The corn industry’s hustle to force us to turn it into fuel may have reached its peak. Normally, one might not look well upon the EPA lowering a standard that could theoretically burn something more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels. But ethanol is not only not particularly environmentally neutral, it’s a terrible use of land and comes with a whole set of additional problems. So at least in this case, the EPA ruling in favor of the oil industry is not per se a bad thing. It’s not exactly a good thing either of course. It’s more like a situation where every option stinks.
There’s a certain kind of environmental writing that drives a lot of people crazy. This is the jeremiad that tells us the world is failing, we are at a tipping point, civilization is doomed, etc. In principle, I don’t have a particular problem with the style, after all I do my share of it. Some say that sky is falling writing drives people to do nothing, stop listening, or give up hope, but I don’t know that there’s any real evidence supporting the assertion.
But I do have one very large problem with how these essays are usually written. They tend to erase inequality and differences between people, as if the writer is just discovering that things are bad in the world, a revelation the world’s poor would not find surprising. Take Roy Scranton’s essay in the Times about how we need to learn to die as a civilization, for dying is what our civilizing is doing as we take no action to mitigate climate change. It’s long and I’m just going to excerpt a couple small parts:
The human psyche naturally rebels against the idea of its end. Likewise, civilizations have throughout history marched blindly toward disaster, because humans are wired to believe that tomorrow will be much like today — it is unnatural for us to think that this way of life, this present moment, this order of things is not stable and permanent. Across the world today, our actions testify to our belief that we can go on like this forever, burning oil, poisoning the seas, killing off other species, pumping carbon into the air, ignoring the ominous silence of our coal mine canaries in favor of the unending robotic tweets of our new digital imaginarium. Yet the reality of global climate change is going to keep intruding on our fantasies of perpetual growth, permanent innovation and endless energy, just as the reality of mortality shocks our casual faith in permanence.
The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The sooner we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.
The choice is a clear one. We can continue acting as if tomorrow will be just like yesterday, growing less and less prepared for each new disaster as it comes, and more and more desperately invested in a life we can’t sustain. Or we can learn to see each day as the death of what came before, freeing ourselves to deal with whatever problems the present offers without attachment or fear.
If we want to learn to live in the Anthropocene, we must first learn how to die.
The problem here isn’t that Scranton’s unaware that the poor exists. He mentions food crises, Hurricane Katrina, etc. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to understand that regardless of whether we are going to live or die, we are not going to do so together. As environmental writers do way too often, he leaves the power dynamics of society outside of his essay. There’s a lot of money to be made off climate change. A lot of new industries will develop, whether mining the newly accessible Arctic or providing water or who knows. The rich are going to be OK. They will move to higher ground, the poor will be left to lower ground. The rich will have air conditioning (and access to water if it becomes truly scarce). The poor will not. The rich will have homes that have a better chance of withstanding large storms. The poor will live in substandard housing that will kill them when the hurricane comes through. Of course, race, class, immigration status, and nationality will play a major role in determining who will be OK and who will not.
Essays like Scranton’s erase environmental justice from the definitions of the movement. If we aren’t going to center the power dynamics of capitalism, race, gender, and global inequality in our adaptations to climate change, it means that environmentalism remains a movement of the rich and the white, disconnected to the material concerns of the world’s majority.
In other words, if we are going to die as a civilization, it might be a good idea to live as a civilization first. Because while things for the poor will get worse when the impacts of climate change grow, they are pretty bloody bad right now. The sky isn’t falling for them with climate change. The sky never rose on their lives in the first place.
More than 3,200 years ago, life was abuzz in and around what is now this modern-day Israeli metropolis on the shimmering Mediterranean shore.
To the north lay the mighty Hittite empire; to the south, Egypt was thriving under the reign of the great Pharaoh Ramses II. Cyprus was a copper emporium. Greece basked in the opulence of its elite Mycenaean culture, and Ugarit was a bustling port city on the Syrian coast. In the land of Canaan, city states like Hazor and Megiddo flourished under Egyptian hegemony. Vibrant trade along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean connected it all.
Yet within 150 years, according to experts, the old world lay in ruins.
Experts have long pondered the cause of the crisis that led to the Late Bronze Age collapse of civilization, and now believe that by studying grains of fossilized pollen they have uncovered the cause.
In a study published Monday in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, researchers say it was drought that led to the collapse in the ancient southern Levant.
Before we talk about our technology and etc., let’s remember that these societies lasted a whole lot longer than the United States has. There’s no reason to think that we are somehow immune from drought-related collapses just because of more advanced technology that can move water around. Not to mention that the intensive engineering of water comes with a whole set of additional problems.
But of course the American union movement is diverse and fractured. Some unions have embraced the relationships with the NAACP and Sierra Club. But others, particularly in the trades, are somewhere between wary and hostile. Laborers president Terry O’Sullivan has been particularly outspoken in his anger over the Sierra Club’s opposition to building the Keystone XL Pipeline. O’Sullivan has both accused environmentalists of betraying labor for opposing the pipeline and publicly castigated unions who do not have a direct stake in the pipeline to shut up about it. International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger warned about the federation becoming “the American Federation of Progressive and Liberal Organizations.”
We might bemoan these attitudes but we also have to take them seriously. It’s worth thinking more deeply about the mechanics of what these alliances might look like. How should the federation respond when stopping a environmentally disastrous construction project will cost members jobs? Should unions without a stake in employment oppose another union who does have that stake? Does the fight for a sustainable climate take precedence over a few hundred or few thousand union jobs? These are really hard questions to answer.
In my own book-in-progress on timber worker unions and environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest forests, there is one potential lesson. In 1978, Redwood National Park was expanded, despite protests from the timber industry, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (who represented most of the timber workers in northern California), and the California state AFL-CIO. Yet in the final bill, the Sierra Club and organized labor worked together to create the Redwood Employee Protection Plan. REPP offered up to six years of direct government benefits for any worker who lost a job because of redwood forest protection. It served as a lifeline to workers in a dying industry. REPP had its problems, including discomfort with such generous provisions from the Carter Administration and outright hostility from Reagan. When it ended in 1984, most of the major players considered it a failure. I don’t have space to explore the details of the plan or its problems here. But I do think that both labor and environmentalists can look to REPP as at least one case where two potentially powerful movements allied (even if it was an alliance of begrudging convenience) to create an unprecedented federal program for American workers while also protecting an ecologically special place.
In our continuing chronicle of jellyfish taking over the planet and replacing humans as the dominant species, we have jellyfish attacking Sweden and shutting down a nuclear reactor. The Soviets couldn’t stop western Europe’s nuclear regime, but what are the Soviets compared to jellyfish? Nothing.
Meanwhile, the South Koreans are trying to fight the jellyfish. It seems to me that is just going to make them angry. I wouldn’t want to be in Korea when the jellyfish strike back.
2. Support for fracking declines in the United States. This is useful given our embrace of the technology without anything close to the proper research as to how it will affect water supplies, not to mention create earthquakes. But where there’s profit to be found, you can forget about caution.
How bad is the long-term drought in the West? The enormous rains of last week in Colorado helped a lot locally, barely put a dent in the larger indicators.
If you don’t believe the drought monitor, take a look at Lake Powell, a good barometer of water conditions in much of the West. By early September, the lake’s surface elevation was a whopping 33 feet below last year’s level on that date, and 65 feet below 2011′s September level. The rains helped, barely: The water level rose about two feet before leveling off. It would take dozens of this summer’s biggest deluges to bring the lake back up anywhere near where it should be at this time of year.
Dozens of floods are necessary. Of course nobody wants dozens of floods. What we really want is long-term rainfall. But the reality of climate change in the West means that long-term drought is the new normal.
Jellyfish are taking over the world. And they love the conditions of the ocean created by climate change. Not only are the oceans likely to become jellyfish deserts that also make swimming in many areas increasingly dangerous, but they also wreak tremendous havoc on economic activity along the coasts, not to mention shipping.
Forgot our robot overlords. It’s jellyfish overlords that we actually have to worry about.
The linked article is terrifying.
The UN consistently chooses the most conservative predictions about the effects of climate change in order to try and mollify climate change deniers. This has the effect of muting the shouting from the mountaintops we need to get a handle on an issue that will destroy the way of life we today know. Not a good idea, especially since those deniers are never going to listen since they have an economic stake in the present system.
The mining industry, conducting its usual anti-social, anti-environmental, and exploitative behavior, is pushing for new rules in New Mexico to escape having to go through a variance process to pollute the groundwater below its mining sites, reports the Santa Fe New Mexican The law could allow more industries to do the same, including the state’s two national laboratories. Mining has dominated the economy of southwestern New Mexico for more than a century and with a Republican governor in office, the industry is seeking to capitalize. There’s no good reason to allow high-polluting industries to get around water quality regulations. None at all.