Former Utne Editor in Chief David Schimke on conflict, compassion, partisanship, and peace
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 3:34 PM
Sand rises around the Great Wall of China in a 2007 Diesel ad. Text in the upper right corner reads "global warming ready."
Perhaps by now you’ve heard that Perrier, the sparkling water company, has come up with a way to fix climate change. Ring the bells. Bang the drums.
You’re probably wondering what the idea is. Are the people of Perrier campaigning to end subsidies to oil companies worldwide?
Are they encouraging people to drive less, buy less stuff, and stop pillaging Planet Earth?
The company’s plan is to send a lithe young woman into space to pour some sparkling water on the sun. Yes. That’s the plan.
Well, OK, not seriously—but they made a commercial about it. Because the sun is the problem, and putting it out is the solution.
Earth to Perrier, it’s 2012 calling. The record setting heat-waves, droughts, fires, and storms are only going to get worse. No one knows exactly what will happen but people generally agree that there will be disruptions to our supplies of food and water, not to mention changes to our habitats. There will be other consequences we haven’t predicted. Climate change isn’t a marketing gimmick, and shouldn’t be used as way to sell more stuff.
Because global warming is caused by general overconsumption, most advertising makes climate change worse, if indirectly. It’s not just that we drive too much and fly too much (though we do), it’s that everything we buy comes to us at cost to the planet. That includes sparkling water. It’s not that an advertisement like this is actually more harmful than any other ad, it’s just unforgivably irreverent.
Of course, Perrier is not the first to do this. Italian clothing brand Diesel offered a series of “Global Warming Ready” print ads in 2007. The ads featured young, wealthy–looking white people in post-climate-change settings around the world. Parrots have taken the place of pigeons at St. Mark’s Square in Venice. The Great Wall of China is half-covered in sand. Jungle wildlife encroaches on the Eiffel Tower and at Mount Rushmore, Lincoln’s nose is barely above water. The roofs of skyscrapers have become islands in Manhattan.
It doesn’t look so bad, really. I mean, if climate change is all about hanging out on rooftop beaches and looking fabulous, count me in. I’ll spend every last penny on high-end clothes and sparkling water. I’ll call it stocking up.
The strange thing is, as audacious as these ads seem, they’re also soothing. “Everything will be fine,” they whisper. “Buy more stuff.”
If the cause of climate-changing emissions is overconsumption—of fuel but also of products—then advertisements are a big part of the problem. Perrier and Diesel are not the sole offenders, but the last thing we need is reassurance that altered, extreme climates will be tolerable with new clothes and bottled water.
I questioned writing this post for a couple of reasons. First, I’m extending the reach of the ad to people who may have chosen to live outside advertising’s reach. People who don’t want to be manipulated into buying things. People who don’t want to waste time and energy chasing material goods beyond basic needs. Second, it would be very easy to derail my argument like so: Now here’s a person who takes everything too seriously. Can’t we just sit back at the end of a long, hard workday and watch TV? Advertising is just that, advertising. It doesn’t actually affect anyone. It’s not so bad, watching this imaginative commercial, with rich colors and beautiful people and a lovely sense of resolution. It makes me happy … and thirsty.
It may be true that I have no sense of humor, but in a situation this grave, why should I? Our government is not responding to dangerous levels of pollution. Our president couldn’t be bothered to attend Rio+20. A group of children sued the Environmental Protection Agency for neglecting to protect the atmosphere, and the case was dismissed by a U.S. District Judge who claimed it was out of his jurisdiction. Our legislators are too busy collecting bribes from Big Oil and Big Industry to create policies that would make sustainability economically attractive.
This is a failure of leadership and a failure of the market. We must respond by making climate change a high priority within the culture. That does not start with soothing advertisements from companies trying to make a dollar before the unpredictable rises up around us.
Thursday, December 01, 2011 11:08 AM
Jeff Conant, writing for Earth Island Journal, isn’t holding out much hope for COP17, the UN Climate Summit currently happening in Durban, South Africa. And judging by the last two summits in Copenhagen and Cancun, who could blame him. “[N]o matter where you come from,” Conant writes, “if you are actually concerned about the climate crisis, [the UN Climate Summit is] going to be an ugly two weeks.”
For the 99 percent, the climate crisis is neither about settling a scientific debate (the scientists have that pretty well sealed up), nor about safeguarding an already dubious multilateral agenda (if the 16 previous Conferences of Parties haven’t forged a solution, why should we expect one now?) Rather, it is about ethics, about human rights, and specifically the rights that UN parlance calls economic, social and cultural rights (food, water, shelter, health, political participation). For many, in short, the concern in Durban – as in Cancun and Copenhagen previously – is for justice.
The previous climate summits have made it painfully clear that, at the top levels, government ministers, heads of state, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) itself, is more about form than content. Last year, in Cancun, after the spectacular debacle of the failed talks in 2009 at Copenhagen, the concern among global leaders was less about saving the climate than about saving face. Those clamoring for justice in Cancun – a delegation of thousands from civil society – were fenced out, and kept literally miles away from the talks. They were the 99 percent.
Conant’s article doesn’t leave one with a good feeling, finding, as he does, very little in the way of positivity coming from the summit. He points to the Climate Action Network (CAN) as one possible avenue for reform, but quickly dismisses that group with the position of Climate Justice Now!, “the more radical civil society network that sometimes vies with CAN for space inside the negotiations,” that capitalism will be priority number one over justice.
Earth Island Journal
Image by Olivier Tétard, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011 3:07 PM
In the face of drought, humans have tried many methods to make storm clouds release their life-giving payload. Ancient Israelites tried fasting, others tried rain dancing. There’s a long history of precipitation-based prayer, including the fairly recent public exhortation by Texas Governor Rick Perry. But if a higher power isn’t answering, modern science may be the last resort. That’s why China, according to an article in Orion, has turned to cloud seeding to help alleviate its impending water management crisis.
There is some—albeit contentious—evidence that by launching chemicals into pregnant clouds, we can trick the sky into releasing its moisture early. As the theory goes, if you load a cloud with silver iodide—“either by aircraft flying overhead, or on-ground generators that send up plumes of vapor, or, in the case of the Chinese, by decades-old artillery,” explains Orion—the chemical binds to other water molecules in the cloud as ice. The particulate becomes heavy enough to turn into rainfall.
The entire venture is fascinating. Here are seven factoids to store for your next cocktail party. All un-attributed quotes are pulled from the article in Orion (not yet available online).
1. China employs a veritable army to control its weather. According to a dispatch from Asia Times Online, “each of China’s more than 30 provinces and province-level municipalities today boast a weather-modification base, employing more than 32,000 people, 7,100 anti-aircraft guns, 4,991 special rocket launchers and 30-odd aircraft across the country.”
2. “China faces serious water shortages caused primarily by overuse and population density. Shortages are particularly problematic in the north, where half the Chinese population lives with just 15 percent of the country’s water. The water available for each person is one-fourth the global average, and that portion is expected to shrink as China’s population continues to grow.”
3. “From 1967 to 1972, the U.S. even put weather modification to work during wartime, deploying the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to seed clouds over Laos. With plans to ‘make mud, not war,’ as one officer put it, they hoped that landslides and heavy rain along the Ho Chi Minh Trail would slow the movements of North Vietnamese troops.”
4. Indeed, the gods of weather are fickle. That’s why “the state of Wyoming has pumped more than $10 million over the last five years into trying to figure out whether cloud seeding actually increases precipitation.” Yao Zhanyu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, has found through statistical analysis that China’s precipitation has shown “an average 10 to 15 percent increase in rainfall over each of the last seven years.”
5. In Colorado, a different type of rain gun is used: a hail cannon. Hail cannons, allegedly, “use shock waves to hamper the formation of hailstones.” Like cloud seeding, the evidence of their efficacy is dubious.
6. Cloud seeding is one manifestation of a techno-scientific array of solutions to climate change called geoengineering. Simply, geoengineering is the human manipulation of natural macro-processes—tides, ocean salinization levels, precipitation—to address trends in climate change. According to the New York Times’ Green blog, everyday people and policy makers are starting to consider geoengineering a viable option.
7. “Silver iodide is considered a hazardous substance and toxic pollutant under the Clean Water Act, but scientists engaged in cloud seeding operations in the U.S. say the substance is used in concentrations low enough to be negligible.” Relieving?
Sources: Asia Times Online, Green, Orion (article not yet available online)
Thursday, August 18, 2011 4:45 PM
We live in a country where a stunning number of TV meteorologists still aggressively deny the existence of climate change, so I couldn’t help but be both surprised and a bit encouraged by the results of a national poll conducted last November. It seems that Republicans who dare to take a “green position” on climate—which essentially means admitting that something needs to be done to keep the earth’s temperature from rising—could end up wooing undecided voters without alienating their core constituency.
According to The Daily Climate, Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment called 1,000 randomly selected participants and asked them to evaluate a hypothetical Senate candidate based on a number of issues and found that “taking a green position on climate won votes . . . and taking a not-green position [which includes sticking with coal and oil as the nation’s dominant energy sources] lost votes.”
Based on a detailed breakdown of the data, researchers concluded that while Democrats could strengthen their base by focusing on climate, Republicans hoping to woo Independents and disappointed Dems had more to gain at the moment, especially if their opponents stay silent on the subject. “On taxes and the economy, the Republicans are singing one note,” Bruce Cain, professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Daily Climate. “The only way to win is by shining the light on the differences.”
This analysis squares with the findings of another Stanford poll released a year ago, which found that “three out of four Americans believe that ‘the Earth has been gradually warming due primarily or at least partly as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it.’ ”
Whether or not taking a pro-green position on the stump would actually result in actual legislation after the polls close is another question altogether, of course, but it will be interesting to see if data like this changes the conversational climate come primary time.
Source: The Daily Climate
Image by paul nine-o, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 08, 2011 5:10 PM
Today kicks off a four-part series on climate change at The Atlantic. Part one comes from Paul R. Epstein, co-author of the book Changing Planet, Changing Health. Epstein tells us just how changing temperatures in the oceans can lead to more severe weather in the middle of the U.S., like the calamitous tornado earlier this year in Joplin, Missouri.
So global warming is thus causing climate change, including altered weather patterns, and the engine of change is the heat building up deep inside the world's oceans. Water is warming, ice is melting, and water vapor is rising. How does this help explain tornadoes? …
It's all about contrasts and gradients. Warmer temperatures over land surfaces create low-pressure systems (since hot air rises, creating "lows"), while cold fronts from the north come with high pressures. Weather "flows downhill," as it were—from highs to lows. When temperature and pressure gradients between highs and lows increase (as they do naturally in spring), the clash can twist to form tornadoes. The greater the contrasts, the greater the force of the twisters.
This spring, especially warm and moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico met up with especially cold fronts from the north, driven by melting Arctic and Greenland ice.
Epstein cautions against assuming that any of this means a predictable increase in severe weather. In fact, the unpredictability is the point here. There may be years when severe flooding and tornadoes seem much milder than the previous year. “But,” Epstein writes, “it is clear that changing atmospheric and oceanic conditions underlie the changing patterns of weather—and that the stage is set for more severe storms, including even more punishing tornadoes.”
Keep an eye out for the other three parts in this series from The Atlantic.
Source: The Atlantic
Monday, June 27, 2011 12:50 PM
Let’s see: today, it’s a story about rising sea levels. Now, close your eyes, take a few seconds, and try to imagine what word or words could possibly go with such a story.
Time’s up, and if “faster,” “far faster,” “fastest,” or “unprecedented” didn’t come to mind, then the odds are that you’re not actually living on planet Earth in the year 2011. Yes, a new study came out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that measures sea-level rise over the last 2,000 years and -- don’t be shocked -- it’s never risen faster than now.
Earlier in the week, there was that report on the state of the oceans produced by a panel of leading marine scientists. Now, close your eyes and try again. Really, this should be easy. Just look at the previous paragraph and choose “unprecedented,” and this time pair it with “loss of species comparable to the great mass extinctions of prehistory,” or pick “far faster” (as in “the seas are degenerating far faster than anyone has predicted”), or for a change of pace, how about “more quickly” as in “more quickly than had been predicted” as the “world’s oceans move into ‘extinction’ phase.”
Or consider a third story: arctic melting. This time you’re 100% correct! It’s “faster” again (as in “than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts” of 2007). But don’t let me bore you. I won’t even mention the burning southwest, or Arizona’s Wallow fire, “the largest in state history,” or Texas’s “unprecedented wildfire season” (now “getting worse”), or the residents of Minot, North Dakota, abandoning their city to “unprecedented” floods, part of a deluge in the northern U.S. that is “unprecedented in modern times.”
It’s just superlatives and records all the way, and all thanks to those globally rising “record” temperatures and all those burning fossil fuels emitting “record” levels of greenhouse gases (“worst ever” in 2010) that so many governments, ours at the very top of the list, are basically ducking. Now, multiply those fabulous adjectives and superlative events—whether melting, dying, rising, or burning—and you’re heading toward the world of 2041, the one that TomDispatch energy expert and author of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet Michael Klare writes about [at TomDispatch]. It's a world where if we haven't kicked our fossil-fuel habit, we won’t have superlatives strong enough to describe it.
Thirty years from now, for better or worse, the world will be a far different place: hotter, stormier, and with less land (given the loss of shoreline and low-lying areas to rising sea levels)…. New powers, corporate and otherwise, in new combinations will have risen with a new energy universe. No one can know, of course, what our version of the Treaty of Westphalia will look like or who will be the winners and losers on this planet. In the intervening 30 years, however, that much violence and suffering will have ensued goes without question.
Image by adamfarnsworth, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 01, 2011 4:11 PM
The Republic of Maldives, a popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean, has drawn attention in recent months because its average altitude is 1.5 meters—alarmingly close to predictions of climate-change-induced sea level rise by the end of this century. As a result of its precarious position, the nation has been extensively involved in preparing for anticipated climate changes. It also has taken a proactive stance toward slowing climate change by reducing its emission of climate-warming greenhouse gases to the global atmosphere. Here, President Mohamed Nasheed, who famously held a cabinet meeting 6 meters underwater in 2009 to pass a resolution calling for action at the Copenhagen climate change talks, discusses the Maldives’ response to the threat of climate change. This interview is being simultaneously published online by Utne Reader and Momentum magazine.
When and how did you first become aware of the threat of climate change to the Maldives?
I used to be a journalist when I was in my 20s. In those days, the Maldives was a pretty strict authoritarian regime and you certainly couldn’t talk or write about politics without ending up in jail. So I used to write articles about environmental issues, which were tolerated by the regime. I have visited almost every island in the Maldives and I have snorkeled or dived off most of our coral reefs, so I have seen how the country has changed and understand how it could change very radically in the future because of climate change.
In what ways do you anticipate climate change will affect the Maldives?
There is no greater threat to the Maldives than that posed by the climate crisis. The best available science predicts that sea levels will rise 0.5 to 2 meters by the end of the 21st century, assuming global warming increases average temperatures by 4 degrees Celsius. Our islands are on average just 1.5 meters above the ocean, so even a 0.5 meter rise in sea level will be catastrophic. If sea levels rise by 2 meters, we will have to abandon the Maldives and find a new home on higher land abroad.
Has your country already experienced any impacts of climate change?
Climate change increases sea levels, which increases the likelihood of coastal erosion. Climate change also changes weather patterns and makes severe storms more likely. Many islands in the Maldives suffer from coastal erosion and seawater contamination of the freshwater lens. It is difficult to say with complete accuracy how much of this erosion and contamination is caused by climate change. What we can say is that climate change will make these problems much, much worse over the course of this century, if carbon dioxide pollution is not reduced. Climate change also threatens our coral reefs. Carbon pollution is increasing ocean temperatures and adding extra carbon dioxide to the oceans, making them more acidic. If ocean temperatures rise too high, or the sea becomes too acidic, corals die. For example, in 1998 a particularly strong El Niño caused sea temperatures to spike in the Maldives, killing 98 percent of all the corals in North Male’ atoll.
What are the people of the Maldives doing to prepare for climate change?
We are building sea walls, revetments and shore protection to protect the islands from erosion and storm surges. The capital island, Male’, is surrounded by a 2 meter sea wall, which protected the island from the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. So, at least in the medium term, sea walls can protect us from the stronger storm surges and more violent weather patterns that climate change will bring. Sea walls and heavy infrastructure projects are extremely expensive, however, and we have 1,190 islands, of which 300 are inhabited or are tourist resorts. We cannot afford to build a sea wall around every island community. The government is therefore looking at soft engineering to protect the islands. These soft engineering methods include protecting each island’s coral reef, which acts as a natural water-breaker, and looking after shoreline vegetation such as mangroves, which reduce beach erosion.
What are the people of the Maldives doing to reduce the threat of climate change?
The Maldives has announced a target of becoming carbon neutral by 2020—which means a 100 percent reduction in carbon dioxide levels by the end of this decade. This is the toughest mitigation target of any country submitted under the UN Copenhagen Accord. In part, the Maldives has chosen this path to prod other countries into action. If we can reduce our carbon emissions so radically, we believe bigger countries can be equally ambitious. Environmental considerations are only part of the reason for adopting carbon neutrality, however. The Maldives is Asia’s most energy insecure nation. We rely on imported oil to power our entire economy. As such, we are at the mercy of the volatile oil price, over which we have no control. For example, recent oil price hikes over the last six months are costing the Maldives over $300,000 per day in extra fuel bills. For a country of 350,000 people, this is a huge burden. We are dangerously exposed to oil price rises. For us, going carbon neutral and aggressively introducing renewable energy is necessary for our future prosperity and economic development. Over the past year, government economists have been crunching the numbers and we believe we can provide 80 percent of an average island’s electricity through renewable energy—solar, wind and batteries—without increasing people’s electricity bills. We will start to roll out these new power systems across the country this year.
What is your reaction to the agreement reached as part of the Cancún climate change conference to provide international adaptation aid to least-developed nations threatened by climate change?
The Maldives welcomed the Cancun agreements. We felt that these agreements built on the modest success achieved at the Copenhagen talks. The Cancun Agreements earmark billions of dollars of climate aid for poor, vulnerable countries so they can adapt to climate change. To be honest, we will believe this when we see it. All too often, big pledges of aid are made but rarely distributed to those in need. The Maldives will continue to plan for adaptation with the modest income that we have and we will work with reliable partners that have already provided us help, such as Denmark. If we are given further international assistance, then all well and good, but we are not holding our breath.
Mary Hoff is managing editor of
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
, courtesy of the President’s Office, Republic of Maldives.
Thursday, March 31, 2011 10:30 AM
This article is an adaptation of the introduction to J. Curt Stager’s
Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth
(Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press), published here courtesy of the author and publisher.
This excerpt appears in two parts. Part II is printed below. To Read Part I, in which Stager describes two scenarios—one moderate, one extreme—as possible results of our response to climate change, click here.
We still have time to choose between these scenarios. And although climatic instability, both in the near-term warming and subsequent cooling phases to come, is likely to cause great problems for many of our descendants, it's not going to end the human race altogether. Considering all that Homo sapiens has been through in the geologic past, it's clear that our species is too tough, diverse, and resourceful to be killed off completely by a climatic shift, especially as some parts of the Earth become more hospitable to humans in a warmer future, particularly in the far north. As coastal regions sink under the rising sea, regions just inland will become oceanfront property. Where one region becomes drier, another may become wetter. And as some familiar cultures fade away, others will be born. This is not meant to make light of the seriousness of the situation; rather, it's to make the opposite point. Our newly revealed influence on the deep future means that our decisions really do matter, because people are going to have to live through whatever version of the world we leave for them.
But taking a long view of the future for a huge and complicated planet isn't easy, and a confusing mosaic of positive and negative responses to human-driven warming is already under way. Polar bears, ringed seals, and beluga whales are beginning to suffer from the shrinkage of Arctic sea ice, but that change is also allowing brown bears, harbor seals, and orcas to move into new territories. An increasingly ice-free Arctic threatens traditional Inuit hunting cultures, but it's also opening sea routes for trade between Atlantic and Pacific nations and is likely to support new polar fisheries. And while melting ice pushes the oceans up and over our coastlines, it also unveils new farmland and mineral resources in Greenland, which may prosper as a result.
In light of this mix of pluses and minuses, how can we best decide what the climatic settings of future ecosystems and cultures should be like in 100,000 AD, not to mention 2100 AD?
Thanks to the great reach of our carbon legacy, we in this century are endowed with the power - some might say the honor - to affect future generations for what amounts to eternity, and our far-reaching effects on what were once purely mechanistic processes now raise new ethical questions. Any choices we make will bring benefits to some descendents and harm to others, and the complexity of this puzzle grows as we look farther forward in time. For example, losing the ice on the Arctic Ocean may seem like an awful disaster to us, but imagine how peoples of the deep future will feel as the inexorable cooling recovery threatens what will by then have become ancient, open-water ecosystems. Elders may then whisper, "I don't remember ice forming here when I was a kid. If this keeps up, the whole polar ocean may eventually freeze over. What should we do?"
Few rational people would seriously argue that choosing an extreme emissions scenario is preferable to a moderate one, or that either scenario is preferable to no carbon pollution at all. But even in a moderate case, enough fossil carbon will remain in the air 50,000 years from now to prevent the next ice age, which natural orbital cycles would otherwise have triggered then. In essence, this means that by unwittingly causing a near-term climate crisis, we have also saved future versions of Canada and northern Eurasia from obliteration under mile-thick sheets of grinding glacial ice. That's a welcome bit of good news over the super-long term, but it also means that choosing a moderate emissions scenario over an extreme one could amount to sentencing later generations to glacial devastation. Another ice age is due in 130,000 AD, and a moderate emissions pulse will have dissipated too much by then to stop it. Must we therefore sacrifice one set of generations for the sake of another, or can some better solution be found?
Saving the world with a minimum of collateral damage may be impossibly difficult, especially considering the limits of human altruism and today's political demagoguery and media hype. But the work of Archer and others like him give us a fresh view of the whole situation, not just our own relatively tiny blip of time and home turf. Hopefully, it will help to support a more productive global conversation about what lies before us and what we should do about it.
Here's one idea in that regard. If we leave most of our coal reserves in the ground rather than burning them when other energy sources are capable of doing the same work, then we not only avoid the most extreme consequences of near-term climate change; we also bequeath that fossil carbon in a naturally sequestered form to later generations who may want to use it as a defense against future ice ages. The required switch to alternative fuels is inevitable anyway, because we'll either do it soon by choice or be forced to do it later. Who knows what cultures and technologies may be like by then, but even neo-stone age peoples could mobilize heat-trapping greenhouse gases by setting exposed coal seams alight if they so desired. Leaving the decision to them not only relieves us of that responsibility; it would also reduce environmental damage in the near term and stretch the useful life of carbon reserves over millions of years, perhaps even long enough to regenerate some of them in geological formations.
If we want to "save the world" over a truly long time frame, then perhaps that's one more good reason to save the carbon. Save it for later, for higher purposes than simple furnace food and for the benefit of both near- and far-future generations. To me, that sounds like a win-win strategy that all of us should be able to support.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011 12:34 PM
This article is an adaptation of the introduction to J. Curt Stager’s Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth(Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press), published here courtesy of the author and publisher.
This excerpt appears in two parts. Part I is printed below. Read Part II here.
In the past, seemingly intractable debates over environmental issues have sometimes been resolved with the aid of long-term historical perspectives. When acid rain dominated the environmental media during the 1980s, for example, sediment core records of recent, progressive acidification in lakes from the northeastern United States helped to break rhetorical logjams between activists who correctly insisted that industrial pollution was the cause and polluters who claimed that the lakes had always been naturally acidic. When global warming later gained wide public attention, ice cores and other such geo-historical records showed that greenhouse gases and climates are indeed closely linked, and that we're fast approaching conditions that are well beyond the normal range of variability.
Although it's a rather eclectic discipline that straddles the fields of geology and biology, my chosen profession of paleoecology is well known among scientists for its ability to harness truly long-term thinking in order to place current environmental issues into their most meaningful contexts, showing us where we've been, how we got here, and where we're likely to be headed next.
Today, scientists with such long-term perspectives are once again nudging us beyond currently entrenched arguments over human-driven climate change, but their gaze is aimed forward in time, as well as backward. A new generation of climate models and the visionaries who wield them are showing that our carbon legacy will last far longer than most of us yet realize, long enough to interfere with future ice ages. David Archer, an oceanographer and climate modeler at the University of Chicago, sometimes puts it thus; "global warming is essentially forever."
Until now, our collective view of future warming has typically ended at 2100 AD, as if it were the edge of a world beyond which we dare not sail. That's not surprising, considering that most of us consider "a long time" to be the hours remaining at the office, and even for most scientists the end of this century can seem like an eternity away. But if the world continues to exist beyond 2100 AD, then what happens after global warming?
For Archer and experts like him, 2100 AD is just the first step on a long journey that we and our planet are embarking upon together, whether we realize it or not. Sophisticated computer models with names such as CLIMBER, GENIE, and LOVECLIM show that a large fraction of our fossil fuel emissions will remain in the atmosphere for so long that it boggles the mind, not just a few centuries but many tens of thousands of years. In the most extreme scenarios, which are the ones that we're heading for at the moment, that persistence could reach half a million years or more.
Despite the arcane calculations that support these seemingly outlandish claims, the basic picture of what lies ahead is actually quite simple. It all boils down to one principle: "what goes up must come down."
Sooner or later, our carbon dioxide emissions will peak and then begin to decline, because sooner or later we'll either switch to alternative energy sources or simply run out of affordable fossil fuels. In response, greenhouse gas concentrations will also reach some limit and then begin to fall. This will trigger a sequential "climate whiplash" period, in which temperatures flip from warming into cooling mode, acidification from CO2 dissolution into the ocean wreaks maximum havoc on marine life before slackening off, and sea levels peak and fall.
Perhaps most amazingly of all, the intensity and duration of these changes will largely be determined by what we do during this century.
If we switch to non-fossil energy soon, then we'll have emitted roughly a trillion tons of heat-trapping carbon fumes since the Industrial Revolution. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations will likely peak by 2150-2200 AD and then begin to fall, to be followed by a relatively brief heat spike 2-3°C higher than today, and a later sea level maximum roughly 10 m higher than that of today due to melting in Greenland and western Antarctica. According to Archer, most of our fossil carbon emissions will dissolve into the oceans during the next few millennia, but the seas can only retain so much. Roughly one fifth of that carbon will remain stranded in the atmosphere until rock weathering eventually scrubs it away, but those processes work very slowly. Full recovery in this relatively moderate scenario takes as much as 100,000 years.
If, instead, we burn through our coal reserves before utter depletion forces us to find alternative energy sources later on, then much more extreme consequences could follow. Details vary depending on the models used, but with CO2 concentrations approaching 1900-2000 ppm (five times that of today), temperatures could rise 6-9 °C over a broad peak stretching from 2500 AD to 3500 AD. Carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures would not fall close to today's levels again for hundreds of thousands of years. All land-based ice would eventually melt, raising sea levels by as much as 70 meters until regenerating ice sheets begin to pull water back out of the oceans.
Are these just morbid fantasies of an apocalyptic future? Not at all. For me, at least, such revelations of our uniquely influential place in deep time are as transformative and energizing as my first look at photos of the Earth floating in deep space. We are important in the grand sweep of geologic history. And paleoecological evidence shows that these simulations of possible futures are firmly anchored in scientific fact rather than science fiction, because they've happened before. The Earth has warmed many times in the past, though not because of us, and geo-historical records reveal much about what life on a warmer Earth could be like.
Take the more moderate scenario outlined here, in which we rein our emissions in as quickly as possible. The expected outcome is much like what happened the last time world climates came up for air between the last two ice ages, 130,000 years ago. The so-called "Eemian interglacial" warm period was caused not by greenhouse gases but by natural orbital cycles that warmed Arctic summers enough to destroy the great northern ice sheets. Nonetheless, it lends strong support to the simulations of a best-case future.
Sediment layers, ice cores, cave stalagmites, and other paleo archives show that the Eemian interglacial was 2-3°C warmer than today and lasted for about 13,000 years. Greenland and Antarctica lost enough ice to hoist sea level by 6-9 meters, but much of their frozen coverings survived the long thaw. Hickories and black gums that now favor southeastern forests of the Blue Ridge thrived in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, while heat-loving hippos and elephants roamed northern Europe. The environmental changes were enormous but slow enough that few species died out as a result, and most animals and plants simply migrated along with their favored climatic conditions between various latitudes and altitudes.
The most extreme scenario would more closely resemble a natural super-greenhouse that engulfed the planet 55 million years ago following a catastrophic release of methane and CO2 from undersea deposits, possibly due to volcanism in the North Atlantic. Global temperatures shot up 11-12°C higher than today over several thousand years - the blink of an eye in geological terms, and on par with a future burn-it-all scenario. All land-based ice vanished, the Arctic Ocean became a warm, brackish pond rimmed by redwood forests, beech trees covered Antarctica, carbonic acid burned a discolored stripe into the sea floor that still shows up clearly in marine sediment cores, and sea surfaces climbed 70 meters above today's level. Recovery in that case took at least 170,000 years.
Perhaps surprisingly, even this "Paleoecene-Eocene Thermal Maximum" (PETM) hothouse did little harm to most land-dwelling life, though many marine organisms perished in the oceanic acid bath. In fact, early mammals thrived in the luxuriant greenery that spread from pole to pole, with newly evolved creatures invading new territories so rapidly that they often seem to have appeared in fossil records everywhere at once. But that's not necessarily very comforting news. The PETM predated our earliest hominid ancestors by more than 50 million years, a time at the dawn of mammalian evolution when carnivorous "wolf-sheep" ran about with hooves on the tips of their toes, and proto-whales had legs. Just because they felt at home during the PETM doesn't necessarily mean that today's wolves, sheep, and whales would handle a reprise very well, especially with billions of humans and a global cobweb of roads and cities and farms blocking their migration routes.
But all is not doom and gloom.
Read Part II here, where the author describes the pros and cons of a future world resulting from both the moderate scenario and the extreme scenario.
Thursday, February 17, 2011 3:49 PM
From The Nation:
Bill McKibben, author and founder of the international environmental organization 350.org, says that without a global campaign to curb climate change, the ecological devastation of our warming climate will make our planet uninhabitable. His appeal to citizens and policy-makers, the seventh video in the series "Peak Oil and a Changing Climate" from The Nation and On The Earth Productions, is a call to action as much as it is a sobering account of the damage we're already doing to our environment.
Bill McKibben was named a 2010 Utne Reader Visionary. You can read an interview with McKibben by Utne senior editor Keith Goetzman here.
Source: The Nation
Wednesday, February 02, 2011 10:12 AM
This article was originally published at
New Deal 2.0
Recently Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel-prize-winning economist and Senior Fellow and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute, gave a very interesting speech in South Africa concerning climate change and the global economy. He argued that by implementing policies that help to reverse global warming, we can also reverse the global economic downturn. Although he also pointed out many barriers to doing so, he outlined some interesting policy proposals.
For me, the most interesting part of his speech concerned the use of a Keynesian approach, not just for a single country, as is usually done, but for the entire world economy. Keynes pointed out that when the private sector is unable to generate enough demand in the economy, that is, it is unable generate enough spending from consumption and investment, then the government must step in to kickstart spending. Thus in recessions and depressions many now acknowledge that at some point it may be necessary for the government to spend more than it takes in to get the economy moving again. (See numerous articles from Marshall Auerback on this basic idea.)
There are a couple of fine points to what Keynes was saying, however, that are either often glossed over or challenged. First, he asserted that when demand is low, saving can get in the way of recovery. So — and this is the part that is ignored — since the rich save more than the poor, their excess income gets in the way of recovery. The horrendous implication, from the rich person’s point of view, is that they should be taxed more. The less direct way to put this, which is the way it is discussed even in much of the progressive media, is that an “unequal distribution of wealth” leads to negative economic outcomes. The important statistic for the US is that while in 1970 the top 1% of households pulled in about 10% of total income, now they receive close to 25%. Not good, from a purely Keynesian perspective.
So what does this have to do with climate change? Since he was speaking in South Africa, it was easy for him to point out that the world distribution of wealth is very unequal. Because of this inequality, it will be much harder for developing countries to create less carbon-intensive economies through large-scale investment than for developed countries. In addition, the poorer countries consume more and the richer countries save more. So an obvious policy approach is to tax financial transactions, which moves money from something that (to be charitable) involves savings into consumption and investment by developing countries. The richer countries could also simply give grants to the poorer countries. Stiglitz claimed that about $200 billion per year would be required to help developing countries make the transition to a less carbon-intensive future, which could be financed from a financial tax.
The second implication of Keynes’ ideas is that the economy needs more investment when it is in a downturn. We certainly need a good deal of investment to create less carbon-intensive economies, and it so happens that, according to Keynes, investment, particularly in factories, is the best way to pull economies out of slumps. While he famously suggested that digging holes and filling them up again would also do the trick, he clearly preferred doing something useful with investments on the grounds that investment is generally good for a society and that it is a surer way to speed recovery than consumption.
Stiglitz argued that what we have now is an inadequate level of global aggregate demand, which is to say, there isn’t enough consumption and investment for the entire global economy to pull out of the recession. Thus, he stressed, reversing climate change is an opportunity for the economy, not a drag. We need investment for the good of the climate and we need investment for the good of the economy — therefore what we have is a win-win situation.
But how do we encourage investment? Stiglitz’s answer is to put a price on the emission of carbon, thus stimulating investment into less carbon-intensive technologies. He thinks that eventually carbon will be priced at 80 dollars per ton, which means that it will probably be cheaper to build a wind farm than to build a coal plant. In fact, it might become more economically rational, with a price on carbon, to shut down an existing coal plant and build a new wind farm to replace it. And new wind farms mean new investment, which means increasing global aggregate demand, which means pulling out of the global recession.
Of course, there are roadblocks in the way of this process. For one thing, there is the power of the greatest emitters of carbon, the oil and coal industries, among others. Then there is the expense that a price on carbon would mean for poorer countries — thus the need for the richer part of the world to subsidize the poorer part. Even rich countries, of course, would not take easily to a price for carbon, as we saw in last year’s defeat of lukewarm cap-and-trade legislation. Stiglitz argues that for an international treaty to be effective, it needs to have enforceable sanctions, such as hitting the offending nation’s exports with a price increase. But as the managing editor of South Africa’s largest newspaper argued in a generally favorable response to Stiglitz’s lecture, trade sanctions would mean that developing countries would be hurt, thus requiring some more subsidies in order to equalize the playing field.
In all, I think Stiglitz laid out the foundation of a very workable global economic strategy. I would propose another element: encouraging direct investment and construction of infrastructure on the part of governments. While Stiglitz mentioned the idea of regulation and praised mass transit as an adjunct to the general policy of pricing carbon, it was not a focus of his approach. But here is another possibility for a win-win — if developed countries sold or gave factories to the developing countries to create the wind turbines, electric rail and cars, and solar plants that would allow them to reduce carbon emissions, it would give the developed countries a huge boost economically and the developing countries the capability to become much wealthier in a sustainable way. Think of it as a global Marshall Plan or Works Progress Administration. The developed countries could promise, say, one trillion dollars per year in machinery to the developing countries, which would be a strategic, targeted, Keynesian method for pulling the entire world economy out of its slump. And it would go far to meet what Stiglitz called the greatest challenge we have ever faced: the threat of global climate change.
Jon Rynn is the author of
Manufacturing Green Prosperity: The power to rebuild the American middle class
available from Praeger Press. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York.
Source: New Deal 2.0
Image by NASA via wwworks at Creative Commons.
Monday, December 27, 2010 11:21 AM
The small town of Newtok, Alaska is fighting for its life. As global temperatures rise, the town of 340 Yup’ik people is losing the land below it, as it melts into the sea. “The permafrost under Newtok is no longer permanent,” writes Mark Dowie in Orion (November | December 2010), “and the thick winter ice that once sheltered the village from increasingly violent storm surges thaws and breaks up a little earlier every year…. The village could be completely gone in ten years.”
So, what do you do when you’re community is falling into the sea? You move it. But that process comes at a cost. About $380,000 per person, in fact, writes Dowie. The process is not only an expensive one, but a complicated one, too, that involves moving buildings across large portions of frozen land or on barges in the summer, as well as constructing new buildings in a new location. The larger cost, though, to many of the Yup’ik people is the potential lose of culture. As Dowie explains it, family—and therefore history—is essential to the Yup’ik people. His first encounter with some of the Yup’ik children makes this point clear to him:
“What’s your name?” they ask.
“Mark, do you have children?”
“What are their names?”
I name them slowly. They repeat every name.
“And what is your wife’s name…and your brother, your sister, mother, father?”
And that’s all they really want to know. They don’t ask why I am there or where I am from. But my family is vital information, perhaps the only thing that really matters about me.
The fact that Newtok is slipping into the sea, then, makes for a hard-hitting metaphor for the Yup’ik people. As the coastline disappears and tribal leaders scramble to decide how to move the town to higher, more stable ground, outsiders recommend solutions—moving to Fairbanks or Anchorage, “co-locating” with another village—that, to the Yup’ik people, would have the same results as the disappearing shoreline, namely, their culture disappearing along with it. “If we don’t get assistance for relocation,” said Tony Weyiouanna, a civic leader, “then we face elimination by dissemination and dispersal. People will be forced to relocate by themselves, as individuals or families, not as a community of people. If that happens, we lose our culture and traditions.”
Unfortunately, Newtok is not the only area facing the catastrophic results of climate change, and therefore the Yup’ik people aren’t the only ones looking for funding to relocate. Dowie writes of a 4,000-year-old Inupiat settlement that needs between $150 and $180 million to move seven miles away. With numbers like that, along with other costs Alaska is facing as a state in response to rising temperatures (“Over the past sixty years, Alaska’s annual temperature has risen four degrees,” Dowie writes, “which is double the global average.”), it will be surprising if the 31 native villages in imminent danger due to erosion all make it to higher ground in time.
Image by MarmotChaser, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 12:26 PM
Many Republican politicians continue to cling to a science-defying denial of climate change. Meanwhile, writes Earth Island Journal, “Some of the most recognizable militants in the Islamic world … have recently made statements linking peace and stability with healthy ecosystems.”
We’re talking about people like Hezbollah guerilla leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and terrorist majordomo Osama bin Laden. In October, writes Earth Island Journal, Nasrallah “took time out from his diatribes against the United States and Israel to deliver an environmentally themed stump speech.”
Reuters reported from the scene:
“The climate threat today,” the bespectacled cleric told his listeners, “is among the biggest threats faced by mankind in (terms of) its peace, security, stability and existence.”
Civic sense is not a strong point in Lebanon and it is not clear whether even Nasrallah can induce greener behavior on his compatriots, many of whom blithely toss litter from their cars.
But it was a striking theme for the leader of a militant Islamist armed movement, backed by Syria and Iran, and viewed by the United States as a terrorist organization.
Bin Laden, for his part, chimed in a week later, criticizing the official response to widespread flooding in Pakistan and linking the disaster to global warming. “The huge climate change is affecting our (Islamic) nation and is causing great catastrophes throughout the Islamic world,” bin Laden said, according to Reuters.
For greens trying to attract allies to their battle against climate change, these endorsements are a mixed blessing: On one hand, they signal a growing acceptance of current climate science even in unexpected quarters. On the other, do we want the wrong people on the right side of this issue? Doesn’t it make it a wee bit easier for climate-change deniers to paint greens as anti-American terrorist sympathizers?
Earth Island Journal speculates on where this could lead:
With enemies like these, maybe it’s time to update the tired post-9/11 sound bite: If the U.S. gives up on tackling global climate change … the terrorists win?
Sources: Earth Island Journal, Reuters
, licensed under
Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:59 AM
One of the parties on the ballot on Election Day holds a position that virtually no party in the world’s liberal democracies shares. The Republican Party’s steadfast rejection of climate science makes it a global outlier, an unparalleled bastion of denial, ignorance, and obfuscation on one of the most important issues of the day.
That’s why Ronald Brownstein, conservative columnist for the National Journal, caused a bit of a stir when he wrote on October 9:
Virtually all of the serious 2010 GOP challengers have moved beyond opposing cap-and-trade to dismissing the scientific evidence that global warming is even occurring. … It is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here. Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, says that although other parties may contain pockets of climate skepticism, there is “no party-wide view like this anywhere in the world that I am aware of.”
It will be difficult for the world to move meaningfully against climate disruption if the United States does not. And it will be almost impossible for the U.S. to act if one party not only rejects the most common solution proposed for the problem (cap-and-trade) but repudiates even the idea that there is a problem to be solved. The GOP’s stiffening rejection of climate science sets the stage for much heated argument but little action as the world inexorably warms … .
Brownstein’s candor on this issue yielded reactions of welcome surprise in outlets ranging from Treehugger to Climate Progress to Ross Douthat’s blog at the New York Times. But a strange thing has happened to Brownstein’s column as Election Day approaches: It has disappeared without a trace from the National Journal’s website.
Maybe the writer changed his mind about climate change and pulled it. Maybe a link has simply broken. Maybe a climate-related weather event has disrupted the connection to the server. Or perhaps someone at the National Journal decided it was time to unhost the attention-getting piece, an unwelcome bit of self-criticism at a time when line-toeing and back-patting is in order.
In the meantime, StopGlobalWarming.org has posted a copy of the column, which is perfect for sharing with conservative-leaning friends and family before they vote.
Sources: National Journal, Treehugger, Climate Progress, New York Times, StopGlobalWarming.org
Image from This Isn’t Happiness.
Thursday, October 14, 2010 4:53 PM
Environmental writer and organizer Bill McKibben is the only person who’s been chosen twice as an Utne Reader Visionary—first in 2001 for his writing on climate-change issues, and now in 2010 for his role as founder of 350.org, turning his expertise into passionate activism. I recently spoke with McKibben about how he helped build 350.org into a force to be reckoned with, what keeps him inspired, and how he retains his cool demeanor in heated debates about our warming world:
You’ve long been a strong voice on climate change and in fact were one of the first commentators to call widespread attention to the problem. What made you take on a more activist role by forming 350.org?
“I spent a long time thinking that I was doing my part by writing and speaking about this, and that since it wasn’t really my nature to go be a political organizer, someone else whose nature it was would go and build a movement. But it never happened, and it became clearer and clearer to me that that was one of the things that was really lacking—one of the reasons we were making so little progress. I’d been dealing with the most important issue we’ve ever come up against, so I figured I’d better do what I could.
“As usual, these things begin as small and manageable, and end up completely out of control. We started with a march across Vermont in the fall of 2006. That was very successful, and it grew into Step It Up in the spring of 2007, and that was very successful—we coordinated about 1,400 demonstrations on a day in April 2007, and got [Barack] Obama and [Hillary] Clinton to change their positions on climate change. And that grew into 350.org, which has been very, very large, and so far not successful, at least in slowing global warming quite yet.”
When you say 350.org is large, are you talking about the membership of the organization?
“It doesn’t really have membership, I guess, in any traditional way. In fact, we’ve set it up not to be an organization. One of the insights we’ve had from the beginning is that in the Internet age, it’s probably less necessary to have more organizations—we have a lot of good ones yesterday—and more important to have ways to let everybody work together toward a common goal.
“So we set 350 up as a campaign and tried to make it easy for absolutely everyone to play along, and that’s what’s been happening all over the world. And I think it explains why we were able to help coordinate this massive Day of Action for last October, this thing that spanned 181 countries and that CNN said was the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”
Despite high-visibility events like this, and some pretty high-profile media coverage of 350.org, why do say you haven’t been successful so far?
“Well, we didn’t actually expect that we were going to defeat on fossil fuel industry inside of a year. Movement building takes time. We need to build a movement strong enough to take on the most profitable and powerful enterprise that the human civilization has ever seen—the fossil fuel industry. That’s by its definition difficult work. I think it’s an open question whether a) we’ll succeed, and b) probably more, whether we’ll succeed in time. Because physics and chemistry put a very definite time limit on how much margin we have.”
Despite leading this campaign-style organization, you’re still appearing often as a talking head on climate change matters on the news, and you’re taken quite seriously as a climate change expert. How do you maintain that sort of credibility while also taking a very clear side in this fight?
“Well, I obviously can’t go do beat reporting on climate for a major newspaper or something—that would be wrong, you know, because I am a part of the—I long ago took a side that I really don’t want the planet to burn up. On the other hand, we’ve always put the science first and foremost. That’s why we operate something that attempts to really people around a wonky scientific data point.
“And I suppose there a certain amount of credibility that comes from having written the first book for a general audience about all this stuff, all those many years ago, and having unfortunately been proven right. I would frankly far rather have been proven wrong, and the damage to my ego would have been quite small compared to the damage to the planet that we’ve had instead.”
In a recent commentary for TomDispatch, which we republished on Utne.com, you pointed out that you’re a mild-mannered guy, slow to anger—and yet you wrote that you’ve basically lost patience with the lack of progress on global warming.
“Well, this has been a very brutal summer. The contrast between the very clear—we’re really seeing this summer what, in its early stages, this global warming looks like. That prospect is so disturbing, and we look at what’s going on in Pakistan, or Russia, or the Arctic, and it’s just especially disturbing when we contrast it with the incredible inaction in D.C., the lack of urgency at the White House, the lack of willingness even to take a vote in the U.S. Senate—to me that’s really scary. And yeah, I might have even said a bad word in that article, which is unlike me.”
I’ve noticed in your media appearances that you seldom come off as argumentative or confrontational—you always keep your cool when taking on arguments about climate change.
“It may be that for better or for worse, having worked on this for more than two decades now, basically as long as anybody on the planet except a few scientists, maybe my emotions get less tangled up in the middle of it all. When I was first wrote the end of nature, I was feeling—I was in a state of, not clinical depression, but I was very sad. And some part of me remains very much that way. But some other part has, in the way that we do after a long time, gotten a grip on it. And now I just—maybe it’s because I spend less time than I used to worrying about whether we are going to win or not. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I just know that it’s necessary for me to get up every day and do everything that I can think of to do.”
In that same commentary you laid out some prescriptions about where we can go from here. You wrote that “Step one involves actually talking about global warming.” How do we go about talking about it?
“Well, what I was contrasting it with was the tendency among some members of Congress or the administration to endlessly talk about it as if the real issue was that we needed some way to create green jobs, or energy independence. Now, these are all good things that would happen were we to take seriously the need to get off fossil fuel. But the need to get off fossil fuel stems from the fact that if we don’t, the planet is not going to work. And that’s what we’ve got to keep saying now with increasing urgency. Most people here, even in the United States, understand that there’s a problem with climate change. The polling shows like two-thirds of people sort of get it—but not too many of them get the fact that it’s happening now in a very dramatic and powerful fashion.”
How do we bring that home to those people who don’t understand that?
“Well, we do what we can. We write; we did this huge political rally last year; we’re doing a huge Global Work Party this October; in November we’re doing this global-scale kind of art project. We’re trying to figure out every way in. It may mean that we need to do more of the civil disobedience kind of stuff in the future that we did some of last year at the congressional power plant in D.C. We’ve got to figure out every way we can to communicate this urgency, and it’ll reach different people in different ways, of course, because we’re all wired kind of different.”
Environmentalists are often told that we’re not supposed to mention things like, oh, civilization as we know it may cease to exist if we don’t do something. But it seems to me that we’ve got to start talking candidly about this. How do we do that without setting off this fear response that allegedly is unhealthy for people?
“I don’t know—and so my default mechanism is just to tell the truth. You know what my books are about. The last book, Eaarth(Times Books, 2010), was no punches pulled. It’s a pretty grim first chapter, it must be said. But it’s just a recitation of the evidence about where we are, with no attempt to sort of showboat it or anything—just say it: Here’s what’s going on, right now. And it’s possible that—you can make an argument that we need to figure out some other message or framing or something—I’m not clever enough to do it. So my default mechanism is just to tell people the truth. And 350 is kind of the height of that. That’s the most important number we know about the world right now.”
Clearly, there’s plenty of discouraging news in climate change action these days. What is it that inspires you day to day, keeps you encouraged and going?
“The incredible outpouring of people all over the world. I go and look at the 25,000 pictures in the Flickr account at 350.org when I get really down about all this, and I see people all over the world, most of whom do not look the way that Americans think environmentalists do—i.e. rich white people. Most of them are black, brown, Asian, poor, young, because that’s what most of the world is, you know. That people in orphanages in Indonesia and slums in Mombasa, and in every kind of circumstance on earth, can join hands to stand up on this stuff, then I can’t find any good reason why I shouldn’t keep trying.”
I know you were tremendously disappointed by the lack of progress in Copenhagen at the climate talks, having read some of your post-conference coverage. Presumably the world is going to have to get around a table again to talk about this—how can we avoid the gridlock and inertia that bogged things down in Denmark?
“The only way we can avoid it is if we built a movement strong enough to have some real power. Look, in the end this isn’t about figuring out some magic set of words, or some perfect conference protocol. This is about power, and at the moment the fossil fuel industry, which is the most profitable business humans have ever engaged in, has enough power to easily beat back the steps that need to be taken to preserve the planet. So unless we can build a movement that has enough power to beat back the fossil fuel industry, then we’re never going to have good outcomes.”
Image by Nancie Battaglia, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 05, 2010 10:03 AM
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Try to fit these facts together:
* According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.
* A “staggering” new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.
* Nine nations have so far set their all-time temperature records in 2010, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May: a hair under 130 degrees. I can turn my oven to 130 degrees.
* And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. They didn’t do less than they could have—they did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate majority leader Harry Reid decided not even to schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.
I wrote the first book for a general audience on global warming back in 1989, and I’ve spent the subsequent 21 years working on the issue. I’m a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday School teacher. Not quick to anger. So what I want to say is: this is fucked up. The time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.
For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by a collection of the most corporate and moderate environmental groups, outfits like the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you’re supposed to: they wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly, and compromised at every turn.
By the time they were done, they had a bill that only capped carbon emissions from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely you could actually hear the oinking. They bent over backwards like Soviet gymnasts. Senator John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: "We believe we have compromised significantly, and we're prepared to compromise further.”
And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone—not just Reid, not just the Republicans. Even President Obama wouldn’t lend a hand, investing not a penny of his political capital in the fight.
The result: total defeat, no moral victories.
So now we know what we didn’t before: making nice doesn’t work. It was worth a try, and I’m completely serious when I say I’m grateful they made the effort, but it didn’t even come close to working. So we better try something else.
Step one involves actually talking about global warming. For years now, the accepted wisdom in the best green circles was: talk about anything else—energy independence, oil security, beating the Chinese to renewable technology. I was at a session convened by the White House early in the Obama administration where some polling guru solemnly explained that “green jobs” polled better than “cutting carbon.”
No, really? In the end, though, all these focus-group favorites are secondary. The task at hand is keeping the planet from melting. We need everyone—beginning with the president—to start explaining that basic fact at every turn.
It is the heat, and also the humidity. Since warm air holds more water than cold, the atmosphere is about 5% moister than it was 40 years ago, which explains the freak downpours that seem to happen someplace on this continent every few days.
It is the carbon—that’s why the seas are turning acid, a point Obama could have made with ease while standing on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. “It’s bad that it’s black out there,” he might have said, “but even if that oil had made it safely ashore and been burned in our cars, it would still be wrecking the oceans.” Energy independence is nice, but you need a planet to be energy independent on.
Mysteriously enough, this seems to be a particularly hard point for smart people to grasp. Even in the wake of the disastrous Senate non-vote, the Nature Conservancy’s climate expert toldNew York Times columnist Tom Friedman, “We have to take climate change out of the atmosphere, bring it down to earth, and show how it matters in people’s everyday lives.” Translation: ordinary average people can’t possibly recognize the real stakes here, so let’s put it in language they can understand, which is about their most immediate interests. It’s both untrue, as I’ll show below, and incredibly patronizing. It is, however, exactly what we’ve been doing for a decade and clearly, It Does Not Work.
Step two, we have to ask for what we actually need, not what we calculate we might possibly be able to get. If we’re going to slow global warming in the very short time available to us, then we don’t actually need an incredibly complicated legislative scheme that gives door prizes to every interested industry and turns the whole operation over to Goldman Sachs to run. We need a stiff price on carbon, set by the scientific understanding that we can’t still be burning black rocks a couple of decades hence. That undoubtedly means upending the future business plans of Exxon and BP, Peabody Coal and Duke Energy, not to speak of everyone else who’s made a fortune by treating the atmosphere as an open sewer for the byproducts of their main business.
Instead they should pay through the nose for that sewer, and here’s the crucial thing: most of the money raised in the process should be returned directly to American pockets. The monthly check sent to Americans would help fortify us against the rise in energy costs, and we’d still be getting the price signal at the pump to stop driving that SUV and start insulating the house. We also need to make real federal investments in energy research and development, to help drive down the price of alternatives—the Breakthrough Institute points out, quite rightly, that we’re crazy to spend more of our tax dollars on research into new drone aircraft and Mars orbiters than we do on photovoltaics.
Yes, these things are politically hard, but they’re not impossible. A politician who really cared could certainly use, say, the platform offered by the White House to sell a plan that taxed BP and actually gave the money to ordinary Americans. (So far they haven’t even used the platform offered by the White House to reinstall the rooftop solar panels that Jimmy Carter put there in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan took down in his term.)
Asking for what you need doesn’t mean you’ll get all of it. Compromise still happens. But as David Brower, the greatest environmentalist of the late twentieth century, explained amid the fight to save the Grand Canyon: “We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else propose the compromise. We thereupon work hard to coax it our way. We become a nucleus around which the strongest force can build and function.”
Which leads to the third step in this process. If we’re going to get any of this done, we’re going to need a movement, the one thing we haven’t had. For 20 years environmentalists have operated on the notion that we’d get action if we simply had scientists explain to politicians and CEOs that our current ways were ending the Holocene, the current geological epoch. That turns out, quite conclusively, not to work. We need to be able to explain that their current ways will end something they actually care about, i.e. their careers. And since we’ll never have the cash to compete with Exxon, we better work in the currencies we can muster: bodies, spirit, passion.
As Tom Friedman put it in a strong column the day after the Senate punt, the problem was that the public “never got mobilized.” Is it possible to get people out in the streets demanding action about climate change? Last year, with almost no money, our scruffy little outfit, 350.org, managed to organize what Foreign Policycalled the “largest ever coordinated global rally of any kind” on any issue—5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries, 2,000 of them in the U.S.A.
People were rallying not just about climate change, but around a remarkably wonky scientific data point, 350 parts per million carbon dioxide, which NASA’s James Hansen and his colleagues have demonstrated is the most we can have in the atmosphere if we want a planet “similar to the one on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Which, come to think of it, we do. And the “we,” in this case, was not rich white folks. If you look at the 25,000 pictures in our Flickr account, you’ll see that most of them were poor, black, brown, Asian, and young—because that’s what most of the world is. No need for vice-presidents of big conservation groups to patronize them: shrimpers in Louisiana and women in burqas and priests in Orthodox churches and slumdwellers in Mombasa turned out to be completely capable of understanding the threat to the future.
Those demonstrations were just a start (one we should have made long ago). We’re following up in October—on 10-10-10—with a Global Work Party. All around the country and the world people will be putting up solar panels and digging community gardens and laying out bike paths. Not because we can stop climate change one bike path at a time, but because we need to make a sharp political point to our leaders: we’re getting to work, what about you?
We need to shame them, starting now. And we need everyone working together. This movement is starting to emerge on many fronts. In September, for instance, opponents of mountaintop removal are converging on DC to demand an end to the coal trade. That same month, Tim DeChristopher goes on trial in Salt Lake City for monkey-wrenching oil and gas auctions by submitting phony bids. (Naomi Klein and Terry Tempest Williams have called for folks to gather at the courthouse.)
The big environmental groups are starting to wake up, too. The Sierra Club has a dynamic new leader, Mike Brune, who’s working hard with stalwarts like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. (Note to enviro groups: working together is fun and useful). Churches are getting involved, as well as mosques and synagogues. Kids are leading the fight, all over the world—they have to live on this planet for another 70 years or so, and they have every right to be pissed off.
But no one will come out to fight for watered down and weak legislation. That’s not how it works. You don’t get a movement unless you take the other two steps I’ve described.
And in any event it won’t work overnight. We’re not going to get the Senate to act next week, or maybe even next year. It took a decade after the Montgomery bus boycott to get the Voting Rights Act. But if there hadn’t been a movement, then the Voting Rights Act would have passed in… never. We may need to get arrested. We definitely need art, and music, and disciplined, nonviolent, but very real anger.
Mostly, we need to tell the truth, resolutely and constantly. Fossil fuel is wrecking the one earth we’ve got. It’s not going to go away because we ask politely. If we want a world that works, we’re going to have to raise our voices.
Bill McKibben is founder of 350.org and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. Earlier this year the Boston Globe called him “probably the country’s leading environmentalist” and Time described him as “the planet’s best green journalist.” He’s a scholar in residence at Middlebury College. To hear him discuss why the public needs to lead the fight against global warming in Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview, click here or, to download it to your iPod, here.
Copyright 2010 Bill McKibben
Image by Nancie Battaglia.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010 4:57 PM
It’s the season of air conditioning in the Northern Hemisphere, which means spiking energy demands. Environmental writer Stan Cox breaks down just what this means in his book Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer), which came out in spring from The New Press.
German researchers, he reports, have projected that because of global warming and rising populations, cooling demand will rise by 65 to 72 percent in the next four decades. Writes Cox:
Even though the majority of people now living in the world’s hottest climates cannot afford air-conditioning now and probably still won’t have access to it in 2050, millions of homes, offices, other buildings, and vehicles on every continent will be newly air-conditioned or be reinforced with beefed-up cooling systems; that will add to energy demand and put greater stress on global efforts to cultivate sources of energy that will not further worsen global warming.
In this arena, the United States is the undisputed champion. Already, air-conditioning is approaching 20 percent of year-round electricity consumption by American homes, the highest percentage in our history. In the commercial sector, it uses 13 percent. Air-conditioning by homes, businesses, and public buildings together was consuming a total of 484 billion kilowatt-hours per year by 2007. Compare this to 1955, when I was born into Georgia’s late August heat. That year, the nation consumed a total of 497 billion kilowatt-hours for all uses, not just air-conditioning. We use as much electricity for air-conditioning now as is consumed by all 930 million residents of the continent of Africa.
So what are we supposed to do, shut off our units and sweat it out? Cox covers the myriad ways that policy, design, and architecture can help create a less AC-addicted society, but also suggests that we might need to readjust some of our most treasured notions of comfort:
Without the extremes, enjoyment of moderate conditions declines. After I have worked outdoors through a broiling-hot day, I find that walking into a supercooled office or grocery store is satisfying in the extreme—at first. Yet what I look forward to most is that moment at seven or nine or ten at night when, as I’m sitting on a porch or near a window, I feel that first slightly cool breeze come through. It can make all the preceding hours in the heat worthwhile. That, I realize, may make me seem a little daft, but the world provides a delicious spread of thermal variations from which to choose … .
Anyone looking to cool their home sans AC should check out the articles and blog posts on whole-house fans and ceiling fans by our sister publication, Mother Earth News. And over at our other sibling, Natural Home, editor Robyn Griggs Lawrence has just written about a superefficient new air conditioner design that’s still five years from market but offers hope that on this subject cooler heads may yet prevail.
Sources: Losing Our Cool, Mother Earth News, Natural Home
Image by ToddMorris, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 21, 2010 11:41 AM
Let’s pick doomsday scenarios. I’ll take worldwide oil spill, and you can pick a cocktail of avian flu, swine flu, and rubber chicken flu (uh, not real). Jeremy Adam Smith over at Shareable loves the apocalypse as much as anybody, especially when he can connect the dots between nuclear attack, global warming, and asteroid impact. The common denominator? Humans have been proposing some pretty “awesome” plans for coping with all three forms of disaster. For example:
Of course, there's no time to worry about boring, real stuff like oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, we've watched enough movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact to know that the real threat comes in the form of an asteroid strike.
In case this scenario comes to pass, one entrepreneur is courageously making sure people with way too much disposable income will stay safe in the wake of apocalypse. He's selling spaces at $50,000 a pop in a network of underground bunkers.
Monday, April 05, 2010 12:28 PM
Last fall, environmental journalist Gar Smith authored an opinion piece for Earth Island Journal in which he argued that cap-and-trade for emissions—designed to allow polluting companies to purchase credits from greener peers to offset their environmental impact—is a morally bankrupt con game on par with the ancient Catholic Church’s doctrine of indulgences. The doctrine he describes is a “once popular practice” that “allowed rich parishioners to purchase remission for their sins by making contributions to the church’s minions.”
The comparison compels, particularly because Smith saves some space to wonder what would happen “if we applied the medieval logic that underlies the granting of ‘pollution indulgences’ to other aspects of human behavior?”
Admissions Trading: We know politicians lie. With Admissions Trading, politicians would no longer fear having to admit to their fibs: They could continue lying to the public as long as they purchased Truth Credits from Buddhist monks and young children.
Omissions Trading: Did you forget to recycle? Did you forget that vow to eat organic? With Omissions Trading, forgetful souls could “offset” their bad habits by purchasing performance credits from the conscientious. Thanks to the genius of market-based solutions, the morbidly obese could continue to overeat – just so long as they remembered to purchase Calorie Credits from health-conscious neighbors and malnourished Third World villagers. You want that extra helping of dessert? Just pay someone else to forgo dinner.
Remissions Trading: People with terminal cancer could buy Recovery Credits from cancer survivors and individuals who are cancer-free. Of course, remissions trading wouldn’t cure the cancer and the buyer would still die from the disease. In other words, it would be just as effective as cap-and-trade’s pollution credits.
Possessions Trading: The filthy rich could buy Poverty Credits from the very poor. This is one trading plan that could significantly improve the overall health of our planet and its people but, when it comes to redistributing wealth, this is one idea that the well-to-do just don’t seem prepared to indulge.
I missed this piece when it was first published, so thanks to the editors at Resurgence magazine, who reprinted a version in their March-April 2010 issue.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 12:09 PM
It’s clear from the outcome of the Copenhagen talks that the world’s political leaders are not going to lead the way in fighting climate change. What is needed instead, Fred Branfman writes in Sacramento News & Review, is a broad-based “human movement” in which ordinary people recognize the urgency of acting now to avert catastrophe.
Branfman’s essay, “Do Our Children Deserve to Live?,” was in fact written and published in early December, before the Copenhagen summit began, yet the writer boldly—and correctly—predicted the talks would fail. He already recognized that there simply wasn’t enough societal pressure and self-awareness of our grim predicament to effect broad change:
Our basic problem is that the sudden advent of the human climate crisis invalidates our basic beliefs about humanity built up over millennia. We cannot yet see that we are no longer who we think we are. That today:
though we believe we care for our offspring we do not;
though we wish to be remembered well we will be cursed;
though we believe we love life we embrace death;
though we hope to make history we are annihilating it; and
though we seek to contribute to our communities we are destroying them.
Our greatest challenge is to adjust ancient belief systems to the new climate realities that have undone them. If we can break through our fog and clearly see the existential threat we pose to our children, presently unthinkable actions to save them may become possible. But if not, we will remain locked in our cognitive cattle cars, moving inexorably toward the loss of everything we hold dear.
Branfman’s essay, though it unfolds slowly, is ultimately one of the most powerful and articulate calls to action on climate change that I’ve yet seen. It has kicked off a vigorous discussion at the News & Review and at Alternet, where it was reprinted, and Branfman is now exploring ways to actually build the “human movement” he outlined in the piece. (E-mail him at fredbranfman[at]aol.com if you have ideas to share.)
My only reservation is with the child-centric framing of his main point. While I’m a father myself, and “doing it for the kids” is a time-tested method of attracting sympathizers, I worry that it leaves out of the picture everyone who doesn’t have kids—by choice or not—and it might even have the effect of alienating some of them. We need all hands on deck to make the sort of change Branfman is proposing, so I think it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not just about children per se—it’s about the very fate of the whole human race.
Source: Sacramento News & Review
Friday, January 15, 2010 4:44 PM
Take a peek at stunning Svalbard, “the world’s coolest place to learn about global warming,” according to EnRoute. If the name sounds familiar, it’s likely because Svalbard—a Norwegian archipelago that stretches within 620 miles of the North Pole—is home to a certain famous Global Seed Vault. Ensuring the world’s agricultural future, however, is only one part of the science taking place at the beautiful Arctic outpost. Here are a few photos, paired with passages from EnRoute:
“After a century of wresting coal from its stratified geography, near-pristine Svalbard is seeing a new light at the end of the mineshaft,” Susan Nerberg writes for the Air Canada magazine. “Scientific sleuthing (like fossil hunts, research into CO2 capture and storage and university classes in polar ecology) accounts for an ever-larger chunk of Svalbard’s revamped economy.”
Pictured above, science station “Ny-Alesund is perhaps the world’s epicenter for environmental and climate-change research.” Ten countries have research stations at this international intellectual hub. “During the brief summer, the population swells from 35 to 180 people swishing around in Gore-Tex and fleece,” Nerberg writes. “It doesn’t hurt that Kings Bay, the state-owned company that runs this place, serves up three daily stick-to-your-ribs meals and snacks in a glass-walled mess hall.”
“Svalbard is so spectacular, it makes you feel really insignificant as a human being and even more desperate to protect such a place,” University of Sheffield plant ecologist Gareth Phoenix tells Nerberg. “Planet Earth only has one Arctic. It would be nice to keep it as it is.”
Images by Torjussen, Alastair Rae, Rerun van Pelt, and Biillyboy, all licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:02 PM
If I’m wearing a jacket, is the earth really warming?
Most of the United States had a notably cool summer and fall, a phenomenon that plenty of climate-change skeptics have seized upon. “Nice global warming we’re having,” they’ve been saying for months as extraordinarily cool temperatures have prevailed. So it looks like it’s time for another enlightening discussion of the elemental difference between weather and climate—with infographics!
Let’s look at the most recent month, October. The National Climatic Data Center recently released a map of October’s global temperature anomalies in one of its State of the Climate reports. Blue dots show cooler-than-average temperatures; red dots show higher-than-average temps. The bigger the dot, the greater the departure from average. As you can see, the U.S. is an island of blue in a world that is virtually red:
Also see maps from June, July, August, and September—as well as the combined June-August period—at the NCDC website. To varying degrees, they show the same thing: The United States has been one of the coolest places on the planet, relative to average, for months.
So the next time you hear a denialist—or just your well-meaning friend who’s clumsily trying to make small talk about the weather—attempt to link climate change and the current temperature outside your door, don’t just shake it off. Remind them that as usual, the big picture is what counts. And yes, it’s still getting warmer out there.
Source: National Climatic Data Center
Image courtesy of National Climatic Data Center.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009 2:21 PM
Though some environmentalists love their dogs more than they love their Sierra Club reusable water bottles, a single dog can have a bigger ecological footprint than an SUV. And cats aren’t much better. According to research highlighted by the New Scientist, it takes an estimated 1.1 hectares of land per year to create the chicken and grain that a large dog eats for its food. A Toyota Land Cruiser SUV, driven 10,000 kilometres a year, would use .41 hectares of land, less than half that of the dog.
"Owning a dog really is quite an extravagance," Dr. John Barrett of the Stockholm Environment Institute in York, UK told the New Scientist, "mainly because of the carbon footprint of meat."
Cats and dogs also wreak havoc on the local wildlife. The estimated 7.7 million cats in the United Kingdom kill more than 188 million wild animals every year. And cat excrement, which can contain the disease Toxoplasma gondii, has been blamed for killing sea otters (and may have a hand in causing schizophrenia in humans, according to RadioLab).*
The New Scientist has some suggestions of how to lessen Fido’s ecological “pawprint,” including feeding him more environmentally friendly foods. Perhaps forcing people to consider the impact of their pets may keep the carbon footprint on a leash.
Source: New Scientist, RadioLab
, licensed under
*Correction: The word "can" has been added to this sentence. Millions of people are infected with Toxoplasma gondii, according to WebMD, and cats are one of the most common ways that people can get it. Though not all cat cxcrement contains the disease.
Friday, September 25, 2009 2:28 PM
Volunteers across the country are transcribing 6 million birdwatching observations—handwritten notes catalogued on small index cards, and dating back to 1880—to help researchers figure out how climate change affects bird migration patterns. Audubon interviews Jessica Zelt, coordinator of the U.S. Geological Survey’s North American Bird Phenology Program, which is tapping more than 1,200 volunteers to compile “the most comprehensive data set of its kind.”
“This program is looking at how climate change is affecting migrating bird arrival and departure dates,” Zelt tells Audubon. “Once this information goes into our database, we can analyze it, along with weather and climate data, to see if there are long-term patterns and shifts. It’s possible that climate change affects certain species more than others. Being able to highlight those species and change our own lives to lessen those effects, that’s always a goal.”
Image by Noël Zia Lee, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 3:53 PM
Much of the speculation about “geoengineering” to halt or reverse climate change circles around the technical aspects: Will it work to spray sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to deflect sunlight, or to build synthetic trees that will capture carbon dioxide and turn it into a liquid to store underground? The answers, of course, are unknowable.
Jason Mark focuses more on the ethical and philosophical implications of such long-shot approaches in “Hacking the Sky” in the Autumn 2009 issue of Earth Island Journal. For starters, thinking that we can manage the natural systems of the earth signals a grandly twisted sorts of hubris steeped in cynicism.
“Geoengineering,” Mark writes, “has become the refuge of the cynic. It assumes that although we may be able to alter how the planet works, we are incapable of changing the way we run the world.”
Geoengineering would present a host of big questions even if it showed some success. For instance, what if an engineered cooling of the globe had unequal effects like, say, a decrease in monsoon rains over Asia? And who would be at the controls? Governments? Corporations? Both scenarios portend frightening possibilities. Ultimately, Mark arrives at a starkly candid assessment of our predicament:
We should at least be honest: There is scant difference between doing something unintentionally and knowing it’s harmful, and intentionally, but riskily, trying to fix it. For 20 years, we have understood the consequences of pumping the atmosphere full of CO2, and still we persist. We crossed a moral line long ago.
Our double bind is this: Either we keep our hands off the sky, and hope we act in time to prevent the destruction of Arctic ecosystems, the desertification of the Amazon, the abandonment of ancient cities. Or we try our luck at playing Zeus, knowing that it could make matters worse. No matter what, we risk losing Creation.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Friday, September 18, 2009 4:29 PM
If humans were able to freeze carbon emissions tomorrow—a long shot, to be sure—the climate would continue changing for years to come. That’s why some experts are trying to determine how we might adapt to climate change, even as we work to mitigate it. The new issue of Environmental Building News outlines a few suggestions for building green, and making sure the buildings stay that way. The suggestions include designing natural ventilation for cooling without extra energy, using materials that can survive flooding, and avoiding combustible siding to protect against wildfires. Environmental expert Jonathan Overpeck told the magazine, “adaptation and mitigation are not an either-or proposition.” People have to do both.
Source: Environmental Building News
, licensed under
Tuesday, September 01, 2009 5:41 PM
Rail all you want against paving paradise, but concrete is going to be with us for a while. We might as well make it greener, right? Environmental Building News writes in its August 2009 issue about a new disposal system for concrete washout, the water left over after washing down concrete equipment. Washout, the magazine writes, “can be nearly as caustic as drain cleaner and can contain metals that are toxic to aquatic life, including chromium, copper, and zinc.”
To make proper disposal easier and certain, Atlantic Concrete Washout delivers an empty sealed container to construction sites, and workers put the washout into it. When it’s full, the company sends a truck to pump out the water, separates the solids from the water, and sends the water to a state industrial wastewater treatment facility.
Environmental Building News points out that it can be expensive and gas-intensive to tote these heavy water loads around, but still the Environmental Protection Agency regards the containers as the best way to contain concrete wastewater. Atlantic Concrete Washout operates in Florida and California (under the name National Concrete Washout), but such services are springing up across the United States. And at least one firm, California's On Site Washout Corp., is selling self-contained washout disposal equipment for job sites.
The concrete industry is addressing the larger issue of climate change, too. World Watch (Sept.-Oct. 2009) reports that the industry’s Cement Sustainability Initiative “has helped the world’s 18 leading cement companies slow the growth of their carbon dioxide emissions. Net emissions grew only 35 percent from 1990 to 2006, while cement production climbed 53 percent.”
Sources: Building Green, World Watch (article not available online)
Image by ThrasherDave, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 4:46 PM
Environmentalists, especially of the veggie persuasion, are quick to point out that meat accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing consumption, giving meat up even one day a week, is the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s panel on climate change, said last fall.
But not all meat is created equal, Lisa Hamilton writes for Audubon. Some methane production is unavoidable (file this fact under “cow burps”), but “animals reared on organic pasture have a different climate equation from those raised in confinement on imported feed,” asserts Hamilton, author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness.
In large-scale farming confinement systems, manure flows into (disgusting) lagoons, where its decomposition releases millions of tons of methane and nitrous oxide into the air every year. “On pasture, that same manure is simply assimilated back into the soil with a carbon cost close to zero,” Hamilton writes.
What’s more, grass-fed livestock can be an essential player in a sustainable set-up. Manure revitalizes soil (in lieu of chemical fertilizers or shipped-in compost), and grazing encourages plant growth. Hamilton also points to Holistic Management International, an organization that proposes managed, intensive grazing as part of a climate change solution.
“In order for pasture-based livestock to become a significant part of the meat industry, we need to eat more of its meat, not less,” Hamilton writes. “So if you want to use your food choices to impact climate change, by all means follow Dr. Pachauri’s suggestion for a meatless Monday. But on Tuesday, have a grass-fed burger—and feel good about it.”
Sources: Audubon, Holistic Management International
Image by pointnshoot, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009 3:35 PM
With a significant climate change bill on the brink of passage in the House of Representatives, I’m embarrassed to say that one of my home-state legislators, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, is proving to be a major obstacle to the bill. Peterson, a farm-region Democrat who’s long bucked the party line and common sense on issues like gun control (he hates it), ethanol (he loves it), and global warming (he says it'll be good for farmers), is digging in his heels, using his position as chairman of the House Agriculture Committee to hold up and water down the Waxman-Markey bill.
Peterson, the Wall Street Journal reports, “wants the party’s leaders to soften the climate bill’s impact on coal-burning power plants, scale back existing regulation of ethanol, and make other changes that, if adopted, could steer huge sums of money to farmers who engage in environmentally friendly practices.”
One of the most maddening things about Peterson’s obstructionism, Chris Bowers writes on Open Left, is that major green groups aren’t calling him out on it. The League of Conservation voters, which has called itself “the national political voice of the environmental and conservation community,” in 2004 named Peterson to its “Dirty Dozen” list for having “repeatedly voted to let corporate polluters off the hook.”
Yet, Bowers writes, “there is absolutely no information on the LCV website about Collin Peterson’s obstructionist efforts,” despite a home-page call to “strengthen and pass” the climate change bill. “They have no press releases on the subject. There isn’t a single blog post mentioning either Collin Peterson or the Agriculture Committee. … why is the LCV apparently doing nothing to Collin Peterson as he is escalating his efforts to weaken the most important piece of environmental legislation in decades?”
This is where you come in. If you’re concerned about climate change and you’re sick of seeing baby steps taken where big, bold strides are needed, then contact Peterson right now. But be smart about how you do it: He’s inclined to ignore you.
“I am very interested in hearing your views on issues of importance to you,” his website proclaims. However, “Due to the large volume of U.S. mail, e-mail and faxes I receive, I am only able to accept messages from residents of the Seventh Congressional District of Minnesota.”
Well, that’s just great. The guy is a key player in the most global of all issues, and yet he pretends that his sole role in Congress is as a provincial legislator, beholden only to his constituents and no one else. (A call to his press secretary, asking for an explanation of this bizarre assertion, went unreturned.)
Here’s my suggestion: Use the phone. An e-mail is easily ignored and a fax easily thrown out. (Recycling seems like a long shot here.) If Peterson’s staff has to personally answer a flood of calls urging him to stop standing in the way of common sense, it’s going to have some sort of impact. If they ask you where you’re from, which they surely will, simply tell them that you’re a concerned resident of planet Earth.
At the risk of sounding like a blaring late-night infomercial, CALL NOW!!! Open Left reports that 9:30 a.m. Thursday is the cutoff for amendments to the legislation.
Peterson’s D.C. office number is (202) 225-2165. Do it.
UPDATE (6/24/09): Politico reports that last night, bill sponsor Rep. Henry Waxman struck a deal with Peterson in which Peterson "got every concession he was seeking," according to Open Left's analysis. I guess recalcitrance and provincialism have their political rewards. In my opinion, it's still worth calling Peterson to let him know you disapprove of his obstructionist tactics and his weakening of the bill.
Sources: Treehugger, Wall Street Journal, Open Left, Politico
Monday, June 15, 2009 11:05 AM
Climate advocates should quit talking about “global warming” or even “climate change.” The terms are too loaded, too stale, and lack the punch needed to convince skeptics to start respecting the environment. According to the non-profit PR company ecoAmerica, and reported on Grist, eco-evangelists should start using the term “deteriorating atmosphere” instead.
Environmentalists should focus on values, rather than specifics or facts, to get the point across, according to the ecoAmerica study. They should also ditch the term “cap and trade” in favor of “clean energy dividend” or “clean energy cash back.”
The organization has attracted plenty of criticism, as Grist points out. Their approach to PR and the environment was characterized in the New York Times as “cynical and, worse, ineffective.” Criticism aside, according to Grist: “For anyone who communicates about climate and energy, it’s worth reading the whole report.”
Source: Grist, ecoAmerica
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:51 AM
You can—but should you? In 2007 the global ecotourism industry ferried 55 million U.S. vacationers around the world on better, greener holidays. And every one of them should have been asking themselves that question. The editor in chief of Women’s Adventure, Michelle Theall, eloquently broaches ecotourism’s ethical dilemma in a candid, even haunting editorial.
“The polar bear alongside the boat makes a low chuffing sound,” Theall writes. “He dives to escape us. Each time he surfaces, he moves farther into open water, farther from land. A few passengers ask our guide, Wally, if we’re stressing the bear. I don’t hear his answer. I’m too busy kneeling low on the deck with my Canon. I stretch out one hand. The bear swims just beneath it, and he’s magnificent. . . .Only after I’ve clicked off about 100 images does it occur to me that Wally might be chasing this bear because of me. I’m with a travel magazine. I’m worse than global warming. I’m a journalist.”
“Guilt’s a heavy souvenir,” writes Theall, who last saw the polar bear, confused and agitated, swimming out toward open water. Although Wally later reassures her that the bear most likely made it back to land, she finds a sobering ecotourism parable in the experience—what is legal is not always what is right.
Source: Women’s Adventure
Image by suneko, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 15, 2009 12:11 PM
Calling all fellow non-survivalists: if you’re a little curious which goods to stock for doomsday (or flu outbreak), check out the Grist blog, which offers a comprehensive list of essentials—some healthy—to shelve in your pantry or under the bed. My favorite tip: "Don't spend too much time obsessing about flavor."
On a more somber note, Treehugger reports one in three kids fear for an Earth Apocalypse in their lifetime. Stocking the pantry may relieve anxiety, but likely won’t do much in the throes of global warming … I think 2012 is right around the corner.
Sources: Grist, Treehugger
Image by sleepyneko licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009 12:40 PM
Global warming, massive species extinctions, pollution, and myriad other looming environmental catastrophes continue to threaten the planet, while environmentalists insist on preaching a gospel of hope. There’s an inherent contradiction in the hopeful environmental message, Michael Nelson and John Vucetich write for the Ecologist. They point out that films like An Inconvenient Truth and other environmental motivators often boil down to:
1) Scientists give good reasons to think profound environmental disaster is eminent
2) It is urgent that you live up to a challengingly high standard—sustainability
And 3) the reason to live sustainably is that doing so gives hope for averting disaster.
The contradiction of asking people to be hopeful in a hopeless situation threatens to undermine the environmental movement. Instead, Nelson and Vucetich write that environmentalists should abandon hope and instead stress that sustainable living is the ethical and virtuous way to live. People shouldn’t hold out hope for a sustainable future that may never come. People should live sustainably because it’s the right thing to do.
“A wonderful thing happens when you give up on hope,” Derrick Jensen wrote for Orion in 2006, “which is that you realize you never needed it in the first place.” Hope implies powerlessness, a lack of agency, and a reliance on forces beyond your control. To focus on an abstract sustainable future neglects the real-world actions that can be taken right now. “When we realize the degree of agency we actually do have, we no longer have to ‘hope’ at all,” Jensen writes. “We simply do the work.”
Image by Brian Carlson, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: The Ecologist (article not available online), Orion
Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:43 AM
The U.S. military has joined the growing ranks of Nobel laureates and climate experts who are exploring the idea of geoengineering to combat global warming, according to ScienceInsider. Geoengineering advocates want to change the earth’s climate using ideas that range from simple—painting the tops of buildings white to deflect sunlight back into the atmosphere—to complex—launching tiny mirrors into Earth’s orbit to deflect sunlight from space.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the agency spearheading the U.S. military’s exploration with a meeting to discuss geoengineering ideas. One of the meeting’s participants, geochemist Ken Caldeira, explicitly opposes any DARPA effort at changing the environment saying, “Geoengineering is already so fraught with social, geopolitical, economic, and ethical issues; why would we want to add military dimensions?”
Science writer Chris Mooney, on the other hand, expressed a tempered optimism on the website Science Progress. Mooney stresses that geoengineering may “prove practically irresistible to politicians and governments,” and therefore it’s a good idea to have reasoned debate about it now. Acknowledging the danger in viewing geoengineering as a panacea for climate change, Mooney suggests that in the current environment, “having a backup plan does make a lot of sense.”
The problem is that the history of geoengineering is inextricably linked with the military dimensions that Caldeira fears. One idea that Mooney advocates exploring is the “Infusion of the stratosphere with sulfate aerosol particles, which will reflect sunlight and cause global cooling.” This would mean “basically declaring war on the stratosphere,” James R. Flemming wrote for the Wilson Quarterly. Should DARPA chose to go ahead with any such plans, it would be the latest in a long history of ill-fated attempts by militaristic forces to control the environment.
Sources: ScienceInsider, Science Progress, Wilson Quarterly
Monday, February 23, 2009 3:48 PM
Blame for China’s soaring carbon emissions is being tossed between East and West like a political hot potato in a debate that illustrates just how tricky international climate negotiations can be.
The Guardian reports on a new study that found that manufacturing of exports, many of which are shipped off to developed countries, is responsible for approximately one-third of China’s overall emissions and half of their recent spike in emissions.
So whose footprint should these emissions be tacked-on to—China’s, the producer, or nations like the U.S. and the U.K., the consumers? Under the Kyoto treaty, they go to the producer, but China doesn’t think it should be held accountable for emissions generated by the demands of foreign markets, and others agree.
“Focusing on consumption rather than production of emissions is the only intellectually and ethically sound solution,” Dieter Helm, an Oxford economics professor told the Guardian. “We've simply outsourced our production.”
Indeed, the map of liability generated by the Kyoto system doesn’t seem to tell an entirely truthful story. “By these rules, the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990—more than sufficient to meet its Kyoto target,” according to the Guardian. “But research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) suggests that, once imports, exports and international transport are accounted for, the real change for the UK has been a rise in emissions of more than 20%.”
Business Green points out that this latest study follows similar reports published last year, and could give China greater bargaining power in climate talks to be held in Copenhagen later this year.
Sources: Guardian, Business Green
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 2:12 PM
Amid all the hubbub Tuesday about Tom Daschle and his fancy limo rides, you could be forgiven for missing this other bit of news out of the Senate: Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced her intentions to have a cap-and-trade bill at least through her committee by the time international climate talks convene in Copenhagen this December.
The eco-blogosphere was all over Boxer’s pronouncement, with mixed reactions about its implications. Bradford Plumer headlined a post “Barbara Boxer Rules Our Universe Edition,” while Climate Progress expressed frustration that all she promised was to get a bill out of committee by the end of year, meaning we could be waiting a whole lot longer for any legislation to actually be enacted. There’s also buzz that Boxer will support a boost in highway funding in the economic stimulus package, which could be seen as “shoveling out funds to promote auto dependency,” as Plumer puts it, and counterproductive to any commitment to reduce global warming emissions.
Boxer’s not the only one with Copenhagen looming in her mind. A nice opinion piece at Yale Environment 360 urges President Obama to establish his climate credentials before those meetings get under way.
For Obama, the political winds at his back are now as favorable as they will ever be. He is in a position to seize 2009 and do three things to meet the climate challenge: properly educate the American public about climate change and the need for immediate action; exercise the full might of his executive powers and regulatory discretion under the Clean Air Act to jump-start action; and spend freely from his enormous store of political capital to lead the government to enact comprehensive federal climate legislation. If he does, the United States will reclaim the mantle of global leadership when it takes its seat in Copenhagen.
After eight years of U.S. inaction on climate change, American leadership offers the only hope of success. Even if President Obama himself decides to attend the talks—and hopefully he will—his mission will fail unless he carries with him a year’s worth of demonstrated results to lend weight and credibility to the promise he made in his inaugural address to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” In Copenhagen, his inspiring oratory alone will not be sufficient; he must demonstrate how science has been restored “to its rightful place” in America in strong climate regulation and law.
Thursday, January 29, 2009 1:22 PM
President Obama’s economic stimulus package, passed by the House this week, contained a number of green initiatives, which quite pleased environmentalists, according to The Daily Green. The eco-spending written into the plan includes money for transit, clean energy projects, and a makeover of the country’s electrical grid, totaling “more than $100 billion in direct spending for various green projects,” according to Gristmill.
But Gristmill also points out that the Senate’s version of the stimulus package, which is expected to be voted on next week, will probably end up a lighter shade of green. There’s significantly less money for transit in the Senate’s plan, as well as substantial allotments for the nuclear and coal industries.
Image by selbstfotografiert, licensed underCreative Commons.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:33 PM
When it comes to cutting paper consumption, every bit matters, even the facial tissue you choose. Grist has conducted a review of which tissues are the greenest (no pun intended). Of course the most eco-friendly choice is a cloth handkerchief, but if the convenience of disposable tissues is a necessity, you can make choices that clear your nose without clearing the forests at the same time.
Image courtesy of AnA oMeLeTe, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 11:48 AM
The sobering reality of climate change is slow to sink in among the general public. Miller-McCune reports that scientists are still “far ahead of the public” when it comes to accepting that global warming is occurring and that human activity is to blame.
In a recent survey of earth scientists, the website reports, “90 percent of respondents expressed the view temperatures have risen, and 82 percent said human activity is indeed a significant factor in the phenomenon.”
Meanwhile, a recent public poll stands in contrast: “It found that while 64 percent of American voters consider climate change a serious problem, they are split over its cause. Forty-four percent blame ‘long-term planetary trends’ while only 41 percent attribute the problem to human activity. Even more problematic, skepticism of the scientists’ findings seems to be growing. In a July 2006 survey, 46 percent of voters said global warming is caused primarily by human activities, while 35 percent reported it is due to long-term planetary trends.”
Republicans, if it surprises anyone, lag Democrats in accepting the human role in global warming.
The results, Miller-McCune writes, suggest that industry-backed climate change denialists are successfully placing doubt in people’s minds. Apparently, their single-occupant SUVs, meat-rich diets, and 4,000-square-foot homes aren’t to blame: It’s simply a planetary cycle.
According to the author of the scientist poll, Peter Doran, the debate is all but over in the science world. “The challenge,” he says, “appears to be how to effectively communicate this fact to policy makers and to a public that continues to mistakenly perceive debate among scientists.”
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 2:14 PM
It’s President Obama now. And his cabinet and administration picks have all been rolled out. So how green is Team Obama? The online environmental magazine Grist provides a cheat sheet of an assessment and a look at Obama's treatment of of environmental and energy issues in his inaugural speech. The good people at Grist also take a look back with an interactive time line charting George W. Bush’s environmental legacy.
Friday, January 16, 2009 2:08 PM
In March 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to outright ban plastic bags from being distributed by larger retailers. But almost two years later, an SF Weekly reporter finds that the cut-and-dried argument used for so long—plastic bad, paper good—is largely disproved after a close look at the facts.
True, producing plastic bags takes millions of barrels of oil, but processing paper bags releases noxious chemicals and pollutes millions of gallons of water. In addition, transporting them to stores takes far more space and gasoline than their plastic cousins.
“Firstly," says the author, "biodegrading paper represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, in a properly run landfill, paper doesn't really biodegrade. In fact, nothing much really does.” Landfill trash is so tightly compacted that paper and even food waste remains mummified for decades, unable to break down.
As for the aesthetic argument, that the ban would eliminate unsightly and unsafe plastic litter, research shows that while overall litter has decreased, plastic bags’ share of that percentage of that number has actually increased since the ban.
So what should consumers do? As TreeHugger puts it, “Ultimately, neither paper nor plastic bags are the best choice; we think choosing reusable canvas bags instead is the way to go. From an energy standpoint, according to this Australian study, canvas bags are 14 times better than plastic bags and 39 times better than paper bags, assuming that canvas bags get a good workout and are used 500 times during their life cycle.”
Image courtesy of londonista_londonist, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sunday, December 28, 2008 11:21 AM
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has launched “One Million Acts of Green,” a campaign to mobilize everyone from TV studio execs to kids to commit basic green acts every day. Once you sign up, the site keeps track of your steps, and for every one you take, the website calculates its impact on the environment in kilograms of greenhouse gases saved.
The focus of the project is “not about overhauling your life; it’s about one act from each individual amassing to a million. It can be as simple as switching to compact fluorescent lightbulbs, starting a recycling program, or walking to work. You can do one act—or you can do all one million! It’s up to you… Together we can make an impact. Together we can make our lives, our communities, and our environment greener.”
Acts range from small changes in habit to home renovations, and the tangible impact on the environment gives the sense of working as a community. To date, participants have reported more than 634,000 green acts, saving an estimated 33 million kilograms of greenhouse gases.
Monday, December 22, 2008 10:55 AM
Solar panels are a powerful symbol of the future of energy production, and global demand for them is expected to increase in 2009. In a recent study, researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that a man-made gas used to manufacture the thin-film photovoltaic cells that capture sunlight is more prevalent—and more powerful—in the atmosphere than previously thought.
Nitrogen trifluoride, which is also used in the production of flat-screen televisions and microcircuits, is 17,000 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, reports Earth Island Journal (article not available online). About 16 percent of the gas used in producing these items escapes into the atmosphere. Although nitrogen trifluoride accounts for only a very small portion of overall greenhouse gas emissions, as more people look to solar panels as a viable alternative to coal-powered electricity—ironically, to reduce their ecological footprint—the gas in the atmosphere is likely to increase as well. The study estimates the increase to be around 11 percent each year.
Researchers who conducted the study hope to more thoroughly study the information technology industry’s impact on global warming, which is already estimated to be equal to the aviation industry’s.
Image by Tiggs07, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 19, 2008 12:05 PM
A few months after a British jury acquitted the “Kingsnorth Six” global warming activists, the U.K.'s attorney general is attempting to invalidate the “lawful excuse” defense frequently employed by direct-action protesters facing criminal charges.
The Kingsnorth Six were cleared of criminal damage charges for scaling and vandalizing the chimney of a coal-fired power plant on the grounds that their actions intended to prevent greater damages the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions would cause. The verdict was celebrated by environmentalists around the globe, but didn’t sit well with prosecutors, who according to the Guardian, “were understood to be furious” with the acquittal, “arguing that allowance for demonstrations did not extend to breaking the law.”
Now they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Guardian reports:
[T]he attorney general is considering using her power to refer cases to the court of appeal to "clarify a point of law". It is believed to be an attempt to limit the circumstances in which protesters could rely on "lawful excuse".
Should the "lawful excuse" defence prove to be unusable by protesters, Britain can expect many more environmental and peace activists to be convicted—something which could backfire against a government accused of drastically curtailing the right to protest in the last five years.
Image by izzie_whizzie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 11, 2008 9:15 AM
Forget everything you’ve heard about mountains of bottled water waste! Disregard the experts who prove that tap water is almost identical in quality! Viva bottled water!
That’s the battle cry EnjoyBottledWater.org raises in its quest to free bottled water from persecution. The website is run by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market advocacy organization that believes that “individuals are best helped not by government intervention, but by making their own choices in a free marketplace.” (Feel free to insert your own cynical economic observation here.)
The site exhaustively details why bottled water is a misunderstood and wrongly persecuted beverage medium, and why it’s our right as Americans to drink it. Users are encouraged to sign a petition against “foolish lawmakers and regulators” taking away the right to the stuff, donate money to the cause, and purchase Enjoybottledwater.org merchandise (no reusable water bottles, naturally). Visitors can also read up on the “crazy bans” enacted by cities and those “silly claims” that bottles affect global warming.
A few of the highlighted benefits are somewhat sensible, like ease of distribution at disaster sites, but the flippant disregard for known facts goes beyond chutzpah to being ridiculous. The best headline of the bunch: “Is Beer Next?”
Image courtesy of judepics, licensed under Creative Commons .
Tuesday, December 09, 2008 9:46 PM
Public transit ridership indicates that Americans may make greener lifestyle choices even when not prodded by financial forces.
The Washington Post reports that American commuters continued to flood buses and trains “in record numbers in the third quarter of this year,” despite sharp declines in gas prices. Which kind of puts a wrench in the seemingly obvious cause and effect relationship between increased ridership and high gas prices.
Riders may just have become accustomed to using public transportation after prices at the pump forced them onto the bus. Whatever the case, their continued willingness to opt out of driving, at least some of the time, is welcome news for transit advocates, particularly when coupled with president-elect Obama’s recent commitment to fund infrastructure developments, including transit.
But the picture’s not all sunny for public transit. As the Post points out, “Despite ridership demand, severe budget deficits and declining sales and property tax revenues have already forced many transit agencies to raise fares and cut service.”
(Thanks, Yale Environment 360.)
Image by btorzyn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 10:37 AM
The Democrats decided Sen. Joe Lieberman’s fate Tuesday, granting him what was widely viewed as a political pardon, or “punishment via feather duster,” as the Wall Street Journal put it, for his vigorous support of John McCain’s presidential bid. But Politico’s Glenn Thrush points out an important curiosity about Lieberman's slap on the wrist:
Some Democrats have sniped at Joe Lieberman for not grilling the Bush administration hard enough as head of the homeland security committee.
He gets to keep this job.
Democrats have (mostly) offered praise for his position on the Environment and Public Works Committee, where he has criticized the Bush administration’s global warming policies.
He loses that job.
The Guardian opines that “Lieberman’s loss of the environmental panel spot effectively removes him from the front lines of the climate change debate,” even though he pushed congressional action to combat global warming before it was politically profitable. Lieberman introduced the Senate’s first climate bill in 2003 with McCain, which proposed a cap and trade system and was voted down. Most recently, he co-sponsored the Climate Security Act with Virginia Sen. John Warner, which was also defeated.
Friday, November 14, 2008 2:16 PM
In his new book, The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World, wildlife photographer Steven Kazlowski set out to capture the polar bear in all aspects of its life. He told Minnesota Public Radio that accomplishing this meant bearing 80-mile-per-hour winds and 40-below temperatures for weeks on end and being very patient. At one point, Kazlowski spent 17 days camped outside a mama bear’s den waiting for her to emerge from hibernation. But the fruits of his effort were worth it: When that mama bear finally left the den to hunt, Kazlowski had the rare opportunity to photograph her den from the inside.
He also captured some remarkable ways polar bears negotiate their fragile environment. In one photo, a bear drags its back feet instead of walking on all fours to prevent itself from breaking through thin ice.
Photos like this one speak to the challenges polar bears and other wildlife face in a warming arctic. Before a recent event at the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, Kazlowski told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he has "found that being a wildlife photographer and an activist are one and the same." He said he hoped to "show people how beautiful this place is," as well as show them the environment in transition. The book's cover image shows two bears standing precariously at the edge of fragmented sea ice, and the book also includes a shot of a polar bear in captivity with this caption: "If we do nothing as a society, and the ice continues to melt, zoos could be the only place on Earth where polar bears can be found."
You can see many more of Kazlowski's polar bear photographs at his website.
Images courtesy of Steven Kazlowski/
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 10:05 AM
Did you scoff at the TV when Sarah Palin told ABC’s Charlie Gibson, “I'm attributing some of man's activities to potentially causing some of the changes in the climate right now”? What about when she said it didn’t really matter what caused global warming in the vice presidential debate? Well, be prepared to scoff again, because it turns out she’s hardly alone in her skepticism. A new study finds that a mere 18 percent of Americans “strongly believe that climate change is real, human-caused and harmful,” according to the Nature Conservancy.
Lee Bodner, executive director of EcoAmerica, the consulting group that did the study, told the Nature Conservancy that “political party affiliation was the largest indicator—by significant margins—on whether people see climate change as a threat, believe that it is human-caused, and even whether they've noticed the weather change or trust people who speak about global warming.” Bodner said 90 percent of Democrats believe the earth is warming, versus only 54 percent of Republicans.
Nevertheless, the candidates at the top of both party’s tickets have indicated their commitment to reengaging with the world on climate change. And the eco-activists at 350.org are seeing to it that they keep that promise. From the site, you can send both McCain and Obama an invitation to attend the UN’s climate talks in Poland this December. More than 30,000 people have already done so, but they need your help to reach their goal of 35,000 by Election Day.
Friday, October 10, 2008 10:37 AM
Although the environment has come up somewhat briefly in the recent presidential debates, do voters really know exactly how the candidates stack up on issues like drilling, animal protection, and conservation?
Advocacy for Animals, part of Encyclopedia Britannica’s website, has created a quick, four-part resource on those topics. "Environmental & Animal Welfare, Where the Candidates Stand" filters out the white noise of ads and accusations and leaves a clear, concise breakdown of each presidential and vice-presidential candidate’s position on environmental matters, citing their voting records, public statements, and official actions.
The summary is not exhaustive, but still gives readers a good idea of what they can expect from the nominees.
Part 1: Drilling, Mining, and Energy
Part 2: Animal Welfare and Protection
Part 3: Global Warming
Part 4: Environmental Conservation
Image courtesy of ccgd, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, October 09, 2008 9:19 AM
In a presidential debate dominated by questions about economic uncertainty and foreign policy, climate change made an appearance in a subtly new way. It was only one question, asked by a 30-year old university student named Ingrid Jackson. But the way she posed it, climate change activist Bill McKibben writes on Gristmill, prompted “as close to a real breakthrough as I've seen.”
After noting that Congress worked pretty quickly to address the financial crisis, Jackson wanted to know what the candidates would do in their first two years in office to take on climate change and other environmental issues.
“After approximately 4 million debates over the past year,” writes McKibben, “someone finally asked the right and real question about climate change.” For McKibben, who has been speaking out against climate change for two decades, this small moment signaled a major shift in the great global warming debate. He says Jackson asked the right question by skipping past tired points of contention like "Is it real?" and "Is it manmade?" opting instead to challenge the candidates with a pressing timetable. He also found it remarkable that “their point of disagreement was over who had fought harder for alternative energy in the Senate.” According to McKibben, “it was a way of saying that all serious folks, even if they disagree on tax policy or the war in Iraq, understand that an adult and mature America must take on global warming.”
Jackson, who spoke with Grist after the debate, was satisfied with some parts of the candidates’ answers, but didn’t feel “either one dealt with the urgency issue.” She said she asked the question because the environment has concerned her for a long time, and it too often places low on political priority lists behind issues like Iraq and the economy. “The only time [candidates] deal with the environment is … well, actually, they don’t seem to be dealing with it at all,” she said.
Monday, September 29, 2008 12:59 PM
Starting in mid-September, America's northern climes see a drastic change in their forested landscapes: brilliant yellows and flaring reds provide a scenic backdrop for the brief period between beachside summers and fireside winters. Some of these areas are nationally known for their radiant fall foliage, so much so that autumn tourism brings in nearly 40 percent of Vermont’s yearly business, according to Lisa Rathke of the Associated Press. But Abby van den Berg, a research associate for the University of Vermont's Proctor Maple Research Center, has already noticed that warm autumns have dulled the landscape in some places.
A new three-year study that will begin this month will look for a link between climate change and a muted autumn palette of the future. Biologists at the Proctor Maple Research Center are researching whether warmer temperatures affect the timing, radiance, and longevity of leaf pigmentation.
“Many variables go into triggering leaf color, but for now the research will focus on temperature. The experiment is starting with the researchers' assumption that the brilliant colors are promoted by cold nights followed by warm, sunny days,” reports Rathke.
Preliminary experiments have already been conducted this year, but it’s far too early to see results. Regardless, I’ll admire this year’s autumnal canvas with a bit more fervor than in recent years.
(Thanks, Live Science.)
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Monday, September 08, 2008 2:20 PM
With the nation scrambling to learn more about a vice-presidential candidate thrust into the spotlight less than two weeks ago, environmentalists are working to get the word out about Sarah Palin’s environmental record, which could push John McCain’s relatively eco-friendly platform further right.
Grist delves into Palin’s positions on various environmental concerns in an overview called “Palin Around” (see what they did there?) and a more comprehensive article called “Palin Comparison” (and there?). Not surprisingly, Palin leans rightward on most issues, including global warming, where she parts company with her running mate. “I wouldn't call her a climate change denier, but she is extremely close to that position,” says John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. “She seems to be failing to acknowledge virtually all credible science.”
Alaskans are already familiar with their governor’s attitude toward their ecosystem. Yale Environment 360 tells the story of (the appropriately named?) Bristol Bay, whose headwaters cover a massive deposit of valuable minerals. A ballot initiative to protect the salmon-rich bay from development by Northern Dynasty Minerals was publicly opposed by Gov. Palin, despite a constitutional ban on state officials’ involvement in ballot measures. The initiative was defeated and Northern Dynasty is proceeding in Bristol in the face of widespread opposition from various state groups.
And with Palin pushing for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, McCain reversing his position on offshore drilling, and various party faithful chanting “drill baby drill!” at the Republican National Convention last week, a curb on national oil consumption and a greener White House don’t seem terribly likely under a McCain-Palin leadership.
Image by bobster1985, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, August 22, 2008 10:06 AM
Who but climate-change denialists and animal haters could oppose the United States’ decision to list polar bears as threatened? The Inupiat people of northern Alaska who live closest to the bears, Cameron Smith reports in Cultural Survival Quarterly.
“The Inupiat argue that listing the polar bear as threatened won’t save it,” Smith writes, noting that the bear is a cornerstone of the Inupiat’s traditional hunting culture and they have centuries of collective knowledge about the animal. Their opposition is based on three key points: they don’t think bear numbers are actually declining; they kill only about 20 bears a year, not enough to threaten the species; and “Listing the polar bear does not address the problem!” as North Slope Borough Mayor Edward S. Itta told U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials at a public meeting in Barrow. Shrinking sea ice caused by carbon dioxide emissions is the culprit, not Inupiat hunters.
“The Inupiat solution,” Smith writes, “was for Washington to address climate change head-on by legislating global warming preventatives, and leave the polar bears to the native peoples of the Arctic.”
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Tuesday, August 19, 2008 12:47 PM
Why are some leaders still dragging their feet on climate change? There’s a host of reasons both political and scientific, but one provocative explanation I’ve never heard before was recently floated by Gar Lipow at Gristmill: “Somebody has to be Hitler.”
What Lipow means is that some thinkers—especially politically moderate and conservative ones—never address the threat of climate change because they’re too busy fomenting war against whichever node on the axis of evil is posing the greatest threat. “The year is eternally 1938, and the place eternally Munich. Peace is for dirty hippies. Problems like climate change are always going to have to wait for the current emergency to end, and for one last enemy to be defeated.”
Uttering the H-word is ordinarily the surest way to derail an otherwise legitimate debate—but it’s hard not to see support for Lipow’s theory in our current leadership. The Bush administration’s strategy of fear-based governance has been obsessed with hunting down real or imagined terrorists while conveniently ignoring—or flat-out denying the existence of—climate change and other environmental crises. And as long as this mindset grips those in power, as it has for most of the decade, real change in environmental policy cannot occur.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008 3:22 PM
Let’s not repeat our energy failures when addressing the global population crisis
Americans have a long history of inciting political action by shaking one problem under our politicians’ noses to draw attention to another. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Liberals are notoriously less-than-fond of Big Oil’s rabid profit margins, so we point out the obvious need for alternative energy. Then, because we don’t want to come off as anti-business, we frame it as an environmental problem. But it is also an economic problem, a social problem, and a foreign policy problem. Our hope, however tenuous, is that the environmental issue is one that can bring everybody, liberal and conservative, together to address the oil conundrum. This has proven to be a reasonably effective approach. While our energy crisis is far from solved, at least it is being talked about by both presidential candidates. Which is a lot more mic-time than they’re giving our other global environmental catastrophe: the population crisis.
A recent report (pdf) by the Population Institute notes that global population could increase from 6.7 billion to as much as 12 billion by 2050. Most of this increase is expected to occur in developing countries. In spite of these bleak findings, the closest thing to population reform coming from the right amounts to, “If the world’s brown people would stop having so many babies, there’d be no crisis.” In other words: Population is not our problem. On the left, sentiment has been that if we ease poverty and increase education in developing countries, the trajectory of global population will even itself out. Basically, solve two pressing problems and the third is a freebee.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that as global citizens, the growing number of people inhabiting the Earth is everybody’s problem. It’s also safe to say that, based on solid statistical evidence, there is a direct relationship between lower standards of living and larger family size. Yet there is no guarantee that addressing these quality-of-living issues will solve the population problem, in part because our definition of what constitutes a problem in population is fuzzy.
We are faced with a crisis not because there are too many of us for the planet to sustain, but because we are collectively using up more resources than the planet can produce. This isn’t just true with valuable commodities, like oil and ore. The most basic of resources are growing scarce as well—food, potable water, wood. While reducing consumption in first-world countries will go a long way in addressing this problem, a population that just keeps growing will eventually overwhelm the planet, regardless of consumption. And as formerly impoverished nations achieve moderate prosperity, their consumption grows, likely negating any environmental benefits from reduced population growth via poverty aid. Therefore, a two-pronged solution is needed: reduced consumption and staved population growth.
It is widely believed that the U.S. population is in decline and has been for decades. Hence, the assumption is that limiting our own population won’t address the global problem. This is untrue on two counts. First, as Utne.com noted in January, the birth-to-death ratio in this country recently reached replacement level again. Second, a child born in a first-world country uses far more resources and therefore emits vastly more carbon than a child born in a developing country. Limiting births and limiting carbon emissions would be far more effective than addressing only one of these issues. This not only makes an impact within our own country, it sets an example for other nations as well.
One of the primary obstacles to enacting effective international policies to curtail the population explosion is that, like climate change up until recently, there is no real consensus that the present global population is a problem. Many countries, including the United States, still actively encourage family growth through tax incentives and other pronatalist policies. Population control—even of the most moderate variety, like simply advocating smaller families—is met with vehement opposition. These objections are not based on science or even logic; they are informed by the human desire to live the way we wish, consequences be damned. Or, put more generously, the biological, mammalian urge to procreate without restriction. The only way to counteract this desire is to make it less profitable to have children.
Rather than giving tax credits to parents, we need policies that attend to educational inadequacies, create affordable food cooperatives, and ensure that all children have medical coverage. Tax credits are meant to provide funds for these necessary services to families. If food, healthcare, and education are provided, actively subsidizing procreation won’t be necessary. This will increase the quality of life for families without punishing parents or promoting family growth.
Next, make birth control and voluntary procedures such as vasectomies and tubal ligations more widely available worldwide. For every unplanned pregnancy averted, one less little bundle of CO2 emissions is born. These changes are not anti-family. They are not a replication of China’s one-child policy. They simply help with family planning and give equal standing to small families, large families, and single people by de-subsidizing procreation. Pair this type of response in Europe, North America, and wealthy nations around the world with poverty relief and education in developing countries, and we may begin to make a real environmental impact that our children, if we choose to have them, can enjoy.
Another barrier facing advocates of population control is that, historically, attempts to limit population growth have often been motivated by the wishes of dynastic Eurasian puppet masters to maintain their grip on the indigenous populations of desirable regions under their control. Put simply, this form of population manipulation is preemptive genocide. Nicholas Kristof offers an astute summation of the grimy history of population control in a review of a book on the subject in the New York Times. This damaging association between the tyrannical and the humanitarian motivations of limiting population bolsters the need for transparent and public worldwide policies. If these policies appear to limit African and Asian populations while France and the United States continue to reward large families, the campaign will be seen as ethnic manipulation rather than an attempt to solve a global emergency. And rightly so.
There is another telling lesson to be gleaned from the crusade to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy: the necessity of acting while we still can. It is beginning to seem that, if velocity continues to build, we may yet solve our energy conundrum. Of course, solving a problem and actually fixing it are two very different things. The one relies on scientific invention (something humanity is notoriously good at), while the other necessitates pragmatic action (something we find much more difficult). Things are still looking pretty bleak. But as the Bush stranglehold begins to weaken, it seems almost certain that we will continue the push toward alternative forms of energy.
We may still dodge the bullet. Because of some long-overdue, forward-thinking policy adjustments—and more to come, one can hope—we may still be allowed a weaning period. In this scenario, energy costs will steadily rise. The poor will bear the brunt of the burden, as they always do in times of economic and industrial transition. But innovation will balloon, and the dividends of increased innovation will grow. If this is the case—and it is far from a forgone conclusion—it will be only because we made the right calls in the nick of time, in spite of heavy opposition from those unwilling to give up the luxuries they’d grown fat on. Any longer and we surely will be forced to forgo a transitional period in favor of more drastic measures.
And what of population? It is no stretch to assume that complacency and an unwillingness to make sacrifices, to self-regulate, will ultimately result in imposed regulation by government or nature. If we do not begin the process now—cautiously and with plenty of forethought, to be sure—our descendants, perhaps only a hundred years from now, will be faced with a crisis so dire that governments will be forced to drastic action.
It is baffling that, given the intense growing pains felt during the transition between fossil and alternative fuels, such concerns are scoffed at. A lack of fortitude and forethought in energy policy almost destroyed the planet, and still might. How much more difficult will it be, sometime in the near future, to make the argument that the choice to have a child is no longer a decision that can be made freely? Better to address the problem now, while we can still stomach the sacrifices a solution requires.
Image by karimian, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008 3:00 PM
In an exercise in terrifying imagery, more than 400 dead baby penguins have been washing ashore in Rio de Janeiro over the past couple of months.
The Associated Press reported last week that no direct cause for the penguicide has been found yet, though theories abound. Thiago Muniz, a veterinarian at Brazil's Niteroi Zoo, thinks overfishing could be to blame by sending the penguins on longer hunts for fish away from their native shores in Antarctica and Patagonia. "That leaves them more vulnerable to getting caught up in the strong ocean currents," he told the AP.
Erli Costa, a biologist from Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University, theorizes that global warming could be the culprit. Costa claims that climate change has caused an increase in cyclones and harsher currents, which make the seas rough on the young birds.
Global warming has already taken a heavy toll on penguins. The UK's Daily Mail reported earlier this month that the Antarctic Peninsula's average temperature has risen by three degrees to an average -14.7 degrees Celsius (about six degrees Fahrenheit) over the past 50 years, which in turn has caused freezing rain to be much more common than snow. Baby penguins don't develop water-protective feathers until 40 days after their birth, leaving them susceptible to hypothermia. Estimates are that, with tens of thousands of baby birds freezing to death, Adelie penguins could be extinct within 10 years.
(Thanks, TreeHugger and NYCsceneQueen.)
Image by Aaron Jacobs, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 30, 2008 12:27 PM
Despite overwhelming evidence that human-induced climate change is real, many doubters in Congress are still dragging their feet, blocking climate-change legislation like the recently defeated Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.
In the provocatively titled Salon piece “Anti-Science Conservatives Must Be Stopped,” Joseph Romm aims squarely at legislators and pundits who bypass hard scientific evidence to make claims against global warming and block climate-change legislation—not because they’re conducting scientifically rigorous studies that might refute that evidence; not because they want to have an intellectually honest debate about that evidence; but simply because it’s fiscally advantageous for them to block any legislation that might weaken the corporations from whom they receive donations.
The consequences of allowing conservatives to keep stalling on climate-change legislation are terrifying, as Romm provides the figures to show how a reduction in carbon emissions isn’t going to happen naturally by letting free trade to push the gas prices higher, or even by the relatively tepid cap-and-trade initiative in the Lieberman-Warner bill. Instead of trying to implement these sorts of incremental changes, Romm urges progressives to write “aggressive energy-independence” bills with stringent limitations on carbon emissions and greater incentives for clean-energy technologies.
If conservatives manage to continue blocking a major climate-change policy reversal into the next decade, then 2025-2050 will become a period of what Romm ominously calls “planetary purgatory,” when the doomsday scenarios of rising sea levels and widespread desertification will attain irreversible momentum. By then, emissions would have to be cut by at least 75 percent in 25 years for change to happen, and that “would require a massive, sustained government intervention … on a scale that far surpasses what this country did during World War II.”
The irony here, of course, is that conservatives deplore government intervention, and yet by stubbornly resisting what they see as unnecessary federal meddling in the form of today’s climate change legislation, they’re all but ensuring that future generations will live in an era of unprecedented government involvement in every aspect of their lives, experiencing firsthand the very scenarios of rationing and regulation their forebears used as bogeymen to prevent real change back in the early 21st century.
Friday, June 13, 2008 12:33 PM
Summer hasn’t even officially begun, but we’ve already seen an abundance of freakish weather ranging from the inconvenient (blackouts caused by spring heat waves) to the disastrous (tornados, flash floods, and wildfires). Think Progress’ Wonk Room (thanks to Grist for the link) has assembled a list of the damage done by extreme weather just within the last month. The link between climate change and shifting weather patterns is getting harder to refute, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 statement (PDF)—asserting that global warming induced by human activity will most likely cause an “increase in the frequency of hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation”—resonates even more strongly amid this spring’s meteorological abnormalities.
, licensed by
Tuesday, June 03, 2008 10:01 AM
In the race to save the world from global warming, prominent scientists are pushing plans to modify the atmosphere to cool the planet. These plans, known as “geoengineering,” take a number of different forms, some of which I wrote about in the September-October 2007 issue of Utne Reader. Two of the most prominent ideas involve blocking some of the sun’s radiation from reaching earth using either sulfate aerosols injected into the stratosphere or trillions of tiny mirrored satellites launched into space.
All of the geoengineering plans carry huge risks. Writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (pdf), Alan Robock calls out 20 of the most serious “political, ethical, and moral issues raised” by geoengineering. Robock writes that the schemes could have a potentially disastrous effect on the environment, since they could raise the levels of acid in the atmosphere, and they also leave the earth vulnerable to both human error and unexpected consequences. Even if all goes well, the geonengineering could still have destructive results as political, military, and commercial entities would likely struggle for control over the environment.
Many of Robock’s 20 potential problems could mean disaster for the planet. But the problems are almost as theoretical as the ideas they address. Writing in the same issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, philosophy professor Martin Bunzl writes that people should at least study the effects that geoengineering would have on humankind. Acknowledging the serious issues at play, Bunzl writes that scientists should quantitatively assess the possibilities of all of Robock’s issues, rather than simply throwing out the ideas wholesale. “Once we have those answers in hand,” Bunzl writes, “then we can engage in serious ethical consideration over whether or not to act.”
Wednesday, May 14, 2008 5:47 PM
DDT’s back. No, not in the form of a tortured debate about whether or not the toxic chemical really was good for malaria-plagued nations. Rather, the insecticide is seeping to a comeback via melting Antarctic glaciers.
reports that DDT is again showing up in penguins.
The trace levels found will not harm the birds, but the presence of the chemical could be an indication that other frozen pollutants will be released because of climate change, says Heidi Geisz, a marine biologist at Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester in the US. She led a team that sampled DDT levels in the penguins.
And here’s the more alarming bit: The DDT might have some frozen friends:
She worries that glaciers could release an alphabet soup of chemical pollutants into the ocean, including PCBs and PBDEs – industrial chemicals that have been linked to health problems in humans.
Image by elisfanclub, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 03, 2008 5:12 PM
Kiribati is a 32-island nation in the South Pacific that’s acutely aware of environmental issues, since it faces the threat of inundation from rising sea levels caused by climate change. Perhaps in part because of this heightened awareness, the nation recently established the largest protected marine reserve in the world.
According to Julia Whitty at Mother Jones, the Phoenix Islands Protection Area is “a California-size ocean wilderness of pristine coral reefs and rich fish populations threatened by overfishing and climate change.” Conservation and protection come in the form of restricting commercial fishing in the area. Subsistence fishing is still permitted for local communities in designated areas.
Monday, February 18, 2008 5:08 PM
Philosophers. Sort of.
Why? Because they haven’t equipped us with the kind of thinking that would help us wrap our minds around the problem and devise a way to stop it. That is to say, they haven't taught us how to change the way we live in the world.
To do that, we’d need a wholly different kind of academic inquiry, writes Nicholas Maxwell, author of the recently revised From Knowledge to Wisdom, in the latest issue of Philosophy Now (subscription required):
Global warming is the outcome of the way we live, and in order to arrest it we need to change the way we live... Having a kind of academic inquiry that gave intellectual priority to articulating, and working out how to tackle, problems of living, would have helped enormously with alerting the public to the problem of global warming, and to what needs to be done in response to it.
But we have not had, and still do not have, academic inquiry of this type—devoted to helping humanity learn how to tackle its problems in increasingly rationally cooperative ways. Instead we have science—this long tradition of inquiry devoted to improving knowledge and technological know-how.
Take that, science.
In fact, Maxwell isn’t railing against science per se, but rather “science without wisdom.” And this wisdom comes from a sense of purpose: Knowledge should not be an end in itself, but rather a means toward resolving a problem.
So what would this living-oriented academic inquiry look like? Maxwell elaborates in a short piece for the New Statesman:
Academic inquiry as a whole would become a kind of people’s civil service, doing openly for the public what actual civil services are supposed to do in secret for governments. Academia would actively seek to educate, rather than simply study, the public.
Thursday, February 14, 2008 11:16 AM
Would Sen. John McCain be a good environmental president? Don’t bet the planet on it. Joseph Romm at Salon writes that although the Republican nominee-to-be is the only GOP candidate who believes in the science of global warming and who has proposed legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, his green credentials are shaky at best.
“While McCain may understand the scale of the climate problem, he does not appear to understand the scale of the solution,” writes Romm. Unless a President McCain appointed judges and agency heads who would not gut efforts to address climate change—something he’d be unlikely to do—he wouldn’t make much headway. Romm also points out that McCain has backed huge subsidies for nuclear power, yet he “remarkably” told Grist in an interview last October that wind and solar need no such help.
Over at Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington also calls out McCain on his environmental wishy-washiness in “End of a Romance: Why the Media and Independent Voters Need to Break Up With John McCain”:
“The old John McCain talked about trying to do something about global warming and encourage renewable energy. The new John McCain didn’t show up for a vote last week on a bill that included tax incentives for clean energy, even though he was in D.C. And then his staff misled environmentalists who called to protest by telling them that he had voted for it.”
McCain is still getting mileage out of the “maverick” label that no longer applies, Huffington claims. But perhaps he’s still a maverick when compared to green voters: He’s got almost nothing in common with them.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 07, 2008 1:52 PM
Taking aim at those climate change deniers still out there, Thomas Wheatley of the Atlanta alternative weekly Creative Loafing offers these five sites to help you sway them:
1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the home page of the United Nations-sponsored, Nobel Prize-winning group. More specifically, I recommend checking out this slideshow presentation (pdf) on the site, which explains in very approachable terms the climate change report the panel released in November.
2. Q&A for Climate Skeptics from the University of Oregon’s Institute for a Sustainable Environment. Don’t be daunted by the report’s beefy 56 pages. While the approach is systematic—and exceedingly ambitious—the Q&A format makes it a fun read, even if you’re just skimming. I found some of the last few pages especially interesting, because they address the defeatist position I’ve heard some of my “progressive” friends take: They believe climate change is real, but are cynical about working toward solutions to it, voicing objections like, “Won’t the effects just be minor?” and “Wouldn’t working to stop it crash the global markets?” I’ll give you a hint. The short answer to both questions is no.
3. Global Warming Myths and Facts. OK, so you are daunted by the 56-page report. Fair enough. Think of this as the Cliffs Notes version, courtesy of the Environmental Defense Fund. Ten common myths about global warming and why they’re wrong. Here’s proof that brevity doesn’t necessarily mean treating you like you’re a third-grader.
4. Climate Change 101. Well, “101” is generous. Reading this might feel like summer school for most folks.
5. Architecture 2030. This organization uses cool, detailed 3-D Google maps to show what more than 80 coastal American cities will look like if waters rise as expected. Beautiful maps illustrate a chilling scenario. Some of my favorites include New York City, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
While I like Wheatley’s list, it still leans towards arming already-convinced people to talk to skeptics. If there are any sites to which you like to send skeptical friends to learn for themselves, please let us know in the comments field below.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007 5:55 PM
Article Posted: 11/14/07
Imagine sticking a piece of beef jerky into a food dehydrator, and you'll have a good idea of what global warming is doing to Australia. The already arid continent has been hit by a drought of such epic proportions that the surf-loving Aussie civilization is threatened. The country, which is so dry that 90 percent of its population clings to its wet coastal regions, has been getting even more parched than usual: Rainfall is pegged to drop 10 percent by 2030 and percent by 2070, reports Science News. Global warming is the likely culprit. The Murray-Darling river basin, on which 40 percent of Australia's agriculture relies, is shriveling up like a grape left in the sun:
The 2006-2007 growing season was the basin's driest in the 116 years for which records exist, according to an August 2007 report by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. Computer models that predict weather patterns give a 75 percent chance that storage levels will remain low through May. "The system is really running on empty," [Mike] Young, [professor of water economics and management at the University of Adelaide,] says. "We're now borrowing water from the future."
The massive threat to the antipodes does have its bright side. It's encouraging Australians to go green. And fast. According to a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, 92 percent of Australians think that they should fight global warming, the largest percentage of countries surveyed. This is not just empty rhetoric. Australian cities are imposing stiff water restrictions. In Brisbane, for instance, people can only water their lawns every other day for only a couple of hours, and stiff fines are imposed on households breaking an 800-liter-a-day limit on water use. (The average American household uses 1,325 liters a day.)
Seed reports that there's a flood of enthusiasm for new technology to fight Australia's Big Dry, including gray water systems to water gardens and ambitious computer modeling programs that might help farmers plan for coming droughts. These efforts might light the way for other countries that might be forced to follow in Australia's footsteps as the world's climate shifts.
But the drought hasn’t broken for Australia yet. John Howard, the conservative prime minister, has still not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. And though the upcoming election might end Howard's decade-long reign, the experts aren't too impressed with any of the pols' lackluster plans to go green, reports the Melbourne-based Age’s Jo Chandler. The Labor party recently got some egg on its face when it back-flipped on its election pledge to unequivocally sign an international climate accord when the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012. Will Kevin Rudd, the Labor candidate, win the next election and turn Australia into a green haven, or will the sunburnt country just dry up? Time will tell. —Brendan Mackie
UPDATE: Kevin Rudd and his Labor party "emphatically" swept the Australian election this Saturday. The conservative Coalition were trounced so badly that John Howard, the outgoing Prime Minister, might have even lost his seat in Parliament. At the time of writing, the Green party could win enough seats to hold the balance of power in parliament. Global warming policy was one of the issues that sealed Rudd's historic win. Hopefully this bodes well for coming elections.
(Image licensed under Creative Commons attribution 1.0.)
Friday, November 02, 2007 5:32 PM
Tomorrow, November 3, is a big day for the planet. In every one of the 50 states, environmentally minded folks will gather for a National Day of Climate Action organized by Step It Up. To find a rally in your area, visit Step It Up’s website.
The nationwide rallies, organizers say, “will show the contrast between the intense concern of ordinary Americans and the leadership vacuum in Washington” as demonstrators call for leadership on three goals: no new coal plants, an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, and 5 million new green jobs.
We talked to environmental author and Step It Up spokesman Bill McKibben about Step It Up and the National Day of Climate Action. Listen to the interview below. —Keith Goetzman
Utne Reader interview with Bill McKibben: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
Tuesday, October 16, 2007 12:00 AM
Actually, Bjorn Lomborg never really went away. Armed with his labyrinthine economic models, the Danish statistician is a frequent go-to commentator for media outlets seeking some “balance” in their global warming coverage. He gladly obliges them by trash-talking the Kyoto Protocol, pointing out that polar bears will be just fine when the ice caps melt, and serving up other mathematically derived opinions that cut against conventional environmental wisdom. Lomborg has written a new book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming, that’s landed him choice coverage in sympathetic outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Lest anyone else be too inclined to take him seriously, it’s worth remembering that Lomborg’s sketchy science has been pretty soundly thrashed by Scientific American, Grist, and famed biologist E.O. Wilson, who called his first book “a sordid mess.” —Keith Goetzman.
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