What The Times Magazine Got Wrong About Climate Change
Robin’s Book Report #42
A reading list by Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein
Can brand-new condos increase racial segregation? I wrote about a recently dismissed lawsuit that wanted the city to analyze how racial minorities are affected by new housing developments. Most articles, about this case, got many of the details wrong, so read my article for a better take.
Consider this a timely follow up of my newsletter about ultra-responsibility. Naomi Klein responds to the conclusion of the New York Times Magazine story about how climate change was almost dealt with in the late 1980s. The Times Magazine article concludes by suggesting it is a fundamental, unchangeable flaw in human nature that fails to deal with big, abstract problems like global warming. Klein finds this to be an inadequate summation. She thinks the failure to halt carbon emissions is not a problem of human nature, but of our screwed up social contract that is now presupposes self-interest and the primacy of corporate profits.
I agree with her. The conclusion of the Times Magazine story represents a failure of imagination. We are captives of the dark, Hobbesian fatalism that is inherent in neo-liberal thought (that each individual is responsible to no one, and thus there’s nothing to be done about Big Problems). But when we change our minds, we change the world. As Nina Simone said in her addendum to “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”:
“One day I thought I could fly
I woke up and thought I could fly
I’d look down at the sea
and I wouldn’t know myself
I’d have new hands
I’d have new feet
I’d have new vision
My eyes would be open a little better
Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”
I consider this a tract on the possibility of change and how unknowable the future is. The future is defined less by events and peoples than it is by the ideas that influence them. Surely humans failed to deal with carbon emissions, but was it an inevitable moral flaw? Are we doomed to burn for our sins? What does the future hold? Maybe something else.
The founder of GoPro stashed half of his IPO windfall in a charity called “Silicon Valley Community Foundation.” It’s an opaque organization, and it’s not apparent whether the money was ever distributed to charity. In the second article, the author looked into whether Elon Musk had used the charity loophole to stash cash from his Tesla IPO and–surprise!–he did.
A museum in Indianapolis turned itself into what is essentially a quirky a food hall. They now, as vague and trendy business-types would have it, offer “experiences.” You can taste craft coffee, glug micro-brews, go mini-golfing, and–most importantly–touch the art. The author of this essay, Rob Horning, thinks that this has something to do with social media. But there’s nothing persuasive in this article suggesting that it does, beyond the very tired idea that phone’s get between us and art, mediating our experience. But all kinds of things mediate our experiences, far beyond phones. Untamed thoughts can easily come between you and an art experience. Hormones can also get in the way of “pure” experience. I remember asking my friend Andy in high school, who had just taken a date to see the movie Van Helsing, how the movie was. He was like “I have no idea.”
The real problem is that museums cannot survive as a repository of historical objects if people cannot decipher their meaning. If regular museum-goers are not well-versed in art history, a non-experiential approach (with art plunked on the walls and plopped on the floor) leaves them cold, like a book written in a language you don’t know. Sure, it would be great to read The Odyssey in the original Greek, but maybe English or YouTube will have to do.
Museums are bringing in other activities and it has little to do with Instagram. The Walker Art Center had artist designed mini-golf when I was in high school. I don’t know of another period in history when art was consumed “better” than any other time. Were museums better in the 1950s, the heyday of Abstract Expressionism? Did artist have more consequence in the culture? Or even simply make more money? Art vitality has to do with audiences fluency with it’s lexicon, and the creators of art desire to engage and connect with the audience.
Since the reign of Napoleon, fraud in finance remains the same:
“In 1814, Charles de Berenger colluded with Sir Thomas Cochrane and six others to accumulate a large position in UK gilts before he appeared in Dover disguised as a Bourbon officer and reported that Napoleon had been killed, sending a letter to the Admiralty in London to that effect and staging a parade across London Bridge to proclaim an allied victory. UK government bonds rose on the news and they then sold their holdings for a profit.
Some 199 years later, the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that a fabricated Twitter account was used to spread false and negative news about Audience, a technology company, and Sarepta Therapeutics, a biotech company.”
The bottom half of the economy’s debt fuels the economy at large. It’s their mortgage, medical and car debt. Debt is useful, but it’s also spackling tool to smooth over the transition from a nation with savings, to a nation that is completely impoverished.
From the article:
“In the past, rising incomes of the upper 40 percent of earners have driven most of the consumption growth, but since 2016 consumer spending has been primarily fueled by a run-down in savings, mainly by the bottom 60 percent of earners, according to Oxford Economics.”a