As negotiators from around the world gathered in Poland to discuss how to lower carbon emissions, the Trump Administration unveiled two schemes promoting fossil fuels.
Last week, representatives from around the world gathered to begin another round of climate negotiations in Katowice, a city in the heart of Poland’s coal-mining country. Delegates arriving at the meeting, known in United Nations-speak as a Conference of the Parties, or cop, were treated to an outdoor performance by a Polish coal miners’ band. Inside the convention pavilions, they found mounds of coal displayed behind glass, like objets d’art, as well as arrangements of coal-based cosmetics and coal-encrusted jewelry. Poland gets about eighty per cent of its electricity from coal, the most carbon-intensive of carbon-based fuels, and the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, noted in his opening remarks that the country had enough as yet unmined supplies to last another two centuries. “It would be hard not to use them,” he said.
Depending on how you look at things, a coal-stuffed climate summit is either completely absurd—“beyond parody,” as one commentator put it—or merely appropriate. With each passing month, the threat posed by global warming grows clearer. And so, too, does the world’s failure to take that threat seriously. “We are in trouble,” the United Nations’ Secretary-General, António Guterres, said at the cop’s opening session. “It is hard to comprehend why we are collectively still moving too slowly—and even in the wrong direction.” Continue reading
Yesterday I was struck by a set of graphics that helped me see an old story in a new light. That was not a particularly important old story, as history of the planet goes; but it gave the manufacturing consent theme a new shine–in technicolor, black and white, and finer shades of gray. Today, on a story that is definitely of historic proportions related to the planet, my thanks again to Brad Plumer and his occasional writing partner Nadja Popovich, especially for its accompanying graphics:
Thanks to the Guardian for the latest story in this series. We have avoided adding our voice to the many rightly concerned about the radically pro-extraction, carbon-freewheeling policies of the United States since early 2017. The concern is loud and widespread. We have listened. Today, reading this story, I pictured a naughty boy, a bully, getting away with bad behavior for an extended period. Any period of bad boy behavior is intolerable but it happens. Until it is no longer tolerated. Which eventually always happens. And that may be the best stand-in for optimism these days:
Exclusive: a new study reveals the vast extent of public lands being opened up to the energy industry. The Guardian heard from three communities on the frontlines
by Charlotte Simmonds, Gloria Dickie and Jen Byers
In the great expanses of the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument, the silence hits you first. Minutes pass, smooth and unbroken as glass. The smallest sound – a breath of wind, a falling rock – can seem as loud as passing traffic.
Colter Hoyt knows this landscape well. As an outdoor guide, he walks the monument almost daily. Yet these days he is full of fear. This remote paradise of red rocks, slot canyons and towering plateaus faces an uncertain future, following a controversial presidential proclamation that removed 800,000 acres from the monument and opened land up for potential energy development.
When Trump took office in 2016, he promised the energy industry a new era of “American energy dominance”. This would only be possible by exploiting America’s 640m acres of public land: mountains, deserts, forests and sites of Native American history that cover more than a quarter of the country. Continue reading
Katherine Bagley, Managing Editor at Yale Environment 360 (Yale e360, one of our go-to sources on this platform), has this to say:
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.
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.
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
I was not aware that Elizabeth Kolbert has been writing for Yale e360 for the entire time we have been linking to her New Yorker work on this platform. And then some, because she started publishing there ten years ago. This is her 17th publication for Yale e360 and it can help a layperson understand in a relatively short read whether technology has any chance of accelerating our progress on climate change mitigation:
A U.S. scientific panel reports that technologies that take CO2 out of the atmosphere could be a significant part of a strategy to mitigate global warming. In an e360 interview, Stephen Pacala, the panel’s chairman, discusses how these fast-developing technologies are becoming increasingly viable.
Is there still time to avoid runaway climate change? To a large degree, the answer depends on the feasibility of “negative emissions” — techniques or technologies that suck CO2 out of the air. In the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), all scenarios for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius depend on negative emissions technologies, or NETs. Most 2-degree scenarios also rely on negative emissions; many call for removing billions of tons of CO2 per year by mid-century.
Yet most NETs remain either untested or unproved. To help bridge this gap, the National Academies convened a panel of scientists and asked it to propose a research agenda. The panel considered several possible techniques, ranging from the low-tech — planting more trees — to the high-tech — developing machines to scrub CO2 from the sky. It also looked at a hybrid technology that has become known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. The panel recommended several billion dollars be directed to research on NETs. Such technologies, it suggested, ought to be viewed as a “component of the mitigation portfolio,” rather than as a futuristic, last-ditch effort to reduce atmospheric CO2.
Stephen Pacala, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University, chaired the panel. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, he talks about why NETs are needed, what should be done to advance them, and why he believes that “direct air capture” technologies could come into widespread use within the next decade. Continue reading
In my occasional posts about Amazon over the past few years, it is becoming clear to me that I am concerned about the dangers that come from some of the foundational principles of business management, such as excellent customer service, and scale. I have not read his new book yet, but I listen to and read Tim Wu whenever I see an opportunity. His publisher has this to say:
So, I look forward to learning more about it. Today’s episode of The Daily has useful commentary on Amazon-related topics. Thanks to David Leonhardt for bringing Tim Wu’s new book to my attention:
In one industry after another, big companies have become more dominant over the past 15 years, new data show.
The popular telling of the Boston Tea Party gets something wrong. The colonists were not responding to a tax increase. They were responding to the Tea Act of 1773, which granted a tea monopoly in the colonies to the well-connected East India Company. Merchants based in the Americas would be shut out of the market.
Many colonists, already upset about taxation without representation and other indignities, were enraged. In response, dozens of them stormed three ships in Boston Harbor on the night of Dec. 16, 1773, and tossed chests of East India tea — “that worst of plagues, the detested tea,” as one pamphlet put it — into the water.
A major spark for the American Revolution, then, was a protest against monopoly. Continue reading
Posts like this one tend to not fare as well with readers visiting our platform. Whoever makes their way here is normally looking for what we normally offer, stories about entrepreneurial conservation. Which we believe can be a winning formula for the challenges at hand. But from time to time, we must acknowledge that the odds look grim.
Two articles, both very well written, about the report warning of the dangers of climate change to the US economy, note that the report is not likely to have much impact. Because of Black Friday? No, because the forces behind willful ignorance have been at it for a long time, with plentiful resources to strengthen their game. This cartoon says more in fewer words than either article on why. Nathaniel Rich’s short essay, dark and stark and alarming, is akin. Bill McKibben, though, once again hits the nail squarely and firmly, and more effectively than news, because of his trench-based perspective:
With wildfires, heat waves, and rising sea levels, large tracts of the earth are at risk of becoming uninhabitable. But the fossil-fuel industry continues its assault on the facts.
Thirty years ago, this magazine published “The End of Nature,” a long article about what we then called the greenhouse effect. I was in my twenties when I wrote it, and out on an intellectual limb: climate science was still young. But the data were persuasive, and freighted with sadness. We were spewing so much carbon into the atmosphere that nature was no longer a force beyond our influence—and humanity, with its capacity for industry and heedlessness, had come to affect every cubic metre of the planet’s air, every inch of its surface, every drop of its water. Scientists underlined this notion a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene, the world made by man.
I was frightened by my reporting, but, at the time, it seemed likely that we’d try as a society to prevent the worst from happening. Continue reading
My only wish is to have been able to share this earlier, during the exhibition’s run. But better late than never.
Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for another fresh dose of creative rational thinking, with her short piece Ask a Scientist: How to Deal with a Climate-Change Skeptic:
Trust, a kind of social glue, keeps us from having to think nonstop about worst case scenarios. We trust that those with authority, whether intellectual or political, will use it responsibly. Thinking about this recently, I have been adjusting where I have least and greatest trust that responsible environmental actions are taken. Today I have made an adjustment on the former. The USA’s political leadership has been at the forefront of my thought when it comes to least responsible, least trustworthy actions. Philip Fearnside, an ecologist at the National Institute for Research in Amazonia (INPA) in Brazil, studies the consequences of deforestation in the world’s largest tropical forest, so his word carries scientific weight for me. He has put in perspective why I should turn my attention to Brazil:
Thanks to Lisa Cox, the Guardian’s Australia correspondent for environment, for this:
Javier C. Hernández shares this news from China, more frightening and more real than any Halloween horror story we can think of:
BEIJING — The Chinese government, reversing a 25-year ban, announced on Monday that it would allow the use of rhinoceros horns and tiger bones in medicine, a move that environmentalists described as a significant setback for efforts to protect the animals from extinction.
The State Council, China’s cabinet, said in a policy directive that it would legalize the use of rhino horns and tiger bones for “medical research or in healing,” but only by certified hospitals and doctors, and only from rhinos and tigers raised in captivity, excluding zoo animals. While such remedies are highly profitable, they have no proven benefits to humans.
Environmentalists said the decision would likely help fuel a black market for wild rhino and tiger parts, which are revered in traditional Chinese medicine for supposed healing powers, and could lead to increased poaching of the fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers still in the wild. Continue reading
She has chosen to focus her work on the existential environmental challenges created by mankind, and unflinchingly reports on what we collectively are, and more often are not, doing about those challenges. The word doom always comes to mind when I see her name or think about her work. Today I am recommending this rare interview with her, in which she shares personal reflections on what it is like to do the work she does, and about 40 minutes in touches on how and why she persists with her work, even knowing that most people simply cannot bear to face the facts she is presenting:
Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change and The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, is a staff writer at The New Yorker.
“I still nurse the idea in my heart of hearts that something you write, that there’s some key to this all. Continue reading
Thanks to Ceylan Yeginsu and the New York Times for this news:
LONDON — The European Parliament has overwhelmingly approved a ban on single-use plastics such as straws, plates, cutlery and cotton-swab sticks in Europe by 2021, joining a global shift as environmentalists emphasize the urgency of halting the use of materials that are detrimental to the planet.
Under the proposal, approved on a vote of 571 to 53 on Wednesday, 10 single-use plastics that most often end up in the ocean will be prohibited in the European Union, as well as oxo-degradable plastics, such as bags or fast-food container packaging. Continue reading
Thanks to Carolyn Kormann, making her fifth appearance since early 2016 in our pages, including this recent item that I particularly favored, for the article below that helps us understand what is happening with renewable energy these days in the USA. It is easy to forget, amidst all the noise of a federal government working to deregulate and reduce environmental protection, that important work continues:
In late September, the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank that receives donations from fossil-fuel companies, published a blog post titled “California Billionaire’s Renewable Energy Initiative Makes Arizona Ballot.” The billionaire in question was Tom Steyer, whose year-long effort to pass Proposition 127, an amendment to Arizona’s constitution that would require power companies to generate fifty per cent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030, has faced aggressive opposition from the state’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, or A.P.S. The blog post lamented a failed lawsuit filed by Arizonans for Affordable Energy, a political-action committee funded by A.P.S.’s parent company, to keep Prop 127 off the ballot, and quoted several opponents who believed the measure, now up for a vote in November, would be a costly mistake. “Prop 127 would tie Arizona’s future to technologies that do not deliver baseload electricity,” Mark Finchem, a Republican state representative, said, “and are arguably worse for the environment as a whole than the dependable technologies we already have.” The photograph accompanying the post depicted a wind-turbine farm, and, in the foreground, a dead bald eagle.
Arizona is the sunniest state in the country, with more than three hundred bluebird days per year. It is also projected to endure an additional month of hundred-degree days in the coming decades owing to climate change. Yet, despite the rapid decline in the cost of solar-energy technology and battery storage—to the point that, as an A.P.S. director told me, it now frequently outbids fossil fuels, even natural gas—in 2017, Arizona generated only six per cent of its electricity from solar, according to the ballot initiative’s advocates. The state currently requires utilities to generate eight per cent of their power from sources like solar and wind, scaling up to fifteen per cent by 2025. Natural gas, the largest source of Arizona’s net electricity generation, is imported from out of state. “Our most abundant resource in Arizona is our sunshine,” D. J. Quinlan, a spokesman for Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, the Phoenix-based political-action committee that Steyer is funding, said. “We need a nationwide transition to renewables. One of the first places we should be doing it is where it’s most efficient and cost-effective, and that’s here.” Continue reading
My daily contribution to this platform is a habit vaguely in the tradition of meditation–finding something each day that is worthy of gratitude, or otherwise worthy of sharing with friends, family, and anyone else who cares to listen. Because of the good fortune I have had to visit and work in many amazing places, it is important to me to never regret the places where I still have not been. Scotland is one of those places that, if I were a regretter, I would be feeling it now. I owe that place a visit (even if the company name sounds like a Bond villain):
Big six energy firm drops fossil fuels for generation and say cheap green energy is the future
Scottish Power has ditched fossil fuels for electricity generation and switched to 100% wind power, by selling off its last remaining gas power stations to Drax for more than £700m.
Iberdrola, Scottish Power’s Spanish parent company, said the move was part of its strategy to tackle climate change and would free it up to invest in renewables and power grids in the UK.
The latest UN report on climate says reducing deforestation is crucial to slowing global warming. But researchers must first reconcile two contradictory sets of statistics on tree loss in order to determine whether promises made by nations to protect and restore forests are on target.
The world is losing trees faster than ever. An area the size of Italy disappeared last year. Or did it? New research suggests three-quarters of those lost forests may already be regrowing. That hardly means we are out of the woods. Fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity still needs a global campaign to reforest the planet. But it does suggest that, given the chance, nature will do much of the work. Continue reading
Carbon trading has featured, or at least been mentioned, only rarely on this platform, now that I stop to check. That seems impossible. But the scheme with so much promise has simply not taken off. Indigenous heritage, on the other hand, has featured in dozens of stories here since we started in 2011. Thanks to Carolyn Kormann for bringing this story to my attention, helped by two captivating photos and the fact that it highlights the approach of the Yurok Tribe (a community I had not heard of before):
When Marty Lamebear is not fighting fires, he is starting them. In the past few years, as a member of the Yurok Tribe Forestry Program’s fire department, he has been helping revive the controversial practice of prescribed burns to protect and restore the coastal redwood forests of northern California. Lamebear is also a hunter, fisherman, and dancer. In his free time, he makes tribal regalia for ceremonial dances from parts of elk, deer, minks, and porcupines, which he shoots or finds already dead, and from frozen eagles that he orders from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. A prescribed burn, what Lamebear calls a culture burn, creates prairies within the forest, which attract those animals. “At first, we couldn’t really tell its effects,” he said. “But, after about six years now, we can honestly start seeing the landscape open up, animals come around.” They also serve another purpose, he said. “It’s insurance for our carbon.” Continue reading
I just learned of an urban tree-planting initiative on a day when the news shows purposeful indifference about climate change on the part of a powerful country’s elected leader, on the same day when the news also shows that an economist considered a pioneer of environmental economics is receiving a prestigious prize and what he said when he learned of his being awarded the prize:
“Once we start to try to reduce carbon emissions, we’ll be surprised that it wasn’t as hard as we anticipated. The danger with very alarming forecasts is that it will make people feel apathetic and hopeless.
“One problem today is that people think protecting the environment will be so costly and so hard that they want to ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist. Humans are capable of amazing accomplishments if we set our minds to it.”
Let’s decide together to do something, seems to be his message. I learned about this urban tree-planting initiative, news of a president’s abdication of responsibility, and this economist’s optimistic message on the same day I read about a 15-year old climate activist who has decided to do something where she sees her government failing to take action. She has decided at a very young age to do what she can regardless of the daunting odds. So thanks to Margaret Renkl a Nashville-based contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, for bringing this initiative to my attention, as a reminder to do something:
When cities grow, green space dies. Replanting it has been shown to lift the human spirit.
NASHVILLE — The scene in a tiny pocket park outside Plaza Mariachi here on Nolensville Pike last Wednesday was like a tableau from a Norman Rockwell painting, 21st-century style. Surrounded by signs advertising the Hispanic Family Foundation, Dubai Jewelry, the Dominican Barber Shop and restaurants offering Peruvian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Indian food — as well as a Game Stop franchise and H&R Block — was a small sign that read, “Today: Free trees.”
The arrow on the sign pointed to a pop-up canopy where the Nashville Tree Foundation was hosting its fourth tree giveaway of October. A family standing under the canopy was posing for a photo with the sapling they had just adopted. Carolyn Sorenson, executive director of the foundation, was taking the picture: “Say ‘trees’!” she said.
The tree giveaway at Plaza Mariachi happened to fall on the very day that Nashville’s mayor, David Briley, announced a campaign to restore and enlarge the city’s tree canopy. The effort, called “Root Nashville,” will be overseen by the city and the Cumberland River Compact, an environmental nonprofit, and funded through a combination of public, corporate, foundation and private dollars. Together with several municipal departments and other nonprofit organizations, the initiative aims to plant 500,000 trees in Davidson County by 2050.
Many of these newly planted saplings will replace very large, very old trees that have been lost to Nashville’s meteoric growth — a population increase of more than 45 percent since 2000. As the city has grown, the city’s trees have fallen: deliberately felled by developers to make room for new construction or unintentionally killed as a side effect of nearby building. Just since 2008, the tree canopy in the urban core has dropped from 28 percent to 24 percent, a loss of roughly 9,000 trees a year. Continue reading
Noise pollution was the topic of several of the first posts on this platform when we started it in 2011, and has been a persistent theme ever since then. We especially appreciate those related to noise in wilderness areas, so thanks to Nick Paumgarten for this story:
Three years ago, in the course of thirteen months, the photographer Peter McBride and the writer Kevin Fedarko hiked from one end of the Grand Canyon to the other. They did it in eight sections, mainly so that McBride could shoot in different seasons. In all, it took them seventy-one days to cover two hundred and seventy-seven river miles and some eight hundred shoe-leather miles, through some of the continent’s roughest hiking terrain—“a whole lot of scratching around the rock puzzles in that giant abyss,” as McBride put it recently.
Before they set off, the Grand Canyon had been hiked nose to tail only nine times in recorded history. There is also a handful of obsessives who have chipped away at it, piece by piece, in the course of decades. “Maybe some crazy ancestral Puebloan did the whole thing, but that wouldn’t make logical sense—they wouldn’t have had any reason to,” McBride said.
McBride, a native Coloradan who shoots for National Geographic, has been documenting the Colorado River for a decade, sometimes from a perch in an ultralight aircraft. Fedarko, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, has guided on the river and is the author of “The Emerald Mile,” an account (with many historical tributaries) of a harrowing speed run of the Grand in a dory during the biggest flood in generations. (As it happens, Kenton Grua, the boatman in the book, was also the first person to walk the canyon, in 1976.) McBride and Fedarko have both become persistent, ardent advocates for preserving the place, in all its spellbinding, inhospitable glory, in abidance with Teddy Roosevelt’s famous dictum, issued during his one visit, in 1903: “Leave it as it is. Man cannot improve on it; not a bit.” Still, this was the first time, and surely the last, that either of them had tried to walk it. Continue reading
Two years of working in southern Chile taught me just enough about the complexity of this particular issue (among the many complex issues in our practice)to appreciate the article below by Emma Marris, who we already knew to be provocative, enough that she could challenge Bill McKibben two minutes into her TED talk, and does so convincingly. The primary reason I appreciate this article, is the same reason this platform has showcased the best of this genre of writers over the years. Scientists, translated into regular language we non-scientists can understand:
Invasive species are sometimes trapped, poisoned, and shot in large numbers to save native species from extinction. Some scientists say the bloodshed isn’t worth it.
The desert of south-central Australia is crenellated with sandstone hills in shades of ivory, crimson, and apricot. The ground is littered with dead trees and tree limbs, big hunks of transparent mica, dried cow dung, and thousands of stone spearheads and blades made by the Aboriginal people who lived here for tens of thousands of years—and live here still. Around the few water holes are the doglike tracks of dingoes, wild canines that were brought to Australia thousands of years ago and are now the country’s top predators.
I have come to the Evelyn Downs ranch, on the famously remote highway between Adelaide and Alice Springs, to meet Arian Wallach, a conservationist who thinks there is too much killing in conservation. Wallach has come to this massive 888-square-mile ranch because it is one of the few places in Australia where people aren’t actively killing wild animals. Tough, outback Herefords share the landscape with kangaroos, wild horses, wild donkeys, camels, emus, cats, foxes, native rodents, dingoes, and very large antediluvian-looking reptiles called perenties. Of the animals on this list, dingoes, cats, foxes, horses, camels, and donkeys are all killed in large numbers throughout Australia—but not here. Wallach has convinced the owners to experiment with a more hands-off approach. Continue reading