The Largest Environmental Change You Never Heard Of

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A 3-D model of the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on Earth. Most of what we know about its topography has been gathered by sonar. Only three crewed expeditions have reached the bottom. (Data Design Co)

Our goal of highlighting stories mostly about solutions to environmental issues is being challenged more and more, here being the latest example:

History’s Largest Mining Operation Is About to Begin

It’s underwater—and the consequences are unimaginable.

Unless you are given to chronic anxiety or suffer from nihilistic despair, you probably haven’t spent much time contemplating the bottom of the ocean. Many people imagine the seabed to be a vast expanse of sand, but it’s a jagged and dynamic landscape with as much variation as any place onshore. Mountains surge from underwater plains, canyons slice miles deep, hot springs billow through fissures in rock, and streams of heavy brine ooze down hillsides, pooling into undersea lakes.

These peaks and valleys are laced with most of the same minerals found on land. Continue reading

Stop Funding Arctic Drilling

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‘The Arctic refuge is not just a piece of land with oil underneath. It’s the heart of our people; our food security, way of life and very survival depends on its protection.’ Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to the Guardian for this op-ed by Bernadette Demientieff:

Goldman Sachs agreed to stop funding Arctic drilling. Will other banks join them?

If banks destroy our homeland, they’ll have the Gwich’in Nation, and the millions of Americans who stand with us, to answer to

Last fall, I traveled more than 4,000 miles from my home in Alaska to meet with major banks and urge them to help protect the Arctic national wildlife refuge from destructive oil drilling and exploration. In all the years I’ve worked to defend this place, we’ve been focused on trying to make our voices heard by leaders in the White House or in Congress, and I never thought I’d be sitting in a conference room on the 43rd floor of Goldman Sachs’ global headquarters in downtown New York, talking about the Arctic refuge. Continue reading

More Plastic Is The New Plastic

I am holding one such bag, made from recycled newspaper, in a post from 2011

In Kerala, India between 2010 and 2017 we tackled the issue of plastic in the hospitality operations we were responsible for. We started with the elimination of plastic bags, as Michael and our other interns Allegra and Sung reported at the time. With success on that front we moved on to the elimination of plastic water bottles, and the investment that required was much more substantial, not least because tourist guide books always warned travelers to India to only drink from plastic water bottles. We made progress, which was very particular to that place and time, but still this news reported by Beth Gardiner in Yale e360 is particularly frustrating:

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The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants — their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom — come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output. Continue reading

It Bears Repeating

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A bald eagle in Tongass National Forest, Alaska. MAURO TOCCACELI/ALAMY

These are times that test our patience. Obvious, right? So is the subject of this essay. And yet, it bears saying, and repeating, precisely because of the times we find ourselves in. So thanks to Mr. Heacox for saying so and to Yale e360 for publishing it:

Let It Be: Why We Must Save Alaska’s Pristine Tongass Forest

At 17 million acres, Alaska’s Tongass is the largest U.S. national forest and the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. Now, the Trump administration wants to resume large-scale logging in the Tongass, one of several initiatives threatening some of Alaska’s wildest lands.

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Fog rises from forest near Ford’s Terror, a narrow fjord in the Tongass. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

When the railroad tycoon Edward H. Harriman fell ill from stress and too much work, his doctors recommended that he take a sea cruise. Unable to do anything in a small way, Harriman filled a ship with America’s foremost scientists, artists, and writers, and sailed the coast of Alaska for two months in the summer of 1899.

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A forest view in the Tongass, the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest. WOLFGANG KAEHLER / LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

The expedition, which also included the renowned preservationists John Muir and George Bird Grinnell, found two Alaskas wherever they went, one for the taking, one for the saving. Each at odds with the other. Foremost among the places for saving was the great coastal rainforest of the Southeast Alaska panhandle, a wondrous world of mountains, ice fields, tidewater glaciers, rock-ribbed fjords, coastal brown bears, bald eagles, and 11,000 miles of shoreline.

Eight years later, in 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt took a bold step in that direction by creating the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States. Today, the Tongass contains two national monuments and 19 designated wilderness areas. It also has countless undammed rivers and streams, and some of the world’s last great runs of wild Pacific salmon. Continue reading

Capsules = Pods = Waste

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The greatest trick companies ever played was making us think we could recycle their products. The New York Times

My most recent reference to pods could have been the last. Enough said. But my eye was caught by the title of this item yesterday, and all day I kept wondering whether I need to know more about the confidence game that has been, and is, recycling. Deciding this morning to click through I was rewarded with an update on my favorite coffee scandal. Insult on top of injury. Surprised by that? Nope. My thanks to Tala Schlossberg and Nayeema Raza for this creative op-ed video, and accompanying text:

The Great Recycling Con

The greatest trick corporations ever played was making us think we could recycle their products…

Foods For Thought

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Composite: Alamy/Getty

Thanks to Clare Finney, writing for the Guardian, for a reminder, and some cases surprises, about foods we may love but should consider the consequences of:

To eat or not to eat: 10 of the world’s most controversial foods

From beef to cod to avocados to soya, many of our best-loved foods raise big ethical and environmental questions. What do the experts say?

Deforestation. Child labour. Pollution. Water shortages. The more we learn about the side-effects of food production, the more the act of feeding ourselves becomes fraught with anxiety. How can we be sure that certain foods are “good” or “bad” for society and the planet? As Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University of London and the co-author of Sustainable Diets, puts it: “When you come to ‘judge’ food, you end up with an enormous list of variables, from taste to health outcomes to biodiversity.” Here are some of today’s most controversial products – and some thoughts that may help you when shopping. Continue reading

The Word Is Out

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Oxford said the choice reflected the rise in climate awareness and the language we use to discuss it. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

These annual declarations are often silly, but even when silly they say something about what we are thinking and talking more about. This is not exactly good news, except that it beats the alternative (not thinking or talking about it):

Oxford Dictionaries declares ‘climate emergency’ the word of 2019

Usage of the term increased 100-fold in the space of 12 months, dictionary says

Oxford Dictionaries has declared “climate emergency” the word of the year for 2019, following a hundred-fold increase in usage that it says demonstrated a “greater immediacy” in the way we talk about the climate.

Defined as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it”, Oxford said the words soared from “relative obscurity” to “one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.” Continue reading

Beware The Cryptocurrency Footprint

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Computer screen listing cryptocurrencies (stock image). Credit: © Colin Cramm / Adobe Stock

Thanks to Science Daily for this summary of Environmental cost of cryptocurrency mines – Monetary price of health and air quality impacts:

Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Monero — the names of digital-based ‘cryptocurrencies’ are being heard more and more frequently. But despite having no physical representation, could these new methods of exchange actually be negatively impacting our planet? It’s a question being asked by researchers at The University of New Mexico, who are investigating the environmental impacts of mining cryptocurrencies.

“What is most striking about this research is that it shows that the health and environmental costs of cryptocurrency mining are substantial; larger perhaps than most people realized,” said Benjamin Jones, UNM Researcher and asst. professor of economics. Continue reading

Convenience & Connivance

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‘I think we’ve taken convenience and just turned it into a monster,’ said Shaymah Ansari.
Photograph: Francis Gardler/AP

I acknowledge it has not been easy to eliminate plastic from my life. Plastic is everywhere. It is ubiquitous in developing economies as well as in more developed economies. But since recycling is costly, then at least radically reducing its use is important. So consider how seductive convenience is, and how conniving companies can be:

US recycling event is cover for enormous volume of plastic pollution, say critics

America Recycles Day promoted by EPA is brainchild of not-for-profit backed by companies that produce plastic products

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 Packaging for plastic food items that cannot be accepted for recycling. Photograph: Emily Holden/The Guardian

America’s government-backed national recycling awareness day is being used as cover by large corporations that are churning out enormous volumes of plastic that end up strewn across landscapes, rivers and in the ocean, critics have said.

The second annual America Recycles Day event on Friday is being vigorously promoted by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a way to encourage Americans to recycle more.

But critics point out that the initiative is the brainchild of Keep America Beautiful, a not-for-profit founded and backed by large companies that produce vast quantities of plastic products that end up as pollution.

Current backers include Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsico, and Altria, the tobacco giant formerly known as Phillip Morris. Decades of campaigns by the group have emphasized individual responsibility for plastic recycling, which data reveals to be a largely broken system. Continue reading

Really, E.P.A.?

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Matthew Brown/Associated Press

Of all the knuckle-headed ideas, this headline says knuckle louder than most:

E.P.A. to Limit Science Used to Write Public Health Rules

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.

A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. E.P.A. officials called the plan a step toward transparency and said the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently. Continue reading

Big Cats Of The South, Present & Future

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 A Brazilian soldier swims in the Negro river holding Jiquitaia, a two-year-old jaguar that was adopted by the military command of the Amazon. Jiquitaia was rescued as a cub after hunters killed his mother. Photograph: None Mangueira/AP

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A jaguar in the Yasuni national park, Orellana, Ecuador. Photograph: Lucas Bustamante/NPL

Ecuador is mentioned in the title but is not the only country where deforestation is putting at risk the survival of one of the big predator species in the hemisphere. Thanks to Kimberley Brown, writing in the Guardian, for her reporting from our neighborhood to the south on one of the animals we have featured the most in our pages over the years:

Ecuador’s vanishing jaguars: the big cat vital to rainforest survival

Industries such as coffee and cacao have devastated the jaguar’s habitat, but its dwindling numbers leave a delicate ecosystem hanging in the balance

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Jaguars are found across South America. This one was photographed deep inside the Nouragues Natural Reserve, in French Guiana. Photograph: Emmanuel Rondeau/WWF France

Across the American continent, from the north of Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has long been revered for its strength and power. But in some parts of Ecuador, the largest cat in South America is increasingly at risk as roads, mining and agriculture take over the rainforests.

The loss of habitat is the biggest threat to jaguars in Ecuador, particularly along the coast, where more than 70% of the original forest cover has been lost. The vast majority of this destruction has taken place over the last 50 years with the expansion of the logging and agriculture industries, including coffee, cacao, palm oil and bananas, one of the country’s largest agriculture exports. 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

Sumatra & Creative Conservation

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Traditional houses in West Sumatra. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

Finding this story by Mike Ives, with Topher White getting up into the trees for a good purpose, brightens the day just a little bit:

Using Old Cellphones to Listen for Illegal Loggers

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Topher White installing a solar-powered listening unit in a rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in July. Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

PAKAN RABAA, Indonesia — This village in West Sumatra, a lush province of volcanoes and hilly rain forests, had a problem with illegal loggers.

They were stealing valuable hardwood with impunity. At first, a group of local people put a fence across the main road leading into the forest, but it was flimsy and proved no match for the interlopers. Continue reading

When A Company Says One Thing And Does Another

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Eric Schmidt being interviewing on Bloomberg in 2014. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

We usually introduce a story for context. No introduction needed (or possible) in this case, just thanks to the Guardian for sharing it:

The obscure law that explains why Google backs climate deniers

Company wants to curry favour with conservatives to protect its ‘section 230’ legal immunity

Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers

When Eric Schmidt was asked on a radio show in 2014 why Google was supporting an ultra-conservative climate-denying pressure group in Washington, the then chairman of the internet giant offered an unequivocal response: it was wrong and Google was not going to do it again.

Continue reading

Understanding The Illogic Of Dams

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The Lower Granite Dam on the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington. GREG VAUGHN / ALAMY

Jacques Leslie, a veteran writer whose specialty in one of the most-used sources of alternative energy makes him a natural for our platform, somehow has never appeared in our pages before. Dams and the rivers they change are a special case of our interest in conservation, and stories about dam removal are worth the read every time. Here is a clear explanation of one river’s history and future related to dams, and the prospects for dam removal–if you have not read one of these stories yet to understand the historic case for dams and their present illogical realities, this may be the one you want to read:

On the Northwest’s Snake River, the Case for Dam Removal Grows

As renewable energy becomes cheaper than hydropower and the presence of dams worsens the plight of salmon, pressure is mounting in the Pacific Northwest to take down four key dams on the lower Snake River that critics say have outlived their usefulness.

North America’s largest Pacific watershed, the Columbia River Basin, is in the midst of an environmental and energy crisis so severe that the most obvious, yet hotly contested, antidote — removal of four dams on the Columbia’s longest tributary, the Snake River — is gaining traction.

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The hydropower dams have been controversial since before their completion, between 1962 and 1975, because of their disastrous impact on salmon and the other 137 species that are part of the salmon food chain. Most of the Columbia Basin’s 250-plus dams have played roles in the salmon’s decline, but the four lower Snake River dams are prime targets for removal because their economic value has diminished and their absence would inordinately benefit salmon. 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

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

Dark Plastic

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It is likely that marine debris kills hundreds of thousands of sea birds, turtles, and marine mammals each year. Photograph by Paulo Oliveira / Alamy

It is a 10-15 minute read with a two hour hangover of depression. But a must-read. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for getting us very clear on the problem of plastic in our oceans:

In The Spirit Of These Times

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Illustration by Leonardo Santamaria

The last time Jonathan Franzen appeared in our pages he was watching birds, which he has a habit of doing. But he has the power of the pen, more than most, to wield on topics related to the environment. At the core of his argument in this essay below he makes a point that has been the point of this platform since it started: since major environmental issues are difficult if not impossible for individuals to effect change on, we must each carry out our small, singular deeds. Highlighting good acts is an important element of that.

What If We Stopped Pretending?

The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.

“There is infinite hope,” Kafka tells us, “only not for us.” This is a fittingly mystical epigram from a writer whose characters strive for ostensibly reachable goals and, tragically or amusingly, never manage to get any closer to them. But it seems to me, in our rapidly darkening world, that the converse of Kafka’s quip is equally true: There is no hope, except for us. Continue reading