I am blown away by the depth and scope of the nonpartisan Presidential Climate Action Project. Its centerpiece is a first-100-days plan, detailed in a 300-page report, covering issues ranging from energy policy and green collar jobs to the farm bill and ethanol subsidies to the Law of the Sea. My only quibble is the continued support for grain ethanol -- although the project does advocate quick turnover to cellulosic sources -- how quick that evolution will be is a huge outstanding question. Apart from the report, the PCAP website also features a very cool Who's Who in Climate Action, a database of climate professionals and a Contact the Candidates link, where you can submit your own suggestions to the presidential hopefuls (the page needs to be updated; although I'm sure Giuliani would still welcome email about the state of the planet). And PCAP isn't the only player in the game. As Elizabeth Kolbert reports, a number of think tanks and coalitions have been cranking out climate recommendations for the next president of the United States. Whoever that turns out to be, the next president's problem won't be a lack of guidelines or expert advice ... if anything, it will be the opposite.
A new online film series called This Brave Nation premiered its first episode Sunday night: a conversation between Carl Pope and Van Jones. Both are natives of Frisco and both are equally adamant about environmental stewardship, but they have vastly different approaches. Here they chat about melding those tactics towards a common goal. Later this month, on June 15, Pete Seeger and Majora Carter discuss environmentalism, protest music, civil rights, and urban renewal. Should be interesting.
What do vertical farms, green roofs, soft cars, breathing walls, and Dongtan, China, have in common? They were all subjects of discussion at Friday's Future Cities event in New York City, part of the four-day 2008 World Science Festival. To a packed house, Columbia University microbiologist Dickson Despommier described his vision for feeding the planet's burgeoning, and increasingly urban, population. The vertical farm takes agriculture and stacks it into the tiers of a modern skyscraper. Instead of stopping at the corner pizzeria for dinner, Despommier suggested, you could pluck a nice head of lettuce, maybe some corn, and some tomatoes for a big salad, all in your own building, on the way to your apartment. You can't get fresher or more local than that. According to Despommier, the farms will be "grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers." (Of course, being indoor, there won't be many insects to spray for.) The farms will also require much less irrigation since all water can be re-circulated, and they'll curb the growing pressure to turn forest into farmland. The vertical farm sounds (and looks) pretty amazing, and certainly Despommier deserves much credit for thinking boldly ... but I was left with several questions.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece, now posted at Seed, about a financial mechanism for reducing deforestation and degradation (REDD) and vaster territory it will likely prime for pricing ecosystem services. It's fun to watch the story evolve, as now we're seeing the U.K.-based Canopy Capital sign an agreement to protect a 371,000 hectare chunk of tropical forest in Guyana -- in advance even of a market infrastructure to value all the services provided by this land. For the most part, I see action in this direction as a good thing. Certainly the climate scientists, conservationists, and environmentalists who support "natural capital" schemes have their heads and hearts in the right place. But in the course of reporting for the story, I uncovered a tier of concerns missing, for the most part, from popular media coverage of the subject. Indigenous rights groups and NGOs are highly concerned [PDF] about the implications of what amounts to leasing their land to foreign investors.
German designer Timm Kekeritz took the "virtual water" data that Sarah posted about from Waterfootprint.org and created this cool interactive poster. We featured Timm's work in the February issue of Seed (not online, but Treehugger wrote about it), which prompted me to order a giant paper version of the double-sided poster. With one side devoted to "footprints of nations" and the other side showing the water "inside" products, this enormous and graphically riveting wall-hanging makes a very cool, if intimidating, addition to any interior décor.
A new series of Pew polls shows public concern for climate change is out of sync with the science:
I like Michael Pollan -- really, I do -- which is why it was frustrating to see his wilted-salad-green entreaty to act on climate change in yesterday's paper: The climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle -- of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences. For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we're living our lives suggests we're not really serious about changing -- something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking -- passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists -- that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It's hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it. Pollan's grand solution? Plant a vegetable garden!
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act -- better known as the Superfund -- was born in 1980, largely in response to the Love Canal disaster. At the time, experts thought the allocated $1.6 billion would more than cover the costs of cleaning up the sites. But today, the fund is exhausted (it officially went broke in 2003), and as of September 2007, there are 1,315 final and proposed sites with thousands more awaiting approval. So it is taxpayers, instead of the polluting companies, that are footing the bill. Still, few people -- except, perhaps, those who live near a Superfund site -- know about this toxic legacy. Artist Brooke Singer has decided to make it relevant again. Last year, she and her team began visiting one toxic site per day, starting at a chemical plant in New Jersey, then jumping over to some zinc piles in Pennsylvania, then some landfills in Connecticut. They have cataloged all the toxics data, plus photos and histories, all on a cool visualization application called Superfund365. Visitors to the website are encouraged to contribute their own stories and images as well. The tour will wrap up next year at the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex in Hawaii. Hopefully by that time, thanks to Singer and co., Americans will be more aware of the problem ... and of the people who live with it daily.
What Grist readers might have predicted over a year ago, when David interviewed Van Jones, is quickly becoming reality. In October, Thomas Friedman, in a gushing editorial, called Jones a "rare bird" who "exudes enough energy to light a few buildings on his own." Now he's appeared on the Colbert Report where, despite the always-awkward position of Stephen's interviewees, he managed to land "green jobs" in the mental dictionary of millions of young viewers. I had the privilege of speaking to Jones last month as he cabbed it from Capitol Hill back to the airport. The profile appears in this month's issue of GOOD magazine, and is now online here. Despite seeming a bit exhausted, he was patient, articulate, and just plain kind. Something I wasn't able to include in the piece, but which he took great joy in telling, was how his grandfather, a bishop in the Methodist Church, was a huge inspiration to him, as were the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr. When asked if celebrity, and schmoozing with the big dogs in Washington, might divert his attention from grassroots activity, he responded, "On any given day, I might be in a public high school or in a prison, in D.C. or at a funeral. My life has a lot of sunshine and a lot of shit." On the other hand, he added, "That's what it takes to make a strong plant -- a lot of sunshine and a lot of fertilizer."