Welcome back to The Planet You Save, a weekly newsletter on local climate action. I'm Taylor Kate Brown and I'm reading about the implication of America's fossil fuel export boom for those who live nearby. As a reminder, this newsletter grows entirely by word-of-mouth. You can forward on this email, share this edition on the web or subscribe here.
(Screenshot of the Probable Futures website)
Our world, and how we live in it, is going to change. That's always been true, but climate change makes the way we choose far more pressing. That's one of the underlying messages of Probable Futures, a website, platform and narrative project from a new group in partnership with the Woodwell Climate Research Center.
Probable Futures shows the connection between global and local effects of climate change. Want to know how many days will be above 90F where you live at a 3C warmer global temperature? Need to understand what's different about how humans are changing the climate now versus other times when the climate has changed? This isn't a quick facts or a 10-things-you-need-to-know kind of website, but its not dense with jargon or assumes knowledge. It's data-backed but not technically written. As a bonus, it's beautifully done.
But Probable Futures would likely have been another link to share in this newsletter if I hadn't read this letter by Alison Smart, the executive director of the project. I won't summarize it entirely, as I think its worth your time to read in full. I was taken by how it describes the experience of internalizing what climate change really, truly means for our world and our ability to live with in it — and what happens next.
I wanted to talk to Alison about that letter as well as what makes Probable Futures different. Our conversation has been condensed & edited.
Who is the audience for Probable Futures? What's different about it than other resources?
We built Probable Futures to be very widely accessible. Our intended user is really anyone who are just starting out, or really just internalizing kind of what's happening and what they need to do. But there are some specific audiences that we had in mind, especially for the maps and in using the data. There are a lot of people in the both in government and in the private sector who are now on the climate change, beat, basically, in their organization. We need to build a more climate literate society, because eventually everyone's jobs are going to be focused on climate change. And we're in the first wave of that now.
What's different is that we are not trying to give answers, we are trying to help people ask good questions.
— Alison Smart
I've seen a number of examples of [roles] where they know the business but now, they're put in charge of getting to the net-zero goal for the company, and they need to get oriented. So we created this as a framework for thinking about climate change, and then tools to take action on it. It's for people who have some lever of change in their hands for their organization. And for what it's worth, I think, we all as individuals have those levers of change in our hands. So that's why it's widely accessible, and you can apply it to your own life. But you could also apply it if you're a city mayor, or a sustainability director.
What's different is that we are not trying to give answers, we are trying to help people ask good questions. So we're making data, tools, and frameworks for thinking about it available, so people can apply it to their own particular situation, whatever that situation might be. We don't claim to have all the answers.
I think what's missing is that there is not a central resource for this kind of information. There is no one public utility for climate change projections that everyone in the world has access to, and that everyone is getting the same information. And that comes with information [about the data] and guiding principles to help someone actually use it right now.
Right now, climate change data is maybe one group or one media outlet has developed, you know, this tool with a few knobs and buttons, and maybe there's something different over here. There's also an industry of climate data service providers that will customize and package and sell climate data for a fee. But there is not just that central resource where we can all have the same baseline to understand what's coming.
How has it been used so far?
So we made some of the maps and data available through a tool that Mapbox has. There's an organization that has combined the heat maps with information on elected officials. So you can look at a particular county and see what the warming trajectory is, and it includes all of the elected officials that are in that particular place. So it puts these two things together to encourage advocacy. There's another organization that has a disaster planning tool, and has incorporated some of the night-time heat data into that tool, because night-time heat can be very harmful to human health and can be an indicator of where, disaster response might need to be directed.
I was really taken by your director's letter, in which you said your family has started making changes mindful of these realities, and that you've also began to experience the benefits and trade offs of leading a life that is framed by climate awareness. Can you talk about what those benefits and tradeoffs are?
There are some pretty straightforward ones. We have largely cut most meat out of our diets. We have a more plant based diet, and that, frankly, is just healthier, it feels good. It is also a fun challenge that unites our family. We try different recipes together and figure out what we like and what we don't.
Another example would be travel: we live in this way now, where many of us live very far away from our loved ones. In recognizing the climate impact of travel, we need to prioritize and make really tough decisions about where we're going to go and when and what's important. I think that that really influences how we think about where we're going to live in the future and what we encourage our children to do.
If you're a parent, it really does have an impact: you think about the different values that you're giving your children, When I was growing up, it was very much the farther you go and the more different things that you're doing, the more successful you are in life. I think that will change in the future. Being climate aware is more than just reducing your carbon footprint, but it is also recognizing that climate change is here, and it's happening, and we need to incorporate it into our decision making.
We decided to move recently, and one of the things that we decided was that, okay, we're largely going to give up travel, but we do have a bigger piece of property now, because we're staying home. And also instead of furnishing our new home, we put all of our money into getting solar panels. Instead of traveling, my kids spend most of their time in the woods. We spend most of our time at home together as a family, whereas previously, it was a lot more disjointed.
(Screenshot of Probable Futures)
What possibilities do you see there in terms of climate awareness in local communities?
I am hopeful for a future that has more local community, more of a community connection. I think we have lost that over time. So in the future, in order to reduce emissions, things are going to have to be more sourced locally. And there's just more physical climate risk, so we will need to band together as a community more. I think about things like the expectation that everybody has a single family home, that that's what everybody strives for. Perhaps in the future that isn't such an expectation, that isn't a measure by which your success in life is evaluated. I can envision a life that is more community based, more locally based, and that has more human connection.
In the Onward section, there's a variety of further reading, artists and a few groups that do work on climate change. How did you choose the further reading among potentially endless options on the subject? And how did you end up choosing groups, some with very different worldviews including McKinsey Global Institute and Extinction Rebellion?
We chose what just what was really influential for us and and the things that helped change our mindsets. One [book] in particular, that had a big impact on me was Jenny Odell's How to Do Nothing. It helped me start thinking about different ways of living and and the fact that climate change is, frankly, a symptom of the value system that we have created. Another one was Radical Hope, which looks at a community that was faced with radical fundamental change, and how the leaders of that community were able to lead their community and navigate over the horizon of what they just couldn't see. I think we're in a time of that right now.
So there are different groups coming at this issue from different perspectives, but the most important thing is that, you know, the groups that we've that we've put on the site are tackling it, and they are publicly recognizing the scope, the scale and the urgency of the issue. Every group is going to come at it with a very different worldview, and both groups have influence in different communities and in different ways.
What's your "lever of change" in your community or company? Take a look at Probable Futures and reply to this email with what you think.
California desperately needs housing, and one of Southern California’s longest running development battles has ended after two decades with an agreement to build a nearly-20,000 home "net-zero" community. While it looks like electric vehicles will be a huge part of this effort, wildfire concerns haven't gone away.
After several years fight, a Canadian energy company has called it quits on a controversial natural gas pipeline and marine export terminal on the southern Oregon coast.
Revamping net-metering policies (i.e. the policies that allow homeowners to sell electricity back to the grid) are the source of lots of tension in several states between utilities, home owners and solar installers. A new agreement between Duke Energy, solar companies and environmental groups in North Carolina to change the state's net metering rules looks very different. (Whether or not it becomes policy is up to the state's utility commission, which as I wrote before, is increasingly important in getting the state to its climate goals.
More updates from previous editions: San Diego has voted to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry.
"Meet an Ecologist Who Works for God (and Against Lawns)": This profile is about a Catholic project to create wildlife friendly habitats and gardens, for but also the reaction in one Long Island neighborhood to a project close to home — the land around his house formerly known as his lawn.
An interesting concept: taking the hot water around abandoned oil and gas wells to create geothermal power — one Colorado company is trying it.