Rewriting the Story

Vestige figures by Rob Mulholland

 

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

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“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ―Neil Gaiman

 

In author Neil Gaiman’s MasterClass series, he describes fictional storytelling as a process by which we learn truths through lies. He points out that while wolves don’t really eat grandmothers and dress up in their clothes, Little Red Riding Hood teaches children that not everyone is who they say they are, and that not everyone is to be trusted—both of which are true.

 

Earlier this week, President Trump suggested on Twitter that the upcoming U.S. election should be delayed, claiming that mail-in voting will make it “inaccurate and fraudulent.” As the New York Times pointed out in response, the President does not have the power to delay an election, and studies have proven that all forms of voter fraud are extremely rare. The lies in Trump’s statement are numerous, but they reveal an important truth: he fears he is going to lose.

 

The stakes of this election could not be higher. In less than 100 days, on November 4th—the day after the election—the United States will officially withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the only global framework currently in place to cooperatively combat the climate crisis. If Trump wins, this act becomes final. If Biden wins, he has promised to immediately reverse it. And as the Guardian underlines in its “Climate countdown” series leading up to the withdrawal, we cannot afford another term with a President who has called climate science a “hoax.”

 

There are a number of other false narratives that surround the climate crisis, including this especially insidious one: that it’s your fault. That if you had only been a better consumer, we could have avoided catastrophe. Lifestyle changes are important, but as Earther writer Yessenia Funes once put it, placing the blame on consumers is shaming them for existing in a system they didn’t build—a tactic to suppress mobilized action against the ones who did. According to a 2017 study from the Carbon Majors Database, just 100 hundred companies are responsible for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

 

Through that lie, we arrive at yet another critical truth: that the climate crisis is not invincible. In reality, many of the solutions required to successfully fight it already exist. For proof, I highly recommend exploring Project Drawdown, the most comprehensive database of climate solutions out there. The more we steep ourselves in solutions, the more we understand that what really stands in our way is a lack of infrastructure to implement them—bringing us back to the importance of this election, and making sure that you are registered to vote.

 

Rewriting the future of the Earth will require us to rewrite the climate narrative, including who the protagonists and antagonists are, what’s at stake and what we are capable of. The story of the climate crisis bears similarities to many familiar myths and fairy tales in which against all odds, everyday people must find their sword and slay the dragon. And as Gaiman said, an important truth emerges in all of these stories: dragons can be beaten. So pick up your sword.

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