Global Inequality in the Time of Climate Emergency


For a much better graphic (but fewer words) see the version at



                 Percentage of Global Income, by Decile

Something has changed.  I’ve been asking people in the climate movement what they think it is, and most everyone agrees.  When did it happen?  After the Paris Agreement, definitely.  But also after Brexit, and after Trump’s election, which put “the emergency” on the map for all to see.  There are lots of data points. In late 2017, David Wallace-Well’s piece in New York Magazine, The Uninhabitable Earth, landed like a bomb.  In mid-2018 came the Deep Adaptation paper, which likewise was downloaded by the hundreds of thousands.  In October of 2018, there came the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5°C, and afterwards the air was crisper, the view clearer.  It was obvious that climate denialism, or at least classic climate denialism, had lost its legitimacy.  Denialism was just a right-wing scam, and everyone knew it.  And, of course, there were the storms, and the firestorms, and then the Green New Deal resolution, which was a watershed by any reckoning.  To top it all off, there came the Extinction Rebellion, and its unforgettable new exhortations, protest signs that simply said “Tell the Truth!”

So something has changed.  But what’s at stake, exactly, and what comes next?  Wen Stephenson beat me to this (in a fine piece in The Nation) but I’ve reached exactly the same conclusion.  If we had to choose one voice, one single slogan, to represent the pivot that we’re now passing though, it would be hard to beat Czech playwright and ex-president Vaclav Havel and his notion of “living in truth.” [1]  It’s an option more people are exercising, people who are sick of the lies.  Even the comforting lies.

So where are we?  Three points are key.

First, despair is looming, and for good reason.  Take a look at Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene, the so-called “Hothouse Earth” paper, or at least know its bottom line, that the “tipping points” are actually “tipping cascades,” and that these cascades, if they really get moving, will amplify each other in ways that are all but impossible to stop.  Such that, by the time we arrive at 2°C, if indeed we do, we’ll probably overshoot it, and then face a real risk of runaway feedbacks.

Second, we have the technology, and the money, to save ourselves.  This isn’t the place to talk about tech in detail, but take a look at the ongoing work of Project Drawdown, and skim Carbon Tracker’s 2020 Vision report.  Then say something encouraging, something like “superconducting windmill generators and utility-scale flow batteries.”  As for the money, suffice it to say that “we” have plenty of it, which is to say plenty of financial and institutional capacity, but that it’s the wrong hands, and lots of it is locked into tax havens as well.

Third, we have to prepare for the possibility of a proper awakening.  Certainly it’s reasonable to hope that the more people understand the depth of the danger—the Earth will be fine, but many species will not make it, and our civilization may not either—the greater will grow their frustration and, better, their anger.  And along with these their willingness to contemplate “unrealistic” actions and transformations that are actually scaled to the danger.  Because, bottom line, large-scale transformations are actually possible.

View Full Text »

Hot Stuffan Opinionated View of the Current Debate


Key Posts

All Key Posts