Really, Australia?

The Unesco world heritage committee’s decision on the Great Barrier Reef’s ‘in danger’ status is currently scheduled for 23 July. Photograph: James Cook University/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been a couple months since we asked anyone the fundamental question. Ok, we acknowledge our not being qualified to make the scientific judgement on whether the Great Barrier Reef is in sufficient danger to be listed as such, officially. But UNESCO has the qualified scientists, so let them do their job without undue influence. It sure seems likely to help the entire world to see how fossil-fueled climate change is impacting such natural wonders. It would raise consciousness in a way that might even be good for Australia–whose government obviously thinks otherwise. Hopefully UNESCO will stick to its principles and resist this lobbying. When oil-based economies come to lend a hand, watch out for conflict of interest:

‘Fossil fuel friends’: Saudi Arabia and Bahrain back Australia’s lobbying on Great Barrier Reef

Exclusive: oil rich nations back push against Unesco recommendation to have reef placed on world heritage ‘in danger’ list 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

Climate Change, Personal Responsibility & Collective Responsibility

ExxonMobil, the owner of this Louisiana oil refinery, has adopted a tobacco-industry strategy to protect its business model. Photograph by Barry Lewis / Getty

This is a question we ask, rhetorically, all the time. But we normally neither seek the actual answer nor come across the answer; but today is different, thanks to Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter:

The Particular Psychology of Destroying a Planet

What kind of thinking goes into engaging in planetary sabotage?

Two weeks ago, I looked at the question of the anxiety that the climate crisis is causing our psyches. But, if you think about it, there’s an equally interesting question regarding the human mind: How is it that some people, or corporations, can knowingly perpetuate the damage? Or, as people routinely ask me, “Don’t they have grandchildren?” Continue reading

Really, Wyoming?

A train loaded with newly mined coal near Gillette, Wyoming. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

It’s been too long since we last asked this question that had been a mainstay in these pages, but today we have to ask it of Wyoming, based on this story:

Wyoming stands up for coal with threat to sue states that refuse to buy it

Republican governor says measure sends message that Wyoming is ‘prepared to bring litigation to protect her interests’

Wyoming is faced by a transition to renewable energy that’s gathering pace across America, but it has now come up with a novel and controversial plan to protect its mining industry – sue other states that refuse to take its coal. Continue reading

Brazil Is The Amazon’s Steward

Smoke rises from an illegally lit fire in Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Stewardship has rights and responsibilities, and we expect better both from and for Brazil in their stewardship of the Amazon region. For our part, among other things, we can all avoid purchasing products that result from this deforestation:

Brazilian Amazon released more carbon than it absorbed over past 10 years

International team of researchers also found that deforestation rose nearly four-fold in 2019

A fallen tree lies in an area of the Amazon jungle that was cleared by loggers and farmers near Porto Velho, Rondonia State. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

The Brazilian Amazon released nearly 20% more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed, according to a startling report that shows humanity can no longer depend on the world’s largest tropical forest to help absorb manmade carbon pollution.

From 2010 through 2019, Brazil’s Amazon basin gave off 16.6bn tonnes of CO2, while drawing down only 13.9bn tonnes, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Nature Climate Change. Continue reading

Cryptocurrency, Carbon & Culpability

According to one source, a single bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power that the average American household consumes in a month. Photograph by Akos Stiller / Bloomberg / Getty

In my attempt to reduce my own carbon footprint, diet has been the low-hanging fruit I reached for first. But other parts of daily routine have also allowed painless reductions. I remain culpable on too many fronts, and had hoped for an explanation of the environmental issues around cryptocurrency that I could understand; Elizabeth Kolbert is the perfect person to provide it:

Why Bitcoin Is Bad for the Environment

Cryptocurrency mining uses huge amounts of power—and can be as destructive as the real thing.

Money, it’s often said, is a shared fiction. I give you a slip of paper or, more likely these days, a piece of plastic. You hand me eggs or butter or a White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino, and we both walk away satisfied. With cryptocurrency, the arrangement is more like a shared metafiction, and the instability of the genre is, presumably, part of the thrill. Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that was created as a spoof, has risen in value by eight thousand per cent since January, owing to a combination of GameStop-style pumping and boosterish tweets from Elon Musk. On Tuesday, which backers proclaimed DogeDay, the cryptocurrency was valued at more than fifty billion dollars, which is more than the market cap of Ford. Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public last Wednesday; almost immediately, it became worth more than G.M. Continue reading

Amazon’s Plastic

Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

Commerce is taking place more and more over the internet, and one company is controlling so much of it that choices they make about packaging for shipment have an outsized influence on the planet. We hope they will listen to what these two professors recommend:

Amazon Uses a Lot of Plastic. It Doesn’t Have To.

The world’s biggest online retailer must become a leader in reducing single-use packaging.

The year 2020 may have been heartbreaking for most humans, but it was a good one for Jeff Bezos and Amazon. His company’s worldwide sales grew 38 percent from 2019, and Amazon sold more than 1.5 billion products during the 2020 holiday season alone. Continue reading

Power Plants Signal Intent

A coal-fired power plant in China’s Jiangsu province. XU CONGJUN – IMAGINECHINA

What is the real intent on addressing climate change, we must wonder:

Despite Pledges to Cut Emissions, China Goes on a Coal Spree

China is building large numbers of coal-fired power plants to drive its post-pandemic economy. The government has promised a CO2 emissions peak by 2030, but the new coal binge jeopardizes both China’s decarbonization plans and global efforts to tackle climate change.

China’s National People’s Congress meetings, which ended earlier this month, were shrouded in both a real and figurative haze about how strong its climate ambitions really are and how quickly the country can wean itself from its main source of energy — coal. Continue reading

Bottom Trawling’s Carbon Release

Beam trawlers’ heavy chains are dragged along the seabed, releasing carbon into the seawater. Photograph: aphperspective/Alamy

One of the many things that humans have been doing for a long time that are going to have to change:

Bottom trawling releases as much carbon as air travel, landmark study finds

Dragging heavy nets across seabed disturbs marine sediments, world’s largest carbon sink, scientists report

Fishing boats that trawl the ocean floor release as much carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry, according to a groundbreaking study.

Bottom trawling, a widespread practice in which heavy nets are dragged along the seabed, pumps out 1 gigaton of carbon every year, says the study written by 26 marine biologists, climate experts and economists and published in Nature on Wednesday. Continue reading

Corn Belt Soil

ENZO PÉRÈS-LABOURDETTE / YALE E360

Thanks to Verlyn Klinkenborg for this essay:

How the Loss of Soil Is Sacrificing America’s Natural Heritage

A new study points to a stunning loss of topsoil in the Corn Belt — the result of farming practices that have depleted this once-fertile ground. Beyond diminished agricultural productivity and more carbon in the atmosphere, it is a catastrophic loss of an irreplaceable resource.

A corn field being planted in Hull, Sioux County, Iowa. MELINA MARA/ THE WASHINGTON POST VIA GETTY IMAGES

Geologically speaking, I grew up in a small farm town on the Des Moines lobe, a huge tongue-shaped remnant of glacial activity that reaches south across central Iowa. All around us were mollisols with a deep A-horizon — a type of rich black topsoil visible in farm fields for miles in every direction. In school we were taught only one thing about that soil: to be proud of it. It was a given, a blessing, a moral fact. In a sense, it seemed to have no history. Continue reading

What To Do About Planet Palm

Production of palm for oil is a problem, to say the least. What can we do? The publisher describes this forthcoming book as being in the tradition of Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Bill McKibben interviews the author (scroll to the second section in his weekly newsletter, after the note on energy use in the cannabis industry):

About half of all products on grocery shelves contain palm oil, and production has doubled in the past decade. The James Beard Award-winning food journalist Jocelyn Zuckerman has travelled from Indonesia and Malaysia to Brazil and India looking at the vast plantations where the oil palms are grown. Her forthcoming book, “Planet Palm,” is a compelling look at just how much trouble it’s possible to cause with a single plant. (Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.) Continue reading

Bubble Wrap & Our Future

It is not light reading. Nor short. But before you order anything else on Amazon you might want to at least skim this report:

Executive Summary

Amazon has a plastic problem. Oceana analyzed e-commerce and packaging market data1 as well as a recent scientific report, published in Science about predicted growth in plastic waste, that projects plastic pollution of aquatic ecosystems by country2 and found that Amazon has a large and rapidly growing plastic pollution footprint. Continue reading

Big Wins for Marine Conservation in Belize

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!

Tackling a triple threat: Belize banned bottom trawling, offshore drilling, and now gillnets

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

Obsessively Eliminating Protections To The End

A sea bird is reflected in the water during low tide at Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas, California, U.S. October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake

No special prognostication talent was required to know this was coming, if you have been paying attention for the last four years. Environmental, among other protections, have been gutted constantly since shortly after this administration’s inauguration in 2017. The only important question is how quickly some of these protections can be restored by the incoming administration:

Trump administration moves forward with gutting bird protections

The Trump administration moved forward Friday on gutting a longstanding federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its take on the proposed rollback in the Federal Register. It’s a final step that means the change — greatly limiting federal authority to prosecute industries for practices that kill migratory birds — could be made official within 30 days. 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

Brilliant & Ominous

When you genuinely smile and then recoil a moment later, you are responding to what this artist wants you to see and then understand. The animation is brilliant and its short message on how ocean litter/marine plastic is harming marine life is ominous. The  Artist Statement that accompanies it is not required reading, but it is there for the taking:

Two years ago, an experience on a small island inTaiwan changed my life. It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a ten minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs still lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it was a part of nature. Continue reading

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?

Perils In The Great North

In the summer of 2005 I worked in Yakutia (officially known as the Republic of Sakha). My strongest memory is a week on a boat going from Yakutsk up into the Arctic circle. I can still feel the intensity of the August sun through my sunglasses at midnight, while freezing air pierced my fleece. My project assistant, who was also my translator, helped me understand from the boat’s captain and two crew members that our passage on the Yana River toward the Laptev Sea was getting easier and easier each year. They had all been Soviet naval crew on this river long ago and could remember plenty of Augusts when the northern stretch of this passage was not possible.

Yakutia

I was aware of climate change as a distant calamity that required urgent action, but did not have a clue what it might eventually mean for this location. The funding for our tourism development strategy came from a natural attraction discovered in the permafrost. Our assumptions about attracting nature tourism to this region were clearly rooted in the permafrost. For the following decade, projects we worked on in the region continued with these assumptions, which seems ignorant now.

Kormann-ArcticSummer

In Siberia in late May, thawing permafrost caused an oil-storage tank to collapse, leading to the largest oil spill ever to occur in the Russian Arctic. Photograph by Irina Yarinskaya / AFP / Getty

We have linked out to some of Carolyn Kormann’s various smile-inducing environmental stories, as well as more serious ones. A Disastrous Summer in the Arctic goes darker than her previous darkest, but is a must-read for keeping current on the impacts of climate change in faraway places.

The remote Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, three thousand miles east of Moscow and six miles north of the Arctic Circle, has long held the record, with another Siberian town, for the coldest inhabited place in the world. The record was set in 1892, when the temperature dropped to ninety below zero Fahrenheit, although these days winter temperatures are noticeably milder, hovering around fifty below. Last Saturday, Verkhoyansk claimed a new record: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, with an observation of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit—the same temperature was recorded that day in Las Vegas. Miami has only hit a hundred degrees once since 1896. Continue reading