As we reported this week, some of the world's richest nations are lagging behind on their climate protection pledges. Most often, these commitments follow the formula: "We aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions X percent below year Y levels by year Z." It seems like a straightforward proposition, but have you ever wondered where those numbers come from? The answer is a scientific concept known as the carbon budget, and like a teenager with her first credit card, we're well on our way to blowing right through it.
In the video above, Kelly Levin, a climate policy expert at the World Resources Institute, explains what our carbon budget is, how much we've already "spent," and why it matters.
What if a small, pasture-based egg farm got to air an ad during the Super Bowl? That would probably cause a rift in the space-time continuum and trigger the great poultry uprising. And that would be awesome.
Among those top four businesses, however, lurks another strong contender for the green vote. It’s a toy company, called GoldieBlox, with a mission to inspire a new generation of female engineers.
On the one hand, local eggs certainly feels more environmentally friendly than plastic toys. On the other, a new crop of female innovators might be precisely what we need to tackle our environmental problems.
Everywhere I look, I seem to see this debate: Is it greener to go back to nature or to innovate our way forward?
This isn’t an absolute opposition, of course -- I think we have to do both. Farms like Locally Laid, for example, aren’t moving backwards -- they are innovators as well. But ultimately you have to cast your vote one way or the other. Do we curtail industry and human activity to shrink our footprint? Or do we step up the pace in hopes of tinkering our way to a green techno-utopia?
Of course you could quibble with the assertion that either company really fits the bill. Some will say that no type of animal farming can be good for the environment. Others will argue that the whole concept of gendered toys is sexist and misbegotten.
Me, I just want to keep trying new things rather than just wringing my hands, so I support experimental businesses like these. But I’m having a hard time choosing between them. What do you think?
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of some of the science behind Thanksgiving: Why thankfulness is good for us, and what kinds of food safety issues you should know about when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers.
Simon Singh may not sound like your average fan of The Simpsons. He has a PhD in particle physics from Cambridge and made an award-winning documentary about Fermat's Last Theorem. Let's be frank: He's a math geek.
"There are lots of mathematicians on the Simpson's [writing team] … and they still have a great affection towards numbers and geometry," says Singh in this week's interview on the Inquiring Minds podcast (listen below).
Plastic crap that Americans are accustomed to importing from Asia is increasingly being manufactured right here in the U.S. — all thanks to the country’s crappy fracking boom.
Chemical and plastics companies use natural gas as a raw material, and now they can get it cheaply in the U.S. As Living on Earth reports, "The fracking boom has led to renaissance for the chemical industry, particularly for plastics makers in Louisiana, where the plants are major employers."
Other states are seeing growth in the plastics business too. Asia’s largest chemical producer, Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, has announced that it's planning to spend $2 billion expanding its manufacturing operations in Texas. Bloomberg reports:
Alex Washburn was one of those New Yorkers who stayed put, defying Mayor Mike Bloomberg's orders to evacuate when Superstorm Sandy came stomping into town. But unlike those who dug in their heels out of stubbornness or helplessness, Washburn stuck around out of pure curiosity. He's Bloomberg’s chief urban designer -- the guy responsible for shaping the city’s parks, streets, and other public spaces -- and he wanted to meet Sandy in person.
"I wanted to watch, feel, understand what a storm surge meant," he says. "If I don’t understand it viscerally, I can’t design for it."
So while his family and many of his neighbors headed for higher ground, Washburn sat in his 19th century Red Hook rowhouse and watched.
"The first inkling was water coming out of the storm drains," he says. "It rose very, very fast. Within minutes it had turned into a river. A little later, I remember looking out, and the power had gone out. It’s brown dark, it’s not black dark, and here I am in New York and there’s water between every building."
Washburn, who dropped by the Grist offices a few weeks back while promoting his new book, The Nature of Urban Design: A New York Perspective on Resilience, compared the sight out his window that night to the view of Mount Rainier on the Seattle skyline. "I got that sense: I don’t care what we do. That is big. That water was going to go where it wanted."
And that included Washburn's house. The storm surge, which peaked at about 12.5 feet, swamped his basement, rising about three feet inside his ground floor.
Months later, with the mess largely cleaned up, Washburn's biggest challenge began: Figuring out how to defend against the floods next time. In the process, he has discovered that the kind of innovation and outside-the-box engineering required to make coastal communities resilient to storms like Sandy often runs counter to rules and regulations that were designed for tamer times.
When looking at electoral outcomes, it can be hard to know which issues shape partisan preferences and which merely reflect them. It’s tempting for environmentalists to look at their recent successes in the swing state of Virginia and see auspicious signs for the country as a whole. But the actual evidence is inconclusive.
The League of Conservation Voters argues that Terry McAuliffe’s recent victory in Virginia’s gubernatorial race and Tim Kaine’s Senate win last year demonstrate that Virginia’s voters are turning green. Democrats McAuliffe and Kaine both ran on pro–clean energy platforms, and their opponents argued for more fossil fuel extraction. McAuliffe’s opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, is a climate change denier with his head so deep in the sand he has practically dug a hole to China. Kaine’s opponent, former Sen. George Allen, is a front man for the oil industry.
As Grist’s Lisa Hymas and reporters at Politico noted, one factor that helped McAuliffe win is heavy spending on his behalf from environmentalist Tom Steyer. LCV invested big in the race too.
And shortly before the election, LCV released polling data showing that voters in swing states crucial to control of the Senate, including Virginia, overwhelmingly believe in anthropogenic climate change and support the federal government taking action to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
So, it is easy to see the Virginia results as a referendum on the environment.
In the wake of the most powerful “super typhoon” ever recorded pummelling the Philippines, killing thousands in a single province, and just weeks after the northern Chinese city of Harbin suffered a devastating “airpocalypse,” suffocating the city with coal-plant pollution, government leaders beware! Although individual events like these cannot be attributed with absolute certainty to increased fossil fuel use and climate change, they are the type of disasters that, scientists tell us, will become a pervasive part of life on a planet being transformed by the massive consumption of carbon-based fuels. If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble. In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.
None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment. Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support. With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floods, fires, droughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions. Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.
In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others. Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet. While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy. And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.
At a recent forum on the Internet industry’s support for green energy, Facebook and Google representatives could not explain why their companies are members of a powerful lobbying organization that opposes that mission. This year, Google and Facebook became members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nationwide lobbying group that links corporations and conservative foundations with Republican legislators at the state level.
China is a notoriously difficult country for outsiders to get a handle on, but two things are immediately obvious the second you exit the airport. One, that the country is undergoing an unprecedented level of economic growth. Two, the country is in the midst of an ecological catastrophe. You literally breathe in both of them.
Despite all I had read before going to China last month, I was a bit blasé about Beijing’s famous smog. I’ve lived in cities all my life and once spent a few months in Moscow -- a place not exactly known for its pristine air quality. Surely, for a three-day visit, it couldn’t be that bad.
Unfortunately, my trip -- a journalism fellowship sponsored by the East-West Center and the Better Hong Kong Foundation -- happened to coincide with one of China’s worst smog episodes of the year: a giant cloud over most of China visible from space. Distances became difficult to judge, and the city’s famous downtown glowered menacingly out of the haze. On the ground in Beijing, conditions were what the U.S. embassy classified as “hazardous,” meaning: “Everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors; people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should remain indoors and keep activity levels low.”
Thankfully, most of my agenda involved conversations with officials in climate-controlled offices, but whenever we were outside -- or riding a minibus though the capital’s bumper-to-bumper traffic -- the cloud would hit like a wall, drying my throat and making my eyes water. A slight lingering cold that I brought with me from Washington soon turned into a full hacking cough. It felt less like any urban environment I had ever been in than earlier this summer when I was a few miles away from massive forest fires in Idaho.
Things could have been worse, of course. I could have been in the northern city of Harbin, where the smog was so bad that schools, airports, and major roads were shut down. Or I could have come in January, when the air in Beijing was so bad it broke the air quality index.
WARSAW, Poland -- For the first time ever, environmental groups have staged a mass walkout of a U.N. climate summit. Citing immense frustration with the lack of productive action in the COP19 climate talks, which have been dogged by a persistent rift between rich and poor countries on the responsibility of paying for climate damages, hundreds of people from dozens of environmental groups and movements from all corners of the Earth have voluntarily withdrawn from the talks. According to a spokesperson for Oxfam, around 800 civil society members (which is the label applied to all advocate and activist types at these meetings) have walked out. In a joint statement, group leaders offered that “the best use of their time” was to now focus “on mobilizing people to push our governments to take leadership for serious climate action.”