Tuesday, April 23, 2013 2:53 PM
The end of Keystone XL's public comment period won't stop climate activists from fighting the pipeline.
This article originally appeared at Common Dreams and is licensed under Creative Commons.
The 45-day period for public comment on the State Department's draft supplementary environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline comes to end on Monday.
As groups opposed to the project wrapped up campaigns urging their members to write, call and otherwise voice their objections to the State Department's draft, the broader climate movement is also gearing up for the possible next stage in their protracted fight against the project. And with so much believed to be at stake, the movement hopes to leverage its human energy, financial muscle, and political acuity to fight back against the full court press of the fossil fuel industry and their army of lobbyists in Washington.
Despite last month's dramatic tar sands spill in Mayflower, Arkansas—which many activists point to as visual proof of the damage tar sands is capable of—there have been no distinct signals from the White House that President Obama is leaning towards rejection of the pipeline.
As BusinessWeek reports, the anti-Keystone movement has a few deep pockets in addition to the boisterous and committed activism coming from youth-fueled groups like Tar Sands Blockade, the growing and nimble 350.org, and more traditional environmental groups like Sierra Club and NRDC.
Led by Tom Steyer, the founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital Management LLC, a group of wealthy Democratic donors are using their money and status to "draw a line" against the pipeline.
Betsy Taylor, a climate activist who worked for Obama’s election and then was arrested outside the White House protesting the pipeline, said the group of about 100 Democratic contributors and activists, including [Susie Tompkins Buell, who founded clothing maker Esprit], aims to show Obama “if he does the right thing, he is going to get so much love.”
“People are giving it everything they can,” said Taylor, who is helping to organize the donors. “This is a line-in-the-sand kind of decision.” [...]
“We’ve got to step up our game and make our case -- it’s not going to make itself,” said David desJardins, a philanthropist and former Google Inc. (GOOG) software engineer who attended the fundraiser at Steyer’s house.
One former Obama donor has shifted from insider to activist.
Guy Saperstein, a California venture capitalist and onetime president of the Sierra Club Foundation, said while he gave to Obama’s campaign in 2008, he became disillusioned. Rather than attend the fundraiser at Steyer’s house, Saperstein chose to join Keystone protesters camped out nearby.
“The indications I got back from the people who were inside suggested that he was not very persuadable, but you know politics is a funny thing,” Saperstein said. “If people are in the streets, being loud and making the case, things can change.”
Of course, money has never been the true strength of the climate justice movement. That's why a collection of groups, regardless of Obama's decision, hope to leverage the financial support they do have with continued grassroots mobilizations and a renewed commitment to resistance, civil disobedience and public actions.
Groups including CREDO Action, Bold Nebraska, The Other 98%, Hip Hop Caucus, Rainforest Action Network, 350.org and Oil Change International have launched the 'Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance,' which hopes to galvanize the movement ahead of a final White House decision.
The coalition hopes that, "If tens of thousands of people stand up as President Obama mulls his final decision, and commit to participate in civil disobedience if necessary, we can convince the White House that it will be politically unfeasible to go forward. That is, our goal is not to get arrested. Our goal is to stop the Keystone XL pipeline -- by showing enough opposition to Keystone XL that President Obama will reject it. But if he shows clear signs he that he is preparing to approve it, we will be ready."
The pledge itself reads:
It is time for us to pledge to resist. That is, we are asking you to commit - should it be necessary to stop Keystone XL -- to engage in serious, dignified, peaceful civil disobedience that could get you arrested.
Will you join us in pledging resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline, including - if necessary - pledging to participate in peaceful, dignified civil disobedience?
Acknowledging that since the State Department's release of the draft SEIS there have been two tar sands spills in the United States, including one that poured 84,000 gallons of tar sands into Arkansas backyards, the Sierra Club argues that the stakes are too high and said there "is no excuse for the White House to approve" the project Keystone XL.
"It's impossible to fight climate change while simultaneously investing in one of the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive fossil fuels on the planet," the group said in a message.
As Climate Progress illustrates, making a comment to the State Department is the easy part:
Anyone can submit as many comments as they wish. Some created a compelling video about why Keystone is “all risk, no reward,” but not everyone has to do that. Some protest President Obama to let them know that this decision matters for the climate, but that tactic, while important, is not for everyone.
Once the public has spoken, however, the bigger questions are these: Will the Obama administration cross the clearly marked Keystone XL line? And if he does approve the project, what comes next for those pledged to resist it?
Photo: Flickr / tarsandsaction
Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:41 AM
A sustainable future means teaching kids about climate change and living in balance with the earth. Green School's "Greenest Student on Earth" contest will reward three environmentally conscious students with a year-long scholarship.
When it comes to saving the
planet, there’s plenty of urgent action to take
right now. But as we struggle to slow the environmental destruction that’s led to
a changing climate, we must also plant the seeds of permanent and profound sustainability.
It makes sense to start with children, for whom a small shift in direction now can
lead to an entirely different path later. An international school in Bali, Indonesia,
aims to do just that.
Aptly titled Green School,
the organization teaches sustainable thinking and practical skills to students
from pre-kindergarten through high school, including kids in their own
sustainable future. “We have to teach the kids that the world is not indestructible,”
says Green School co-founder John Hardy in a 2010 TED
Talk. No one knows exactly what the future holds, and kids need to be
prepared to live on a planet that could be very different than the one we
inhabit. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still important, Hardy muses, but
the adults of the future are going to need a broader skill set—from building with
bamboo to planting medicinal gardens.
In 2012, Green School
was recognized by the U.S. Building Council as the “Greenest School
on Earth.” The campus itself is solar-powered and self-sustaining, a product of
Hardy’s three-tiered philosophy, “be local, let the environment lead, and think
about how your grandchildren might build.”
This year, Green
School is looking for environmentally
conscious, action-oriented students to attend classes at the Bali
campus. The school’s “Greenest Student on Earth” competition starts March 5 and
ends on April 22, Earth Day. At the close of the competition, three students—one
each from elementary, middle, and high school—will win a one-year scholarship
to Green School.
To enter, the school asks that students submit a 2-3 minute video answering the
question, “Why are you the greenest student on earth?” The video should
highlight environmental achievements, hopes and goals, as well as how the
student would benefit from a year at Green
Winners will be announced June 5, World Environment Day. For more information watch the video below and visit the Green School
Friday, December 28, 2012 4:48 PM
I am in a group of 70 people
gathered at Three Creeks, a ranch in Big Pine, California,
located in the Owens Valley between the White Mountains overlooking Death Valley to the east and the towering Sierra Nevadas
to the west. The valley, once verdant with orchards fed with glacial runoff, is
now parched and mostly barren, its water diverted through culverts to Los Angeles. Three Creeks
is the rare oasis in this dry place. We have traveled here from across the
country and around the world, all of us involved in teaching or supporting
wilderness rites of passage and the Council Process. We range in age from 21 to
84, with most of the group in their early 30s to mid-60s. Three Creeks is the
home of Gigi Coyle and Win Phelps, friends I’ve known for 30 years who’ve
called us here to consider the questions: “What’s going on in your life?” “What
are the challenges you see?” And, “What’s calling you?”
is one of the most tuned-in and intuitively gifted people I know. She is a past
co-director of the Ojai Foundation and long-time trainer with the School of Lost Borders. When Gigi calls, I come.
We’ve been working with the four directions during our retreat. Yesterday, when
we were in the West, the direction of darkness, dreams, and decay, we heard
four impeccably researched and movingly delivered presentations on the state of
our world, focusing on water, waste, women and war. Afterwards I felt
devastated. When each person had a chance to speak, I heard myself say, “I feel
our group of 70 is completing our retreat, working with the East, the direction
of vision, spirit and renewal. We are standing in two concentric circles inside
the Heron Hut, a spiral-shaped meditation and council chamber. Those in the
inner circle are standing on the smooth earthen floor, and those of us in the
outer circle are standing atop the built-in adobe bench that rings the interior
space. In a few words, each of us offers a prayer, or declares his or her
intentions for the future. The last person to speak, at 21, is the youngest in
the group by nearly ten years. She appears reluctant to step into the circle.
When she does she moves silently to the center, sits down before the open fire
and plays with it, burning twigs and dry grass in the flames, then flicking
drops of water from a nearby bowl onto the coals, creating the occasional hiss
about five minutes she gets up and begins circling the fire, surrounded by the
tired but transfixed assemblage. I find myself worrying about the
80-somethings— the group has been standing for well over an hour. Finally the
young woman speaks, “I need your help. I don’t know what to do with what’s
coming toward us. I need you who are older to be elders. I need your wisdom and
guidance. Please help.”
On the plane homefrom
the Three Creeks gathering, the young woman’s
words come back to me. “I need you who
are older to be elders. I need your wisdom
and guidance. Please help.”
is what is being asked of Baby Boomers today. Instead of trying to prolong our
youth we should be helping young people face the burdens and responsibilities
of adulthood. And we need to work together to heal our broken world. I think of
the mentors in my life, and the gifts they gave me. Perhaps most meaningful was
the gift from my stepgrandmother, Brenda Ueland. Brenda knew how to bless. She
was the most encouraging person I ever met, seemingly interested in everything
I had to say, no matter how mundane.She made me feel bold, noble, and
full of promise and even potential greatness. She did the same for almost
everyone around her.
these seemingly hopeless times, this is what elders can do for youngers—help them
to see and remember who they are, and to find the courage and confidence to
face the future. Help them to know that their lives make a difference. And, as Brenda
put it, help them realize that “they have a star on their forehead, and their existence
cheers up the world.”
course, mentoring is a two-way street. If we start listening to our young, there’s
a bonus for elders as well. We just might get our hope back.
Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader.
Image: Chris Lyons / LindgrenSmith.com, courtesy of the School of Lost Borders.
Friday, November 02, 2012 11:15 AM
Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy!
Arctic Alaska has quickly become the most contested land in recent U.S. history. It’s home to vast natural resources and a precariously balanced—and highly threatened—ecosystem. In this excerpt from the collection Arctic Voices (Seven Stories Press, 2012), writer Nancy Lord gives an account of a gathering of Yup’ik Elders facing the troubles of thinning ice in the Bering Sea.
In the late 1970s, the residents of St. Louis, Michigan, found their community in the middle of a Superfund site—an area of land and water deeply contaminated by Velsicol (formerly Michigan) Chemical. Years later, with the cleanup largely failing, a citizen taskforce took on responsibilities of rebuilding. In Civic Empowerment in an Age of Corporate Greed (Michigan State University Press, 2012), professor Edward C. Lorenz evaluates several case studies in community development—perhaps the solution to rising, damaging corporate irresponsibility. In this excerpt from the book's introduction, Lorenz begins the argument that communities are the agents of civic reform.
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.
Friday, August 31, 2012 12:24 PM
There has been no shortage of
map-based predictions of this year’s election, with all eyes on the 95-odd
tossup electors, especially the ones in Ohio
One of the more interesting takes has been the map center at PBS.org, which lets you compare
solid and swing states against demographic data (their Patchwork
Nation map series is also really worth checking out). But David Sparks, a
Duke political scientist, has a more fine-tuned approach. Almost all election maps,
he realized, were choropleth, meaning only differences between states or
counties could be shown. An isarthmic map, on the other hand, allows you to see
gradations and contours that don’t necessarily fall into concrete political
So Sparks created an isarthmic election
map—quite possibly the first of its kind—which lets us see the informal
political boundaries that simpler maps often miss. What’s more, he created a time-lapse
of presidential returns from 1920 to 2008, which gives us a dramatic portrait
of how our political landscape changed over much of the last century. You can see
it here, on Ecopolitology. What
stands out more than anything is just how solid the South has almost always been,
whether as staunch Dixiecrats before the Civil Rights Act, or as a reliable GOP
base since Nixon. It also illustrates the huge, long-term changes that
accompanied elections like 1932, 1960, and 1980—and of course 2008.
Wasn’t this in Russia? Yanko Tsvetkov’s amusing Mapping
Stereotypes project on Brain
Pickings explores the world through the unforgiving eyes of Russians,
Americans, and a few others. You can check out the rest on
Tsvetkov’s blog. One of the best is Asia
According to Americans, with Central Asia divided between “WTF-stan,” “Vietnam
2.0,” and “Borat.”
Maps have also been a big
part of this year’s climate change debate. NASA’s Arctic
melt imagery seems to be everywhere this summer, along with equally foreboding
graphics like this one from the
U.S. Drought Monitor. A little more optimistically, the National Renewable
Energy Laboratory has devised a series of maps showing the nation’s best
hotspots for renewables like wind, solar, and geothermal, available at Grist. The upshot seems to be that
Americans west of the Mississippi have the greatest potential to develop sustainable
energy, whether it’s wind farms in the Great Plains, solar in the Southwest, or
geothermal in the Mountain States.
And a little less
optimistically, the Center for Global
Development has mapped where the worst
effects of climate change are likely to strike, from severe weather to sea
level rise, to famine. The results are kind of what experts have been saying
for a while now: while the U.S.
may see more extreme weather, the biggest overall risks remain in the Global
South, especially sub-Saharan Africa. A key
challenge for Northern countries may be how to respond to humanitarian crises
and disasters that are likely to erupt in the Third World.
What if our maps are
wrong? In cities with a lot public transit, official maps of the subway or
train systems are almost
always distorted, says Smithsonian
Magazine. Usually that means making downtown way too big, which is what Chicago and San
Francisco do. But in some cities, like London and New
York, the errors go a step further, putting streets
in the wrong place and misplacing intersections. Broadway on Manhattan’s
Upper West Side, for instance, is completely
out of whack, says Smithsonian. OK,
so how much does it all matter? Apparently a lot. Distorted maps influence people’s
commutes and rides, and might even get them lost. So much for efficiency.
Image by Kieran Lynam,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, July 24, 2012 3:23 PM
conditions, like the inferno of heat, turbulence, and fuel that recently turned
346 homes in
to ash, are now common in the West. A lethal combination of drought, insect
plagues, windstorms, and legions of dead, dying, or stressed-out trees
constitute what some pundits are calling wildfire’s “perfect storm.”
They are only
conditions may indeed be perfect for fire in the Southwest and West, but if you
think of it as a “storm,” perfect or otherwise—that is, sudden, violent, and
temporary—then you don’t understand what’s happening in this country or on this
planet. Look at those 346 burnt homes again, or at the High Park fire
that ate 87,284 acres and 259 homes west of Fort Collins,
or at the Whitewater
Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico
that began in mid-May, consumed almost 300,000 acres, and is still smoldering,
and what you have is evidence of the new normal in the American West.
For some time, climatologists have been warning us that much of the West is
on the verge of downshifting to a new, perilous level of aridity. Droughts like
those that shaped the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and the even drier 1950s will soon
be “the new climatology” of the region—not passing phenomena but terrifying
business-as-usual weather. Western forests already show the effects of this
If you surf the
blogosphere looking for fire information, pretty quickly you’ll notice a dust
devil of “facts” blowing back and forth: big fires are four times more common
than they used to be; the biggest fires are six-and-a-half times larger than
the monster fires of yesteryear; and owing to a warmer climate, fires are
erupting earlier in the spring and subsiding later in the fall. Nowadays, the
fire season is two and a half months longer than it was 30 years ago.
All of this is
hair-raisingly true. Or at least it was, until things got worse. After all,
those figures don’t come from this summer’s fire disasters but from a study
published in 2006 that compared then-recent fires, including the
record-setting blazes of the early 2000s, with what now seem the good old days
of 1970 to 1986. The data-gathering in the report, however, only ran through
2003. Since then, the western drought has intensified, and virtually every one
of those recent records—for fire size, damage, and cost of suppression—has
since been surpassed.
New Mexico’s Jemez
Mountains are a case in
point. Over the course of two weeks in 2000, the Cerro Grande fire burned 43,000
acres, destroying 400 homes in the nuclear research city of Los Alamos. At the time, to most of us living
in New Mexico,
Cerro Grande seemed a vision of the Apocalypse. Then, the Las Conchas fire
erupted in 2011 on land adjacent to Cerro Grande’s scar and gave a master class
in what the oxygen planet can do when it really struts its stuff.
The Las Conchas
fire burned 43,000 acres, equaling Cerro Grande’s achievement, in its first
fourteen hours. Its smoke plume rose to the stratosphere, and if the light
was right, you could see within it rose-red columns of fire—combusting gases—flashing
like lightning a mile or more above the land. Eventually the Las Conchas fire
spread to 156,593 acres, setting a record as New Mexico’s largest fire in historic times.
It was a
stunning event. Its heat was so intense that, in some of the canyons it
torched, every living plant died, even to the last sprigs of grass on isolated
cliff ledges. In one instance, the needles of the ponderosa pines were not
consumed, but bent horizontally as though by a ferocious wind. No one really
knows how those trees died, but one explanation holds that they were
flash-blazed by a superheated wind, perhaps a collapsing column of fire, and
that the wind, having already burned up its supply of oxygen, welded the trees
by heat alone into their final posture of death.
likely that the Las Conchas record would last years, if not decades. It didn’t.
This year the Whitewater Baldy fire in the southwest of the state burned an
area almost twice as large.
Now, Half Later?
In 2007, Tom
Swetnam, a fire expert and director of the laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at
the University of
Arizona, gave an
interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes. Asked to peer into his crystal ball, he
said he thought the Southwest might lose half its existing forests to fire and
insects over the several decades to come. He immediately regretted the
statement. It wasn’t scientific; he couldn’t back it up; it was a shot from the
hip, a WAG, a wild-ass guess.
Swetnam’s subsequent work, however, buttressed that WAG. In
2010, he and several colleagues quantified
the loss of southwestern forestland from 1984 to 2008. It was a hefty 18%. They
concluded that “only two more recurrences of droughts and die-offs similar or
worse than the recent events” might cause total forest loss to exceed 50%. With
the colossal fires of 2011 and 2012, including Arizona’s Wallow fire, which
consumed more than half-a-million acres, the region is on track to reach that
mark by mid-century, or sooner.
doesn’t mean we get to keep the other half.
In 2007, the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecast a temperature increase of
4ºC for the Southwest over the present century. Given a faster than expected
build-up of greenhouse gases (and no effective mitigation), that number looks
optimistic today. Estimates vary, but let’s say our progress into the
sweltering future is an increase of slightly less than 1ºC so far. That means
we still have an awful long way to go. If the fires we’re seeing now are a
taste of what the century will bring, imagine what the heat stress of a 4ºC
increase will produce. And these numbers reflect mean temperatures.
The ones to worry about are the extremes, the record highs of future
heat waves. In the amped-up climate of the future, it is fair to think that the
extremes will increase faster than the means.
At some point,
every pine, fir, and spruce will be imperiled. If, in 2007, Swetnam was out on
a limb, these days it’s likely that the limb has burned off and it’s getting
ever easier to imagine the destruction of forests on a region-wide scale,
however disturbing that may be.
scenery is at stake, more even than the stability of soils, ecosystems, and
watersheds: the forests of the western United
States account for 20%
to 40% of total U.S.
carbon sequestration. At some point, as western forests succumb to the ills of
climate change, they will become a net releaser of atmospheric carbon, rather
than one of the planet’s principle means of storing it.
Contrary to the
claims of climate deniers, the prevailing models scientists use to predict
change are conservative. They fail to capture many of the feedback loops that
are likely to intensify the dynamics of change. The release of methane from
thawing Arctic permafrost, an especially gloomy prospect, is one of those
feedbacks. The release of carbon from burning or decaying forests is another.
You used to hear scientists say, “If those things happen, the consequences will
be severe.” Now they more often skip that “if” and say “when” instead, but we
don’t yet have good estimates of what those consequences will be.
always been droughts, but the droughts of recent years are different from their
predecessors in one significant way: they are hotter. And the droughts of the
future will be hotter still.
temperatures produced 2,284 new daily highs nationwide and tied 998
existing records. In most places, the shoe-melting heat translated into
drought, and the Department of Agriculture set a record of its own recently by declaring 1,297 dried-out counties in 29 states to be
“natural disaster areas.” June also closed out the warmest first half of a year
and the warmest 12-month period since U.S. record keeping began in 1895.
At present, 56% of the continental U.S. is experiencing drought, a
figure briefly exceeded only in the 1950s.
temperatures have a big impact on plants, be they a forest of trees or fields
of corn and wheat. More heat means intensified evaporation and so greater water
stress. In New Mexico,
researchers compared the drought of the early 2000s with that of the 1950s.
They found that the 1950s drought was longer and drier, but that the more
recent drought caused the death of many more trees, millions of acres of them.
The reason for this virulence: it was 1ºC to 1.5ºC hotter.
avoided the issue of causality by not claiming that climate change caused the
higher temperatures, but in effect stating: “If climate change is occurring,
these are the impacts we would expect to see.” With this in mind, they
christened the dry spell of the early 2000s a “global-change-type drought” —not
a phrase that sings but one that lingers forebodingly in the mind.
equivocation attends a Goddard Institute for Space Studies appraisal
of the heat wave that assaulted Texas, Oklahoma, and northeastern Mexico last summer. Their report
represents a sea change in high-level climate studies in that they boldly
assert a causal link between specific weather events and global warming. The Texas heat wave, like a similar one in Russia the
previous year, was so hot that its probability of occurring under “normal”
conditions (defined as those prevailing from 1951 to 1980) was approximately
0.13%. It wasn’t a 100-year heat wave or even a 500-year one; it was so
colossally improbable that only changes in the underlying climate could explain
The decline of
heat-afflicted forests is not unique to the United States. Global research
suggests that in ecosystems around the world, big old trees—the giants of
tropical jungles, of temperate rainforests, of systems arid and wet, hot and
cold—are dying off.
when forest ecologists compare notes across continents and biomes, they find accelerating tree mortality from Zimbabwe
to Alaska, Australia
The most common cause appears to be heat stress arising from climate change,
along with its sidekick, drought, which often results when evaporation gets a
Fire is only
one cause of forest death. Heat alone can also do in a stand of trees. According
to the Texas Forest Service, between 2% and 10% of all the trees in Texas, perhaps
half-a-billion or so, died in last year’s heat wave, primarily from heat and
desiccation. Whether you know it or not, those are staggering figures.
stand ready to play an ever-greater role in this onrushing disaster. Warm
temperatures lengthen the growing season, and with extra weeks to reproduce, a
population of bark beetles may spawn additional generations over the course of
a hot summer, boosting the number of their kin that make it to winter. Then, if
the winter is warm, more larvae survive to spring, releasing ever-larger swarms
to reproduce again. For as long as winters remain mild, summers long, and trees
vulnerable, the beetles’ numbers will continue to grow, ultimately overwhelming
the defenses of even healthy trees.
We now see this
throughout the Rockies. A mountain pine beetle
epidemic has decimated lodgepole pine stands from Colorado
About five million acres of Colorado’s
best scenery has turned red with dead needles, a blow to tourism as well as the
environment. The losses are far greater in British
Columbia, where beetles have laid waste to more than 33 million
forest acres, killing a volume of trees three times greater than Canada’s annual
call the beetle irruption “the largest known insect infestation in North
American history,” and they point to even more chilling possibilities. Until
recently, the frigid climate of the Canadian Rockies prevented beetles from
crossing the Continental Divide to the interior where they were, until
recently, unknown. Unfortunately, warming temperatures have enabled the beetles
to top the passes of the Peace River country and penetrate northern Alberta. Now a continent
of jack pines lies before them, a boreal smorgasbord 3,000 miles long. If the
beetles adapt effectively to their new hosts, the path is clear for them to
chew their way eastward virtually to the Atlantic
and to generate transformative ecological effects on a gigantic scale.
media, prodded by recent drought declarations and other news, seem finally to
be awakening to the severity of these prospects. Certainly, we should be
grateful. Nevertheless, it seems a tad anticlimactic when Sam Champion, ABC
News weather editor, says with this-just-in urgency to anchor Diane
Sawyer, “If you want my opinion, Diane, now’s the time we start limiting
manmade greenhouse gases.”
One might ask,
“Why now, Sam?” Why not last year, or a decade ago, or several decades back?
The news now overwhelming the West is, in truth, old news. We saw the changes
coming. There should be no surprise that they have arrived.
It’s never too
late to take action, but now, even if all greenhouse gas emissions were halted
immediately, Earth’s climate would continue warming for at least another
generation. Even if we surprise ourselves and do all the right things, the
forest fires, the insect outbreaks, the heat-driven die-offs, and other sweeping
transformations of the American West and the planet will continue.
One upshot will
be the emergence of whole new ecologies. The landscape changes brought on by
climate change are affecting areas so vast that many previous tenants of the
land—ponderosa pines, for instance—cannot be expected to recolonize their
former territory. Their seeds don’t normally spread far from the parent tree,
and their seedlings require conditions that big, hot, open spaces don’t
develop in their absence? What will the mountains and mesa tops of the New West
look like? Already it is plain to see that scrub oak, locust, and other plants
that reproduce by root suckers are prospering in places where the big pines
used to stand. These plants can be burned to the ground and yet resprout
vigorously a season later. One ecologist friend offers this advice, “If you
have to be reincarnated as a plant in the West, try not to come back as a tree.
Choose a clonal shrub, instead. The future looks good for them.”
meantime, forget about any sylvan dreams you might have had: this is no time to
build your house in the trees.
deBuys, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of seven books, most
A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American
2011). He has long been involved in environmental affairs in the Southwest, including
service as founding chairman of the Valles Caldera Trust, which administers the
87,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. To listen to Timothy MacBain's
latest Tomcast audio interview in which deBuys discusses where heat, fire, and
climate change are taking us, click here or download it to your iPod here.
Image by Loco Steve,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, July 03, 2012 3:10 PM
The long day wanes: the slow moon
climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices.
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek
a newer world.
—Alfred Lord Tennyson
As I’ve said in this column before, I’m
afraid it may be too late to avoid the devastating effects of global
climate change. I think former Greenpeace International Executive
Director Paul Gilding may be right when he says in his book The Great Disruption, that cataclysmic changes are already upon us, and will only worsen in the coming decades.
This makes me rather morose from time to
time. Seeing the chatty moms and bouncy kids gathered at the foot of my
driveway every morning, waiting for the school bus, hits me hard—will
they be able to do this a few years from now? Will anybody? Or will the
cascading effects of climate disruption turn such touching scenes into
Fortunately, just when I get the bleakest, I tend
to remember the Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was 20
years ago. The second best time is now."
So I ask myself, who’s planting the world
of tomorrow today? Then I start noticing that there are a lot of people
doing very positive things to help us make it through the Great
Disruption, things that could make life on the other side of the coming
troubles better than anything we’ve known on this side.
At the top of my list is Richard Louv, the longtime San Diego newspaperman and author who wrote the best-selling book, The Last Child in the Woods. I recently met Louv while he was on tour promoting his latest and possibly best book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.
In the book Louv argues that, “the time has come for us all to
re-envision a future that puts aside scenarios of environmental and
social apocalypse and instead taps into the restorative powers of the
natural world.” In the new, trade paperback edition (it’s not in the
hardcover edition that came out last year), Louv offers his vision of
what he calls a “new nature movement.” He writes:
Imagine a world in which all children
grow up with a deep understanding of the life around them, where all of
us know the animals and plants in our own backyards ... where we feel
more alive. We seek a newer world where we not only conserve nature but
create it where we live, work, learn, and play. Where yards and open
spaces are alive with native species. Where bird migration routes are
healed by human care ... where not only public land but private
property, voluntarily, garden to garden to garden, is transformed, by
us, into butterfly zones and then, across the country, into a homegrown,
(coast to coast) national park ... where cities become incubators of
bio-diversity ... where pediatricians prescribe nature ... where
hospitals and prisons offer gardens that heal ... where cities produce
their own energy and much of their own food. Where empty lots become
community gardens ... where developers [transform] aging shopping malls
into ecovillages ... where streams in cities and countryside are
restored—unearthed to the daylight—their natural curves and life
restored. A newer world where the point of education is not rote and
drill, but wonder and awe ... where teachers take their students on
field trips to nearby woods and canyons and streams and shores ... where
natural history becomes as important as human history to who we are ...
where children experience the joy of being in nature before they learn
of its loss ... where, as a species, we no longer feel so all alone.
Imagine a world in which our days are lived in the arms of mother
nature, of the land and sky, water and soil, wind and sea; a newer world
we seek and to which we return.
Sign me up.
Louv has just launched the New Nature Movement,
which is intended to include but go beyond traditional environmentalism
and sustainability. Louv says, “the hunger for this [movement] is
intergenerational, but probably most keenly felt by younger people.” If
you’re a boomer, find a young person and get involved. If you’re young,
find anyone from another generation and lead the way.
Eric Utne is the founder of Utne Reader.
Image by Anuradha Sengupta, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 29, 2012 4:13 PM
Later this year, the
federal Farm Bill that was enacted in 2008 is set to expire. Although Congress
already has plenty on its plate—not to mention the ongoing kerfuffle over
Obamacare at the Supreme Court—there’s a good chance they’ll make room for
this. Because of its size and scope, the direction the Farm Bill takes has a
big impact not just on agriculture and farming communities, but also on environmental
policy, trade, and the overall health and safety of Americans. Subsidies and
payments to farmers and farming communities may be the most contentious
portion, but the bill also doles out money for programs like food stamps,
disaster relief, and conservation. Essentially, this is where the debate on U.S. food policy
And every five years or
so, when the Farm Bill comes up for renewal, that debate ignites again. A look
at the most recent cycle gives some idea of what’s ahead. At the end of 2006, Oxfam published a briefing on the
politics surrounding the then-current Farm Bill, which was set to expire the
following year. For decades, the report argued, the Farm Bill has been skewed to
benefit mostly the largest and most profitable farmers, at the expense of the
little guys. Commodity subsidies—which make up the second largest chunk of the Farm
Bill’s budget—go overwhelmingly to the small number of conventional, large-scale
farmers who grow the “program crops” of corn, wheat, cotton, soybeans, and
rice. The roughly 75 percent of farms that grow and sell other products (or
program crop growers that are too small to collect support) receive just 8
percent of the Farm Bill’s subsidies. As a result, over the course of several
generations, farms have become much bigger, and many smaller farmers have been
pushed out. Oxfam also pointed to the underlying health effects of conventional
and factory farming, and a food system that relies on processing artificially
cheap foods like corn.
Oxfam’s warning fell
mostly on deaf ears. Especially in terms of crop subsidies, the 2008 bill was
remarkably similar to the 2002 bill, with no big rethinking going on in
Congress. A report by the Land
Stewardship Project, while outlining some progress on conservation
programs, criticized the bill’s overall failure
to address the growing corporatization of agriculture. Tellingly, much of
the problem lay with crop subsidies.
But even more revealing
was the contentiousness surrounding the plan. Even though the 2008 bill
differed little from a version passed uneventfully in 2002, the later version was only passed
overrode Bush’s veto. Interestingly, while new conservation programs were
indeed controversial, much of the Republican opposition came from concern over
the total size of the bill, and just where those big crop subsidies were going.
Will this year be any
different? Public awareness of these issues is growing. As Oxfam points out, fresh
fruits and vegetables are increasingly more popular than over-processed corn
and soybean creations. Organic farming is ever more fashionable, though many
small farmers still struggle with how costly it is. CSAs and farmers’ markets
are commonplace in urban areas throughout the country. Despite its low cost,
Americans are much less enamored with processed food than they once were. Could
a new Farm Bill reflect these trends?
It’s possible. As Huffington points out, when
negotiations over the 2012 renewal began two years ago, organizations like the
Environmental Working Group and the Land Stewardship Project seemed poised to make
a larger impact on the new version. Predicting that commodity subsidies may
be on their way out, the National
Sustainable Agriculture Coalition proposed rewarding green farming
practices, rather than subsidizing conventional techniques. As NSAC noted last
week on its blog, recent Senate Ag Committee hearings seem to
be moving in the right direction. While nothing is written yet, Senators
were reportedly sympathetic to conservation concerns and farmers’ proposals to
cut crop subsidies in favor of less constraining crop insurance programs. The committee
may also be interested in reforming crop insurance to reflect environmental
concerns and better serve beginning farmers. Such modest changes would be
welcomed by millions of small-scale farmers.
But this is where things
get complicated. While the Senate Agriculture Committee debates conservation
policy, tea party Republicans in the House are set to challenge much of the
current Farm Bill from an entirely different angle. Opposition to the 2008 renewal
united an unlikely crowd, from small farmers to conservationists to fiscal
conservatives, and that last group has lost none of its zeal. It may be hard
for some to take the new
GOP budget proposal all that seriously, but it does represent a potential
challenge to decades of more or less bipartisan farm policy. For instance, under
the GOP plan, says Think Progress, food
stamps would be converted to a series of block grants to the states. So
rather than a federal program that grows and shrinks by public need (as it did
during the recession), SNAP would have a fixed limit, whether more people
needed it or not.
Even more importantly, says AgWeek, the new Republican plan would
cut commodity subsidies by a third, and cut the Farm Bill itself
by $180 billion. Now, logistically all of that is very unlikely. Unlike the
House, the Senate has a Democratic majority, and their version of the Farm Bill
so far looks very different. What’s significant is that one of two parties in Washington wants to completely reshape U.S. food
policy, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how much they want it. As Grist notes, there is a plan in place
if both houses can’t reach an agreement, a little like that whole sequestration
debacle last year during the deficit talks. In this case, however, the
automatic changes would bring
us back to 1940s-era policies that have very little relevance to the 21st
century. Such a scenario could be downright dangerous.
So what exactly happens
over the next several months is difficult to say. During the deficit talks last
fall, Republican freshmen in the House proved that they are more than willing
to double down on principle, even when high stakes call for pragmatism. At the same
time, conservation groups and small farmers see 2012 as a moment of opportunity
to reshape some of the Farm Bill’s most pressing anachronisms. It’s hard to
predict how all this will shake out, what deals will be struck before or after
the September deadline, and how much of this will be drowned out by looming
elections. We could end up with a radically different food policy in this
country, one that affects everything from school lunches and poverty programs
to how we respond to the emerging threat of climate change. It’s a conversation
we should begin soon.
Sources: Oxfam, Land
Stewardship Project, Thomas, Huffington,
Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Christian
Science Monitor, Think
Image by Saffron
Blaze, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012 10:38 AM
Beautifully captured stop-motion
How social networks make
it tough to see ourselves as part of a larger group, like say, a class.
A NASA project that studies surface-level ocean currents is
Gogh’s Starry Night come to life.
Why thinking green could actually be bad for
What 2050 may really
look like (minus the flying cars).
Backronyms and downright falsehoods: debunking linguistic
The specifics on our brave
new digital world.
What house mice can tell us about where
the Vikings have been.
New research on the other
How the heat wave in the Midwest
NOAA’s climate software.
David Foster Wallace wants you to turn
the music down.
A new app lets Facebook users “enemy”
instead of “friend.” The app, developed by a University of Texas researcher, is called EnemyGraph, and purports to encourage a more accurate reflection of our social lives than the "friending" and "liking" can.
Image by Andreas Bauer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 09, 2012 4:43 PM
What would it take to shape a planet on which people, other living things, and the systems that support us can sustainably coexist? For a special issue, Momentum magazine invited experts from around the world to share their thoughts on how we might craft solutions to some of earth’s toughest challenges. Mary Hoff spoke with resilience strategist Johan Rockstrom on what it would take to protect the Earth’s systems from catastrophic failure.
Why do we need to think about protecting Earth’s systems from catastrophic failure?
The basic reason is that major advances in Earth system science now show that humanity is facing the risk of large-scale, potentially catastrophic tipping points that could hamper human development. The evidence shows that we may have entered a whole new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, where humans constitute the main geological force changing planet Earth. The planetary boundaries framework was developed to address this new reality.
But the insight of the Anthropocene gives you only the very first step, because it just indicates we have a high degree of human pressure. The second is the risk of nonlinear change, which comes out of resilience theory and from empirical evidence that particular ecosystems have multiple stable states. We see evidence that lakes and forests and wetlands can have different equilibria—so you have a savanna system that may be stable and thriving, but it can also tip over and become an arid steppe if pushed too far by warming, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. A clear-water lake can become a murky, biodiversity-low anoxic lake. Unfortunately, the science is increasingly showing that even large systems can tip. There’s paleoclimatic evidence that if oceans get an overload of phosphorus, they could collapse with large dead zones. The largest ice sheets also show evidence of shifts between ice-covered and ice-free states.
We asked ourselves: OK, so if we are in the Anthropocene, and if we are at risk or have evidence of large regional to global tipping points, then what is our desired state for planet Earth? What is the state at which Earth needs to be in order to support human well-being in a world of 7—soon to be 9—billion people?
Paleoclimatic records show clearly that the past 10,000 years, the Holocene, is a remarkably stable period in which we went from being a few hunters and gatherers to become more sedentary agriculture-based civilizations, which then moved us to the current populated modern era. So there’s robust evidence that the Holocene is our desired state and the only state we know that can support the modern economy. If we know that, we can also define the biophysical preconditions: What are the Earth system processes that determine the Holocene’s familiarity? Can we for those processes identify tipping points we want to avoid? The insight of the importance of the Holocene stability provides humanity with a science-based analysis of global sustainability goals that should be met to provide us safe operating space for human development.
What would it take to protect Earth’s systems from catastrophic failure?
There are so many challenges and steps that need to be taken. But if one thinks of it as entering a funnel, I think a broad entry point is the need for a shift in mind-set. It might sound a bit awkward—the first thing one thinks of is probably new economic paradigms, really hard new governance structures, new policies. All of that is of course required, but the precondition is that modern society reconnect to the biosphere, which in turn requires a mind shift. Today we operate the world with our growth paradigm and our economic imperative and our social imperative as being the supreme goals for our societies. We then add, at best, sustainable development, corporate social responsibility and all the good work we’re doing with clean tech and efforts to be more efficient, all with the explicit goal of minimizing environmental impacts within the overarching growth paradigm. The insights of the Anthropocene and tipping points show this paradigm doesn’t work anymore. We have to reverse the whole order and agree that the biosphere is the basis for everything else. This is quite dramatic, because it means human development has to be subordinate to Earth system boundaries. It changes the whole idea of macroeconomic theory, because macroeconomic theory basically states that as long as you put the right price on the environment, you automatically get the most cost-efficient way of solving environmental problems.
The second dimension is the idea of planetary stewardship, which means taking ourselves from 196 nation-states operating in their own interest as individual entities to joint governance at the planetary scale. We need to strengthen global governance. We need a global agency that governs, monitors, verifies, and reports on whether we’re on aggregate meeting planetary boundaries. That is something a world environment organization could do. This is not to say bottom-up initiatives are not important. On the contrary, they are a precondition for success. But in the Anthropocene, where we need to urgently bend the global curves of negative environmental change, we need to provide leadership also at the global scale. This is lacking today.
How urgent is this?
There is more and more scientific evidence that suggests it is very urgent. For climate, biodiversity and nitrogen, we are already in the slippery danger zone where we cannot exclude tipping over thresholds. On climate, we’re seeing evidence of a destabilization of the Arctic ice sheet. On nitrogen, we’re seeing clear evidence of major tipping points where lakes are losing their capacity to support human well-being due to overuse of nitrogen and phosphorus particularly in modern agriculture. On biodiversity, we’ve reached the point where humanity is causing an extinction of species equivalent to losing the dinosaurs 65 million years ago—at the same time we’re also learning how much we depend on biodiversity. We have increasing evidence we need to back off also on phosphorus and that we’re approaching dangerous boundaries for freshwater and for land. So we have a decade right now that is very decisive.
And the reason it’s urgent is not that we risk catastrophic outcomes in one year or five years or 10 years. It is because what we do today injects changes in Earth systems that may cause thresholds in 50 years’ time, 100 years’ time. The future of coming generations is thus truly in this generation’s hands. And we have already committed ourselves to major risks of tipping points in the coming century. That’s why we need to go much, much faster on turning back into the safe operating space.
For the boundaries that we have already transgressed, we can’t exclude that this decade is a determining decade, that we need to bend the curves of negative environmental change before 2020. There’s a lot of strong evidence that’s the case.
What if we do take this to heart? What could we hope for?
That’s a very interesting question, because there’s very little or no science to suggest that a global transition to sustainability, a global transition to a future within planetary boundaries, would be a worse world than the world we know today. On the contrary, there is increasing evidence to suggest that a transition can be done while providing us with good chances of prosperity even on a crowded planet.
But there is a big “but”: And the big but is, have we already gone too far? And that we simply don’t know yet.
Published in association with
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
Image by J. Lokrantz/Azote, courtesy of Stockholm Resilience Center.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012 3:42 PM
What would it take to shape a planet on which people, other living things, and the systems that support us can sustainably coexist? For a special issue,
magazine invited experts from around the world to share their thoughts on how we might craft solutions to some of earth’s toughest challenges. Ben Jervey spoke with physicist Robert Socolow on what it would take to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and solve climate change.
What would it take to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and solve climate change?
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is about 40 percent higher today than it was 200 years ago. It’s going up principally because we are burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) and secondarily because we are cutting down forests. Fossil fuel energy represents 85 percent of the energy powering the world economy, and exchanging the current fossil fuel energy system for a low-carbon energy system won’t happen overnight. It could require a century or more if we fail to take climate change seriously. The current fossil energy system is a very strong competitor to any low-carbon energy system we will invent.
With all the talk about peak oil, it’s not surprising that people imagine that the fossil fuel era will come to an end soon, because we run out of fossil fuels. That’s not going to happen. What we will run out of is low-cost oil. But there are a lot of buried hydrocarbons in the form of lower quality reserves (coal, shale gas, shale oil, oil sands and others) that will keep the fossil energy system humming. So we are in a pickle. We will need policies that modify the current competition between high-carbon and low-carbon energy in favor of the latter. We will also need success in research, development, and deployment that lowers the cost of low-carbon energy.
You’ve expressed concerns about the current discussions of long-term climate targets.
The world’s diplomats and environmentalists have nearly universally endorsed a target that is extremely difficult to achieve. A consensus could develop—possibly quite soon—that the very difficult goal will not be attained. It would be desirable to prepare now to discuss some relatively less difficult goal that nonetheless requires, starting immediately, major national commitments and international coordination. We will greatly increase the likely damage from climate change if not achieving the current extremely difficult goal disheartens us and we respond by postponing action for decades.
What is this “extremely difficult” goal?
The extremely difficult global target is known as “preventing 2 degrees.” Let me decode this. To prevent 2 degrees, those alive today and our successors must keep the Earth’s average surface temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), relative to the value of the same temperature before the Industrial Revolution. Achieving the “2 degrees” target requires the termination of the fossil fuel era in just a few decades. Indeed, “2 degrees” is now widely acknowledged to be shorthand for cutting today’s global carbon dioxide emissions rate in half by 2050.
An alternative target is “3 degrees,” which is shorthand for allowing the global emissions rate for greenhouse gases at mid-century to be approximately equal to today’s rate. The fossil fuel system would be greatly constrained relative to where global economic growth is taking it. Large deployment of energy efficiency and low-carbon technology would take place during the decades immediately ahead to facilitate the steady curtailment of fossil fuels. But there would still be substantial coal, oil and natural gas in the global energy system at mid-century.
Not to constrain the global fossil fuel system at all over the next few decades could be called “5 degrees.” It is the only outcome currently contrasted with “2 degrees” in most discussions of climate change policy. “Three degrees” is the middle option, permitting somewhat greater flexibility and caution, but nonetheless requiring immense effort. We should be using the current period to work out the details of the middle option and keep it in play.
Climate scientists such as James Hansen have written that a concentration of 350 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the “safe upper limit.” There’s a whole organization developed around that number (www.350.org). How do these temperature targets correspond to concentration targets?
Indeed, following the current discussion about targets is a daunting task for the nonspecialist. There is a third way of expressing a climate change target: neither a cap on ultimate surface temperature nor a cap on emissions at mid-century, but a cap on the ultimate concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Out of every million molecules in the atmosphere right now, 390 are carbon dioxide molecules. We say that the concentration is 390 ppm, or 390 parts per million. In Shakespeare’s time, the concentration was 280 ppm. 350.org is advocating a concentration lower than the present one, setting an agenda for the next century or longer. I think any goal that far out takes our eye off the ball. Our focus needs to be on how quickly we shut down the fossil fuel system over the next few decades, a period when the concentration of carbon dioxide is nearly certain to be rising.
You seem concerned that we could implement warming mitigation strategies too quickly.
The “2 degrees” target emerged from well-meaning but one-sided reasoning. To be sure, the faster emissions of greenhouse gases are reduced, the smaller will be the disruptions from climate change—the less the severity of storms and droughts, the less the increase in sea level, the less the acidification of the oceans, the less the damage to ecosystems. “Two degrees” was the answer to the question: What temperature rise would occur if the fossil energy system were shut down at the fastest conceivable rate? A two-sided analysis would take into account the disruptions that come from closing down the fossil fuel system quickly.
One reason we need two-sided analysis is that climate change is linked to nuclear war. A rapid global expansion of nuclear power is a step toward avoiding climate change, but it also can encourage the development of nuclear weapons.
My generation considered our greatest assignment to be avoiding nuclear war. The horror of nuclear war is less on people’s minds today, but nuclear weapons are still seen as desirable in many countries. The more worried anyone is about climate change, the more he or she should be working to develop the international institutions that can prevent the diversion into nuclear weapons of the uranium and plutonium associated with nuclear power. It would be terrible to exchange climate change for nuclear war anywhere on the planet.
Besides nuclear proliferation, do you have other concerns that keep you from endorsing the quickest possible move away from fossil fuels?
Yes, I do. An uncritical espousal of the fastest possible renunciation of fossil fuels is also irresponsible from the perspective of industrialization in the developing world. Fossil fuels are currently powering this industrialization, and plans for the decades ahead assume that the dominance of fossil fuels will continue. An alternative is low-carbon industrialization in various forms. Yet, very little detailed analysis has been done to understand what would be necessary to make low-carbon industrialization attractive.
To understand why such analysis is critical, note that today roughly half of the world’s emissions come from industrialized countries and half from developing countries. To meet the goal of cutting global emissions in half by midcentury, even if industrialized country emissions were to go nearly to zero, total emissions from developing countries would need to fall relative to today. By contrast, emissions of greenhouse gases from the developing world have roughly doubled in the past 20 years. Low-carbon industrialization for sure will require much innovation.
Do you have specific innovations in mind for the developing world?
Above all, developing countries undergoing rapid industrialization need to make energy efficiency a priority. Neighborhoods containing blocks of apartment buildings for hundreds of millions of people are being built today, equipped with hundreds of millions of household appliances. To service these neighborhoods, new roads and new grids for electricity, natural gas and water are being provided. Unfortunately, most of this development repeats mistakes made earlier by industrialized countries. First costs rather than life-cycle costs drive investments. Measurements of actual usage of power and fuel are rare, even though such measurements would permit energy-savings strategies to be evaluated and made more effective.
Aren’t you violating a taboo when you talk about the responsibilities of developing countries?
As someone from an industrialized country, I do indeed find it awkward to lecture counterparts in developing countries about their patterns of development. In effect, I am saying: “Don’t do what we did.”
I advocate fixing the bad habits in industrialized countries and limiting their adoption in developing countries. “Developed” countries can and should pursue energy efficiency much more aggressively—addressing our own poorly insulated homes, low-mileage vehicles, and inefficient refrigerators, computers, televisions and air conditioners. We can and should establish land use policies that reduce sprawl and long commutes.
To sum up, what would you recommend for an overall climate change strategy?
We will know more about climate change in a decade or two, and we will also know more about the societal stresses incurred by aggressive climate change mitigation. It is all too easy to imagine outcomes of addressing climate change that bring societal disruptions as severe as climate change itself. I am confident that preventing such outcomes is achievable. But right now there is too much willingness to pretend that such outcomes don’t exist.
I recommend, first, the coordinated development of ambitious emissions targets and emission-reduction strategies required to meet these targets. Second, at regular intervals, in accordance with the principle known as iterative risk management, both the targets and the strategies would be revisited and revised in the light of new information and insights.
Published in association with
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
Image courtesy of Princeton University.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012 11:17 AM
What would it take to shape a planet on which people, other living things, and the systems that support us can sustainably coexist? For a special issue,
magazine invited experts from around the world to share their thoughts on how we might craft solutions to some of earth’s toughest challenges. Jeremy Faludi spoke with optimist Alex Steffen about what it would take to make a city carbon neutral.
First, let’s talk about transportation. What are your favorite tools or strategies that cities can use?
Well, one thing I’ve learned that’s really shocked me is the degree to which transportation planning in the U.S. is really traffic planning. Even progressive cities like Seattle have a sub-department that is about everything else but cars. They don’t have any integrated strategy at all. The traffic modeling software used by the planning commission for the five-county metropolitan area here doesn’t even account for pedestrian trips or bicycle trips, and only does a one-to-one swap for transit and cars, which we know isn’t the way the real world works.
If we’re talking about transportation, the best thing a city can do is densify as quickly as it can. That needs to be said every time this issue comes up, because it’s the only universal strategy that works. That’s the best-documented finding in urban planning—that as density goes up, trip length goes down and transportation energy use goes down. The main question that nearly every city in North America needs to address is how to densify quickly. Once people are grappling with that, though, there are other things people need to do to make that work: making neighborhoods walkable, with green spaces, street life, mixed-use zoning and other qualities that make a place livable. If you have density without that, you just have vertical suburbs.
How you get density is different depending on whether your city is growing or declining. Most cities in the U.S. are growing because the country is having one last population boom. The biggest thing growing cities need to do is minimize barriers to development so that as long as someone is doing good urbanism, they can get permitted quickly and get building quickly. In a lot of places, one of the most expensive parts of building a new building is the delay caused by permitting, public process, etc. Places that have done a really good job, like Vancouver, basically set a high bar for what will get passed, but once you’ve passed you’re good to go, there aren’t delays. I think that’s one of the most important things, because we know there’s already a giant pent-up demand for urban living space. We want to provide that urban living space—but that requires building on a scale we haven't seen in 40 or 50 years.
What are the best strategies to fill cities with carbon-neutral buildings?
In most places, the process of land use planning and infrastructure planning is broken—even if it’s working well in most ways, it’s broken in the slowness with which it grapples with change. In quite a few cities, most civic engagement is mostly a matter of fighting development, people saying, “not in my backyard.” Even in cities that are doing good planning, it tends to be marginal and incremental and take decades to come to fruition. There are a number of cities that have fast-track permitting for green buildings.
Vancouver has explicit policies about setting ambitious policy goals and strict building standards, but then really expediting any projects that exceed it. A lot of cities will need to embrace that. We have a lot more to lose by changing too slowly than by changing too quickly. We know enough about how to legislate good urban design that there’s no excuse for not picking up the pace.
I think people are frustrated because all these things are such large-scale issues that people feel they can only be solved through complicated bureaucratic processes of city governments, which have glacial paces. What can we do about that?
One of the most unfortunate side effects of the urban activism of the ’60s and ’70s is the belief that development is wrong and that fighting it makes you an environmentalist. We know that dense cities are both environmentally better and dramatically more equitable places. Walkable neighborhoods are better than the suburbs for people with a wide range of incomes, and what happens in cities that don't grow is that they gentrify and poor people are pushed out. Trying to fight change makes you less sustainable and more unfair.
I think we need to acknowledge that not everyone will be happy with the results. But you need to be able to charge ahead anyway. I really admire Janette Sadik-Khan, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation. One of the things she’s great at is that when there’s an idea that’s understood to be workable and good because it’s worked elsewhere, and with the amount of basic vetting needed to show it won’t have unintended consequences, she goes ahead. She just makes changes, rather than submitting things to lengthy process. The most famous thing she did was Times Square, making it a pedestrian plaza. She didn’t put it through a five-year plan, she just did it. Same thing with a ton of bike lanes, bus rapid transit, etc. She doesn’t get bogged down in debate about things. We need more leadership like that. She’s had opposition—some people haven’t liked what she’s done. But most people really do like it, because it works.
In almost all city governments in America, the small group of people who don’t want change are able to block change. Sometimes these people block change for good reasons, but much of the changes we need, that will improve cities, also get blocked—which is a loss for everyone involved.
How do you streamline the hearing process but still allow people’s voices to be heard? For instance, when the big-box store wants to move in that would kill local businesses, how do people have recourse against that?
My experience is that, in most cities, the planning process isn’t used primarily to block things like that. It’s used primarily to block things like extensions of transit, affordable housing, large residential projects, etc. There are bad projects, and people have every right and duty to block them, but most NIMBY opposition isn’t to stuff that’s actually bad, it’s just to stuff people don’t like because it’s different. And I don’t think the public has a duty to listen to the same arguments again and again and again. I think once officials are elected who have a clearly articulated agenda, they should just go do them. There are converging approaches that are designed to involve more people in the process, change the process itself. Some of this is in the Government 2.0 movement of better data transparency; some of this is in open-source planning, etc. Most of the process in most cities I’m aware of is de facto exclusionary because you can’t participate unless you can take time off in the middle of your workday to go to the hearings. So you end up with wealthy NIMBYs, public officials and developers, which isn’t a very good mix. Putting pressure to change those systems, for civic revival, would greatly help.
So you’re arguing not for shutting down public hearing process, but for letting cities decide on projects by whole classes of projects rather than individual cases?
Yes, exactly. You don’t get the pace of change that’s needed out of case-by-case evaluations. If you’re willing to make tough choices right up front, we know it’s possible to do a lot of this stuff without taking away anything that people love about their cities. In fact, we can add value to people's neighborhoods.
There’s a great plan for the city of Melbourne, which they presented at TEDx Sydney. The city’s growing quickly, needs to add a million people over the next decade or two, but they don’t want that to be sprawl. So they took a digital map of the city and blocked off everything that’s currently single-family residences, everything that’s a historical building, everything that’s green space, working industrial land, and other things people are vociferous about valuing. That left a fairly small percentage of land. But they showed that if they concentrated density in those corridors, they could add a million people without expanding the city at all, and it would add all these benefits, like better public transit and such. You can dramatically increase the density of places without taking away things people want—and actually adding things they want but couldn’t afford today—because the average suburb isn’t dense enough to financially support a tram or the like. But if you add a dense core that can support that, suddenly even the people around it, in their single-family homes, get the benefit, too. I call that “tent-pole density,” where extremely high density in a small area brings up the average for a whole neighborhood, even when the rest of the neighborhood doesn’t change. I think it’s a really important concept, one that most people don’t get.
We’ve run out of time for incremental approaches. For carbon-neutral cities, there are things worth talking about in how our consumption patterns can change—sharing goods, etc.—but those are a fraction of the impacts of transportation and building energy use. If we need to choose priority actions, the most important things are to densify, provide transit, and green the buildings.
Published in association with
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
Image by Mikael Colville-Anderson / Copenhagenize.com.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 9:30 AM
What would it take to shape a planet on which people, other living things, and the systems that support us can sustainably coexist? For a special issue,
magazine invited experts from around the world to share their thoughts on how we might craft solutions to some of earth’s toughest challenges. Wendee Holtcamp spoke with ocean advocate Alexandra Cousteau, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and the granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, about how to create sustainable ocean fisheries.
What would it take to create sustainable ocean fisheries?
It is going to take coordination at the highest levels, coordination between different government entities responsible for managing resources. Nations are struggling to set catch limits and quotas, while still trying to figure out how many fish are there. We don’t know enough about the oceans, yet we’re reducing the amount of money we’re spending on research. A lot of very smart people around the world are working on the problem of sustainable fisheries, but we need to invest more in science. We also need to get the fishermen on board. We need to get them to embrace devices like the Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), and to use nets with wider filaments so they’re catching their target species, rather than tighter nets that catch everything. It will take fishermen staying out of marine protected areas and catching the species they’re allowed to fish and not overexploited species. If we’re able to get everyone on the same page, we still can achieve sustainability. But we are running out of time.
How are we doing so far?
Right now we are failing miserably. It’s a free-for-all out in the ocean. There’s no ownership of common spaces, and there’s a “get it before the next guy gets it” mentality.
What can consumers do to help?
People should avoid fish that are overexploited, such as Chilean sea bass, swordfish, shark, irresponsibly caught shrimp and all sorts of other species on the brink. In the U.S. alone we have almost 700 different species that are not only safe to eat but also tasty, but we eat the same dozen species every time because we know what they look like, we know our family will eat them. We need to make different choices. If it continues to go on as now, we’re going to see some major collapses.
How does your organization, Blue Legacy, work with sustainable water issues?
Last year, we converted John McCain’s Straight Talk Express into a biodiesel mobile workstation, and then went on a 17,100-mile expedition across North America, stopping on many spots along the way to tell the water stories of local communities and local water-keepers. Through film and expeditionary filmmaking, we work to reconnect people with the water in their life, water that shapes the land they live on, shapes the places they live, the communities they have and the quality of life they depend on. The short films are distributed primarily online to media partners, schools, nonprofits and all sorts of organizations so they can tell their stories online to advance their objectives in the communities they serve. When we stopped in a community, we made that day all about them.
Has having a baby affected your outlook?
When I think about projections on what we’ll have in 5, 10, 50 years, all of a sudden that’s a time frame of Clémentine’s life, and those milestones are very poignant. When I was young, I had great opportunity to see a lot of extraordinary places, but now they’re gone or fundamentally different from how I knew them. That grieves me. There were places that broadened my view of the world, and as we lose those places we impoverish ourselves. I want there to be places she can spend weeks exploring tide pools, and pristine creeks where she can catch tadpoles. I want her to know those things. Our generation is the last generation to be able to save some of these treasures we have. It’s our “space race” to protect the quantity and quality of water systems. If we fail, her generation will have lost some really irreplaceable natural places and species.
Published in association with
, a print, online and multimedia magazine for environmental thought leaders produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Image by Bil Zelman.
Friday, January 27, 2012 4:55 PM
To the power brokers of America’s right, climate change poses a dire threat to business as usual. Environmentalism, in fact, is seen by many of them as a stalking horse for an even more sinister force: socialism. Progressive thinker Naomi Klein expertly dissects this dynamic in her Nation article “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” explaining why the average modern conservative is terrified silly by the prospect of confronting human-caused climate change:
Responding to climate change requires that we break every rule in the free-market playbook and that we do so with great urgency. We will need to rebuild the public sphere, reverse privatizations, relocalize large parts of economies, scale back overconsumption, bring back long-term planning, heavily regulate and tax corporations, maybe even nationalize some of them, cut military spending and recognize our debts to the global South. Of course, none of this has a hope in hell of happening unless it is accompanied by a massive, broad-based effort to radically reduce the influence that corporations have over the political process. That means, at a minimum, publicly funded elections and stripping corporations of their status as “people” under the law. In short, climate change supercharges the pre-existing case for virtually every progressive demand on the books, binding them into a coherent agenda based on a clear scientific imperative. …
Climate change detonates the ideological scaffolding on which contemporary conservatism rests. There is simply no way to square a belief system that vilifies collective action and venerates total market freedom with a problem that demands collective action on an unprecedented scale and a dramatic reining in of the market forces that created and are deepening the crisis.
Klein’s essay is well worth reading for anyone with an environmental consciousness who’s trying to understand why saving the planet sounds so damn scary to some people. I would say it undermines everything they believe in, but as Klein makes abundantly clear, they don’t believe in much of anything except preserving their own privileged, comfortable lifestyles.
After reading Klein’s piece, I didn’t have to go far to find someone willing to buttress her argument from the other side of the spectrum. James Delingpole, the London Telegraph reporter who set off the whole ridiculous “Climategate” imbroglio that allegedly exposed the climate hoax—but in fact did nothing of the sort—is now trotting out a book, Watermelons, apparently meant to capitalize on his hero status to climate-change deniers. He tells the libertarian magazine Reason, apparently without a trace of irony:
I call the book Watermelons because they’re green on the outside but red on the inside. After the Berlin Wall came down, the communist movement, the global leftist movement, was left in a bit of a quandary. They pretty much lost the economic argument. They needed somewhere else to go, and global warming has become the great proxy issue. It enables them to achieve many of the same aims as before but under a cloak of green righteousness. This book, although it is about global warming, is about something in fact much, much bigger than that. It is about a global takeover by fascism, communism, call it what you will; their aims are much the same. It is about control.
So, let’s review. If you’re concerned about the future of humanity and the natural world, and you accept the scientific experts’ consensus that we’re rapidly degrading the planet, and you believe we need to take immediate corrective steps, you’re basically a control freak trying to resurrect communism. Wow. I’m going to go for a walk in the woods and try to wrap my head around this one. Care to join me, comrade?
Sources: The Nation, Reason
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012 3:21 PM
We ought to put aside our extremism and come together to find common solutions, goes the conventional wisdom—and you can see where that kind of thinking has gotten us.
Well, it’s time to reject this middling middle-of-the-roadism and take a stand, writes Paul Starr in The American Prospect. For the “fanatics of the center” are just as dangerous as the fanatics of the margins. They “believe so deeply in the spirit of compromise that their commitment to it is uncompromising,” he explains. “Every time Republicans move to the right, Democrats are supposed to be willing to find common ground by moving further to the right, too. Civic virtue positively requires it.”
Starr singles out for particular ridicule the Americans Elect third party, which would back only bipartisan presidential tickets, and their most supportive pundit, Thomas Friedman, who last July wrote a breathless column about how Americans Elect will “let the people in.”
Don’t buy what he’s selling, writes Starr:
The history of climate policy and health-care reform is instructive. On climate policy, moderates in recent decades urged Democrats to support a market-oriented approach known as cap-and-trade in the interests of compromise. On health-care reform, they also urged Democrats to accept a market-oriented approach—private health-insurance exchanges and an individual mandate—for the sake of bipartisanship. But when Democrats adopted these approaches, Republicans abandoned them and insisted that they were tantamount to socialism. … Instead of winning over conservative support, compromise has done nothing to discourage Republicans from moving to the right—and nothing to prevent the fanatics of the center from saying that Democrats are equally responsible for political gridlock because they haven’t compromised more.
“I don’t think you go to the middle,” Newt Gingrich recently told Fox’s Sean Hannity. “You bring the middle to you.” That’s not only good strategy; it also describes what conservative Republicans have succeeded in doing over the past 30 years. If Democrats are to reverse the political momentum on the right, they need to bring the middle to them.
Source: The American Prospect
Image by boklm, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 02, 2011 4:52 PM
Some fallacies die long, slow, hard deaths, and it appears that’s what’s happening with the happy, comforting, brainless mantra “Growth is good.” The ongoing global economic recession and looming environmental catastrophe have finally caused a significant number of people to question just how we think we’re going to economically grow forever on a crowded planet with finite resources.
British economist Tim Jackson, author of the 2009 book Prosperity Without Growth, explains in a Q&A with OnEarth executive editor George Black that this previously unmentionable notion is gaining currency even among some forward-thinking business leaders:
You say in your book that “questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists, and revolutionaries.” Is that more true or less true now than when you wrote it in 2009?
Both. It’s more true in the sense that there’s a ferocious backlash against those who question the quasi-religious fervor about getting growth back. But at another level there’s this really interesting thing going on, with a whole spectrum of people beginning to question the assumption that it’s desirable, from ordinary people who have always been uncertain about why things must expand indefinitely to groups that have previously been obsessed with the idea of growth, like the World Economic Forum in Davos. It continues to surprise me that my book has had such resonance among business leaders. I was trying to say that it’s a real dilemma to structurally reorganize your economy. This isn’t an easy thing, and there are no off-the-shelf solutions. But we have to go into that place, no matter how dark and counterintuitive it seems. And I think that’s something the more visionary CEOs respond to, actually enjoy to some extent.
Image by Sunset Parkerpix, licensed under Creative Commons.
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)
Friday, November 11, 2011 4:28 PM
Boulder, Colorado, took a landmark step toward energy independence when its voters chose to allow the city to consider dumping Xcel Energy as its power provider and creating its own municipal power utility. Triple Pundit calls the news “the start of a transition in American power” because the driving force behind the measure was concern about climate change. Supporters of the measure want their power provider to include more renewable energy sources and fewer fossil fuels than Xcel was willing to consider.
Reports Triple Pundit:
Going beyond standard renewable portfolio standards of 20 or 30 percent is increasingly difficult for big centralized power providers who need to recoup costs for their investments in power plants and return profits to investors. As a result, as more renewable options enter the market, it makes sense for communities to seek smaller, more decentralized power options.
As Ann Butterfield explained in her article for the Huffington Post, this ballot measure reflects the community’s desire for renewable energy and the sentiment that big companies—or utilities—can no longer externalize risks they are taking to maximize profits.
Xcel-funded opponents spent money mightily in a campaign to defeat the measure, sensing a bad precedent for Big Power, but Boulder residents went for it by a slim majority. John Farrell of Energy Self-Reliant States wrote in a postrepublished by Grist:
The victory margin was small, but the clean energy and economic opportunity is enormous. According to a citizen-led and peer-reviewed study, the city could increase renewable energy production by 40 percent from multiple local sources without increasing rates.
If the city uses its new authority to become a utility, future generations may look back at Nov. 1, 2011, as the shot heard round the world—a shot fired for clean, local energy—and ask why more Americans didn’t “go Boulder” sooner.
(In related indie-media news, Triple Pundit has announced it has teamed up with another of Utne Reader’s favorite green-biz news sources, Sustainable Industries. We’re looking forward to seeing their talents and energies combined in a multimedia green mashup.)
Energy Self-Reliant States
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Wednesday, November 09, 2011 9:56 AM
It’s been an uplifting several days for anyone who’s opposed to the massive Keystone XL oil pipeline, which had seemed to be rapidly steamrolling toward presidential approval.
First, on Sunday, an impressively large crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 protesters showed up to encircle the White House and pressure President Obama to give the pipeline a thumbs down. On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that the administration may now put off the Keystone XL decision until after the election. On Monday, Think Progress reported that the State Department’s office of the Inspector General would conduct a review the pipeline approval process, which has been dogged by accusations of inadequate environmental review and potential conflicts of interest.
All in all, it’s a remarkable turnaround of Keystone XL’s prospects, offering some hope—remember that word?—to environmentally conscious Americans who might have started to think that green activism is no more effective than video-game playing in changing the world.
There may be more than a little political calculus in Obama’s move to delay a pipeline decision until after the election. Last week, Reuters foreshadowed the delay when it reported that some of the president’s advisers were uneasy about the support that a Keystone XL approval could cost the campaign—especially among young, enthusiastic, door-knocking volunteers.
The situation may be a sign that times are changing. Conventional pundit wisdom holds that the environment is a minor player at presidential election time, writes Keith Kloor at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, taking a back seat to “kitchen table concerns like the economy, health care, and war.” But the current political environment, with Keystone raising a ruckus and virtually all the Republican candidates rejecting climate-change concerns, writes Kloor, has
Juliet Eilperin, a Washington Post reporter, thinking that global warming may yet be a big issue in the 2012 election. Just yesterday, in a talk at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, Eilperin said:
“I actually think this is a really interesting moment. It is a moment that is challenging a position I’ve held for a long time, which is that the environment doesn’t play a role in elections.”
She added that climate change “has the potential to become a wedge issue. What is so interesting is whether it will be a wedge issue for the left or a wedge issue for the right.”
Still, for pipeline backers, hope—unlike oil—springs eternal. Reuters now reports that the State Department is considering rerouting the pipeline to avoid ecologically sensitive areas of Nebraska and improve its chances of success. This is despite the fact that “TransCanada said last month that it was too late in the federal approval process to move the proposed path for the line.”
Sources: Inside Climate, Los Angeles Times, Think Progress, Reuters, Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media
Image by Emma Cassidy and
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011 11:35 AM
You don’t have to be a tree hugger to understand Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s message: We had better take care of the trees, because the trees take care of us. The Canadian botanist and author is a tireless student and champion of the forest, yet even she blanches at being called a tree hugger, saying instead that she’s a “tree respecter.”
Beresford-Kroeger’s book The Global Forest, which comes out in paperback in late November, lays out the many ways she respects the trees: as oxygenators, purifiers, healers, habitat providers, even spiritual guides. The book is written in a deliberately spare, mellifluous style—a mantra based on lullaby rhythms, she told me—that combines her Gaelic storytelling heritage and her deep scientific knowledge.
We chose Beresford-Kroeger as a 2011 Utne Reader visionary in part for this rare ability to blend the scientific with the artistic—even occasionally the mystical. Here is some of the tree wisdom she shared with me in a recent interview.
On being called a tree hugger:
“Am I a tree hugger? No. In some senses I understand trees have to be used for civilization. I am a tree respecter. I respect trees. I respect what they’re doing. But personally, I have hugged a tree. Yes. (laughs) I have hugged a tree, and I love trees.”
On science and art:
“All good scientists who have decent, functioning, thinking brains always have art on the side. … In science, you run with a hunch and you think, ah, maybe this will work. And you know, you do the same thing in art.”
On the heart of a redwood:
Image by Christian Kroeger, courtesy of Diana Beresford-Kroeger.
“If you go into the redwood forest and stand breast to breast to those redwoods, there’s something there. My God. There’s something there. And I’m reminded of the ancient Irish thinking that a tree can listen to speech, and of course that’s the legend of the heart—that the speech of the king went into the heart—so I’m surrounded by legends when I go into the forest.”
Sunday, October 23, 2011 4:53 PM
As I read OnEarth magazine’s no-holds-barred story condemning Canada’s past and present environmental record—billed on the cover as “Blame Canada: Our Rapacious Neighbor to the North”—I thought, wow, Canadians are going to be mad at the American who wrote this. Then I realized that the author, Andrew Nikiforuk, is a Canadian himself, and so are many of the harshest critics quoted in the piece.
Which makes the story a particularly tough pill to swallow for any Canadian who still harbors the illusion that his or her country is a beacon of environmental enlightenment. Sure, Canada has sensible gun laws, universal health care, gay marriage, and a refreshing lack of religious fanaticism—but, writes Nikiforuk:
Although Canada pretends to be a Jolly Green Giant, it is actually a resource-exploiting Jekyll and Hyde. Whenever global demand for metals and minerals booms, Canada takes on a sinister personality. And whenever export markets shrivel, the country temporarily retreats into a kindly figure with memory of the misdeeds of his alter ego. But for most of Canada’s history, the nasty Mr. Hyde has dominated the nation’s economic life as a hewer of wood, a netter of fish, a dammer of rivers, and a miner of metals.
Well, then. Canada’s current earthly plunder is of course the tar sands of Alberta, but Nikiforuk makes the convincing case that this is just the latest in a long line of environmental transgressions, tempered by a brief spell of admirable anti-climate-change moves, as one expert tells him:
“Canada used to be a leader in climate-change policy and action,” says Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria, one of Canada’s leading climate-change researchers. But that was before it became America’s number-one oil supplier. Now, Weaver says, “Canada has an ideological agenda all built around the export of one resource.”
Furthermore, it would be bad enough if Canada were simply destroying its own environment, but the country’s reach extends far beyond its borders thanks to the global nature of 21st century extraction industries, Nikiforuk points out:
When not digging up their own backyard, Canada’s energetic engineers and drillers are busy abroad, with almost half their investments concentrated in Mexico, Chile, and the United States.
It’s easy to take this blame game too far; we Americans are of course culpable in any environmental destruction committed to feed our insatiable needs for energy, food, and products. But perhaps it is time to see Canada in a more nuanced light.
One U.S. green activist, writes Nikiforuk, “ had a benign view of Canada as a forested country with funky rock bands such as the Barenaked Ladies.” This is much too narrow a view; to be fair, she should have remembered that along with Neil Young and Arcade Fire, Canada has also given us Celine Dion and Nickelback.
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Monday, October 17, 2011 10:21 AM
Tim DeChristopher is the only person to have been named an Utne Reader visionary while in prison: He’s serving a two-year sentence for disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction in Utah in an act of environmental protest.
One reason I nominated DeChristopher as a visionary is because he became a hugely inspirational figure to other environmentalists as he wrote and spoke about his principled act of civil disobedience right up until he was led to his cell. But make no mistake: He is in prison mainly because he dared to continue speaking out.
Utah environmentalist and author Terry Tempest Williams writes in The Progressive about the farcical nature of DeChristopher’s four-day trial, which she attended along with a legion of other supporters:
It was a shattering display of politics on the bench, beginning with jury selection. The judge [Dee V. Benson] delivered a lengthy lecture on the importance of impartiality, after which he said to the entire jury pool, “And there should be no discussion between you and the ‘kumbaya’ crowd in the courtroom.” …
But the most egregious remarks were made by Judge Benson himself during the sentencing hearing.
He reprimanded DeChristopher for speaking out after his conviction in March. He stated that DeChristopher might not have faced prosecution, let alone prison, if it were not for that “continuing trail of statements.”
This “continuing trail of statements” is called freedom of speech, your honor, not “anarchy.” The criminal is not DeChristopher but our justice system.
Judge Benson actually stated during the sentencing hearing, “The offense itself, with all apologies to people actually in the auction itself, wasn’t that bad.”
DeChristopher himself, in an August letter from prison published by Grist, showed that he understood all too clearly the connection between his ongoing outspokenness and his sentence:
Judge Benson said that had it not been for the political statements I made in public, I would have avoided prosecution entirely. As is generally the case with civil disobedience, it was extremely important to the government that I come before the majesty of the court with my head bowed and express regret. So important, in fact, that an apology with proper genuflection is currently fair trade for a couple years in prison. Perhaps that’s why most activist cases end in a plea bargain.
Source: The Progressive, Grist
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 3:56 PM
Electric vehicles are creating a lot of promise in the green world, but they don’t necessarily lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Consider the cases of China and Sweden, which have both heavily encouraged electric car ownership among their citizens but have failed to enjoy an attendant drop in transportation-sector carbon emissions.
What’s going on here? Firmin DeBrabander reports in Common Dreams on the Swedish experience, in which greener cars are being driven more miles:
Sweden … leads the world in per capita sales of “green cars.” To everyone’s surprise, however, greenhouse gas emissions from Sweden’s transportation sector are up.
Or perhaps we should not be so surprised after all. What do you expect when you put people in cars they feel good about driving (or at least less guilty), which are also cheap to buy and run? Naturally, they drive them more. So much more, in fact, that they obliterate energy gains made by increased fuel efficiency. … Based on Sweden’s experience with green cars, it’s daunting to imagine their possible impact here. Who can doubt that they’ll likely inspire Americans to make longer commutes to work, live even further out in the exurbs, bringing development, blacktop and increased emissions with them?
China is encountering a different problem: Its huge numbers of electric vehicles aren’t leading to greatly reduced emissions because of their power source, dirty coal. Andrew Revkin reports on the Dot Earth blog at the New York Times that “in all but three grid regions in China, electric vehicles produce more CO2 per mile because of the coal source for the power than the equivalent gasoline-powered car.”
The researcher behind these numbers, Lucia Green-Weiskel, takes care to point out that “electric vehicles are still a key (if not central) part of a low-carbon future in any country” and that her study shouldn’t be seen as anti-EV. But she notes that EV development must be accompanied by a move to cleaner energy sources if it is to make a dent in carbon emissions.
There’s a surefire step both the Swedes and the Chinese—and you and I, for that matter—could take to cut emissions: Drive and consume less. Writes DeBrabander:
In its current state, the green revolution is largely devoted to the effort to provide consumers with the products they have always loved, but now in affordable energy efficient versions. The thinking seems to be that through this gradual exchange, we can reduce our collective carbon footprint. Clearly, however, this approach is doomed if we don’t reform our absurd consumption habits, which are so out-of-whack that they risk undoing any environmental gains we might make.
Sources: Common Dreams, Dot Earth
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Friday, September 09, 2011 4:21 PM
Farmers are often among the first people to notice a shift in the climate. So while I rely on scientists for my big-picture information about climate change, I also take seriously the cumulative daily—and yearly—field research of a trusted source: My local CSA (community supported agriculture) farmers, Michael Racette and Patty Wright of Spring Hill Community Farm in Prairie Farm, Wisconsin. They are keen observers of wind, water, air, and soil, living so close to the land that they literally sink their hands into it every day.
Farming has of course always been an uncertain business, due to the naturally variable whims of weather, but lately it’s more uncertain than ever—some would even call it wildly unpredictable. Here’s what’s happening in the furrows as reported by Patty in this season’s Spring Hill newsletters:
Sometimes rain is a lovely thing, sometimes it’s not. Last Friday we had about half an inch of rain. It made harvest not very pleasant or pretty, but we appreciated it knowing we were in for a blast of heat over the next week. Then there was Saturday morning. Very early Saturday morning we woke up to thunder and lightning and heavy, heavy rains. When we went out to take a look there was over four inches of rain in the gauge. Our little stream had become something of a river and we were unable to cross it. Our plan to pick peas with the members who were to arrive shortly was curtailed when we sank up to our ankles in mud. Plans to pick cilantro were changed to basil from the hoophouse when we saw the flattened cilantro.
It’s been a big week at the farm, a big week of crazy weather and a big week of garlic harvest. After that most amazing four-inch-plus rain, we were blasted with heat. … We had hoped to finish [the garlic harvest] last Saturday but just as people arrived to help with the harvest day, so did the rain. We got over an inch that morning and then another inch and a quarter Saturday evening. Thankfully we’ve managed to escape damaging winds and hail and we all survived the brutal heat. I know there’s crazy weather every year but this year seems record breaking on way too many fronts.
Rain, heat, mosquitoes! The working conditions of late have not been ideal. We’ve gotten well over ten inches of rain over the last couple of weeks and it’s raining again as I write. The ground is saturated making it impossible to get in and do some of the work we’d like to be doing.
We are starting to see some of the effects of extended hot weather along with all the rain.
Last Tuesday, Mike and I went out to harvest the eggplant. We were able to pick about 75-80 nice eggplant—and that was it. There would be no eggplant for Saturday’s delivery and none in the foreseeable future. The plants have no more eggplant of any size. Peppers are equally puzzling. Some have a decent fruit set, others a couple of big ones and nothing else. Our poblano peppers have no fruit. While it’s true that peppers and eggplant both are heat loving plants, they’re rather particular about the temperature while they’re blossoming. In fact, they’ll drop their blossoms if the daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees and/or if nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees. Beans, it turns out, are equally sensitive. Our first bean planting produced just fine. Our second planting, however, setting its blossoms during that heat spell, is not producing well at all. We’re taking a week (maybe two) off of beans. Hopefully we’ll have some after that. The bees, so important for pollination, also take a vacation when it gets hot. We’ve noticed the effects of that in our zucchini and cucumber patches. Potatoes, we’ve learned, go into a stage of dormancy when it gets too warm.
If this year is any indication, farming in this time of climate change is going to be challenging. While one certainly can’t plan for unpredictability, we’re trying to think about what we ought to be doing as extreme weather patterns become more common.
Source: Spring Hill Community Farm
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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, August 12, 2011 5:13 PM
Beware the vine creep. That’s the name given to the widespread profusion of lianas—woody, tree-climbing vines—across the tropical forests of North, South, and Central America.
The phenomenon has previously been documented in the Amazon, but now ecologists have confirmed that vines are on the march in Panama, Brazil, and French Guiana, reports Conservation magazine.
“We are witnessing a fundamental structural change in the physical makeup of forests that will have a profound impact on the animals, human communities, and businesses that depend on them for their livelihoods,” Stefan Schnitzer of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Wisconsin tells Conservation.
The lianas, Schnitzer explains, don’t just climb their host tree: They compete with it, stealing its sunlight from above and its groundwater and nutrients from below. But researchers don’t know exactly why they’re thriving. Writes Smithsonian Science:
There is still no consensus as to why lianas are gaining the upper hand. They may survive seasonal droughts that are becoming more common as climate becomes more variable. They may recover more quickly from natural disturbances such as hurricanes and El Niño events and from human disturbances like logging, clearing land for agriculture and road building. Lianas respond quickly to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide—growing faster than associated tree species in several experiments.
Source: Conservation, Smithsonian Science
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Friday, August 05, 2011 11:48 AM
President Obama speaks of “clean coal.” So does his energy secretary, Steven Chu, and a host of senators from Democrat John Kerry to Republican Lindsey Graham. But don’t let the cozy-sounding, alliterative buzz phrase fool you: Clean coal is a myth.
That’s the conclusion of James B. Meigs, who looks at the science, technology, and politics behind clean coal in a Popular Mechanics analysis and is unswayed:
Coal will never be clean. It is possible to make coal emissions cleaner. In fact, we’ve come a long way since the ’70s in finding ways to reduce sulfur-dioxide and nitrogen-oxide emissions, and more progress can be made. But the nut of the clean-coal sales pitch is that we can also bottle up the CO2 produced when coal is burned, most likely by burying it deep in the earth. That may be possible in theory, but it’s devilishly difficult in practice.
Meigs picks apart the reasons why the technology known as carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, is still a slim hope: It’s expensive, it’s energy-intensive, and, most important, it’s completely unproven. “It is a dangerous gamble to assume that it will become technically and economically feasible anytime soon,” he writes.
Why, then, are so many politicians slinging the phrase “clean coal” around so liberally? Because of, um, politics, Meigs explains:
Sadly, although it might make little economic or scientific sense, the political logic behind clean coal is overwhelming. Coal is mined in some politically potent states—Illinois, Montana, West Virginia, Wyoming—and the coal industry spends millions on lobbying. The end result of the debate is all too likely to resemble Congress’s corn-based ethanol mandates: legislation that employs appealing buzzwords to justify subsidies to a politically favored constituency—while actually worsening the problem it seeks to solve.
Many green news outlets and commentators have debunked the “clean coal” fallacy, the normally apolitical Coen brothers mocked it in a faux ad (above), and Michael Bloomberg recently took a rhetorical and financial swipe at it with a $50 million gift to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. But to see it roundly smacked down in a science-minded mainstream newsstand publication like Popular Mechanics is yet another sign that our collective denial about coal may be coming to an end.
You might even compare it to the end of an affair, as the title of the new interactive video series Coal: A Love Story does. Stephen Lacey at Climate Progress calls the video “must-watch journalism” and “one of the best pieces of storytelling I’ve seen on energy.” See one of the vignettes here and watch the full series at Powering a Nation:
“Interactive” is an understatement in describing activists’ real-life fight against mountaintop-removal (MTR) coal mining, which continues at a fever pitch in Appalachia. Jeff Biggers reports at Alternet that a tree-sitting protest is now in its third week on West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain, the subject of The Last Mountain, the latest in a string of awareness-raising MTR film documentaries. And on Tuesday, August 9, a public hearing will be held on a permit renewal for a controversial West Virginia strip mine. Activists are drawing national attention to the hearing. Things are heating up, in more ways than one.
Sources: Popular Mechanics, Grist, Beyond Coal, Coal: A Love Story, Climate Progress, Powering a Nation, Alternet, The Last Mountain
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 5:29 PM
“All meat is not created equal,” reads a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” evaluates 20 common protein-rich foods to determine the healthiest picks for the planet and for our bodies.
The best bet is the friendly lentil. The worst offenders? Lamb, beef, and (say it ain’t so!) cheese. The amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) they generate—from feed production, ruminant digestion, and manure—along with their fat contents and cradle-to-grave carbon footprints put them at the bottom of EWG’s impact chart:
Eating less meat and cheese can make an astonishing reduction in GHG emissions, says political food blog Civil Eats:
Just like reducing home energy use or driving less, skipping meat once a week can make a meaningful difference in GHG emissions if we all do it. According to EWG’s calculations, if everyone in the U.S. chose a vegetarian diet, it would be the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles. To present a likelier option, if everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles–or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
That said, not all lamb chops are evil. On the farm where I grew up, for example, we had a modest flock of fifty sheep and, although they were raised for meat, the cycle was about as humane and environmentally responsible as it comes: We gently moved them from pasture to pasture, where they grazed on grass and alfalfa; we lovingly sheared them onsite, selling the lanolin-soft wool; we lambed them in the spring, midwifing the hardest births; and, finally, we took the lambs to a small processor just eight miles up the road.
If you’re in search of ethical, eco-friendly, health-smart meat, look for local, lean, pasture-raised cuts, given no antibiotics or hormones and, preferably, certified “organic” and “humane.” Want help losing your appetite for meat instead? Read Will Wlizlo’s soberingly graphic Utne Reader post “Inside the Meat Processing Plant.” (Shudder.)
Sources: Environmental Working Group, Civil Eats
Infographic by Environmental Working Group.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 4:44 PM
Political candidates of all stripes can gain votes by acknowledging that human-caused climate change is real and that we ought to do something about it, a new survey suggests.
The Daily Climate reports on the poll by Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, which interviewed 1,000 people last November. They were asked how they would vote for a hypothetical Senate candidate based on various issues including climate change, and the results were striking:
In the full national sample, taking a green position on climate won votes for the Senate candidate, and taking a not-green position lost votes. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they would vote for the candidate who took a green position. Sixty-five percent said they would vote for the candidate who was silent on climate change, while 48 percent said they would vote for the candidate who took the not-green position.
“Essentially what we found in our admittedly very simplified study is that candidates have nothing to lose from taking a green position on climate change,” the study’s author, social psychologist Jon Krosnick, told the New York Times’Green blog.
In one sense, this is good news: The savvy politician facing a tight election race might see a self-serving reason to get on board with tackling climate change. But the realist in me posits that cynical, climate-change-denying politicians know they’re out of step with their constituents on this issue, yet they don’t care: They stake out their position to please wealthy business donors and Republican power brokers, not their workaday constituents.
Source: The Daily Climate, New York Times Green
Image by americaspower, 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.
Thursday, June 23, 2011 3:17 PM
Bicyclists have a reputation as a bunch of liberals, but it’s worth remembering that not all bicyclists are blue to the core. In fact, as Utne Reader has previously pointed out, there are plenty of conservative-minded folks who get around at least part of the time on two wheels.
Bicycle Times recently published a commentary by one of these mysterious creatures, Tom Bowden, subtitled “How to Talk About Cycling to a Conservative.” (The piece originally appeared on the website Commute By Bike.) Unfortunately, Bowden undermines his own attempt to extend an olive branch by repeatedly engaging in the same sort of stereotype-driven preconceptions and ignorance he’s supposedly campaigning against.
Here are some of his suggestions that really rankled me as a bike-commuting environmentalist:
“If you must meet a conservative face to face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage—you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth.” Comment: Really? We should don business-world power attire simply to be taken seriously? I understand that wearing a “Cars R Coffins” T-shirt might not exactly help break down barriers, but Bowden’s proposal is like suggesting that Benjamin Netanyahu don a keffiyeh before the next round of Middle East peace talks. Besides, I know plenty of liberal bikers who wear suits to their jobs and meet face to face with conservatives every day. We’re not all clad in biker-hipster wear from sunup to sundown.
“Here is what turns off conservatives: Global warming, climate change, or climate disruption. If it’s as bad as Al Gore says it is, it will take more than a few bike lanes to fix it. But more importantly, you don’t need to win that fight (or even engage in it) to make your point. Cycling has plenty of merit without dragging in tangential and controversial issues like global … whatever the heck they call it this week.” Comment: OK, dude, you just shredded much of your credibility as a reasonable person. Here, for your information, is what turns off—all right, pisses off—bicycling environmentalists: First, portray well-established climate science solely as the pet theory of a Democratic ex-vice president. Second, trivialize the very real reduced emissions that millions of bicyclists bring about every day by avoiding car trips. Finally, insinuate that the very concept of climate change is wack because it goes by a few different terms depending on the context. Nice work: We’re livid.
“Here is what turns off conservatives: Anti-car arguments in general. Face it: cars exist and most Americans love them. You’ll get nowhere with a conservative if your explicit agenda (or suspected hidden agenda) is an attack on American ‘car culture.’” Comment: Few bikers are so pure that they don’t have a car in their household, so most of them are a part of car culture too—but unlike Bowden they’re willing to confront this conflict head-on and work toward a culture that is not so auto dependent. Car culture is responsible in large part for our messed-up transportation system and has been directly implicated as a major cause of climate change—but, oh yeah, that’s just Al Gore’s pet theory.
“Conservatives don’t like other people to tell them what they should do.” Comment: Do I really need to point out the irony here?
As you can see, Bowden made more than a few missteps in his attempt to create a dialogue, at least with this biker—but in the spirit of ending on a positive note and giving his best arguments their due, here a few of his more unassailable suggestions, absent any smartass commentary:
Cycling is efficient. True conservatives love efficiency! It has been said that a cyclist is more efficient than a bird in flight.
Remind [conservatives] that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the more room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour.
Make it clear that you are not suggesting that everyone can or will ditch their cars and ride bikes, but just that people who choose to ride should be able to do so safely, as taxpaying citizens worthy of full protection of their individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of that special kind of happiness one gets from riding a bike.
Sources: Bicycle Times
(article not available online), Commute By Bike
Image by swanksalot, 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.
Monday, May 16, 2011 4:20 PM
Would you want to go camping, hiking, biking, or trail running with the Koch brothers? Me neither. Well, then, why on earth would you want to do any of those things with the products they help make?
That’s the thorny question that may face many green-minded outdoor recreationists when it sinks in that a host of material brands used in their gear are controlled by the right-wing brothers David and Charles Koch, who have been widely outed as major funders of anti-environment politics and climate-change denial PR campaigns.
Like what materials, you ask?
Like the Polarguard insulation in your sleeping bag, the Coolmax fabric in your running outfit, the Lycra in your swimwear, the Supplex in your windbreaker, and—woe upon woe—the Cordura that’s ubiquitous in the gear world. I own duffels, backpacks, stuff sacks, fanny packs, bike bags, luggage, gaiters, and binocular cases made of the stuff.
Now, it’s no surprise to me that these materials are all made from petroleum, so I had an inkling they weren’t exactly the most sustainable products: Using “dinosaur squeezin’s” to make fabric and insulation is as problematic as using it to fuel our cars. But it pains me to think that the very gear that helps me journey out into inspirational natural settings is tainted because it’s part of a corporate machine that is quite literally and demonstrably destroying the very same natural world.
What’s the answer?
Well, for me, it’s going to start with taking a close look at the “ingredients” in any gear I consider buying and trying my best to avoid Koch-related components. I have considered replacing my well-worn canvas Duluth canoe pack with a lighter, more rain-repellent Cordura-based model—but hey, what’s the hurry? I’ve started to check out new bike commuter panniers as mine wear out, but I’ll look into rubber, hemp, and other materials before I’ll go for a straight-up replacement. And sorry, ladies, but my new body-hugging Speedo purchase is indefinitely postponed.
The sad fact is, you’d have to work really hard to keep the Kochs entirely out of your life—Daily Kos rounded up a full roster of Koch-controlled brands, and it’s dauntingly broad, from Brawny paper towels and Quilted Northern toilet paper to Georgia Pacific building products and Stainmaster carpet. But I’m one of those idealistic types who thinks that individual spending decisions really can make a difference, and if “outdoorsy” people aren’t going to go up against these modern-day barons, who will?
Some folks might claim that politics and commerce should remain separate realms, but the Kochs certainly wouldn’t claim any such compartmentalization. In fact, as The Nation recently reported, Koch Industries has aggressively moved to influence its own workers’ voting decisions in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, which held that corporations hold political lobbying rights akin to human rights.
There’s been a bit of chatter about the Koch-Cordura connection—a question on an REI forum, mutterings in green circles after boycott-Koch lists were posted—but frankly I think a lot of people conveniently avoid thinking too hard about how their gear-store decisions are tied to the planet. (Just like their SUV and air travel and sushi habits.) PR-savvy Cordura, perhaps aware that a storm may be a-brewin’, is running a hip new “Most Durable Person” sweepstakes that’s being co-sponsored and hyped by the Gear Junkie, the gear fetishist’s top online enabler, who in a breathless 30th birthday post in 2007 called Cordura “the fabric of our lives” and “a mainstay miracle fabric.”
Describing it as “a commodity material used by hundreds of outdoors gear companies,” the Gear Junkie noted that Koch acquired the brand in 2004 from Dupont—meaning that nearly all of my Cordura gear, since it predates the sale, is 100 percent Koch-free. Which will allow me to sleep just a little better in my tent at night.
I’ve previously called for the outdoor gear industry to step up and start greening up its act. Many gear companies could start, it seems, by looking at their supply chains and seeing if anyone named Koch is involved.
Sources: Daily Kos, The Nation, REI, Gear Junkie
Image by mariachily, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, April 08, 2011 5:25 PM
In Canada’s tar sands, oil is extracted from the earth in a destructive, laborious, energy-sucking process that makes the end product one of the dirtiest forms of oil. It leaves behind a denuded landscape and is blamed for a host of ills, including cancer, in local people. The industry also employs many people and fills a need: Our insatiable thirst for energy.
Earth Island Journal editor Jason Mark journeys to the heart of tar sands country in Northern Alberta, wrestles with thorny ethical dilemmas, and comes away with a stark insight:
In the simplest language, the debate over the morality of the tar sands comes down to a plain choice of who and what we are willing to destroy.
Mark reveals that we may end up destroying people like Marlene and Mike Orr, two residents of the mostly indigenous residents of Fort McKay, Alberta, who became whistleblowers when they spoke out against a dangerous mining waste disposal pond—and now fear the consequences of doing so. For as Mark points out, “There is not a person [in Fort McKay] who doesn’t understand that without the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry they would likely would have no likelihood at all.”
Marlene Orr describes to Mark some of the contradictions in play:
“What people outside of here need to understand when you’re talking about the impacts of oil sands, it’s not black and white. Everybody gets the health concerns, the traffic problems, the light pollution. But people are unwilling to speak out because this community is 100 percent dependent on the oil sands. There’s not a job here that’s not connected to the oil sands. Every one of us here in this community has ambivalent feelings—the health impacts, the cultural impacts, the impacts on band governance. But what do you do? Bite the hand that feeds you?”
In his editor’s note in the same issue, “Don’t Blame Canada,” Mark takes issue with environmental groups that aim to cripple the mighty tar sands machine, and notes that there’s plenty of blame to go around, even to you and me:
Convinced that they can slow the razing of the boreal forest if they can only plug the oil outflow, environmental groups in the U.S. and Canada have set their sites on stopping the expansion of cross border pipelines, halting the retrofitting of American refineries, and preventing the shipment of mining technologies. The basic idea seems to be that by squeezing supply we can increase the price of fossil fuels—and discourage their use. …
Environmental campaigners can do all the blaming and shaming of Canadian oil tycoons and financiers that they like. The fact is, there’s no way to halt the tar sands at the source. The only way to shut down the mines is to make them obsolete. And that will require finally getting over our addiction to oil. Given that more than half of the tar sands petroleum is consumed in the United States, the responsibility for the destruction up north lies with those of us who live south of the 49th parallel.
Source: Earth Island Journal
Panel image by sbamueller, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 12:32 PM
Peat moss takes thousands of years to form and stores massive amounts of the earth’s carbon, making it a pretty unsustainable growing medium or soil additive for gardeners. In Organic Gardening magazine, Cristina Santiestevan breaks down the numbers behind peat moss production in Canada, the source of most peat U.S. sold in the United States:
At the average rate of 0.6 to 0.7 millimeter per year, Canadian peat bogs add 6 to 7 centimeters in depth (less than 3 inches) over the course of a century. It will require 3,000 years to amass the 2-meter depth needed to justify the costs of extraction. Under these conditions, a fully mined peat bog will not be able to support a second “harvest” for at least 3,000 years.
Can a resource that renews itself this slowly ever be considered sustainable? If we balk at cutting down 500-year-old trees in old-growth forests, should we accept the extraction of 3,000-year-old sphagnum moss from peat bogs?
Our prescient sister publication Mother Earth News touched on this issue a couple of years ago, pointing out the environmental costs of peat production while fielding an “Ask Our Experts” question, “Do you recommend peat moss to improve soil?”
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant tacitly endorses using small amounts of peat in indoor seed starting mixtures, but count me among the budding gardeners who’d like to find a way around using peat entirely. I’ve seen coconut fiber, vermiculite, perlite, and even non-clumping clay cat litter mentioned as peat moss substitutes, but I don’t have any personal experience in trying these. Are there any green gardeners out there who have a preferred peat alternative?
Sources: Organic Gardening, Mother Earth News
, licensed under
Wednesday, March 09, 2011 1:01 PM
A common criticism of electric cars is that they’ve simply got “long tailpipes”—that is, they still pollute, albeit at the power plant where their power is generated rather than at the auto itself. But this critique ultimately doesn’t hold much air, our sister publication Mother Earth News has found after crunching the numbers on electric car emissions:
In terms of climate change emissions, electric cars are generally much cleaner than conventional gas vehicles. In areas of the country that have the cleanest power generation (more wind, solar and hydropower), electric cars emit far less greenhouse gases, not only compared with conventional vehicles, but also compared with efficient hybrid-electric vehicles. In areas of the country with the dirtiest power generation (coal), an efficient hybrid may be your best environmental bet, though if you’re gentle on the pedal, an electric car may yield comparable results. On a national average basis, an efficient electric car emits about half the amount of carbon dioxide as a conventional car, and roughly the same amount as an efficient hybrid.
Read the full article to learn about all the factors that determine auto efficiency and emissions, and see the accompanying U.S. map of electric car CO2 emissions by region to get a sense of how your area stacks up.
The next time you hear the long-tailpipe argument, you’ll know enough to challenge this bit of common nonsense.
Source: Mother Earth News
Image by frankh, licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011 11:28 AM
As the bird carcasses pile up worldwide, falling from the sky like so many feathered omens of doom, it seems fair to ask if the many reported mass die-offs in recent weeks are a sign of the environmental apocalypse. The cool-headed bird geeks at the Audubon Society are here to reassure us: No, they’re not.
Audubon Society experts tell Alisa Opar at The Perch, Audubon magazine’s blog, that we shouldn’t read too much into the flurry of reported bird deaths.
“Mass bird die-offs can be caused by starvation, storms, disease, pesticides, collisions with man-made structures or human disturbance,” says Greg Butcher, Audubon’s director of bird conservation.
Opar fixes part of the blame for the bird hysteria “on technology allowing us to learn about isolated events and our impulse to look for patterns.” After the initial reports of coincidental die-offs, Google maps of bird deaths around the world quickly made the rounds, and flocks of amateur ornithologists collectively decided that it looked bad. Real bad. Before long, the birds seemed destined to join chemtrails and black helicopters as airborne signs of conspiracy and doom.
Now that the bird experts have calmed us down, we are left to focus our worries on other future apocalyptic scenarios. Reports Opar:
Isolated die-offs don’t pose a significant threat to our native bird populations, says Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Mississippi River Flyway. “Far more concerning in the long term are the myriad other threats birds face, from widespread habitat destruction and global climate change to inappropriate energy development and invasive species.”
Tweet that, bird lovers.
Source: The Perch
Image by xpda, licensed under 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
Tuesday, November 30, 2010 10:34 AM
The power of art, John Berger suggested, is that it often shows that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them. The smart minds behind 350.org must have taken Berger's suggestion to heart. The organization’s first global climate art project, “350 Earth,” was a series of art installations that recently and simultaneously mounted in seventeen cities around the world between November 20 and 28 this year. By presenting a global mix of celebrations and large-scale public art works that show how climate change impacts all of us, “350 Earth” reveals just how interconnected the world is.
Timed to take place during the lead-up to the United Nations climate meetings in Cancun, Mexico, the overall goal of “350 Earth” is to show national leaders and politicians the massive public concern that exists over the climate crisis. Participant projects were located in cities in six of the seven continents (only Antarctica was excluded), and involved varying numbers of people at each site, as well as artists and designers as diverse as: Molly Dilworth, Jorge Rodriguez Gerada, Thom Yorke, Liu Bolin, Jason deCaires Taylor, Sarah Rifaat, Daniel Dancer, and Bjargey Ólafsdóttir. Calls were often made public in advance of the commencement of a project, often on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, and human bodies were often the main medium for each work. Each art installation was designed to be large enough to be seen from space, and “350 Earth” organizers arranged with the satellite imagery provider company DigitalGlobe to document the projects.
Among the more evocative projects was one of the first, which took place on November 20 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and drew upwards of a thousand area residents under the auspices of the Santa Fe Art Institute. The gathered participants dressed in blue clothing and held blue placards, and they acted out a human “flash flood” in the dry Santa Fe River bed while chanting, “It's hot in here, there's too much carbon in the atmosphere!” In another noteworthy project, mounted in New York City also on November 20, a large “roof mural” depicting a flooded New York and New Jersey coastline was placed atop a city rooftop. The painting was produced in conjunction with NYC°Coolroofs, a New York City initiative encourages building owners to cool their rooftops by applying a reflective white coating that reduces energy use, cooling costs, and carbon emissions.
In many of the artworks, the number 350 made an appearance. In Mexico City, on November 22, thousands of children gathered to form the shape of a huge hurricane, with “350” depicted in the eye of the storm. In the Australia outback, on November 26, volunteers carried torches and lights to form a giant “350” at night as a warning about the risk of a spread of wildfires if global warming is not halted. 350 is a significant number for the artists, the organizers, and indeed for the Earth itself. 350.org, which was founded by U.S. author Bill McKibben to inspire the world to rise to the challenge of the climate crisis, takes its name from what the organization claims to be the “most important number in the world.” 350 parts per million is what climatologists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Not all projects were as immediately successful or resonant as the ones mentioned above. In Los Angeles, on November 21, thousands of people gathered at Los Angeles National Park to form a giant image of an eagle taking flight, and solar-voltaic panels made up the outlines of the bird’s wing feathers. The rendering and execution of the eagle were somewhat rudimentary and unappealing, and the project was less clear—and likely less effective—than it could have been. But overall organizers seemed pleased with the results. McKibben acknowledged that when it comes to inspiring people to change, he was confident the images photographed from space would resonate with those who see them. But McKibben also added that, based on the lack of progress made thus far toward a global deal to reduce harmful emissions he was not optimistic about how much influence the art might have on the Cancun talks. “I think it is going to be a longer process than everyone has hoped.”
Images courtesy of 350 Earth.
Friday, November 19, 2010 12:10 PM
At least one brave Republican in Congress concedes that global warming is real and should be aggressively addressed, unlike many of his colleagues. There’s a problem, though: He’s just been voted out of office, replaced by a Tea Party-backed challenger.
Raw Story reports that District of Columbia Rep. Rep. Bob Inglis, a ranking member of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, gave climate change deniers a bit of a tongue-lashing during a committee hearing.
Noting pointedly that the CSPAN-broadcast hearing was “on the record” for future generations, Inglis made a primarily economic argument: The Chinese by and large accept the consensus of climate scientists,
“And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century. So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button.”
Think Progress recently reported that 50 percent of incoming House Republicans deny the existence of human-caused climate change, and 86 percent oppose climate change legislation. So Inglis’ call for science-based rationalism, even in its capitalist-friendly presentation, faces an uphill battle at best.
See the video here:
UPDATE 11/22/10: Former New York congressman Sherwood Boehlert also spoke out forcefully on Republican climate-change denial in a Washington Post commentary, calling on Republicans “to open their minds to rethinking what has largely become our party's line: denying that climate change and global warming are occurring and that they are largely due to human activities.”
Source: Raw Story, Think Progress, Washington Post
Tuesday, November 16, 2010 12:27 PM
Under the Democratic-led Congress, action against climate change went essentially nowhere. Under the coming Republican-led Congress, it appears to be headed backward.
Republican Illinois Representative John Shimkus, who according to the New York Times Green blog stands a dark-horse chance of chairing the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has gone so far as to suggest that climate change won’t destroy the planet because God promised Noah it wouldn’t. His 2009 comments, recounted here by London’s Daily Mail, sent a shockwave of amazement through the progressive and environmental blogospheres:
Speaking before a House Energy Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing in March, 2009, Shimkus quoted Chapter 8, Verse 22 of the Book of Genesis.
He said: “As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, will never cease.”
The Illinois Republican continued: “I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his creation.
“The earth will end only when God declares its time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”
Speaking to Politico after his comments went viral, Shimkus stood behind them, clarifying that while he believes climate change is occurring, he thinks it’s folly to spend taxpayer dollars trying to stop “changes that have been occurring forever.”
See Shimkus’ 2009 remarks on the Bible and climate change in this video:
UPDATE 11/19/2010: At least one brave Republican in Congress concedes that global warming is real and should be aggressively addressed. There’s a problem, though: He’s just been voted out of office.
Sources: New York Times Green, Daily Mail, Politico
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 21, 2010 11:40 AM
The accounting experts have crunched the numbers, and the results are in: We are undervaluing the earth. A new United Nations report says nations had better start incorporating nature’s value into their balance sheets, in both the assets and losses columns, if they’re to reflect what’s really happening in our warming world. Writes Reuters:
Damage to natural capital including forests, wetlands and grasslands is valued at $2-4.5 trillion annually, the United Nations estimates, but the figure is not included in economic data such as GDP, nor in corporate accounts.
The report, “Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature” (pdf), released by the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP), details in cold, hard numbers exactly how much ecosystems such as tropical forests and coral reefs contribute to countries’ bottom lines—and how much those nations stand to lose should these ecosystems falter or collapse.
I’ve often had conflicting reactions to this increasingly common practice of applying accounting principles to natural systems, or “ecosytem services” as they’re sometimes called (an approach Utne Reader covered in the article “Hiring Mother Earth to Do Her Thing”). On the one hand, putting a value on nature will indeed lead to better measurements of true prosperity than pure GDP, with its blindness to these “externalities,” and speaking in dollars is often the only way to “sell” environmental protection in a capitalist-driven world. But isn’t trying to put a number on the worth of creation a somewhat futile and hubristic exercise? Perhaps the earth is priceless.
Fortunately, the man who’s the driving force behind the UNEP report, German banker Pavan Sukhdev, is making no claims to hanging a price tag on the planet. The Environment News Service reports:
Sukhdev emphasized that the TEEB [The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity] study, which has involved hundreds of experts from around the world, is not a cost-benefit analysis of the Earth.
TEEB recognizes that biodiversity has many different types of values, not all of which can be given a price tag, he said, adding that market solutions represent but a small fraction of the economic solutions available to value biodiversity.
Both India and Brazil have said they’ll use the findings as a guide in forming policy. And the United States? As is usual in environmental matters these days, they’re not exactly leading the way. As the
The idea of incorporating ecosystem benefits into policymaking has yet to gain the same level of traction in the United States, where a proposal to cap greenhouse gas emissions collapsed this year after critics said it would damage the nation’s economy.
“I’m not seeing, as of yet, anything firm coming from the North American continent, but I’m hoping it’s a matter of time,” Sukhdev said.
The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity
Environment News Service
, licensed under
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 3:03 PM
It’s too late to hope for getting out of this unscathed. We’ve poisoned, destroyed, and exploited this planet to the point of no return, so now all we can do is minimize the damage. And according to some scientists, it’s the oceans that need to step up and staunch the bleeding.
In the latest issue of Miller-McCune, journalist Peter Friedrici investigates the pros and cons of carbon sequestration, the process of deliberating depositing mass amounts of carbon dioxide thousands of meters under the ocean’s surface. The theory is that this method would buy mankind some time to develop other ways to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, as CO2 causes more harm in the atmosphere than in surface waters (and even then, it would take thousands of years for the sequestered carbon to makes its way from the depths to the surface). But still, the consequences of this process would be devastating at best:
If carbon dioxide is deliberately placed in the ocean, at whatever depth, it will ultimately reach surface waters and contribute to their acidification…The larvae of sea urchins and other marine organisms with external skeletons will grow differently. Adults will grow less and have trouble surviving. Shellfish will be unable to develop shells. Corals will no longer build reefs.
Ultimately, we will have to make a choice. What organisms or ecosystems must, to some extent, be sacrificed for the greater good of global geochemical stability? Friederici writes:
Ocean sequestration may be a bad idea that will cause untold harm to deep-ocean ecosystems we barely understand—but doing it may also represent a better alternative than doing nothing. It’s like the amputation of a badly wounded leg: a terrible prospect, unless it’s the only way to save a life.
Obviously this could all be avoided if we dramatically cut down on our consumption of fossil fuels, but let’s face it, that’s just not going to happen. So which will it be: the leg, or the life?
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, October 07, 2010 12:33 PM
Liberalism in the classical sense isn’t the opposite of conservativism but rather “the proposition that we’re all free to do as we please, other than to impede the freedoms of others,” writes Timothy Ferris in the Future Issue of The Oxford American:
An independent political philosophy with no inherent ties to either the Left or the Right, liberalism forms the basis of liberal democracy, the most popular and successful form of governance ever deployed. … Liberalism is a proposition, not a dogma. … Its method, like that of science, is to start with freedom and let people experiment as they see fit, discarding the experiments that fail and retaining those that seem to work.
Liberalism has been a resounding success, posits Ferris, with most Americans sharing basic classical liberal beliefs and liberal democracies comprising “nearly half of all humanity.” But one thing could be its undoing, he suggests: catastrophic climate change:
Liberalism itself could become a victim of such a calamity. The liberal democracies have already demonstrated a disturbing tendency to revert to authoritarianism in times of emergency. Few historians today think it was a good idea for Abraham Lincoln to have abridged habeas corpus during the Civil War, or for FDR to have put native-born Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps during World War II, or for George W. Bush to have imprisoned suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay without due process, but this baleful tendency has persisted anyway.
Too many conservatives think global warming can be dismissed as a socialist conspiracy. Too many progressives agree with the ninety-year-old ecologist James Lovelock that “it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while” in order to deal with global warming. There is a real danger of our running aground between these two big, ignorant, smug schools of thought—and a real need for those who comprehend the threat to start speaking out more forcefully about it.
Source: The Oxford American (article not available online), The Guardian
Image by Elenapaint, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, September 09, 2010 5:13 PM
On a planet with a changing climate and dwindling resources, we need a lot more sustainability experts and a lot fewer legal experts, David A. Bainbridge suggests at Triple Pundit. Bainbridge notes that there are more than a million lawyers in America and only about 10,000 professionally trained ecologists:
If our priorities were more properly ordered to promote sustained abundance, the balance between new ecology graduates and lawyers would be reversed. I can envision a day where 30,000 ecologists and sustainability specialists will graduate each year—and only 100 lawyers. This sounds outrageous, I know, but unraveling the complexities of America’s many varied ecosystems and developing cradle-to-cradle industrial ecosystems that will be good for people and the environment could easily absorb this many green-tech specialists and scientists.
Sustainability programs need the same priority as the “Man on the Moon” push in the 1960s (project Apollo $25 billion) or the National Institute of Health ($31 billon per year). With adequate funding much needed progress could be made ... .
Of course, lawyers are always an easy target, ranking right down there with journalists (ouch) among the lowest-regarded professions. And new multibillion-dollar government expenditures are not exactly commanding widespread support these days. But Bainbridge may be on to something here: He points out that every corporation should have a sustainability specialist, and just staffing the U.S. companies that have annual sales of more than $1 billion would take more than 250,000 such specialists. That's a lot of green jobs.
Laid-off lawyers, your new career awaits.
Source: Triple Pundit
Image by AlfredLow, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:13 PM
In another example of environmental destruction begetting environmental destruction Erica Westly, in Yale Environment 360, tells us how the “cooling effects of shade trees have provided some of the best protection from coffee pests, including the coffee berry borer,” a pest that can devastate coffee plants and that can spread rapidly with minor increases in temperature. “Studies have shown shade trees can reduce the temperature around coffee leaves by 3 degrees F to 7 degrees F, depending on the environment.” But shade equals less crops, while sun increases yields, so “many coffee growers have cut down the trees around their coffee plants,” creating an environment more likable to the coffee-loving beetle.
Until recently, the coffee berry borer was confined to just a few regions in Central Africa. But since the 1980s, the beetle has gradually spread to every coffee-growing region except Hawaii, Nepal, and Papua New Guinea. Juliana Jaramillo, a biologist at Kenya’s International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, suspects temperature increases are to blame. She and her collaborators recently identified the temperature range in which the beetle can survive. They found that the average minimum temperature the borer requires to reproduce is about 68 degrees F, and the mountainous regions of Ethiopia did not reach that temperature until 1984.
Jaramillo’s suggestions for the coffee industry are of the either/or variety, not offering many options against the ills of climate change: “Either they start investing in climate research, or they educate the consumers to drink something else.” I can’t see coffee companies educating their customers to move away from their product, so hopefully they’ll pick Jaramillo’s other option.
Souce: Yale Environment 360
Image by Jeff Kubina, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 16, 2010 5:16 PM
As climate change alters Greenland, the country has a chance to profit and gain independence from its longtime colonial ruler, Denmark—but at what cost, asks Miriam Rose in an essay on the environmental website Saving Iceland:
Nature has given western capitalism one last laugh. As the ice drips and cracks from Greenland’s white mass it is exposing a treasure trove of minerals, metals, ores and oil (one of the highest concentrations in the world), and plentiful hydropower to help us heat, break and alter them into things we “need.” Just as the candle wick flares and gutters on our oil-driven consumptive society Greenland’s bounty has given it one more chance. One last bright flame, to hide from us the surrounding darkness. … All the big names are queuing up for a ticket to the earth’s last free banquet. Statoil, Chevron and Exxon-Mobil want oil, True North Gems are after diamonds, gold and rubies, and Alcoa is chasing the newly roaring meltwaters of ancient ice, for dams and hydropower to smelt aluminum.
Rose has already seen similar situations in Iceland, where massive hydropower and mining proposals—especially aluminum smelters—have sparked fierce green opposition.
I suppose it’s too soon to say how the aluminum mega-powers might have contributed to the political corruption, economic instability and environmental tragedy that has unfolded in Iceland. But perhaps they would at least warn the Greenlanders to be wary of promises of freedom and prosperity.
I’m not sure they’re going to listen. Last fall, writer McKenzie Funk penned an in-depth piece for Outside magazine on Greenland’s “Thaw Revolution,” in which he quoted Greenlandic geologist Minik Rosing about the Black Angel mine that has already damaged a fjord with toxic tailings:
“It ruined the fjord. Is it OK to ruin three or four fjords in order to build the country? I hate to even think this, but we have a lot of fjords. I don’t know. That’d be utilitarian philosophy, wouldn’t it?”
He shakes his head. “We’re very aware that we’ll cause more climate change by drilling for oil,” he says. “But should we not? Should we not when it can buy us our independence?”
(Miriam Rose’s essay was originally published in Icelandic in the newspaper Róstur.)
Source: Saving Iceland, Outside
Image by chrissy575, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010 1:33 PM
Think of it this way: When you’re on your iPhone, the tap is running. The technology magazine IEEE Spectrum considers just how much water is used in creating the energy that runs our everyday electronic devices—and our society at large:
Plug your iPhone into the wall, and about half a liter of water must flow through kilometers of pipes, pumps, and the heat exchangers of a power plant. That’s a lot of money and machinery just so you can get a 6–watt-hour charge for your flashy little phone. Now, add up all the half-liters of water used to generate the roughly 17 billion megawatt-hours that the world will burn through this year. Trust us, it’s a lot of water. In the United States alone, on just one average day, more than 500 billion liters of freshwater travel through the country’s power plants—more than twice what flows through the Nile.
This illuminating bit of number crunching is part of an ambitious IEEE Spectrum special report, “Water vs. Energy,” that explores the intertwined, sometimes oppositional relationships of these two resources. It’s well worth reading in order to prepare for a dryer, warmer world.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Image by www.jzx100.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
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, June 18, 2010 3:12 PM
If the BP oil spill were a practice drill for an even larger environmental disaster—say, out-of-control climate change—our society and particularly our leaders have failed the drill with their ineffective response. Bradford Plumer of The New Republic describes what “absolutely terrifies” him about the spill:
What’s especially unnerving … is that the recklessness that helped bring about the spill, and the political reaction that followed, seem to indicate a larger inability to prevent and cope with other large-scale ecological catastrophes—particularly climate change. … With both the oil spill and climate change, there seems to be a lingering sense that technology can come along and save us if things ever get too ominous. … And yet, as we’ve seen with the flailing cleanup efforts in the Gulf, there’s not always a technological solution. Nature, once despoiled, can’t always be fixed. Sometimes disaster strikes and there’s simply nothing we (or even James Cameron) can do. What’s more, when dealing with complex ecological systems, quick fixes can often make the situation worse. The chemical dispersants that BP is using to break up the surface oil could end up wreaking havoc on the food chain on the seafloor—no one really knows. Likewise, we have little idea about whether those wacky geoengineering schemes could end up, say, disrupting rainfall patterns around the globe.
Source: The New Republic
Tuesday, June 15, 2010 9:05 AM
The woman behind the anticonsumerist viral video phenomenon The Story of Stuff has a new target in her sights: the carbon-trading shell game known as cap and trade. But she’s finding that it’s a touchy subject for fellow environmentalists who’ve bought into it as a political compromise. Here’s filmmaker Annie Leonard telling Northern California green mag Terrain why she’s not backing down:
“I called so many environmental groups … and asked them, ‘What do you think about cap and trade?’ Everybody I talked to said it doesn’t meet what the science says we need, it probably won’t work, but it’s the best we’re going to get. … I had this existential crisis because a lot of the groups that I knew said, ‘Don’t make that film, because it’s going to jeopardize our chance to get this bill, and even though it won’t work it’s the best we’re going to get.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s definitely the best we’re going to get if that’s all we ask for.’ …
“There are some times in which you have to make compromises in politics. That is part of the game. But you can only make so many compromises before your solution is not a solution anymore. I don’t trust commodities traders to save the planet. They’ve never made saving the planet their priority; I don’t believe they’re going to do it now.”
See The Story of Cap and Trade here:
Source: Terrain, The Story of Cap and Trade
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 10:29 AM
Face it, Earth Day is kind of daunting, and I think that’s one reason it isn’t as widely or exuberantly celebrated as some environmentalists wish. Merely acknowledging the tenuousness of our existence on this planet makes us confront fundamental issues of mortality and sustainability and the possible end of the world as we know it. That’s not nearly as fun as the mindless consumptive revelry of birthdays, Christmas, or Halloween.
So my concept for this Earth Day—Thursday—is to keep things simple. I’m going to celebrate the beauty and power of dirt. My inspiration for this personal back-to-the-roots movement is Dirt! The Movie, a documentary that premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens series tonight, April 20, and also recently became available on DVD from New Video.
Of course, dirt might seem like the most boring and mundane film topic you could imagine, and indeed, a procession of soil scientist interviews would send many viewers fleeing. So Dirt!—starting with the exclamation point, it seems—goes out of its way to inject humor and visual effects, with microorganism cartoons and goofy interludes that will keep even younger kids interested. Beginning with the Big Bang and bringing us right up to modern agriculture, mining, and other earth-intensive human pursuits, it does a wonderful job of showing and telling us that “the living, breathing skin of the earth” is a fantastic and fragile resource.
The film takes a turn toward gooey eco-earnestness near the end, and cynics may groan as Kenyan “Green Belt” activist Wangari Maathai tells the tale of one brave little hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire drop by drop. But I won’t be joining them. If there’s one time when I’m willing to suspend pessimism and cheer on the treehuggers, it’s for Earth Day.
Sources: PBS Independent Lens, New Video
Friday, March 12, 2010 5:35 PM
An ode to the death of the Hummer SUV brand, which will be shut down by owner General Motors after a potential sale fell through. Sung to the tune of “Masters of War,” with apologies to Bob Dylan:
Masters of Waste
Come you masters of waste
You that build all the trucks
You that build the Humvees
You that suck from the pumps
You that hide behind chrome
You that hide behind glass
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
You that never done nothin’
But build to destroy
You crush my new bike
Like it’s your little toy
You shine your brights in my eyes
And you ride on my ass
And you turn without signaling
Across the bike path
Like Nixon of old
You lie and deceive
Climate change is a scam
You want me to believe
But I see through your rants
And I don’t read your blogs
You’re all Dittohead
Free-market energy hogs
You make the big tanks
So drivers can splurge
Then you set back and watch
While the pump prices surge
You hide in your mansion
As Middle East crude
Is pumped from the ground
And from tailpipes spewed
You’ve sown the worst fear
That dare leave its mark
Fear to take children
On their bikes to the park
For threatening my baby
In her favorite stroller
You ain’t worth the latte
That’s in your cup holder
How much do I know
To trash-talk Humvees
You might say that I’m red
That I like to hug trees
But there’s one thing I know
That I’m greener than you
Even Jesus would never
Roll the way that you do
Let me ask you one question
Did your SUV need
To be such a symbol
Of unfettered greed
I think you will find
When transmissions fail
You could take a bus
Or even light rail
And I hope that you die
Image by thelastminute, licensed under Creative Commons.
And your death’ll come soon
I will follow the wrecker
In the pale afternoon
And I’ll watch while you’re winched
Onto the flatbed
And I’ll stomp on your tailpipe
’Til I’m sure that you’re dead
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 2:16 PM
Climate-change denial is spreading like a contagion across the land, with fewer Americans believing the world is warming than the number who did just a few years ago—all while the scientific consensus has solidified in the opposite direction. What on earth is happening here? George Monbiot speculates in Conservation magazine about the psychological factors at work behind climate change denial, specifically the finding that people over 65 are more likely to be skeptics about climate change:
In 1973, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker proposed that the fear of death drives us to protect ourselves with “vital lies” or “the armor of character.” We defend ourselves from the ultimate terror by engaging in “immortality projects”—projects and beliefs that boost our self-esteem and grant us meaning that extends beyond death. Over 300 studies conducted in 15 countries appear to confirm Becker’s thesis. When people are confronted with things that remind them of death, they respond by shoring up their worldview, rejecting people and ideas that threaten it, and working to boost their self-esteem.
Monbiot seizes on a 2009 study that brings Becker’s theory to bear specifically on the topic of climate change and may further explain the differences among age groups:
A recent paper by biologist Janis L. Dickinson, published in Ecology and Society, proposes that constant news and discussion about global warming makes it difficult for people to repress thoughts of death and that they might respond to the terrifying prospect of climate breakdown in ways that strengthen their character armor but diminish our chances of survival. There is already experimental evidence suggesting that some people respond to reminders of death by increasing consumption. Dickinson proposes that growing evidence of climate change might boost this tendency while raising antagonism toward scientists and environmentalists. Their message, after all, presents a lethal threat to the central immortality project of Western society: perpetual economic growth, supported by an ideology of entitlement and exceptionalism.
In other words, for seniors to acknowledge that they are wrong about global warming could well mean that they are wrong about a host of other things, and the thought of this world view unraveling is apparently more terrifying to them than the prospect that their grandchildren may live in an environmentally degraded world.
Image by batsignal, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 19, 2010 2:53 PM
Who do people trust to give them accurate information about climate change? Often, it’s their TV weathercaster. In fact, a 2008 survey showed that Americans generally place more faith in the local on-air talent than they do in Al Gore, other politicians, religious leaders, corporations, or the media as a whole, reports Columbia Journalism Review.
“Scientists commanded greater credibility” on climate change issues, the magazine notes, “but only 18 percent of Americans actually know one personally; 99 percent, by contrast, own a television.”
The problem with this state of affairs is twofold: For one thing, most weathercasters aren’t really scientists, and few are experts on climate change. For another, many of them—far more than you might suspect—are skeptics on the issue. CJR reports that in a 2008 survey of 121 meteorologists, a stunning 29 percent of them agreed that global warming was “a scam.” Only 24 percent believed that humans were responsible for most of the climate change over the past 50 years. Half of them were sure this wasn’t true, while another quarter were “neutral” on the issue. As the magazine notes:
This was the most important scientific question of the twenty-first century thus far, and a matter on which more than eight out of ten climate researchers were thoroughly convinced. And three quarters of the TV meteorologists … surveyed believe the climatologists were wrong.
Wow. The article has a tough time putting a finger on why weathercasters are such a doubting lot, but notes that several institutions have launched projects to teach them about basic climatology, a project supported by the field’s professional group, the American Meteorological Society. CJR sums up the spirit of the project: “If viewers are going to assume weathercasters are experts anyway, we might as well try to make them experts.”
Source: Columbia Journalism Review
Image by cytosine, licensed under Creative Commons.
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
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 9:46 AM
There's a new concept infiltrating the climate change conversation (pdf), and it has the potential to change the conversation altogether. It’s time to give sustainability a rest and start talking about resilience, Rob Hopkins writes in Resurgence.
“The term ‘resilience’ is appearing more frequently in discussions about environmental concerns, and it has a strong claim to actually being a more successful concept than that of sustainability. Sustainability and its oxymoronic offspring sustainable development are commonly held to be a sufficient response to the scale of the climate challenge we face: to reduce the inputs at one end of the globalised economic growth model (energy, resources, and so on) while reducing the outputs at the other end (pollution, carbon emissions, etc.). However, responses to climate change that do not also address the imminent, or quite possibly already passed, peak in world oil production do not adequately address the nature of the challenge we face.”
The concept takes into account how systems can survive disturbances intact, and Hopkins says the framework is crucial to communities’ chances of thriving “beyond the current economic turmoil the world is seeing.” A supermarket is a good example of how to explain this new kind of thinking, he says:
“It may be possible to increase its sustainability and to reduce its carbon emissions by using less packaging, putting photovoltaics on the roof and installing more energy-efficient fridges. However, resilience thinking would argue that the closure of local food shops and networks that resulted from the opening of the supermarket, as well as the fact that the store itself only contains two days’ worth of food at any moment – the majority of which has been transported great distances to get there – has massively reduced the resilience of community food security, as well as increasing its oil vulnerability.”
Wednesday, December 23, 2009 1:14 PM
We’ve heard from lots of environmental pundits about the outcome of the Copenhagen climate talks, with reactions ranging from cautiously optimistic to bitterly disappointed and downright betrayed. So what do the rock stars think?
I’m being only partly facetious, because at least one rock star, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, is very passionate about the issues in play, fairly well informed about them, and he actually attended the talks for a few days.
“i felt compelled to come to find some hope from these talks. for our kids and theirs. judge that as you will,” Yorke wrote on the band’s Dead Air Space blog shortly after arriving in Copenhagen last week. “i came with a friend of mine, Tony Juniper. (he was previously head of Friends of the Earth when I was involved with them to get the climate bill passed in the UK. a framed copy of which I have on my wall at home.)”
Suffice to say that Yorke did not come away impressed with the forthrightness, the selflessness, the brilliance of the negotiators. His postmodern capitalization and punctuation only add to the rawness of his rants. Here are some excerpts:
… the negotiations had an obvious G8 vibe about them. the West dictating terms and bizarrely assuming that the science could be bartered.. !!! arguing about who cuts what??? that somehow the amount we have to cut our emissions is negotiable?? what a crock of shit. may I humbly suggest that we remove the professional negotiators who seem to relish the negotiations for their own sake.
i pray something. i pray that something comes of this process. that all these people for all these years, all these flights to copenhagen all this hot air has some meaning. and in the midst of it all i take to bbc radio 1 and am asked ‘yeah but is climate change really real’ etc etc. oh for gods sake. what am i doing here??
and as i wrote the previous entry my battery goes dead and obama walks past with a very grim expression, everyone thought he was storming out but no he’d just been in talks with the chinese. just now a french delegate tells me that brazil has stormed out of the talks. this is all so sad. still peace and goodwill to all men. love and understanding. just no more business as usual ok?? this is all starting to really feel like some enormous vaguely pointless corporate expo.
well … i am truly disgusted about the way things have ended here. … we have no international agreement. this is all too too late. i feel deeply traumatized by the whole experience. if you’d been there you would also have been.
Source: Dead Air Space
Image via Dead Air Space.
Monday, December 14, 2009 1:55 PM
Attendees at the Copenhagen climate change conference should take a cue from their host city’s bicycle-friendly nature, writes editor Jonathan Maus at BikePortland.org:
Copenhagen just happens to be the City of Cyclists, and its dedication to providing streets that make biking a viable option for its citizens has already had an incalculable impact on many cities. . . . The lessons and experiences of Copenhagen are also putting pressure on the field of bike planning in America. It’s Copenhagen’s example that has provided the impetus for a broad coalition of large U.S. cities to push bike planning innovation further, faster than existing U.S. federal highway standards will allow.
As the case against auto dependence grows more each day, it’s becoming even clearer that making our cities more amenable to bike traffic is a winning strategy. I just hope COP15 attendees step out of their meetings and presentations long enough to let the Copenhagenizing take hold.
Of course, Denmark hasn’t come off especially well in the last few days, having been pilloried by developing countries for its ill-considered behind-the-scenes dealmaking in the lead-up to the conference. And it’s quite clear that it will take a whole lot more than bike lanes and chain guards to tackle the climate change mess. Still, it’s worth taking a moment to remember that when the rubber hits the road, the Danes have done some good for the environment.
L.A. Streetsblog notes that the point was not lost on Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, who interviewed Hickenlooper in Copenhagen:
Thirty-seven percent of the people in this city, when they go to work in the metropolitan area, ride a bicycle to work. I mean, it’s remarkable. I met yesterday for an hour with the deputy mayor of the environment and transportation, Klaus Bondam, and he described how their next goal is to hit 50 percent. I mean, to have half your population, when they go to work on bicycles, they’re healthier, the air is cleaner, there’s less carbon emissions, you save money. I mean, the benefits are dramatic, and you can see the difference just when you walk down the street.
Goodman: I mean, we were just in the city council last night at like 10:30, 11:00. The whole bottom floor of this century-old building is filled with not only bicycle racks, but bicycles that fill them.
Goodman: And city council members, the guards, everyone are riding in and out of the city council on their bicycles.
Hickenlooper: Yeah. When I flew in, the fellow next to me on the plane is a hotshot young technology expert, makes a huge amount of money—doesn’t own a car, rides his bike. You know, he says, “It’s healthier. It’s more fashionable.” You know, it’s what his friends do. And I think that’s the whole thing that—when you get to public sentiment, I mean, what Lincoln was talking about. We need to change our public sentiment so people want to do these things. And it’s not government coming down and being punitive, but it’s creating a change, a transformation in our attitudes.
See the full transcript at Democracy Now.
Source: BikePortland.org, Streetsblog Los Angeles, Democracy Now
Image by malouette, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 14, 2009 9:55 AM
David Gillette is no ordinary journalist. He’s also a cartoonist, digging up off-the-beaten-path stories from the Copenhagen climate change summit. In a joint project between the website MinnPost and Twin Cities Public Television, Gillette has been giving daily updates of what’s happening at COP 15. You can watch his day five dispatch blow:
Wednesday, December 09, 2009 1:49 PM
What’s going on at the Copenhagen climate talks? Behind the mainstream media headlines, the independent and alternative press are doing what they do best: pursuing and parsing lots of interesting angles behind this potentially world-changing conference. Here’s where we’re finding coverage that cuts through the chatter coming out of Denmark:
The Copenhagen News Collaborative is a great one-stop site for conference coverage by talent-rich progressive and environmental news outlets including Grist, Mother Jones, the Nation, Tree Hugger, the UpTake, Huffington Post, and Discover. You’ve got to love Grist’s slogan for its Copenhagen coverage: “HOW FØCKED ARE WE?”
Blogs and news feeds by environmental advocacy organizations can be excellent sources of information on sub-issues such as forest conservation and carbon trading rules. We’re looking to, among other groups, the Rainforest Action Network, Global Witness, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, including both the NRDC Switchboard and the NRDC-published magazine OnEarth. Do these organizations have agendas? Sure—so does everyone at Copenhagen. That doesn’t mean they don’t know many of these issues inside and out.
One other approach is to get rid of the filter. Watch live and on-demand webcasts of official meetings and press conferences from Copenhagen at the conference website.
Sources: United Nations Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen News Collaborative, Rainforest Action Network, Global Witness, Natural Resources Defense Council
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, October 09, 2009 5:53 PM
One of Yes! magazine’s 13 Radical Acts of Education will appeal to folks with an inner botanist. Heather Purser reports that citizen scientists across the country are being encouraged to gather data on their local plants. In order to track changes brought on by global warming, scientists need some extra help in the field to “record the dates when local plants open their leaves, flower, bear fruit, and go dormant or die.” The observations are for Project BudBurst, which hopes the data-mining will help educate the public on the importance of collecting (and analyzing) climate change information. The site offers a start-up booklet, reporting forms, and downloadable plant identification and field guides for those interested in helping out.
Wednesday, October 07, 2009 4:21 PM
I hope everyone who’s been watching the epic PBS documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea takes inspiration from the series, which was produced by Ken Burns and his longtime collaborator, writer Dayton Duncan. But one thing I hope they’re not inspired to do is follow in Duncan’s footsteps and attempt to visit all 58 national parks, a lifelong journey that he chronicles in the problematically titled article “Collect ’Em All” in the July-August Sierra magazine.
What’s wrong with visiting all the parks? Well, for starters, doing so would leave a massive carbon footprint. When Duncan unknowingly began his quest in 1959, visiting several parks on his Iowa family’s extended vacation, gasoline was cheap and seemingly plentiful and the idea of “carbon miles” was a million miles away. But now, alas, we know better: If we burned the auto and airplane fuel it would take to visit all the parks, many of which are in remote and hard-to-reach locations, we’d emit a huge amount of CO2 that ultimately would work against the very places we’re trying to preserve.
For another thing, “park bagging,” as I’ve heard it called, is ultimately an elitist pursuit, a game that very few can play. Face it, only the wealthiest and luckiest among us has the vacation time, the money, and the means to have a chance at ticking off all 58 parks, and even announcing your achievement to the world can come perilously close to bragging about what an amazingly fortunate life you lead—not the sort of message parks advocates should be sending. The National Parks quotes Teddy Roosevelt exclaiming at the Grand Canyon, “This is one of the great sights that every American, if he can travel at all, should see.” That middle clause, added wisely, is essential: Many Americans find it hard to travel to just one national park, let alone all of them.
Finally, the “collect ’em all” mentality goes against a better, nobler impulse, which is to get to know the land intimately. Better that we should acquaint ourselves with one, two, or a few parks very well than attempt to superficially survey them all in baseball-card-collector fashion. Several years ago, I worked for the summer in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, driving a tourist shuttle van between the tiny gateway community of McCarthy and the mining relic town of Kennicott. Among my passengers I met a few park baggers, most memorably a man and his teenage son. They “explored” the park in an afternoon, which meant strolling among Kennicott’s dilapidated buildings, looking up at the stupendous glaciers around them, and then riding my van back down to resume their journey. Never mind that Wrangell-St. Elias is the nation’s largest park at 13 million acres, and that even someone who’s there for months, as I was, can barely claim to have scratched the surface of its vast wonder. The man told me that they were off next to the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, which they would fly over in a bush plane—not even setting foot on the tundra. They added both parks to their all-important list, yet they didn’t have a true wilderness experience in either place.
Now, I’ve got to cut Duncan some slack: He racked up some of his visits while researching and filming The National Parks, and the greater good that may come of the series is arguably worth the carbon he burned to do it. (This sort of rationale is how many “environmental” speakers and writers justify their flight-intensive, conference-hopping lifestyles.) But still, it seems that he, of all people, ought to know better than to wear his completed life list as some badge of honor.
Sour grapes? Maybe. I once thought I would travel to many of the world’s most beautiful places. The Patagonian Andes, Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands—all awaited my intrepid exploration. Now, with the reality of climate change hitting full force, I see that even if I had the means, visiting all my dream destinations just wouldn’t be right, and that in some ways staying close to home is the best way to honor the earth. So yes, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there are some national parks I will never see, and that photo or video images will be my only acquaintance with them. Which is why I’ve been watching every last episode of The National Parks.
Sources: PBS, Sierra, Teton Gravity Research, National Park Service
Image by Alaskan Dude, 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, August 25, 2009 4:17 PM
Public wildlands such as parks and reserves are great—but they’re not enough to save the world’s flora and fauna from mass extinction due to climate change. To do that, writes Jeff Langholz in the September-October issue of World Watch, it will take private landowners with a conservation ethic.
Langholz suggests that we must formally protect around 20 percent of the earth’s land, and the only way to do this is to promote privately owned protected areas:
In many regions, the most critical biodiversity areas are in private hands, and hoping that governments will simply expropriate them—despite the legal, social, and political obstacles—is absurd. Instead of leaving protected-area establishment primarily to governments, we should stimulate a robust private-sector investment in protected-area creation.
There are many types of private landowners, Langholz points out, and they’re not all “affluent outsiders” like Doug and Kris Tompkins, who created the private Parque Pumalín reserve in Chile (pictured). Some are families whose lands have been in the family for generations. Some are nonprofits such as land trusts or for-profits such as corporations. And of course some are environmental organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and Audubon. Furthermore, these lands vary widely in the type of protection, from informal to formal. But Langholz suggests that they are essential, and that the conversation about them is changing:
John Stuart Mill commented that every great movement must go through three phases: ridicule, discussion, then adoption. Once ridiculed by the mainstream, the private protected areas movement is now the focus of considerable high-level discussion. The immense challenges facing society require that these discussions not only continue, but lead to concerted action.
Source: World Watch (article not available online)
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
Thursday, November 06, 2008 12:02 PM
Americans have been warned not to expect too much from Obama’s election too soon, but that doesn’t mean people can’t speculate. The Union of Concerned Scientists believes we’ll see an aggressive approach to climate change policy once Obama takes over, and 3QuarksDaily provides a nice summary of what the federal and state elections mean for science.
Obama and the next Congress are positioned to enact a comprehensive “Green Deal,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, that could modernize our energy infrastructure while stimulating the economy. Already, Obama plans to send delegates to December’s UN climate meeting in Poland, and Cosmos wonders whether Obama can break the deadlock gripping those talks.
One question still remains: Will these actions be enough to forestall the effects of the dangerous environmental regulations (or deregulations) that the New York Times blog speculates the Bush administration is pushing through during its last days in office?
Image by Ralph Alswang, licensed by Creative Commons.
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.
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 2:55 PM
A group of Greenpeace activists dubbed the “Kingsnorth Six” were found not guilty of criminal damage by a British jury earlier this month, despite fessing up to defacing a coal-fired power plant in an attempt to shut it down. Their creative legal team argued that the damage was justified under a law that excuses property damage inflicted to prevent greater property damage, which the defense said would occur as a result of climate change.
According to the Guardian, “The court was told that some of the property in immediate need of protection included parts of Kent at risk from rising sea levels, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu and areas of Greenland.” NASA climate scientist James Hansen, an outspoken public critic of coal-fired power, testified on behalf of the defense and told the jury the Kingsnorth plant’s emissions could lead to the extinction of as many as 400 species.
The verdict could be interpreted as an endorsement of civil disobedience in the name of climate change, which likely thrills environmental activists who favor direct action. Guardian environment editor John Vidal speculates that “the floodgates have been opened and that it will be open season on coal and other dirty energy industries…History would suggest that the carbon protest movement will gain in confidence like the anti-roads and GM movements, and that coal will be targeted mercilessly.”
Vandalism as a form of protest is a controversial tactic. Writing for the National Review, Henry Payne slams Hansen for endorsing “eco-vandalism,” saying he “has seriously damaged the credibility of a movement that has struggled to separate its apocalyptic rhetoric from more extreme environmentalists who demand violent action to match that rhetoric.” The Lazy Environmentalist blog takes a different stance, seeing the verdict as “a vitally important step in recognising potential legal ‘rights’ of the planet.”
On a related note, Al Gore encouraged young people to engage in civil disobedience to halt climate change at the Clinton Global Initiative gathering last week—which prompted the Christian Science Monitor to ask, “Does Al Gore think he’s too old for civil disobedience?”
Image by Crosbiesmith, licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
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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.
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.
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Tuesday, February 05, 2008 2:04 PM
Kathryn Blume’s traveling one-woman show The Boycott raises profound questions, such as, “What do men prefer, gas-guzzling motor vehicles or their wives’ carnal affections?” Blume’s monologue, based on the Aristophanes comedy Lysistrata, follows First Lady Lyssa Stratton as she singlehandedly tries to end global warming. Lyssa vows to abstain from sex until her husband solves climate change, and she urges other women to do the same. Check out Blume’s monologue here:
Monday, January 28, 2008 10:21 AM
Traveling by plane to academic conferences exacerbates climate change, Mark Pedelty writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, yet the topic is rarely broached by those in academia: “Perhaps that is because our most sacred privilege is at stake. We love to travel.”
Pedelty, an associate professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, doesn’t spare himself as he serves up an unflinching but humorous critique of scholars who “travel to meet, greet, and, in one of our more ironic roles, preach the gospel of sustainability.”
Inspired in part by an editorial in the British Medical Journal on the carbon footprint of medical conferences, Pedelty encourages his fellow academics to videoconference whenever possible and to start asking hard questions like, “Did I really need to fly to New York to hear that?”
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.
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
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