Over the weekend my wife Andrea Carney told me that Greenland is experiencing another heatwave, not unlike in 2012. And as always the opinion of an expert, at an institution forty-five minutes away from me, brings the iconic island and its—our—challenge ever closer.
It reminds me of a topic I’ve intended to cover here.
Survivor: A Reality Competition
I once got burned, listening to and then watching a TED Talk by someone who claimed to be able to turn desert into meadow. So enthusiastic was I that I sent the talk to family and friends, only to be told by one friend, who had ranching experience, that the claim was preposterous.1 When I looked into it I found out my friend appeared to be right. So, caveat lector; I don’t think I could confirm or deny what follows as easily.
I came across an article online last October and made a note to write about it. Checking now, wouldn’t you know, the author did his own TED Talk in December. When reading the article, all I knew about Douglas Rushkoff was that he often is invited to speak at gatherings of—well, the conclave he discusses in the article was of “a hundred or so investment bankers.”2 I could have moved on at that point but his title and tagline were too intriguing: “Survival of the Richest. The wealthy are plotting to leave us behind.”
On this occasion Rushkoff had agreed to give a keynote address on “the future of technology,” acknowledging that such audiences usually care little about the subject itself but rather want investment tips. Taken into a waiting room prior to what he thought would be his talk, “my audience was brought to me”: five hedge fund kingpins. And hedge they did at first, asking about cryptocurrency and quantum computing. But their real concern was how to survive—even escape—the coming chaos driven by climate.
Rushkoff’s interlocutors had done their homework, asking informed questions about the efficacy of this and that hedge against the inevitable—about the “future of technology” vis-à-vis The Event, as they called it. It’s chilling: not only Rushkoff’s retelling of his queriers’ queries but the fact that they were so obviously, deadly serious. For his answers Rushkoff was paid more than he’d ever received, “by far”—”about half my annual professor’s salary.”
Catastrophe Creativity and Slow-Moving Disasters
Putting this into perspective, the past is filled with callous and ruthless reactions to disasters and such. And so no one can be surprised. And no one should be daunted. The crisis is coming, full stop. To mitigate the chaos, if not the inescapable, folks are organizing.
Because nimble action is required, residents affected by catastrophe are best positioned to convey their needs and effectuate solutions if availed of resources and open ears. Two examples of grassroots first responders that fit this bill come to mind. Common Ground Collective was formed just days after Hurricane Katrina in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, an alliance of local and nearby organizers, providing vital services such as meals and garbage collection.3 Five years later, regarding Hurricane Sandy, Max Liboiron writes, “Growing out of a coalition of activist and community groups, including but not limited to Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sandy coordinated the largest relief effort in New York City’s history, mobilizing over 60,000 volunteers, more than four times the number deployed by the Red Cross.” Liboiron also writes of the “slow-moving disasters” already present in the area.4
Neighborhood networks everywhere have the advantage. And so here in Denver the General Defense Committee of the Industrial Workers of the World has formed for the “defense of the community from threats posed by bosses, landlords, police, and racists.” Thus the GDC is addressing the “slow-moving disasters,” but it surely will respond to climate catastrophe, which always is exacerbated by those posed threats. And last November Andrea and I, and other comrades, attended a presentation (audio/video below) by Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, a national network reflected by its slogan Solidarity Not Charity—“amplifying the grassroots community-led initiatives that blossom following disasters.” We’ll see what building alliances across real and perceived borders can bring.
- I remember my friend’s remark vividly; we were at a memorial gathering to commemorate Marvin Booker, who had been fatally assaulted by Denver Sheriff’s deputies in the local jail.
- I since have found out Rushkoff played keyboard for Psychic TV.
- See the Common Ground Collective entry at Anarchy in Action, which relies almost exclusively on scott crow’s memoir of the experience.
- Max Liboiron. 2015. Disaster Data, Data Activism: Grassroots Responses to Representing Superstorm Sandy, from Extreme Weather and Global Media, Julia Leyda and Diane Negra eds., New York and London: Routledge, 148, 149.