She is a scientist who explains in language I understand, without dumbing it down too much, something as complex as climate change and its relationship to global warming. She is also funny. I found the blog post above after listening to her on this podcast, just to double check that she is consistently clear, profound and funny. She will be responsible for my staying tuned to this series:
Robert Macfarlane first came to my attention in Ethiopia a few years ago. And then again the following year while in India. And now I see where it was all leading, in the form of a book, to see what is beneath our feet, reviewed here:
You know a book has entered your bloodstream when the ground beneath your feet, once viewed as bedrock, suddenly becomes a roof to unknown worlds below. The British writer Robert Macfarlane has written such a book. “Underland: A Deep Time Journey” is an epic exploration and examination of darkness and the caverns underground that have captured our imaginations, pulled us downward, housed our dead and allowed us to bury our most violent secrets. It is also a descent into the beauty where dark wisdom is located.
Macfarlane divides his explorations into three sections, or “chambers,” devoted to “Seeing,” “Hiding” and “Haunting.” As he moves through them, he will take us to ancient barrows in Britain’s Mendip Hills, the understory of the Epping Forest and a physics lab investigating “dark matter” from deep within a coastal Yorkshire mine. He will guide us through underground rivers in Italy and show us the pictographs known as “the red dancers” found in Norwegian sea caves.
Macfarlane homes in on “something seemingly paradoxical: that darkness might be a medium of vision, and that descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” Night vision becomes an essential strategy for survival in the Anthropocene, the new epoch we find ourselves in, which registers the human press on the planet as a geologic force. “For more than 15 years now,” Macfarlane explains, “I have been writing about the relationships between landscape and the human heart. What began as a wish to solve a personal mystery — why I was so drawn to mountains as a young man that I was, at times, ready to die for love of them — has unfolded into a project of deep-mapping.” Continue reading
First I had read the Guardian interview with the author, which was good, and made watching the above worthwhile. But when David Wallace-Wells conducts such an interview, it is something altogether more compelling. He knows how to word a title alarmingly. My reading list just got 320 pages longer:
Jared Diamond’s new book, Upheaval, addresses itself to a world very obviously in crisis, and tries to lift some lessons for what do about it from the distant past. In that way, it’s not so different from all the other books that have made the UCLA geographer a sort of don of “big think” history and a perennial favorite of people like Steven Pinker and Bill Gates.
Diamond’s life as a public intellectual began with his 1991 book The Third Chimpanzee, a work of evolutionary psychology, but really took off with Guns, Germs, and Steel, published in 1997, which offered a three-word explanation for the rise of the West to the status of global empire in the modern era — and, even published right at the “end of history,” got no little flak from critics who saw in it both geographic determinism and what they might today call a whiff of Western supremacy. In 2005, he published Collapse, a series of case studies about what made ancient civilizations fall into disarray in the face of environmental challenges — a doorstopper that has become a kind of touchstone work for understanding the crisis of climate change today. In The World Until Yesterday, published in 2012, he asked what we can learn from traditional societies; and in his new book, he asks what we can learn from ones more like our own that have faced upheaval but nevertheless endured.
I obviously want to talk about your new book, but I thought it might be useful to start by asking you how you saw it in the context of your life’s work.
Sure. Here’s my answer, and I think you’ll find it banal and more disappointing than what you might have hoped for. Continue reading
Two luminaries on climate, in conversation:
The world has done little to tackle global warming since Bill McKibben’s landmark book on the subject was published in 1989. In ane360 interview, McKibben talks about the critical time lost and what can be done now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Three decades ago, Bill McKibben published The End of Nature, the first book on climate change aimed at a general audience. McKibben went on to found the international environmental group 350.org, help launch the fossil fuel divestment movement, and write a dozen more non-fiction books, as well as a novel. In 2014, McKibben received the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel,” for mobilizing popular support for “strong action to counter the threat of global climate change.”
McKibben’s latest book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, was published this month and debuted last week on the New York Times bestseller list. In an interview with Yale Environment 360 , McKibben talks about why the critical time for action on climate was missed, where he still finds hope, and what the world will look like three decades from now.
“Thirty or 50 years out, the world’s going to run on sun and wind, because they’re free,” McKibben says. “The question is… what kind of world will it be?”
Yale Environment 360: It’s almost exactly 30 years since you published The End of Nature. One way to read that book is as a warning. How you would characterize Falter? Is it also a warning, or are we beyond that?
Bill McKibben: Look, 30 years ago this was all still prospective. You couldn’t really take a picture of climate change yet. Now, having wasted 30 years, we’re at the point where it’s a dominant fact of everyday life for hundreds of millions of people and promising to be the overwhelming fact of our time in the years ahead. It’s too late, obviously, to stop climate change. I hope that the book gets across that it may not be too late to keep it from getting absolutely out of control. It’s not a warning. It’s some combination of a report and a chronicle and a plea, I think. Continue reading
Emergency? The evidence is clear in the case of the environment, and it is a global emergency with a global solution. Thanks to Yale e360 for this summary of a new finding:
There is enough room in the world’s existing parks, forests, and abandoned land to plant 1.2 trillion additional trees, which would have the CO2 storage capacity to cancel out a decade of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new analysis by ecologist Thomas Crowther and colleagues at ETH Zurich, a Swiss university. Continue reading
When I started my Saturday morning reading it was just prior to our weekly visit to the farmer’s market and there was visual resonance with our own experience eliminating, or trying to eliminate plastic:
Going plastic free starts with cloth bags and straws. Suddenly, you’re … making your own toothpaste?
Like most people, resonance is always welcome in my reading. But like a second cup of coffee to really get the day going, there is nothing like cognitive dissonance. I can think eliminating plastic from our lives is a big deal one moment, and then the next it is clear that it is not enough, that it is like tinkering. Or as the punchy cliche puts it, like arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. David Wallace-Wells is a skilled dissonance artist in this vein. He can make your best efforts suddenly seem pathetic; not in a snarky way and if you listen to him explain his work you will realize resistance is futile; you cannot look away from what he is saying, even if you want to.
His book will not likely be damned by faint praise; its look at our future prospects will more likely draw extreme responses in favor of the intensity of his alarm, and claims of alarmism from the usual suspects. He is catching up to Elizabeth Kolbert in balancing our preference for optimism with extreme realism. His op-ed on Saturday tipped the balance for me quite like a second, maybe third cup of coffee:
The age of climate panic is here. Last summer, a heat wave baked the entire Northern Hemisphere, killing dozens from Quebec to Japan. Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history turned more than a million acres to ash, along the way melting the tires and the sneakers of those trying to escape the flames. Pacific hurricanes forced three million people in China to flee and wiped away almost all of Hawaii’s East Island.
We are living today in a world that has warmed by just one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 1800s, when records began on a global scale. We are adding planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at a rate faster than at any point in human history since the beginning of industrialization. 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
Thanks to Lisa Cox, the Guardian’s Australia correspondent for environment, for this:
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
Deniers, we already know you will find a way to see this from some other perspective, and we have given up trying to understand why you do that. But for everyone else, there is still time to understand the implications of this science. And there is no shame in using props to help learn. Thanks to Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich for making sure we get the point, with clear graphical illustration, about what this recent study is saying and why every one of us should care:
Extreme heat will be much more common worldwide under 2°C of warming compared to 1.5°C, with the tropics experiencing the biggest increase in the number of “highly unusual” hot days.
Read the rest of this graphics-rich story here.
Our vegetarian diet ambitions are strengthening for all kinds of reasons. Footprint reduction among them. Thanks to our colleague Mathis Wackernagel for his regular reminders of the anything but regular footprint growth humanity imposes on the planet each year:
Study says the date by which we consume a year’s worth of resources is arriving faster
Humanity is devouring our planet’s resources in increasingly destructive volumes, according to a new study that reveals we have consumed a year’s worth of carbon, food, water, fibre, land and timber in a record 212 days.
As a result, the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate – has moved forward two days to 1 August, the earliest date ever recorded.
Earth Overshoot Day falls on 1 August this year – marking the point at which consumption exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate
To maintain our current appetite for resources, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 Earths, according to Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation that makes an annual assessment of how far humankind is falling into ecological debt. Continue reading
Is it cataclysm or is it a rendering of what we already thought we knew? In case you missed it, there was some startling news that came with this image to the left, that does not look like anything we have ever seen. And the article starts like this:
While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate.
On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. “How weird is that?” tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. “Well it’s Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won’t be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing.”
This thaw occurred as a pulse of extremely mild air shot through the Greenland Sea.
Warm air is spilling into the Arctic from all sides. On the opposite end of North America, abnormally mild air also poured over northern Alaska on Tuesday, where the temperature in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, soared to a record high of 31 degrees (minus-1 Celsius), 40 degrees (22 Celsius) above normal. [continue to the article]
Alarming? We think so. Clear? We do not think so. Eric Lach, Deputy News Editor at The New Yorker, has this brief helpful interpretation, with a much easier to understand illustration:
This week brought news from the Arctic. “Arctic temperatures soar 45 degrees above normal, flooded by extremely mild air on all sides,” the Washington Post declared, in a headline. The article below that headline detailed how, on Monday and Tuesday, at the northern tip of Greenland, temperatures rose above freezing for a full twenty-four-hour period—extremely unusual for this time of year—while temperatures across “the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees (6 Celsius) above normal since the beginning of the calendar year.”
All sorts of media outlets now regularly cover instances of extreme weather in remote corners of the world. And yet how should readers understand these reports? Are the ups and downs of climate change something to follow in the newspaper, like the Mets or the Yankees? [continue to the post]
Each day we scan the news for stories that will help make sense of the environmental challenges facing humanity, with special attention to potential solutions and collective action taken to rise up to those challenges. Earlier this year we declined to link out to this story that was a collection of doomsday scenarios:
Finally, the author we link out to with frequency (respectfully and affectionately noting her role in highlighting doom on the horizon), has offered a photo of herself in the setting of one of her stories. It is a cave with a story to tell, and while the story is not one we want to hear it is one we must ponder. That is why we keep linking out to her writing.
This is among her best short offerings, written originally to be a speech, with the creature below featured in compelling manner:
Humanity’s survival on this planet seems more uncertain than ever. But what happens when we look at ourselves through other creatures’ eyes?
Yesterday evening, at Manhattan’s New School, the New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert delivered the second annual Jonathan Schell Memorial Lecture on the Fate of the Earth, an event established by the Nation Institute in honor of the late Jonathan Schell, a longtime New Yorker staff writer, and named for “The Fate of the Earth,” a series of articles that Schell wrote for the magazine in 1982 and later published as a book. Kolbert’s remarks have been edited for length. Continue reading
Thanks to Jonathon Shaw and Harvard Magazine for bringing our attention to this book:
The microbial earth, brought into view
IN ROCKS AND SOIL, air, ponds and oceans, life is dominated by creatures that humans cannot see. Microbes thrive everywhere, from gardens and kitchens to the harshest environments on the planet: under polar ice, in hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the sea, in hot springs that spew acid. A single gram of soil teems with billions of them, and their genetic diversity is equally impressive, dwarfing that of all the plants and animals on Earth. Life at the Edge of Sight: A Photographic Exploration of the Microbial World (forthcoming from The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), brings the planet-shaping diversity of these single-celled, microscopic organisms into view through stunning images. Co-authors Roberto Kolter, professor of microbiology and immunology, and Scott Chimileski, a research fellow in microbiology and immunology at Harvard Medical School, share their passion for the subject in part by magnifying what cannot be seen unaided, in part by revealing large-scale microbial impacts on the landscape. Kolter has long been a leader in microbial science at Harvard, while Chimileski brings to his scholarship a talent for landscape, macro, and technical photography…
Read the whole article here, and if you happen to be in Cambridge (MA, USA) this exhibition might be of interest:
The minuscule ecosystem within a single drop of water is home to an astonishing diversity of organisms busily living out their lives and interconnected by myriad complex relationships. The photographic exhibit World in a Drop is an aesthetic journey into this microbial world, as revealed through cutting-edge imaging technologies. With expertly executed photography, videography, and poetic narration, Scott Chimileski and Roberto Kolter capture the intrinsic beauty of a mysterious world that is seldom recognized.
Thanks to Cool Green Science for this set of instructions for North American viewing of the sun’s near-disappearance:
Where will you be on August 21, 2017 when the solar eclipse passes through North America?
Here’s a guide to viewing opportunities, including Nature Conservancy preserves where you can catch the spectacle in beautiful surroundings.
Solar eclipses can be viewed from the earth’s surface about two to four times a year, but they aren’t viewable from all parts of the earth’s surface and the path of totality (the places on Earth from which viewers can see the total eclipse) is only about 50 miles wide. Eclipse 2017 stands out because the path of totality cuts a wide swath through the United States and all of North America will have views of a partial eclipse.
Both the collaborative ethos and the focus of the cause are dear to our hearts.
Parley is the Space Where Creators, Thinkers, and Leaders come together to raise awareness for the beauty and fragility of our oceans and collaborate on projects that can end their destruction.
Parley for the Oceans addresses major threats towards our oceans, the most important ecosystem of our planet.
We believe the power for change lies in the hands of the consumer – given he has a choice – and the power to shape this new consumer mindset lies in the hands of the creative industries.
Artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, fashion designers, journalists, architects, product inventors, and scientists have the tools to mold the reality we live in and to develop alternative business models and ecologically sensible products to give us earthlings an alternative choice, an everyday option to change something.
Thanks to Anthropocene’s Brandon Keim for the summary and insights from Mangroves optimized: How to make coastal habitats sequester even more carbon:
Of all the carbon buried in the floors of Earth’s oceans, most of it is found in the narrow strip of tidal marshes, seagrass beds, and mangroves along their edge. Known as blue carbon ecosystems, these vegetated coastal habitats “occupy only 0.2% of the ocean surface, yet contribute 50% of the total amount of carbon buried in marine sediments,” write researchers, led by Deakin University ecologist Peter Macreadie, in the journal Frontiers in Ecology in the Environment. Meter for meter, they’re some of the most effective carbon storage systems we have. But could people make them even more effective? Continue reading
Joining colleagues for a conversation about how to make sense of the post-2016 world provided me strong motivation in recent weeks to return to philosophy, something I had not done since graduate school 2+ decades back. With all the hyperventilation, there is a clear need for calm reflection. I recently listened to this man on one of the best podcasts out there; and by virtue of his voice, his ideas, his science of the soul (thanks to Joshua Rothman and the New Yorker for illumination on this science), he offers the perfect antidote to the current crescendoing chaos:
Four billion years ago, Earth was a lifeless place. Nothing struggled, thought, or wanted. Slowly, that changed. Seawater leached chemicals from rocks; near thermal vents, those chemicals jostled and combined. Some hit upon the trick of making copies of themselves that, in turn, made more copies. The replicating chains were caught in oily bubbles, which protected them and made replication easier; eventually, they began to venture out into the open sea. A new level of order had been achieved on Earth. Life had begun. Continue reading