Enough Is Not Enough

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Illustration by João Fazenda

Tired as we may be of reading about, talking about, posting about it, enough is not enough on this topic, so here goes (thanks as always to Elizabeth Kolbert):

Coal for Christmas at the U.N. Climate Conference

As negotiators from around the world gathered in Poland to discuss how to lower carbon emissions, the Trump Administration unveiled two schemes promoting fossil fuels.

Last week, representatives from around the world gathered to begin another round of climate negotiations in Katowice, a city in the heart of Poland’s coal-mining country. Delegates arriving at the meeting, known in United Nations-speak as a Conference of the Parties, or cop, were treated to an outdoor performance by a Polish coal miners’ band. Inside the convention pavilions, they found mounds of coal displayed behind glass, like objets d’art, as well as arrangements of coal-based cosmetics and coal-encrusted jewelry. Poland gets about eighty per cent of its electricity from coal, the most carbon-intensive of carbon-based fuels, and the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, noted in his opening remarks that the country had enough as yet unmined supplies to last another two centuries. “It would be hard not to use them,” he said.

Depending on how you look at things, a coal-stuffed climate summit is either completely absurd—“beyond parody,” as one commentator put it—or merely appropriate. With each passing month, the threat posed by global warming grows clearer. And so, too, does the world’s failure to take that threat seriously. “We are in trouble,” the United Nations’ Secretary-General, António Guterres, said at the cop’s opening session. “It is hard to comprehend why we are collectively still moving too slowly—and even in the wrong direction.” Continue reading

Liberalism, Leadership, & The Fourth Estate

9780374279622_custom-5d7f03d8b126fd10509c68fad812ee37387aae6b-s600-c85When we started this platform in 2011 our primary interest in the Guardian was its excellent environmental reporting, and at least one opinion writer whose 2012 environmental views made him regularly welcome in our pages ever since. Today I can amplify how important this newspaper is based on an interview I just listened to with its former longtime editor, the author of this book to the right.

He mentions several points that I have been prone to believe over the last two decades, particularly about the poisoning of the well of public discourse by Rupert Murdoch’s approach to the business of media.

In the classic sense of liberal perspective that should make me think twice, so as not to lean into my own biases. He also helps me to understand the quite unique value of the Guardian, which I was also already prone to believe. Their endowment and general funding model, which I had only vaguely known about, is well explained in this interview and frankly, difficult as it is to be these days, inspiring. Careful as I may be about confirmation bias, I pass this suggestion along; listen to the interview here (just over half an hour), or read the summary below:

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On Dec. 3, 2013, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger faced questions from the British Parliament about his newspaper’s decision to publish material leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Alan Rusbridger knows a thing or two about high-stakes journalism.

During his 20-year tenure running the British newspaper The Guardian, he collaborated with NSA contractor Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on blockbuster stories drawn from secret government documents. Though Rusbridger left The Guardian in 2015, he remembers the stress vividly.

“We were publishing every minute of the day around the world,” he says. “It’s a matter of deadlines and never enough information and people trying to sue you and generally harass you.” Continue reading

Graphics For Better Comprehension

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Yesterday I was struck by a set of graphics that helped me see an old story in a new light. That was not a particularly important old story, as history of the planet goes; but it gave the manufacturing consent theme a new shine–in technicolor, black and white, and finer shades of gray. Today, on a story that is definitely of historic proportions related to the planet, my thanks again to Brad Plumer and his occasional writing partner Nadja Popovich, especially for its accompanying graphics:

Graphics For A Better World

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09meanwhile-image7-superJumbo.jpgClick the image above or to the left to go to the graphic narrative published in the New York Times by Wendy McNaughton, whose website is a treasure chest of visual wit and explanatory power.

I have heard of Pantone before, and probably even their Color of the Year tradition. But until seeing this I never cared enough to understand the meaning behind it.

Now I care. I will not explain why, instead suggesting you take three minutes to see how you respond.

Or maybe I will just hint that for me it has something to do with this panel, not just the words but how they appear on the page, and the communication of how corporate communications can sometimes be tone deaf if not color blind:

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Naughty Behavior Will Not Be Tolerated

Thanks to the Guardian for the latest story in this series. We have avoided adding our voice to the many rightly concerned about the radically pro-extraction, carbon-freewheeling policies of the United States since early 2017. The concern is loud and widespread. We have listened. Today, reading this story, I pictured a naughty boy, a bully, getting away with bad behavior for an extended period. Any period of bad boy behavior is intolerable but it happens. Until it is no longer tolerated. Which eventually always happens. And that may be the best stand-in for optimism these days:

Lost lands? The American wilderness at risk in the Trump era

Exclusive: a new study reveals the vast extent of public lands being opened up to the energy industry. The Guardian heard from three communities on the frontlines

by Charlotte Simmonds, Gloria Dickie and Jen Byers

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Colter Hoyt, an outdoors guide and conservationist, at Grand Staircase-Escalante. Photograph: Charlotte Simmonds for the Guardian

In the great expanses of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, the silence hits you first. Minutes pass, smooth and unbroken as glass. The smallest sound – a breath of wind, a falling rock – can seem as loud as passing traffic.

Colter Hoyt knows this landscape well. As an outdoor guide, he walks the monument almost daily. Yet these days he is full of fear. This remote paradise of red rocks, slot canyons and towering plateaus faces an uncertain future, following a controversial presidential proclamation that removed 800,000 acres from the monument and opened land up for potential energy development.

When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of “American energy dominance”. This would only be possible by exploiting America’s 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country. Continue reading

Part Of The Solution

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Harvesting soybeans in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Credit Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Thanks to Brad Plumer, whose reporting on environmental issues has been illuminating, for this fifth feature in our links out to stories that help us understand what we might do to be part of the solution:

Can We Grow More Food on Less Land? We’ll Have To, a New Study Finds

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A farm in the Pays de la Loire region of France. Cows have an especially large environmental footprint. Credit Loic Venance/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If the world hopes to make meaningful progress on climate change, it won’t be enough for cars and factories to get cleaner. Our cows and wheat fields will have to become radically more efficient, too.

That’s the basic conclusion of a sweeping new study issued Wednesday by the World Resources Institute, an environmental group. The report warns that the world’s agricultural system will need drastic changes in the next few decades in order to feed billions more people without triggering a climate catastrophe.

The challenge is daunting: Agriculture already occupies roughly 40 percent of the world’s land and is responsible for about a quarter of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. But with the global population expected to grow from 7.2 billion people today to nearly 10 billion by 2050, and with many millions of people eating more meat as incomes rise, that environmental impact is on pace to expand dramatically. Continue reading

Spare, Share, Protect

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A farmer walks through his coffee plantation, which is integrated into the forest, in Lampung province, Indonesia. ULET IFANSASTI/CIFOR

Our work has required occasional philosophical reflection to get our bearings on the choices we have made on how to approach conservation. Share approaches such as the duck farming mentioned here, or the coffee farming mentioned here are equally as common as the spare approaches in our practice. I had not encountered these two terms until now, so thanks to Fred Pearce for this expansion of my vocabulary:

Sparing vs Sharing: The Great Debate Over How to Protect Nature

What is the best way to save nature – to cordon off areas for parks and open space or to integrate conservation measures on working lands? Recent research makes a case for each of these approaches and has reignited a long-standing debate among scientists and conservationists.

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A farming village surrounded by undeveloped forests in the province of Quang Ninh, Vietnam. TERRY SUNDERLAND/CIFOR

It is one of the biggest questions in conservation: Should we be sharing our landscapes with nature by reviving small woodlands and adopting small-scale eco-friendly farming? Or should we instead be sparing large tracts of land for nature’s exclusive use – by creating more national parks and industrializing agriculture on existing farmland?

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More than 1.5 million wildebeest migrate annually across Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, which covers 5,700 square miles. DANIEL ROSENGREN / WIKIMEDIA

The argument between “sparing” and “sharing” as a conservation tool has been raging since researchers first coined the terms more than a decade ago. Arguably it began almost half a century before when Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution of high-yielding crop varieties, declared that “by producing more food per unit of cultivated area, more land would be available for other uses, including recreation and wildlife.”

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LUISA RIVERA FOR YALE E360

E.O. Wilson’s 2016 book Half-Earth upped the ante by calling for us to extend protected areas from the current 15 percent of the earth’s land surface to 50 percent. Research studies and critiques have flourished on both sides. Continue reading

Stacked Stones Had Nothing To Do With It

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After writing yesterday’s post I got a message from the “new friend.” She is the one on the right in the photo above. I am the one on the left. My two childhood friends are in the middle. The new friend’s name, Amie, will be familiar to regular readers on this platform. After reading my post yesterday she sent me these three old photos. Above is at the top of the gorge, just as the sun is coming over the mountain. Dawn’s rosy tipped finger, someone among us surely said. By late morning, time for a fruit break, below is the place where I might have started thinking of stacking stones, in the figurative sense of wishing something of the future. But I did not then, nor do I now, believe in totemic powers of objects, or good luck.

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I believed that a new friendship was sufficient good fortune, and being in that natural setting was the closest I got to worshiping things.

SamariaC&A2.jpegNo need to stack stones. As we made our way down to the bottom of the gorge, to where those sky-high rock walls allowed single file passage to the black stone beach, conversation was the thing.

The black stones were a surprise because they seemed to bear no relationship with the geology of the gorge. And I do remember now, playing with the stones, and surely stacking them while we sat there looking out to the sea, continuing the conversation. But I was not stacking stones in the way Sophie Haigney’s story refers to.

Really. I can say that with confidence because Amie reminds me that the oblong oval-shaped stones were not stackable. So I tried my best, but could not get one to rest upon another. That said, I am also confident that while not superstitious I was still able to make wishes, and then take actions to fulfill them.

Stop Stacking Stones

 

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The steep downhill path starting from Xyloskalo

If I have done it, it would have been once. And hopefully less of an issue than the examples given in this story below. It was a day in September, 1983 and I had traveled to Greece with two childhood friends, all of us now in early adulthood. With us was one new friend, who we had met in JFK airport just prior to departure.

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The peaceful river crossing Samaria Gorge

On the island of Crete, we left Xania well before sunrise to hike from the top to the bottom of Samaria Gorge, as far south in Greece as you can get and still be on land. With every switchback of our descent, I was getting more and more lost in conversation with our new friend, so that by the time we reached the bottom of the gorge I wondered where the day had gone. After a full day of hiking, lost in conversation or otherwise, the stones of the gorge play on your mind.

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The impressive Portes in Samaria Gorge

At this point you pass through one last formation that is so stunning that if you had not been thinking of playing with stones until now, you had not been paying enough attention. And that was my case. I remember walking silently through this last section and not talking again until the very end, when you spill onto a beach formed by smooth black stones, facing south, nothing but water until you reach Africa. There, in Agia Roumeli, you can get a cool drink before a boat takes you back to Xania. And while you wait for the boat, if you have something to wish for, you may find yourself stacking those smooth black stones.

My photographs from that day, somewhere in storage, would show the beginning, long middle sections, and end of that day. If I did stack stones the evidence will be in those photos, and I will find them. For now I have linked to photos from the blog of a Cretan travel consortium to give a hint of what the place looks like, and as a recommendation to others to visit. Sophie Haigney, writing on the New Yorker website, gave me reason just now to think about my own culpability in what can now be described as a dangerous, destructive form of travel footprint, and I thank her for bringing this to our attention:

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An Instagram trend that’s littering national parks with towers of carefully balanced stones, #StoneStacking can cause erosion and damage ecosystems. Photograph by Sam Oakes / Alamy

People Are Stacking Too Many Stones

The photograph in the Facebook post is pretty: piles of red rocks balanced at the edge of a cliff, suggesting a miniature mirror of the jagged rock face opposite. The stacks look like small shrines to mountain solitude, carefully balanced at the edge of a precipice. But when Zion National Park posted the photo, in September, the social-media coördinators for the park included a plea: “Please, enjoy the park but leave rocks and all natural objects in place.” The post noted the “curious but destructive practice” of building small stone towers, and said, “stacking up stones is simply vandalism.” Continue reading

What Can We Learn From Above About Our Urbanization?

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The U.S.-Mexico border separating Calexico, California, and Mexicali, Mexico.

Katherine Bagley, Managing Editor at Yale Environment 360 (Yale e360, one of our go-to sources on this platform), has this to say:

From High Above, A New Way of Seeing Our Urban Planet

The world’s cities are expected to grow by another 2.5 billion people by 2050. A new collection of satellite images starkly illustrates the sheer size and imprint of the world’s urban centers and their vulnerability in the face of population growth and climate change.

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February 10, 1977. Population 43,000. LANDSAT OLI/TIRS

Driven by rapid economic expansion and global trade, the world’s urban population has more than quintupled since the mid-20th century, from 751 million people in 1950 to 4.2 billion today. Centuries-old cities have pushed upward and outward to accommodate the influx of people, and entirely new megacities, home to tens of millions, have sprung up.

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February 7, 2016. Population 10.8 million. LANDSAT OLI/TIRS

Nowhere can this swift urban growth be seen as vividly as from space. In their new book City Unseen, geographers Karen C. Seto and Meredith Reba, experts in urbanization and global change, offer a collection of satellite images from all seven continents that exhibit the massive imprint these cities have on the landscapes around them.

“If you look at images of Las Vegas and Lagos and Shenzhen, you see how much land it takes to house billions people, and it’s astonishing,” Seto, a professor of geography and urbanization science at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, says. “But the impact of urbanization is not only the direct land these people live on. It’s all these other non-urban places where we need to extract resources to house and electrify, to operate these cities. That’s part of the story too.” Continue reading