By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours. Continue reading →
Costa Rican wildlife was the theme of reception in February to formally introduce the government’s decarbonization strategy.
Somini Sengupta and her colleague Alexander Villegas published a story yesterday that resonates with the explanations Amie and I gave friends and family about our original decision to live in Costa Rica. It also resonates with the decision we made recently to return. In 2010 when we moved to Kerala it was not clear when, or even if, we would be back here. But our work in India was intertwined with Costa Rica’s evergreen pioneering role in the global conversation about conservation. So we are back. And the evergreen is appreciated, especially in the way Costa Rica’s president and his wife tell the story within a story.
A diesel commuter train in San José. The government plans to replace older trains with electric models.
Despite it’s diminutive size, Costa Rica been at the forefront of the climate change conversation. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. These statistics give both an added incentive to focus energies on shifting the juggernaut of climate change and the ecological soapbox from which to be heard.
Costa Rica has an infrastructural uphill climb, most specifically with transportation as is illustrated below, but the country has stood its ground successfully in the past. When we think of the country’s road network in the mid-1990s relative to the roads today, it gives one of many reasons to be optimistic:
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a green big deal for a tiny sliver of a country. Costa Rica, population 5 million, wants to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2050, and the chief evangelist of the idea is a 38-year-old urban planner named Claudia Dobles who also happens to be the first lady. Continue reading →
There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading →
A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about librariescountless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.
Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.
This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.
Is the public library obsolete?
A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.
Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.
But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading →
Slat cares deeply about the environment, but, for him, the appeal of cleaning the oceans is also about puzzle solving. Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro
In the pantheon of writers we have linked out to since 2011, of those who focus on science and/or environmental issues Carolyn Kormann is a relatively recent arrival. Since I started noticing her work three years ago she has started 2019 with an especially strong duo of stories. One is a longform profile and a must-read if you have been even just glancing at the headlines about giant garbage patches swirling in the ocean. How to deal with epic waste after the fact, after the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach that has been building this mess for decades, is no simple matter. Nor is the man she introduces us to.
Last year, the U.S.’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent, the second-largest gain in the past two decades.Photograph by Fernando Moleres / Panos Pictures / Redux
The profile of Slat is compelling, disturbing and inconclusive–hallmarks of the type of profile I most appreciate when the subject involves seemingly intractable environmental challenges. The other item is shorter, with a pair of metaphors for economic periods that I wish I had known earlier. If you only have time for one, read about William Nordhaus’s many contributions to the otherwise dismal science, especially his description of the economic transformation from my lifetime to that of the next generation:
In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.” Toward the end of his landmark paper, “Resources as a Constraint on Growth,” Nordhaus discussed the possible adverse effects of energy consumption, most notably the “greenhouse effect.” Continue reading →
You might expect that Paul Collier, a noted development economist at Oxford who has devoted most of his professional life to the uplift of the global poor, would see himself as a “citizen of the world.” But that’s not quite right. Collier grew up in Sheffield, a once-flourishing English steel town that provided working-class families like his own with a modicum of prosperity and stability, and that has since struggled in the face of import competition and the loss of many of its most ambitious citizens to London and other dynamic cities. He attributes his prodigious accomplishments in no small part to the cooperative character of the community, and the nation, in which he was raised.
National loyalty, far from being inimical to a more just and decent world in which all, including the world’s poorest, can flourish, is seen by Collier as a firmer foundation for global cooperation than abstract cosmopolitanism, which all too often serves as a mask for unenlightened self-interest. The question animating his small but wide-ranging book “The Future of Capitalism” is whether the sense of rootedness that so defined the Britain of his youth can be restored…
Read the whole review here. My second encounter with Paul Collier was this panel discussion on Intelligence Squared. The way in which the world’s developing economies view capitalism is as important as the current changes in how mature developed economies view capitalism. For that reason I am also looking forward to Mariana Mazzucato’s most recent book, to the right. Surprisingly I had never heard of her before listening to her muse about various influences in her life that led to her distinct voice on how value is created by societies. Her self-introduction makes me wonder how she did not show up in our pages previously:
I’m a Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London (UCL), and Director of UCL’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose . My work is focused on the economics of innovation; patient finance; economic growth and the role of the State in modern capitalism. I advise policy makers around the world on how to achieve economic growth that is more innovation-led, inclusive and sustainable. My 2013 book, The Entrepreneurial State: debunking public vs. private sector myths, looks at the ‘investor of first resort’ role that the State has played in the history of technological change — from the Internet, to biotech and clean-tech — and the implications for future innovation and for achieving public-private partnerships that are more symbiotic. In 2016 I co-edited a book called Rethinking Capitalism: Economics and Policy for Sustainable and Inclusive Growth focusing on the need for new economic thinking to drive more effective economic policies. My new book The Value of Everything, available in UK and US edition, looks at the need to revisit the difference between value creation and value extraction, and the problems that arise when one is confused with the other.
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.
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.
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 →
The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association’s book fair in 2013 in London. It said it was dropping AbeBooks as a sponsor of its 2019 book fair. Credit Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Above is the lead photo in an intriguing story of an act of protest, reported by by David Streitfeld. Reading it, no surprise that he won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting five years ago in a series of stories about Apple. Now his attention is placed on another company that has come to have an outsized role in the world, and needs explanation, and as I see it, deep concern. It is a company that I have only rarely, and only when I had no acceptable alternative, paid money to. When I have bought from them I have regretted it each time, even though the price I paid was the lowest available and the service was remarkable. Why do I resist doing business with that company and why do I wish others would do the same? That is a puzzle worth solving, and I hope that journalists are up to the task. Today, the headline proclaims:
The company is said to be nearing deals to move to Long Island City in Queens and Arlington, Va., though a final decision has not been announced.
The surprise change would allow the tech giant to tap into the talent pools of two different regions.
Bezos during his appearance at Economic Club of Washington, in September. Photograph by Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / Getty
Exciting stuff for the politicians who want to claim credit for Amazon’s choice. But there’s a very big story behind all that. The company is powerful, and what is said about power leading to corruption is too simple for this story, and for the man leading this powerful enterprise.
I can find no reason to dislike Jeff Bezos personally. Any entrepreneur can find reasons to admire his intelligence, his determination and his contrarian approach. Every time I see him in recorded interview video I find his enthusiasm and laughter contagious. But I have had growing concern in the last decade about the company he founded, because of all the ways the lives of everyone around me seem to feed into Amazon’s market power. If you have time to read only one article on this topic today, it should probably be this one about Amazon’s location choice for HQ2:
Jeff Bezos in Seattle, which will lose its status as the sole headquarters of Amazon. Photograph by Kyle Johnson / NYT / Redux
On October 21, 2016, an entity called the Cherry Revocable Trust purchased two adjacent buildings in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C., for twenty-three million dollars. The buildings, which previously had housed the Textile Museum, were to be converted into a private residence—at twenty-seven thousand square feet, the largest in the city. In January, it was revealed that the anonymous purchaser represented by the Cherry Revocable Trust was Jeff Bezos, the founder and C.E.O. of Amazon. The finished property will have eleven bedrooms, twenty-five bathrooms, five staircases, and a large ballroom suitable for gatherings of Washington’s notables. It will be, in the words of the journalist Ben Wofford, “a veritable Death Star of Washington entertaining.”
In July, Jeff Bezos became the richest man in modern history, when his net worth topped a hundred and fifty billion dollars. In September, Amazon became the second company, after Apple, to achieve a trillion-dollar valuation. These two milestones in the history of this country and capitalism passed with little fanfare outside the business world, preoccupied as we are by the antics of the pretend mogul who resides in the White House. But Bezos, an actual mogul, has also been making moves in Washington, none more high-profile than his purchase of the Washington Post, in 2013. More quietly, Amazon is investing heavily in the area. Continue reading →
America’s social infrastructure is falling apart, and it’s hurting democracy.
Every four years, the American Society for Civil Engineers issues grades for the nation’s infrastructure. In the most recent evaluation, released in 2017, America’s overall infrastructure score was a D+, the same as in 2013. Although seven systems, including hazardous waste and levees, received modestly better grades than in the previous assessment, transit and solid waste, among others, did worse. Aviation (D), roads (D), drinking water (D), and energy (D+), retained their miserably low scores. Continue reading →
At the S.M.U. library in Dallas, Ms. Khan was finding inspiration from books that predated the price-based era of monopoly law. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
I have resisted placing orders through Amazon about as steadfastly as humanly possible in the economic and cultural life Amazon has now taken such a prodigious role in. I have had plenty of hints of what the key points are in the growing debate about the company and why to resist it. Thanks to this excellent profile by David Streitfeld, I have a better understanding of why this is so important, and thanks to Lina Khan I have faith that the only way to counter prodigious power is with the power of prodigy:
With a single scholarly article, Lina Khan, 29, has reframed decades of monopoly law.
In early 2017, when she was an unknown law student, Lina Khan published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
The dead books are on the top floor of Southern Methodist University’s law library.
“Antitrust Dilemma.” “The Antitrust Impulse.” “Antitrust in an Expanding Economy.” Shelf after shelf of volumes ignored for decades. There are a dozen fat tomes with transcripts of the congressional hearings on monopoly power in 1949, when the world was in ruins and the Soviets on the march. Lawmakers believed economic concentration would make America more vulnerable.
At the end of the antitrust stacks is a table near the window. “This is my command post,” said Lina Khan.
It’s nothing, really. A few books are piled up haphazardly next to a bottle with water and another with tea. Ms. Khan was in Dallas quite a bit over the last year, refining an argument about monopoly power that takes aim at one of the most admired, secretive and feared companies of our era: Amazon.
Mary Nichols, who heads the California Air Resources Board, has vowed to fight the federal government’s proposed changes. Credit Eric Risberg/Associated Press
It’s been a while since we’ve addressed our “model mad” theme, despite there being numerous opportunities. We’re continually heartened by the strength of both the public and the private sector to pushback against the current administration’s regressive proposals.
California went on the offensive Tuesday against the Trump administration’s plan to weaken fuel-efficiency rules for cars, laying out a scathing rebuttal that the state’s clean-air regulator said would shape the battle with Washington in the coming months and years.
The state’s target is one of President Trump’s most consequential environmental rollbacks to date, a proposal unveiled last week to let cars pollute more while stripping California of its right to set its own air-quality rules.
The administration’s proposal “is contrary to the facts and the law,” the California document says, before refuting point by point the Trump administration’s arguments for weakening the nation’s long-term goals for making vehicles more fuel efficient and less polluting.
The clash between California and Washington threatens to throw the United States auto market into disarray. Because California has the authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own air pollution rules, and because a dozen other states follow its lead, the dispute could effectively split the nation’s market into two, one side adhering to stringent emissions rules set in Sacramento and the other to weaker federal standards.
Click below for the second episode of the podcast I mentioned last week. The answer to the question, whether Facebook is fixable, was a surprise. Although we use that platform, if passively, to promote entrepreneurial conservation in our businesses, I personally chose not to have an account. It was only recently that I began appreciating the value of that decision. Now, something similar with Amazon, for which I have had equal measures of awe and wariness. This episode helps me understand the details that make my instinctive wariness insufficient.
Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.
There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition.
Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system
America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading →
It is Monday, a good time to revisit the “meatless” movement, the one where you take one small step at a time to a better diet. Thanks to Bibi van der Zee and colleagues at the Guardian for arranging this guide to all the good reasons to reduce or eliminate meat from the diet:
As concerns over the huge impact on the environment, human health and animal welfare grow, what future is there for the meat industry
What are the economics of meat?
Cattle in the Brazilian Amazon. Photograph: Rodrigo Baleia
Food and farming is one of the biggest economic sectors in the world. We are no longer in the 14th century, when as much as 76% of the population worked in agriculture – but farming still employs more than 26% of all workers globally. And that does not include the people who work along the meat supply chain: the slaughterers, packagers, retailers and chefs.
In 2016, the world’s meat production was estimated at 317m metric tons, and that is expected to continue to grow. Figures for the value of the global meat industry vary wildly from $90bn to as much as $741bn. Continue reading →
SAN FRANCISCO — Creating a new Bitcoin requires electricity. A lot of it.
An employee at a Bitmain facility in Inner Mongolia, one of the biggest Bitcoin farms in the world.Credit Giulia Marchi for The New York Times
In the virtual currency world this creation process is called “mining.” There is no physical digging, since Bitcoins are purely digital. But the computer power needed to create each digital token consumes at least as much electricity as the average American household burns through in two years, according to figures from Morgan Stanley and Alex de Vries, an economist who tracks energy use in the industry.
The total network of computers plugged into the Bitcoin network consumes as much energy each day as some medium-size countries — which country depends on whose estimates you believe. And the network supporting Ethereum, the second-most valuable virtual currency, gobbles up another country’s worth of electricity each day. Continue reading →
Square Roots, on the site of the former Pfizer building in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where produce is grown in 10 shipping containers using only enhanced water and LEDs. Credit Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
Ruffled feathers of slow food pioneers aside, Kimbal Musk’s projects focus on the link between food and community and his passion to make real food accessible to more people.
Kimbal Musk, 45, got rich working in tech alongside his older brother, Elon. Now he wants to do for food what his brother has done for electric cars and space travel.
Although Mr. Musk has food ventures humming along in Colorado, where he lives, as well as in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, he has become enamored of places like Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio — parts of the country he believes are the ripest for a revolution in eating and agriculture…
Mr. Musk is promoting a philosophy he calls “real food,” which nourishes the body, the farmer and the planet. It doesn’t sound much different than what writers like Michael Pollan and everyone who has ever helped start a farmers’ market or community garden have preached for years.
But Mr. Musk has big ideas about what the Silicon Valley crowd likes to call the food space, which is as exciting to him as the internet was in 1995. “We’ve never seen this kind of innovation around food,” he said.
In short, he wants to create a network of business, educational and agricultural ventures big enough to swing the nation’s food system back to one based on healthy, local food grown on chemical-free farms.
“Food is this beautiful gift we give each other three times a day,” he’ll often tell a crowd, “but you couldn’t design a worse food system than what we have.”
The Google logo is spelled out in heliostats (mirrors that track the sun and reflect the sunlight onto a central receiving point) during a tour of the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in the Mojave Desert near the California-Nevada border February 13, 2014. The project, a partnership of NRG, BrightSource, Google and Bechtel, is the world’s largest solar thermal facility and uses 347,000 sun-facing mirrors to produce 392 Megawatts of electricity, enough energy to power more than 140,000 homes. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters
The often maligned Calvin Coolidge quote the “Business of America is Business” takes on a positive note when we consider that in the current political climate many corporations are stepping up where the federal administration falls short.
After the November elections, many of us in the climate and energy fields were rightfully fearful. What would happen to international agreements to cut greenhouse gases? What would happen to funding for climate research? What would happen to the green energy revolution?
In most instances, Trump is worse than we could have imagined. But in one special area, the president may not matter. That is in the growth of corporate purchasing of renewable energy. It turns out there are factors that even he cannot stop that make choosing renewable energy an easy decision for many companies.
New evidence about the unstoppable renewable energy wave recently came out in a report that was released by Apex Clean Energy and the GreenBiz Group. These groups surveyed corporations to determine their future plans on renewable energy installation and adoption. They wanted to know whether these plans had changed in the past few years and what motivated their decisions to implement renewable energy strategies. The outcome of this survey is available here for people who want to read the entire document.
The groups surveyed 153 major corporations (both public and private), whose combined revenue was in excess of $250 million. Among these companies, 84% are “actively pursuing or considering purchasing renewable energy over the next 5-10 years.” Surprisingly, they found that 43% of the corporations intend to be more aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy in the next two years. 87% of those actively pursuing renewable energy purchases stated that the election had no impact on their decision.
Dairy cows in Fresno County, Calif. Some of the reductions in a state proposal to reduce emissions would come from curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from manure piles at dairy farms. Credit Scott Smith/Associated Press
Over the past decade, California has passed a sweeping set of climate laws to test a contentious theory: that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond what any other state has done and still enjoy robust economic growth.
Now that theory faces its biggest test yet. Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated.
A male chimpanzee hooting in the wild forests of western Uganda. Deforestation in the country is occurring at some of the fastest rates on Earth, shrinking the habitat of this endangered species. Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures
Thanks to the New York Times for this refresher on the basics of climate change and what is needed that we can most easily do to counter its effects:
The tropical forests in western Uganda, home to a dwindling population of endangered chimpanzees, are disappearing at some of the fastest rates on Earth as local people chop down trees for charcoal and to clear space for subsistence farming.
Now, a team of researchers has shown that there is a surprisingly cheap and easy way to slow the pace of deforestation in Uganda: Just pay landowners small sums not to cut down their trees. Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, demonstrated this by conducting something all too rare in environmental policy — a controlled experiment. Continue reading →
Mangroves play an essential role in maintaining healthy life on earth, and we’ve been privileged to work in many locations where we’ve seen their impact on biodiversity levels first-hand, including India.
Frequently these ecosystems are under threat of habitat loss, whether for agricultural or land development. Thanks again to Anthropocene for adding up the facts in such clear terms.
Conservationists frequently say that ecosystems are worth more when they’re left untouched. But to whom? Local communities who could potentially farm the land might wonder, what’s the real benefit of leaving wild areas intact?
In the Bhitarkanika mangrove in Odisha, India, a group of Indian researchers grappling with this question have arrived at a surprising answer. By leaving the mangrove intact, they say, Bhitarkanika’s surrounding communities can in fact reap almost double the economic benefits they’d get from simply converting the mangrove to crops. Continue reading →