(Monet – ‘Reflections on the Water’)
The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C, 20 Years Later
by Harper Ruby Scott (social citizen score: 73.9)
Almost all the polar bears are gone. The most hopeful estimates have them going extinct within the next ten years. Others say five. I have no recollection of polar bears. I was alive when there were a comparatively large number of polar bears around, but I don’t remember them. My only recollection of polar bears when I was young was being aware of them in the context of climate change; and their dwindling population, and the need to protect them. That is the extent of my memories of polar bears back then.
Here’s something you may not be aware of: we were warned over and over again about the polar bears. And about climate change. And about what was needed to avoid the global catastrophes that we are facing today. There was, in fact, a report issued in late 2018 that was briefly talked about and worried over for a time.
The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15) was released on the 8th of October, 2018. Here is what was happening in in the world in the days before and after the report was released; journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Senate confirmed Justice Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination, Hurricane Michael approached the Florida Panhandle, and was at the time, the strongest hurricane to ever make landfall in that region. Here were the top Twitter trends in the U.S. on October 8, 2018:#WhatNotToDoInABookstore, #IndigenousPeopleDay2018, #WASvsNO, #INSen, #HimToo, #HurricaneMichael, Google+, #MirandaSingsLipstik, Chris Martin, #ClassicChildhoodLessons.
I was fifteen when the report was released. It was my sophomore year of high school and I’m sure I did not hear about it. Here’s what I was probably thinking about on the 8th of October: homecoming, seeing “A Star is Born”, being excited about “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”, a vague sense of hoping that the Democrats would win in the upcoming elections, though I’m sure I barely understood the difference between the House and Senate, or recounts or what was going on with Trump (and of course I had no inkling about how bad 2019 would be), watching “Riverdale”, being excited about Sabrina on Netflix, and what Kaylee posted about me on Instagram and then deleted.
I’m not saying we weren’t aware there were problems in the country and the world. Plenty of my peers in high school definitely talked about social issues and climate change, often in a kind of silent competition of “wokeness”. It’s just not easy to keep up with all the news when you’re fifteen. And, perhaps, in the pre-civil war days of the country, with the constantly accelerating news cycle; a new scandal, a new breaking story every day, it wasn’t easy for the adults to keep track of everything either. What causes were truly worth putting your time and energy into? What stories were most worth following. How much could you focus on tuning out the noise and fake news and social media chaos?
In the summer after my junior year, one of the longest periods of economic expansions in U.S. history finally came to an end, the market correction came, and how could anyone be talking about climate change when so many people were out of work and just trying to survive.
In my senior year of high school, Beto was elected president, and in the summer between high school and college, our country continued its descent into chaos. Joblessness and poverty and panic exacerbated the volatile political climate and no one was thinking of climate change. Rising sea levels, endangered species, flooding, and mass wildfires were just a backdrop to militias and domestic terrorism and sectarian violence and martial law and knowing your exits. There was chaos and fear and the most liberal families secretly admitting to each other that they have made sure to have at least one firearm in the house.
The entirety of my college experience was spent during America’s civil war. My journalism classes were coupled with self-defense lessons, de-escalation tactics, and survival training that I was lucky enough to only have to utilize during two raids on the campus by right-wing militias.
It was a horrible time for this country, and of course we didn’t seem to have much time or energy to focus on the increasing amounts of flooding, drought, extinction, and wildfires across the planet. It was not until the end of the Twenties that any kind of meaningful government action was taken toward climate change, and even then, it was only policies that were small and incremental.
The creation of the Department of Sustainability was perhaps the largest and most meaningful of these actions. Founded in 2027, the same year as the Department of Entertainment and Gaming, it was largely hampered by the new Republican senate.
It was not until Unity Party control of the Executive Branch was acquired after the 2032 election, and President Gabbard, our soldier in the White House, who ran on restoring normalcy and combating climate change, did the Department of Sustainability acquire real teeth.
Dr. Manjul Sreenivasan is a climate scientist who heads several major programs in the department. I first talked to him in August, and he spoke highly of the work he was doing but admitted to wishing more could have been done. “If we had gotten started fifteen, or maybe even ten years before the department was founded, we’d have been able to make a much bigger difference. A world of difference.”
My day usually starts by getting my Amazon MocaccinoPrime (click here for a chance to win free Prime work-points) and getting on the East Side Access tunnel from Queens, and it’s always slowed or delayed due to the near-constant construction on the series of concrete moats and walls designed to combat the yearly flooding in Manhattan and Brooklyn. A daily reminder of the failures and drastic measures we’ve had to take to lessen the mass destruction of climate change. Once I get into Manhattan, however, if I look high enough, I can see the vertical farms funded by corporate contracts with the Department of Sustainability, and my Leftist guilt over the commodification of saving the planet gives way to being enthralled by the site of a vast array of food crops behind the giant glass skyscraper walls, and I feel like it’s not all so hopeless.
That’s the general feeling I have about these things. Sometimes you see glimmers of progress here and there which are slightly dimmed by the shadow of capitalism and consumerism, which gives way to cynicism.
It’s hard not to be cynical. Especially when you meet someone like Emma Prevadi. The ever-controversial singer recently released a song called “No Ice”.
“I just feel so strongly about this issue, feel?” Emma said to me when I did a vid-chat with her about her upcoming set at the Climate Aid concert. “And what’s great is, if you pay for the premium version of the No Ice video, half of that goes to the Pepsi Save the Polar Bears Initiative and I just think that’s so shiny.”
There’s a certain sadness I can sense in Emma when she talks to me. The Climate Aid concert is her last performance before she has to go into two years of national service due to not attending college nor joining the military, although she will hardly be gone from the public eye during those two years. She will have a movie coming out in January, starring herself and a recreation of 1983 Tom Cruise. Some funds raised from the Climate Aid concert will be going to help the mobile camps for Florida climate refugees.
After the recent November elections, which saw the Republicans take back control of the Senate and the House, running on promises to roll back the federal overreach of Democrat and Unity policies, including defunding much of the Sustainability and climate-study programs, I talked to Dr. Sreenivasan again.
He appeared sadder than when we last spoke, but a sadness that seemed to be qualified by hope in something outside of government. “It’s funny,” he said. “I suppose many parts of the country, especially the insurrectionist and free-county areas still don’t even recognize the legitimacy of the federal government, and obviously not the Department of Sustainability. And states with Republican super-majorities pass all kinds of laws allowing more drilling, fracking, you name it. I think the truth is that when you get down to it, it’s really up to people, individuals, to do what they can to stem the tide in the time we have left. After the formal end of the civil war in this country, and twenty years since the 2018 Report, maybe, finally, we can stop fighting each other and unite behind fighting the threat that spans our whole planet.”
He sighed before continuing, “but what can we do? Most people struggle just to afford living. Social Security is gone. The Work For Housing program is a joke. To simply live is often anyone can do. Governments, in the end, aren’t going to just give people the tools to fight this. I’m not a socialist, but global capitalism isn’t going to give you the means to fight this.”
I told him that sounded pretty bleak.
“Well, maybe. But maybe people will start looking at things more locally, or even just person to person. I do have faith in people,” he said, before pausing and looking out the window as a drone flew by, before repeating, “I do have faith in people.”
This past weekend, I visited the Brooklyn Digital Zoo. They use revisualization tech, utilizing old footage which they are constantly on the hunt for, to recreate as closely as possible holograms of animals who are extinct or going extinct. The vid-techs want the most recent footage they can find, as it’s usually the highest resolution, and best for converting to holographic imagery. Unfortunately, that comes with a problem; most of the video usually shows animals in terribly sad situations. A penguin on a rapidly melting block of ice, cut off from its flock. A polar bear, thin and emaciated and desperate for food it will not find.
“They all look so stressed,” I said while viewing the images in the editing room, “but the ones in the zoo look so content.”
“Well yeah,” the vid-tech said, “we manipulate the holo-recreations so they look happier, more at home, right? More peaceful. But yeah, definitely, in most of the original footage the polar bears look pretty stressed. In the beginning of the process, all our polar bears look stressed.”
-Harper Ruby Scott, 11/10/38
Sam Grady is a writer and student living in the American Midwest. He has had short stories published by Terror House Magazine and Bottlecap Press. He is currently seeking representation for his first novel. You can follow him on Twitter: @SamGrady3000