Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Room for debate: Does 'green shopping' matter?

A really nice piece in the New York Times Room For Debate series on whether 'green shopping' makes a difference.

I think the under appreciated part of the the 3 Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle) is the 4th R (refuse!).  Using less is always a good thing to do.  But, eating organic if you can is a good idea, as is reducing waste.

What do you think?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Who is responsible for atmospheric CO2 levels?

Here is a really interesting article that tabulates the cumulative amount of CO2 produced by various countries since the start of the industrial revolution and hence can be used to provide 'attribution' for the current climate crisis.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mark Bittman on climate...

JULY 18, 2012, 9:32 PM
The Endless Summer

Here's what American exceptionalism means now: on a per-capita basis, we either lead or come close to leading the world in consumption of resources, production of pollutants and a profound unwillingness to do anything about it. We may look back upon this year as the one in which climate change began to wreak serious havoc, yet we hear almost no conversation about changing policy or behavior. President Obama has done nicely in raising fuel averages for automobiles, but he came into office promising much more, and Mitt Romney promises even less. (There was a time he supported cap and trade.)

It has been well over 100 years since the phenomenon called the greenhouse effect was identified, 24 years since the steamy summer of '88, when many of us first took notice, and, incredibly, 15 years since the Kyoto Protocol. That agreement stipulated that signatories would annually reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases and was ratified (and even acted upon) by almost every country in the world, including every industrialized nation but one. That would be the United States. Now that's exceptionalism. (Bill Clinton signed Kyoto; George W. Bush, despite an election pledge, repudiated it.)

The climate has changed, and the only remaining questions may well be: a) how bad will things get, and b) how long will it be before we wake up to it. The only sane people who don't see this as a problem are those whose profitability depends on the status quo, people of money and power like Romney ("we don't know what's causing climate change"), most of his party, and Rex Tillerson, the Exxon chairman, who called the effects of climate change "manageable."

Which I suppose they are, as long as you're wealthy and able to move around at will. But it's not manageable to the corn farmers losing their crops (many are just chopping them down), the ranchers selling off their cattle, the thousands of people in Colorado burned out of their homes in fires caused by the worst drought since 1956 or those who will lose their homes or jobs to fire, flood, drought or whatever in coming years. How will they "manage"?

All of this is the tip of the iceberg, and the iceberg is, of course, melting. As Bill McKibben points out in a piece to be published in Rolling Stone on Friday, not only was May the warmest on record for the Northern Hemisphere, not only was it "the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average," but it was also followed by a June in which some 3,200 heat records were broken in the United States.

The first page alone of the Rolling Stone article will scare the pants off you, but the chorus needs to grow bigger, louder and stronger. That's why the forthcoming book (due July 24) from Climate Central, "Global Weirdness," is so welcome. "Global Weirdness," which explains climate change in simple, easy-to-understand language and ultrashort chapters, is intentionally calm because, says Michael Lemonick, one of the authors: "Some people respond well to 'Big trouble is coming and we must do something immediately,' but others are overwhelmed and just turn off. We believe that if you look at all the available evidence it's clear we're pushing the earth into a regime where it hasn't been before, and the effects could well be disastrous."

The time to avoid calamitous effects has likely passed. This doesn't mean the situation is hopeless, but the longer we wait to curb emissions, the worse and longer-lasting the effects. Climate Central's projections show that the biggest cities in Florida, and a great deal of the Northeast coastline (including New York City), will be underwater by 2100, when almost everyone now alive will have "managed" to leave the scene. Of course, the calamities won't be limited to North America, nor is 2100 some magical expiration date; the end isn't in sight.

Only reducing carbon emissions can keep matters from becoming worse. Thus the argument for a tax on carbon has never been stronger, but neither has the power of the energy companies to compel legislative paralysis on this issue. The way to a carbon tax is through Congress and the White House, but installing a responsible Congress means campaign-finance reform, another challenge of which Americans are aware but clueless about how to address. But feelings of helplessness are practically un-American: we have the opportunity to demand principled and independent leadership, if we will only try.

It was just about a year ago that we saw the beginnings of what is now called the Occupy movement. And although income inequality has hardly been "solved," it's a bigger part of the conversation now, and that may well spell Romney's downfall. A similar movement - one that, as McKibben told me, "identifies the fossil fuel industry as the real enemy in the climate fight, which is ultimately a moral battle" - could possibly get things moving. If we can force our next president to turn his attention to a problem that may well dwarf the economy in scale, perhaps American exceptionalism will come to mean leadership in the right direction.

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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tim Wirth on population

Here's a conversation topic that we all should have...

TIMOTHY E. WIRTH, President of the United Nations Foundation and Better World Fund

July 15, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

For years, too many political and opinion leaders around the world have shrugged off concerns about rapid population growth and escalating consumption patterns as overstated warnings from scientific Chicken Littles.

Now, the chickens are coming home to roost. The signals are manifest:

In rising global temperatures, melting polar ice, devastating wildfires and other extreme weather events;
In the political dissatisfaction of the world's largest ever generation of young people, for whom jobs are scarce and the future is uncertain; and
In the growing social and economic inequities that exist between and within countries.
Demographic trends are central to these challenges, but for a variety of reasons, most political leaders have closed their eyes and pretended that the problems don't exist or are too long-term to attend to.

Reestablishing global priority for comprehensive population and development initiatives must be a top priority of the next decade. The reluctance of political leaders to prioritize these issues is understandable on one level -- population issues touch on such sensitive topics as sexual behavior, human rights, culture and religion; consumption runs smack into powerful issues of resource extraction and use, pollution and intergenerational responsibility. Addressing these trends requires patient, sustained engagement over a period of decades.

More difficult to overcome are the chasms of misperception purposefully ginned up to suggest controversy where none should exist. Entrenched special interests have invested handsomely in elaborate public relations campaigns that give politicians an excuse to pretend that there is scientific doubt about the relationship between the burning of fossil fuels and our changing climate. Religious zealots that long for Victorian morality wholly rejected by the populace raise the specter of social chaos. The smokescreen of controversy perpetuates the status quo -- male dominance and unfettered use of the Earth's natural resources.

The efforts to stigmatize the population and climate issues have been remarkably successful -- a short-term victory for a narrow band of interests, a long-term tragedy for humanity. Most troubling has been the dismantling of the broad political consensus that made international family planning programs among the most widely embraced and successful human development efforts of the past 50 years. Twenty years ago, remarkable political agreement was reached at the International Conference on Population and Development on a comprehensive action plan. It was agreed that the international community should work together to achieve universal access to safe, voluntary reproductive health services so everyone can plan and space pregnancies, prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases, and experience births that are safe for women and children alike. It was also agreed that these health initiatives must be buttressed with corresponding efforts to empower women and secure their universally recognized human rights to economic opportunity, education, civic participation and the other social and legal protections they need to make free decisions in their lives.

But the global consensus has been eroded over the past two decades under withering and persistent attacks that have weakened political leadership and caused donor assistance to waver. Population dynamics have become the elephant in the room: It is perfectly understood that demography is driving our economic, social, and environmental future, yet the issues are considered unfit for conversation for polite company or public policy. Nor is there engagement on newer and complex global demographic trends such as aging, migration, and urbanization. Despite broad-based U.S. public support for international family planning and other foreign assistance, the Obama administration has had to fight heavy opposition from the conservative House to secure funding for these essential programs. In the absence of global government leadership, public-private partnerships are emerging to advance solutions to HIV/AIDS, maternal health and child survival.

This week, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the government of the United Kingdom convened government and non-governmental leaders in London to rebuild and reenergize the worldwide commitment to accessing voluntary contraception -- a key goal established in numerous international agreements.

The family planning summit successfully mobilized resources and commitments to provide voluntary family planning services to an additional 120 million women around the world. This effort will help address the gap that exists for the more than 200 million people who want, but don't have access to modern contraceptive services. Equally important, the summit made family planning part of the public dialogue. Our challenge moving forward is to make sure the conversation continues.

Few of the international community's aspirations for security, prosperity and sustainability can be achieved without consistent, courageous leadership on population and development initiatives. It's time we once again talk about them and take them on.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

HuffPo blog

I just wrote an essay about 'The New Normal' for The Huffington Post.  Might make a good dinner party discussion about how things have changed.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

LA Times writes about future seafood to be mostly farmed

The LA Times reported on how in the next decades, most of the seafood we're eating will come from farms.  As I both write in the book, and have blogged about, farming seafood on a large scale is not without peril.  And, the LA Times article notes that there have been disease outbreaks and are pollution issues associated with large-scale farming.

At this point, eating well-raised herbivorous fish (particularly tilapia and catfish) where the farms are isolated from other waterways, seems to be a good choice.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

NY Times on Big Organic

Interesting article on how small 'organic' and 'health food' companies grew and ultimately many were purchased by large corporations that might focus more on money than organic principles.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Perhaps soda shouldn't be served at parties...

Someone wrote me and shared this link about soda consumption.  If true, it's worth pondering before serving soda at your next dinner party.