How to think about 2022

A preface to action

 
Living in 2022 and the foreseeable future requires not only different Action Steps, but radically different thinking to inform those actions. For you, for me, for everybody.

As I try to do these things for myself, I share them with you. That’s the deal.

And as my friend David Roberts at Volts puts it, the goal (at least for the two of us) isn’t “quantity of information, but quality of understanding.”

It’s why this newsletter evolved from a list of pull-quotes of news items, to using the news as a springboard for a cohesive and generalist analysis of where we’re going, and what the hell you can do about it.

We do, in effect, a combination of opinion and solutions journalism. It’s science for people who give a shit.

So instead of a standard “here’s my 5 takeaways from 2021” or “here’s our best/most clicked-on content”, here’s how I’m thinking about where we are, and what’s coming.

  1. The future is here and we’re in it. All of us.
  2. It turns out we’ve beenin it, and while we didn’t do enough to prevent some truly brutal outcomes, we have done enough to stave off the worst of those.
  3. There are unpredictably rough waters ahead.
  4. So acknowledging this reality, how do we think about it?
  5. We’ve talked quite a bit about using a “first principles” modelto get to the bottom of these problems, and then using a mission-oriented approach to solve them.
  6. Getting successfully to the bottom means identifying the fundamental pieces of the puzzle.
  7. And I think in 2022, frankly, we’re going to increasingly discover that the fundamentals of the planet have changed quicker than we thought they would.
  8. (exhale)
  9. It’s one thing to say that with some actual fucking federal action we will probably avoid worst-case warming, measured in degrees, it’s another to have (understandably, but terrifyingly) misunderstood the implicationsof any numeric increase in warming; that is to say, the real-world damage it will cause.
  10. All of which means there’s nooooo time like the present to take even more action, like a hundred times more, at every level, from private to public, to reduce the severity and likelihood of more damage.
  11. And yet — incentives continue to mislead or distract us, at best, and at worst, prevent the most significant action, from Brazil to Beijing to Washington, all places where authoritarianism is becoming trendier by the day.
  12. This is profoundly unhelpful, but as long as greed and power remain part of the human condition, I’m not sure we can fix that.
  13. With enough Shit Givers, and enough votes, what we can “fix”, or repair, if not build entirely anew, are the crumbling structures that’ve kept this train going: democracy, and a relatively temperate climate, to start.
  14. To be clear, there’s no silver bullet for fixing democracy, or the climate crisis, like there’s no silver bullet for COVID. It’s why we help you build a portfolio of Action Steps to affect change.
  15. Thus: Anyone who tells you there’s This One Cool Trick To Reverse X is either grossly misled, a moron, or a liar (or all three) — and you should unsubscribe.
  16. But before you do, it’s a great moment to ask: What’s this person’s incentive for selling you that silver bullet?
  17. We’re human. There’s always incentives. Sometimes they’re helpful!
  18. But understanding external ones — what they are, what they’re asking of you, who designed them, and why those specific peoplegot to design them in the first place — will help you see the matrix for what it is, and make better choices next time, resulting in a better informed populace and a less fucked planet.
  19. What I’m saying is: There has never been a better time to schedule a recurring reevaluation of your self-awareness.
  20. Namely — What are you exposed to?
  21. No, seriously. Listen. Hope isn’t a plan, and failure isn’t an option, but somewhere in between it’s vitally fucking importantthat you come to terms with the fact that the world will never again resemble or operated the way it was promised to you, and consequently, your life as you imagined it will be different, too.
  22. (exhale again)
  23. And here’s the thing: lots and lots and lots of folks aren’t interested in even having that discussion with themselves, or anyone else, and may in fact be so committed — or incentivized — to not doing so that they’ll spend considerable energy and resources trying to hold us back, or push us in the other direction.
  24. This is not ok, and I’ve had enough of it. The media can do more, the media must do more.We have to call an insurrection an insurrection, we have to call lies lies, we have to call predatory delay exactly that.
  25. You’ve already done this step, because you’re reading this, but do it every week:
  26. Assess where you’re getting your information. Not just your silver bullet solutions, but your news, and your context.
  27. Assess where your parents and kids and colleagues are getting their information, from library booksto podcasts.
  28. Remember: Incentives drive everything, your attention has been stolen, and only you can take it back.
  29. Consider the implications, always.
  30. But recognize that while we’ve all obviously used fossil fuels, etc, 1) You were lied to and 2) You can never do enough, and never be perfect, and neither can anyone around you — and that’s OK.
  31. All you can do is all you can do.
  32. But still — consider the implications of (like, actually write down on a piece of paper) a vastly and increasingly changing world, and of leadership who’s having an even more difficult time than you are wrapping your head around it.
  33. I’m a firm believer in a managed transition to a cleaner power economy, and a cleaner, more equitable transportation economy with 1/10th the moving parts and uniquely skilled service workers required.
  34. But on the other hand, I also believe we’re high-stepping towards a moment when the action required will need to be immediate and drastic, and that doesn’t bode well for a society that hasn’t always tolerated this pandemic with grace.
  35. But there’s good news, too.
  36. While the price of oil is up and will probably go higher, oil majors are selling stranded assets and infrastructure — to private equity groups, yes, who keep them running — but look deeper: They’re spending millions with ad firms on greenwashing your social feeds, they’re losing board seats, so they’re pivoting to plastic, they’re jailing lawyers for contempt, companies that support politicians that prop them up are increasingly being exposed…the system, the bedrock of our power and geopolitics for, oh, 100 years, is flailing.
  37. Not that renewables are ready to go or anything. Hold your horses: Yes, the renewable train has left the building. Wind and solar and batteries are cheaper, more reliable, more flexible, smarter, and cleaner, they explode less and cause the ocean to be on fire less, but:
  38. Our grid is dumb and archaic (watch out for another brutal Texas winter), charging infrastructure is nowhere near ready, and the battery party is going to slow considerably this year as the rare minerals required to scale green power and transportation become increasingly difficult to (at least, ethically) acquire.
  39. 20+ new models of EV’s in 2022 sounds great until you realize that’s a shit-ton of batteries and computer chips, the materials for which are mostly in China, or buried deep in the ocean.
  40. And look, let’s get this out there: I love new tech, but we’re simply not going to Web3 our way out of this (and especially not with Bitcoin and Ethereum committed to “proof of work”).
  41. We have to build and rebuild real shit. Atoms.If Web3 can help do that? Great. Prove it to me, without fucking things up worse. The clock’s ticking.
  42. The same can be said for building an entirely new healthcare system, including an entirely new mental health support structure for those who’ve spent a year and a half of the last two years burnt out and having seen some serious shit.
  43. Yes, a small percentage of humans and the consumption they are addicted to is driving quite a bit of these issues, and you and I may be among those folks, but DeFi and “degrowth” on the whole aren’t going to build long-storage batteries, transmission lines, retrofit a billion buildings, find less gassy rice, or train more Black nurses and doctors.
  44. So:
  45. Consider the second-order effects in all things. God, if I could teach people one model re: climate, COVID, public health, air pollution, maternal health, biotech, Facebook, etc it would be this.
  46. You might be boosted and not as worried about hospitals overflowing (again) with unvaccinated people and health workers who were burned out six months ago, but if I can take you back to 2019, I’d remind you that humans don’t only go to the hospital for COVID, and that’s still the case.
  47. You go to the hospital for elective surgery, or cancer treatments, or emergency room visits, for a million different reasons than COVID.
  48. Conversely, the 80/20 rule works. Consider air pollution.
  49. Eliminating air pollution at the source (mostly power production, transportation, and wood stoves) would not only improve the “sunny day” wellness and health outcomes for millions of marginalized people, but also be a safety net for when, say, respiratory pandemics strike.
  50. Eliminating air pollution means we heat up the Earth far less than we’re projected to, and at the same time, more people can breathe, and be less sick on the daily.
  51. But systemic wins will require all of us, confronting every stage of the problem’s supply chain. And that’s where you and your work comes in.
  52. Back to the mission-oriented approach:
  53. We have to design an outcome (“land a person on the moon”) and then design and measure every process and milestone against that goal. We have to throw the kitchen sink at systemic problems like air pollution, and COVID, like how we did with smoking.
  54. Taking the long view is mandatory.Recent California rains have gone a long way to alleviating drought conditions — but really only so farwithout vastly more significant decarbonization efforts. Desertification is well underway, and probably can’t be put back in the box.
  55. Similarly, the Alpha strain of SARS-COV-2 was devastating for everyone, because our N was everyone alive, but despite eventual mask use and isolating ourselves, without vaccines, people were going to slip up (or ignore those altogether), so millions were infected, mutations happened, and Delta was inevitable.
  56. Viruses will keep seeking hosts until there’s no one left to host them. Eventually you’re gonna take your mask off and get exposed.
  57. As much as they are very clearly not our only recourse — no silver bullets — vaccines make it harder to be punished for making a mistake.
  58. So, today: Delta was worse for folks who remained unvaccinated, but with 4 billion humans entirely unvaccinated and (mostly) not by choice, another variant like Omicron was inevitable, and so on.
  59. Look, it’s wildly impressive that a year after those first vaccine trucks rolled out, we’ve administered almost 10 billion shotsThat’s fucking nuts. We can do hard things (especially with a shit-ton of government scientists and funding! You’re welcome).
  60. But we seemingly remain committed to only doing them for ourselves, and that’s just not going to get it done.
  61. Context is everything. Vaccinating everyone on the planet may cost $10 billion or whatever, and require an unprecedented logistical effort, but we’re in season 3 of this bitch, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the money or test our strengths.
  62. So again, what are you exposed to?
  63. The answer, for everyone, now is: Everything.
  64. The true measure of costs is required, from pipelines to solar panels to nurses to NFT’s to wood stoves. We do ourselves an enormous disservice by steadfastly refusing to do a full accounting of the decisions we make, like not pumping billions into N95/K95 masks and rapid testing, or adaptation/mitigation. What does it take to understand the costs of not doing so are always greater than just paying up front?
  65. Again, I’m not trying to put this on you. amasking you to privately and publicly interrogate why we keep doing this shit,and then use reputable information here and elsewhere to contribute to a communal effort to fucking fix it, starting from the top, but also starting from the bottom.
  66. And it also means going after your own “team” (I urge you to resign from any specific team. We’re about principles and progress here, not allegiances to people and titles).
  67. For example: If you’re a Biden health official and you’re confronting a new strain of the pandemic (one viral experts warned months ago was inevitable) that is both less deadly but vastly more transmissible (do the pie math), but people refuse to do lockdowns again, and you need to keep schools open at all costs — why would you tell people they could come out of isolation after five days, but without a negative rapid test?
  68. When these rapid tests work expressly well at measuring when you are maximally infectious?
  69. Why would you front and say it’s because you don’t know how well they do that, and instead just admit “We couldn’t ask much less require you to test at five days because there are no tests, because we fucked up and didn’t order more.”
  70. All of this and especially when we have incredible vaccines that make a PCR test nearly pointless? When the only thing that matters at this point is transmissibility?
  71. You, me, the media, we have to keep asking these questions about the second-order effects of elections, and decision-making, and then keep pushing, no matter who’s in power, but always with a clear and measurable goal in mind.
  72. There’s just an incredible amount on the line before November, and not cratering into oblivion is both doable, but will take all of us.
  73. So, while I’m not attempting any predictions here, I’m keeping an eye on a few big areas, namely: water in all forms (too much and too little); EV sales; methane reductions (to buy us time); frontline medical worker burnout and resignations (it’s so bad); and the financial system’s exposure to climate-related risks (whoooo boy).
  74. Because, look. The climate situation moving fast. There’s so much we can still do to slow it, but need to aggressively package mitigation and adaptation at every turn.
  75. We’re past “trust the science”. Everybody gets it.
  76. They’re just either interested in forestalling the worst, or incentivized not to. Again, it’s why we do “science for people who give a shit.”
  77. Personally, if you can’t tell, I’m pissed off.
  78. I try to avoid coming across as pissed off all the time, but it turns out, the opposite may just be helpful. Emotions, and particularly, anger, seem to be contagious, and may elevate expectations for action. And we’re all about action.
  79. COVID remains a test on everything we do.
  80. It’s an opportunity to rebuild everything we do from the ground up with new direction/perspective.
  81. If COVID was a pop quiz on the choices we’d made before March 2020, it continues, every day, to quantify how we think and operate, and where we stand.
  82. But, like clean energy, or free and expanded public transportation, it also offers tremendous opportunities for doing better. We can choose to spendthe money necessary to save millions of lives in low-income countries, but also drastically reduce the odds of a variant more dangerous than Omicron, or even Delta.
  83. We have learned (and re-learned) so much about our health: a hundred years ago, public health wasn’t as dependent on heroic medicinal interventions, because they didn’t exist. We had to do the basic shit. But the pharmaceutical industry meant we could increasingly do less hand-washing and just hype pills and surgeries and personalized medicine, none of which means jackshit when we need to stop a virus in its tracks from the get-go.
  84. There’s good news, and it’s adding up: It would be a shame and a disservice to ignore the many local and state climate wins that keep adding up, the people like Rep. Lauren Underwood fighting for maternal health, groups like World Central Kitchen that have made responsive adaptation their business.
  85. So many people are fighting the good fight, for cooler streets, for cleaner air and water, and they’re increasingly winning those fights.
  86. But have no doubt: the big swings require federal action, which has all but failed. Why? Well, because federal action requires elected officials who will write and vote for said action, which requires officials who actually represent the concerns of their constituents, which require healthy elections, which requires fair maps, which requires democratically-inclined state and local officials, which requires young and diverse action-oriented people to run for office and win at every level, but especially from the ground up.
  87. So, like addressing one of our core issues, this year we have to get angry, and fight like hell, and do two things at once.
  88. First, we have to hold current policymakers to task, because time is of the essence. It is almost guaranteed that Congressional Democrats will lose both houses in November, and it’s very much downhill to a dark and scary place from there. So we have to pass whatever shit we can, right meow.
  89. …and at the same time, we need to simultaneously 10x support for our (stupid affordable) pipeline of local policymakers.
  90. Local policymakers who can not only, say, build protected bike lanes, electric bus lanes, and improve ventilation in public elementary schools, but also control elections.
  91. Democracy is in a very bad way and it starts at the bottom. Actually, it starts in office, where 222 folkswho are either already in office or running for it actually participated in the insurrection.
  92. If you think the same people who stormed the Capitol with confederate flags chanting “Get the big Jew” are going to vote for clean power production or mental health coverage for burnt-out Black nurses, you’re wrong.
  93. So: Call it like it is.
  94. Constantly evaluate your position, your exposure, your thinking, your allies, your power. Read this newsletter, hold us to task, share it if you find value in it and believe in it.
  95. Use your influence among friends and family, your company’s resources, your vote, your money. Run for Something. Run for your school board, for a position in your town, or in your state. Or donate to or volunteer for people who are because every single one of them counts.
  96. More than ever, understand this:
  97. We are in and barreling towards more tumultuous times than most of us have ever experienced or imagined. We have to fight like hell, but most importantly, as we grasp how much is out of our control, no matter how hard we fight, we have to care for one another more than ever. And I’ve got a hell of a lot more to say on that.

I’ll see you tomorrow for our first newsletter of 2022. Let’s fucking go.

– Quinn

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