Heat & Humanity

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:

It’s Not the Heat—It’s the Humanity

Rising air temperatures remind us that our bodies have real limits.

By Bill McKibben

It’s hard to change the outcome of the climate crisis by individual action: we’re past the point where we can alter the carbon math one electric vehicle at a time, and so activists rightly concentrate on building movements large enough to alter our politics and our economics. But ultimately the climate crisis still affects people as individuals—it comes down, eventually, to bodies. Which is worth remembering. In the end, we’re not collections of constructs or ideas or images or demographics but collections of arteries and organs and muscles, and those are designed to operate within a finite range of temperatures. Continue reading

When Renewables Are Less Expensive Than Coal…

A solar power plant in Gujarat, India. Renewable energy in the country would be cheaper than between 87% and 91% of new coal plants, the report says. Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

Looks like we are almost there:

Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds

Almost two-thirds of renewable energy schemes built globally last year expected to undercut coal costs

Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Continue reading

Enbridge Inc.’s Line 3 Pipeline, The Keystone Sequel, Must Not Happen

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:

The Keystone XL Pipeline Is Dead. Next Target: Line 3.

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

About That Convenience

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:

Takeaway food and drink litter dominates ocean plastic, study shows

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

Planting Trees & Second Thoughts

Way back when, the idea of planting a million trees was set in motion. I missed this Economist film and article at that time, but while pursuing planting I have seen other related concerns, each of which is worthy of consideration (as we continue planting):

The Story Behind
Climate change: the trouble with trees

Why tree planting is not the panacea some had hoped

Here you will find some of the resources used in the production of The Economist’s film “Climate change: the trouble with trees” along with exclusive additional material. It is part of the “The Story Behind”, a film series that reveals the processes that shape our video journalism. 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

Choices For Mining Lithium

The Salton Sea is one of numerous new mining proposals in a global gold rush to find new sources of metals and minerals needed for electric cars and renewable energy.

Thanks to the New York Times for this coverage of the choices surrounding how and where to mine a key ingredient of more efficient batteries–a consequential environmental question:

The Lithium Gold Rush: Inside the Race to Power Electric Vehicles

A race is on to produce lithium in the United States, but competing projects are taking very different approaches to extracting the vital raw material. Some might not be very green.

“This is the most sustainable lithium in the world, made in America,” Rod Colwell, the chief executive of Controlled Thermal Resources, said. “Who would have thought it? We’ve got this massive opportunity.”

Atop a long-dormant volcano in northern Nevada, workers are preparing to start blasting and digging out a giant pit that will serve as the first new large-scale lithium mine in the United States in more than a decade — a new domestic supply of an essential ingredient in electric car batteries and renewable energy.

The mine, constructed on leased federal lands, could help address the near total reliance by the United States on foreign sources of lithium.

But the project, known as Lithium Americas, has drawn protests from members of a Native American tribe, ranchers and environmental groups because it is expected to use billions of gallons of precious ground water, potentially contaminating some of it for 300 years, while leaving behind a giant mound of waste. 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

The Sinking Cost Of Renewable Energy

Because its costs continue to slide with every quarter, solar energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels almost everywhere on the planet by the decade’s end. Photograph by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben, as always, for at least one bit of good news in his weekly newsletter:

Renewable Energy Is Suddenly Startlingly Cheap

Now the biggest barrier to change is the will of our politicians to take serious climate action.

Earth Week has come and gone, leaving behind an ankle-deep and green-tinted drift of reports, press releases, and earnest promises from C.E.O.s and premiers alike that they are planning to become part of the solution. There were contingent signs of real possibility—if some of the heads of state whom John Kerry called on to make Zoom speeches appeared a little strained, at least they appeared. (Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, the most carbon-emitting developed nation per capita, struggled to make his technology work.) But, if you want real hope, the best place to look may be a little noted report from the London-based think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative. Continue reading

Moonshot To Meatless

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Last month I learned enough from Ezra Klein’s food-related conversation with Mark Bittman to share the podcast episode. I listen to his podcast for the quality of his discussions with knowledgeable guests. But he is also a great essayist and yesterday he published an op-ed essay that is worth a read on a topic we have linked to many times:

Let’s Launch a Moonshot for Meatless Meat

It wouldn’t actually take that much of an investment for Biden to get us headed in the right direction.

I’m a vegan, but I’m also a realist. There’s no chance humanity is going to give up meat, en masse, anytime soon. That said, we can’t just wish away the risks of industrial animal agriculture. If we don’t end this system, soon, terrible things will happen to us and to the planet. Terrible things are already happening. Continue reading

The Climate Crisis, Earth Day Edition

Climate activists at a rally in Athens, Greece, in late 2018, hold up banners warning that time is running out on efforts to contain the earth’s warming to a rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photograph by Louisa Gouliamaki / AFP / Getty

Thanks to Bill McKibben for this Earth Day edition of his newsletter, The Climate Crisis, which we sample from regularly:

How 1.5 Degrees Became the Key to Climate Progress

The number has dramatically reorganized global thinking around the climate.

It’s Earth Day +51, as we near the end of President Biden’s first hundred days, and forty world leaders are scheduled to join him for a virtual summit on climate change. “For those of you who are excited about climate, we will have a lot more to say next week,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said last Thursday, which is a sweet way to think about it—better than “for those of you who are existentially depressed about climate.” Continue reading

Urban Power Shifts

Center City Philadelphia, viewed from the Schuylkill River. ZOONAR GMBH / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Thanks to Jonathan Mingle  and Yale e360 for this analysis:

Cities Confront Climate Challenge: How to Move from Gas to Electricity?

Ending the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and buildings is a key challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Nowhere is that more evident than in Philadelphia, where technical and financial hurdles and a reluctant gas company stand in the way of decarbonization.

In 1836, Philadelphians mostly used whale oil and candles to light their homes and businesses. That year, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works caused a stir when it lit 46 downtown street lamps with gas made from coal in its plant on the Schuylkill River. Continue reading

If You Are Not Already Vegetarian, Know Your Beef Source

logoProgress is slow on the route to vegetarianism, so we monitor what we can about the meat we continue to consume. Thanks to Mighty Earth for this scorecard:

Beef Scorecard: Global Food Brands Failing to Address Largest Driver of Deforestation

WASHINGTON, DC – The world’s top supermarket and fast-food companies are largely ignoring the environmental and human rights abuses caused by their beef products, a new scorecard by Mighty Earth finds. The scorecard evaluates the beef sourcing practices of fifteen of the world’s largest grocery and fast-food companies that have pledged to end deforestation across their supply chains. Despite beef’s role as the top driver of global deforestation, only four companies- Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, and McDonald’s – have taken some action to stop sourcing beef from destructive suppliers. Continue reading

Blue Carbon Credits Better Understood

A seagrass meadow near Atauro Island, Timor-Leste. PAUL HILTON FOR CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

Thanks to Nicola Jones, as ever, and to Yale e360 for publishing this explanatory article on a relatively new topic:

Why the Market for ‘Blue Carbon’ Credits May Be Poised to Take Off

Seagrasses, mangrove forests, and coastal wetlands store vast amounts of carbon, and their preservation and restoration hold great potential to bank CO2 and keep it out of the atmosphere. But can the blue carbon market avoid the pitfalls that have plagued land-based programs?

A mangrove forest on the Leizhou Peninsula at the southern tip of China. KYLE OBERMANN

Off the shores of Virginia, vast meadows of seagrass sway in the shallow waters. Over the past two decades, conservation scientists have spread more than 70 million seeds in the bays there, restoring 3,600 hectares (9,000 acres) of an ecosystem devastated by disease in the 1930s. The work has brought back eelgrass (Zostera marina) — a keystone species that supports crustaceans, fish, and scallops, and is now absorbing the equivalent of nearly half a metric ton of CO2 per hectare per year. Continue reading

Let Legumes Fix More Nitrogen

Broad beans and other legumes are abundant in proteins and dietary minerals. Photograph: Christopher Miles/Alamy

Reducing synthetic nitrogen in farming, by letting legumes do more nitrogen-fixing in the soil, has plenty of other benefits:

Legumes research gets flexitarian pulses racing with farming guidance

Plant more bean-like crops in Europe and consider ‘healthy diet transition’ to beat climate crisis, say scientists

Adding the likes of peas, lentils, beans, and chickpeas to your diet, and farming more of them, could result in more nutritious and effective food production with large environmental benefits, scientists have found. Continue reading

Planting Trees Is Not A No-Brainer

A plantation site for the 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Project in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. BILLION TREE TSUNAMI PROGRAMME KHYBER PAKHTUNKHWA

We have committed to planting trees. And we know that getting to a trillion trees planted is not going to be easy. But the effort has obvious and less obvious upsides. Every great idea also has its downside(s) and challenges to surmount, even planting trees:

Are Huge Tree Planting Projects More Hype than Solution?

High-profile programs aimed at planting billions of trees are being launched worldwide. But a growing number of scientists are warning that these massive projects can wreck natural ecosystems, dry up water supplies, damage agriculture, and push people off their land.

Women participating in Ethiopia’s mass tree-planting campaign in Addis Ababa last June. Ethiopia aimed to plant 5 billion seedlings in three months. MINASSE WONDIMU HAILU/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES

In late January, the multibillionaire Elon Musk took to Twitter and abruptly announced, “Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology”. This triggered a deluge of sarcasm across the platform: “You mean, like, trees?” “I planted a tree, do I win?” Continue reading

Cherry Blossoms & Public Policy

UNITED STATES – March 30: Visitors gather to watch the sunrise under blooming Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the original gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington in 1912. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossoms came early this year. Plenty was said, including on Texas Public Radio, about the implications related to climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert has this to say, pivoting from cherry blossoms to both environmental and economic policies in the USA:

Biden’s Jobs Plan Is Also a Climate Plan. Will It Make a Difference?

The Administration has an ambitious vision for combatting global warming, but it’s only a start.

Illustration by João Fazenda

The first known reference to Japan’s cherry blossoms comes from the country’s oldest surviving text, the Kojiki, completed in 712. Japan was trying to shrug off the influence of its more powerful neighbor, China, and cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japanese identity, in contrast to the plum blossoms of the Chinese. By the early ninth century, the practice of cherry-blossom viewing had become so well established that the date of the peak bloom appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works. Continue reading

Scotland, Running On Almost 100% Renewables

GETTY IMAGES. Scotland’s renewables output has tripled in 10 years

Thanks to Scotland, for the ambition and demonstration; and to the BBC for reporting this:

Renewables met 97% of Scotland’s electricity demand in 2020

GETTY IMAGES. WWF Scotland is calling for an increased roll-out of electric vehicles

Scotland has narrowly missed a target to generate the equivalent of 100% of its electricity demand from renewables in 2020.

New figures reveal it reached 97.4% from renewable sources.

This target was set in 2011, when renewable technologies generated just 37% of national demand. Continue reading

Changing Water Use, Last Chances

Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Census Bureau Research: Austin R. Ramsey/IRW; Graphic: Kelly Martin/IRW

Yesterday’s post was about a book that argues we must change the way we source food. Water use is a parallel topic, of equal importance, and today National Public Radio (USA) presents an investigative report about Louisiana’s challenges related to water, and changes that must be made:

Known For Its Floods, Louisiana Is Running Dangerously Short Of Groundwater

A wastewater treatment plant in West Monroe, La., uses microalgae to biologically purify water. It’s the first step in a process that helps supply water for a local paper mill, saving the area’s stressed aquifer for residents. Austin R. Ramsey/IRW

Louisiana is known for its losing battle against rising seas and increasingly frequent floods. It can sometimes seem like the state has too much water. But the aquifers deep beneath its swampy landscape face a critical shortage.

Groundwater levels in and around Louisiana are falling faster than almost anywhere else in the country, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. An analysis by the Investigative Reporting Workshop and WWNO/WRKF traced the problem to decades of overuse, unregulated pumping by industries and agriculture, and scant oversight or action from legislative committees rife with conflicts of interest. 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