Seth Godin has written many great books and launched many great projects. The Carbon Almanac is both of those things.
The Carbon Almanac: It's Not Too Late by Seth Godin & The Carbon Almanac Network, Portfolio
The weather is increasingly unpredictable, chaotic, and extreme. This summer has been one of historic heat waves, wildfires, and floods. As climate change advances, such weather events are going to become even more common and capricious.
Climate change is, as Al Gore famously called his movie on the topic, an inconvenient truth. It is so incredibly inconvenient that it feels easier to turn away from or deny altogether. The subject is so toxic in many social circles that to even acknowledge it is considered a political act, so we don’t talk about it as often as we should. Even when we do acknowledge it, it can seem like such a monumental and insurmountable issue that it’s hard to know where to begin—if any of our individual actions can make even a bit of collective difference when our economy is literally fueled by fossil fuels. That is what makes a book like The Carbon Almanac so useful.
The book tackles topics both simple and complex, and the solutions offered also span that range—from the easy act of using a refillable water bottle, to the more involved actions around understanding political policy and supporting candidates who believe in climate change and action. It is a handbook to the most elemental and essential climate science, terminology, and actions we must take, and a resource for how we can do our part, who is already out there doing the work we can join, and other ways we can take the lead in our own communities.
It can also help us interpret the latest news and developments on climate change. For instance, journalist David Gelles, author of The Man Who Broke Capitalism, has been reporting on how states have been pushing back against ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) frameworks for investing recently, and (along with Hiroko Tabuchi) broke a story on How an Organized Republican Effort Punishes Companies for Climate Action. Following that story this week, he told us how:
West Virginia on Thursday morning announced that five major financial institutions, including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan, would be barred from doing business with the state because they have stopped supporting the coal industry.
But what exactly is ESG and what does it have to do with the coal industry? Well, if you want a quick rundown on “ESG Reporting Frameworks” and how (and if) they work, you can turn to page 252 of The Carbon Almanac. If you want to know more about coal’s impact, start at the very beginning with “The Four Horsemen of the Carbon Apocalypse” on page two. I have a fair amount of affinity for Luddism, but I think you’ll find the idea of not doing business with companies that have “stopped supporting the coal industry”—which is a specious claim at best—is a lot like a state announcing in the 1920s that they would no longer being doing business with companies that stopped supporting the horse and buggy industry. So, if you’re interested in why companies and investors may be wise to ignore West Virginia’s threat, turn to page 248 to read more about “The Positive Impact of Sustainability on Investor Returns” (or check out Seth’s latest contribution to ChangeThis about Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy). And, if you want to know more about the Seven Key Provisions in the Climate Deal that West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin negotiated with Senate Leader Schumer this week, The Carbon Almanac covers each of those areas, as well. There is also, starting on page 170, a helpful overview of solar, wind, hydropower, and other sources of renewable energy that the Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes private industry to produce more of.
Like all books Seth has his hand in, this one transcends the topic and the moment even while remaining firmly rooted in it. One of my favorite sections comes near the beginning and discusses “They Tyranny of Convenience,” why inconvenience isn’t such a bad thing, and why difficult things are worth doing
Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. […] We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity.
He is speaking here mostly about the things we do as individuals in our daily lives, about “technologies of mass individualization” and how they “can be surprisingly homogenizing.” But it echoes the sentiment of the importance of doing difficult things that John F. Kennedy expressed when announcing the moonshot. “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade,” Kennedy said, “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.” We could use another moonshot today, one we should be equally “unwilling to postpone,” one focused on ending the Carbon Lock-In (explained on page 10) that defines our current economic system. As the book shows:
People depend on each layer of the economy for their livelihoods. Like a pyramid with a very large foundation, carbon has become the bedrock of most people’s income.
And yet, scientists who study climate change agree that we have about a decade to cut carbon emissions if we have any hope of avoiding catastrophic, irreversible changes, and it was the oil companies that originated much of this research before they buried it. (Turn to pages 46 and 47 for excerpts from a 1982 report from Exxon on the likelihood of global temperature rise.) This global imperative can feel overwhelming to us as individuals. What are we supposed to do about it? So many of our own climate-altering activities can feel like a drop in a bucket that is overflowing. But we have more power than we think. The aforementioned Inflation Reduction Act is not perfect—and no moonshot—but it would be a significant step forward, with the potential to cut carbon emissions by roughly 40 percent by 2030, and we should support it. It would also include incentives for us as individuals and households to transform our personal energy use and consumption, and we should use them. Again, The Carbon Almanac can help us decipher what will work best for us.
Along with being a great resource for understanding the latest developments, it will help lead you to other reading and resources. Sections like “10 Myths About Climate Change” pair well with Jennifer Jacquet’s The Playbook: How to Deny Science, Sell Lies, and Make a Killing in the Corporate World in explaining how corporations obfuscate the truth in pursuit of profits. And the following section, “20 Truths About Climate Change,” helps us refute some of those myths, for example by explaining why “it’s snowing outside” is not a good argument against the existence of climate change.
A global rise in temperature can cause drops in temperature on a local level. That’s why snow in normally warm areas like Texas is a symptom of the atmosphere heating, rather than a refutation of it.
Relaying the realities of climate change isn’t a project that lends itself to the kind of uplifting message we’re used to from Seth, but the project itself, and the way it was organized, is the epitome of his longtime insistence that we can all take the lead and bring about positive change.
It is, as the word Almanac suggests, a resource, one I hope gets added to, updated, and put out in new editions as the years come and go and conditions continue to change. Seth Godin has published some truly great books, but I admire him even more for the preponderance of great projects he has launched and the way he engages with people. This is one of his most ambitious, and you can join it:
Visit www.thecarbonalmanac.org and sign up for The Daily Difference, a free email that will connect you with our community. Every day, you will join thousands of other people connecting around specific actions and issues that will add up to a significant impact.
It’s not too late.