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Alex Steffen @AlexSteffen
, 16 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
What is so off about this whole-issue @NYTmag piece on climate?

Let me share a few initial observations (thread).…
2. First of all, some praise: It's great (and rare) to see an outfit as prestigious as @nytimes devote this much attention to climate change, to foreground the planetary crisis with the emphasis it deserves.
3. As someone who began covering climate change in 1990, shortly after the events described in the piece, it's great to see this critical period of failure spotlit.

We're entering the last decade to ward of planetary catastrophe now because of the failure of leaders to act then.
4. I notice that reactions to "Losing Earth" seem divided along a pretty straight-forward line: Those who work in climate science, journalism or advocacy—and those who don't.

Folks who don't work on climate for a living seem more positive about the piece than those who do.
5. There's a reason for that: It's a long essay that gets its subject wrong, and the ways it goes wrong are ways many of us who work on climate have seen again and again. It's work that doesn't know its history, and so makes old mistakes.
6. Weirdly central in Nathaniel Rich's story is the claim that there existed a time before politics, when climate change was not hampered by opposition: "The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way..."

This is simply untrue.
7. He doubles down on the idea by explicitly exonerating high-CO2 industries+ the GOP

"A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. ...Nor can the Republican Party be blamed."
8. Organized corporate opposition to climate action goes back decades. Conservative ideological opposition was well-established by the early 1970s (look up Limits to Growth).

The Carbon Lobby's long campaign of climate predatory delay did not spring from the air, fully formed.
9. Indeed, it's frankly bizarre to make the claim that the Republican party cannot be blamed, when for most of the 80s, we had the Reagan administration—the most virulently anti-environmental gang to run the White House until Trump came along.
10. That there were still, then, Republicans with an environmental conscience in public life, and that there were still bipartisan efforts to act does not mean that the 1980s GOP as a whole was not opposed to action. That's a re-writing of history, to dubious purpose.
11. My sense is that the purpose there is not nefarious but narratively expedient: This is the story, primarily, of environmentalist Rafe Pomerance's part in the early climate movement, when he and others were attempting to provoke action with arguments and evidence.
12. The central narrative tension, then, is the premise that they could have succeeded—that science and advocacy could have steered America (and the world) in a wide turn towards sustainability, but the opportunity narrowly escaped our grasp.

I think that's naive.
13. Early climate action—the kind that could have staved off our current planetary crisis—was up against a far uglier opposition than early advocates realized.

The early climate movement didn't stumble, it was pushed. Hard.
14. That story is harder to tell, and Rich was trying to make the most of his material. That's understandable.

But in so doing, he doesn't just minimize the extent of the opposition to climate action during the Reagan administration, he practically erases it.
15. That's a serious failure of climate journalism, because that history of opposition continues to define the core of climate politics today.

The central question of the climate crisis is not "Can we reduce emissions?" but "How long can high-carbon industries delay action?"
16. Here's where the piece goes wrong, I think: It tries to make the story one of noble (if inevitable) failure on everyone's part; along the way, it misses the bigger story—the appalling success of powerful interests who chose to preserve profits while setting the planet ablaze.
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