robertogreco + indaba   1

6, 73: Uummannaq
"Flight is a luxury even in the rich world, but so are most other particularly carbony activities. Eating beef and drinking milk, for example, causes twice as much climate change as every airplane combined. To imagine today’s standard of living without widespread beef-eating, envision bridge subsidies for ranchers and some thinkpiece-worthy changes in the rich world’s palate. To imagine today’s standard of living without widespread flight, envision gravity trains, I guess? Or, liklier, an industrial buildup as metro areas have to be more self-sustaining.

Flight is a problem. I’m not for more flying for the sake of more flying. But it’s also not the problem. We can manage it short of giving up on it. For example, manufacturers can push efficiency beyond immediate market demand. Really, like everything else, flight should have its CO2e cost priced in. Flying from LAX to LHR, say, is about 8.8k km, and for a single person (using typical figures; numbers vary by model) the CO2e released is 1 tonne. A cheap ticket for that flight is about $1000. A tonne of CO2e offset costs right about $15. That’s a 1.5% tax. Probably there are factors I’m overlooking, but it could be several times that much and still lost in the noise of seasonal ticket price variation. If we tackled it like we meant it, instead of with poorly grounded jokes and vague guilt, flight wouldn’t be a big deal.

I argue this forcefully because I’ve seen so many of my favorite people hesitate before flying, on climate grounds. I respect the question, but I want to say: Do it if you want to! Flying for your own sake is wonderful. Travel is worth it, to see somewhere new or to be with people you love. Maybe fly 10% less than you would, and use the savings to buy carbon offsets for the times when you do.

But people don’t like carbon offsets, do they? They’re sometimes compared to indulgences. The criticism is that we can’t individually buy our way out of responsibility for climate change. But in fact we can. I mean, not everyone completely and forever without externalities, but in practice, looking at CO2e per se, absent a substantive critique of the actual in-the-dirt methodology of offsets, we can. We can exchange capital for lack of atmospheric greenhousing. It’s affronting to a common-sense view of responsibility, but it’s how a properly run carbon offset works. We can’t, say, buy a given species back from extinction on a commodity model, but we can most certainly buy a batch of 50,139,800,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms and have them stuck in the ground – that’s really easy. We have a tech that does it pretty much autonomously once you get it set up. But the buying bugs people. I think a lot of what’s scary is the confronting abyss: the knowledge that we can buy carbon, but we’re not.

Another and more valid fear, I think, is about civics and performance: Offsets are private, but a lot of carbony behavior is public, so the norm-setting is tricky. Like, if you see me tweet “crazy week, TNM ✈️ THU ✈️ MAD ✈️ WLG ✈️ EDW ✈️ NKW ✈️ BDT + gonna hold a tire fire beef BBQ in the rainforest, bruhhh”, that’s likely to prompt you to more carbony behavior than otherwise, even if I’ve offset it all by a generous factor. Etiquette discourages us from mentioning in public that we’ve bought things like offsets, so there’s no symmetry of social effect between the positive and negative the way there’s a symmetry of atmospheric effect. That’s a problem in the way that being vaguely indulgence-like isn’t.

And it’s also a better argument against climate summit flights. If lots of people think the summiteers are wasting carbon, that matters, even if they’re wrong – even if the flights were offset, even if what the flights enabled was worth it millions of times over for the planet’s atmosphere. But I think most of us would agree that there are reasonable limits to how far we should go out of our ways to be intelligible to poorly informed people. We should behave in a way that sets a good example for and welcomes civil dialog with whoever is in sight, but we should balance that with doing whatever works best and trying to spread an understanding of why it works best. (In other words, sometimes we have to offset poor information, not just change our behaviors 😏.)

Climate is the super wicked problem. Offsets can’t solve it, and neither can any other single technique. I don’t know what getting through this will look like, but I think it’s going to be messy and involve a lot of rethinking. I say we should go after beef harder than after airplanes. I could be wrong. It’s very complicated."

"What is most valuable in these stories, for me, aside from knowing the life of someone close to me, is an understanding of evil. Grandma was clear that Nazis did not appear out of nowhere as interiorless, historyless avatars of violence. They were neighbors, uncles, the waiter, the mayor, the ladies who lunch, the teens laughing on their way to band practice, the woman who made your socks, dad’s army buddy who saved his life, the post office clerk with the lazy eye, the teacher who keeps the PTA running, the witty guy at poker night, the garbageman who whistles showtunes, the librarian who feeds your cat when you travel. They saw a way out of national and personal distress. They thought the angry politician was maybe not the most trustworthy person, and some of his ideas were a little extreme, but at least he was a corrective to the spineless Weimar incompetence. They found purpose and belonging. And they enabled a war of aggression, and many of them harassed, robbed, imprisoned, enslaved, gassed, drowned, froze, burned, buried, shot, raped, experimented upon, and worked to death their fellow people.

It’s not enough to remember Nazis as symbols of evil. What happened to six million people was not done by metaphors for wickedness, it was done by other people with hands and brains like ours. They were infected with the idea that there are intrinsically good people and intrinsically evil people. They were extremely evil, but not intrinsically. They were wrong in ways that you and I can be wrong. This is the most terrifying thing I know, and I know it from Grandma. What does “it can happen here” mean? I can’t understand as well as she did.

With this knowledge, she led a life of ideological moderation, active respect for other cultures, and firm but not rigid ideals. My sense of her worldview, and I’ll have to check this against transcripts and my mom’s and aunts’ interpretations, is something like: After WWI, her parents and their generation had been trying to educate everyone, to help build an enlightened culture and an equitable society. Fascism killed millions of people and erased that generation’s work. Now the important thing was to pick right back up – to rebuild a healthy human environment, starting today, and this time more fascism-resistant.

I knew Grandma as a grandmother. When I was very young, she was a gentle but earthy old woman with an odd accent, distinctive taste in art, and some mannerisms left over from working as a nurse. And some inexplicable habits, like eating the cartilage and marrow out of a chicken breast if not in polite company, or seeming uncomfortable about low-flying planes sometimes. These stories showed up slowly. “Well, when I was young, sometimes food was scarce. You know, mixing a little sawdust in the bread dough as filler, this kind of thing.”

For a while, I thought she had shifted gears in the ’50s: that she had turned away – that the war had turned her away – from the bohemian liveliness and the meliorist ideals of her youth, and that she had signed over to the American blandness of Disney, housewifehood, art in spare time, a comfortable retirement, and so on. Gradually I saw how much that idea came from books and not from her. I had tried to see her life in terms of Big Ideas And Social Trends: the Weimar times were Like This, WWII was Like That, America in the ’50s was This Other Thing.

I was going backwards. What matters first about the Weimar times is what they were like to live inside. That’s not all that matters, but nothing else matters if that doesn’t. We can’t see into a person’s life through copula sentences: “The Weimar period was materially difficult but intellectually productive”, “Some Allied bombings were ethically difficult”, “The midcentury Hollywood animation establishment was sexist”. Not enough. But maybe: Feeding the goat with dandelions picked from the sidewalks of Lichterfelde. The way the raining city-ashes smelled. That Betty Brenon exclusively hired women at her studio so they could get work done. I can only see Grandma starting with what she saw.

From there, it’s obvious that she did not let go, was not subsumed into the history textbook subheds of the century; she was always moving under her own power, in catastrophic times and in merely imperfect systems. And so was everyone. Grandma was special in many ways, but point to anyone and so are they. Some of us are lucky enough to get to a place where our work can accrete, where we can build a piece of the world we want. Many of us are not. War is only one of the forces that can destroy a person’s chances, or a generation’s work, or a generation. The weight of history is intolerable, an ocean-trench pressure, if we try to take it as a weight. Talking with Grandma helped me take it as a liquid, something that we can equalize against without being crushed, something whose unintelligible mass we can push against and move within.

I hope that we will remember the people who are leaving us now as people. I hope that, one day, we will be remembered as people."
charlieloyd  2015  memory  history  humaity  humanism  evil  wwii  ww2  moderation  fascism  society  climatechange  globalwarming  flying  carbonoffsets  climatetalks  indaba  negotiating  negatiations  listening  indulgences 
december 2015 by robertogreco

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