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The climate champions of 2013

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Shutterstock

In a year that saw carbon pollution levels hit the milestone of 400 parts per million in the atmosphere and brought record-breaking drought, fires, typhoons, and air pollution, it can be easy to forget there are climate champions out there, pushing back on those climate grinches. Here are a few of the climate heroes that made progress, inspired, or otherwise made an impact in 2013:

sano
The Verb / Laura Owsianka

Naderev “Yeb” Saño

Three days after Typhoon Haiyan made landfall, Philippines climate negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Saño told the delegation at the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that his island nation had run out of time for failed climate negotiations. Saño vowed to go on a hunger strike until “clear progress was made.” Saño challenged climate change deniers and countries less impacted by the effects of global warming, saying, “I dare them, I dare them to get off their ivory towers and away from the comfort of their armchairs. I dare them to go to the islands of the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian ocean and see the impacts of rising sea levels; to the mountainous regions of the Himalayas and the Andes to see communities confronting glacial floods, to the Arctic where communities grapple with the fast dwindling sea ice caps, to the large deltas of the Mekong, the Ganges, the Amazon, the Nile where lives and livelihoods are drowned, to the hills of Central America that confronts similar monstrous hurricanes, to the vast savannas of Africa where climate change has likewise become a matter of life and death as food and water become scarce. … And if that is not enough, you may want to pay a visit to the Philippines right now.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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2014 World Cup to nearly double carbon emissions over 2010

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Sean Nel

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil will dump 2.72 million tons of carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere, according to the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). To put that number into perspective, it’s equivalent to the CO2 produced by 560,000 cars in a year, or 136,000 American homes. And that’s over 1 million tons more CO2 than was emitted by the previous World Cup in 2010.

Most of that heat-trapping gas, about 80 percent, will come from air travel as teams and spectators jet set around the world’s fifth biggest country in order to get to the 12 different stadiums where the 64 World Cup matches will be played.

Last week’s draw, held in a giant tent on a remote beach in Brazil and drawing around 3,000 guests, is estimated to have produced 5,221 tons of carbon dioxide all on its own.

FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility, Federico Addiechi, has pledged to completely offset 100 percent of the CO2 produced during the games next summer. This could include financing reforestation programs in Brazil and new investments in wind energy and hydroelectric power. FIFA estimates that offsetting the 2.72 million tons of carbon will cost about $2.5 million, a tiny fraction of the billions in revenue that the games are expected to generate. None of the offsetting projects will be announced until next year, however, and it remains to be seen if FIFA will carry through on its pre-game commitments after the World Cup spotlight has moved on from Brazil.

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The environmental movement’s greatest hits, all in one documentary

FierceGreenFire_poster
A Fierce Green Fire

Mark Kitchell didn't want to make your standard here's-a-really-important-issue, be-the-change-you-want-to-see-in-the-world, bleeding-heart environmental documentary. Kitchell, best known for his award-winning documentary Berkeley in the Sixties, doesn't even consider himself an environmentalist. But the story of the environmental movement was too much for him to resist.

"It doesn't get any bigger than this, in terms of a social movement," he says. "Especially when you think about what's at stake and the kind of transformation of society that needs to take place."

What Kitchell ended up producing was a kind of greatest hits of the environmental movement from its early days fighting over the building of dams in the West, to Love Canal, the first Earth Day, and the birth of Greenpeace, to the mother of all environmental issues -- and maybe all issues, period -- climate change. A Fierce Green Fire is now rolling out at a series of film festivals and theaters across the country.

I sat down with Kitchell recently to discuss his struggles telling the story of the environmental movement. Here are excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity.

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Q. What was the most difficult part of this story to tell?

A. Telling the story of climate change is the greatest challenge, creatively, I have ever faced. At its essence, it's the impossible issue, impossible to deal with, impossible to ignore. On top of that, for a long time there weren't any events that gave evidence of a movement. No big protests like Love Canal or the first Earth Day. It is a creeping, slow, ineffable, and often intangible issue. I grew up in the era of the bomb and it was all going to end with a bang. This is the opposite. It's going to end with a whimper, and we aren't going to be able to tell when it has gone too far, when it's already too late. They say we have to really do something in the next two or three years to avoid catastrophe, but they've been saying that since the early '90s. So you see, it's a hard story to tell, hard to know which way we're moving, where the turning point is, whether or not we are actually building momentum, where this is all going, and even what we wish would happen.

Q. For each act in the film, there are images that summarize the movement: the famous cartoon advertisements of the Sierra Club against the building of dams in the West, the photo of a Greenpeace activist on a tiny boat in front of a whaling ship. What is the image for climate change?

Read more: Climate & Energy