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The Big Short: A Climate Parable

We can imagine a Jenga game labeled with all the things that make civilization possible. Instead of A, B, AA, etc the blocks could say things like,  “wheat yields,” “water access” “public health” and so on. When the climate crisis damages too many of these, the whole tower will fall: civilization itself will collapse.

On December 11, 2017, writer and director Adam McKay tweeted that we need a WWII scale climate mobilization to his almost 1 million followers.

 McKay directed The Big Short: one of the strongest climate films to come out of Hollywood.  Ok, I know The Big Short isn’t technically “about” the climate crisis, but hear me out: 

  1. The Big Short confronts the climate crisis more explicitly than most movies do. For example, Brad Pitt’s character, Ben, believes societal collapse is imminent and that “seeds will become new currency.” In the closing credits we see that Dr. Michael Burr, the genius behind shorting the housing market is now trading in just one commodity: water. The implication is that some of the most prescient forecasters in the world are also foreseeing massive environmental collapse.

  2.  But more importantly, the Big Short is basically a parable about the climate crisis. For this reason, it has been on The Climate Mobilization’s “Recommended Films” list for years. A small group of people know that imminent collapse is coming and hardly anyone, and no institutions, believe them. In the “Jenga scene” banker Jared Vennett illustrates how fragile the housing market truly is (as well as how callously racist the culture on Wallstreet can be). When you pull out too many rungs, the whole thing comes crashing down.

    We can imagine a Jenga game labeled with all the things that make civilization possible. Instead of A, B, AA, etc the blocks could say things like,  “wheat yields,” “water access” “public health” and so on. When the climate crisis damages too many of these, the whole tower will fall: civilization itself will collapse.

  3. Finally, The Big Short illustrates how  it feels to understand that a crisis is coming while most people and institutions are blithely optimistic, continuing with business as usual.

Paul Gilding described this feeling in 2009:

It’s like belonging to a secret society. Conversations held in quiet places, in cafes, bars and academic halls. Conversations held with furrowed brows and worried eyes. Conversations that sometimes give you goosebumps and shivers, and a sense of the surreal – is this conversation really happening? This is what it’s felt like over the past few years, to spend time with some of the world’s leading thinkers and scientists on issues around climate change and sustainability. In public this group generally puts a positive, while still urgent interpretation of their views… But in private, often late at night, when we reflect on what we really think and wonder if the battle is lost, it’s a different conversation. The talk goes to the potential for self-reinforcing runaway loops and for civilization’s collapse. We discuss geopolitical breakdown, mass starvation and what earth would be like with just a few hundred million people.

The characters in The Big Short struggle with the social, personal, and professional consequences of predicting collapse. Their jobs are threatened and they are mocked, “They call me Chicken Little, they call me bubble boy,” Vennett says of the professional disdain he experiences for telling the truth about the coming housing crash.

People who tell the truth about the climate crisis and advocate for emergency climate mobilization understand the social costs of being outside the norm. We have made many family members, dinner party guests, and dates uncomfortable. We have experienced alienation, and relief at finding fellowship with others who understand the truth and are dedicated to solving the crisis.

Profiting from vs Preventing Collapse

The characters in The Big Short sought to profit from the coming collapse. Imagine if instead the forecasters had started organizing and getting the best progressive politicians to recognize the danger of the financial collapse and start introducing policies to reign in these financial institutions before it was too late?

That’s basically what we at The Climate Mobilization are trying to do. We could seek personal profit — shorting insurance or agricultural futures, perhaps, or buying land in Siberia. But instead, we are focused on preventing collapse.

Now we are working locally, getting Climate Emergency Declarations passed in California, and all over the country—declaring a climate emergency and committing the city to reaching zero emissions at emergency speed. Because of the efforts of our organizers and partners, more than 22 cities in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia have done so, with London declaring Climate Emergency and committing to reaching net zero emissions by 2030 in December.

In Los Angeles, we have supported the introduction of a motion calling for a Climate Emergency Mobilization Department — a city department that would oversee the rapid transition to zero emissions, as well as spread the need for emergency climate mobilization to people and other government bodies.

Seeking personal profit would be absurd, because ultimately the climate crisis threatens us all. The stakes of the housing bubble pale in comparison to the climate stakes. The only safety, the only profit, will come from preventing the Jenga set of human civilization from falling down. We want to cancel the apocalypse, and we know the only way to do that is through an all-hands on deck climate mobilization that brings America, and then the world, to zero emissions at emergency speed, and draws down excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Check out The Big Short to get a good picture of the eerie feeling of knowing collapse is imminent while everyone is acting normal. And then please consider organizing with or financially supporting The Climate Mobilization. 

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Alexia Leclerq

Network Coach

Alexia (she/they) is an environmental justice organizer based in Austin, TX. They graduated summa cum laude from NYU (’20), where they self-designed a major titled “The Politics and Economics of Inequality.” Their research focuses on political ecology, environmental justice, AAPI communities, inequality, postcolonialism. As an organizer and researcher they have spent the past 5 years working on various issues from preserving the Colorado River, water rights, fighting land use policy and zoning that enforces race-based discrimination, conducting ethnographic research on climate health, to organizing mutual aid, youth programming, and shaping national legislation alongside members of the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance; today Alexia continues to work as an organizer with PODER, a grassroots EJ org. Alexia is also the co-founder of Start: Empowerment, a BIPOC led social and environmental justice education non-profit working with youth, educators, activists, and community members to implement justice-focused education and programming in schools and community spaces. S:E curriculum and programming has reached over 2,000 students, been recognized by the NYC Department of Education, and taught in universities. In 2021, their work was recognized by the prestigious Brower Youth Award.

Emmett Hopkins

National Organizer

Emmett organizes local-scale mobilization for the Sonoma County campaign, while supporting Climate Mobilization’s organizing efforts around the country. He brings over a decade of experience collaborating with diverse stakeholders to build community food systems, ensure equitable access to public lands, and mobilize resources towards a just transition to an amazing zero carbon future. He graduated from Stanford with a BS in Earth Systems and MS in Urban Planning & Sustainable Design. Emmett enjoys growing food and cultivating relationships, riding bikes and buses, and reimagining our communities to better serve all the people living in them.

Suha Dabbouseh

National Organizer

National Organizer Suha Dabbouseh leads national strategy for The Climate Mobilization. They are originally from Chicago but have lived, organized and rebel-roused in seven states and 11 cities. Suha received their law degree from CUNY-School of Law where they focused on social justice lawyering representing detainees at Guantanamo Bay. While practicing law, Suha had worked to advocate on behalf of domestic violence survivors, transgender clients and fighting employment discrimination. Their passion is building people power and organizing to dismantle structural inequities.

Matt Renner

Executive Director of The Climate Mobilization

Matt has worked as a nonprofit executive in clean energy, climate policy, and journalism for over a decade, focusing on the near-term social and economic impacts of climate change. He leads organizational expansion and works closely with the communications and organizing teams. Matt earned a BA in political science from UC Berkeley, where he was deeply inspired by the work of Professor George Lakoff.

Mariyah Jahangiri

Network Organizer

Mariyah leads Climate Mobilization Network’s recruitment, coordination, and organizing support. She has organized across movements and is passionate about addressing white supremacy in the mainstream climate movement and building capacity for youth-led, BIPOC-led intersectional climate movements. She has been inspired by her experiences organizing to defund the police in Boston, supporting mutual aid and food sovereignty projects in Iowa, Atlanta, and Puerto Rico, and working on a Make Big Polluters Pay campaign. Mariyah worked as an organizer with the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and Planned Parenthood PAC. She graduated from Grinnell College with a Sociology degree.

Rebecca Harris

Co-Leader and Director of Organizing

Rebecca leads Climate Mobilization organizing efforts. Along with a history of social movement organizing, Rebecca he has worked as a journalist covering equity in Chicago public schools. Most recently, Rebecca worked as Development and Communications Manager at Latino Union of Chicago, an immigrants’ and workers’ rights organization. She is a 2017 graduate of the Reframe Mentorship in strategic communications and a 2019 participant in the Anne Braden Organizer Training Program.

Marina Mails

Co-Leader and Director of Operations
Marina manages operations and volunteers for both The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. She brings broad experience working in non-profit organizations, health care settings, and running her own private counseling practice. Before joining Climate Mobilization, Marina maintained a practice focusing exclusively on climate-related emotional coping, helping people make bold choices for lifestyle and professional change in response to the Climate Emergency. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and Spanish from Wake Forest University and a Masters in Counseling from UNC Greensboro.

Meghann Beer

Co-Leader and Director of Resource Mobilization and Strategy

Meghann brings more than 20 years of nonprofit management and fundraising experience to The Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. For over a decade Meghann has worked as a nonprofit consultant helping organizations expand their capacity, secure revenue, develop successful strategies, and effectively evaluate their programs, enabling them to create greater positive change in the world. She has also worked as an executive director, designed and facilitated international service learning experiences, and taught university courses in fundraising and nonprofit management. Meghann earned a MPA in Nonprofit Management and Comparative and International Affairs from The School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, in Bloomington, IN and a BA in Art History and American Studies from Tufts University in Boston, MA.

Cris Lagunas

Strategy Director

Cris is helping to grow the Climate Emergency Movement by supporting creative campaigns and extending the reach of the movement’s message. Cris is a co-founder of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, an organization dedicated to using direct action tactics to expose, challenge and dismantle the immigration detention system.Cris got his start in organizing when he was 15 years old, getting involved in a local group of fellow undocumented youth.

Zack Burley

Policy Associate

Zack provides policy support for the Climate Mobilization team, and brings a versatile set of policy skills and experiences in labor organizing, journalism, legislative politics, and legal practice to the climate emergency movement. Zack earned a JD from Denver University Sturm College of Law, is a founding organizer of the Political Workers Guild of Colorado, and formerly served as a legislative aide in the Colorado General Assembly.

AriDy Nox

Co-Leader and Director of Narrative Strategy

 AriDy Nox is a multi-disciplinary black femme storyteller and social activist with a variety of forward-thinking creative works under her/their belt. They create out of the vehement belief that creating a future in which marginalized peoples are free requires a radical imagination. Their tales are offerings intended to function as small parts of an ancient, expansive, awe-inspiring tradition of world-shaping, created by and for black femmes. They have over a decade of experience as a young social activist and organizer, within reproductive justice and racial justice frameworks with organizations like the Young Women of Color Leadership Council with Advocates for Youth, the Toni Cade Bamabara Collective at Spelman College and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated. They bring creativity, enthusiasm and a tremendous capacity for organization to her/their role and deep belief that times of apocalypse are opportunities for rebirth. We need first imagine the world we want in order to create it.