Citizen Farming & Victory Gardens, 2020

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LEFT: “War gardens over the top. The seeds of victory insure the fruits of peace,” Maginel Wright Enright, National War Garden Commission, 1919 (Library of Congress). RIGHT: “War gardens for victory—Grow vitamins at your kitchen door,” lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York, between 1939 and 1945 (Library of Congress).

In the latest Gastropod episide, Dig for Victory, we get some new background on an old topic that has been on our minds lately:

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You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.” Continue reading

Oceans’ Call to Action

© Alexis Rosenfeld

We’re a day behind on World Oceans Day, but John Tanzer’s words are lasting, despite the date.

Don’t Waste A Crisis – A World Oceans Day Call to Action.

By John Tanzer, Oceans Practice Leader, WWF International

It was early March when the realization hit. Our Year of Ocean Action wasn’t going to happen — at least not in the way so many had been planning. 2020 would be extraordinary, but for all the wrong reasons. Our Super Year was meant to be the launch platform for a decade of strong global efforts to restore the ocean. Clearly, the attention and resources we had hoped to harness have been in much demand elsewhere.

I was not looking for a “silver lining” to the suffering and loss caused by the coronavirus, but somewhere in the back of my mind was a quote about not letting a crisis go to waste. Was it Winston Churchill who said it? Or a contemporary politician?

It turns out, it was not Churchill, and it wasn’t even a politician. The line can be traced back at least as far as 1976, to M. F. Weiner’s article in the journal Medical Economics, “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.” Weiner apparently meant that a medical crisis can be used to improve all aspects of a patient’s well-being.

So, it wasn’t a callous sentiment about seizing the upper hand in a moment of chaos. It was an acknowledgement that a crisis may arise which so disrupts the norm that all preconceptions are set aside, and all solutions are on the table.

Continue reading

Nature’s Soothing Songs

‘Hearing birdsong with such clarity has become for many a small joy and a valuable mental health boost during lockdown.’ Photograph: Alamy

Although not an experienced birder, I would call myself a proponent of ornitherapy; it makes me happy and relaxed to see and hear birds around me. I also have the good fortune to live in a country with not only a great number of birds (both species and individuals), but also an area that’s remote enough to have fairly little noise pollution. So bottom line, I hear birds all the time. In fact, at the times when they’re quiet for some reason, it feels eerily strange.

So, despite the unprecedented challenges people are currently facing around the world, I hope that occasionally there’s a moment to at least open the window and listen for the birds.

The Guardian view on birdsong: a fragile joy

The chance to put biodiversity and the environment at the heart of recovery from the pandemic should not be squandered

One night in April, birdwatchers from around Britain stepped outside their doors and listened intently to something most of them had never experienced before: the fluting, mysterious, melancholy cry of the common scoter on the wing.

Flocks of these dusky sea ducks were beating their way over Britain on their long migratory journey towards their Arctic breeding grounds, easily audible to the naked ear. The first great wave was heard on the Wirral before being picked up in the Peak District, and at last by the Humber. A second wave was made out as flocks made their way along the line of Hadrian’s wall, from the Solway Firth in the west to Northumberland in the east. A third wave flew above listeners from the Severn estuary to the Wash. The birds were heard in urban Blackburn, Stalybridge, Bristol and London. It was thanks to social media that so many listeners were alert to the birds’ progress – and thanks to the silence of lockdown that they could be heard.

With few planes in the sky and vehicles on the roads to muffle its sound, birdsong has been ringing out loud and clear. It was a decade ago that the skies were anything like this quiet, when flights were grounded after the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted. The last time traffic levels were so low was the early 1970s.

Hearing birdsong with such clarity has become for many a small joy and a valuable mental health boost during lockdown.

Continue reading

A Win for the Water

A turtle surfaces offshore of Kahekili Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii. COURTESY OF DON MCLEISH

It seems like a fitting Earth Day celebration that the U.S. Supreme Court voted to block the Trump Administration’s attempts to roll back the EPA Clean Water Act.

SUPREME COURT LEAVES THE CLEAN WATER ACT INTACT

Today the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund siding with clean water advocates that point source discharges to navigable waters through groundwater are regulated under the Clean Water Act.

The following is a statement from David Henkin, Earthjustice attorney who argued the case defending clean water:

“This decision is a huge victory for clean water. The Supreme Court has rejected the Trump administration’s effort to blow a big hole in the Clean Water Act’s protections for rivers, lakes, and oceans.

“We will have to return to the lower court to confirm this, but we fully expect that Maui County’s sewage plant will be required to get a Clean Water Act permit as a result of the Court’s decision today. That permit will require the County to protect the ocean from sewage discharges in a way it has refused to do to date.

“We are glad the Court has recognized the importance of protecting clean water for all Americans.”

The court held that the Clean Water Act “require[s] a permit if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.” In other words, the Clean Water Act prohibits unpermitted discharge of pollution “into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.” In doing so, the Court rejected the Trump administration’s polluter-friendly position in the clearest of terms: “We do not see how Congress could have intended to create such a large and obvious loophole in one of the key regulatory innovations of the Clean Water Act.” Continue reading

Conformity & Climate

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PHOTO RENDERING BY PATRICK WHITE

The essay below addresses some of the themes in essays and books we pointed to in the last year. Robert H. Frank, Economics professor at Cornell University, has not appeared in our pages before, which is just plain wrong, as Thy Neighbor’s Solar Panels makes clear:

When our peers take actions to preserve the planet, we’re more likely to follow suit. How the human instinct to conform could help us address the climate crisis.

It is worse, much worse, than you think,” reads the frightening first sentence of The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells’s comprehensive account of what researchers have discovered about our planet’s climate trajectory. The severity of the crisis, he goes on to note, has made some climatologists reluctant to describe its full extent, fearing that such candor might make the challenge we face seem hopeless. The concern is understandable: Previous warnings of impending peril have done little to alter either individual behavior or public policy. Continue reading

Listen To Workers, Especially On This Topic

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Amazon workers lead a walk out to demand that leaders take action on climate change in September. Photograph: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

We hope someone in the upper ranks of Amazon is listening:

Hundreds of workers defy Amazon rules to protest company’s climate failures

Employees ‘needed to stand up for what’s right’ despite policy barring workers from speaking about business

Hundreds of Amazon employees defied corporate policy to publicly criticize the company for failing to meet its “moral responsibility” in the climate crisis.

More than 340 tech workers at Amazon used the hashtag #AMZNSpeakOut in public statements that condemn the company for not taking sufficient action on the climate crisis. Continue reading

Alternative Glitter In The Amazon

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Edmilson Estevão climbs a mature cacao tree to pick the fruit. Photograph: João Laet/The Guardian

In the Authentica shops our featured chocolates are artisanal in terms of production, and both companies are leaders in their own ways–sourcing, packaging, etc.–in terms of sustainability. We are just now tasting chocolates from a third possible supplier, one that farms the cacao organically and is in control of all stages of production and packaging–from farm to bar as they say. When we have their product on our shelves, you will be the first to know, right here. Since our thoughts are already on this topic, special thanks to the Guardian for this story that helps better understand the many ways in which cacao can create a brighter future:

Cacao not gold: ‘chocolate trees’ offer future to Amazon tribes

In Brazil’s largest indigenous reserve thousands of saplings have been planted as an alternative to profits from illegal gold mining

The villagers walk down the grassy landing strip, past the wooden hut housing the health post and into the thick forest, pointing out the seedlings they planted along the way. For these Ye’kwana indigenous men, the skinny saplings, less than a metre high, aren’t just baby cacao trees but green shoots of hope in a land scarred by the violence, pollution and destruction wrought by illegal gold prospecting. That hope is chocolate.

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Cacao seeds, which are dried and roasted to make chocolate. Photograph: João Laet/The Guardian

“We want to plant and develop income for the community,” says Júlio Ye’kwana, 39, president of the Ye’kwana people’s Wanasseduume association, which came up with the idea. “And it is not destructive for the forest.” Continue reading

Small Steps Could Lead to Big Impacts

A Chinese labourer sorting out plastic bottles on the outskirt of Beijing. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

With over a billion consumers, even with exemptions these bans will hopefully have relevant impacts. Thanks once again to the Guardian for bringing these actions to our attention.

China moves to phase out single-use plastics

Plastic bags to be banned in all major cities by end of 2020, says state planner

China is stepping up restrictions on the production, sale and use of single-use plastic products, according to the state planner, as it seeks to tackle one of the country’s biggest environmental problems.

Vast amounts of untreated plastic waste are buried in landfills or dumped in rivers. The United Nations has identified single-use plastics as one of the world’s biggest environmental challenges.

The national development and reform commission and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, which issued the policy, said plastic bags would be banned in all of China’s major cities by the end of 2020 and banned in all cities and towns in 2022. Markets selling fresh produce will be exempt from the ban until 2025. Continue reading

Questions, Answers & Plans For Managing Environmental Challenges

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Experts have identified oceans as a key battleground in the fight to protect humanity’s natural ‘life support system’. Photograph: Christian Loader/Alamy

The plan provides one possible answer, its execution is an important question:

UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Continue reading

Do The Right Thing, As Best You Can

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People demonstrate in support outside the trial of 12 activists who stormed and played tennis inside a Credit Suisse office in November 2018. Photograph: Jean-Christophe Bott/AP

We love Greta. We love Roger. We love a strenuous challenge between two strong contenders, as long as the climate may be the beneficiary:

  • Credit Suisse closely linked with fossil fuel industry
  • #RogerWakeUpNow has been trending on Twitter

Roger Federer has issued a cautiously worded response to mounting criticism, including from climate activist Greta Thunberg, over his sponsorship deal with Credit Suisse. Continue reading

Prepping For Less Food Waste

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Clare Schneider/NPR

End of year stories about what to do differently in the new year may seem overdone, but we find them worth sharing when they touch on a theme we cover regularly. This column has the added value of some funny, some even bizarre suggestions:

Food waste is a big problem in the United States, where a typical household of four tosses out about $1,600 worth of food annually. So, Life Kit did a deep dive on how how to reduce food waste.

In planning that episode, the office was abuzz with conversations about our own tricks and tips to save food — from recipes to compost tips. This made us wonder what other wisdom was out there. So we asked you!

We were overwhelmed by your collective knowledge and thriftiness. Our roundup is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are a few tips we felt inspired by. (If you want to join the conversations, you can find them here on Instagram and Facebook.)

Your tips from Instagram

1. Used coffee grounds can be dried and used in a steak rub or mixed with coconut oil and sugar and used as a body scrub. — @Chefanniecarroll Continue reading

Really, Nestle?

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A proposal for Nestlé to build a water bottling plant in Cascade Locks, Oregon, was one of the most heated battles in the state in its 2016 primary. Photograph: Don Ryan/AP

The fight to stop Nestlé from taking America’s water to sell in plastic bottles

Creek beds are bone dry and once-gushing springs are reduced to trickles as fights play out around the nation over control of nation’s freshwater supply

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The Forest Service recently determined Nestlé’s activities left California’s Strawberry Creek ‘impaired’ while ‘the current water extraction is drying up surface water resources’. Photograph: Nick Todd/Alamy

We are as tired of these stories, and the fights they require, as you may be. Nonetheless, here is a fight we can get behind. Nestlé, once again, back off. Thanks to Tom Perkins and the Guardian:

The network of clear streams comprising California’s Strawberry Creek run down the side of a steep, rocky mountain in a national forest two hours east of Los Angeles. Last year Nestlé siphoned 45m gallons of pristine spring water from the creek and bottled it under the Arrowhead Water label.

Though it’s on federal land, the Swiss bottled water giant paid the US Forest Service and state practically nothing, and it profited handsomely: Nestlé Waters’ 2018 worldwide sales exceeded $7.8bn. Continue reading

Feeding Protesters

We were wondering how this worked. Thanks to Dan Hancox and the Economist for showing us how:

How to feed a protest movement: cooking with Extinction Rebellion

A peek inside the “Rebel Kitchen”

Taste the difference A view of Extinction Rebellion’s catering tent in Trafalgar Square, London

Running a kitchen in the middle of a protest camp presents some unusual operational challenges. “We’re cooking most of the hot food offsite at the moment,” says George Coiley, as he leads me past boiling stove-top kettles, catering-sized saucepans and two volunteers preparing a fruit salad of epic proportions. “The police keep taking our stuff…”

This is Coiley’s fourth Extinction Rebellion kitchen. Staffed by a rotating squad of around 30 volunteers, it serves food and hot drinks 24 hours a day to protesters and anyone else who needs it. All the food is vegan or vegetarian and is assembled from donations. Continue reading

Mourning In The New Timeframe

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The crowd moments after the plaque placement ceremony. The monument is within a few hundred feet of the remaining glacial ice, and is the largest rock in the area. Photograph by Josh Okun

I have always been a morning person. It has something to do with birdsong as a great way to start the day. Now I realize that mourning becomes me as well. Will I tire mourning the loss of nature? Not anytime soon, if I am a practical person. Loss will be the gift that keeps giving, so I may as well develop coping strategies, and share them. In that interest let me recommend a brief eulogy instruction manual.  Midway through, sharing the text on the plaque in the image above:

…“A letter to the future,” the plaque reads in both Icelandic and English. “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”…

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A rare ground rainbow in the Kaldidalur. Photograph by Josh Okun

A punchline follows soon after: “…we are witnessing geologic time collapse on a human scale.”

Lacy M. Johnson has captured my attention with a mix clear, crisp writing, first person perspective, and collaboration on visuals that complement her work perfectly. Near the end of the essay:

…We paused for lunch before the final leg of the hike, and Magnason instructed us to approach the caldera with reverence and humility. Elsewhere in Iceland, he explained, climbing to the summit of a mountain in silence and without looking back is said to grant the hiker three wishes. Wishes are sometimes too grand to be of use, Howe added, but it can be useful to imagine the future we hope to see…

Read the whole essay here.

Proforestation & The Value Of Mature Forests

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Thanks to Yale e360 for this interview that helps us understand the dynamics and differences between mature forests and newly planted forests in terms of carbon sequestration:

Why Keeping Mature Forests Intact Is Key to the Climate Fight

Preserving mature forests can play a vital role in removing CO2 from the atmosphere, says policy scientist William Moomaw. In an e360 interview, he talks about the importance of existing forests and why the push to cut them for fuel to generate electricity is misguided.

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A mature forest in the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts. LIZA DALY/FLICKR

William Moomaw has had a distinguished career as a physical chemist and environmental scientist, helping found the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and serving as lead author on five reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In recent years, Moomaw has turned his attention to working on natural solutions to climate change and has become a leading proponent of what he calls “proforestation” — leaving older and middle-aged forests intact because of their superior carbon-sequestration abilities.

While Moomaw lauds intensifying efforts to plant billions of young trees, he says that preserving existing mature forests will have an even more profound effect on slowing global warming in the coming decades, since immature trees sequester far less CO2 than older ones. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Moomaw explains the benefits of proforestation, discusses the policy changes that would lead to the preservation of existing forests, and sharply criticizes the recent trend of converting forests in the Southeastern U.S. to wood pellets that can be burned to produce electricity in Europe and elsewhere.

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An area of clearcut forest in the Tar-Pamlico River basin in northeastern North Carolina. DOGWOOD ALLIANCE

“The most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their full ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services,” said Moomaw. “Cutting trees to burn them is not a way to get there.”

Yale Environment 360: How do you define proforestation?

William Moomaw: So I began looking at some of the data and some of the papers that had come out recently, and I found that if we managed our forests and grasslands in a different way they could be sequestering twice as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they currently do. Continue reading

Greta’s Generation Says Stop Digging

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Shell said last year that divestment had become a material risk to its business.’ Shell’s Brent Bravo oil rig arrives on Teesside for decommissioning, June 2019. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Bill McKibben explains the movement and its best chance of success:

Divestment works – and one huge bank can lead the way

On 15 October, the European Investment Bank meets to decide its policy on fossil fuels. The hand of history is on its shoulder

Millions of people marched against climate crisis over the past two weeks, in some of the largest demonstrations of the millennium. Most people cheered the students who led the rallies – call them the Greta Generation. But now we’ll start to find out if all their earnest protest actually matters.

Continue reading

Kids Saying It The Way Kids Say Things

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Thanks to Alex Kalman for the story and to Mmuseumm for the photos:

Children Lead the Way: A Gallery of Youth-Made Climate-Strike Signs

signs-4-BIO.jpgWhen is skipping school more important than attending? When is a child’s design more effective than a professional’s? When are children more responsible than adults? On September 20th, millions of children, led by the activist Greta Thunberg, took to the streets to protest the world’s inaction on climate change. Here are some of the signs made by children who participated in the New York City march. Inspiring and confrontational, these signs provide a visual counterpoint to the individual voices of our children as they plead with the powers that be to act, and act responsibly.

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See the entire collection here.

Leave Robinson Crusoe Island Be

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A 1758 map of Robinson Crusoe Island. Photograph: Antiqua Print Gallery/Alamy Stock Photo

A treasure like this, irresistible as gold may be, must remain a thing of the imagination wherever it is buried.

Chile under fire over treasure hunter’s plan to unearth legendary pirate hoard

Archaeologists and environmentalists condemn proposal to use heavy machinery to seek 18th-century trove

The quest for a fabled treasure trove containing jewels, gold and original Incan artifacts – and believed to have been buried on a South Pacific island by 18th century Spanish pirates – could be about to reach its dramatic conclusion.

But the decision to allow a Dutch American textiles magnate to use heavy machinery to dig on Chile’s sparsely populated Juan Fernández Islands has sparked an outraged response from archaeologists and environmentalists.

“The motive is profit, not archaeological interest,” said Alejandra Vidal, the representative of the Chilean College of Archaeologists on the National Monuments Council. “Given the equipment that will be used, there’s a very real risk of artifacts being lost or damaged in the process.”

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‘The motive is profit, not archaeological interest,’ says an archaeologist. Photograph: Svea Pietschmann/Alamy Stock Photo

Bernard Keiser, who has been searching for the hoard for more than two decades, has been granted permission to excavate a 400 sq metre plot near Puerto Inglés on Robinson Crusoe Island, one of the three main volcanic islets that make up the Juan Fernández Archipelago 600 miles off the Chilean coast. Continue reading

A Thoughtful Discussion On The Green New Deal

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Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Thanks to Sarah Jones for The Future Is Ours for the Taking, an updated primer on the big policy bundle proposed to make the USA economy greener, healthier and more prosperous than ever:

In New York City and around the world, millions of people took to the streets on Friday morning. A single demand unified them: Leaders must act, and act now, to stop climate change from getting any worse. “I want you to unite behind science. And then I want you to take real action. Thank you,” Greta Thunberg, the teen climate-change activist from Sweden, told Congress on Wednesday.

And a growing number of climate-change activists have coalesced around an answer to this imperative, a Green New Deal. The proposal, which would transition the U.S. economy to clean energy and create millions of new jobs, has become a rallying cry for organizations like the Sunrise Movement and left-wing Democrats like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Although Ocasio-Cortez helped popularize the Green New Deal, and so has her fellow congressional democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the basic concept is at least 12 years old. Not long after New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called for a “Green New Deal” in 2007, a group of British academics and activists began drafting a substantive proposal that was published in July 2008.

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Photo: Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images

Why do you think it has taken this long for the Green New Deal to catch fire in the public imagination?

For several reasons. Really, it takes an American, doesn’t it? I mean, when the Americans decide something is important, then it suddenly becomes important, and that’s fantastic. But I think what happened back in 2008 was that we were going through this grim financial crisis and London was at the heart of it already thanks to the City of London. We were writing [the British Green New Deal] after the date that I called Detonation Day — on the ninth of August 2007, when interbank lending froze and the system blew up. Continue reading

Are Strikes Going To Get Us To A Solution?

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Illustration by João Fazenda

During last week my attention has been commanded more than at any other time by the increased attention to the perils of climate change and the clamor for action. I do not tire of reading on this subject, in the hope that one day I will read something that will give some hope of progress. Thanks to Elizabeth Kolbert for weighing in on the debate over whether we should admit defeat, or instead insist on finding another way out of the pending doom, in the manner prescribed by a former Vice President of the USA (a country now officially leading a race to the bottom on this issue):

Summits, Strikes, and Climate Change

There are positive signs that the politics of climate change are changing in America. And giving up isn’t really an option.

Late last month, Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, arrived in New York. Thunberg, who is sometimes compared to Joan of Arc and sometimes to Pippi Longstocking, doesn’t fly—the emissions from aviation are too high—so she’d spent two weeks sailing across the Atlantic in a racing boat. When she reached New York Harbor, she told Trevor Noah, on “The Daily Show,” the first thing she noticed was “Suddenly, it smells.”

Thunberg doesn’t adhere to social niceties. (She’s spoken openly about having Asperger’s syndrome.) She began her crusade last year, sitting outside the Swedish parliament building, in Stockholm, handing out flyers that read “I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future.” It’s a trait particularly well suited to the cause she’s taken up: on no other issue is the gap between what’s politically acceptable and what’s scientifically necessary wider than it is on climate change. In an address to the French parliament, in July, Thunberg put it this way: “Maybe you are simply not mature enough to tell it like it is, because even that burden you leave to us children. We become the bad guys who have to tell people these uncomfortable things, because no one else wants to, or dares to.” Continue reading