Photo: Hannah Whitaker; Prop Styling: Marina Bevilacqua.
David Wallace-Wells has done it again. Devastated me with considerations I should have had on my own, but had not. And he makes it so vivid that once you see his point you cannot stop seeing it. Having lived in the Global South for a majority of my adult years, but having been born into and lived in the Global North for the first half of my life, this story resonates with me in ways I cannot quite describe. But the quote from Proverbs in yesterday’s post seems even more intensely relevant:
A trillion tons of carbon hangs in the air, put there by the world’s rich, an existential threat to its poor. Can we remove it?
I. What Is Owed
Brazil, 2019. Photo: Cristina de Middel/Magnum Photos
The math is as simple as the moral claim. We know how much carbon has been emitted and by which countries, which means we know who is most responsible and who will suffer most and that they are not the same. We know that the burden imposed on the world’s poorest by its richest is gruesome, that it is growing, and that it represents a climate apartheid demanding reparation — or should know it. We know we can remove some of that carbon from the atmosphere and undo at least some of the damage. We know the cost of doing so using tools we have today. And we know that unless we use them, the problem will never go away. Continue reading
James Watt, at work in the small University of Glasgow workshop where he basically invented the fossil fuel era
I am trying to imagine getting tired of reading Bill McKibben’s constant flow of commentary and news, even though most of it is dismal. It would be like getting tired of paying attention to the environment, especially climate issues. Yesterday’s observations from Glasgow are particularly rewarding, and I hope you will consider subscribing to his newsletter:
And where it’s definitely not going to end
I spent part of the morning wandering the gorgeous Victorian courtyards of the University of Glasgow (they would seem familiar to you—it’s where they shot the exteriors for the Harry Potter films), trying to find the university chapel where I was supposed to give a lecture. Instead of that august sanctuary, I stumbled across the James Watt building—and with it a poignant set of reminders about just how quickly we’ve managed to bring the world to the edge of ruin. Continue reading
Click to the right to see the CEO of an oil company take a strong verbal assault from a fellow panelist. It is uncomfortable to watch. And that is exactly the purpose. Read more about the context in the description below, titled Shell CEO Roasted at TED Climate Conference He Was Foolishly Invited to Speak At. We can expect to see more disruptions like this one in the future:
As Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden spoke at a TED conference, he was interrupted by organizers, one of whom called him “one of the most evil people in the world.”
On Thursday, a strange scene unfolded at the International Conference Centrein Edinburgh. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden took the stage with a prominent climate scientist and Christiana Figueres, the woman who negotiated the Paris Agreement, at a TED Countdown conference. Continue reading
Glasgow, Scotland, site of the 2021 UN climate conference in November. TREASUREGALORE / SHUTTERSTOCK
Fred Pearce has a unique ability to make big, complex important matters more understandable:
Negotiators at the Glasgow climate conference will face a critical choice: Set firm emissions targets for 2030, or settle for goals of achieving “net zero” by 2050? The course they set could determine if we have a shot at avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.
CLIMATE ACTION TRACKER
Glasgow, once the second city of the British Empire and the biggest shipbuilder on the planet, next month hosts the 26th conference of nations aiming to halt dangerous climate change. The negotiators face the challenge of turning the aspiration of the 2015 Paris Agreement to achieve “net zero” emissions by mid-century into the detailed near-term action plans necessary to turn those hopes into reality in time to halt warming at or near 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Continue reading
BREAKING: After a decade of constant pressure by students, faculty, and alums,
IS FINALLY DIVESTING FROM FOSSIL FUELS.
While Rupert Murdoch is not even worthy of the “too little too late” moniker, Harvard University is worthy of “better late than never:”
The richest university in the world capitulates after a decade of activism
The end came, as ends often do, quietly: at midafternoon today Harvard president Larry Bacow released a letter to Harvard students, faculty, and alumni. He didn’t use the word ‘divestment’–that would have been too humiliating–but he did say that the richest university on earth no longer had any direct investments in fossil fuel companies, and that its indirect investments through private equity funds would be allowed to lapse. “HMC has not made any new commitments to these limited partnerships since 2019 and has no intention to do so going forward. These legacy investments are in runoff mode and will end as these partnerships are liquidated.” Continue reading
The main way to counter the malign power of vested interest is to meet organized money with organized people. Photograph by Nicole Neri / Bloomberg / Getty
For the entire run of his newsletter McKibben made this point over and over again, and now one final time from his unique platform at the New Yorker:
Longleaf pines once covered 90 million acres from Virginia to east Texas but today only about 5 percent of historic range remains intact. Marion Clifton Davis was a modern conservationist who bought tens of thousands of acres in the Florida sandhills and turned them into a private reserve, a project aimed at restoring back the Longleaf pine forest. (Photo: Florida Fish and Wildlife, Flickr, CC BY ND 2.0)
When you have 12 minutes to spare, listen to Tony Hiss talk about his new book on this excellent episode of Living On Earth, and if you decide to buy the book and want to avoid Amazon click the image of the book below:
The Boreal Forest is the world’s largest intact forest ecosystem and is a carbon sink. It’s estimated that if global warming exceeds the 3-5 degree Celsius heat stress and water scarcity could trigger extensive forest death and a dangerous release of the stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Photo: Kevin Owen, Flickr, CC BY NC ND 2.0)
Climate change is placing stress on plants and animals to rapidly adapt but without intact habitat, that could become impossible for many. Tony Hiss is an award-winning author and joins Host Bobby Bascomb to talk about his book Rescuing the Planet: Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth, which looks at several places across North America where communities are already working to protect habitat and biodiversity.
BASCOMB: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bobby Bascomb.
During his first few days in office President Biden announced the goal of protecting 30 percent of US land and water by the year 2030 with a long term goal of 50 percent by 2050. Continue reading
Progress is slow on the route to vegetarianism, so we monitor what we can about the meat we continue to consume. Thanks to Mighty Earth for this scorecard:
Beef Scorecard: Global Food Brands Failing to Address Largest Driver of Deforestation
WASHINGTON, DC – The world’s top supermarket and fast-food companies are largely ignoring the environmental and human rights abuses caused by their beef products, a new scorecard by Mighty Earth finds. The scorecard evaluates the beef sourcing practices of fifteen of the world’s largest grocery and fast-food companies that have pledged to end deforestation across their supply chains. Despite beef’s role as the top driver of global deforestation, only four companies- Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, and McDonald’s – have taken some action to stop sourcing beef from destructive suppliers. Continue reading
Ray Jacobs (left) hands over his gillnet to Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s Vice President in Belize. Also pictured is Fidel Audinett (center), a Belizean fisher who had been petitioning the government to ban gillnets since 1997. Photo Credit: © Oceana/Alex Ellis
Wonderful news out of Belize!
For a country that’s slightly smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts, Belize boasts an inordinate number of ocean wonders. It’s home to the world’s second longest barrier reef, which Charles Darwin once described as “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.” Here, you’ll find more than 500 unique fish species – enough to give every Belizean island its own mascot and still have about 50 left over.
Because this little Caribbean country has a lot worth protecting, it has enacted some of the strongest ocean conservation laws in the world – and they just got even stronger. Following hard-fought victories that banned all trawling and offshore oil drilling in Belize’s waters, the country has now outlawed gillnets, a fishing gear that kills turtles, manatees, and many other marine animals.
In addition to implementing a nationwide gillnet ban, the Belizean government signed an agreement with Oceana and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries to help licensed gillnet fishers transition to other jobs. As a result, Belizean resources and livelihoods will be protected well into the future.
As Janelle Chanona, Oceana’s head in Belize, put it: “This is a historic moment for Belize, her people, the Caribbean Sea and, most importantly, for everyone who depends on the country’s marine resources for their livelihoods.” Continue reading
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:
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
Solar panels are installed on to the roof of a house in Sydney, Australia. Almost 90% of new electricity generation in 2020 will be renewable, the IEA says. Photograph: Reuters
Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment editor Damian Carrington for this sunny news:
International Energy Agency expects green electricity to end coal’s 50-year reign by 2025
Global renewable electricity installation will hit a record level in 2020, according to the International Energy Agency, in sharp contrast with the declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the fossil fuel sectors. Continue reading
Shoppers waited to enter the Strand on Sunday after the bookstore said its business “had become unsustainable.” Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
Books and the love of books have been a constant theme since early posts on this platform. Likewise, libraries are in these pages frequently due to their important and sometimes essential role to communities; and of course librarians can change lives. Bookstores, cultural institutions in their own right, show up plenty in our pages. The Strand has not, even though it has multigenerational resonance in our family. Today it is newsworthy for complex reasons. The title almost says it all. Book lovers respond, for reasons that all our other posts about books and book places hint at. For me the subheading has the word that caught my attention. While book lovers and bookstore lovers respond to this shop’s call for help, some of the shop’s resources were invested awkwardly (I have hinted at such awkwardness plenty of times). When an independent bookseller is an option, consider the value they represent. Meanwhile, thanks to Sean Piccoli and Elizabeth A. Harris for this:
“It’s awkward because the track record for the ownership here is not great,” one customer said. “But it’s also an institution. My parents shopped here.”
For months, the Strand bookstore in downtown Manhattan, from its fiction stacks to its cookbook section to its rare books, has been nearly deserted. But on Sunday, half an hour before the store was scheduled to open, about a dozen people lined up in the cool fall breeze, waiting to get inside. Continue reading
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.
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
Usually his writing voice sounds like he is frustrated, and his spoken voice can sound like he is feeling headed for defeat. Today there is a different sound and it is worth listening to:
This week, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump Administration’s request to expand construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the climate-change task force formed by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders urged politicians to “treat climate change like the emergency that it is.” Bill McKibben, an activist in the environmental movement for three decades, joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss whether the United States has hit a turning point in the battle against global warming.
Thanks as always to Bill McKibben, in particular this time for disguising a podcast recommendation (click the image above to go to the website of the podcast) as a recommendation for regulating Facebook:
Why is it so hard to get Facebook to do anything about the hate and deception that fill its pages, even when it’s clear that they are helping to destroy democracy? And why, of all things, did the company recently decide to exempt a climate-denial post from its fact-checking process? The answer is clear: Facebook’s core business is to get as many people as possible to spend as many hours as possible on its site, so that it can sell those people’s attention to advertisers. (A Facebook spokesperson said the company’s policy stipulates that “clear opinion content is not subject to fact-checking on Facebook.”) This notion of core business explains a lot—including why it’s so hard to make rapid gains in the fight against climate change. Continue reading
LEFT: “War gardens over the top. The seeds of victory insure the fruits of peace,” Maginel Wright Enright, National War Garden Commission, 1919 (Library of Congress). RIGHT: “War gardens for victory—Grow vitamins at your kitchen door,” lithographed by the Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation, Rochester, New York, between 1939 and 1945 (Library of Congress).
In the latest Gastropod episide, Dig for Victory, we get some new background on an old topic that has been on our minds lately:
You’ve seen the news: vegetable seeds are selling out. All that quarantine ennui has combined with anxiety about the gaps on supermarket shelves to create a whole new population of city farmers in backyards and windowsills across America. And everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Forbes to CBS has dubbed these brand new beds of beets and broccoli “COVID-19 Victory Gardens.” Continue reading
© Alexis Rosenfeld
We’re a day behind on World Oceans Day, but John Tanzer’s words are lasting, despite the date.
By John Tanzer, Oceans Practice Leader, WWF International
It was early March when the realization hit. Our Year of Ocean Action wasn’t going to happen — at least not in the way so many had been planning. 2020 would be extraordinary, but for all the wrong reasons. Our Super Year was meant to be the launch platform for a decade of strong global efforts to restore the ocean. Clearly, the attention and resources we had hoped to harness have been in much demand elsewhere.
I was not looking for a “silver lining” to the suffering and loss caused by the coronavirus, but somewhere in the back of my mind was a quote about not letting a crisis go to waste. Was it Winston Churchill who said it? Or a contemporary politician?
It turns out, it was not Churchill, and it wasn’t even a politician. The line can be traced back at least as far as 1976, to M. F. Weiner’s article in the journal Medical Economics, “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.” Weiner apparently meant that a medical crisis can be used to improve all aspects of a patient’s well-being.
So, it wasn’t a callous sentiment about seizing the upper hand in a moment of chaos. It was an acknowledgement that a crisis may arise which so disrupts the norm that all preconceptions are set aside, and all solutions are on the table.
‘Hearing birdsong with such clarity has become for many a small joy and a valuable mental health boost during lockdown.’ Photograph: Alamy
Although not an experienced birder, I would call myself a proponent of ornitherapy; it makes me happy and relaxed to see and hear birds around me. I also have the good fortune to live in a country with not only a great number of birds (both species and individuals), but also an area that’s remote enough to have fairly little noise pollution. So bottom line, I hear birds all the time. In fact, at the times when they’re quiet for some reason, it feels eerily strange.
So, despite the unprecedented challenges people are currently facing around the world, I hope that occasionally there’s a moment to at least open the window and listen for the birds.
A turtle surfaces offshore of Kahekili Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii. COURTESY OF DON MCLEISH
It seems like a fitting Earth Day celebration that the U.S. Supreme Court voted to block the Trump Administration’s attempts to roll back the EPA Clean Water Act.
Today the Supreme Court issued its opinion in County of Maui v. Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund siding with clean water advocates that point source discharges to navigable waters through groundwater are regulated under the Clean Water Act.
The following is a statement from David Henkin, Earthjustice attorney who argued the case defending clean water:
“This decision is a huge victory for clean water. The Supreme Court has rejected the Trump administration’s effort to blow a big hole in the Clean Water Act’s protections for rivers, lakes, and oceans.
“We will have to return to the lower court to confirm this, but we fully expect that Maui County’s sewage plant will be required to get a Clean Water Act permit as a result of the Court’s decision today. That permit will require the County to protect the ocean from sewage discharges in a way it has refused to do to date.
“We are glad the Court has recognized the importance of protecting clean water for all Americans.”
The court held that the Clean Water Act “require[s] a permit if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters.” In other words, the Clean Water Act prohibits unpermitted discharge of pollution “into navigable waters, or when the discharge reaches the same result through roughly similar means.” In doing so, the Court rejected the Trump administration’s polluter-friendly position in the clearest of terms: “We do not see how Congress could have intended to create such a large and obvious loophole in one of the key regulatory innovations of the Clean Water Act.” Continue reading
PHOTO RENDERING BY PATRICK WHITE
The essay below addresses some
of the themes in essays
we pointed to in the last year. Robert H. Frank, Economics professor at Cornell University, has not appeared in our pages before, which is just plain wrong, as Thy Neighbor’s Solar Panels
When our peers take actions to preserve the planet, we’re more likely to follow suit. How the human instinct to conform could help us address the climate crisis.
It is worse, much worse, than you think,” reads the frightening first sentence of The Uninhabitable Earth, David Wallace-Wells’s comprehensive account of what researchers have discovered about our planet’s climate trajectory. The severity of the crisis, he goes on to note, has made some climatologists reluctant to describe its full extent, fearing that such candor might make the challenge we face seem hopeless. The concern is understandable: Previous warnings of impending peril have done little to alter either individual behavior or public policy. Continue reading