Addressing the problem, some scientists believe, may require reimagining agriculture from the ground up. Illustration by Juan Bernabeu
Stephen Porder is Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, a Fellow in the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, and the Assistant Provost for Sustainability at Brown. Elemental is his new book looking at how life shapes Earth using basic elements we may take for granted. Read on to learn more about the book, and its wider relevance to other books now being published that discuss phosphorous.
Fertilizers filled with the nutrient boosted our ability to feed the planet. Today, they’re creating vast and growing dead zones in our lakes and seas.
In the fall of 1802, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt arrived in Callao, Peru’s major port, just west of Lima. Humboldt had timed his visit to coincide with a transit of Mercury, which he planned to observe through a three-foot telescope, in order to determine Lima’s longitude. He set up his instruments atop a fort on the waterfront, and then, with a few days to kill before the event, wandered the docks. A powerful stench emanating from boats loaded with what looked like yellowish clay piqued his curiosity. From the locals, Humboldt learned that the material was bird shit from the nearby Chincha Islands, and that it was highly prized by farmers in the area. He decided to take some home with him. Continue reading →
The Czech writer’s darkly humorous novel, published in 1936, anticipated our current reality with eerie accuracy.
Karel Čapek’s “War with the Newts,” published in 1936, one of the greatest pieces of science fiction of the 20th century, is a prophetic work. When I say prophetic, I mean it has the gift of seeing the present for what it is — and not only seeing it but also telling the rest of us what we have been looking at. Continue reading →
There is genuinely no precedent in the modern history of geopolitics for the climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Four and a half years ago, she began “striking” outside of Swedish parliament — a single teenager with a single sign. She was 15. In just a few months, she had made her mark at the United Nations climate conference in Poland: “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” she told the assembled diplomats and negotiators, “even that burden you leave to us children.” Continue reading →
Among the arid lands where water from the Colorado River makes agriculture possible is the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, which serves Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi, and Navajo peoples. More than 70,000 acres of alfalfa, cotton, potatoes, and other crops are being produced on the reservation. (Image credit: Ted Wood/The Water Desk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
“One year of good flows doesn’t mean we have a trend,” noted one expert.
Snowpack has been running well above average this winter across the Colorado River watershed. It’s a rare bright spot after 23 years of grinding megadrought brought the driest conditions in 1,200 years to the basin that supplies 40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, and Mexico. Continue reading →
A pile of debris from Hurricane Ian rises behind a line of people waiting to vote in Fort Myers, Fla., in November 2022. Research suggests support for some climate policies increases immediately after climate-driven disasters such as Ian. Rebecca Blackwell/AP
If you are not (yet) concerned about climate change there is no time like the present:
Most people are focused on the present: today, tomorrow, maybe next year. Fixing your flat tire is more pressing than figuring out if you should use an electric car. Living by the beach is a lot more fun than figuring out when your house will be underwater because of sea level rise. Continue reading →
Farmers, bureaucrats, and water negotiators converged on Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas, to fight over the future of the drought-stricken Southwest.
In mid-December, I drove to Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, to see its infamous bathtub ring. The bathtub, in this metaphor, is Lake Mead, on the border between Nevada and Arizona; the ring is a chalk-white coating of minerals that its receding waters have left behind. The Southwest, which includes the Colorado River Basin, has been in a protracted drought since 2000; climate change has made it worse. Continue reading →
The opening plenary of the U.N. biodiversity conference in Montreal. Photograph by Andrej Ivanov / AFP / Getty
We continue, as a species, to document our impact on other species. The warning signs keep getting clearer. It is not pleasant reading, but it is documented for a reason; it is about us. It is about our responsibilities. Our thanks, as always, to Elizabeth Kolbert:
Probes beneath the ice could shed light on the fate of the world’s coastlines. Illustration by Owen D. Pomery
Most of us do not spend much time thinking about what is happening there, but Antarctica’s future is now very much entwined with the future of the rest of the planet. All of us. So, thanks to David W. Brown for this travelogue:
Thwaites could reshape the world’s coastlines. But how do you study one of the world’s most inaccessible places?
I first saw our icebreaker, the RV Araon, when we were due to leave for Antarctica. The largest icebreakers are more than five hundred feet long, but the Araon was only the length of a football field; I wondered how it would handle the waves of the Southern Ocean, and how it would fare against the thick sea ice that guards the last wilderness on Earth. Continue reading →
We link to essays and articles, as well as profiles and book reviews from this magazine constantly, but never previously to a cover and only once, by reference, to cartoons. The cover of this week’s issue merits consideration:
The artist talks about incorporating environmental themes in her work, and the historical inspiration behind her cover for the Climate Issue.
By Françoise Mouly, Art by Birgit Schössow
Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” circa 1830-32, is said to have inspired Debussy’s piece “La mer” (The Sea) and Rilke’s poem “Der Berg” (The Mountain).
In her new cover, the Germany-based artist Birgit Schössow drew inspiration from an artistic masterpiece. Starting in the late seventeen-hundreds, the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai created woodblock prints in a genre called ukiyo-e, part of an artistic movement known as “the floating world.” One of Hokusai’s best-known works is one of a series called “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” that shows a giant wave cresting in the foreground. The wave’s dramatic curve and stature, topped with a skim of frilly foam, are so eye-catching that you might miss the slender fishing boat it’s about to topple onto. Continue reading →
My annual memo about the journey to zero emissions.
When I first started learning about climate change 15 years ago, I came to three conclusions. First, avoiding a climate disaster would be the hardest challenge people had ever faced. Second, the only way to do it was to invest aggressively in clean-energy innovation and deployment. And third, we needed to get going. Continue reading →
Brine pools at the Soquimich lithium mine on a salt flat in northern Chile. IVAN ALVARADO / REUTERS VIA ALAMY
On my one visit to the Atacama desert in 2009 I had a feeling unlike any I had previously experienced, and it was attributed to the lithium. There is so much, you can feel it. And to put it simply, it feels good. I knew it was being mined, but I assumed it was primarily for pharmaceutical use; no clue it would become so important for batteries. And this set up a sort of zero-sum game, which Fred Pearce helps to understand:
The demand for lithium for EV batteries is driving a mining boom in an arid Andes region of Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia, home to half the world’s reserves. Hydrologists are warning the mines could drain vital ecosystems and deprive Indigenous communities of precious water.
What environmental price should the world be willing to pay for the metals needed to switch to electric vehicles? The question is being asked urgently in South America where there are growing fears that what is good for the global climate may be a disaster for some of the world’s rarest and most precious ecosystems — salt flats, wetlands, grazing pastures, and flamingo lakes high in the Andean mountains. Continue reading →
Despite the risks of building on barrier islands, developers kept constructing homes on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Now, as sea level rises and storms become more frequent and powerful, the famed vacation spot is fighting an increasingly difficult battle to keep from washing away.
Rounding the corner near the village of Rodanthe, there is a stretch of highway known as the S-Curves because of its twisting loops and turns. It is, by almost any measure, one of the most vulnerable sections of roadway in North Carolina, if not the nation. Continue reading →
A tale of capitalism, penance and species extinction
In the 1980s the American literary critic Tom LeClair identified what he called the “systems novel”, a genre of fiction concerned with the characters, acts and situations of the conventional novel while simultaneously speculating on the complex social structures – Continue reading →
An extract from a GCC business card for reporters, shared by former journalist Nicky Sundt
In the long run, no winners will emerge from the obfuscation perpetrated by climate deniers. They and we all have children of the future to consider. Their efforts have assured mutual destruction, no matter how much money their denial earned them in the short run. If you are looking for a better understanding of how concern and action over climate change was strategically weakened early on, this is worth a read:
Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.
On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other. Continue reading →
‘The dangerous heat England is suffering at the moment is already becoming normal in southern Europe.’ A firefighter tackles a wild fire in Gironde, France, 17 July 2022. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images
Dangerous heat will become the norm, even in the UK. Systems need to urgently change – and the silence needs to be broken
Can we talk about it now? I mean the subject most of the media and most of the political class has been avoiding for so long. You know, the only subject that ultimately counts – the survival of life on Earth. Continue reading →
Credit where due: the Supreme Court’s 6–3 ruling in West Virginia v. E.P.A. is the culmination of a five-decade effort to make sure that the federal government won’t threaten the business status quo. Lewis Powell’s famous memo, written in 1971, before he joined the Supreme Court—between the enactment of a strong Clean Air Act and a strong Clean Water Act, each with huge popular support—called on “businessmen” to stand up to the tide of voices “from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians” calling for progressive change. Continue reading →