View of downtown San Francisco, 13 December 2016. Photo: James Galasyn

13 December 2016 (Desdemona Despair) – Here are Desdemona’s remarks at today’s climate activism meeting held concurrently with the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco:

When Mike invited me to this event back in June, what I would have said then was very different from what needs to be said today. Since the election, every day the situation has gotten progressively worse, and I've rewritten these words continuously. I was going to talk about technologies and policies that could forestall the worst effects of abrupt climate change, but it doesn't make sense to discuss solutions in a political environment that's antithetical to the discussion.

I've been thinking a lot about the famous quote from Pericles, the Athenian statesman and general, who observed 2500 years ago, "Just because you don't take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."

Since November 8th, the focus now must be on resisting the rise of ultra-nationalist politics in the U.S. and abroad. Not just because white nationalism is morally odious, but because ultra-nationalists universally deny the science of climate change.

Reducing humanity's carbon footprint requires a reliable international framework for cooperation, like the Paris Agreement. But ultra-nationalists of all stripes won't participate in an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions. Philippines strongman Rodrigo Duterte and Donald Trump both have declared their intent to withdraw from the Paris accord. The reactionary parties in Britain, France, and Australia (UKIP, National Front, and One Nation) all deny climate science. There's a glimmer of hope in the recent defeat of Hofer's Freedom Party in Austria, but they got more than 46 percent of the vote, so they're not going away.

In the U.S., professional climate denialist Myron Ebell of CEI heads Trump’s EPA transition team. Bob Walker, a senior Trump adviser, says that Trump will eliminate NASA’s Earth science research. We've seen this happen already in Australia, where the Turnbull government has defunded climate science at CSIRO and approved the enormous Carmichael coal mine. Scott Pruitt, longtime enemy of the EPA, will head the EPA. And this morning it was confirmed that ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson will be Secretary of State, and former Texas governor Rick Perry will be energy secretary. It would hard to select a cabinet that's more inimical to environmental and climate issues.

Now the game is to prevent the advanced democracies from falling to ultra-nationalism. I'm not happy to report that our priority for the foreseeable future must be political activism. I hate politics and would much rather be plotting Excel graphs with the latest environmental data. But in November, we saw neo-nazis throwing fascist salutes in the Ronald Reagan building in Washington D.C., so political activism must be our focus now.

Timothy Snyder, History Professor at Yale University, has given us 20 points to guide our resistance to autocracy. I picked two to highlight tonight.

  1. Defend an institution. Institutions can't defend themselves, and the Putin-Rex-Trump axis is coming for science, especially climate science and evolutionary biology. Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon has signaled that he intends to take down The New York Times, the same way Gawker was taken down. Also, the past must be re-written to support reactionary mythologies, so History will be targeted. As Russian journalist Masha Gessen notes in her essay, "Rules for Survival" in an autocracy, institutions are fragile: "It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system". So pick an institution and defend it. Subscribe to your favorite source of journalism with cash money. I subscribed to the Washington Post a few months ago, when I saw them leading the charge against Trump.
  1. Practice corporeal politics. Professor Snyder says power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march in the streets with them. Events like this can be a model for future political participation.

In 2016, as Pericles warned, politics has taken an interest in us, and unfortunately, we need to take an interest in politics.

Thank you.


  1. Anonymous said...

    I would recommend reading the book, The Fourth Turning. History is quite cyclical, and we are entering a cycle phase of nationalism once a gain. It's doubtful anything can really be done about it. The cycle after that will be the protest cycle.  


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