Unless it's immediately proceeded by the word "no," the phrase "good news" rarely appears these days in stories about climate change. But in a year in which we found out that our oceans may rise this century by as much as three feet and that atmospheric carbon dioxide is higher than it has been in nearly a million years, there were still some bright spots. And in preparation for Thanksgiving, we've compiled a list of four environmental developments for which you can give thanks. You can see even more on Twitter by searching the hashtag #ClimateThanks.
1. The U.S. and the World Bank will avoid financing coal-fired power plants abroad.
The Arctic is melting, so the U.S. is rolling up there with its guns and ammo.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel laid out the Pentagon's first-ever Arctic strategy -- a military strategy designed to keep the fast-melting region peaceful and clean as it is plundered by drillers and traversed by shippers. From his speech on Friday [PDF]:
Climate change is shifting the landscape in the Arctic more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. While the Arctic temperature rise is relatively small in absolute terms, its effects are significant – transforming what was a frozen desert into an evolving navigable ocean, giving rise to an unprecedented level of human activity. Traffic in the Northern Sea Route is reportedly expected to increase tenfold this year compared to last year. ...
With Arctic sea routes starting to see more activities like tourism and commercial shipping, the risk of accidents increases. Migrating fish stocks will draw fishermen to new areas, challenging existing management plans. And while there will be more potential for tapping what may be as much as a quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas, a flood of interest in energy exploration has the potential to heighten tensions over other issues – even though most projected oil and gas reserves in the region are located within undisputed exclusive economic zones.
Despite potential challenges, these developments create the opportunity for nations to work together through coalitions of common interest, as both Arctic and non-Arctic nations begin to lay out their strategies and positions on the future of the region.
In doublespeak that would make any Times journalist scoff, newspaper management claimed at the time that the changes were being made in an effort to improve environmental coverage. "We have not lost any desire for environmental coverage," the paper's managing editor for news operations told Inside Climate News in January. "This is purely a structural matter."
By killing the environment desk, other desks would take a heightened interest in such wonky issues as national climate policy, greenhouse gas emissions metrics, and adaptation challenges in the Philippines. At least, that was the idea -- taking environmental coverage out of its "silo." (That, and saving money.)
But late during the two weeks of negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, known as COP19, which ended Saturday, a few drops of refreshing news splashed down. Here's a full rundown.
The big news
In 2015, each of the planet's nations will offer a proposal for contributing to a reduction in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement didn't come until Saturday night, a day after the talks were supposed to have ended. The AP reported that the "modest deal" averted "a last-minute breakdown."
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).
When Senate Democrats blew up the filibuster Thursday, they didn’t just rewrite some rules. They struck a mortal blow to a tradition that has blockaded effective action on climate change. If you tried to summarize the cycle of hope and disappointment on climate policy during President Obama’s tenure, you’d bump into the filibuster at every turn. During Obama’s first term, Senate Republicans elevated the once-rarely invoked supermajority threshold required to end debate under Senate rules into a de facto 60-vote requirement to pass any legislation. Instead of merely voting against bills they opposed, the GOP filibustered all of them. They …
Hip hop savant Kanye West made the news a lot this week. First, there was the SNL spoof of him and his wife Kim Kardashian this past Saturday. Then he unrobed his new sex tape music video on Ellen DeGeneres’s daytime talk show. But he also made a surprise visit to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design to meet with its African American Students Union, a group of about 20 black students working toward careers in architecture and urban planning.
If the numbers seem low for that union it’s because African Americans are extremely underrepresented in the design disciplines, as are people of color in general. This, in fact, is what the Harvard students invited Yeezy to their campus to talk about after hearing him vent about how people don't take his ambitions as a designer seriously because he's black. Last month, Ye told a radio host in Los Angeles that he will “design the new Sistine Chapel.” (One might argue that preposterous statements like that are what get him laughed off, not his race, but how preposterous would it sound if Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates made that same declaration?)
West showed up at Harvard while in Boston for a leg of his Yeezus tour. He had a closed-door discussion with the black grad students, and then, as they were concluding a tour of the school building, he spontaneously hopped on a table to deliver a speech -- really a manifesto: “I really do believe that the world can be saved through design,” he said.
It was a bold performance that captured plenty of media attention. But obscured by the Yeezus media circus were the people who invited him and why. A few of the students responsible for bringing Kanye took a break from their end-of-semester finals to talk with Grist about the lack of of equity and inclusion in the world architecture. They too believe that design can save the world, but only if it is more reflective of the public, which is not all white.