Month: September 2019

If You Are Black And In A Mental Health Crisis, 911 Can Be A Death Sentence

Osage Osagie, 29, was beloved by his family and community. At his funeral this March, so many people showed up to pay their respects that every seat in the main room was taken and at least 100 more were filled in an overflow area. Person after person told stories of his warmth and kindness. Ten days earlier, his father, Sylvester, made a simple call to local police to perform a mental health “wellness check” on his son. Osagie was shot and killed in his own home by police in State College, Pennsylvania, soon thereafter.

Osagie had been hospitalized at least six times over the years; with a history of autism, paranoid schizophrenia, extreme anxiety, and Asperger’s syndrome, he sometimes struggled to function in society. Last December, his family was proud when he transitioned out of a community residential center to an apartment of his own. As much as they wanted it to work out for him, it was rough. Osagie stopped attending support meetings and cycled on and off his medications. On March 10, after sending texts to family suggesting that he might harm himself, they called 911 for support.

When police got there, they claimed that Osagie had a knife that he refused to put down. When he walked toward the officers, they claimed that a Taser had no impact on him, so they shot and killed him right there on the spot. This past week, the family announced their intention to file a lawsuit against the police department for abandoning multiple protocols when their son was confronted and killed.

Over the past five years, I’ve closely studied thousands of police shootings and seen a trend of black families under duress calling 911 during a mental health emergency, only for their loved one to be killed by police as a result. Of course, when a black family calls 911 for support in a mental health emergency and it goes well, that doesn’t make the news. But the fact remains that in general, black families remain skeptical of calling the police for help under any circumstance — and fatal encounters like the one experienced by the Osagie family confirm those doubts.

Black families remain skeptical of calling the police for help under any circumstance — and fatal encounters like the one experienced by the Osagie family confirm those doubts.

Police killings of people with mental illnesses are a huge problem for those of all races. Studies show that as many as 50 percent of people killed by American police had registered disabilities and that a huge percentage of those were people with mental illnesses. One study states that people with untreated mental illnesses are a staggering 16 times more likely to be shot and killed by police.

But African Americans are at even higher risk due to the racism in our country and in our police forces. Right now, outside of Atlanta, a trial is underway for the officer who shot and killed Anthony Hill, an Afghanistan war veteran who had a mental illness. Hill was not only unarmed, but he was also completely nude. He needed immediate medical attention. Instead, he was fatally shot by an officer who claimed what officers often claim: that he feared for his life.

This past December, the city of New York paid the family of Deborah Danner — a 66-year-old black woman with a long history of mental illness, who was also completely nude and in her own home — $2 million after an New York Police Department officer shot and killed her. She, too, needed medical help, but got bullets instead.

It is interesting how many times American police routinely find a way to push past such fears to peacefully arrest white mass shooters who were heavily armed and just slaughtered scores of people. For years, I used to advocate for police to receive more training to prevent the shooting deaths of people like Hill and Danner. Cut after seeing police from coast to coast routinely exercise so much restraint and patience when arresting armed white shooters, I’m no longer confident that training is the problem. Police seem fully capable of exercising restraint when they feel like it.

The list of black deaths is so long. This past May, Pamela Turner, a 44-year-old black woman experiencing a mental health crisis was shot and killed by police in Texas. In Oklahoma this past April, 17-year-old Isaiah Lewis, also naked and in a mental health crisis, was shot and killed by police. This past June, Taun Hall called 911 for support with her 23-year-old-son, Miles, who had a mental illness. Police shot and killed him. The latest research suggests that no single group of people is more likely to be killed by police than young black boys and men — registering even higher than white people with mental illnesses. Consequently, young black men with mental illnesses are in the single most at-risk category in the nation for fatal police violence.

People live with mental illness all over the world without being shot and killed by police. This happens, in great part, because police in many countries aren’t trained with a “shoot first, ask questions later” type of mentality. In fact, in many countries, it is the standard for mental health experts and nurses to travel with police on mental health calls. Those practices are already being deployed in a few places in the United States, but New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Willis is proposing a complete overhaul for the police response to mental health calls in our nation’s largest city. Last year, a staggering 180,000 unique calls were made to 911 in New York City for “emotionally disturbed persons.” But 78 percent of NYPD officers haven’t even received training on how to handle the calls. That’s not going to work. They all need training, but Williams is proposing that expert mental health teams be dispatched to these calls.

No solutions to this crisis are simple, but the bottom line is that what we have right now is just not sustainable.

San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Reflects On One Year Since Hurricane Maria

On Sept. 21, the day after the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, WBUR sat down with Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, who became a national figure in the days after the storm.

The mayor’s critics say she’s focused too much of her energy attacking President Trump, while San Juan is still struggling to recover a year later.

Cruz sits outside a makeshift office, in an athletic complex that served as the city’s largest shelter after the storm — and where Cruz herself stayed for more than a month.

In this interview, which has been lightly edited, she reflects on the first anniversary, the death toll and the inability of Puerto Rico to act in its own defense — and on her time in Boston.

Carmen Yulín Cruz:
Yesterday was a day when we gave ourselves permission to grieve.

It was about two weeks ago that the official death toll was raised from 64 to 2,975. Of course, the people that lost loved ones knew, we all knew. Why did the Puerto Rican government wait until three weeks ago to say what everyone knew? FEMA received 2,741 requests for funeral assistance, which is eerily similar to that 2,975. People were dying because they were gasping for air because they were plugged into a respirator, or they didn’t get their nebulizer to treat themselves, or they didn’t get their dialysis in time or chemotherapy in time — [all] because there was no electricity.

And there was a spin from the White House to say this is an “unsung success.” Well, when you have to sing your own praises, it’s because people don’t see it. The response from the federal government was inappropriate, it was inadequate, it was ineffective, it was negligent. And some have gone so far as to say it was a crime.

The U.N. says that whenever people are denied the access to essential services that constitutes a violation to our human rights. The director of [the Puerto Rican electricity authority] said he was told that Puerto Rico could not purchase any generators or electric poles from countries outside of the U.S. — but the U.S. didn’t have any poles left because of the emergencies that happened. The U.S. can buy from other countries, like Colombia, but they weren’t allowing us to buy from Colombia. Our hands are tied, which is why it’s an issue of human rights. We are literally a hostage market.

You’ve become a national figure in the wake of Maria, but how has it affected you personally, everything you’ve been through?
I often say to people that I’m just a small person that spoke very loudly, because the injustice and the unfair treatment of the people of Puerto Rico was evident to everybody. In a humanitarian crisis, you either speak up or you shut up, and if you shut up you become an accomplice to

I have become a lot more centered in terms of what my goals in public service are. One is the eradication of poverty. We can no longer hide our poverty and our inequality behind piña coladas and palm trees. How do we make education continue to be what it can be, the great equalizer? Everything I do now is about making sure people have a safe home. We’ve changed public policy in San Juan so energy is not an afterthought, but an integral part of a resiliency plan for the city. We’ve established that every home that we build or rebuild has to be able to run on solar lights and has to be able to harvest the rain, so people are more [self-sufficient].

I was in Puerto Rico shortly after the storm, and returning a year later the most powerful thing you see is the vegetation is back. But you learn very quickly that all is not normal. Tell me about how San Juan is doing a year after Maria.
I often say to people: “Don’t let the lights in San Juan fool you.” We still have between 2,600 and 3,000 blue [tarp] roofs, so that’s something that we need to take care of as fast as we can, which is why we continue to push on FEMA to do their job.

You must have read the headlines back in January or February: “$1.5 billion for housing in Puerto Rico.” Well just yesterday they signed the agreement. Just yesterday [Housing Secretary] Ben Carson says: “Oh well you know, for an agreement like this, we’ve done it really fast.” Well really? Tell that to the people that have no homes. Tell that to the people whose everyday life is now tainted blue because the sun comes through that tarp — the color of desperation, the color of loneliness, it’s blue.

So that’s one thing. We have tons of bridges that still need to be either rebuilt or mended. We have about 100 traffic lights that belong to the central government that aren’t working.

On the one hand we have that, and on the other hand we’re building 21 centers for community transformation — which is a center [to enable local] people to be first responders. It’s a challenge, but I have no doubt that we’re going to make it.

What about all the people who have left Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm? According to one estimate, 77,000 people still haven’t returned.
A lot of the children left. That happens in areas where there’s been wars. You hear about the children of London being taken away into the countryside [in World War II]. You hear about the children in Cuba that were sent to the United States. Children are taken away because they’re the future, so you want to give them a better life.

The problem is that we have to come back. And I say “we” because 5 million Puerto Ricans are in the states and 3 million Puerto Ricans are in Puerto Rico. We are now the diaspora. But it’s very hard to come back to a place where the basic services are a struggle. And for our children — especially children that have some sort of disability or some sort of a physical or emotional challenge — it’s very difficult. I know people that have decided to send their children and they’re staying here. It’s a devastating loss — it’s like a loss after a loss.

Suicide rates have gone up between 30 to 50 percent; suicide attempts have gone up almost 60 to 75 percent. And you know, people lose hope, so our job is to ensure that they don’t.

And all this comes in the midst of an economic crisis that some economists call Puerto Rico’s “Great Depression.”
First of all, I think it’s a “great exploitation.” Hedge funds, they loaned money to Puerto Rico, money that they know the Puerto Ricans couldn’t pay. They loaned the money for pennies and now they want us to pay them dollars.

And two years ago the Fiscal Management and Control Board was imposed by the Obama administration, which just goes to let you know what colonialism is all about. And the fiscal control board now decides what happens: Pensions get reduced, the [academic] credit at the University of Puerto Rico goes from $54 to $157. It doubles that when you go to a master’s degree. Three-hundred schools were closed in the past two years and about 300 schools were closed before that — so before [Puerto Rico] had 1,600 schools and know you have close to 1,000. You’re talking about the singular [most important] tool to get out of poverty, which is education.

The fiscal control board has to go. They have no place in Puerto Rico.

There’s a lot of [disaster recovery] money that’s going to be coming into Puerto Rico right now. The numbers tell us that $4.5 billion in construction contracts have [already] been granted. Out of that you would think the largest chunk would be for contractors in Puerto Rico — but no, only $500 million of the $4.5 billion. The majority of the money will be sucked out.

You say the reconstruction money will get sucked out, as if it were a foregone conclusion. Is it possible that this money becomes a stimulus to the economy?
Oh, that’s why I continue to speak and speak and speak.

One of the things that Maria did is it shed a light on Puerto Rico, and it allows us the opportunity of a world stage. There are Puerto Ricans that feel themselves as second class citizens. And then there’s the ones like me: I’m a Puerto Rican national that has American citizenship. So I live in a dual relationship. I respect very much the ties of Puerto Rico and the United States have, but right now it’s not a dignified relationship. I don’t want to be a colony. The American people are better than that. They’re hardworking people, people that fought very hard in a place called Boston, which I know very well, precisely to rebuke financial domination. That was what the Boston Tea Party was all about. You don’t get that just because you’re a citizen — you get that because you’re human.

Talk about your connection to Boston.
In 1980 I went to Boston University [to study political science]. It was the first time I left home. Best time of my life. Boston University and Boston itself opened up a new world to me. It was the first time I was exposed to a variety of different cultures. It gave me a different view on life. To me it was the opening of a world of accepting differences rather than tolerating differences. You don’t put down people because they are different. I participated in the rich culture that Boston has to offer.

It’s good to hear nice things about our city. Boston has this reputation as the most racist place in America.
Everyone has lights and shadows — that happens in San Juan, that happens in Puerto Rico, that happens in the best of places. But if you look at Boston, you look at BU, you look at Boston College, you look at Northeastern, you look at Harvard, you look at MIT — a lot of great minds go to Boston to be shaped. I didn’t perceive it as racist. The civil rights movement was a little bit shaped by the city of Boston and by Boston University — Martin Luther King got his doctorate degree there.

Food For Sustainable Development

All companies in the food sector, both producers and distributors, should adopt clear guidelines, metrics, and reporting standards to align with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate agreement. Specifically, each company must address four critical questions.

Feeding a planet of 7.7 billion people is no easy matter. Every person on the planet needs, expects, and has the right to a healthy diet. Every farmer needs, expects, and has the right to a decent livelihood. The roughly ten million other species on the planet need a habitat in which they can survive. And every business that produces, processes, and transports food needs and expects to earn a profit.

It’s a tall order – and it’s not being fulfilled. Over 820 million people are chronically hungry. Another two billion or so suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamins or proteins. Around 650 million adults are obese, an epidemic caused in part by ultra-processed foods that are stuffed with sugar, saturated fats, and other chemical additives.

But the problems go far beyond hunger and diet. Today’s agro-industrial practices are the main cause of deforestation, freshwater depletion and pollution, soil erosion, and the collapse of biodiversity. To top it off, human-induced climate change, partly caused by the food sector, is wreaking havoc on crop production. With more warming and population growth ahead, the crisis will worsen unless decisive changes are made.

The food industry is a powerhouse of the global economy and includes some of the best-known brand names, because we connect with them every day. Solving the many intersecting food crises will be impossible unless the food industry changes its ways.

Fortunately, there is an important glimmer of hope. A growing number of food companies understand the challenge and want to forge a new direction that is consistent with human health and planetary survival. We have been asked by some of these industry leaders, convened by the Barilla Foundation, to help identify the steps needed to align the food sector with sustainable development.

Our starting point is another source of hope. In 2015, all 193 members of the United Nations agreed unanimously to two vital agreements. The first, called Agenda 2030, adopts 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap to human wellbeing and planetary safety. The second, the Paris climate agreement, commits the world’s governments to taking decisive action to keep global warming to less than 1.5º Celsius. Both the SDGs and the Paris agreement require decisive changes in practices by the food industry.

In our report, we call on all companies in the food sector, both producers and distributors, to adopt clear guidelines, metrics, and reporting standards to align with the global goals. Specifically, each company must address four critical questions.

First, do the companies’ products and strategies contribute to healthy and sustainable diets? We know that the fast-food culture is literally killing us. The industry has to change, urgently, to promote healthy diets.

Second, are the company’s production practices sustainable? Too many companies are engaged in chemical pollution, massive waste from packaging, deforestation, excessive and poorly targeted fertilizer use, and other environmental ills.

Third, are the company’s upstream suppliers sustainable? No consumer food company should use products from farms that contribute to deforestation. The destruction of forests in the Amazon and Indonesia – literally a scorched-earth process – underscore the need to barcode all food products to ensure that they are sourced from sustainable farms.

Lastly, is the company a good corporate citizen? For example, aggressive tax practices that seek to exploit legal loopholes or weak enforcement processes should be avoided, as they deprive governments of the revenues needed to promote public services and thereby achieve the SDGs.

As part of our work, we examined the food industry’s current reporting practices. While many companies purport to pursue sustainable development, too few report on the healthfulness of their product lines or how their products contribute to healthy and sustainable dietary patterns. Too few recognize that they are part of the environmental crisis, either directly in their own production, or as buyers of products produced in environmental hotspots such as the Amazon or Indonesia. And companies don’t report in detail on their tax practices. In short, the food industry’s commitment to sustainability is still too often more high-minded sentiment than actual reporting and monitoring to ensure alignment with the SDGs and the Paris accord.

But we are not pessimistic. Around the world, young people are demanding a sustainable and safe way of living and doing business. We believe that companies, too, will change. After all, companies need customers who are satisfied, workers who are motivated, and the respect of society as a tacit “license to do business.” Some of the cases we analyzed give us hope that change is possible. As our project continues in the coming year, with the aim of working with the industry to ensure that performance, reporting, and monitoring are aligned with sustainable development, we will keep the public informed of what we see and learn.

The food sector is a key part of a larger picture. World leaders gathered at the UN this week to review progress – or lack thereof – on the SDGs and the Paris agreement. They must keep in mind one crucial fact: the world’s people are demanding change. We have the know-how and wealth to achieve a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable world. The business sector must urgently recognize, acknowledge, and act upon its global responsibilities.

Hello From The Year 2050. We Avoided The Worst Of Climate Change – But Everything Is Different

Let’s imagine for a moment that we’ve reached the middle of the century. It’s 2050, and we have a moment to reflect—the climate fight remains the consuming battle of our age, but its most intense phase may be in our rearview mirror. And so we can look back to see how we might have managed to dramatically change our society and economy. We had no other choice.

There was a point after 2020 when we began to collectively realize a few basic things.

One, we weren’t getting out of this unscathed. Climate change, even in its early stages, had begun to hurt: watching a California city literally called Paradise turn into hell inside of two hours made it clear that all Americans were at risk. When you breathe wildfire smoke half the summer in your Silicon Valley fortress, or struggle to find insurance for your Florida beach house, doubt creeps in even for those who imagined they were immune.

Two, there were actually some solutions. By 2020, renewable energy was the cheapest way to generate electricity around the planet—in fact, the cheapest way there ever had been. The engineers had done their job, taking sun and wind from quirky backyard DIY projects to cutting-edge technology. Batteries had plummeted down the same cost curve as renewable energy, so the fact that the sun went down at night no longer mattered quite so much—you could store its rays to use later.

And the third realization? People began to understand that the biggest reason we weren’t making full, fast use of these new technologies was the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. Investigative journalists had exposed its three-decade campaign of denial and disinformation, and attorneys general and plaintiffs’ lawyers were beginning to pick them apart. And just in time.

These trends first intersected powerfully on Election Day in 2020. The Halloween hurricane that crashed into the Gulf didn’t just take hundreds of lives and thousands of homes; it revealed a political seam that had begun to show up in polling data a year or two before. Of all the issues that made suburban Americans—women especially—uneasy about President Trump, his stance on climate change was near the top. What had seemed a modest lead for the Democratic challenger widened during the last week of the campaign as damage reports from Louisiana and Mississippi rolled in; on election night it turned into a rout, and the analysts insisted that an underappreciated “green vote” had played a vital part—after all, actual green parties in Canada, the U.K. and much of continental Europe were also outperforming expectations. Young voters were turning out in record numbers: the Greta Generation, as punsters were calling them, made climate change their No. 1 issue.

And when the new President took the oath of office, she didn’t disappoint. In her Inaugural Address, she pledged to immediately put America back in the Paris Agreement—but then she added, “We know by now that Paris is nowhere near enough. Even if all the countries followed all the promises made in that accord, the temperature would still rise more than 3°C (5°F or 6°F). If we let the planet warm that much, we won’t be able to have civilizations like the ones we’re used to. So we’re going to make the changes we need to make, and we’re going to make them fast.”

Fast, of course, is a word that doesn’t really apply to Capitol Hill or most of the world’s other Congresses, Parliaments and Central Committees. It took constant demonstrations from ever larger groups like Extinction Rebellion, and led by young activists especially from the communities suffering the most, to ensure that politicians feared an angry electorate more than an angry carbon lobby. But America, which historically had poured more carbon into the atmosphere than any other nation, did cease blocking progress. With the filibuster removed, the Senate passed—by the narrowest of margins—one bill after another to end subsidies for coal and gas and oil companies, began to tax the carbon they produced, and acted on the basic principles of the Green New Deal: funding the rapid deployment of solar panels and wind turbines, guaranteeing federal jobs for anyone who wanted that work, and putting an end to drilling and mining on federal lands.

Since those public lands trailed only China, the U.S., India and Russia as a source of carbon, that was a big deal. Its biggest impact was on Wall Street, where investors began to treat fossil-fuel stocks with increasing disdain. When BlackRock, the biggest money manager in the world, cleaned its basic passive index fund of coal, oil and gas stocks, the companies were essentially rendered off-limits to normal investors. As protesters began cutting up their Chase bank cards, the biggest lender to the fossil-fuel industry suddenly decided green investments made more sense. Even the staid insurance industry began refusing to underwrite new oil and gas pipelines—and shorn of its easy access to capital, the industry was also shorn of much of its political influence. Every quarter meant fewer voters who mined coal and more who installed solar panels, and that made political change even easier.

As America’s new leaders began trying to mend fences with other nations, climate action proved to be a crucial way to rebuild diplomatic trust. China and India had their own reasons for wanting swift action—mostly, the fact that smog-choked cities and ever deadlier heat waves were undermining the stability of the ruling regimes. When Beijing announced that its Belt and Road Initiative would run on renewable energy, not coal, the energy future of much of Asia changed overnight. When India started mandating electric cars and scooters for urban areas, the future of the internal-combustion engine was largely sealed. Teslas continued to attract upscale Americans, but the real numbers came from lower-priced electric cars pouring out of Asian factories. That was enough to finally convince even Detroit that a seismic shift was under way: when the first generation of Ford E-150 pickups debuted, with ads demonstrating their unmatched torque by showing them towing a million-pound locomotive, only the most unreconstructed motorheads were still insisting on the superiority of gas-powered rides.

Other easy technological gains came in our homes. After a century of keeping a tank of oil or gas in the basement for heating, people quickly discovered the appeal of air-source heat pumps, which turned the heat of the outdoors (even on those rare days when the temperature still dropped below zero) into comfortable indoor air. Gas burners gave way to induction cooktops. The last incandescent bulbs were in museums, and even most of the compact fluorescents had been long since replaced by LEDs. Electricity demand was up—but when people plugged in their electric vehicles at night, the ever growing fleet increasingly acted like a vast battery, smoothing out the curves as the wind dropped or the sun clouded. Some people stopped eating meat, and lots and lots of people ate less of it—a cultural transformation made easier by the fact that Impossible Burgers turned out to be at least as juicy as the pucks that fast-food chains had been slinging for years. The number of cows on the world’s farms started to drop, and with them the source of perhaps a fifth of emissions. More crucially, new diets reduced the pressure to cut down the remaining tropical rain forests to make way for grazing land.

In other words, the low-hanging fruit was quickly plucked, and the pluckers were well paid. Perhaps the fastest-growing business on the planet involved third-party firms that would retrofit a factory or an office with energy-efficient technology and simply take a cut of the savings on the monthly electric bill. Small businesses, and rural communities, began to notice the economic advantages of keeping the money paid for power relatively close to home instead of shipping it off to Houston or Riyadh. The world had wasted so much energy that much of the early work was easy, like losing weight by getting your hair cut.

But the early euphoria came to an end pretty quickly. By the end of the 2020s, it became clear we would have to pay the price of delaying action for decades.

For one thing, the cuts in emissions that scientists prescribed were almost impossibly deep. “If you’d started in 1990 when we first warned you, the job was manageable: you could have cut carbon a percent or two a year,” one eminent physicist explained. “But waiting 30 years turned a bunny slope into a black diamond.” As usual, the easy “solutions” turned out to be no help at all: fracked natural-gas wells were leaking vast quantities of methane into the atmosphere, and “biomass burning”—cutting down forests to burn them for electricity—was putting a pulse of carbon into the air at precisely the wrong moment. (As it happened, the math showed letting trees stand was crucial for pulling carbon from the atmosphere—when secondary forests were allowed to grow, they sucked up a third or more of the excess carbon humanity was producing.) Environmentalists learned they needed to make some compromises, and so most of America’s aging nuclear reactors were left online past their decommissioning dates: that lower-carbon power supplemented the surging renewable industry in the early years, even as researchers continued work to see if fusion power, thorium reactors or some other advanced design could work.

The real problem, though, was that climate change itself kept accelerating, even as the world began trying to turn its energy and agriculture systems around. The giant slug of carbon that the world had put into the atmosphere—more since 1990 than in all of human history before—acted like a time-delayed fuse, and the temperature just kept rising. Worse, it appeared that scientists had systematically underestimated just how much damage each tenth of a degree would actually do, a point underscored in 2032 when a behemoth slice of the West Antarctic ice sheet slid majestically into the southern ocean, and all of a sudden the rise in sea level was being measured in feet, not inches. (Nothing, it turned out, could move Americans to embrace the metric system.) And the heating kept triggering feedback loops that in turn accelerated the heating: ever larger wildfires, for instance, kept pushing ever more carbon into the air, and their smoke blackened ice sheets that in turn melted even faster.

This hotter world produced an ongoing spate of emergencies: “forest-fire season” was now essentially year-round, and the warmer ocean kept hurricanes and typhoons boiling months past the old norms. And sometimes the damage was novel: ancient carcasses kept emerging from the melting permafrost of the north, and with them germs from illnesses long thought extinct. But the greatest crises were the slower, more inexorable ones: the ongoing drought and desertification was forcing huge numbers of Africans, Asians and Central Americans to move; in many places, the heat waves had literally become unbearable, with nighttime temperatures staying above 100°F and outdoor work all but impossible for weeks and months at a time. On low-lying ground like the Mekong Delta, the rising ocean salted fields essential to supplying the world with rice. The U.N. had long ago estimated the century could see a billion climate refugees, and it was beginning to appear it was unnervingly correct. What could the rich countries say? These were people who hadn’t caused the crisis now devouring their lives, and there weren’t enough walls and cages to keep them at bay, so the migrations kept roiling the politics of the planet.

There were, in fact, two possible ways forward. The most obvious path was a constant competition between nations and individuals to see who could thrive in this new climate regime, with luckier places turning themselves into fortresses above the flood. Indeed some people in some places tried to cling to old notions: plug in some solar panels and they could somehow return to a more naive world, where economic expansion was still the goal of every government.

But there was a second response that carried the day in most countries, as growing numbers of people came to understand that the ground beneath our feet had truly shifted. If the economy was the lens through which we’d viewed the world for a century, now survival was the only sensible basis on which to make decisions. Those decisions targeted not just carbon dioxide; these societies went after the wild inequality that also marked the age. The Green New Deal turned out to be everything the Koch brothers had most feared when it was introduced: a tool to make America a fairer, healthier, better-educated place. It was emulated around the world, just as America’s Clean Air Act had long served as a template for laws across the globe. Slowly both the Keeling Curve, measuring carbon in the atmosphere, and the Gini coefficient, measuring the distribution of wealth, began to flatten.

That’s where we are today. We clearly did not “escape” climate change or “solve” global warming—the temperature keeps climbing, though the rate of increase has lessened. It’s turned into a wretched century, which is considerably better than a catastrophic one. We ended up with the most profound and most dangerous physical changes in human history. Our civilization surely teetered—and an enormous number of people paid an unfair and overwhelming price—but it did not fall.

People have learned to defend what can be practically defended: expensive seawalls and pumps mean New York is still New York, though the Antarctic may yet have something to say on the subject. Other places we’ve learned to let go: much of the East Coast has moved in a few miles, to more defensible ground. Yes, that took trillions of dollars in real estate off the board—but the roads and the bridges would have cost trillions to defend, and even then the odds were bad.

Cities look different now—much more densely populated, as NIMBY defenses against new development gave way to an increasingly vibrant urbanism. Smart municipalities banned private cars from the center of town, opening up free public-transit systems and building civic fleets of self-driving cars that got rid of the space wasted on parking spots. But rural districts have changed too: the erratic weather put a premium on hands-on agricultural skills, which in turn provided opportunities for migrants arriving from ruined farmlands elsewhere. (Farming around solar panels has become a particular specialty.) America’s rail network is not quite as good as it was in the early 20th century, but it gets closer each year, which is good news since low-carbon air travel proved hard to get off the ground.

What’s changed most of all is the mood. The defiant notion that we would forever overcome nature has given way to pride of a different kind: increasingly we celebrate our ability to bend without breaking, to adapt as gracefully as possible to a natural world whose temper we’ve come to respect. When we look back to the start of the century we are, of course, angry that people did so little to slow the great heating: if we’d acknowledged climate change in earnest a decade or two earlier, we might have shaved a degree off the temperature, and a degree is measured in great pain and peril. But we also know it was hard for people to grasp what was happening: human history stretched back 10,000 years, and those millennia were physically stable, so it made emotional sense to assume that stability would stretch forward as well as past.

We know much better now: we know that we’ve knocked the planet off its foundations, and that our job, for the foreseeable centuries, is to absorb the bounces as she rolls. We’re dancing as nimbly as we can, and so far we haven’t crashed.