Bill McKibben’s newsletter on Substack asks the question:
It’s hard to go lower than net zero….
Greenwashing began, as it name implies, as a gentle, barely perceptible rain of fibs. Back at the start, it was mostly pictures; it was pretty easy to gauge how much environmental damage a company did by the number of penguin photographs it felt it needed to include in its annual report. Continue reading
“The problem is, you can’t just turn off, let alone reverse, permafrost thaw,” one scientist said. “It won’t be possible to refreeze the ground and have it go back to how it was.” Photographs by Alexander Gronsky for The New Yorker
Joshua Yaffa reminds me, vividly, that my work in Yakutia 16 years ago was an exercise in futility:
Flying over Yakutia, in northeastern Russia, I watched the dark shades of the boreal forest blend with patches of soft, lightly colored grass. Continue reading
ILLUSTRATION: JENNY SHARAF; GETTY IMAGES
Not fun, but a useful review:
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
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:
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
The Build Back Better legislation included billions to accelerate clean energy like rooftop solar, but with the bill now stalled in Congress, cutting U.S. emissions will be tougher. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Really? is a question we have to ask every now and then. We had no time to waste, because the country with the biggest carbon footprint per capita needed to change something(s) substantially to allow the planet a chance. But one senator stood in the way. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for laying out clearly what the stakes were, and now are:
With billions of dollars for clean energy, the Build Back Better legislation has the potential to substantially and rapidly cut heat-trapping emissions in the U.S. But after West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin rejected the bill on Sunday, Build Back Better is effectively dead, at a time when scientists say the world can’t afford to wait on climate change. Continue reading
ILLUSTRATION: PABLO HURTADO DE MENDOZA
Elizabeth Flock has written the most unusual article I have ever read published by The Economist (in this case its 1843 magazine, which offers longform stories). The question in the title of her article below gives the reader permission to draw their own conclusion on the ethics of destruction of private property in the interest of environmental justice. It is the second time I have been surprised in such a way (this conversation was even more surprising since it was the first time a mainstream publication raised such a question). This article poses the question in the context of a very human story, well-told:
As the devastating effects of climate change became impossible to ignore, Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya took matters into their own hands
ILLUSTRATION: PABLO HURTADO DE MENDOZA
When Jessica Reznicek walked into a courtroom in Des Moines, Iowa, last June, her sun-weathered face was the only clue that she’d lived rough: that she’d camped at the edge of an oil-pipeline construction site for months; that she’d camped night after night all over the country when she and Ruby Montoya, her co-defendant, were on the run; that she’d camped simply because, as far back as she could remember, she loved being in nature.
Reznicek, dressed in a black trouser suit and white blouse with her blonde hair hanging neatly, hoped that the federal judge deciding her sentence might show her some sympathy (Montoya was due to be sentenced later in the summer). Continue reading
Illustration by João Fazenda
In her look back at last week’s events in Glasgow, Elizabeth Kolbert comments in Running Out of Time at the U.N. Climate Conference that we were set up for this moment at the first such event nearly three decades earlier:
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:
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
The view from Beetle Rock in Sequoia National Park, California. Smog, containing high levels of ozone, blows in from the San Joaquin Valley. TRACIE CONE / AP PHOTO
Thanks to Jim Robbins for updating our understanding of ozone’s ongoing threat (we had thought it was lessening):
Ground-level ozone has long been known to pose a threat to human health. Now, scientists are increasingly understanding how this pollutant damages plants and trees, setting off a cascade of impacts that harms everything from soil microbes, to insects, to wildlife.
Giant sequoias in Sequoia National Park, California. MARJI LANG/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES
Sequoia National Park’s famous groves of stout, 300-foot-tall trees sit high on the western side of the Sierra Nevada, above California’s San Joaquin Valley. They are threatened as never before: Wildfires have burned much of the forest, and now, for the first time, insects are killing sequoias. Continue reading
A firefighter battles to extinguish a blaze in the village of Markati, near Athens, last week. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
One of our favorite places in the world, a country that had little to do with creating the climate crisis, is suffering disproportionately from it:
Personalising the ‘silent killer’ hot spells could raise awareness in time to avert loss of life and property, say scientists
A firefighting helicopter makes a water drop as a wildfire burns in the village of Vilia, Greece, on Wednesday. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
Spurred on by this summer’s record temperatures, Greek scientists have begun discussing the need to name and rank heatwaves, better known for their invisibility, before rampant wildfires made the realities of the climate crisis increasingly stark.
A preventative measure, the move would enable policymakers and affected populations to be more prepared for what are being described by experts as “silent killers.” Continue reading
Efforts to minimize the concern about climate change have been concerted for decades, particularly by corporations and ideologues. At the same time there have been plenty of people who have taken the crisis seriously, and have worked tirelessly to get the rest of us on board. Deniers, doubters, those who sow doubt, and anyone else who wants to claim they know better than the scientists, here is one more comment on the recent report (even if few of us will read that report in its entirety):
In a world that will need less oil, the attraction of going to a landlocked continental interior, such as Alberta, Canada, and trying to separate petroleum from sand is waning. Photograph by Ben Nelms / Bloomberg / Getty
Oil from the tar sands of Alberta will sink us faster than we are already sinking. How important is it to keep it where it is? Akin to some sort of holy grail. Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for weekly reminders to keep our eyes on the prize:
Last week, researchers at nasa and noaa found that “the earth is warming faster than expected.” Photograph by Kyle Grillot / Bloomberg / Getty
This week’s newsletter ponders how adaptable we are and serves as a reminder that we cannot take for granted that we are sufficiently so for the changes upon us:
Thanks to Public Broadcasting Service (USA) for this:
Satellite imagery shows a Russian gas pipeline (left) and highlights huge amounts of methane (right) being emitted from the pipeline on September 6, 2019. Kayrros and Modified Copernicus Data, 2019
The threat was invisible to the eye: tons of methane billowing skyward, blown out by natural gas pipelines snaking across Siberia. In the past, those plumes of potent greenhouse gas released by Russian petroleum operations last year might have gone unnoticed. But armed with powerful new imaging technology, a methane-hunting satellite sniffed out the emissions and tracked them to their sources.
Thanks to rapidly advancing technology, a growing fleet of satellites is now aiming to help close the valve on methane by identifying such leaks from space. The mission is critical, with a series of recent reports sounding an increasingly urgent call to cut methane emissions. Continue reading
Again, exceptional infographics tell an important environmental story–it is worth opening if only for the quality of the interactive illustrations:
The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken, some scientists fear.
By MOISES VELASQUEZ-MANOFF
and JEREMY WHITE
IT’S ONE OF THE MIGHTIEST RIVERS you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swaths of the world might look quite different. Continue reading
A section of the Enbridge Line 3 crude oil pipeline in Superior, Wis. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune, via Associated Press
McKibben, always ahead of the curve, has this proposal for us all to consider:
Michael Siluk/Education Images — Universal Images Group via Getty Images
The announcement this week from the Canadian company TC Energy that it was pulling the plug on the Keystone XL pipeline project was greeted with jubilation by Indigenous groups, farmers and ranchers, climate scientists and other activists who have spent the last decade fighting its construction.
The question now is whether it will be a one-off victory or a template for action going forward — as it must, if we’re serious about either climate change or human rights. Continue reading
Guardian graphic | Source: Morales-Caselles et al, Nature Sustainability, 2021
Thanks, Damian Carrington, for getting us the data that Morales-Caselles et al compiled making us wonder whether convenience is worth this cost:
Just 10 plastic products make up 75% of all items and scientists say the pollution must be stopped at source
Plastic items from takeaway food and drink dominate the litter in the world’s oceans, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Continue reading
Houseboats on the shrinking Lake Oroville reservoir in California last month. Many have now been removed from the lake. Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
We knew a bit about almonds being very thirsty trees, but when you see the trees being uprooted, it becomes even more real. The questions surrounding drought are too much for a short article, so thanks to one of our favored science writers, Henry Fountain, for keeping this focused:
Answers to questions about the current situation in California and the Western half of the United States.
Almond trees are removed from an orchard in Snelling, Calif. Farmers are making plans to plant less water-intensive crops because of the drought. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains.
Drought emergencies have been declared. Farmers and ranchers are suffering. States are facing water cutbacks. Large wildfires are burning earlier than usual. And there appears to be little relief in sight.
What is a drought, exactly?
There are no precise parameters that define a drought, but it is generally understood to mean a period of abnormally dry weather that goes on for long enough to have an impact on water supplies, farming, livestock operations, energy production and other activities. Continue reading