David Quammen is probably best known for his writings about bizarre, beastly, or wildly eccentric animals, and the scientists who study them. His long-running column for Outside magazine, Natural Acts, read like a bestiary of the planet’s most intriguing creatures. And with books like his 1997 tome The Song of the Dodo and the 2004 Monster of God, he has sounded the alarm about the looming extinction crisis and the unraveling of the Earth’s ecosystems. Now he’s written another opus, this one about creatures so small that we can see them only with the aid of an electron microscope. It’s his most captivating -- and, by far, his scariest -- book yet.
Peter Seligmann has never much cared what other environmentalists think of him. Sure, he cut his teeth doing grizzly bear conservation near Yellowstone National Park, but he’s made his name as a friend of the large corporations that greenies often paint as the devil incarnate.
Seligmann is co-founder and CEO of Conservation International, an organization that, thanks in no small part part to its corporate buddies, wields a $150 million annual budget. For most of its 25-year history, it threw the lion’s share of its money into efforts to draw lines around wild places as a way of protecting the ultimate of environmental buzzwords -- biodiversity. (The group also spent a goodly amount of time trying to convince corporations that green practices were good for business -- an effort that sometimes got it into hot water.)
But about five years ago, Conservation International took a notable turn. It dumped its focus on wild animals and instead began focusing on “human well-being.” Of course, its central argument is that our well-being rests heavily on the health of the planet, but Seligmann insists that it’s not just a crafty public relations ploy.
“When I first started doing this, people said, ‘Well, this is just marketing,’” he told me last week at the posh Four Seasons hotel in downtown Seattle, where his board of directors was meeting. “Well, marketing doesn’t work. You need a DNA change.”
Seligmann and I talked about his conversion experience, the power of social media, and how Conservation International has been able to change the conversation when it comes to protecting the planet.
Q.Tell me about the transition Conservation International has gone through and the rationale behind it.
A. It was, I think, five years ago. Through our efforts with many partners and many sectors of society, we had been successful in protecting an area that was [equivalent to] a strip around the equator that was 30 miles wide. In a moment of reflection I started thinking, in that same 20-year time frame, a systemic threat called climate change had emerged in a big way. The population had reached 7 billion and was on its way to 9 billion in four decades. The demand for energy, food, and water was going to double in that next four-decade period. Extinction rates had accelerated. Fisheries were on a rapid decline. Sources of water and conflicts over resources were accelerating. And I thought, every single trend shows we’re headed toward failure. I thought, we’re gonna lose.
Al Gore had An Inconvenient Truth. DJ Spooky is taking a different approach.
Spooky, whose real name is Paul Miller, is an artist, writer, and musician based in New York. A few years back, moved by the news that the Larsen and Wilkins ice shelves had collapsed, he packed up his camera and recording equipment and headed south. The result is what Miller calls an “acoustic portrait” of the melting ice at the bottom of the globe, and he’s been touring with it, and its graphical companion, The Book of Ice, off and on ever since.
The work, called Terra Nova: Sinfonia Antarctica, has left some scientists scratching their heads (see Wynne Parry’s review of his performance at the New York Academy of Sciences), but it has landed Miller some remarkable gigs, including a show on the National Mall on Earth Day in front of a crowd of 200,000 people. It includes sounds of shifting ice he recorded during his visit, and a “sonification” of the molecular structure of ice -- and it’s all spliced and reconstructed remix-style, filtered through the mind, and turntable, of a DJ.
Because L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the president's longtime Latino pet, has burned through all his shills here at home, he now relies on D.C. journalists to spot his political ambitions. And boy, are they delivering … Earlier this week, Yglesias gave the Los Angeles mayor and his proposed Measure J transportation tax the slobberiest cross-country blow job to date.
Transcontinental oral sex aside, the Weekly has a point: Even as Villaraigosa has championed new light rail lines and bike lanes, L.A. County’s Metro has slashed bus service to some of the city’s most down-and-out neighborhoods.
But take heart, L.A. It could be worse. You could be Atlanta.
Atlanta’s transit agency has been cutting bus service due to budget shortfalls, too. But here, light rail hasn’t fared much better. In July, a ballot measure that would have raised $8 billion for rail and other transportation projects went down in flames.
The good news? Atlanta seems to be an exception to the rule.
What? You hadn’t heard? Well, maybe that’s because Car-Free Week is one of those things that the rest of the world celebrates -- but us? Not so much. That is, unless you live in Massachusetts, the only state that challenges its residents to spurn the automobile for seven days each year.
Of course, not everyone in the commonwealth got the memo. Take, for example, all of the people one local TV reporter interviewed at a gas station. (If she was really looking for people who’d drunk the car-free Kool-Aid, she probably could have found a better spot, but who are we to judge?)
Not to fear. A week of riding buses, bikes, or walking may be too much for the U.S. of A., but cities across the country do recognize Car-Free Day, held every Sept. 22. (And for the faint of heart, may we suggest Car-Free Hour?) Car-Free Day is this Saturday, and festivities abound:
Barring some bizarre political mishap, Dan Kildee will be settling into a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 3. He’s a shoo-in for Michigan’s fifth congressional district -- the well-liked Democratic candidate in a majority blue district, and the nephew of the guy who has held the seat since 1977.
Kildee is one of the few candidates this election season who isn’t afraid to talk about giving U.S. cities a leg up. The longtime treasurer of Genesee County, Mich., home to the moribund auto town of Flint, he is best known as the leader of the “shrink the city” movement, a cadre of city planners and academics who argue that the best way to save shriveling manufacturing towns is to bulldoze abandoned neighborhoods to make way for parks and urban gardens -- and new development when the economic tide turns.
Imagine living someplace where the political hijinks are so outlandish that people refuse to believe that they’re really happening. (Oh, right.) Stacey Champion lives in just such a place. It’s called Arizona.
“We have these extremist legislators -- some of the shit they say would blow your mind,” says Champion, an environmental consultant and PR specialist who lives in Phoenix. "'Al Gore created climate change' -- they really believe this stuff."
You laugh, but for those who care about the Grand Canyon State, it creates a conundrum: Recent proposals from Tea Party Republicans -- to raise money for the state’s schools by making the state the nation’s nuclear waste dump, for example -- have stretched the popular imagination to the breaking point.
People assume that such spectacularly bad ideas will run up against political checks and balances and die early deaths -- and often they do, even in Arizona, says Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter. But sometimes they don't, and sometimes these proposals are pushed through in such a sneaky fashion that no one has a chance to shoot them down.
You can take Molly Steinwald out of the city, but you’re never, ever going to get the city out of Molly Steinwald.
Trust me. She’s tried.
Steinwald grew up a free-school-lunch kid on the outskirts of the old mill town of Manchester, N.H. She came from a large, religious family. Her mom died when she was young. “I didn’t do the skiing and mountain climbing thing,” she says. If you’d told her she’d grow up to raise a ruckus in the nature-education world she probably would have thought you were nuts.
"Carbon tax": There’s something in that term for everyone to hate. For lefties and climate hawks, carbon -- as in carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to climate change -- is public enemy No. 1. And we all know what folks on the right think of taxes.
Yet the notion of creating a carbon tax in the U.S. refuses to die -- maybe because it’s a creative idea that also holds some appeal across the ideological spectrum. It’s a practical scheme to alleviate global warming -- and it’s market-based!
Here are some answers to the carbon-tax questions we know you have.