First Drafts Of History

First reading of the day was this essay by a historian linked to once and referred to one time previously. And next up, the conscience of our generation compounds the idea, or rather pounds the idea home about who is writing the first draft of what will become our history, by defining reality as we see it today. I have listened to conversations with Daniel Yergin twice recently, and acknowledge being sucked into his expert definition of how to understand the fossil fuel world. I appreciate McKibben’s cold water on my face:

Who gets to define reality?

A search for the climate high ground

“Realism” is the high ground in politics—a high ground from which to rain down artillery fire on new ideas.

To wit, this week the New York Times profiled Canadian energy analyst Vaclav Smil, who—alongside others like Daniel Yergin—has long insisted that the transformation from fossil fuels to hydrocarbons must take a long time. Smil is a good writer and a smart historian; he’s documented the many-decades-long transitions from, say, wood to coal, and coal to oil as dominant energy sources. 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

Climate Forests

LET TREES
GROW
PROTECT THE CLIMATE

Last week’s epic essay by Bill McKibben in the New Yorker was followed up by his weekly newsletter, in which he mentions the organization above. Visit and see what they are doing. And the newsletter is a useful footnote to the essay:

…It argues that the time has come for us to end—after 200,000 years—the central place of combustion in human affairs, and rely instead on the fact there’s a flaming ball of gas hanging 93 million miles away in the sky. I won’t repeat the argument here, but I do want to extend it a little. 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

Big Companies, Big Noise

(Original Caption) A man sitting atop a girder over the city is shown taking photos of the unfinished municipal building.

Bill Mckibben’s newsletter is one of the most efficient ways to stay informed on issues of interest to us in our daily posts on this platform. This week’s edition, titled Needs Improvement, is as good as any other recent edition. Consider subscription options that suit your budget by clicking the button, if you appreciate what you read below:

The Economic Giants Must Do Better than Meh

No one expects small businesses to be the leaders on climate change, though of course a noble handful are. It’s the giants—who have enormous brands to protect, and large margins to cover the cost of changing—that need to be out front. The ones with big ad campaigns with lots of windmills and penguins and cheerful shots of the smiling future. The ones who have made a lot of noise about ‘net zero.’ And how are they doing? Meh. Continue reading

Big Win On Climate, Says McKibben

Early offshore action in Texas. the rigs are bigger now—so big that a federal court found yesterday that they’re endangering the climate.

His first book was an early harbinger that we wish had changed the world. Now, decades later, his newsletter is worth subscribing to. When Bill McKibben says something has gone right, we cannot wait to read it:

Something went right!?

Through no fault of its own, Biden’s team gets a big win on climate

Last summer the Biden administration granted the largest set of offshore oil leases in American history. The ironies abounded—Biden had insisted during his campaign that he would not be doing this (“And by the way, no more drilling on federal lands, period. Period, period, period,” he’d explained during the New Hampshire primary); it was the Interior Department that officially sold the leases, headed by a secretary, Deb Haaland, that environmentalists had fought like crazy to get confirmed. Continue reading

The Great Bamboozle

Bill McKibben’s newsletter on Substack asks the question:

What happens if you greenwash greenwash?

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

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Message For All Of Us

When The Ministry for the Future came to my attention late last year, it was the first I had heard of this author (I am buried deep under a big rock when it comes to science fiction). Now I wonder how I could have missed such an important thinker on the most important topics of our time (not science fiction):

Kim Stanley Robinson on “Utopian” Science Fiction

One of the premier writers of thinky sci-fi, Kim Stanley Robinson opened his book “The Ministry for the Future” with an all too plausible scenario: a lethal heat wave descends on India, with vast, horrifying consequences. It’s a sobering read, especially after July, 2021, was declared the hottest month on record. And yet Robinson tells Bill McKibben that his work is not dystopian; his central concern is how the globe could respond to such a disaster and begin to halt the momentum of global warming. Continue reading

Balancing Power On Climate

The main way to counter the malign power of vested interest is to meet organized money with organized people. Photograph by Nicole Neri / Bloomberg / Getty

For the entire run of his newsletter McKibben made this point over and over again, and now one final time from his unique platform at the New Yorker:

The Answer to Climate Change Is Organizing

Dealing with global warming is always going to be about the balance of power.

Amore personal note than usual this week, because this will be the last of these Climate Crisis columns I’ll write (though it’s not the end of my work for the magazine). I’m incredibly grateful to The New Yorker for letting me do them—and especially thankful for Virginia Cannon, who has edited them each week with grace and aplomb. Our run has overlapped almost perfectly with the course of the pandemic, and for me it’s been the perfect moment to sit back and appreciate and highlight the work of so many across the wide universe of activists, scientists, economists, and politicians who are taking on the deepest problem that humans have ever wandered into. I can’t overstate the comfort of that universe: it didn’t exist thirty-two years ago, when I started writing about climate change; its slow but inexorable rise has given me not just welcome company but real hope. I’ve particularly enjoyed “passing the mic” to many members of that gathering throng. Continue reading

McKibben’s Thoughts On Bittman’s Book

Illustration by Tim Robinson.

Sometimes one recommendation is not enough, so here is one of the environmental writers we feature most frequently giving us a second look at Junk:

Mark Bittman’s history of why we eat bad food.

Mark Bittman writes the way he cooks: The ingredients are wholesome, the preparation elegantly simple, the results nourishing in the best sense of the word. He never strains; there’s no effort to impress, but you come away full, satisfied, invigorated.

From his magnum opus, How to Cook Everything, and its many cookbook companions, to his recipes for The New York Times, to his essays on food policy, Bittman has developed a breeziness that masks the weight of the politics and economics that surround the making and consuming of food. In Animal, Vegetable, Junk, his latest book, he offers us his most thoroughgoing attack on the corporate forces that govern our food, tracking the evolution of cultivation and consumption from primordial to modern times and developing what is arguably his most radical and forthright argument yet about how to address our contemporary food cultures’ many ills. But it still goes down easy; the broccoli tastes good enough that you’ll happily go for seconds. 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

Fossil Fuel Divestment Debate Settled

Protesters have argued that you shouldn’t try to profit off the end of the world. New analysis shows that, in any event, you won’t. Photograph by David Grossman / Alamy

This is a short read with a big implication; as always we are grateful to Bill McKibben for his weekly newsletter:

The Powerful New Financial Argument for Fossil-Fuel Divestment

A report by BlackRock, the world’s largest investment house, shows that those who have divested have profited not only morally but also financially.

In a few months, a small British financial think tank will mark the tenth anniversary of the publication of a landmark research report that helped launch the global fossil-fuel-divestment movement. As that celebration takes place, another seminal report—this one obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the world’s largest investment house—closes the loop on one of the key arguments of that decade-long fight. Continue reading

McKibben Reviews Gates

I am sure that the New York Times has made available, but I cannot find it, an explanation for when they link out to Amazon (e.g. on a podcast interview with an author promoting a recently published book) and when they do not (e.g. in a traditional book review). Our thanks to Bill McKibben for taking the time to review this book:

How Does Bill Gates Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis?

HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER
The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
By Bill Gates

First things first — much respect to Bill Gates for his membership in the select club of ultrabillionaires not actively attempting to flee Earth and colonize Mars. Continue reading

Alternatives To Amazon For Buying Books

Every time I listen to or read an interview with an author who has recently published a book, and want to get a closer look at the book itself, I click the link provided. Nearly 100% of the time the link goes to Amazon. Not good. When I listened to an interview with Elizabeth Kolbert on a podcast I respect, that is what happened. Frustrated by that link, I looked for alternatives to Amazon for buying this book, and found plenty.  For example, thanks to Powell’s Books for making the discussion about this book available in the online event above.

One option is Bookshop.org, which came to my attention while trying to find an interview with Kolbert about her new book that did not link to Amazon.  It took some effort, after finding the Powell’s links, but thankfully I found an interview given a couple days ago to Audubon for their review of Kolbert’s book. None of our many earlier links to Kolbert stories have featured an image of the author, so I will share here the one that accompanies the Audubon piece. In the middle of the interview there is this exchange:

Elizabeth Kolbert at the ​American Museum of Natural His​tory in New York. Photo: Suzanne DeChillo/Th​e New York Times/ReduxI have seen plenty of images of her, but this may be the only one in which she is smiling.

A: We’re, of course, doing this interview for Audubon, which focuses a lot on species conservation. Much of the work that people do to save various species—and there are so many examples of this in your book—involves altering previous ways that we’ve altered the natural world. How do you suggest that people who care about species protection think about efforts like these?

K: Well, that’s a really profound question, and to be honest that is the question at the center of the book. One of the points is, what do we think of as conservation, right? Continue reading

Yaak Valley’s Fate, To Be Determined

The Biden Administration’s next few weeks may decide the fate of the remote Yaak Valley, on Montana’s Canadian border. Photograph by John Lambing / Alamy

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter, as usual, has gems worthy of attention, and the fate of the Yaak Valley qualifies:

The blizzard of federal climate initiatives last week (a blizzard that might help allow actual blizzards to persist into the future) is without precedent. For the first time in the thirty-plus years of our awareness of the climate crisis, Washington roused itself to urgent action; veterans of the cautious Obama Administration—the domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy and the global climate czar John Kerry chief among them—were suddenly going for broke. In fact, only one branch of the Cabinet seemed conspicuous by its muted presence: the Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for the nation’s farms and for many of its forests—that is, for the natural features that will either speed or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading

Baseball Analogizing Blackrock

BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, continues to behave as if the corporations rapidly destroying the planet are normal players.Photograph by Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Bill McKibben’s weekly newsletter gives us reason to take a closer look beyond the hype about one of the most influential investment firms in the world. He uses baseball to raise concern in a way that is clear, if you know a little about the sport:

Can Wall Street’s Heaviest Hitter Step Up to the Plate on Climate Change?

The year is coming to an end, and all eyes are trained on D.C., as Joe Biden prepares to helm a venerable enterprise with a four-trillion-dollar budget. On the climate front, Biden’s team, which he announced last week, with Gina McCarthy, Deb Haaland, Jennifer Granholm, and John Kerry at the forefront, seems highly credible—a hundred-and-eighty-degree shift from the coterie of coal lobbyists and oil-industry operatives that have decorated the current Administration. Biden’s group has a real shot at getting Washington squarely in the global-warming fight. But, although that federal effort will doubtless occupy much of our attention in the year ahead, let’s close out 2020 by examining the de-facto government based on Wall Street. Its obvious head is BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, which is—just for purposes of scale—an eight-trillion-dollar enterprise, and the largest shareholder in almost every company that matters to the future of the Earth. BlackRock is a monetary heavy hitter.

To continue the baseball analogy, BlackRock finally stepped up to the climate plate this year. Larry Fink, the C.E.O., focussed his annual letter to investors on global warming, promising that henceforth sustainability would be at the heart of investment decisions. For that stand, Fink was recently named the first Institutional Investor of the Year—by Institutional Investor magazine. This encomium seems a little like awarding the season’s M.V.P. during spring training, simply because an intrepid player announces his plan to bat .400. In point of fact, BlackRock mostly whiffed on climate last year: the activist group Majority Action reports that, during proxy season, when BlackRock’s votes would have made a real difference, the firm voted to elect ninety-nine per cent of the directors proposed for boards at energy companies and utilities, even if the companies had made no serious climate commitments. The group also highlights that BlackRock supported just three of thirty-six “climate-critical resolutions” put to shareholders at S. & P. 500 companies—resolutions that might have curbed JPMorgan Chase’s lending to the fossil-fuel industry, or Duke Energy’s lobbying efforts. In half these cases, if BlackRock and its smaller competitor Vanguard had voted with the planet in mind, the resolutions would have passed. Fink didn’t bat .400, in other words—he batted below .100. Continue reading

The Weight Of Humanity

Bill McKibben‘s Climate Crisis newsletter this week has an interesting segment on the total weight of things humans have made, mentioning the book to the right for visual reference. Turns out our stuff now weighs more than all living things on the planet. That is impressive, but not necessarily in a good way:

We are necessarily occupied here each week with strategies for getting ourselves out of the climate crisis—it is the world’s true Klaxon-sounding emergency. But it is worth occasionally remembering that global warming is just one measure of the human domination of our planet. We got another reminder of that unwise hegemony this week, from a study so remarkable that we should just pause and absorb it. 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

New Machines, New Skills, New Hope

McKibben-NorthDakotaWindTurbines

Renewable-energy projects are now finding capital faster than fossil fuels. Photograph by Ken Cedeno / Getty

Since our platform name change, each daily post has been either about coffee or about birds. We have not neglected or forgotten our commitment to all the other important environmental, conservation, culture and related themes this platform has showcased, under whichever name. Today, Bill McKibben, one of our favorite sources of both depressing and heartening environmental news, is our go-to for some good news:

North Dakota Oil Workers Are Learning to Tend Wind Turbines—and That’s a Big Deal

I enjoy big machinery, and it punched all those buttons,” Jay Johnson told me. “They really are big, and, if you like machinery, then there you go.” Johnson has one of the jobs that might, with luck, come to define our era. At Lake Region State College, in Devils Lake, North Dakota, he trains former oil workers for new careers maintaining giant wind turbines. The skills necessary for operating the derricks that frack for crude in the Bakken shale, he says, translate pretty directly into the skills required for operating the machines that convert the stiff winds of the high prairies into electricity. That is good news, not only because it’s going to take lots of people to move the world from oil and gas to solar and wind but because people who work in hydrocarbons are going to need new jobs now that the demand for hydrocarbons is dropping. “It’s impossible to overstate the stillness” in the oil fields now, Johnson says. “Nothing is happening, zero work, and it sure is scary.” Continue reading

A Change Of Tone

EnvPod

Usually his writing voice sounds like he is frustrated, and his spoken voice can sound like he is feeling headed for defeat. Today there is a different sound and it is worth listening to:

PoliticsAndMore-McKibbenSCRulingThis week, the Supreme Court rejected the Trump Administration’s request to expand construction on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and the climate-change task force formed by Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders urged politicians to “treat climate change like the emergency that it is.” Bill McKibben, an activist in the environmental movement for three decades, joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss whether the United States has hit a turning point in the battle against global warming.