The Climate Crisis: Culture Shifts Gradually- and Sometimes Suddenly

Bill McKibben in The New Yorker

Source: Daily Newsletter

You could feel the Zeitgeist shifting these past days, as culturally powerful parts of our society decided that the future lies with the protesters demanding accountability for America’s past and safety from its present authorities. Top brass at the Pentagon apologized for taking part in Trump’s Bible-hoisting photo op. The N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, took to the Internet to say, “We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people.” And Nascar—long the perfect marriage of corporate branding and unrepentant good-ol’-boyism—banned the Confederate flag at its races and events. Not only that, but Richard Petty—the winningest driver in stock-racing history and now a team owner, who said, in 2017, that he’d fire any driver who protested the National Anthem—let the African-American driver Bubba Wallace repaint his car with Black Lives Matter emblems, for last week’s race in Martinsville, Virginia. Those actions stem, of course, from the success of organizers in making the Black Lives Matter message resound—polling shows that, in the course of a few weeks, support for the movement spiked by almost twenty percentage points.

…In the climate crisis, each fight against a pipeline or a frack well, against an oil company or a bank that backs it, is important in its own right. But each also serves as a way to build the pressure that will, eventually, move us psychologically from a world that sees the fossil-fuelled economy stretching out into the future to one that understands we need to change.

There are signs that we’re reaching that paradigm shift, both because of powerful organizing (eight million people in the streets last fall for global climate strikes) and because environmental events, such as the wildfires in California and Australia, demonstrate our scary reality more plainly all the time. Around the world, more and more cities and countries are rolling out economic-recovery plans that emphasize climate action, as if that was the most obvious idea. (It is.) Even in this country, you can see it in the polling: a string of recent surveys shows that the issue of global warming is Trump’s single greatest vulnerability. And you can sense it in significant corners of the culture, too—corners that pay a lot of attention to marketing and branding and predicting the future. Lyft’s announcement on Wednesday that all of the cars used in its network will be electric by 2030 will not solve the climate crisis. (Indeed, if it draws people away from the subway, it could make it worse; what we really need are electric buses and electric bikes.) But it’s a sign—like Wallace’s car circling the Nascar track—that, after years and years of organizing, a new logic is beginning to drive events.

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