The Year of Good Trouble

Warning: this newsletter contains swears and fun fur

Hi! I’m Sarah. Minimum Viable Planet is my weeklyish newsletter about climateish stuff, and how to keep it together in a world gone mad. I’m always curious to know what you think.

A million years ago, on a quiet street in Toronto. Or: Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

Teddy (7): Why are you giggling?
Me: Because I’m really happy. Sometimes people giggle when they’re extremely happy.
Teddy: Weird.

Yes, my son called out my glee. I was full of mirth because it looked almost certain that Jon Ossoff would clinch the second Georgia Senate seat, thus further repudiating he who shall not be named, but much more importantly, giving the Dems greater latitude to save this pale blue dot. With our help, of course.

But then came the coup. 

I had the same bifurcated response as everyone else: Disbelief + Duh. My dad had predicted it months ago, to a chorus of son-in-law doubts on our family WhatsApp chat (I know, we’re going to switch to Signal). Yet still the tenuousness, the weakness of institutions, and the profoundness of the rot took my breath away. Democracy upended by a white supremacist in a Chewbacca bikini, as someone somewhere on the Internet said. 

But I gave myself some grace, took some deep breaths, walked a borrowed corgi with my daughter (recommend!), and sat out this newsletter for a week (people had enough to read!). I’m happy to report that I’m ready to pop up my head like the climate whack-a-mole that I am.

Here goes. 

A year ago I heard Kara Swisher call someone a Fatuous Chucklehead and it became my favourite term of art for Trump’s enablers. Just saying it aloud was a micro stress reliever. Try it: Marco Rubio, You Fatuous Chucklehead! Ted Cruz, You Fatuous Chucklehead! But this week, fatuous chucklehead became too light, as I realized the FCs were, in actual fact, Seditious F*ckheads (source: unknown). The line they danced back and forth over for four increasingly fraught years is dead clear now. They meant it (duh!). It really is seditious f*ckery.

I know what you’re thinking: How is she going to tie this back to climate? And a positive way forward?

Well, we’re in a race to save the planet. And seditious f**kery means everything is laid bare. SF is the nadir, the seventh rung, Stephen Miller’s bathroom. Last week Eric Holthaus wrote brilliantly about how white supremacy gave us the climate emergency, and is our biggest obstacle. And he’s right. 

In the coming years we’ll have to fend off militias, block further attempts at government overthrow, quash internet hate and radicalization, change the minds and hearts of millions upon millions of people, and eat our vegetables. But we also have tailwinds now — the strongest Democratic opportunity for meaningful climate action in years, the ever-decreasing costs of renewable energy, and the deepest conviction that a just and sustainable world is the only antidote to hate and violence. And while we always talk about the BAD kinds of tipping points (which are indeed very bad), we’re dangerously close to some good tipping points, too. 

What we saw last Wednesday was petro-masculinity on full display, because Proud Boys and climate denial go together like peanut butter and jelly on white (supremacist) bread. Wait, can I take back that metaphor? It might ruin PB & J for me.

And yet, while all this insurrectionist idiocy was happening, clean energy stocks ticked up. Even as a bunch of seditious f*ckheads cling to hate, the world pulls away. Investors, governments, reasonable humans, and pets can all see an imminent threat that is exponentially more existential than a racist in fun fur. And they’re shifting priorities accordingly. Already, governments have made huge commitments to a net-zero world.

But unstable democracy is the greatest threat to climate action. Which is why we are going to use our climate tailwinds to wash away these racist agitators, to Build! Back! Bettererer!

I didn’t know the phrase Good Trouble or its storied history until last year. It was love at first read, and a love that grew deeper once I understood the phrase’s provenance. RIP John Lewis. So much has been written about the double standard between the way peaceful climate and BLM activists were treated compared to the way the supremacist terrorists were treated. Climate activism is about Good Trouble. Good Trouble, in the words of John Lewis, is about “trying to make the world a better place.”

So let’s make this the year we push further, harder, and stronger for that healthy world. Let’s be pragmatically optimistic and clearheadedly realistic and make all the Good Trouble.

I heard a great metaphor from the amazing Donnell Baird of BlocPower on How to Save a Planet. It jibes with how I feel about our chances for avoiding the worst of climate destruction. I’m a basketball bandwagoner who loves Fred VanVleet so I may be irrationally susceptible to this series of words, but I’ll leave you with them all the same: 

We’re fairly screwed. We have a real authentic shot. It’s not like a half-court shot. It's like a three-pointer down—it’s a corner three, the shortest three pointer of all. It’s not a free throw. It’s not a layup, right? It’s a three-pointer. Like, you need skill. You need focus to hit it. Like—but it’s not—it’s not gonna be luck. Like, it’s within our grasp to do it. And to me, that means we are not screwed. This is within our grasp, if we can get the right people to the right tables to have the right conversations, and get them to focus on the right thing. 

Hope you are safe, healthy, fired up, and ready to go,
Sarah

Good things to read:

Why 2021 could be the turning point for climate change (BBC)

Biden climate team sparks enthusiasm among climate activists (Marketplace)

EU’s ‘Climate Leader’ explains why 202 has left him optimistic (Bloomberg) 

The Year in Cheer (Reasons to be cheerful)

Why did renewables become so cheap so fast? (Our World in Data)

This week: 

What good trouble will you make this year? LMK

Last week:

Lots of great thoughts on individual action for political traction

• Writes Liz: 

I’m especially interested in your perspective on individual action to mitigate climate change and create system change. I’ve written something very similar in the book "Spend Green And Save The World - Tackling Climate Change Through The Consumer-Led Movement" which has just been published. 

As the name suggests the book supports a movement that aims to bring our individual actions together to help make us successful at reducing our collective carbon footprint, creating system change and improving our wellbeing (rather than decreasing it) in the process. Check out consumerledmovement.com

• I got so inspired by my friend Kristen’s wonderful, collaborative program for young climate activists, Rooted and Rising. Check it out and subscribe to her newsletter, too.

• Thank you to the amazing Eric Holthaus for sending so many new readers my way. If you don’t already subscribe to his newsletter, The Phoenix … what are you waiting for? Also, welcome Phoenicians! Please drop me a line to tell me who you are and what kind of ice cream you like.

People dancing:

The end:

Thanks for much for reading. If you’re new here, I’m Sarah Lazarovic. I work on communicating climate policy and carbon pricing by day, and this newsletter and my dance moves by night. If you like MVP you can support it by telling all your friends and frogs about it. Hit the 💚 below to let me know when the newletter is on the right track. And make sure to drag this email into your primary folder so it doesn’t end up in landfill. Have a great weekend!

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