McKibben On The Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling

Photographs by Mitch Epstein

When you have found an explainer reliably clear on complicated but important issues, keep reading their essays:

The Supreme Court Tries to Overrule the Climate

A destructive decision in West Virginia v. E.P.A.

Credit where due: the Supreme Court’s 6–3 ruling in West Virginia v. E.P.A. is the culmination of a five-decade effort to make sure that the federal government won’t threaten the business status quo. Lewis Powell’s famous memo, written in 1971, before he joined the Supreme Court—between the enactment of a strong Clean Air Act and a strong Clean Water Act, each with huge popular support—called on “businessmen” to stand up to the tide of voices “from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians” calling for progressive change. Continue reading

Justice For Dom & Bruno

Dom Phillips (center), seen here taking notes as he talks with Indigenous people, reported regularly for the Guardian. Photograph by Joao Laet / AFP / Getty

Only one article by Dom Phillips in our pages, and not a single mention of Bruno Pereira seems wrong, to say the least.  As a rule obituaries are not our thing in these pages, but we have made exceptions.

Bruno Pereira was among the many senior officials and veteran experts at FUNAI who had gained a reputation for a robust defense of the agency’s guidelines in the Javari. Photograph by Daniel Marenco

Two Murders in the Amazon

The disappearance of Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira, and the crisis created by Jair Bolsonaro’s policies.

From the moment that Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira vanished, on June 5th, in the Brazilian Amazon, there were suspicions of foul play. Phillips was a British freelance journalist dedicated to environmental issues, and Pereira, his friend and guide, was a prominent Brazilian Indigenous-affairs expert.

Photograph by Nelson Almeida / AFP / Getty

He was assisting Phillips with research for a book, tentatively titled “How to Save the Amazon.” Continue reading

Big Science

While working on my doctoral dissertation in the early 1990s I had a clear view into how big businesses, and industry associations, influence the creation of knowledge in research universities. The big science problem (not to be confused with the Big Science album) was clearly there, we all can see now. But I did not find it so problematic at the time. Bibi van der Zee‘s review in the Guardian makes clear why we should be more concerned about who funds the creation of knowledge, and what strings may be attached:

The Playbook by Jennifer Jacquet review – how big business takes on science and wins

A ‘guide’ for companies looking to counter unwelcome research exposes the corporate world’s dark arts

“Playbook” is a term that feels overused at the moment – mostly because of Vladimir Putin’s military adventures. Continue reading

Why Are Starbucks Workers United?

Maggie Carter, a Starbucks barista in Knoxville, Tenn., keeps a stack of union cards with her. Audra Melton for The New York Times

We wrote one time previously about the Starbucks union drive, wondering why Starbucks is against it. We know the typical corporate reasons, but Starbucks has represented itself as atypical. So, we wanted to know. And in related news, the company’s efforts to keep unionization at bay has a new leader. Today we consider a related question, this time from workers’ perspective:

Why a Rhodes Scholar’s Ambition Led Her to a Job at Starbucks

Jaz Brisack became a barista for the same reasons that talented young people have long chosen their career paths: a mix of idealism and ambition.

Most weekend mornings, Jaz Brisack gets up around 5, wills her semiconscious body into a Toyota Prius and winds her way through Buffalo, to the Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue. After a supervisor unlocks the door, she clocks in, checks herself for Covid symptoms and helps get the store ready for customers. Continue reading

Action Is The Thing

ILLUSTRATION: WIRED; GETTY IMAGES

Climate inaction is a theme bookending the first decade of our chronicling news stories and analytical essays. Why, we have stopped bothering to wonder, is inaction so persistent? Whether activism or other forms of action, there is not enough of it relative to the scale of the crisis. We thank Eleanor Cummins, a freelance science journalist and adjunct professor at New York University’s Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program for these ideas as published in Wired:

‘Thinkwashing’ Keeps People From Taking Action in Times of Crisis

When it comes to issues like climate change, too many let the perfect become the enemy of the good, while the world burns.

LESS THAN A decade ago, “wait and see” arguments about climate change still circulated. “We often hear that there is a ‘scientific consensus’ about climate change,” physicist Steven E. Koonin wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2014. “But as far as the computer models go, there isn’t a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences.” The idea was that the world needed more data before it could respond to the threat posed by global warming—assuming such research indicated a response was even necessary. Continue reading

Kaboom! The First Successful Climate Raid Ever

Capitalism in the right hands: How a tech bro just rewrote Australia’s climate future

Until reading about them in this newsletter I read each week, Blair Palese, Peter McKillop and the Climate & Capital Media team were not on my radar. Now they are, and I enjoyed reading what they have written to Jeff Bezos about changing the game:

Capitalism in the right hands: How a tech bro just rewrote Australia’s climate future

  • Following a stunning shareholder coup, Australian software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes becomes the world’s first corporate raider with a mission to radically reduce Australia’s carbon footprint.
  • Cannon-Brookes made billions in software, but he is not retiring from the game in order to “give back” in the gentlemanly pursuit of charity.
  • His victorious raid demonstrates that real climate action requires more than just writing checks.
  • Instead Cannon-Brookes channeled corporate raider Carl Icahn, investor Henry Kravis, feminist organizer Gloria Steinem, Cajun political strategist James Carville and to do what no person has ever done: Merge political, financial, shareholder, and climate action into a single, ground-breaking capitalist moment to take on global warming.
  • We thought Jeff Bezos should know Mike.

Dear Jeff Bezos,

Greetings from Climate & Capital Media. We tried to send you a message on LinkedIn, but there are like at least two dozen Jeff Bezoses and you are not one of them. We applaud your commitment to climate action and setting up the $10 Billion charitable Earth Fund.

But word in New York is you are a tad frustrated with the fund’s impact. Continue reading

Pantanal Priorities

The Pantanal wetlands in Brazil.

The Pantanal wetlands in Brazil. MARKUS MAUTHE / GREENPEACE

There is not much that has happened in Brazil in the last few years that I would consider good environmental news.

YALE ENVIRONMENT 360

So one more urgency is at risk of getting lost in all the rest (which may be part of a strategy). But making it easier to extract the extracted from the center of the continent is akin to adding fuel to a very big fire:

A Waterway Project in Brazil Imperils a Vast Tropical Wetland

The Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetland, has been battered in recent years by agricultural development, drought, and fire. Now, a push to turn the region’s key river into a waterway for soybean-laden barges threatens to alter the natural flows of this iconic ecosystem.

It takes 14 hours for Lourenço Pereira Leite to reach his fishing spot.

He and his brother-in-law chug along in a simple one-engine motorboat, towing their traditional fishing canoe behind them. Continue reading

Really, Starbucks?

Pro-union pins sit on a table during a watch party for Starbucks’ employees union election in December in Buffalo, N.Y.  Starbucks union organizers say the company is closing a New York store to retaliate. Joshua Bessex/AP

Most of the companies and places and people we ask the question “Really?” of are more clearly acting in bad faith. In this case we are more puzzled that certain. We have generally been a fan of the company that had much to do with improving the lot of coffee farmers, with educating the public about coffee quality, with treating its employees fairly, and many other good works. If their employees feel the need to organize, and clearly want to organize, then Starbucks not supporting them seems out of character. Closing a shop location in Ithaca, a town we know well, may be due to that town being cosmopolitan enough to have several good coffee options:

Starbucks union says the coffee giant is closing a store to retaliate

Starbucks is closing a store in Ithaca, N.Y., in what Starbucks union organizers are calling an illegal move of retaliation after workers at the location voted to unionize. Continue reading

Technology Put To Good Use

A Wounaan forest technician inspects an illegal clearcut in Indigenous territory. CULLEN HEATER

Jim O’Donnell and Cullen Heater tell an essentially hopeful story from our neighbor to the south:

Panama’s Indigenous Groups Wage High-Tech Fight for Their Lands

With help from U.S. organizations, Panama’s Indigenous people are using satellite images and other technologies to identify illegal logging and incursions by ranchers on their territory. But spotting the violations is the easy part — getting the government to act is far harder.

On a blazing February morning, the Indigenous Wounaan territorial monitoring coordinator, two forest technicians, and a local farmer climbed into the mountains outside the fishing and farming community of Majé, near Panama’s Pacific coast. Continue reading

The Dirty Banking & Fossil Fuel Relationship Seen From Another Angle

We know a bit about dirty banking. While we do not think money is a dirty word, we have seen how dirty it can get when mixed with fossil fuels. So thanks, as always, to Bill McKibben for this further illumination. We are sharing his newsletter, rather than the New Yorker story he references, because as you will see below he encourages sharing Your money is your carbon:

If you’ve got $125k in the financial system, it’s doing as much damage as your cooking and your heating and your flying. These are the most important new climate numbers for many years

Earlier today I published a big story in the New Yorker about how banks are driving the climate crisis. A report from a consortium of environmental groups made clear that for the biggest, richest companies on earth, the cash they keep in the banking system (which gets lent out for pipelines and the like) produces more carbon than their actual, you know, business. Google emits more carbon from its money than its phones, and Netflix from its streaming, and so on. Continue reading

Desalination’s Discontents

The commissioner of the panel said: ‘The ocean is under attack … I cannot say in good conscience that this amount of damage is OK.’ Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

Desalination, which we celebrated multiple times over the years, might not be all as good we thought it was:

Joy for environmentalists as California blocks bid for $1.4bn desalination plant

Poseidon Water sought to turn seawater into drinking water but activists said plan would devastate ecosystem on Pacific coast

California coastal panel on Thursday rejected a longstanding proposal to build a $1.4bn seawater desalination plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water as the state grapples with persistent drought that is expected to worsen in coming years with climate change. Continue reading

Convivial Conservation

Click on this image to go to the page where the illustrative video about convivial conservation is embedded

New to me, but not new, is this pairing of words that have a magical ring to them when said together:

Convivial Conservation

Convivial (literally: ‘living with’) conservation offers a new and integrated approach to understanding and practicing environmental conservation. It is a Whole Earth vision that responds to the major ecological, social and political-economic challenges facing people and biodiversity in the 21st century

Click on the image above to watch a short video introducing the concept, and click to the right to read more about the book. Click here to read more about ongoing research on this topic. Anyone following our posts on this platform for the last decade+ will have seen a different pair of words frequently used–sometimes related to biodiversity and other times related to culture. Now that I have let this other word pairing have some space in my day, I expect to see the words more frequently in these pages.

The Rights Of Man Versus The Rights Of Nature

For most of history, people saw themselves as dependent on their surroundings, and rivers and mountains had the last word. Illustration by Marion Fayolle

Florida is on my mind today. Yesterday I listened to some excellent reporting on this podcast episode and was surprised to learn that some consider the political climate in the state environmentally-friendly. Surprising because the entire reporting emphasized what sounded like anti-regulatory business-friendly fervor. And after reading this article by one of my favorite writers, I think the state will be on my mind for the indefinite future (late in the article she writes “Start taking Stone seriously and it’s hard to stop;” so far she is correct):

A Lake in Florida Suing to Protect Itself

Lake Mary Jane, in central Florida, could be harmed by development. A first-of-its-kind lawsuit asks whether nature should have legal rights.

Lake Mary Jane is shallow—twelve feet deep at most—but she’s well connected. She makes her home in central Florida, in an area that was once given over to wetlands. To the north, she is linked to a marsh, and to the west a canal ties her to Lake Hart. To the south, through more canals, Mary Jane feeds into a chain of lakes that run into Lake Kissimmee, which feeds into Lake Okeechobee. Were Lake Okeechobee not encircled by dikes, the water that flows through Mary Jane would keep pouring south until it glided across the Everglades and out to sea. Continue reading

Meat Me Half Way

Changing the way we eat to improve our lives and save our planet has been a common theme over the years on this platform. In case you missed yesterday’s post, this new book by Brian Kateman was mentioned in the newsletter:

We know that eating animals is bad for the planet and bad for our health, and yet we do it anyway. Ask anyone in the plant-based movement and the solution seems obvious: Stop eating meat.

But, for many people, that stark solution is neither appealing nor practical. Continue reading

When Diplomats Must Be Undiplomatic

Yesterday I posted about one of the easier topics among the many options I have to post about every day. Today, a topic increasingly frequent in my posts, but definitely not an easy one. So I look to one person to summarize our week-to-week progress or lack of it. As always, I recommend signing up for his newsletter:

The World’s Top Diplomat Has Had It Up to Here

The Secretary General of the UN models how to think about climate change

I can remember when some of us organized what may have been the planet’s first truly huge climate march, with 400,000 people descending on New York in 2014. Then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon came to walk with us for a few blocks, and it was considered remarkable: the world’s top diplomat had previously been too diplomatic to join in protests challenging the policies of his member nations. Continue reading

Watching Whales, Hopefully Forever

An orca pod feeding. Iceland, one of the few countries that still hunts whales commercially plans to end the practice from 2024. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy

Of all the dozens of times in our pages where whales are the central topic, there was once when Icelandic whaling was featured. And that story was about ending the practice of hunting these majestic animals. Today’s story–‘Meet us, don’t eat us’: Iceland turns from whale eaters to whale watchers–is the first time I have heard that travelers are the primary market for whale meat there. Strange, but true:

Reykjavik harbour. The small red boat on the right is an Elding whale-watching vessel. The blue one with a tall mast is a whaling boat. Photograph: Abby Young-Powell

The country’s plan to end commercial whaling is driven by falling demand but also a 15-year-long campaign aimed at their biggest consumers of whale meat – tourists

Onboard a small whale-watching boat making its way across the choppy waters of Faxaflói Bay, off the south-west coast of Iceland, a guide urges tourists not to eat whale meat. Continue reading

Youth & Perspective

It should not be this difficult to change viewpoints on an existential topic. But apparently it is. If it requires a new social media platform, and watching a few short, catchy videos, so be it:

A growing chorus of young people is focusing on climate solutions. “‘It’s too late’ means ‘I don’t have to do anything, and the responsibility is off me.’”

Alaina Wood is well aware that, planetarily speaking, things aren’t looking so great. She’s read the dire climate reports, tracked cataclysmic weather events and gone through more than a few dark nights of the soul. Continue reading

Close The Hose Of Fossil Fuel Cash

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, said fossil-fuel funding ‘has been used to compromise leading academic institutions’. Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Hats off to Michael Mann and colleagues for this determination:

Universities must reject fossil fuel cash for climate research, say academics

Open letter from 500 academics likens fossil-energy funding of climate solutions to tobacco industry disinformation

Universities must stop accepting funding from fossil fuel companies to conduct climate research, even if the research is aimed at developing green and low-carbon technology, an influential group of distinguished academics has said. Continue reading

Climate Forests

LET TREES
GROW
PROTECT THE CLIMATE

Last week’s epic essay by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker was followed up by his weekly newsletter, in which he mentions the organization above. Visit and see what they are doing. And the newsletter is a useful footnote to the essay:

…It argues that the time has come for us to end—after 200,000 years—the central place of combustion in human affairs, and rely instead on the fact there’s a flaming ball of gas hanging 93 million miles away in the sky. I won’t repeat the argument here, but I do want to extend it a little. Continue reading

McKibben’s Longform Power Pitch

The market for electrons is predictable, meaning that solar panels installed on farmland can provide a fairly stable income for farmers. Photograph by George Rose / Getty

Illustration by Álvaro Bernis

If you have not been reading Bill McKibben regularly, or at all, here is as good a place to start as you will find. It is a long, powerful pitch:

In a World on Fire, Stop Burning Things

The truth is new and counterintuitive: we have the technology necessary to rapidly ditch fossil fuels.

In 2020, fossil-fuel pollution killed three times as many people as COVID-19 did. Photograph by Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Getty

On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Continue reading