Tag Archives: climate change

Naomi Klein says the New York Times blew its massive story about the decade in which we frittered away our chance to halt climate change

9 Aug

Naomi Klein, Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”, The Intercept.

According to Rich, between the years of 1979 and 1989, the basic science of climate change was understood and accepted, the partisan divide over the issue had yet to cleave, the fossil fuel companies hadn’t started their misinformation campaign in earnest, and there was a great deal of global political momentum toward a bold and binding international emissions-reduction agreement. Writing of the key period at the end of the 1980s, Rich says, “The conditions for success could not have been more favorable.”

And yet we blew it — “we” being humans, who apparently are just too shortsighted to safeguard our future. Just in case we missed the point of who and what is to blame for the fact that we are now “losing earth,” Rich’s answer is presented in a full-page callout: “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way. Nothing, that is, except ourselves.”

Yep, you and me. Not, according to Rich, the fossil fuel companies who sat in on every major policy meeting described in the piece. (Imagine tobacco executives being repeatedly invited by the U.S. government to come up with policies to ban smoking. When those meetings failed to yield anything substantive, would we conclude that the reason is that humans just want to die? Might we perhaps determine instead that the political system is corrupt and busted?)

This misreading has been pointed out by many climate scientists and historians since the online version of the piece dropped on Wednesday. Others have remarked on the maddening invocations of “human nature” and the use of the royal “we” to describe a screamingly homogenous group of U.S. power players. Throughout Rich’s accounting, we hear nothing from those political leaders in the Global South who were demanding binding action in this key period and after, somehow able to care about future generations despite being human. The voices of women, meanwhile, are almost as rare in Rich’s text as sightings of the endangered ivory-billed woodpecker — and when we ladies do appear, it is mainly as long-suffering wives of tragically heroic men.

All of these flaws have been well covered, so I won’t rehash them here. My focus is the central premise of the piece: that the end of the 1980s presented conditions that “could not have been more favorable” to bold climate action. On the contrary, one could scarcely imagine a more inopportune moment in human evolution for our species to come face to face with the hard truth that the conveniences of modern consumer capitalism were steadily eroding the habitability of the planet. Why? Because the late ’80s was the absolute zenith of the neoliberal crusade, a moment of peak ideological ascendency for the economic and social project that deliberately set out to vilify collective action in the name of liberating “free markets” in every aspect of life. Yet Rich makes no mention of this parallel upheaval in economic and political thought.


Pope Francis on the Environmental Crisis

18 Jun

An article in the NYTimes opens:

Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, as his much-awaited papal encyclical blended a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.

The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world’s poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this encyclical will have on world affairs. The Pope, of course, is not the first public figure to speak out on climate, and it takes more than words to change the world.

But a papal encyclical is not a speech or a white paper, it is the official expression of an institution whose history stretches back two millennia and whose constitutions live on every continent and speak a multitude of tongues. It is thus transnational in scope in a way that perhaps no other document is. And it is a teaching document (emphasis mine):

Francis has made clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the encyclical in services on Sunday. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience when in the first pages of the document he asks “to address every person living on this planet.”

Will that happen? And not just on this Sunday, but on many Sundays after, Saturdays too, and Wednesday evenings.

In part we can measure the impact of Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) by the opposition it provokes.

Yet Francis has also been sharply criticized by those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change and also by some conservative Roman Catholics, who have interpreted the document as an attack on capitalism and as unwanted political meddling at a moment when climate change is high on the global agenda.

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Bottom-Up Climate Fix – NYTimes.com

22 Sep

YES! A thousand times YES! The top is busted, we must start from the bottom. Change starts in the community.

As one of those who, as an official at the Environmental Protection Agency, negotiated that first United Nations treaty in 1992, I believe we need to shift gears and try something new. Relying on national governments alone to deliver results is not enough, as the last two decades have shown. The real action on climate change around the world is coming from governors, mayors, corporate chief executives and community leaders. They are the ones best positioned to make change happen on the ground. Accordingly, we need to move from a top-down strategy to a bottom-up approach.

Mayors in Barcelona, Melbourne and the Brazilian city of Curitiba, for instance, are trying to expand public transportation. New York City’s former mayor Michael R. Bloomberg worked with pipeline companies to increase natural gas access so residents could shift from dirty fuel oil furnaces to cheaper and cleaner natural gas ones.

via Bottom-Up Climate Fix – NYTimes.com.

Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels – NYTimes.com

22 Sep

John D. Rockefeller built a vast fortune on oil. Now his heirs are abandoning fossil fuels.

The family whose legendary wealth flowed from Standard Oil is planning to announce on Monday that its $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, is joining the divestment movement that began a couple years ago on college campuses.

The announcement, timed to precede Tuesday’s opening of the United Nations climate change summit meeting in New York City, is part of a broader and accelerating initiative.

In recent years, 180 institutions — including philanthropies, religious organizations, pension funds and local governments — as well as hundreds of wealthy individual investors have pledged to sell assets tied to fossil fuel companies from their portfolios and to invest in cleaner alternatives.

via Rockefellers, Heirs to an Oil Fortune, Will Divest Charity From Fossil Fuels – NYTimes.com.

This Legendary Accounting Firm Just Ran the Numbers on Climate Change | Mother Jones

10 Sep

Surprise! Surprise!

With every year that passes, we’re getting further away from averting a human-caused climate disaster. That’s the key message in this year’s “Low Carbon Economy Index,” a report released by the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The report highlights an “unmistakable trend”: The world’s major economies are increasingly failing to do what’s needed to to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. That was the target agreed to by countries attending the United Nations’ 2009 climate summit; it represents an effort to avoid some of the most disastrous consequences of runaway warming, including food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction.

via This Legendary Accounting Firm Just Ran the Numbers on Climate Change | Mother Jones.

Pluto the Dwarf and the Politics of Science

29 Jun

I was doing my usual situation review at 5AM when it struck me that the object officially known as 134340 Pluto would be a good case study for the role of social construction and politics in science. When I was growing up that object was known as Pluto (Wikipedia entry here), the ninth planet of our solar system. It was discovered in 1930 after a search that had begun in the 1840s. The name was suggested a British school girl, Venetia Burney and, soon after being applied to the planet, was applied to a cartoon dog by the Walt Disney Company.

And that’s where things stood until early in the last decade of the 20th Century when astronomers began to discover other similar objects “out there” in what became known as the Kuiper belt (Wikipedia article here). A number of the moons of other planets are hypothesized to be members of the Kuiper belt.

Then, 136199 Eris was discovered early in 2005. It’s much farther out in space then 134340 Pluto; but it orbits the sun; has its own moon, Dysnomia; and is larger than 134340 Pluto. Whoops! We’ve got problems, Houston.

It was one thing to discover the Pluto was one of a bunch of objects out there, some of which may be orbiting other planets as moons. As long as Pluto was larger than those other objects it made sense to classify it as a plant along with the other 8 (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) and thus as something other than those other KBOs (Kuiper Belt Objects). But if Eris is larger than Pluto, albeit farther out, this classification is looking a bit capricious and arbitrary.

What to do?

Well, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union met, adopted an official definition of planet, and Pluto was demoted to dwarfhood, along with Eris, Ceres, Haumea, and Makemake. People were not happy, not happy at all. But that’s life.

The reclassification of Pluto was a political matter in the sense that it involved negotiations among different parties with different interests. But it wasn’t political in the sense that those competing parties were competing over laws, budgets, resources, and programs that have a strong influence on how many people live their lives. It was a matter of social construction in the utterly trivial sense that any named entities are social constructions by virtue of the fact that language itself is a social construction.

Scientific practice is full of this kind of politics and this kind of social construction. It’s ongoing and has been since forever, almost. But it mostly takes place out of public view and concerns matters which are intelligible only to highly educated specialists. But everyone knew about Pluto and the concept of a planet is an easy one to grasp. And so this scientific spat had a public face that got petitions circulated and passed some amusing laws in California, New Mexico, and Illinois.

The case of global warming is different and far more consequential. The science is difficult and problematic even within the scientific community; the relevant scientific models cannot be grasped without considerable mathematical and technical sophistication. The implications of the science are staggering. The lives of billions of humans and countless nonhumans are at stake, if not immediately or in the near future, then over the next century or so.

Things ARE going to change. We don’t know what those changes will be or how much we can influence them. All we know is that the longer we wait to act, the less we’ll be able to influence those changes.

And some people refuse to believe even that.

Apocalypse soon – Environment – Salon.com

8 Jun

By 2025, just 13 years from now, humans will have modified half of all the land on Earth. We will have turned space that once supported complicated systems of plants, animals, soils, water and microbes into cities or farms. Already, we’ve taken over 43 percent of the land. What’s left is mostly criss-crossed by our roads. By 2060, 70 percent of the earth’s surface could be covered with human development.

According to the group of more than 20 scientists responsible for these observations, published this week in Nature, these shifts could also be pushing the Earth toward a tipping point — a round of irreversible planet-wide changes. …

Here’s a taste of what could be coming. Within a century, “climates that contemporary organisms have never experienced are likely to cover 12-39% of Earth,” the scientists report. Sooner than that, by 2070, the average global temperature “will be higher than it has been since the human species evolved.” Shifts like the one the report considers have meant that not only do certain species face extinction, but new varieties of creatures begin to thrive. From a human perspective, though, the most important changes will be to the resources we depend upon for survival. Within a few generations, the forests, fisheries and agricultural systems that feed us could change so much they’ll no longer be able to support our species in the fashion to which we’ve become accustomed.

via Apocalypse soon – Environment – Salon.com.

Global Warming and the Beginning of the Great Transition

20 Apr

I’ve been thinking about the recent poll showing that a majority of Americans now believe that global warming is real and that it is the cause behind recent extreme weather (as reported in The New York Times):

The poll suggests that a solid majority of the public feels that global warming is real, a result consistent with other polls that have asked the question in various ways. When invited to agree or disagree with the statement, “global warming is affecting the weather in the United States,” 69 percent of respondents in the new poll said they agreed, while 30 percent disagreed.

Not only that, but “one of the more striking findings was that 35 percent of the public reported being affected by extreme weather in the past year.” That is global warming is no longer something affecting only “those people” who live “over there, in that other place far far away from me.” It’s happening here and now, to me!

What’s the ripple effect of these beliefs? William McKibben says ““My sense from around the country and the world is that people definitely understand that things are getting freaky” and his group, 350.org, is planning rallies on May 5 to help people to “Connect the Dots” between the crazy weather we have now and long-term climate change.

Of course those aren’t the only dots that need to be connected. Climate change needs to be connected to energy policy and practices, to farming and ranching and food practices, to relationships between local and global communities, to, well, when you think about it, to just about everything.

Certainly to war and peace. All the time, energy, and resources we throw into way is just thrown away. We need to devote that to saving the earth and thus to saving ourselves and our grandchildren, and their grandchildren.

But first we need to believe that all that must be done. Is this newly emerging consensus on global warming the beginning of that belief? Is this the beginning of the Great Transition?

Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources | NRDC

10 Apr

Ready or Not: How Water-Ready is Your State?

As climate change affects communities across the U.S., some states are leading the way in preparing for the impacts on water resources. These states are reducing carbon pollution and planning for climate change impacts. Yet many states are not acting and remain woefully unprepared.

Click on a state to find out what risks communities there may face and what the state is doing to prepare.

via Water-Ready Map: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources | NRDC.

A Message From A Republican Meteorologist On Climate Change | ThinkProgress

30 Mar

I am a moderate Republican, fiscally conservative; a fan of small government, accountability, self-empowerment, and sound science. I am not a climate scientist. I’m a meteorologist, and the weather maps I’m staring at are making me uncomfortable. No, you’re not imagining it: we’ve clicked into a new and almost foreign weather pattern. To complicate matters, I’m in a small, frustrated and endangered minority: a Republican deeply concerned about the environmental sacrifices some are asking us to make to keep our economy powered-up, long-term. It’s ironic.

The root of the word conservative is “conserve.” A staunch Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, set aside vast swaths of America for our National Parks System, the envy of the world. Another Republican, Richard Nixon, launched the EPA. Now some in my party believe the EPA and all those silly “global warming alarmists” are going to get in the way of drilling and mining our way to prosperity. Well, we have good reason to be alarmed.

via A Message From A Republican Meteorologist On Climate Change | ThinkProgress.