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

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

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

Subsidizing Environmental Degradation Must End

An electoral poster objecting to a proposed ban on subsidies for Swiss farms. A 2021 report found almost 90% of global farming subsidies are harmful. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

We missed this when it was first published a couple weeks ago, but it is still fresh and important:

World spends $1.8tn a year on subsidies that harm environment, study finds

Research prompts warnings humanity is ‘financing its own extinction’ through subsidies damaging to the climate and wildlife

The world is spending at least $1.8tn (£1.3tn) every year on subsidies driving the annihilation of wildlife and a rise in global heating, according to a new study, prompting warnings that humanity is financing its own extinction. Continue reading

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Asks For Your Help

If you have been following the pipeline news stories and you care, but not yet found a way to get involved, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe offers you a simple first step to help them end the DAPL. Click on the DAPL EIS Countdown Alert signup image below to show support, by asking to be alerted when public comments open:

The Next Step to End DAPL

The fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline isn’t over, and you can help right now! This month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will take public comment on DAPL’s fatally flawed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Sign up to be first in line to tell the Corps to conduct a proper environmental review — without interference from the fossil fuel industry. We’ll let you know how to make your voice heard as soon as the comment period opens! Thank you for standing with Standing Rock.

Big Agriculture, Anti-Regulation & Antisocial Behavior

Click any image here to go to an op-ed video that takes just over 14 minutes to watch. You’ll get an inside look into what has happened to food production in the USA, and how, and why.

Summed up, it is all about the power of big-ag lobbying. They want no regulations. They want to decide on their own how to produce food. And it is making a big mess. This anti-regulatory ideology, which has the hallmark of antisocial behavior, is not unique to agricultural lobbyists, but is quite well illustrated by them.

Meet the People Getting Paid to Kill Our Planet

American agriculture is ravaging the air, soil and water. But a powerful lobby has cleverly concealed its damage.

“We’re Cooked” is an Opinion Video series about our broken food system and the three chances you get to help fix it — and save the planet — every day.


The global food system is a wonder of technological and logistical brilliance. It feeds more people than ever, supplying a greater variety of food more cheaply and faster than ever.

It is also causing irreparable harm to the planet. Continue reading

Too Much Hype About Too Much Stuff

The Economist recently promoted a notion:

Rags to riches – fashion as an asset class HOW DID second-hand clothes become fashion’s hottest buy? Online resale and rental firms are changing the calculus on what it means to buy fashion “as an investment”

Hype? We will see. The “trapped” value of fashion items in our homes might get liberated as discussed, but what about the fundamental trap of fashion?

Ryan McVay/Getty Images

Kenneth P. Pucker shares an important lesson from his time in industry, and kudos to Harvard Business Review for giving him the platform to explain The Myth of Sustainable Fashion:

Few industries tout their sustainability credentials more forcefully than the fashion industry. Products ranging from swimsuits to wedding dresses are marketed as carbon positive, organic, or vegan while yoga mats made from mushrooms and sneakers from sugar cane dot retail shelves. New business models including recycling, resale, rental, reuse, and repair are sold as environmental life savers. Continue reading

Juliet Eilperin’s Sprawling, Soaring Sitka Story

The trunk of the Sitka spruce marked to be cut down.

The soaring, centuries-old Sitka spruce with its blue spray-paint blaze is spared, for now.

A story about a tree, its history intertwined with five centuries of human history, this article earns your time. And it earns respect for the Washington Post, which assigned a star reporter to oversee its climate change coverage.

Juliet Eilperin features this tree’s significance from multiple angles, and accompanied by the stunning photography and video of Salwan Georges, her words are leveraged artfully with images and dramatic arc into a question you want the answer to: This tree has stood here for 500 years. Will it be sold for $17,500? Definitely worth reading on a large monitor rather than a phone screen. It may get you thinking about graduate school:

The Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

TONGASS NATIONAL FOREST, Alaska — The Sitka spruce soaring more than 180 feet skyward has stood on this spot on Prince of Wales Island for centuries. While fierce winds have contorted the towering trunks of its neighbors, the spruce’s trunk is ramrod straight. Standing apart from the rest of the canopy, it ascends to the height of a 17-story building.

This tree’s erect bearing — a 1917 publication called the Sitka species “the autocrat of timbers” — is what helps give it such extraordinary commercial value. Musical instrument makers covet its fine grain, as do builders whose clients want old-growth wood that’s increasingly scarce. In a world whose ancient forests have largely disappeared, this grove holds a sliver of what remains. Continue reading

Civic Responsibility, Palm Oil & Change

Forest clearance in Indonesia. Palm oil production in the country, which is one of the world’s largest producers, has been linked to deforestation. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Greenpeace

Smouldering peatland following a suspected land clearance fire in Kampar, Sumatra, in 2019. Photograph: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images

Palm oil has a dirty history. It causes havoc, to put it politely. May we all do our part to elect civic leaders with a keen sense of responsibility for devastation in other parts of the world, and get them to take action to reduce it. We thank Patrick Greenfield for his reporting in this article titled The UK city taking a stand on palm oil in the fight against deforestation:

A growing number of towns and villages are following Chester’s lead in helping local businesses to eradicate deforestation-linked oil from their supply chains

Orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species are affected by habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict that stems from palm oil plantations. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rhoi/REX/Shutterstock

From mince pies and biscuits to lipstick and soap, palm oil grown on deforested land in south-east Asia will have been hard to avoid this Christmas. The vegetable oil is found in almost half of all packaged products in UK supermarkets, according to WWF.

But a growing number of towns and cities are trying to use only sustainable palm oil, helping orangutans, tigers, Sumatran rhinos and many other threatened species. Continue reading

The Biggest Land Grab In The History Of Humankind

Illustration by João Fazenda

When she publishes an essay, or a longform reported article, it should be clear before you start that you are almost certainly not going to enjoy what you learn:

It’s rare that a tiny country like Nauru gets to determine the course of world events. But, for tangled reasons, this rare event is playing out right now. If Nauru has its way, enormous bulldozers could descend on the largest, still mostly untouched ecosystem in the world—the seafloor—sometime within the next few years. Hundreds of marine scientists have signed a statement warning that this would be an ecological disaster resulting in damage “irreversible on multi-­generational timescales.” Continue reading

Beggar Thy Southern Neighbors

A woman pulls a cart loaded with bags of recyclables through the streets of New York. Photograph: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty

Thanks to the Guardian for this Econ 101 textbook example of a “beggar thy neighbor” action taken in one country and imposed on others, using “market forces” explanations to justify the action:

Latin America urges US to reduce plastic waste exports to region

Study finds exports to region doubled in 2020 with practice predicted to grow as US invests in recycling plants

Environmental organisations across Latin America have called on the US to reduce plastic waste exports to the region, after a report found the US had doubled exports to some countries in the region during the first seven months of 2020. Continue reading

Entangled In Costa Rica

If you have visited Costa Rica, or been fortunate enough to live here, you might have already become entangled with the country’s many opportunities to support conservation. For many decades foreigners have been welcomed to join in the country’s marine and terrestrial conservation initiatives. Many of those foreigners adopt the country as home after getting entangled in all kinds of good ways.

The first eight minutes of the video above are bliss: several young people are introduced, each of whom has become entangled. Along with those introductions, some stunning photography and videography showcasing Costa Rica’s nature, helping you to understand the entanglement. At 8:14 you see the dictionary definitions of entangled. The next 17 minutes are a case study in industrial fishing’s unintended consequences. Not surprisingly, this has already received lots of awards, but they ask you to share freely, so please do. And if you want to support financially, that will be appreciated as well.

The Nutmeg’s Curse, Reviewed

The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis
by Amitav Ghosh
Hachette
352pp
Published October 2021
ISBN: 9781529369458

Amitav Ghosh, appearing in our pages only once before, has a new book. The title of this review of the book, A Dazzling Synthesis, says plenty, as does the endorsement from Naomi Klein:

We have been aware for centuries that we are responsible for the earth’s denudation: its ‘cold staring spaces’, as English writer John Evelyn called them in 1706, mourning the trees chopped down on his estate.  Around a hundred years later, the Prussian explorer Alexander Von Humboldt worried over ‘mankind’s mischief’, conjecturing that if humans ever ventured into outer space, they would carry with them a tendency to leave everything ravaged and barren.  (The closer they resembled man, he also observed, ‘the sadder monkeys look’).  ‘Are the green fields gone?’ asked the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, published fifty years after Von Humboldt’s 1801 diary, as he watched his fellow Manhattanites staring dreamily out to sea.  Continue reading

287 Pounds Of Plastic Per Person Each Year?

Plastic and other debris is seen on the beach on Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2019. (Caleb Jones/AP)

It is clear to me now, after two years of our two Authentica shops offering products made from recycled plastic (among other recycled materials), we will need to be at this for a long time to make a dent. Of all the amazing capabilities we humans have, our ability to generate plastic waste is among the most remarkable. Our thanks to Tik Root for reporting on this finding:

U.S. is top contributor to plastic waste, report shows

Scientists reveal the U.S. role in the ‘deluge’ of plastic littering the world’s oceans in a congressionally mandated report

The United States ranks as the world’s leading contributor of plastic waste and needs a national strategy to combat the issue, according to a congressionally mandated report released Tuesday. Continue reading

Thanks Big Oil, We Got Your Messages

Illustration: Guardian Design

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes have compiled reminders of the messaging from some of big oil’s leaders of climate change messaging, and shared it with us in the Guardian:

The forgotten oil ads that told us climate change was nothing

Since the 1980s, fossil fuel firms have run ads touting climate denial messages – many of which they’d now like us to forget. Here’s our visual guide

Both ads from the Informed Citizens for the Environment, 1991

Why is meaningful action to avert the climate crisis proving so difficult? It is, at least in part, because of ads.

The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions. This has involved a remarkable array of advertisements – with headlines ranging from “Lies they tell our children” to “Oil pumps life” – seeking to convince the public that the climate crisis is not real, not human-made, not serious and not solvable. The campaign continues to this day. Continue reading

Rigged With Irony

A supply ship sits anchored next to the Chevron Corp. Jack/St. Malo deep water oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in the aerial photograph taken off the coast of Louisiana, U.S., on Friday, May 18, 2018. Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Irony is not always funny:

The Biden administration sold oil and gas leases days after the climate summit

Days after President Joe Biden told world leaders that his administration is committed to slowing climate change with “action, and not words,” his Interior Department oversaw one of the largest oil and gas lease sales in American history. Continue reading

Global North, Global South & Responsibilities

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:

Climate Reparations

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

Telling Off The Fossil Fuel CEO

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

Legal Consequences For Deforestation

Ron Haviv / VII / Redux

This article by Robinson Meyer, a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the newsletter The Weekly Planet, is worth reading if Brazil’s role in climate change has been on your mind:

Deforestation Is a Crime

A new bipartisan bill would treat it that way.

The world doesn’t agree on many things, but one of them is that global deforestation is a problem. If deforestation were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest source of climate-warming pollution, after the United States and China. (It would also be a terrible place to live—bulldozers everywhere and no shade to speak of.) Parts of the Amazon now emit more carbon pollution than they capture because of deforestation, a recent study found.

Knowing about a problem is, of course, different from knowing what to do about it. Continue reading

Know Where Your Coffee Comes From

Illustrations by Hokyoung Kim

Most of the coffee stories I tell here are short reports on our efforts to regenerate a onetime coffee farm. Plenty of others we link to are about challenges facing coffee farmers and efforts to improve their lot . I cannot find a story like the one below that we have featured previously, where coffee farming is effectively undermining conservation. Reading this new longform work by Wyatt Williams will not make anyone happy, but that must be the point. The illustrations by Hokyoung Kim are a perfect accompaniment:

The Case of the Vanishing Jungle

It seemed like an easy crime to stop: protected Indonesian rainforest, cut for coffee farms. But a globalized economy can undermine even the best-laid plans.

In the fall of 2015, Matt Leggett, a newly hired senior adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Society, found himself sitting in a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, wondering if someone had missed the point. The meeting, as he remembers it, was meant to unveil some good news about tigers. In brief: Back in 2002, a survey of one of the last habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, showed a tiger population that, in biologist-speak, amounted to only 1.6 tigers per 100 square kilometers. Continue reading