Two things have happened since the obscure holiday of St. Crispin's day, Oct. 25, this year. First, Hurricane Sandy emphatically reset the American conversation on climate change. A recent cover of Bloomberg Businessweek was "It's Global Warming, Stupid!" Second, the presidential candidate who understands climate science and wants to take action has been elected. In his victory speech Obama said: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."
Chicago’s Black Belt area, on the historic South Side, was once a hub for jazz, blues, and literature, but today is riddled with vacant lots, poverty, and blight. Now, a new plan envisions the area as a thriving urban farm district.
In the coming weeks, the city’s planning department is expected to approve the creation of a green belt with a strong focus on urban agriculture within the neighborhood of Englewood. The plan is an element of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development’s (DHE) Green Healthy Neighborhoods initiative, designed to shepherd and foster redevelopment in 13 square miles of the South Side. Years of disinvestment and population decline have left the area riddled with 11,000 vacant lots totaling 800 acres.
Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner for the DHE, says that although the plan lays out a district “with a small d,” the city has a deep history in urban planning know-how. He, along with other city officials and community organizers, hope the farm district will help stabilize the South Side by putting vacant land to use and creating entrepreneurial and job opportunities. They also expect it to become a model for other city planners as well as a tourist destination for people interested in farming and growing food.
At the core of the blueprint is the three-mile long New ERA (Englewood Re-making America) Trail, which will serve as the “spine” of the farm district, Strazzabosco says. A former railroad line, the three-mile-long trail will become a linear park with foot and bike trails and farm stands. The area designated as the district begins directly across from the trail, as that's where an estimated 100 acres of city-owned, vacant parcels are located. Over time, they can be converted into farms and other agricultural projects.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) was ahead of the curve on this one. The long-serving liberal rep from the Seattle area introduced a carbon-tax bill in August, anticipating this very moment, when the "fiscal cliff" would be looming and everyone would be scrambling for some kind deal on taxes and the budget.
McDermott's Managed Carbon Price Act [PDF], a revision of a bill he first introduced in 2009, would tax energy producers at the extraction point -- when coal is mined, say -- and gradually ramp up that tax with the aim of reducing the nation's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2005 levels within 42 years. That would generate a lot of revenue. The bill would dedicate 25 percent of it to deficit reduction and refund the other 75 percent to citizens to help them offset rising energy costs, though McDermott says he's open to other ideas from colleagues about how best to allocate the money.
The bill is a long shot -- a very long long shot -- but apparently it's now looking feasible enough that right-wingers are feeling compelled to bash it. In the last few weeks, conservative commentators have taken to The Washington Times (twice), The Daily Caller, and Townhall.com to inveigh not just against a carbon tax but against McDermott's bill specifically. At this point, the bill is getting more attention from the right wing than from the left.
As the East Coast licks its wounds from superstorm Sandy, many in New York and New Jersey are still without power, wondering how on Earth it got this bad. Ken Burns, the great innovator of the American documentary, thinks this is the perfect time to seek some wisdom from generations past.
His new film, The Dust Bowl, tells the story of the the worst human-made ecological disaster in U.S. history. For it, Burns and his team tracked down the last remaining survivors of the catastrophic dust storms of the 1930s and matched their intimate stories (most were children at the time) with lush archival footage.
When I caught up with Burns in New York City, he drew comparisons between what happened then and what is happening now -- and how we can prevent future Dust Bowls and Sandys.
I like Al Gore. I voted for the guy twice: once for vice president, once for president. (He won the popular vote both times.)
I also understand that there's value in having an organized voice calling for action from the margins of the political debate. Conservatives have been spectacular at this tactic: staking out a position so far to the right on issues that politicians end up moving to the right simply because it's now the middle. It's like haggling -- you don't start negotiating from your bottom line.
But I don't really understand the point of Gore's call for President Obama to "immediately begin pushing for a carbon tax in negotiations over the 'fiscal cliff' budget crisis."
"I think all who look at these circumstances should agree that president Obama does have a mandate, should he choose to use it, to act boldly to solve the climate crisis, to begin solving it," Gore says.
Raise your hand if you think this will do the trick.
The hype has reached such an intensity that when the Sith Lord of Republican politics, Grover Norquist, said last week that a carbon tax wouldn't necessarily violate his sacred anti-tax pledge (something he has said before), everyone went a little nuts, so much so that his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, had to issue a follow-up statement clarifying that, no, really, it "opposes a carbon tax and will work tirelessly to ensure one does not become law."
Nonetheless, climate hawks remain excited that a policy they've come to see as their holy grail is being discussed in the context of solving America's fake problem and avoiding its fake cliff.
Polli has spent time everywhere from Antarctica to New Zealand to Taiwan, and is currently a professor in the University of New Mexico’s Art and Ecology program.
We caught up with Polli recently and talked about chaos theory, the sounds of climate change, and her artistic version of slow food.
Q.What led you to do the kind of work you’re doing now?
A. I had been working with computers all my life and creating little programs. But I never really thought of it as art until I went to grad school at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I had a mentor who caught me in the computer lab late at night and said, “What are you doing? Why haven’t we seen this stuff?”
A big article came out in Scientific American in ’85, and it had code in it. So me and my friends were typing in the code and programming these fractals. I started programming chaotic attractors to create algorithmic music: I was looking at these beautiful images of the butterfly attractor, and I thought, wow, this is just a mathematical formula and it makes this beautiful image -- I wonder if it would make beautiful music.
Q.How did you start focusing on climate science?
A. The butterfly attractor and other chaotic attractors are actually models of air moving through the atmosphere. Around 2000, I went on an art-science conference workshop, and met a meteorologist there. He said we could model something that happens historically almost exactly -- like a hurricane or a snowstorm. That led me to wonder what that might sound like. So we did the piece Atmospherics/Weather Works, which was a 16-channel sonification of a hurricane and a winter snow storm. The storm data created sound that was really dramatic, and I thought, well, would climate data create a kind of ambient sound?
[I was connected] with Cynthia Rosenzweig, who runs the climate research group at the NASA Goddard Institute [for Space Studies] up at Columbia. She’s being a scientist, very careful about what she says, and she starts telling me things that were really shocking. It made me really amazed at what was happening with climate change. So we did a project together called Heat and the Heartbeat of the City that used the climate models of their group. That’s really when I think I started to become actively involved in trying to address this issue of climate change however I could.
Bill McKibben and the folks at 350.org have decided to target the pernicious financial influence of the fossil fuel industry and its front groups. On the day following the election, they kicked off a 21-city “Do the Math” tourto "mount an unprecedented campaign to cut off the industry’s financial and political support by divesting our schools, churches and government from fossil fuels."
Divestment is a fine strategy, but we all know that it won't starve Big Oil, Coal, and Gas of needed capital. The goals of the divestment campaign are to make a statement and to get people to engage in the fight.
With those goals in mind, I want to set out another challenge to everyone who recognizes the need to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Moving our investments from a mutual fund that holds shares in ExxonMobil to some kind of socially responsible investment fund is important, but it’s just a baby step.
We also need to invest our capital (both financial and sweat) in community-owned, distributed, and small-scale renewable energy. Why? Because we must fundamentally remake the energy economy as if nature, people, and the future actually mattered.
Every morning, I wake up and dump three cups of Quaker brand instant oatmeal into my fish tank. It’s a lifestyle I’m comfortable with, but it turns out oatmeal does terrible things to water clarity and African cichlids positively hate it.
Now a sane person might decide, “You know, maybe I should stop dumping all this oatmeal into my fish tank.” But I am not a sane person. I am a geoengineer, and I can think of far better solutions.
So I’ve built a pump and a series of injectors to fire delicious cinnamon into my fish tank in the hopes that it will bond with the oatmeal molecules and make the whole concoction more appealing to ferrets. I’ve also purchased a skindiving ferret who I’ll introduce to the aquarium ecosystem. I’ve run the numbers on my Commodore VIC 20, and the models all point to a healthy, happy, largely oatmeal-free fish tank in under a fortnight!