What is Cooler Futures?

A weekly newsletter about how we can choose a future that is better not only for the climate, but also all of us. 

In 2020, I returned to journalism after a decade away. My new beat: climate change, specifically the foundations and billionaires who are writing big checks in the hope of preserving a habitable planet. (And I wouldn’t rule out guilt and fear of revolution as other motivations.) Climate philanthropy, in short.

Meanwhile, my wife and I were living a grand experiment. The year before we had quit our jobs (in nursing and nonprofit communications, respectively) and moved to Spain. With parents who had come to the U.S. from India (hers) and New Zealand (my father), a move abroad felt almost natural. A new world of remote work opportunities made it all the more possible.

It went better than we could have hoped. Barcelona was (and remains) the beautiful, walkable paradise I’d dreamed of, and so much more. Living in the city — and Europe in general — has shown me, in ways a thousand statistics never could, how living with a lighter footprint could mean living an incomparably fuller life. We spend more time with friends, and less searching for parking. Going from A to B — whether across the city or a border — is typically a delight, not a chore. We buy less, and we laugh more. The vermouth helps, but that is only part of it.

Yet as I sought to learn my beat in those early days, diving deep into the climate emergency as a journalist, I mainly found doom and gloom. There’s a role for that, but often such scarcity narratives seemed to miss what I was experiencing. Namely, that what’s better for the climate is simply better for us all. Better for our health, our pocketbooks, our communities, our lives. 

This newsletter is born from the desire to share that conviction and, without ignoring the very real and urgent reasons for alarm, my sense of possibility for our future. I want to convey the immense pleasure I’ve found — and I suspect many of you have too — in living a life more compatible with a habitable planet. My fantasy? These dispatches will be drops in the wave of change that transforms America’s car-first, human-second, throw-away culture. 

It will, of course, be inevitably shaped by who I am: a married white American guy nearing middle age. And also: a reporter committed to learning from others and helping to build an anti-racist future.

Here’s what you can expect in your inbox each week:

My stories. We daily live the delights – and disasters – of how we’ve set up this modern world. This newsletter is rooted in those experiences. So you’ll be hearing a lot of my stories, to start. But I hope you (yes, you!) will also share your perspectives about our heavily emitting present — and the future you want to live in. Please get in touch.

Policies make our world. Individual action gives us an invaluable sense of control in a complex world. And it’s part of the bigger puzzle. But it has also been weaponized by the status quo to avoid systemic change. Without getting wonky, I want to look at how our lives are shaped by policy choices — and how we can advocate for a more liveable tomorrow.

Emotions before data. There’s lots of fantastic writing and reporting loaded with stats on the impacts of greener living, of climate-friendly changes. I may even draw on that work. Yet what can get lost is the emotional experience, the sheer joy of walking your community or reusing something headed for the landfill or rejoicing in a verdant pocket of urban greenery. I’m here for that.

Possibilities and problems. Our future can be better, but this is not an optimism-only zone. There are real and legitimate reasons to be worried, and we are going to see more with each passing month/week/day. Many publications have that well-covered, but I won’t ignore those. There are also shifts we should be excited to make, and that’s my North Star. 

Learning as we go. I am neither a climate expert nor urban design specialist nor transportation policy wonk. What I am is deeply fascinated with the way we’ve chosen — and been forced — to live. I do know what it is like, for example, to live without a car in the United States. I don’t have all the answers, or even half, but my goal is to learn alongside you.

Green must mean equity: Oodles of evidence shows that a greener society, if done right, can help shift our divides and disparities, racial and beyond. Trees cool streets, lower asthma rates, raise test scores. Walkable, bikeable communities work for those without cars, whether minimum-wage workers, seniors or those with disabilities. But such benefits are neither automatic nor without risks, and I’ll strive to highlight that.

U.S. focus. This newsletter will draw on experiences from everywhere I’ve been, and hopefully be relevant anywhere. At the same time, my main preoccupation is with my home country, the world’s #1 historical emitting nation, the United States. For all its benefits, I’m concerned with how humans there must live: hours-long commutes, car-dominated streets, neighborhoods devoid of trees, homes walking distance from nothing but other homes. So, at least to start, this newsletter will focus on change there. 

Short and sweet. I don’t know about you, but I never have time to read everything I’d like. My goal is that you can read each newsletter in about five minutes. My aim is not an exhaustive exploration, but to start a conversation with each issue, to plant a seed.

These weekly dispatches are free. If they make you think, that’ll make me happy. If they make you act, that would be even better. If you want to pledge support, that will allow me to do more with this newsletter in the future. But if you would rather donate that sum, or if it’s not in the budget right now, that’s fine by me.

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A newsletter about how we can choose a future that is better not only for the climate, but also all of us.