Ending Perverse Subsidies

The wealthiest landowners – those receiving payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

We post so much about farming on this platform that it could be considered a major topic of interest. Subsidies, less so, but just as with farming there are both better and worse forms of subsidies. We favor reforming the perverse ones, and so cheer this news:

Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’

£1.6bn subsidies for owning land in England to end, with funds going to improve nature

Wildlife, nature and the climate will benefit from the biggest shake-up in farming policy in England for 50 years, according to government plans.

The £1.6bn subsidy farmers receive every year for simply owning land will be phased out by 2028, with the funds used instead to pay them to restore wild habitats, create new woodlands, boost soils and cut pesticide use.

The wealthiest landowners – those receiving annual payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts, starting with 25% in 2021. Those receiving under £30,000 will see a 5% cut next year. 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

Sociology As A Moderator Of Economics

Zeynep Tufekci speaking at a conference in Munich. “I’ve just been struck by how right she has been,” said a Harvard epidemiologist. Credit: Felix Hörhager/Picture Alliance

By the time Zeynep Tufekci appeared in our pages last year I had been reading her analytical essays and op-eds for a while, and found her perspective on technology consistently clarifying. My instinctive apprehension about social media, which I could not explain, combined with my vague optimism about technology more broadly, which I also could not explain–found something to orient with in her writings. Now she makes an appearance through the lens of a keen observer of our media. What is keen about the observation is the attention to the sociological foundations of her perspective. With all that economics has done, for better and for worse, the influence of that dismal science has been ascendent for much of the modern era. Sociology has never had the prestige or influence in the USA that the field of economics has, and this profile hints at what this may have cost us:

How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right

Dr. Tufekci, a computer programmer who became a sociologist, sounded an early alarm on the need for protective masks. It wasn’t the first time she was right about something big.

Dr. Tufekci at a 2017 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden. Credit:Julia Reinhart/ Getty Images

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Americans in January that they didn’t need to wear masks, Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar, a professor at the Mayo Clinic and the editor of the Blood Cancer Journal, couldn’t believe his ears.

But he kept silent until Zeynep Tufekci (pronounced ZAY-nep too-FEK-chee), a sociologist he had met on Twitter, wrote that the C.D.C. had blundered by saying protective face coverings should be worn by health workers but not ordinary people. Continue reading

Ivy-League Activism

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.

Climate Activists Gain Seats on Harvard Oversight Board

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

Nature, Human Capital & Wealth

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GDP per person, 2014, $’000, log scale                                                          *High-emissions scenario

The Economist, which we have been sourcing from all along, in an earlier era sometimes seemed dogmatic on the topic of markets solving all problems, now frequently could be described as considering all the angles:

The world’s wealth is looking increasingly unnatural

As natural wealth is used up, economies will rely more on human capital

Nature’s bounty is not easy to count, partly because she was kind enough not to bill us for it. Some economists, however, have attempted to put a dollar figure on the value of the world’s land, forests, fisheries, minerals and fossil fuels—or what is left of them. Their work has fed into the Inclusive Wealth project, initiated by the United Nations, directed by Managi Shunsuke of Kyushu University and advised by Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge. They estimate the world’s natural capital amounted to over $91trn in 2014, or over $13,000 per person. (The estimates use 2005 exchange rates and prices.) New Zealand has more natural capital per person ($380,000) than oil-rich Kuwait ($362,000) or Saudi Arabia ($180,000). Gabon has more than anywhere else. Continue reading

Bureo & Tin Shed Ventures

tsv-main-logoBureo is news to us, and we like good news. We are always on the lookout for fellow travelers, and while Tin Shed Ventures is by no means new it is news to us. And newsworthy based on the partners they have chosen:

Tin Shed Ventures is Patagonia’s corporate venture capital fund, which invests in start-ups that offer solutions to the environmental crisis. Originally launched as $20 Million and Change in May 2013, Tin Shed Ventures partners with businesses focused on building renewable energy infrastructure, practicing regenerative organic agriculture, conserving water, diverting waste and creating sustainable materials. Continue reading

More Rigor Needed In Green Finance

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Thanks to the Economist for keeping it real:

The trouble with climate finance

Green investing has shortcomings

The financial system and climate change

The financial industry reflects society, but it can change society, too. One question is the role it might play in decarbonising the economy. Judged by today’s fundraising bonanza and the solemn pronouncements by institutional investors, bankers and regulators, you might think that the industry is about to save the planet. Some 500 environmental, social and governance (esg) funds were launched last year, and many asset managers say they will force companies to cut their emissions and finance new projects. Yet, as we report this week (see article), green finance suffers from woolly thinking, marketing guff and bad data. Finance does have a crucial role in fighting climate change but a far more rigorous approach is needed, and soon. Continue reading

A Corrective History Of Coffee

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The literature of coffee has produced a new genre: corrective history. Illustration by Ilya Milstein

An essayist’s review on one of our favorite topics is a nice surprise for a start to a new week:

The War on Coffee

The history of caffeine and capitalism can get surprisingly heated.

What would life be without coffee?” King Louis XV of France is said to have asked. “But, then, what is life even with coffee?” he added. Truer, or more apt, words for the present moment were never spoken, now usable as a kind of daily catechism. At a time when coffee remains one of the few things that the anxious sleeper can look forward to in the morning (What is life without it?), giving as it does at least an illusion of recharge and a fresh start, the charge has invariably slipped away by the time the latest grim briefing comes (What is life even with it?). Imagining life without coffee right now is, for many of us, almost impossible, even though the culture of the café that arose in America over the past couple of decades has, for some indefinite period, been shut down.

The growth of coffee as a culture, not just as a drink, can be measured in a unit that might be called the Larry, for the peerless comedy writer Larry David. In “Seinfeld,” which he co-created in 1989, coffee came as a normal beverage in a coffee shop—bad, indistinct stuff that might as well have been tea. (Paul Reiser had a nice bit about the codependency of coffee and tea, with tea as coffee’s pathetic friend.) Then, on “Friends,” the characters gathered in a coffee-specific location, Central Perk, but the very invocation of a percolator, the worst way to brew, suggested that they were there more for the company than for the coffee. Six or so Larrys later, by 2020, the plotline of an entire season of David’s own “Curb Your Enthusiasm” turned on a competition between Mocha Joe’s and Latte Larry’s—the “spite store” that Larry opens just to avenge an insult over scones, with many details about a specific kind of Mexican coffee bean he means to steal. The audience was expected to accept as an obvious premise the idea that coffee was a culture of devotion and discrimination, not just a passable caffeinated drink.

This change is real, and is reflected in the numbers. As Jonathan Morris documents in his recent book, “Coffee: A Global History” (Reaktion), epicurean coffeehouses in the United States numbered in the hundreds in 1989, and in the tens of thousands by 2013. Continue reading

Coal’s Final Days

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A coal-fired power plant in Neurath, Germany. The country has pledged to phase out coal by 2038. INA FASSBENDER/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Fred Pearce, as always for his environmental reporting, and to Yale e360 for this unexpected news that coal is not headed for a renaissance (as some politicians would have us believe):

As Investors and Insurers Back Away, the Economics of Coal Turn Toxic

Coal is declining sharply, as financiers and insurance companies abandon the industry in the face of shrinking demand, pressure from climate campaigners, and competition from cleaner fuels. After years of its predicted demise, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel may finally be on the way out.

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Demolition of the coal-fired Nelson Dewey Generating Station in Cassville, Wisconsin in December 2017. The power plant closed in 2015. NICKI KOHL/TELEGRAPH HERALD VIA AP

Any day now, New York State will be coal-free. Its last coal-fired power station, at Somerset on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, will shut for good as the winter ends. Remember when Donald Trump promised to bring back coal? Well, three years on, coal’s decline is accelerating — in the United States and worldwide. Continue reading

Another Look At Blackrock

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In response to mounting public pressure, Larry Fink, the C.E.O. of BlackRock, announced, in a letter to investors, that the firm will make some modest policy changes related to climate change.
Photograph by Damon Winter / NYT / Redux

One of the authors, also a prolific activist, who we cite most frequently has shared his view on the news we linked to earlier this last week:

Citing Climate Change, BlackRock Will Start Moving Away from Fossil Fuels

By Bill McKibben

If you felt the earth tremble a little bit in Manhattan on Tuesday morning, it was likely caused by the sheer heft of vast amounts of money starting to shift. “Seismic” is the only word to describe the recent decision of the asset-management firm BlackRock to acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and begin (emphasis on begin) to start redirecting its investments.

By one estimate, there’s about eighty trillion dollars of money on the planet. If that’s correct, then BlackRock’s holding of seven trillion dollars means that nearly a dime of every dollar rests in its digital files, mostly in the form of stocks it invests in for pension funds and the like. So when BlackRock’s C.E.O., Larry Fink, devoted his annual letter to investors to explaining that climate change has now put us “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” it marked a watershed moment in climate history. Continue reading

When A Company Says One Thing And Does Another

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Eric Schmidt being interviewing on Bloomberg in 2014. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

We usually introduce a story for context. No introduction needed (or possible) in this case, just thanks to the Guardian for sharing it:

The obscure law that explains why Google backs climate deniers

Company wants to curry favour with conservatives to protect its ‘section 230’ legal immunity

Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers

When Eric Schmidt was asked on a radio show in 2014 why Google was supporting an ultra-conservative climate-denying pressure group in Washington, the then chairman of the internet giant offered an unequivocal response: it was wrong and Google was not going to do it again.

Continue reading

Creating A Market For Misfits

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Thanks to Henry Alford for all the references in this New Yorker short piece on efforts to establish market value for produce normally treated as misfits are treated, which is to say shunned at best:

For “Ugly” Produce, Beauty Is Rind Deep

Misshapen fruits and vegetables and the farmers who love them.

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Illustration by João Fazenda

You did not anticipate this plot point: you’ve decided to pony up twenty-three fifty a week to receive a regular shipment of organic “ugly produce,” perhaps because you’ve read that about half of the produce in the United States goes uneaten, or maybe because you’ve been charmed by a Web site that boasts of “rescuing” foodstuffs such as “onions that are too small, potatoes that are shaped like your favorite celebrity, and carrots that fell in love and got twisted together.” You glow with a sense of mission. But, when your first shipment of ugly produce arrives and you peer inside the recyclable cardboard box, you do a double take: the produce is not ugly. And not a single potato looks like Abe Vigoda.

“I would first redefine it as misfit produce,” Abhi Ramesh, the founder and C.E.O. of Misfits Market, said on the phone the other day. (It is Misfits Market’s Web site that is quoted above.) “The market calls it ugly produce, but ‘ugly’ ends up being only a small portion of it. The variations are standard: produce that’s too small or too large or that has slight discoloration.” Continue reading

Two Sides of a Conservation Story – With Wolves in the Middle

Karin Vardaman, pictured left, walks the pastures with Breanna Owens, the owner of Cobblestone Ranch, in Los Molinos, California.Photographs by Lucas Foglia for The New Yorker

The return of apex predators to both national parks and rugged, yet unprotected areas of the United States impacts conservation and regeneration of biodiversity for both wildlife and native landscape.  Not surprisingly, it also creates challenges within the well established ranching community.

We’re grateful to all those who participate in the process of navigating a successful middle ground.

The Persuasive Power of the Wolf Lady

To bridge the divide between wolf-lovers and ranchers, the conservationist Karin Vardaman had to change many minds—including her own.

Early one morning in April, 2016, Karin Vardaman and four travelling companions woke in a motel in Siskiyou County, a rugged and remote region where rural California meets the Oregon border. They were in a town called Montague—a dot on the map that had begun, in the eighteen-eighties, as a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. After visiting a small market to pick up breakfast and snacks, they continued on to the old community hall, a narrow, low-slung building by the railroad tracks. Large, glass-paned windows ran the length of one side; below them, murals depicted horse-drawn wagons from the area’s pioneer days. Outside, a few dozen people were gathering. Watching them, Vardaman had an uneasy feeling. Oh, boy, she thought. Here we go.

Inside, chairs were arranged in a semicircle. Vardaman stood at the center, near a screen on which a PowerPoint slide displayed the title of her workshop, “On Wolves and Livestock.” Tall and sturdy, in her fifties, she has a flowing mane of lustrous red hair, framing slate-blue eyes and a narrow face. She introduced herself to the crowd as an advocate with the California Wolf Center. The Center, she said, was sponsoring a new, collaborative project called the Working Circle, through which it hoped to find a way for cattle and sheep to coëxist with endangered gray wolves.

Before Vardaman could continue, a man in the audience stood up, interrupting her. He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He calmly thanked her and her team: they had helped the local economy, he said, by shopping at the market. What he didn’t appreciate, he went on, was their coming into town and dictating to the community what it should and shouldn’t do about wolves. As he spoke, his voice rose in anger, and he stepped suddenly toward Vardaman; at the same moment, more than twenty other people rose to their feet. Some waved anti-wolf flyers above their heads. Others held rifle cartridges, their brass glinting in the light. They chanted, “Shoot, shovel, and shut up!”—an anti-wolf slogan. Vardaman watched as several people opened their jackets, revealing handguns.

For most of the last century, there have been no wolves in California; government-sponsored livestock-protection campaigns exterminated the state’s wolf population by 1924. But in December, 2011, a lone male gray wolf from Oregon, known as OR-7, was tracked via radio collar as he crossed into the Golden State. Slowly, over time, a few others followed. In 2014, the gray wolf gained protection under California’s Endangered Species Act; not long afterward, in Siskiyou County, two wolves were spotted by a trail camera. Today it’s thought that there are at least twelve to fifteen wild wolves in the state. This nascent comeback has opened a rancorous breach between California’s agricultural community, which fears losing livestock to wolf attacks, and its environmentalists, who have been galvanized by the idea of an iconic predator resurrected.

A version of this polarizing conflict has played out wherever wolves have reappeared, from Michigan to the Northern Rockies and Washington State. To an extent, livestock producers and wolf conservationists are divided for pragmatic reasons. If a wolf kills a heifer calf, a rancher can suffer a substantive economic hit—one or two thousand dollars, plus the loss of income from all the calves that the mature cow would’ve had over her lifetime. (Since the wolves returned to Northern California, an estimated eleven calves and cows have died in wolf attacks.) Conversely, if a rancher kills a wolf in an area where the wolf population is still recovering, it could be a significant blow to the animals’ survival.

And yet ranchers and conservationists are divided in other ways, too. Continue reading

Schools as Frontline Against Food Deserts

These greens are among the hydroponic crops grown by students at Brownsville Collaborative Middle School, in Brooklyn, N.Y. In June, the students started to sell discounted boxes of the fresh produce to community members. Robin Lloyd/for NPR

Thanks again to the Salt for more inspiring stories about communities cultivating more than just smart students.

How Hydroponic School Gardens Can Cultivate Food Justice, Year-Round

After a full day of school a few weeks ago, 12-year-old Rose Quigley donned gloves and quickly picked bunches of fresh lettuce, Swiss chard, kale, mint and oregano. But she didn’t have to leave her school in Brooklyn, N.Y., or even go outdoors to do it.

Quigley is one of dozens of students at Brownsville Collaborative Middle School who in the past year built a high-tech, high-yield farm inside a third-floor classroom. They decided what to grow, then planted seeds and harvested dozens of pounds of produce weekly.

The vegetables never stop coming because the crops are grown hydroponically — indoors, on floor-to-ceiling shelves that hold seedlings and plants sprouting from fiber plugs stuck in trays, each fed by nutrient-enriched water and lit by LED lamps. The students provide weekly produce for their cafeteria’s salad bar and other dishes.

Later that same day, for the first time, Quigley and several of her schoolmates also sold some of their harvest — at a discount from market rates — to community members. It’s part of a new weekly “food box” service set up in the school’s foyer. Each of 34 customers receive an allotment of fresh produce intended to feed two people for a week. Three students, paid as interns, used digital tablets to process orders, while peers handed out free samples of a pasta salad featuring produce from the farm. Continue reading

For Further Consideration

more-from-less-9781982103576_lgWith the most unlikely of titles to catch my attention in a long while, I gave HOW THE IPHONE HELPED SAVE THE PLANET a chance, and am glad for it. The author is the cofounder of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, so I was inclined to assume it was an essay titled ironically and give him the benefit of the doubt. Which led to some surprises in the essay, which then led me to read the pre-publication press for the book to the right. Let’s hope that Mr. McAfee is on to something true:

The more than 2 billion iPhones sold since Apple launched it exactly 12 years ago have done a lot of good for their owners, but it seems like they’ve been bad news for the planet. Building that many devices requires a lot of metal, plastic, glass, and other natural resources. Some of them, including cobalt, are mined by hand, reportedly sometimes by children, in desperately poor countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. Others, like rare-earth elements, are in comparatively short supply. A project of the European Chemical Society found a “serious threat” that humanity could run out of many of these elements within a century. Continue reading

Betting On Planet Earth

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Illustration by Dadu Shin

Last week we pointed to this article, and today we point to another of equal value from the same issue of the same magazine.

How Big Business Is Hedging Against the Apocalypse

Investors are finally paying attention to climate change — though not in the way you might hope.

The New York Times Magazine is on to something. More than most magazines, it is offering stark, long form accounts of the stakes being wagered against our planet.

9780374191337.jpgNathaniel Rich has become one of the most potent writers on the fate of our planet in relation to human actions and inactions. Last year the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire issue to one article he authored. And now he has a book, which you can listen to him talk about here. The publisher’s blurb:

By 1979, we knew nearly everything we understand today about climate change—including how to stop it. Over the next decade, a handful of scientists, politicians, and strategists, led by two unlikely heroes, risked their careers in a desperate, escalating campaign to convince the world to act before it was too late. Losing Earth is their story, and ours. Continue reading

Green Is The New Black & Costa Rica Is Evergreen

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Costa Rican wildlife was the theme of reception in February to formally introduce the government’s decarbonization strategy.

Somini Sengupta and her colleague Alexander Villegas published a story yesterday that resonates with the explanations Amie and I gave friends and family about our original decision to live in Costa Rica. It also resonates with the decision we made recently to return. In 2010 when we moved to Kerala it was not clear when, or even if, we would be back here. But our work in India was intertwined with Costa Rica’s evergreen pioneering role in the global conversation about conservation. So we are back. And the evergreen is appreciated, especially in the way Costa Rica’s president and his wife tell the story within a story.

A diesel commuter train in San José. The government plans to replace older trains with electric models.

Despite it’s diminutive size, Costa Rica been at the forefront of the climate change conversation. While the country has only about 0.25% of the world’s landmass, it contains almost 5% of the world’s biodiversity. These statistics give both an added incentive to focus energies on shifting the juggernaut of climate change and the ecological soapbox from which to be heard.

Costa Rica has an infrastructural uphill climb, most specifically with transportation as is illustrated below, but the country has stood its ground successfully in the past. When we think of the country’s road network in the mid-1990s relative to the roads today, it gives one of many reasons to be optimistic:

Tiny Costa Rica Has a Green New Deal, Too. It Matters for the Whole Planet.

SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica — It’s a green big deal for a tiny sliver of a country. Costa Rica, population 5 million, wants to wean itself from fossil fuels by 2050, and the chief evangelist of the idea is a 38-year-old urban planner named Claudia Dobles who also happens to be the first lady. Continue reading

In Case Of Emergency, Plant Trees

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Fox Maple Woods in Wisconsin. JOSHUA MAYER / FLICKR

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:

Planting 1.2 Trillion Trees Could Cancel Out a Decade of CO2 Emissions, Scientists Find

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

The Original “Third Place”

Louie Chin

A friend of mine recently posted on social media about beautiful libraries in Halifax, as well as other favorites, including the Boston Public Library. We’ve written about libraries countless times on this site, both due to their clear cultural importance, as well as their impact within our family. It reminded me how libraries have been part of our lives since early toddlerhood for our sons, starting in Ithaca, where they were born, and in Paris, the American Library (the largest English-language lending library on the European continent) where they discovered authors like Philip Pullman and Terry Prachett. There are no limitations for what libraries have meant to our family over the years.

Thanks to sociologist Eric Klinenberg for this opinion piece.

To Restore Civil Society, Start With the Library

This crucial institution is being neglected just when we need it the most.

Is the public library obsolete?

A lot of powerful forces in society seem to think so. In recent years, declines in the circulation of bound books in some parts of the country have led prominent critics to argue that libraries are no longer serving their historical function. Countless elected officials insist that in the 21st century — when so many books are digitized, so much public culture exists online and so often people interact virtually — libraries no longer need the support they once commanded.

Libraries are already starved for resources. In some cities, even affluent ones like Atlanta, entire branches are being shut down. In San Jose, Calif., just down the road from Facebook, Google and Apple, the public library budget is so tight that users with overdue fees above $20 aren’t allowed to borrow books or use computers.

But the problem that libraries face today isn’t irrelevance. Indeed, in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up. The real problem that libraries face is that so many people are using them, and for such a wide variety of purposes, that library systems and their employees are overwhelmed. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, about half of all Americans ages 16 and over used a public library in the past year, and two-thirds say that closing their local branch would have a “major impact on their community.” Continue reading

Epic Waste, Cowboys & Spaceships

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Slat cares deeply about the environment, but, for him, the appeal of cleaning the oceans is also about puzzle solving. Illustration by Cristiana Couceiro

In the pantheon of writers we have linked out to since 2011, of those who focus on science and/or environmental issues Carolyn Kormann is a relatively recent arrival. Since I started noticing her work three years ago she has started 2019 with an especially strong duo of stories. One is a longform profile and a must-read if you have been even just glancing at the headlines about giant garbage patches swirling in the ocean. How to deal with epic waste after the fact, after the out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach that has been building this mess for decades, is no simple matter. Nor is the man she introduces us to.

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Last year, the U.S.’s carbon-dioxide emissions increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent, the second-largest gain in the past two decades.Photograph by Fernando Moleres / Panos Pictures / Redux

The profile of Slat is compelling, disturbing and inconclusive–hallmarks of the type of profile I most appreciate when the subject involves seemingly intractable environmental challenges. The other item is shorter, with a pair of metaphors for economic periods that I wish I had known earlier. If you only have time for one, read about William Nordhaus’s many contributions to the otherwise dismal science, especially his description of the economic transformation from my lifetime to that of the next generation:

The False Choice Between Economic Growth and Combatting Climate Change 

In 1974, the economist William Nordhaus described the transition from a “cowboy economy” to a “spaceship economy.” In the former, he wrote, “we could afford to use our resources profligately,” and “the environment could be used as a sink without becoming fouled.” But, in the spaceship economy, “great attention must be paid to the sources of life and to the dumps where our refuse is piled.” He added, “Things which have traditionally been treated as free goods—air, water, quiet, natural beauty—must now be treated with the same care as other scarce goods.” Toward the end of his landmark paper, “Resources as a Constraint on Growth,” Nordhaus discussed the possible adverse effects of energy consumption, most notably the “greenhouse effect.” Continue reading