plus some novel, at the end of a long Week 1 in Glasgow
I didn’t venture near the climate summit proper today, so you’ll need to check elsewhere for today’s news about who is proposing to spend $100 trillion in 2050 to suck carbon from the air.
(If you want, you can subscribe to this newsletter, and if you pay money for it, my share of the subscription revenues go to help support the launch of Third Act, progressive organizing for people over 60. Because you know what, it really isn’t fair to make 14-year-olds solve the biggest crisis we’ve ever faced by themselves)
Instead today was a day for the streets, and I had the good fun of setting out early in the company of Kim Stanley Robinson for Kelvingrove Park. The scene was a little like the joyful ending of his classic Ministry for the Future: drums beating, and people gathering amidst copses of trees and on top of small bridges for a youth march. Having done my share of time at marches, I’ve become a bit of a protest-sign connoisseur, and there were some excellent ones today, the best of them capturing (the very much called-for) youthful impatience and the local spirit. For instance:
Or this one, a happy reminder that Scottish Rail has just settled a strike:
Stan and I watched as elementary school students gathered in their courtyards for the walk to the park and the chance to hear Greta et al:
Popular culture was on reference, the Scorch being I believe the place the Gladers escaped to in the Maze Runner saga, a desolate hellscape populated (note the masks) by the virus-carrying Cranks
And there were a few that just made you think: it sure would be nice if this was not the world kids had to grow up in.
I feel it’s possible you may have been subjected to enough climate news in the past week, so just a couple of notes:
+An important report on the fair share of emissions reduction and financial aid that each country should be committing to provide.
If we sequence which countries should lead the phase out
fossil fuel production based on their dependence on fossil
fuels for (energy, employment and government revenue),
as well as their abilities to adapt (available alternatives or
access to finance and technology), then the United States
would by far be the first and fastest to phase out.
+A really important piece from David Wallace-Wells that opens up important questions about the justice implications of removing carbon from the atmosphere.
And that’s it! Now some light reading—you can catch up on the first 21 chapters of this yarn, The Other Cheek, by visiting the archive.
The baggage carousel at Denver International Airport spun idly. Gloria and Cass had already played all the games they could think of—sending an apple on a voyage into the baggage room and back out, riding the luggage carts, finding the electric eye that opened the door to the curb outside. Now they were sitting on the floor with their backs against a pillar, and Cass was reading one of the Narnia books, “Prince Caspian.”
“I love Lucy,” said Gloria.
“You’re a lot like Lucy,” said Cass. “You’re brave and smart and kind.”
“And pretty,” said Gloria. “But our apartment doesn’t have any magic. It doesn’t even have a dog.”
“Lucy didn’t have a dog,” said Cass.
“I want a dog,” said Gloria. “A funny dog.”
“I want these thunderstorms to end so the planes can land,” said Cass. They were waiting for six flights, 14 students in total—another twenty had arrived the day before, and others were coming by bus or train. SGI—the Satyagraha Institute—enrolled fifty young each year for a one-year course of study in non-violent organizing. They came from all over the world; Cass Goldfarb had been in last year’s class, and then chosen by the faculty to stay for a second year as an assistant, helping coordinate the archives and running other chores. Gloria—who was five—lived in Colorado Springs, where she’d met Cass at the food pantry where she came with her mother when their food stamps ran out. Now they spent a day together every week.
“I’ve never been on an airplane,” said Gloria. “What’s it like?”
“It’s like a schoolbus, except there’s less room and you have to wear a seatbelt.”
“And they bring you Coke, right?”
“Sometimes,” said Cass. “But the good thing is looking out the window.”
“Do people look like ants?” said Gloria. “And what if ants are really like little people, with books and little suitcases? And what if we’re like ants and giants are going to come along and step on us? Can I have Coke?”
“You cannot have Coke,” said Cass. “Coke is not good for you, and also the Coke company is bad news—they used up all the water in some town in India making Coke and now the people don’t have anything to drink. That’s why there’s no Coke at SGI.”
“What about Coke Zero?” said Gloria.
At that point, the light on the baggage carousel began to flash, and suitcases began to tumble through the wall. Passengers, too, began to pour out of the terminal, and Cass and Gloria jumped up and took their position at the bottom of an escalator, with Gloria holding an iPad that flashed the SGI logo. Their first customer, a slight, tired, and slightly bewildered young woman, identified herself as Memory Nyondo from Malawi. “Are you okay?” Cass asked, because she thought the girl looked as if she might cry.
“I’m okay,” she said.
“Did they give you Coke?” Gloria asked
They retrieved her enormous, battered suitcase, and laid it on its side. Both Memory and Gloria sat on its side, and Memory pulled some string from her pocket. “Do you know cat’s cradle,” she asked Gloria. “My sister’s about your age, and she likes it.” She looked again as if she might cry, but Gloria started running the string over her fingers, and soon they were making Cup and Saucer, and Jacob’s Ladder. “Do you know Witch’s Broom?” Memory asked.
“There’s a lot of witches where you’re going,” said Gloria. “Yoga witches.”
“Hey guys, this is Anand Chowdhury, from Dhaka in Bangladesh,” said Cass. “Can you help him find his suitcase?” By the time they were back with the bag, young people from Ireland, Iceland, and Montreal had gathered, and new arrivals kept stepping off the escalator. Before half an hour had passed, 13 of the students had arrived, and only one name remained unchecked on Cass’s list. Gloria was carefully scanning every face that came down the escalator. “Maybe that’s her—she’s pretty,” she said, as a young woman in cowboy boots and a pink tracksuit descended.
“I don’t think so,” said Cass, looking at her long pink fingernails, but indeed the young woman walked straight to them. “Allessandra Salgado,” she said, sticking out her hand. “From Austin, Texas.”
“Cass Goldfarb,” said Cass. “From, um, New Jersey. And now SGI.”
“I’m Gloria,” said Gloria. “I like pink.”
“Do you?” said Alessandra. “Call me Allie. Let’s go find my suitcase and I’ll show you something funny.”
A minute later they returned, with Gloria rolling a pink garment bag behind her. Alessandra knelt down, opened the suitcase, and extracted a pair of running shoes, and from the toe of one she pulled a small pink handgun. Cass recoiled, grabbing Gloria; they stumbled into a short boy from Taipei, Winston Liu, who looked on wide-eyed.
“What is that,” said Cass.
“You never seen a pink one?” said Allie. “It’s from Charter Arms, they call it the Pink Lady. They sell them for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We had a raffle for it at the sorority.”
“Can I see it,” said Gloria.
“Put it away,” said Cass.
“They don’t allow concealed carry in Colorado, except for residents,” said Allie. “I looked it up. So I’ll just put it in this little holster here on my boot. Now we can go.”
God do I wish MK were here, Cass thought, as she bundled the tired crew of students into the van. MK, she thought, would know what to do. Cass was still a little scared just from the sight of the gun. And by the time she’d gotten the van out of the airport parking lot, she was annoyed that Gloria was snuggled up in the second row of seats next to Allie, learning the secret Tri-Delt handshake.
“Wait, if it’s a secret how can you tell it to me,” said Gloria.
“Oh, cause I know you’re going to grow up to be a Tri-Delt,” said Allie.
“I am?” said Gloria. “Do you like Coke?”
“I love Coke,” said Allie, as the van pulled into the Colorado twilight, the air washed clean by the thunderstorms, the front range of the Rockies hanging in clichéd purple majesty to the west.
“It’s my fault, completely,” said Maria. She and the rest of the SGI faculty were in their small meeting room. “When Cass came back and told me what had happened at the airport, I went and pulled Allessandra’s application.”
“She wants to be called Allie,” said Cass, who was at the meeting because she’d graduated from student to research assistant for Professor Vukovic.
“Allie, then,” said Maria. “Anyway, had I really read her application, it would have been clear she spent last year at the University of Texas Austin organizing the local chapter of a national student effort for the right to carry concealed handguns. A very effective campaign, it must be said—so effective that the college dean resigned in the spring, rather than teach on a campus where kids were now allowed to bring weapons to class. But I didn’t know about that. When I looked at the application I saw: handguns, Hispanic, girl. Taking precisely the demographic shortcuts we warn people about, I assumed she was, um, against them. It was a busy spring, but that’s not much of a defense.”
“Can we keep her from carrying her gun on campus?” asked Professor Lee.
“Apparently not,” said Maria. “According to our lawyer, Colorado law makes it legal for a licensed gun owner to take their weapon anywhere they want. She can’t conceal it—only residents can get that permit. But she can keep it out in the open if she wants.”
“Which is a problem,” said Tony—Professor Goccilupe, who taught “Art of Activism.” “Because it’s freaking people out. People including me. My class demands openness; it’s all about people letting down their barriers. Learning to act, to use emotion, to trust each other. I’ve got 25 kids in her section, plus one gun, and everyone in there is aware of where that gun is all the time.”
“There is something slightly . . . insane about having a girl with a gun wander around the only school on earth devoted to nonviolence,” said Professor Sunil Ramakrishnan, an Indian woman who specialized in Gandhian history.
“She’s carrying something even worse, really,” said Tony. “That fat copy of Atlas Shrugged. I was three minutes into the first class, talking about the way that we have to learn to depend on each other in movements, and she was raising her hand to quote from Ayn Rand. ‘If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men must reject.’ We spent the next hour debating whether government was a good idea. Not how to pressure governments to make change. Whether to have governments at all.”
“Who is—Anne Rand?” asked Professor Lee. Born in China, she was the school’s computer specialist.
“Ayn Rand,” said Professor Kinniston—Tony’s husband, the school’s evidence and data specialist, who was speaking with far more emotion than he usually allowed himself. “Ayn, rhymes with ‘mine.’ Mid-twentieth century American political philosopher. Originally emigrated from Russia, die-hard opponent of collective action, strong believer in laissez-faire capitalism, hated religion. She had many acolytes—Alan Greenspan, the chair of the Federal Reserve, crashed the planet’s economy by following her basic ideas.”
“It doesn’t sound like she’d be hugely popular,” said Professor Lee.” At least with young people.”
“No, that’s where you’re wrong,” said Mark. “Her books mostly attract a certain kind of young person—most young people have some kind of idealistic streak, and for smart, loner high school kids her arguments are emotionally powerful. They read those books and convince themselves that they’re the heroes of the drama. That it’s literally wrong to pay attention to other people. That the individual is all that matters. It’s a kind of poison—when I was a high school debater, I knew dozens of young people who’d taken it in large doses. Drink it and it’s fine to spend your life accumulating. If regulations get in your way, bust through them. You have unlimited moral license. Go to a pier some day at some fancy tropical island: St. Barts, say, or Portofino. Find the biggest yacht on the wharf, the hundred-and-fifty-footer. There’s a reasonable chance that it’s called the John Galt, after her great hero, or maybe the Fountainhead, her other classic book. She’s the Gandhi of greed.”
“She’s very popular now in India, in fact,” said Professor Ramakrishnan. “Everything is about the ‘aspirational class,’ the people who are building the ‘new India,’ and there are little books of her quotes.”
“Allie is strong,” said Linny Matthews, who taught Physical Activism. “She climbed the rock wall like a gecko, once I made her take the holster off. And she’s determined. And she’s already kind of popular, at least with some of the kids.”
“With Gloria,” said Cass, mostly under her breath.
“I suppose I could make her leave,” said Maria. “It’s sort of becoming a tradition, what with Matti last year.”
“You could,” said Mark. “But it would be a little embarrassing. We are, I think, dedicated to the principle that non-violent action can beat weapons. Real weapons—armies with weapons. So the idea that we can’t deal with a 19-year-old with a pistol and a copy of Ayn Rand is a little demoralizing. It’s possible we’ll turn her around before she turns the school around. In fact, if we don’t we should probably re-think what we’re up to.”
“And it is true that you never quite know how kids are going to turn out,” said Tony. “I mean, it’s possible that our most accomplished student last year was Perry, and we all thought he was a failure.”
“Then if it’s okay with everyone, we will try,” said Maria. “But Cass, this year you are going to read every application that we’re considering taking. Because clearly I’m not up to the challenge.”
And with that the faculty meeting moved on, to reports from colleagues in India where the Dalai Lama’s walk was now nearing Sabarmati, the ashram Gandhi had established in 1917 and returned to throughout his life. “It will be a big day,” Tony told them all. “We’re working on a simulcast of a prayer service to go out all over the world. And we’ve got some other ideas.”
“How is the DL holding up,” Maria asked.
“Remarkably well,” said Professor Ramakrishnan. “The air’s been clearer since they got through Delhi, though the pollution near Sabarmati is supposed to be almost as bad—it’s basically a suburb of Ahmedabad these days. But they’re taking it slow and easy.”