Peak Oil & Consequences

Donald Pols, director of the environmental group Milieudefensie, celebrates on May 26 after a court in the Netherlands ordered Shell to slash its emissions. REMKO DE WAAL / ANP / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The hug says all you need to know. Our kids, our grandchildren, and generations to follow will all be wondering why we we fiddled so long while carbon burned. The consequences of choices we make now related to the future of fossil fuel use are epic:

Amid Troubles for Fossil Fuels, Has the Era of ‘Peak Oil’ Arrived?

For years, analysts have predicted that rising world oil consumption would peak and start declining in the coming decades. But with a recent string of setbacks for big oil companies and the rapid advance of electric vehicles, some now say that “peak oil” is already here.

An oil platform facility operated by French oil giant Total in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Angola in 2018. RODGER BOSCH / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

May was arguably the worst month ever for big oil — and the best for its opponents — as courts and corporate shareholders sided with environmental activists to humble the biggest of the fossil-fuel giants, culminating in “Black Wednesday.”

Electric taxis line up at a train station in Shenzhen, China in October, 2019. NIKADA VIA GETTY IMAGES

On that day, May 26, three events occurred that would have seemed nearly impossible not long ago: activists angry at ExxonMobil’s climate policies won three seats on its board of directors; Chevron shareholders voted to force the company to start cutting emissions; and a judge in the Netherlands ruled that Shell must slash its emissions by 45 percent by 2030.

So what’s next for big oil? Is the game up? Have we reached peak oil? Continue reading

Year 9, Day 365

Seth’s photo of the view from the hill at Morgan’s Rock in Nicaragua

Today marks ten years since the first post on this platform. Seth’s description of a crab-eating little possum wandering by as he was reading, and a sloth-sighting together with two people visiting Nicaragua from the USA, reads like an entry in a travelogue. A later post about boarding down a volcano was the most viewed post of the first year.

Seth sandboarding down Volcán Cerro Negro in Nicaragua

A man named Baba Ramdev, a yoga guru, was on a hunger strike to protest corruption when Michael, a senior at Amherst College, landed in India to begin an internship

Michael’s first post likewise starts as a travelogue, but veers into different territory as he reads the news about two men who are sacrificing comfort, and even life, for causes they believe in. The post goes on to identify drinking water as a cause worthy of the reader’s attention. Over the course of his time with us in India he wrote some of my personal favorites. He helped me better understand that the value of the internships we offered were as much about personal growth as about work experience.

Within a few years, permits could be issued for commercial miners hoping to harvest the submerged wealth of the sea. Illustration by Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants

A decade was set in motion. This is our 10,286th post. Whatever meaning might be drawn from statistics, such as 827,462 views of our posts as of this writing, I find reasons to continue what those two started. Every day a bird is featured, thanks to Amie’s network of bird photographers. And every day I scan the news to share something enlightening, or I jot a note about a new idea we are trying out, always related to causes we care about. Today, on this rounding out of a decade, I mark the occasion by sharing the latest publication of a writer whose work rarely makes me happy but who I nonetheless link to often as a head-out-of-the-sand gesture:

The Deep Sea Is Filled with Treasure, but It Comes at a Price

We’ve barely explored the darkest realm of the ocean. With rare-metal mining on the rise, we’re already destroying it.

June 14, 2021

The International Seabed Authority is headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica, in a building that looks a bit like a prison and a bit like a Holiday Inn. The I.S.A., which has been described as “chronically overlooked” and is so obscure that even many Jamaicans don’t know it exists, has jurisdiction over roughly half the globe. Continue reading

Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 Pipeline, The Keystone Sequel, Must Not Happen

A section of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Superior, Wis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Associated Press

McKibben, always ahead of the curve, has this proposal for us all to consider:

The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Dead. Next Target: Line 3.

Michael Siluk/Education Images — Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.

The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. Continue reading

Exxon’s Emerging Reckoning

The pressure has been mounting for some time, but it is finally causing needed changes. There were plenty of headlines late last week, but only today do we feel this news means something potentially lasting:

ExxonMobil loses a proxy fight with green investors

An activist hedge fund succeeds in nominating at least two climate-friendly directors to the energy giant’s board

“The stone age did not end for lack of stone, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of petroleum.” That battle cry animates critics of Big Oil, who dream of phasing out hydrocarbons in favour of cleaner fuels and technologies. Continue reading

Palm Oil & Us

A villager walks through a haze from fires in burned peatland at an oil palm plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. MUHAMMAD ADIMAJA / GREENPEACE

For all the attention we have given palm oil in the decade of posting links to stories here, strange that Jocelyn Zuckerman only appears once in our pages before today. As with fossil fuels the onus should not be entirely on individuals as consumers; collective action and public policy are essential tools to limiting the damage that corporate palm interests have been causing, relatively unchecked, for too long. We thank her for this clear, strong statement:

The Time Has Come to Rein In the Global Scourge of Palm Oil

The cultivation of palm oil, found in roughly half of U.S. grocery products, has devastated tropical ecosystems, released vast amounts of C02 into the atmosphere, and impoverished rural communities. But efforts are underway that could curb the abuses of this powerful industry.

A few weeks ago, the Sri Lankan president announced that his government would ban all imports of palm oil, with immediate effect, and ordered the country’s plantation companies to begin uprooting their oil-palm monocultures and replacing them with more environmentally friendly crops. Citing concerns about soil erosion, water scarcity, and threats to biodiversity and public health, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa explained that his aim was to “make the country free from oil palm plantations and palm oil consumption.” Continue reading

Moonshot To Meatless

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Last month I learned enough from Ezra Klein’s food-related conversation with Mark Bittman to share the podcast episode. I listen to his podcast for the quality of his discussions with knowledgeable guests. But he is also a great essayist and yesterday he published an op-ed essay that is worth a read on a topic we have linked to many times:

Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat

It wouldn’t actually take that much of an investment for Biden to get us headed in the right direction.

I’m a vegan, but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon. That said, we can’t just wish away the risks of industrial animal agriculture. If we don’t end this system, soon, terrible things will happen to us and to the planet. Terrible things are already happening. Continue reading

The Climate Crisis, Earth Day Edition

Climate activists at a rally in Athens, Greece, in late 2018, hold up banners warning that time is running out on efforts to contain the earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photograph by Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben for this Earth Day edition of his newsletter, The Climate Crisis, which we sample from regularly:

How 1.5 Degrees Became the Key to Climate Progress

The number has dramatically reorganized global thinking around the climate.

It’s Earth Day +51, as we near the end of President Biden’s first hundred days, and forty world leaders are scheduled to join him for a virtual summit on climate change. “For those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said last Thursday, which is a sweet way to think about it—better than “for those of you who are existentially depressed about climate.” Continue reading

Cycling With & For Monarch Butterflies

Sara Dykman biked from the monarchs’ overwintering grounds in Mexico to Canada and back, covering a total distance of 10,201 miles in 264 days. (Timber Press)

We have featured the plight of monarch butterflies plenty of times on this platform. And bicycle travelogues feature, together with bicycle activism, even more frequently. Today, at the intersection of butterflies and bicycles, we thank Sara Dykman for writing and Smithsonian for publishing this travel-with-a-cause story:

BIKING 10,000 MILES WITH MONARCHS

I set off to be the first person to cycle alongside the butterflies to raise awareness of their alarming decline

Dykman works in amphibian research and as an outdoor educator. (Tom Weistar)

The idea to bike from Mexico to Canada and back with the migrating monarch butterflies arose from a simple wish to visit them. In 2013, crossing Mexico by bike for the first time, a friend and I entertained the idea of visiting the monarchs at their overwintering sites. Because it was April and the monarchs had already begun migrating north, we decided to forego the side trip.

I spent the next few years idly daydreaming about returning. Continue reading

Fossil Fuel Divestment Debate Settled

Protesters have argued that you shouldn’t try to profit off the end of the world. New analysis shows that, in any event, you won’t. Photograph by David Grossman / Alamy

This is a short read with a big implication; as always we are grateful to Bill McKibben for his weekly newsletter:

The Powerful New Financial Argument for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

A report by BlackRock, the world’s largest investment house, shows that those who have divested have profited not only morally but also financially.

In a few months, a small British financial think tank will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of a landmark research report that helped launch the global fossil-fuel-divestment movement. As that celebration takes place, another seminal report—this one obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the world’s largest investment house—closes the loop on one of the key arguments of that decade-long fight. Continue reading

McKibben Reviews Gates

I am sure that the New York Times has made available, but I cannot find it, an explanation for when they link out to Amazon (e.g. on a podcast interview with an author promoting a recently published book) and when they do not (e.g. in a traditional book review). Our thanks to Bill McKibben for taking the time to review this book:

How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?

HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER
The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
By Bill Gates

First things first — much respect to Bill Gates for his membership in the select club of ultrabillionaires not actively attempting to flee Earth and colonize Mars. Continue reading

Protecting Small Businesses From Amazon’s Monopoly Power

I am responsible for managing a small enterprise. As we expanded into ecommerce some months ago, I looked into the advantages offered by Amazon’s fulfillment services. But the disadvantages, which I have been reading about and posting about here for some years outweighed the advantages.

Andy Jassy. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Having just read this op-ed on the same topic, I am more convinced than ever of the dangers Amazon poses to companies like ours. Maureen Tkacik, a senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project, does an an additional service by highlighting the efforts of Congresswoman Lucy McBath (who Amie had the good fortune to be able to campaign for and who our family voted for when we resided in her district during her first campaign) to hold the company accountable:

What Jeff Bezos Hath Wrought

The Amazon founder prepares to step back just as Washington turns up the heat on the mega-retailer and cloud company.

If I had to guess who inspired Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, to kick himself upstairs and appoint Andy Jassy, a deputy, as his successor as chief executive, I might wager that at least part of the blame can be laid on Lucy McBath, the freshman Georgia congresswoman, and her understated grilling of one of the world’s richest men at a July hearing held by the House antitrust subcommittee. Continue reading

Yaak Valley’s Fate, To Be Determined

The Biden Administration’s next few weeks may decide the fate of the remote Yaak Valley, on Montana’s Canadian border. Photograph by John Lambing / Alamy

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter, as usual, has gems worthy of attention, and the fate of the Yaak Valley qualifies:

The blizzard of federal climate initiatives last week (a blizzard that might help allow actual blizzards to persist into the future) is without precedent. For the first time in the thirty-plus years of our awareness of the climate crisis, Washington roused itself to urgent action; veterans of the cautious Obama Administration—the domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy and the global climate czar John Kerry chief among them—were suddenly going for broke. In fact, only one branch of the Cabinet seemed conspicuous by its muted presence: the Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for the nation’s farms and for many of its forests—that is, for the natural features that will either speed or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading

Kenya’s Rangelands, An Ecologist, & Television Attention

In Kenya, those animals which poachers and cattle-herders have not killed off are being wiped out by new roads, power lines, mushrooming towns, and overgrazed, shrinking rangelands. Photograph by Khadija Farah for The New Yorker

Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson, whose Latin America stories’ gravity have compelled our attention in the past, for this story from another part of the world he once called home:

A Kenyan Ecologist’s Crusade to Save Her Country’s Wildlife

To get her fellow-citizens to care about threatened animals, Paula Kahumbu became a TV star.

Seventy miles southwest of Nairobi, the Loita Hills climb toward the sky from the red stone cleft of the Great Rift Valley. Situated beside the Serengeti and the Maasai Mara, the Loitas provide a vital watershed for migratory animals on the plains below. Forest pigs, bushbuck, black-and-white colobus monkeys, leopards, and Cape buffalo find refuge there, along with elephants that come to graze when the plains are dry. The Loita forest, one of Kenya’s last surviving stands of old-growth cedar, is sacred to the Maasai people, who call it Naimina Enkiyio—the Forest of the Lost Child, after the legend of a girl who followed wayward calves into the trees and never returned. Some twenty-five thousand Maasai live in settlements scattered through the lower valleys, where they herd goats and cows in sweeping meadows reminiscent of the Rocky Mountain foothills. The Loitas, rich in medicinal herbs and plants, are an irreplaceable resource for the laibon, the spiritual leaders of the Maasai. Continue reading

First Things First

Last week I walked with my grand-daughter among these almendro trees. Amie and I helped plant these when they were foot-high saplings in 2019, and we tagged one with our grand-daughter’s name. The trees, now 3+ feet high, are part of a coastal reforestation scheme; their beneficence includes producing fruits favored by scarlet macaws.

Demonstrators gather in front of the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, in the summer of 2011. Photograph by Melissa Golden / Redux

Everyone loves scarlet macaws. And these trees grow faster than our grand-daughter, giving constant positive feedback. When you have an opportunity to do something like plant a tree, or any other restorative act, first things first: do it. Thanks to Bill McKibben for pointing this out as one of the highlights of yesterday’s change of scenery in Washington, D.C.:

Joe Biden’s Cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline Is a Landmark in the Climate Fight

In his first hours in office, Joe Biden has settled—almost certainly, once and for all—one of the greatest environmental battles this country has seen. He has cancelled the permit allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to cross the border from Canada into the United States, and the story behind that victory illustrates a lot about where we stand in the push for a fair and working planet. Continue reading

Hacienda La Amistad’s Neighbor Under New Management

The entrance to La Amistad National Park, which will now be controlled by the Naso under a joint management plan with the government. EDDIE GERALD / ALAMY

We offer coffee from the oldest organic coffee farm in Latin America, which sits on the border of the La Amistad International Park. During our visit to the farm in late 2019 we heard firsthand the family history that led to the creation of what is now a transnational park, while retaining a large private protected area named Hacienda La Amistad (coffee is farmed on a small percentage of that land). Recently Fred Pearce, who frequently writes about forest management best practices, shares news from Panama focusing on the decision to transfer park management to an indigenous community whose ancestral lands in:

Forest Defenders: A Panamanian Tribe Regains Control of Its Lands

With a landmark court ruling, the Naso people of Panama have won the rights to ancestral territory that includes two national reserves the tribe will now help manage. The victory comes as mounting evidence shows that Indigenous groups are often the best protectors of their lands.

Reynaldo Santana, the King of the Naso, on the banks of the Teribe River in northwest Panama. NORLANDO MEZA

Tribal groups in Panama are celebrating a victory for their rights to control some of Central America’s largest forests — a victory that could benefit conservation throughout the region.

The landmark ruling, by the country’s Supreme Court, upholds a claim by the Naso people of northwest Panama — who live in remote villages, grow subsistence crops, maintain their own forests and native language, and elect their own monarch — to create a semi-autonomous territory, known in Panama as a comarca, covering some 400,000 acres of their ancestral lands.

“This is an act of justice that will restore tranquillity to the Naso by securing our land,” says the King of the Naso, Reynaldo Santana. Continue reading

2020 Goldman Prize Winners

Nemonte Nenquimo led an indigenous campaign and legal action that resulted in a court ruling protecting 500,000 acres of Amazonian rainforest and Waorani territory from oil extraction. Nenquimo’s leadership and the lawsuit set a legal precedent for indigenous rights in Ecuador, and other tribes are following in her footsteps to protect additional tracts of rainforest from oil extraction.

The last time we mentioned a Goldman Prize winner was also the only time we have done so. What explains that? Nothing, really. Just a missed opportunity each year to celebrate things we care about. Today we share the news on one of the six prize winners for 2020:

Guardians of the Amazon Rainforest

Despite its relatively small area, Ecuador is one of the 10 most biodiverse countries on Earth. It contains pristine Amazon rainforests with rich wildlife, complex ecosystems, and significant populations of indigenous communities. Long protectors of this territory, the Waorani people are traditional hunter-gatherers organized into small clan settlements. Continue reading

Beware Of “This Is Big” & Other Snappy Catchphrases

The Miniature Science series of ads, created last year by the very talented folks at BBDO on behalf of their client ExxonMobil, are snappy.

By now most people who pay attention to climate science are aware of ExxonMobil’s active role in creating doubt about the emerging facts that their own scientists established about mankind’s impact on climate. In addition to actors like that giant petrochemical company, there are also behind-the-scenes, complicit creatives who have provided essential messaging to strengthen the deception. In a new essay, Bill McKibben turns his attention to those folks, and expects accountability:

If money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns, then P.R. campaigns and snappy catchphrases are the kindling. Illustration by Lia Liao

When “Creatives” Turn Destructive: Image-Makers and the Climate Crisis

Past sins are past no more: an overdue historical recalibration is under way, with monuments being pulled down, dorms renamed, restitution offered. People did things, bad things; even across the span of centuries, they’re being held to account, and there’s something noble about that. The Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, for instance, recently backed the removal of his famous ancestor’s statue from Richmond, Virginia. The memorial, he wrote, “is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.” Such a response raises an uncomfortable question: What are we doing now that our descendants will need to apologize for? Might we be able to get ahead of the sin this time? Continue reading

Trees, Maira Kalman & Vote

8+ years since the first link, and nearly 6 years since the last link to Maira Kalman‘s work, we are happy to see that a new book is en route. If you want to contribute to a novel get-out-the-vote mechanism, this may be for you:

trees

60.00

by Maira Kalman

Signed, second printing.
Each booklet comes with a piece of bark from a cloven tree.

100% of the proceeds will be donated to organizations working to bring out the vote, including the ACLU.
4.25” x 5.5” / 40 pages / Color / Stitched binding
Booklets will ship via USPS in October. We will ship as quickly as we can.

Every tree you encounter will lift your spirits.

(limit 10 booklets per order.)

Thanks to the New Yorker for bringing this to our attention with the following:

Looking at a Tree

By

Henry Hudson Park. The Bronx, New York.

There are two trees that have changed my life. The first was in Riverdale, the Bronx. It was in Henry Hudson Park, which was behind our building. My mother took me to the public library. Big windows, light pouring in. I was able to take books out to the park. I am eight years old or so, sitting in the tree in the park and reading “Pippi Longstocking.” In my memory, I was alone. The book was about a girl bursting with self-confidence and force. No parents in sight. A fantasy with madcap humor and a touching sense of kindness. This was me. And in those decisive, enchanted moments, I decided that I would write stories.

Ayot St. Lawrence, England.

When I was nineteen, I spent the summer in England, travelling with a friend and knocking about. We found ourselves in Ayot St. Lawrence, a little village outside of London. We were walking somewhere and passed a field with an immense tree in it. Maybe it was not far from a church or cemetery. Maybe I had just finished eating scones with clotted cream. At any rate, it took my breath away.

No tree since has made me feel that way. I have met many trees that I adore and admire. But that particular tree, on that particular day, has become one of the images in my life-is-good column…

Puzzling Palm Positivity

Palm-Full-Width-3

I saw this photo while skimming the headlines in the Environmental News section of the Guardian’s website. I have been skimming that section most mornings since July, 2011. Out of 3,000+ times skimming and always finding at least one news story to click through to read, today was the first time I ever clicked on an image that I could see was part of a paid advertisement. I landed on a screen filled with this:

Mars1

I have replicated as best I can what I saw, including the links to the messages embedded behind each of the images. The images of palm plantations are so pretty. The messages are so positive.

I am puzzled.

Palm?

Positive?

Ivy-League Activism

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted calls to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio. Credit…Tony Luong for The New York Times

This successful petition campaign is in good company. Bravo Harvard for taking fact-forward action.

Climate Activists Gain Seats on Harvard Oversight Board

The candidates were the first ones elected through a petition campaign since 1989, when anti-apartheid activists put Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the panel.

Bucking tradition, a group of climate activists has won three seats in an election to an important governing body at Harvard University, the Board of Overseers, the university announced Friday.

The slate of candidates ran on a platform that included calls for the university to drop fossil fuel investments from its portfolio, part of a divestment movement that has swept college campuses for the better part of a decade.

Harvard, with an endowment of more than $40 billion, has resisted those calls. In April, the university’s president, Lawrence Bacow, said that divestment “paints with too broad a brush” and instead announced that Harvard was setting a course to become greenhouse-gas neutral by 2050, a move that he correctly predicted would not satisfy those seeking total divestment.

Candidates for the six-year terms on the board are customarily nominated through the Harvard Alumni Association. These candidates were elected through a petition campaign, the first to successfully do so since 1989, when a group seeking divestment from South Africa put forward Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Continue reading