figures or more should consider.

While I get why it’s being pushed, the “now or never” rhetoric worries me for a couple reasons. The first is just that I’m worried it will push people to give up, since “now” clearly isn’t happening. The second is that I feel like it’s a continuation of the same obsession with the short term and with urgent crises that has gotten us to this point.

I have no evidence to back this up, but I think that if I was involved in climate messaging, I’d probably start making preparations for the world we seem to be creating, and simply talking about them in public on a regular basis. Store food against crop failures, and mention that it probably won’t be enough, if things keep warming. Start building water storage infrastructure, with rationing rules about how that emergency supply is to be used (very little for hygiene, for example). Put around plans to require new hotel construction (among other kinds of facilities) to double as emergency shelters with the capacity to keep indoor air at livable temperatures when it’s 45°C/113°F or higher, even if there’s a blackout. Put around draft regulations requiring new power plants to be able to operate safely under extreme heat wave conditions, because otherwise people will die.

If anyone with political or economic power happens to be reading this, and you actually care about climate change, the most powerful messaging you could probably do is to use the resources you have now to start making preparations for a much hotter world. You can be clear that you’re hoping this won’t be needed right away, but also paint a picture, with references to relevant research, of how our lives are going to change in the coming decades. Speeches will not work to convince people at this point – actions might have a shot.

And if people don’t like what your actions say about the future, then remind them that we know what we have to do to make that future better, we’re just not doing it.

I don’t know if this will be easier for politicians to do than directly tackling the fossil fuel industry right now, but I feel like it’s a powerful message to tell people that since corrupt monsters like Manchin (and many others) are preventing us from doing anything to slow or stop climate change, then it’s their duty to do what they can to help their constituents or communities survive.

Couple rhetoric with action wherever possible, and make it clear what path is being chosen for us with the status quo. I have a feeling that as things get worse, the political cost of opposing climate change adaptation measures will increase. It’s easy to abstract and confuse the causes of climate change, but when it comes to living with the effects, I think you’ll have a hard time convincing people that they don’t need to make any changes to survive.

It feels like we’re still stuck in the “capitalist realism” trap, where nobody seems to be able to conceive of any end to capitalism that isn’t also the end of the world. We know that technology and planning can help us survive more hostile conditions, but it really feels like the collective view is that if we can’t stop climate change from getting really bad, then we might as well just give up and die. It’s not just a bad strategy, it’s also frankly pathetic from a species with ambitions to live on other planets.

I don’t want to live in a world that’s a couple degrees hotter, but I don’t want to live under capitalism either, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give up on my life and my species because a few rich assholes can’t be bothered to do the bare minimum for future generations. When we miss climate deadlines, that does mean certain changes are inevitable. It does not mean that if we don’t take action now, taking action a little later will be pointless – it’ll just be harder.

If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into this. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!


  1. John Morales says

    I don’t understand the short-term thinking involved.

    Saw this on (Australian) news recently:

    Anyway, I get that this post is about the messaging to influence popular attitudes, not about pragmatics; the hope being that popular opinion has an effect on powerbrokers.
    And yes, to say “it has to be now or it will be never” when clearly it’s not now implies it will be never, the which is likely to promote fatalism (sounds better than defeatism, no?).

    But, as the news story I cited notes: “Coal prices reached record highs of more than $US400 ($535) per tonne last month.” I mean, $profit!$

    Honestly, I can’t be hopeful. As you say, the only sensible thing to do is to prepare for and adapt to the coming world.

    Almost a commons tragedy; the official justification for this stance highlights this:

    “The power operators of South-east Asia aren’t going to turn their power stations off if they can’t source their coal from NSW,” Mr Galilee said.

    “They’re going to source their coal from another part of the world. It’s going to be lower-quality coal and it’s going to generate higher emissions.”

  2. says

    I say short-term thinking, because it doesn’t even acknowledge the existence of a long term in which we fail to prevent this change.

    I guess I’m also adding in my frustration with the growing number of people who seem to have just given up.

    On the last point, yeah. I fear we’re not going to get the changes we need so long as capitalists maintain their hegemony.

  3. StevoR says

    Good thoughtful post here – shared thanks.

    Meanwhile as this report gets sumemd up here :

    Things looking grim for our eatsern states again :

    As the corporate scum who destroyed an ancient treasure older and argunably mroe sacred than Notre Dame ctahedral is put in charge of a new uranium mine :

  4. says

    The worst part about the “now or never” approach is that it means putting a stake in the ground and saying “climate crisis starts: now” when actually it started a decade or two ago. “Things are going to get progressively worse” may be too mild. “Things are going to get unbelievably bad and the process has already begun” may be too much. But people simply don’t seem to get that biomes that provide our food are on the edge of collapse and that collapse is already inevitable. “We need to do something soon or it’s too late” is the wrong messaging.

  5. says

    I feel like the proper message is to focus on what kind of society we want in the future, because “just keep doing this” isn’t going to be an option. We will change. The only question is how much say we’ll have regarding the direction. The sooner we act, the more we get to decide our own future, rather than having grim necessity decide for us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *