Doomsday Discussion

Each day we scan the news for stories that will help make sense of the environmental challenges facing humanity, with special attention to potential solutions and collective action taken to rise up to those challenges. Earlier this year we declined to link out to this story that was a collection of doomsday scenarios:

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The Uninhabitable Earth

Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

By David Wallace-Wells

This article reporting on a recent panel at Harvard University has caused us to reconsider the decision:

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Nikhil Advani (from left), David Wallace-Wells, Elizabeth Wolkovich, Nancy Knowlton, and Campbell Webb.

…Unfortunately, that vision isn’t fiction, but rather Wallace-Wells’ summation of climate change’s little-discussed worst-case scenario for the year 2100.

“I think there’s real value in scaring people,” the journalist said Wednesday during a panel at the Geological Museum, sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The event, “Hope and Despair: Communicating an Uncertain Future,” explored whether doom and gloom are more effective than hope in spurring climate action. Panelists agreed that fear is a potentially powerful lever, but also insisted on the importance of covering success stories. Progress is an important motivator, keeping people from succumbing to despair in the face of bad news. Continue reading

Victory Favoring Earth, We Hope

Lisa Friedman appears twice on today’s landing page of the newspaper she works for, once as co-host on a video, below, about Alaska; and again as host of an equally important story in the form of an interview, also captured on this video titled Jerry Brown on How to Fix Global Warming.

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How can policymakers fight climate change in the face of political headwinds? Gov. Jerry Brown of California addresses that question at ClimateTECH, a conference from The New York Times, in a conversation with Thomas L. Friedman. By THE NEW YORK TIMES on Publish DateNovember 29, 2017. Photo by Friedemann Vogel/European Pressphoto Agency.  Watch in Times Video »

Nebraska & Keystone

 

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On the back of the Keystone fight, an entire new front in the climate fight has emerged. Photograph by Nati Harnik / AP

Difficult to believe:

Nebraska Sort of Approves the Keystone Pipeline

By Bill McKibben

In the summer of 2011, National Journal polled a group of “energy and environment insiders” in Washington, D.C., to ask if the Keystone XL pipeline would be approved. “Virtually all” of them said yes; by a landslide, they predicted that TransCanada Corporation would have the permits in hand by the end of that year. They didn’t reckon, however, with an outpouring of opposition, including from a group I helped found, 350.org. Continue reading

New Zealand, Invasive Species & Gene Editing

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Thanks to Ed Yong and his editors at The Atlantic for this story on one country’s approach to rats:

New Zealand’s War on Rats Could Change the World

The nation wants to eradicate all invasive mammal predators by 2050. Gene-editing technology could help—or it could trigger an ecological disaster of global proportions.

The first thing that hit me about Zealandia was the noise.

I was a 15-minute drive from the center of Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, but instead of the honks of horns or the bustle of passersby, all I could hear was birdsong. It came in every flavor—resonant coos, high-pitched cheeps, and alien notes that seemed to come from otherworldly instruments. Continue reading

Heroes Come And Go, Climate Change Marches On

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For all their tough-on-carbon rhetoric, Governor Jerry Brown, of California, and other leaders are ignoring a key component of the fight against global warming. Photograph by Lukas Schulze / Getty

The song Kermit used to sing was cute. Until it was no longer cute. Saying it is not easy is a vast understatement in an era when bombast reigns. Bill McKibben, who we probably highlight more in these pages than any other single author, reminds us of this every time we read what he has to say. If you can call it a luxury, McKibben is more free to speak truth to power than a normally standup politician, who sometimes will take a position that pure activists are correct to oppose. Case in point, here is an erstwhile leader who pure activists will not allow to have it both ways:

Why Governor Jerry Brown Was Booed at the Bonn Climate Summit

Spare a little pity for Jerry Brown. The California governor has been standing up admirably to Donald Trump on many issues, but especially on climate change—even threatening to launch scientific satellites to replace the ones that Washington wants to ground. This week, he’s in Bonn, Germany, at the global climate talks, spearheading the drive to show that America’s states and cities have not forsaken the promises made last year in Paris. On Saturday, barely a minute into his big prime-time talk, Brown was rewarded for his pains with booing. He was visibly startled when demonstrators interrupted his speech and began chanting, “Keep it in the ground!” Continue reading

The Business of Arctic Anti-Stewardship

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The upper Colville River and headwaters on Alaska’s North Slope | Joel Sartore

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.40.28 AMThanks to Christopher Solomon, contributing editor at Outside magazine, for this important story published in the New York Times. The interactive element highlighting each ecosystem, followed by migration visuals drive home the extremity and unprecedented nature of the policies that the federal government of the United States of America is now promoting.

America’s Wildest Place Is Open for Business

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 8.42.01 AMSeveral years ago a mapping expert pinpointed the most remote place in the Lower 48 states. The spot was in the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, 20 miles from the nearest road. Roman Dial read the news and wasn’t much impressed. To him, 20 miles — the distance a hungry man could walk in a long day — didn’t seem very remote at all.

Mr. Dial is a professor of biology and mathematics at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and a National Geographic explorer. He decided to figure out the most remote place in the entire nation. His calculations led him to the northwest corner of Alaska, where the continent tilts toward the Arctic Ocean. The spot lay on the Ipnavik River on the North Slope, 119 miles west of the Haul Road (otherwise known as the Dalton Highway), which brings supplies and roughnecks to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay. Continue reading

Speaking for the Trees

‘Hope, courage and anger’: The Indigenous Guardians of the Forest caravan to Bonn, in front of the French National Assembly in Paris last week. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Guardian

Thanks once again to the Guardian for sharing these stories from the front line.

‘For us, the land is sacred’: on the road with the defenders of the world’s forests

Of the many thousands of participants at the Bonn climate conference which begins on 6 November, there will arguably be none who come with as much hope, courage and anger as the busload of indigenous leaders who have been criss-crossing Europe over the past two weeks, on their way to the former German capital.

The 20 activists on the tour represent forest communities that have been marginalised over centuries but are now increasingly recognised as important actors against climate change through their protection of carbon sinks.

In the run-up to the United Nations talks, they have been visiting the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, talking to city leaders, environment NGOs and youth groups. Their aim is to build support for their role as forest defenders – a role that frequently puts them odds with agribusiness, mining companies and public security. The Observer caught up with them on the road to Paris.

“We have been looking after the forest for thousands of years. We know how to protect them,” said Candida Dereck Jackson, vice president of the National Indigenous Alliance in Honduras, as she outlined the principal demands of the group: respect for land rights, recognition of crimes against the environment, direct negotiations over forest protection, decriminalisation of indigenous activists, and free, prior and informed consent before any development by outsiders. Continue reading

All In, Eliminating Plastic Bags, Rwanda Is A Leader

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By The New York Times

Thanks to the New York Times for this success story from a small country in Africa that has been working its way steadfastly to global leadership, quietly but surely for the last decade-plus. Eliminating plastic bags from a country seems impossible, until you read how it was done:

GISENYI, Rwanda — They are sometimes tucked into bras, hidden in underwear or coiled tightly around a smuggler’s arms.

They’re not narcotics or even the illegally mined gold and diamonds that frequently make it across the border into Rwanda. But they are, at least in the eyes of Egide Mberabagabo, a watchful border guard, every bit as nefarious.

The offending contraband? Plastic bags.

“They’re as bad as drugs,” said Mr. Mberabagabo, one of a dozen border officials whose job it is to catch smugglers and dispose of the illicit plastic he finds. Continue reading

Britain’s Windfalls

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Thanks to the Guardian for this update on the current state of the art of wind power, and it is good to see Britain in the lead:

Wild is the wind: the resource that could power the world

Wind isn’t just mysterious, destructive and exhilarating – capturing just 2% of it would solve the planet’s energy needs at a stroke. And as the windiest country in Europe, Britain is at the forefront of this green revolution Continue reading

Keep National Parks Safe, Know Your Chocolate

Choc.jpgThe rise in artisanal cacao farming, as we have noted on occasion, can have important implications for conservation. Whether you are a chocoholic or just a casual dabbler in the sweet bi-product of cacao, this report deserves your attention (click on the image to go to the source):

Chocolate is everywhere. It is the afternoon pick-me-up, the sensual indulgence, the accoutrement to seduction. Lovers gift truffles, skiers sip on rich hot chocolate, and connoisseurs savor the tiniest, richest bite of single origin dark chocolate. The ancient Aztecs believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac, and the emperor Montezuma was reported to gorge himself on chocolate in advance of his trysts. Continue reading

Empathic Survival Strategy

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Photograph courtesy the author

Finally, the author we link out to with frequency (respectfully and affectionately noting her role in highlighting doom on the horizon), has offered a photo of herself in the setting of one of her stories. It is a cave with a story to tell, and while the story is not one we want to hear it is one we must ponder. That is why we keep linking out to her writing.

This is among her best short offerings, written originally to be a speech, with the creature below featured in compelling manner:

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A Rabbs’ fringe-limbed tree frog. Photograph by Brian Gratwicke / Flickr

The Fate of Earth

Humanity’s survival on this planet seems more uncertain than ever. But what happens when we look at ourselves through other creatures’ eyes?

By 

Yesterday evening, at Manhattan’s New School, the New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert delivered the second annual Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture on the Fate of the Earth, an event established by the Nation Institute in honor of the late Jonathan Schell, a longtime New Yorker staff writer, and named for “The Fate of the Earth,” a series of articles that Schell wrote for the magazine in 1982 and later published as a book. Kolbert’s remarks have been edited for length. Continue reading

Beans, Beef & Key Questions Related To Our Planet

James Hamblin is the perfect messenger for complicated messages, like the ones he usually delivers on scientific and especially medical topics. It is difficult to say why, but taking him too seriously is difficult. So even with challenging questions like the one in the three minute video above, and the one in the article he published on the same topic a couple months ago, his approach is the opposite of intimidation:

If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef

With one dietary change, the U.S. could almost meet greenhouse-gas emission goals.

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Soybeans in a silo at a cattle feed in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil

Ecoanxiety is an emerging condition. Named in 2011, the American Psychological Association recently described it as the dread and helplessness that come with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”

It’s not a formal diagnosis. Anxiety is traditionally defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the deleterious effects of stress on the body. Continue reading

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

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Thanks to Jessica Glenza and the Guardian for this update on the story of water in Michigan, a topic that seemed to come and go as quickly the political landscape shifted in the last year. Nestle, the Moriarti of so many stories, makes this one too easy to believe:

While Flint battles a water crisis, just two hours away the beverage giant pumps almost 100,000 times what an average Michigan resident uses into plastic bottles

Gina Luster bathed her child in lukewarm bottled water, emptied bottle by bottle into the tub, for months. It became a game for her seven-year-old daughter. Pop the top off a bottle, and pour it into the tub. It takes about 30 minutes for a child to fill a tub this way. Pop the top, pour it in; pop the top, pour it in. Maybe less if you can get gallon jugs.

Luster lives in Flint, Michigan, and here, residents believe tap water is good for one thing: to flush the toilet.

“I don’t even water my plants with it,” she said. Continue reading

Meals as Message

A barbecued vegetable platter, top, with kale rib and carrot “brisket.” Beluga lentils, black rice and chimichurri broth, left, and a side of crisped smoked beef from Stemple Creek Ranch. Credit Preston Gannaway for The New York Times

Although not quite an example of “Model Mad“, this culinary entrepreneurial activism sends a message to both consumers and food industry colleagues alike.

San Francisco Chefs Serve Up a Message About Climate Change

Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint opened the Perennial in San Francisco last year with a clear mission in mind: Run an environmentally friendly restaurant with a minimal carbon footprint, and inspire other restaurateurs to do the same.

As [the current administration] has questioned the existence of climate change, Ms. Leibowitz and Mr. Myint have emerged as activists, at the forefront of a growing movement of chefs who not only recognize and measure the impact of their industry on the planet, but also look for new ways to undo the damage.

Mr. Myint and Ms. Leibowitz, who are married, have been immersed for the last few years in the research that directs every decision at the restaurant, like choosing the kitchen’s energy-efficient equipment and its raw ingredients, many of which are grown in ways that can regenerate the soil. Continue reading

Climate Change Primer

Illustrations by JON HAN

Once again we thank NYTimes Science writer Justin Gillis for this primer on a complex and politically weighty issue.

Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve
Got Answers to Your Questions.

We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers.

1.Climate change? Global warming? What do we call it?

Both are accurate, but they mean different things.

You can think of global warming as one type of climate change. The broader term covers changes beyond warmer temperatures, such as shifting rainfall patterns.

President Trump has claimed that scientists stopped referring to global warming and started calling it climate change because “the weather has been so cold” in winter. But the claim is false. Scientists have used both terms for decades.

2.How much is the Earth heating up?

Two degrees is more significant than it sounds.

As of early 2017, the Earth had warmed by roughly 2 degrees Fahrenheit (more than 1 degree Celsius) since 1880, when records began at a global scale. The number may sound low, but as an average over the surface of an entire planet, it is actually high, which explains why much of the world’s land ice is starting to melt and the oceans are rising at an accelerating pace. If greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, scientists say, the global warming could ultimately exceed 8 degrees Fahrenheit, which would undermine the planet’s capacity to support a large human population.

3.What is the greenhouse effect, and
how does it cause global warming?

We’ve known about it for more than a century. Really.

In the 19th century, scientists discovered that certain gases in the air trap and slow down heat that would otherwise escape to space. Carbon dioxide is a major player; without any of it in the air, the Earth would be a frozen wasteland. The first prediction that the planet would warm as humans released more of the gas was made in 1896. The gas has increased 43 percent above the pre-industrial level so far, and the Earth has warmed by roughly the amount that scientists predicted it would.

Continue reading

The Conservation Model Of Martha’s Vineyard

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Whether or not you have been to Martha’s Vineyard, if you have been through our pages at all you will understand how this excerpt from the above book captures our attention and why we are interesting in tracking it down for a closer look:

The Vineyard landscape is distinct in many ways — most notably in land values, pace of development toward full build-out, the assemblages of plants and animals, and past success in land protection — but it typifies many qualities of Massachusetts and the greater New England region, including their conservation challenges. They share the history of agricultural and woodlot land use, the ongoing growth of their forests, the tension among farmed, open, and wooded lands, the relentless sprawl of development, the fragmentation of the land by many small, private landownerships, and the looming threats from climate change, sea level rise, insect outbreaks, and other stresses. Nevertheless, the Vineyard has put itself into a particularly strong position to address the looming challenges due to its expansive breadth of conserved lands, its forward-looking and Island-wide planning efforts and knowledge base about the landscape, and the capacity for ongoing land protection and stewardship. Continue reading

Honey With Urban Terroir

The bees’ home at the Javits. Beekeeping was illegal in New York until 2010 when the ban was lifted. Credit Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of bees, both environmentally and agriculturally.  So we’re suckers for happy bee stories, especially urban bees. Kudos to the New York City Board of Health for lifting the Giuliani-era ban against urban bee-keeping, not to mention the Javits Center green-roof sustainability project!

Atop a Manhattan Convention Center, a Harvest of Honey

Let us begin not with the who, which was several thousand bees and a bunch of people in anti-sting gear that looked like spacesuits, or the what, which was harvesting honey. Let us go directly to the where.

It was not a bosky setting that would bring to mind the Robert Frost poem about good fences and good neighbors, but the south roof of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on Manhattan’s Far West Side. Here the neighbors are the unfinished towers of the Hudson Yards development. They ring what has become an urban meadow — the south roof, mostly covered by 6.75 acres of kaleidoscopic sedum. It is yellowish green. It will turn red in time for Christmas.

The bees have been in residence since spring. The first 12,000 came from California, transplanted in a three-pound container that looked like a shoe box with screens on both sides. They were placed in wooden hives, which look like stackable drawers. There were 60,000 to 80,000 by midsummer.

The accommodations are typical of urban apiaries. Liane Newton, the director of nycbeekeeping.org, who tends them, described her role as “convincing them they live in a tree trunk when they live in a file cabinet.”

Her persuasion seems to have paid off. “They made cells for closets, cells for babies, cells for storing pollen,” she reported one morning last week. “One amazing thing about bees is they have this architectural inclination.” Continue reading

The Largest Underground Bicycle Parking Garage In The World

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A special section in Utrecht’s new underground bike parking garage is for bigger bikes, which usually have children’s seats attached. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

If You Build It, the Dutch Will Pedal

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As fast as Utrecht can build underground bike parking garages, most spots are taken. Credit Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

The city recently surpassed Amsterdam in a widely respected ranking of bike-friendly cities and is now second only to Copenhagen, which is more than twice its size. Continue reading

Model Mad, National Monument Protection Coalition

Arch Canyon, within Bears Ears national monument in Utah. Bears Ears is under threat from the Trump administration. Photograph: Francisco Kjolseth/AP

More examples of corporate social responsibility and activist collaboration taking the higher ground position over flawed public policy.

Native Americans and environmental advocates get help from outdoor retailers as they battle proposal to change monuments’ boundaries

Environmental activists, Native American groups and a coalition of outdoor retailers have vowed to redouble their efforts to protect public lands, after the US interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, recommended on Thursday that Donald Trump change the boundaries of a “handful” of national monuments.

“Secretary Zinke’s recommendation is an insult to tribes,” said Carleton Bowekaty, co-chairman of the Inter-Tribal Coalition, which asked Barack Obama to create the Bears Ears monument in Utah in 2015, citing increasing thefts and vandalism at more than 100,000 native cultural sites in the area.

Millions of petitioners have joined an urgently assembled advocacy effort to dissuade the Trump administration from moving against the monuments. On Friday, the outdoor retailer Patagonia, which spearheaded the industry initiative, said the group would continue its efforts. Continue reading

Paraguay’s Chaco Region

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Bricapar charcoal facility at Teniente Ochoa ©Earthsight

The picture above, and the picture below, will suffice if you do not have the half hour required to read the details. Earthsight is a non-profit organization that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption. One such investigation provides these images, and it is worth a read, especially if you are in Europe and you use charcoal for barbecue. Thanks to the folks in the Guardian’s Environment team for bringing the report and its consequences to our attention.

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Figure 1: Jaguar photographed in the Gran Chaco forest ©Hugo Santa Cruz & Fundación Yaguareté

Choice Cuts

How European & US BBQs are fuelled by a hidden deforestation crisis in South America

Summary

On a vast, hot plateau in Paraguay, in the centre of South America, lies a little-known environmental crisis, and a dirty secret that can be traced to the supermarkets of Europe.

The dry tropical forests of the Chaco are being destroyed faster than any other forests on earth. The trees felled as a result of the advance of industrial agriculture into pristine wilderness are being turned into charcoal to feed demand in Europe.

Described by David Attenborough as “one of the last great wilderness areas in the world”,[1] the Chaco is home to a plethora of precious wildlife and one of the world’s last tribes living in voluntary isolation, the Ayoreo. Continue reading