The Year Humans Started to Ruin the World
Eric Roston, Bloomberg
Astronomers have been telling us for nearly 500 years that humanity is not the most important thing in the universe. Evolutionary biologists established long ago that we’re not even the greatest show on earth.
Now, geologists—the scientists who literally decide what on earth is going on—may reach the opposite conclusion: Humanity is the most powerful force on the planet, shaping the environment more than water, wind, or plate tectonics.
Fifteen years ago, two prominent researchers suggested that the earth has formally entered a phase of human domination. Unless there’s some unforeseen calamity caused by volcanic activity or a meteor, they argued, "mankind will remain a major geological force for many millennia, maybe millions of years, to come." Nobel prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen and University of Michigan biologist Eugene Stoermer called this new episode in planetary history the Anthropocene Epoch. The idea has been gaining steam in both the scientific and mainstream press for several years.
Enough scientists have bought into the idea that this week, the journal Nature dedicates more than nine pages to the next logical question: If we have crossed into the Anthropocene—which "appears reasonable," they write with understatement— when did it begin?…
Infrastructure boom threatens world’s last wildernesses
Karl Mathiesen, The Guardian
Infrastructure is being built at the fastest rate in human history and could unleash a wave of road-building that puts many of the world’s remaining wildernesses at risk over the coming decades, scientists warn. Everywhere you look the scale of what’s happening is astonishing and quite frightening
As developing countries continue to grow their populations and economies, new dams, mines, oil wells and cities will be built to support the expansion. But in a study published on Thursday, researchers said the localised impacts of these projects was “almost trivial” compared to the litany of woe caused by the roads that service them.
“When you’re talking about things like hydroelectric projects, mining projects, logging projects, what these things are doing is creating an economic impetus for roadbuilding and it’s really the roads that are the danger,” said study author Professor Bill Laurance from James Cook University.
“You’re enormously increasing the physical accessibility of that habitat to poachers, to illegal loggers, to land speculators, to illegal colonists.”
He said the damage caused by the indirect consequences of roadbuilding was rarely taken into account during the environmental assessment process.
Here’s why gas really costs Americans $6.25 a gallon
Jeffery DelViscio, Quartz
It’s almost April 15, and you may be worrying about how much taxes will hurt this year. But a new study published today suggests there’s a whole world of economic losses in the air around us that few of us know anything about…
Drew Shindell, a professor at Duke University, has attempted to play CPA to our industrialized emitting world. He has tabulated what he calls “climate damages” for a whole range of greenhouse gases like CO2, aerosols, and methane—and more persistent ones like nitrous oxides.
If these damages are added in like the gas tax, a gallon of regular in the United States would really cost $6.25. The price of diesel would be a whopping $7.72 a gallon…
Submitted by Jan Lundberg who adds – As far as I can tell from the article, subsidies are not included. So the figures are low-balled.
Bakken oil production is already declining
Mason Inman, Falling Gracefully
With the large oil price drop that began last summer, the big question for world oil markets has been: How will U.S. shale drillers respond? There’s been widespread expectations that U.S. shale oil—and hence total U.S. production—would continue rising through the middle of 2015. In the prolific Bakken shale oil play, production dropped in January—and looks set to drop in the following two months, at least. It could be that U.S. total production is already declining, but the data hasn’t come in yet…
Pressure is growing. A relentless climate movement is starting to win big, unprecedented victories around the world, victories which are quickly reshaping the consensus view.
Bill McKibben, The Guardian
The official view: all eyes are on Paris, where negotiators will meet in December for a climate conference that will be described as “the most important diplomatic gathering ever” and “a last chance for humanity.” Heads of state will jet in, tense closed-door meetings will be held, newspapers will report that negotiations are near a breaking point, and at the last minute some kind of agreement will emerge, hailed as “a start for serious action”.
The actual story: what happens at Paris will be, at best, one small part of the climate story, one more skirmish in the long, hard-fought road to climate sanity. What comes before and after will count more. And to the extent Paris matters, its success will depend not on the character of our leaders but on how much a resurgent climate movement has softened up the fossil fuel industry, and how much pressure the politicians feel to deliver something.
The good news is, that pressure is growing. In fact, that relentless climate movement is starting to win big, unprecedented victories around the world, victories which are quickly reshaping the consensus view – including among investors – about how fast a clean energy future could come. It’s a movement grounded in the streets and reaching for the photovoltaic rooftops, and its thinking can be easily summarised in a mantra: Fossil freeze. Solar thaw. Keep it in the ground.
Triumph is not certain – in fact, as the steadily rising toll of floods and droughts and melting glaciers makes clear, major losses are guaranteed. But for the first time in the quarter-century since global warming became a major public issue the advantage in this struggle has begun to tilt away from the Exxons and the BPs and towards the ragtag and spread-out fossil fuel resistance, which is led by indigenous people, young people, people breathing the impossible air in front- line communities. The fight won’t wait for Paris – the fight is on every day, and on every continent…
How will everything change under climate change?
Naomi Klein, The Guardian
The alarm bells of the climate crisis have been ringing in our ears for years and are getting louder all the time – yet humanity has failed to change course. What is wrong with us?
Many answers to that question have been offered, ranging from the extreme difficulty of getting all the governments in the world to agree on anything, to an absence of real technological solutions, to something deep in our human nature that keeps us from acting in the face of seemingly remote threats, to – more recently – the claim that we have blown it anyway and there is no point in even trying to do much more than enjoy the scenery on the way down.
Some of these explanations are valid, but all are ultimately inadequate. Take the claim that it’s just too hard for so many countries to agree on a course of action. It is hard. But many times in the past, the United Nations has helped governments to come together to tackle tough cross-border challenges, from ozone depletion to nuclear proliferation. The deals produced weren’t perfect, but they represented real progress. Moreover, during the same years that our governments failed to enact a tough and binding legal architecture requiring emission reductions, supposedly because cooperation was too complex, they managed to create the World Trade Organisation – an intricate global system that regulates the flow of goods and services around the planet, under which the rules are clear and violations are harshly penalised.
The assertion that we have been held back by a lack of technological solutions is no more compelling. Power from renewable sources like wind and water predates the use of fossil fuels and is becoming cheaper, more efficient, and easier to store every year. The past two decades have seen an explosion of ingenious zero-waste design, as well as green urban planning. Not only do we have the technical tools to get off fossil fuels, we also have no end of small pockets where these low carbon lifestyles have been tested with tremendous success. And yet the kind of large-scale transition that would give us a collective chance of averting catastrophe eludes us.
Heat pumps extract warmth from ice cold water
Richard Anderson, BBC
The residents of Drammen have rather an unusual way of keeping warm.
The county capital, 40 miles west of Oslo in Norway, extracts most of the heat needed to insulate its houses, offices and factories against the biting Nordic cold from the local fjord, or more precisely from the water held within it.
Averaging 8C throughout the year – it’s literally cold enough to take your breath away. So cold, in fact, that open water swimmers classify it as freezing.
But somehow, an open-minded district heating company, backed by an environmentally-conscious city council, together with a large measure of Glaswegian nous, have built a system to meet the heating needs not just of Drammen’s 65,000 residents, but its businesses as well…
In L.A., Now You Can Use City Land For A Free Vegetable Garden
Adele Peters, Fast Company
Four years ago, Ron Finley was given an arrest warrant for planting carrots. Finley, who lives in South Central L.A., was tired of driving miles to find healthy food, so he’d planted a vegetable garden in the small strip of city-owned land between the sidewalk in front of his house and the street, an area he was required to maintain. The problem? The city required a $400 permit to use it as a garden, which Finley didn’t pay. After some media coverage of the garden and a petition from community activists, the warrant was later revoked, and the project started to inspire more guerrilla gardening throughout the city. Now, L.A. has finally changed its policy: Under a new law, the city will allow free gardens next to sidewalks…
Into the wild: the rebels living off-grid all over Europe – in pictures
Antoine Bruy, The Guardian
They’ve opted out of cities and started all-new rural lives, building their own straw homes, teepees and bath tubs. Since 2010, photographer Antoine Bruy has travelled from the Pyrenees to Romania tracking down urban refuseniks… View the images here