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Tag Archives: Environment

Why being a philosopher in the heatwave is so particularly unbearable

I hate heat. The place where I dream to be nowadays is on the Svalbard islands north of Norway, halfway to the North Pole. But since I am stuck at my home, all I can do is turn on the air conditioner and read… about the ongoing heatwaves and global warming, of course.

And it’s quite something to read about. Temperatures rising over 50C is no longer big news, it happens regularly in the crescent from Emirates to southern Iran, in parts of India, in the Death Valley, and now we learn that the prospects are much darker, threatening not only desert areas. In Vietnam, many farmers decide to sleep during the day and work at night because of the unbearable heat.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/uk-weather-heatwave-global-warming-climate-change-philosopher-a8475721.html

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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not “Human Nature”

This Sunday, the entire New York Times Magazine will be composed of just one article on a single subject: the failure to confront the global climate crisis in the 1980s, a time when the science was settled and the politics seemed to align. Written by Nathaniel Rich, this work of history is filled with insider revelations about roads not taken that, on several occasions, made me swear out loud. And lest there be any doubt that the implications of these decisions will be etched in geologic time, Rich’s words are punctuated with full-page aerial photographs by George Steinmetz that wrenchingly document the rapid unraveling of planetary systems, from the rushing water where Greenland ice used to be to massive algae blooms in China’s third largest lake.

The novella-length piece represents the kind of media commitment that the climate crisis has long deserved but almost never received. We have all heard the various excuses for why the small matter of despoiling our only home just doesn’t cut it as an urgent news story: “Climate change is too far off in the future”; “It’s inappropriate to talk about politics when people are losing their lives to hurricanes and fires”; “Journalists follow the news, they don’t make it — and politicians aren’t talking about climate change”; and of course: “Every time we try, it’s a ratings killer.”

https://theintercept.com/2018/08/03/climate-change-new-york-times-magazine/

 

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2018 in Reportages

 

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Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Nearly everything we understand about global warming was understood in 1979. By that year, data collected since 1957 confirmed what had been known since before the turn of the 20th century: Human beings have altered Earth’s atmosphere through the indiscriminate burning of fossil fuels. The main scientific questions were settled beyond debate, and as the 1980s began, attention turned from diagnosis of the problem to refinement of the predicted consequences. Compared with string theory and genetic engineering, the “greenhouse effect” — a metaphor dating to the early 1900s — was ancient history, described in any Introduction to Biology textbook. Nor was the basic science especially complicated. It could be reduced to a simple axiom: The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the warmer the planet. And every year, by burning coal, oil and gas, humankind belched increasingly obscene quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Why didn’t we act? A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. An entire subfield of climate literature has chronicled the machinations of industry lobbyists, the corruption of scientists and the propaganda campaigns that even now continue to debase the political debate, long after the largest oil-and-gas companies have abandoned the dumb show of denialism. But the coordinated efforts to bewilder the public did not begin in earnest until the end of 1989. During the preceding decade, some of the largest oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.

Nor can the Republican Party be blamed. Today, only 42 percent of Republicans know that “most scientists believe global warming is occurring,” and that percentage is falling. But during the 1980s, many prominent Republicans joined Democrats in judging the climate problem to be a rare political winner: nonpartisan and of the highest possible stakes. Among those who called for urgent, immediate and far-reaching climate policy were Senators John Chafee, Robert Stafford and David Durenberger; the E.P.A. administrator, William K. Reilly; and, during his campaign for president, George H.W. Bush. As Malcolm Forbes Baldwin, the acting chairman of the president’s Council for Environmental Quality, told industry executives in 1981, “There can be no more important or conservative concern than the protection of the globe itself.” The issue was unimpeachable, like support for veterans or small business. Except the climate had an even broader constituency, composed of every human being on Earth.

It was understood that action would have to come immediately. At the start of the 1980s, scientists within the federal government predicted that conclusive evidence of warming would appear on the global temperature record by the end of the decade, at which point it would be too late to avoid disaster. More than 30 percent of the human population lacked access to electricity. Billions of people would not need to attain the “American way of life” in order to drastically increase global carbon emissions; a light bulb in every village would do it. A report prepared at the request of the White House by the National Academy of Sciences advised that “the carbon-dioxide issue should appear on the international agenda in a context that will maximize cooperation and consensus-building and minimize political manipulation, controversy and division.” If the world had adopted the proposal widely endorsed at the end of the ’80s — a freezing of carbon emissions, with a reduction of 20 percent by 2005 — warming could have been held to less than 1.5 degrees.

A broad international consensus had settled on a solution: a global treaty to curb carbon emissions. The idea began to coalesce as early as February 1979, at the first World Climate Conference in Geneva, when scientists from 50 nations agreed unanimously that it was “urgently necessary” to act. Four months later, at the Group of 7 meeting in Tokyo, the leaders of the world’s seven wealthiest nations signed a statement resolving to reduce carbon emissions. Ten years later, the first major diplomatic meeting to approve the framework for a binding treaty was called in the Netherlands. Delegates from more than 60 nations attended, with the goal of establishing a global summit meeting to be held about a year later. Among scientists and world leaders, the sentiment was unanimous: Action had to be taken, and the United States would need to lead. It didn’t.

The inaugural chapter of the climate-change saga is over. In that chapter — call it Apprehension — we identified the threat and its consequences. We spoke, with increasing urgency and self-delusion, of the prospect of triumphing against long odds. But we did not seriously consider the prospect of failure. We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy. But we have not allowed ourselves to comprehend what failure might mean for us. How will it change the way we see ourselves, how we remember the past, how we imagine the future? Why did we do this to ourselves? These questions will be the subject of climate change’s second chapter — call it The Reckoning. There can be no understanding of our current and future predicament without understanding why we failed to solve this problem when we had the chance.

That we came so close, as a civilization, to breaking our suicide pact with fossil fuels can be credited to the efforts of a handful of people, among them a hyperkinetic lobbyist and a guileless atmospheric physicist who, at great personal cost, tried to warn humanity of what was coming. They risked their careers in a painful, escalating campaign to solve the problem, first in scientific reports, later through conventional avenues of political persuasion and finally with a strategy of public shaming. Their efforts were shrewd, passionate, robust. And they failed. What follows is their story, and ours.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2018 in Reportages, Uncategorized

 

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How Lyme disease became the first epidemic of climate change

Evolution has endowed the big-footed snowshoe hare with a particularly nifty skill. Over a period of about 10 weeks, as autumn days shorten in the high peaks and boreal forests, the nimble nocturnal hare transforms itself. Where it was once a tawny brown to match the pine needles and twigs amid which it forages, the hare turns silvery white, just in time for the falling of winter snow. This transformation is no inconsequential feat. Lepus americanus, as it is formally known, is able to jump 10 feet and run at a speed of 27 miles per hour, propelled by powerful hind legs and a fierce instinct to live. But it nonetheless ends up, 86 per cent of the time by one study, as a meal for a lynx, red fox, coyote, or even a goshawk or great horned owl. The change of coat is a way to remain invisible, to hide in the brush or fly over the snow unseen, long enough at least to keep the species going.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-lyme-disease-became-the-first-epidemic-of-climate-change?utm_medium=feed&utm_source=atom-feed

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2018 in North America, Reportages

 

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Op-Ed: Cape Town, a city drowning in incompetence

How the hell did we get this close to what will be the biggest natural disaster of the post-apartheid period and the majority of Capetonians are carrying on business as usual? Only 39% of residents are using less than 87l of water – the previous, and now surpassed, restriction (the current restriction is 50l a person). In history, it has never happened that a city the size of Cape Town has run dry. As a Canadian headline announced this week: “Cape Town at risk of becoming the first major city in the world to run out of water” (Globe & Mail).

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-01-22-op-ed-cape-town-a-city-drowning-in-incompetence/#.WoX1x4JG3-Q

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Africa

 

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Donald Trump’s Extract-Everything Energy Policy Dooms Us All

The new US energy policy of the Trump era is, in some ways, the oldest energy policy on Earth. Every great power has sought to mobilize the energy resources at its command, whether those be slaves, wind-power, coal, or oil, to further its hegemonic ambitions. What makes the Trumpian variant—the unfettered exploitation of America’s fossil-fuel reserves—unique lies only in the moment it’s being applied and the likely devastation that will result, thanks not only to the 1950s-style polluting of America’s air, waters, and urban environment, but to the devastating hand it will lend to a globally warming world.

https://www.thenation.com/article/donald-trumps-extract-everything-energy-policy-dooms-us-all/

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in North America

 

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Biodiversity isn’t just pretty: it future-proofs our world

A small boy hauls enthusiastically on his fishing rod. The line flies up and a needle-spined fish strikes him in the eye. Desperate to stay outdoors, he ignores the pain, but his sight deteriorates over the following months. He continues to pursue his love of nature but, now blind in one eye, he is confined to studying creatures that are easy to see: insects. He grows to become the global authority on ants, and in later life is given the moniker ‘the father of biodiversity’.

The man is E O Wilson, the eminent American biologist. In his book The Diversity of Life (1992), he described biodiversity as an assemblage that ‘has eaten the storms – folded them into its genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady.’ We tend to think of biodiversity as a landscape of teeming jungles and coral reefs, its destruction manifesting as forest clearance and species extinction. However, these images don’t capture the full significance of the equilibrium that Wilson described. Biodiversity is not just the abundance of life on Earth. Rather, it is what maintains the resilience and flexibility of the environment as a whole, so that life can weather the inevitable ‘storms’.

 

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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As New York City Declares War on the Oil Industry, the Politically Impossible Suddenly Seems Possible

Five years ago, when 350.org helped kick off the global fossil fuel divestment movement, one of the slogans the team came up with was “We > Fossil Fuels.”

The T-shirts and stickers were nice, but I have to admit that I never really felt it. Bigger than fossil fuels? With their bottomless budgets? Their endless capacity to blanket the airwaves and bankroll political parties? The slogan always made me kind of sad.

Well, yesterday in New York City, listening to Mayor Bill de Blasio announce that the city had just filed a lawsuit against five oil majors and intended to divest $5 billion from fossil fuel companies, I actually felt it. After being outgunned by the power and wealth of this industry for so many years, the balance of power seemed to physically tilt. It’s still not equal — not by a long shot — but something big changed nonetheless. Regular humans may not be more powerful than the fossil fuel companies now — but we might be soon.

https://static.theintercept.com/amp/new-york-city-big-oil-fossil-fuels-climate-change.html

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2018 in North America

 

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May’s plastic plan is big on gimmicks, but it won’t cut waste

It’s as if it were written with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. In terms of rhetoric, Theresa May’s 25-year environment plan is in some ways the best government document I’ve ever read. In terms of policy, it ranges from the pallid to the pathetic.

Those who wrote it are aware of the multiple crises we face. But, having laid out the depth and breadth of our predicaments, they propose to do almost nothing about them. I can almost hear the internal dialogue: “Yes, let’s change the world! Hang on a minute, what about our commitment to slashing regulations? What about maximising economic growth? What would the Conservatives’ major funders have to say about it? Oh all right, let’s wave our hands around instead.”

The plan makes bold and stirring statements about the need to keep the soil on the land (it’s compacting and eroding at horrendous rates in the UK), then proposes only “working with the industry to update the 2001 guidance”, spending £200,000 on developing new metrics, and “investigating the potential” for research and monitoring. It would have been more honest to say: “We propose to nod sagely and look very serious.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/11/theresa-may-plastic-plan-economy-consume

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2018 in Europe

 

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Lake Chad: The World’s Most Complex Humanitarian Disaster

Chad was named for a mistake. In the eighteen-hundreds, European explorers arrived at the marshy banks of a vast body of freshwater in Central Africa. Because locals referred to the area as chad, the Europeans called the wetland Lake Chad, and drew it on maps. But chad simply meant “lake” in a local dialect. To the lake’s east, there was a swath of sparsely populated territory—home to several African kingdoms and more than a hundred and fifty ethnic groups. It was mostly desert. In the early nineteen-hundreds, France conquered the area, called it Chad, and declared it part of French Equatorial Africa.

A few years later, a French Army captain described Lake Chad, which was dotted with hundreds of islands, as an ecological wonder and its inhabitants as “dreaded islanders, whose daring flotillas spread terror” along the mainland. “Their audacious robberies gave them the reputation of being terrible warriors,” he wrote. After his expeditions, the islanders were largely ignored. “There was never a connection between the people who live in the islands and the rest of Chad,” Dimouya Souapebe, a government official in the Lake Region, told me.

Moussa Mainakinay was born in 1949 on Bougourmi, a dusty sliver in the lake’s southern basin. Throughout his childhood and teen-age years, he never went hungry. The cows were full of milk. The islands were thick with vegetation. The lake was so deep that he couldn’t swim to the bottom, and there were so many fish that he could grab them with his hands. The lake had given Mainakinay and his ancestors everything—they drank from it, bathed in it, fished in it, and wove mats and baskets and huts from its reeds.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/04/lake-chad-the-worlds-most-complex-humanitarian-disaster

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2017 in Africa, Reportages

 

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