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kottke.org posts about global warming

How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 25, 2019

The Grist has compiled a list of articles written by Coby Beck “containing responses to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming”. Here are some snippets from a few of the articles.

The temperature record is unreliable:

There is actually some truth to the part about the difficulties; scientists have overcome many of them in turning the hundreds of thousands of measurements taken in many different ways and over a span of more than a dozen decades into a single globally averaged trend.

But this is the nature of science — no one said it was easy. It’s taken the scientific community a long time to finally come out and say that what we have been observing for 100 years is in fact exactly what it looks like. All other possible explanations (for example, the Urban Heat Island effect) have been investigated, the data has been examined and re-examined, reviewed and re-reviewed, and the conclusion has become unassailable.

Global warming has been going on for the last 20,000 years:

If you have look at this graph of temperature, starting at a point when we were finishing the climb out of deep glaciation, you can clearly see that rapid warming ceased around 10,000 years ago (rapid relative to natural fluctuations, but not compared to the warming today, which is an order of magnitude faster). After a final little lift 8,000 years ago, temperature trended downward for the entire period of the Holocene. So the post-industrial revolution warming is the reversal of a many-thousand-year trend.

It’s the sun, stupid:

There has been work done reconstructing the solar irradiance record over the last century, before satellites were available. According to the Max Planck Institute, where this work is being done, there has been no increase in solar irradiance since around 1940.

It’s cold today in Wagga Wagga:

The chaotic nature of weather means that no conclusion about climate can ever be drawn from a single data point, hot or cold. The temperature of one place at one time is just weather, and says nothing about climate, much less climate change, much less global climate change.

Go forth and spread the truth as you travel to dine at various holidays tables around the country. (P.S. I first posted a link to this series in 2006. That it’s almost more necessary now than it was then is beyond depressing.)

How To Talk To Kids About Climate Change

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2019

NPR’s Anya Kamenetz shares six tips on how to talk to your kids about the climate crisis. Step 1 is to break the silence:

He says, despite the fact that the climate crisis literally affects everyone on earth, too many of us are sitting alone with our worries, our faces lit by our phone screens in the middle of the night. “We seem to be more scared of upsetting the conversation than we are scared about climate change.”

Mary DeMocker, an activist and artist in Eugene, Ore., is the author of The Parents’ Guide To Climate Revolution, a book focusing on simple actions families can take both personally and collectively. “The emotional aspect is actually, I think, one of the biggest aspects of climate work right now,” she says.

Asked what feelings parents tell her they are grappling with, she ticks off guilt, distraction, confusion. And the big one: fear.

See also 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom.

Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2019

From filmmaker David Freid, Nobody Dies in Longyearbyen is a short film about Longyearbyen, Norway, the one of the northernmost towns in the world. The town of about 2100 residents is situated on the Svalbard archipelago and is the home of the Global Seed Vault. Freid went to investigate the rumor that no one is allowed to die in Longyearbyen and discovered that if climate change results in the permafrost melting in places like this, diseases from long ago may be released back into the world.

But for more than 70 years, not a single person has been buried in Longyearbyen. That’s due to the region’s year-round sub-zero temperatures: Bodies don’t decompose, but are preserved, as if mummified, in the permafrost. Should anyone die there, the government of Svalbard requires that the body is flown or shipped to mainland Norway to be interred.

See also A Trip to the Northernmost Town on Earth.

A Free Font Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Handwriting

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 16, 2019

Greta Grotesk

Inspired by the handwritten sign that climate activist Greta Thunberg has been using since beginning her climate strike in August 2018, a startup called Uno has produced a font of her handwriting available for free download.

Greta Grotesk

America’s Great Climate Exodus Has Already Begun

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Like many Americans, I have been hearing about climate change since the late 80s (or perhaps even longer). Back then, the story was mainly that we needed to act soon to avoid potential effects like sea level rise, dangerous heatwaves, disrupting animal habitats, etc. in some distant future. One of the things I currently struggle with when thinking about climate change is recalibrating that “some distant future” part. Because that future is now and shit is happening in these here United States as we speak. From Bloomberg, America’s Great Climate Exodus Is Starting in the Florida Keys:

The Great Climate Retreat is beginning with tiny steps, like taxpayer buyouts for homeowners in flood-prone areas from Staten Island, New York, to Houston and New Orleans — and now Rittel’s Marathon Key. Florida, the state with the most people and real estate at risk, is just starting to buy homes, wrecked or not, and bulldoze them to clear a path for swelling seas before whole neighborhoods get wiped off the map.

By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $1 million each, according to Florida State University demographer Mathew Haeur, who studies climate migration. Even in a “managed retreat,” coordinated and funded at the federal level, the economic disruption could resemble the housing crash of 2008.

By not wanting to pay now to mitigate the effects of climate change, we’ll end up paying a whole lot more later. Those late fees are gonna be something else.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring Is As Relevant As Ever

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 24, 2019

In light of the recent news of almost 30% of America’s birds disappearing in the past 50 years and the ongoing news of the climate crisis, it’s worth reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a serialized version of which was published by the New Yorker in 1962 in three parts (one, two, three). From the opening of the first NYer piece:

Then, one spring, a strange blight crept over the area, and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community; mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens, and the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was the shadow of death. The farmers told of much illness among their families. In the town, the doctors were becoming more and more puzzled by new kinds of sickness that had appeared among their patients. There had been several sudden and unexplained deaths, not only among the adults but also among the children, who would be stricken while they were at play, and would die within a few hours.

And there was a strange stillness. The birds, for example — where had they gone? Many people, baffled and disturbed, spoke of them. The feeding stations in the back yards were deserted. The few birds to be seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. In the mornings, which had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, and wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marshes.

On the farms, the hens brooded but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs; the litters were small, and the young survived only a few days. The apple trees were coming into bloom, but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was no pollination and there would be no fruit.

The roadsides were lined with brown and withered vegetation, and were silent, too, deserted by all living things. Even the streams were lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died.

In the gutters under the eaves, and between the shingles of the roofs, a few patches of white granular powder could be seen; some weeks earlier this powder had been dropped, like snow, upon the roofs and the lawns, the fields and the streams.

No witchcraft, no enemy action had snuffed out life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves.

To call Carson’s words prescient would be a huge understatement. “The people had done it themselves” indeed.

The Tree and Other Natural Climate Solutions

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2019

A short and compelling video from Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot about how we can harness nature to help repair our broken climate.

There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little, and builds itself. It’s called a tree.

Their approach to how we can do that is “protect, restore, and fund”.

That means protecting tropical forests that are being cut down at the rate of 30 football pitches a minute, she said, restoring the large areas of the planet that have been damaged and stopping the funding of things that destroy nature and instead paying for activities that help it.

You can find out more about natural climate solutions here. From an open letter signed by Thunberg, Monbiot, Margaret Atwood, Michael Mann, Bill McKibben, Brian Eno, and others:

By defending, restoring and re-establishing forests, peatlands, mangroves, salt marshes, natural seabeds and other crucial ecosystems, very large amounts of carbon can be removed from the air and stored. At the same time, the protection and restoration of these ecosystems can help to minimise a sixth great extinction, while enhancing local people’s resilience against climate disaster. Defending the living world and defending the climate are, in many cases, one and the same.

(via the kid should see this)

Get Ready for the Global Climate Strike on September 20

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Global Climate Strike

Just a reminder that the Global Climate Strike begins this Friday, September 20. A coalition of young activists led by Greta Thunberg is calling on all of us to walk out of our schools and jobs to demand political and corporate action on the Earth’s climate crisis.

Once again our voices are being heard on the streets, but it is not just up to us.

We feel a lot of adults haven’t quite understood that we young people won’t hold off the climate crisis ourselves. Sorry, if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job. We young people can contribute to a larger fight and that can make a huge difference.

So this is our invitation to you. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kick start a week of climate action with worldwide strikes for the climate. We’re asking you to step up alongside us. There are many different plans underway in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together; with our neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make our voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.

kottke.org will be joining the Digital Climate Strike on Friday; the site won’t be available that day. If you’d like to participate in the strike, there are plenty of resources available here.

Air Conditioning is Warming the Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 04, 2019

Modern society has an air conditioning problem. One of the most popular responses by the world’s population to global warming is to use air conditioning. Air conditioning is very greenhouse gas-intensive, which contributes to the warming of the planet. Which causes more people use air conditioning. And so on. In a long Guardian piece, Stephen Buranyi lays out how air conditioning came to be so ubiquitous and how we might escape this air conditioning trap we find ourselves in.

There are just over 1bn single-room air conditioning units in the world right now - about one for every seven people on earth. Numerous reports have projected that by 2050 there are likely to be more than 4.5bn, making them as ubiquitous as the mobile phone is today. The US already uses as much electricity for air conditioning each year as the UK uses in total. The IEA projects that as the rest of the world reaches similar levels, air conditioning will use about 13% of all electricity worldwide, and produce 2bn tonnes of CO2 a year - about the same amount as India, the world’s third-largest emitter, produces today.

All of these reports note the awful irony of this feedback loop: warmer temperatures lead to more air conditioning; more air conditioning leads to warmer temperatures. The problem posed by air conditioning resembles, in miniature, the problem we face in tackling the climate crisis. The solutions that we reach for most easily only bind us closer to the original problem.

Weirdly, the article doesn’t mention that most air conditioning units contain chemical refrigerants (CFCs and HCFCs) that, if released, “have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide”. Phasing out the use of CFCs & HCFCs in new units and capturing the refrigerants in discarded units can prevent global warming to such a degree that it’s the #1 way to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Errol Morris & Bob Odenkirk Team Up for Climate Change Spots

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2019

In partnership with the Institute for the Future, Errol Morris has produced a series of 30-second spots about climate change that star Bob Odenkirk as Admiral Horatio Horntower.

Here’s what Morris had to say about the ads:

I have never had any trouble believing in climate change, global warming, or whatever you want to call it. The scientific evidence is overwhelming. Galileo famously replied to Archbishop Piccolomini (or some other Vatican prelate), “And yet it moves.” Today we could just as well say, “And yet it changes.” But what to do about it? Logic rarely convinces anybody of anything. Climate change has become yet another vehicle for political polarization. If Al Gore said the Earth was round there would be political opposition insisting that the Earth was flat. It’s all so preposterous, so contemptible.

I’ve created nineteen thirty-second spots that profile a character I created: Admiral Horatio Horntower. He’s an admiral of a fleet of one and perhaps the last man on Earth. Hopefully it captures the absurdity and the desperation of our current situation. No pie graphs, no PowerPoint — just a blithering idiot played by one of my favorite actors, Bob Odenkirk.

You can watch all nine of the current spots here.

Making Food from Carbon Dioxide & Water

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2019

Using a concept from NASA, a Finnish company called Solar Foods has figured out how to manufacture protein from carbon dioxide, water, and electricity. They call it Solein.

A company from Finland, Solar Foods, is planning to bring to market a new protein powder, Solein, made out of CO2, water and electricity. It’s a high-protein, flour-like ingredient that contains 50 percent protein content, 5-10 percent fat, and 20-25 percent carbs. It reportedly looks and tastes like wheat flour, and could become an ingredient in a wide variety of food products after its initial launch in 2021.

It’s likely to first appear on grocery shelves in protein shakes and yogurt. It could be an exciting development: Solein’s manufacturing process is carbon neutral and the potential for scalability seems unlimited — we’ve got too much CO2, if anything. Why not get rid of some greenhouse gas with a side of fries?

The production of food (and the protein contained in meat in particular) is responsible for a large percentage of our planet’s changing climate, so if Solein pans out, it could be a huge development. It will be interesting to see if the wizards or prophets win the battle to “fix” climate change…Solein is one hell of a salvo by the wizards.

The Greta Thunberg Effect

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 12, 2019

According to recent statistics, the number of books published about the climate crisis & the natural world aimed at children has more than doubled over the last year. Children’s publishers are crediting climate activist Greta Thunberg with igniting interest in the climate among the younger set.

“I absolutely would say there has been a Greta Thunberg effect,” says Rachel Kellehar, head of nonfiction. “She has galvanised the appetite of young people for change, and that has galvanised our appetite, as publishers, for stories that empower our readers to make those changes.”

I’d give David Attenborough’s recent run of nature documentaries some credit as well…the young people in my household are big fans of Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II.

Here are a few recent and upcoming children’s books about climate and nature, in addition to Thunberg’s own No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, of course.

Climate Books Kids

A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals by Millie Marotta. “A Wild Child’s Guide to Endangered Animals highlights the plight of 43 endangered species from around the world, including rare and well-known animals living in freshwater, oceans, forests, mountains, tundras, deserts, grasslands, and wetlands.”

Earth Heroes: Twenty Inspiring Stories of People Saving Our World by Lily Dyu. “With twenty inspirational stories celebrating the pioneering work of a selection of Earth Heroes from all around the globe, from Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough to Yin Yuzhen and Isatou Ceesay, each tale is a beacon of hope in the fight for the future of our planet, proving that one person, no matter how small, can make a difference.”

Ninita’s Big World: The True Story of a Deaf Pygmy Marmoset by Sarah Glenn Marsh. “Published in partnership with the RSCF, this charming true story of how one little orphaned monkey got a second chance to have a family gently introduces kids to disability, biodiversity, and wildlife conservation.”

Where the River Runs Gold by Sita Brahmachari. “The few live in luxury, whilst the millions like them crowd together in compounds, surviving on meagre rations and governed by Freedom Fields — the organisation that looks after you, as long as you opt in. The bees have long disappeared; instead children must labour on farms, pollinating crops by hand so that the nation can eat.”

America’s National Parks by Lonely Planet Kids. “With awesome facts, photos and illustrations on every page, you’ll discover erupting geysers, exploding volcanoes, howling wolves, soaring eagles, mountains, glaciers, rainforests and more throughout the continental USA, Hawaii, American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands.”

Climate Books Kids

Kids Fight Plastic: How to be a #2minute Superhero by Martin Dorey. “Read this essential book and find out how you can become a #2minutesuperhero by completing 50 missions to fight plastic at home, school and on your days out.”

Don’t Let Them Disappear by Chelsea Clinton. “Taking readers through the course of a day, Don’t Let Them Disappear talks about rhinos, tigers, whales, pandas and more, and provides helpful tips on what we all can do to help prevent these animals from disappearing from our world entirely.”

Evie and the Animals by Matt Haig. “Eleven-year-old Evie has a talent. A SUPERTALENT. A talent that can let her HEAR the thoughts of an elephant, and make friends with a dog and a sparrow. The only problem is, this talent is dangerous. VERY dangerous. That’s what her dad says.”

If Thunberg doesn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize in the next few years for her efforts, I’ll be very surprised.

Climate Change Is a Humanitarian Crisis

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2019

From The New Humanitarian, a mid-year update on 10 humanitarian trends and crises to watch in 2019 (here’s their initial post). The #1 item on the list, deservedly so, is climate displacement:

Vulnerable communities around the world have long known what the aid sector is just beginning to articulate: climate change is a humanitarian issue, and its fingerprints are all over today’s emergencies.

Climate shocks and disasters continued to fuel displacement around the globe through the first half of the year, from tropical cyclones to slow-burning droughts. Pacific Island nations were on high alert early in the year as storm after storm swept through the region in quick succession. Conflict is as dangerous as ever in Afghanistan, yet the number of people displaced by drought and floods in recent months is on par with the numbers fleeing war. Drought has left 45 million in need in eastern, southern, and the Horn of Africa. This, along with conflict, has spurred new displacement in countries like Somalia, where at least 49,000 people have fled their homes so far this year, according to UNHCR. The UN’s refugee agency warns of “growing climate-related displacement” - a sign of the continuing shift in the aid sector as humanitarian-focused agencies increasingly underline the links between climate change and crises.

Our rapidly changing climate has either caused or exacerbated several of the other crises on the list — Syria, Ethiopia, infectious diseases, the global refugee population. This isn’t stuff that’s going to happen…it is happening, it has happened. And it’s going to get worse. (via tmn)

Climate Stripes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2019

Using temperature data from around the world, climate scientist Ed Hawkins has built a tool for viewing the “climate stripes” for almost any location, a data visualization that represents the change in temperature over time over the past 100+ years. For most locations, the graphs shift from blues to oranges & reds as the climate warms, neatly illustrated by the global graph:

Climate Stripes

Here’s Vermont (where I live) and Arizona:

Climate Stripes

Climate Stripes

You can see there’s more variation on the regional level than globally. Check out the graph for Mississippi:

Climate Stripes

The warming patterns for particular regions are not going to be uniform…some places are actually forecast to get cooler and wetter rather than hotter and dryer. You can create and download your own climate stripes here…perhaps you can use it to make a global warming blanket. (via riondotnu)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in Conversation with Greta Thunberg

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2019

Aoc Thunberg

Late last month, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and climate activist Greta Thunberg had a lengthy conversation over video chat about leadership, climate change, politics, and activism.

GT: Many people, especially in the US, see countries like Sweden or Norway or Finland as role models — we have such a clean energy sector, and so on. That may be true, but we are not role models. Sweden is one of the top 10 countries in the world when it comes to the highest ecological footprints, according to the WWF — if you count the consumer index, then we are among the worst per capita.

In Sweden, the most common argument that we shouldn’t act is that we are such a small country with only 10 million inhabitants — we should focus more on helping other countries. That is so incredibly frustrating, because why should we argue about who or what needs to change first? Why not take the leading role?

AOC: We hear the same exact argument here. And this is the United States of America! People say, “Well, we should wait for China to do something.” There’s this political culture of people trying to say America First — that the US is the best nation in the world, yet at the same time they’re saying, “Well, China’s not doing it, why should we?”

And I think it’s the same argument: are we going to choose to lead, or are we going to sit on our hands? It seems as if they take pride in leading on fracking, on being the number one in oil, in consumption, in single-use plastics. But they don’t seem to want to take pride in leading on the environment and leading for our children.

Early on in the conversation, they touched on something that’s always bothered me in news stories about or criticism of Thunberg: her age.

AOC: One of the things I’m interested in hearing from you is that often people say, “Don’t politicise young people.” It’s almost a taboo. That to have someone as young as you coming out in favour of political positions is manipulative or wrong. I find it very condescending, as though, especially in this day and age with the access to information we have, you can’t form your own opinions and advocate for yourself. I’m interested in how you approach that — if anyone brings that up with you?

GT: That happens all the time. That’s basically all I hear. The most common criticism I get is that I’m being manipulated and you shouldn’t use children in political ways, because that is abuse, and I can’t think for myself and so on. And I think that is so annoying! I’m also allowed to have a say — why shouldn’t I be able to form my own opinion and try to change people’s minds?

But I’m sure you hear that a lot, too; that you’re too young and too inexperienced. When I see all the hate you receive for that, I honestly can’t believe how you manage to stay so strong.

In disciplines as varied as academics, athletics, chess, and art, the achievements of young people are celebrated, but Thunberg expresses her ideas and opinions about how to address climate change and starts a massive movement of young people around the globe and suddenly 16 is too young to participate in our culture and political process? Bullshit.

Three Feet of Hail Buries Guadalajara, Mexico

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

The high temperature on Saturday in Guadalajara, Mexico was 86 °F. On Sunday morning, up to three feet of hail fell on the city and it looked like this:

Hail Mexico

Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco, wrote on Twitter that he had never seen anything like it.

“I witnessed scenes that I had never seen before: hail more than a meter high,” he tweeted, “and then we ask ourselves if climate change exists.”

Weather is not climate, but our warmer atmosphere is going to make extreme weather events like this more likely and frequent. As the Times says with characteristic understatement:

Experts say it is not unusual to have a hailstorm at this time of year in western Mexico, but the amount of hail was extreme.

Plastic Bag Bans Might Do More Harm Than Good

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 11, 2019

Yesterday I wrote about a Vancouver store offering plastic bags with embarrassing messages on them to encourage customers to use their own bags for their groceries. Under new laws that took effect on June 1, stores in the city must stop offering paper/plastic bags or charge for them.

NPR’s Planet Money team pulled some research together that suggests that banning plastic bags might do more harm than good (at least in the short term).

Taylor found these bag bans did what they were supposed to: People in the cities with the bans used fewer plastic bags, which led to about 40 million fewer pounds of plastic trash per year. But people who used to reuse their shopping bags for other purposes, like picking up dog poop or lining trash bins, still needed bags. “What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned,” she says. This was particularly the case for small, 4-gallon bags, which saw a 120 percent increase in sales after bans went into effect.

Trash bags are thick and use more plastic than typical shopping bags. “So about 30 percent of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags,” Taylor says. On top of that, cities that banned plastic bags saw a surge in the use of paper bags, which she estimates resulted in about 80 million pounds of extra paper trash per year.

The waste issue is better, but paper bag production increases carbon emissions. And tote bags, particularly those made from cotton, aren’t great either.

The Danish government recently did a study that took into account environmental impacts beyond simply greenhouse gas emissions, including water use, damage to ecosystems and air pollution. These factors make cloth bags even worse. They estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment.

Join the Global Climate Strike on September 20th

posted by Jason Kottke   May 31, 2019

Last week, Greta Thunberg and dozens of other young climate activists called on adults to join them in a climate strike on September 20.

Once again our voices are being heard on the streets, but it is not just up to us.

We feel a lot of adults haven’t quite understood that we young people won’t hold off the climate crisis ourselves. Sorry, if this is inconvenient for you. But this is not a single-generation job. It’s humanity’s job. We young people can contribute to a larger fight and that can make a huge difference.

So this is our invitation to you. Starting on Friday 20 September we will kick start a week of climate action with worldwide strikes for the climate. We’re asking you to step up alongside us. There are many different plans underway in different parts of the world for adults to join together and step up and out of your comfort zone for our climate. Let’s all join together; with our neighbours, co-workers, friends, family and go out on to the streets to make our voices heard and make this a turning point in our history.

A response — signed by folks like Bill McKibben, Rebecca Solnit, Mark Ruffalo, Naomi Klein, and Margaret Atwood — appeared the next day:

Starting Friday September 20, at the request of the young people who’ve been staging school strikes around the world, we’re walking out of our workplaces and homes to spend the day demanding action on climate change, the great existential threat that all of us face. It’s a one-day climate strike, if you will — and it will not be the last. This is going to be the beginning of a week of climate action all over the world. And we hope to make it a turning point in history.

We hope others will join us: that people will leave their offices, their farms, their factories; that candidates will step off the campaign trail and football stars off the pitch; that movie actors will scrub off their makeup and teachers lay down their chalk; that cooks will close their restaurants and bring meals to protests; that pensioners too will break their daily routines and join in sending the one message our leaders must hear: Day by day, business as usual is creating an ecological crisis that is destroying the chance for a healthy, safe future on our planet.

I’m in — kottke.org will not publish on September 20th. You can join in here. Stay tuned to the Global Climate Strike site for more information on how to find events near you. (via laura olin)

The Steep Drop in Britain’s Coal Usage

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2019

In Britain, the birthplace of the industrial revolution, no coal has been used to produce power for the last 11 days. This is an arresting chart of how quickly the country’s reliance on coal has been reduced:

Britain Coal

Britain is setting new records for going without coal-powered energy. In the latest milestone, it has gone for more than eight days without using coal to generate electricity — the longest such period since 1882.

The coal-free run comes just two years after the National Grid first ran without coal power for 24 hours.

Phasing out the heavily polluting fuel is a key step in the transition towards a net-zero carbon economy and essential to averting catastrophic climate change.

Britain still derives ~50% of its power from natural gas, but this is a very hopeful chart. “Gradually then suddenly” works against us in dealing with climate change but it also could work in our favor.

Bill Nye to Climate Change Naysayers: “Grow the Fuck Up”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

In the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver discusses the Green New Deal and carbon pricing. Oliver invited beloved children’s science educator Bill Nye to help him explain a few things and Nye delivered a short but passionate speech about what’s at stake in the political battle over climate change:

I’ve got an experiment for you. Safety glasses on. By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on earth could go up another four to eight degrees. What I’m saying is: the planet’s on fucking fire!

There are a lot of things we could do to put it out. Are any of them free? No, of course not. Nothing’s free you idiots! Grow the fuck up, you’re not children anymore. I didn’t mind explaining photosynthesis to you when you were 12. But you’re adults now and this is an actual crisis, got it? Safety glasses off, motherfuckers.

The entire segment is worth watching (particularly if you haven’t been keeping up on what the Green New Deal actually is) but Nye’s closing remarks are at ~18:30 for the impatient.

Barack Obama’s Spring 2019 Book Recommendations

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2019

Moment Of Lift

In a recent Facebook post, President Obama 1 shared a few books that he’s been reading recently. At the tippy top is Melinda Gates’ The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.

When you lift up women, you lift up everybody — families, communities, entire countries. That’s not just the right approach; it’s backed up by research and countless real-world examples. In her book, Melinda tells the stories of the inspiring people she’s met through her work all over the world, digs into the data, and powerfully illustrates issues that need our attention — from child marriage to gender inequity in the workplace. I’ve called Melinda an impatient optimist and that’s what she delivers here — the urgency to tackle these problems and the unwavering belief that solving them is indeed possible.

From a short excerpt of the book:

In my travels, I’ve learned about hundreds of millions of women who want to decide for themselves whether and when to have children, but they can’t. They have no access to contraceptives. And there are many other rights and privileges that women and girls are denied: The right to decide whether and when and whom to marry. The right to go to school. Earn an income. Work outside the home. Walk outside the home. Spend their own money. Shape their budget. Start a business. Get a loan. Own property. Divorce a husband. See a doctor. Run for office. Ride a bike. Drive a car. Go to college. Study computers. Find investors. All these rights are denied to women in some parts of the world. Sometimes these rights are denied under law, but even when they’re allowed by law, they’re still often denied by cultural bias against women.

Two of the top ten solutions on Paul Hawken’s list for slowing the effects of climate change are “educating girls” and “family planning”, which taken together would have a greater impact on reversing climate change than any other thing on the list.

Obama also recommends Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a book I’ve been curious about ever since it was published. Friends have recommended it and the cover always catches my eye in the bookstore even though I’m never specifically looking for it. I don’t even know why I’ve been resisting it…just ordered it!

  1. President Obama. That two-word phrase still fills me with so many conflicting emotions that I can’t even process it. I imagine it’s the same way for a lot of other people (on both sides of the political spectrum).

Eight Ways to Teach Climate Change in School

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2019

According to a poll conducted by NPR/Ipsos, over 80% of American parents want climate change to be taught in our schools, but only 42% of the teachers polled say that they teach it in their classrooms.

If they don’t hear about it at home, will kids learn about climate change in school? To answer this question, NPR/Ipsos also completed a nationally representative survey of around 500 teachers. These educators were even more likely than the general public to believe in climate change and to support teaching climate change.

In fact, 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools. In theory.

But in practice, it’s more complicated. More than half — 55% — of teachers we surveyed said they do not cover climate change in their own classrooms or even talk to their students about it.

The most common reason given? Nearly two-thirds (65%) said it’s outside their subject area.

NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz shared 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom, regardless of what subject you teach.

5. Assign a research project, multimedia presentation or speech.

Gay Collins teaches public speaking at Waterford High School in Waterford, Conn. She is interested in “civil discourse” as a tool for problem-solving, so she encourages her students “to shape their speeches around critical topics, like the use of plastics, minimalism, and other environmental issues.

I am, however, still hung up on the 12% of teachers polled who said that the world’s climate is not changing.

Climate Poll Teachers

David Attenborough on How to Save Our Planet

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2019

In this short video essay, David Attenborough succinctly describes the main problem of the anthropocene (that modern humans are not living sustainably as they once could as hunter gatherers), explains the effect we’ve had on the planet, and then suggests how we can fix things (italics mine):

The plan for our planet is remarkably simple. Reduce our impact by making sure that everything we do, we can do forever.

Sustainability is such a buzzword these days that I have long since stopped thinking about what it actually means; Attenborough nails it with “making sure that everything we do, we can do forever”. The Earth seems infinite in scope but not with 7, 8, or 9 billion humans hungry for food, thirsty for water, and lusty for status & entertainment.

The simple plan Attenborough describes has four parts:

1. Phase out fossil fuels and replace them with renewables.
2. Upgrading to efficient food production and reducing our consumption of meat.
3. Proper worldwide ocean management.
4. Rewilding the world.

As he allows, it’s a bit more complicated than that — check out Paul Hawken’s list for a more detailed list of things we can do to fight climate change.

Fighting Climate Change with CO2-Eating “Ideal Plants”

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2019

At the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Dr. Joanne Chory is working on a project to create plants capable of storing more carbon for a longer period of time than normal plants in order to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Suberin — also known as cork — is a naturally occurring carbon-rich substance found in plant roots. It absorbs carbon yet resists decomposition (which releases carbon back into the atmosphere), enriches soil and helps plants resist stress.

By understanding and improving just a few genetic pathways in plants, Salk’s plant biologists believe they can help plants grow bigger, more robust root systems that absorb larger amounts of carbon, burying it in the ground in the form of suberin.

The Salk team will use cutting-edge genetic and genomic techniques to develop these Salk Ideal Plants.

Salk Ideal Plants

According to this piece in the Guardian on the project, one of the techniques they’re using is CRISPR, basically a genetic copy/paste system. Once the team demonstrates they can grow these larger root systems in model plants, they’ll genetically transfer that capability to the world’s largest food crops like rice, wheat, and corn.

As a bonus, the team believes that Ideal Plants will have other positive effects:

In addition to mitigating climate change, the enhanced root systems will help protect plants from stresses caused by climate changes and the additional carbon in the soil will make the soil richer, promoting better crop yields and more food for a growing global population.

This project is firmly on the wizard end of the wizards vs prophets spectrum.

How Does Venice Work?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2019

The canals, the sewers, the buildings, the bridges and the rest of the Venice’s infrastructure has all been engineered to deal with a particularly challenging environment: not-particularly-solid ground constantly battered by salt water. In this short film, we learn how the city works and what steps have been taken over the centuries to ensure the smooth function of the city.

Whether Venice can survive the severe sea level rise coming in the next few decades is still an open question. (thx, david)

Winter Is Coming, the Climate Change Message at the Heart of Game of Thrones

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

In a Q&A with the NY Times back in October, George R.R. Martin connected the goings-on in Westeros with the challenges raised by climate change here in the real world.

The people in Westeros are fighting their individual battles over power and status and wealth. And those are so distracting them that they’re ignoring the threat of “winter is coming,” which has the potential to destroy all of them and to destroy their world. And there is a great parallel there to, I think, what I see this planet doing here, where we’re fighting our own battles. We’re fighting over issues, important issues, mind you — foreign policy, domestic policy, civil rights, social responsibility, social justice. All of these things are important. But while we’re tearing ourselves apart over this and expending so much energy, there exists this threat of climate change, which, to my mind, is conclusively proved by most of the data and 99.9 percent of the scientific community. And it really has the potential to destroy our world. And we’re ignoring that while we worry about the next election and issues that people are concerned about, like jobs. Jobs are a very important issue, of course. All of these things are important issues. But none of them are important if, like, we’re dead and our cities are under the ocean. So really, climate change should be the number one priority for any politician who is capable of looking past the next election. But unfortunately, there are only a handful of those. We spend 10 times as much energy and thought and debate in the media discussing whether or not N.F.L. players should stand for the national anthem than this threat that’s going to destroy our world.

That message has always lurked in the background of the HBO show but seemed closer to the surface in the latest episode — mild spoilers! — which finds several factions that were formerly set against each other in various configurations all working together to defeat a much more threatening common enemy. It is quite difficult, nearly impossible even, to imagine a similar coalition of Democrats, Republicans, Democratic Socialists, Libertarians, and everyone in between allied with each other to combat climate change, but we’re going have to get there somehow. We either do it soon and get the world we want or we continue to do very little and pay a much heavier price later for a world that no one wants.

Update: See also Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s recap of the first episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. Wait, what?!

And as much as Dany wants to take on her family’s enemies and take back the Iron Throne, she knows that she must first fight the army of the dead that threatens all mankind. This is a revolutionary idea, in Westeros or anywhere else. A queen who declares that she doesn’t serve the interests of the rich and powerful? A ruler who doesn’t want to control the political system but to break the system as it is known? It’s no wonder that the people she meets in Westeros are skeptical.

The Extinction Symbol

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

Extinction Symbol

With its recent use by the participants in the Extinction Rebellion, the extinction symbol has become much more widely known, on its way to becoming the peace symbol of the climate movement.

The symbol above represents extinction. The circle signifies the planet, while the hourglass inside serves as a warning that time is rapidly running out for many species. The world is currently undergoing a mass extinction event, and this symbol is intended to help raise awareness of the urgent need for change in order to address this crisis. Estimates are that somewhere between 30,000 and 140,000 species are becoming extinct every year in what scientists have named the Holocene, or Sixth Mass Extinction. This ongoing process of destruction is being caused by the impact of human activity. Within the next few decades approximately 50% of all species that now exist will have become extinct. Such a catastrophic loss of biodiversity is highly likely to cause widespread ecosystem collapse and consequently render the planet uninhabitable for humans.

The symbol and a stencil template are available for download “for non-commercial purposes”.

There’s a disclaimer at the bottom of the page about merchandise, which reads in part:

No extinction symbol merchandise exists, and it never will do. The free use of the extinction symbol by individuals in their personal artwork or other forms of expression is strongly welcomed and encouraged, but any form of commercial use of the symbol is completely against its ethos and should therefore be refrained from. To reiterate, please do not use the symbol on any items that will be sold, or for any other fundraising purposes. There are no exceptions to this policy.

Here’s the thing: I want a t-shirt with the extinction symbol on it so I can signify my support (in a small way) for climate justice. If I’m reading this correctly, I can make a t-shirt for myself but not have one made for me? Or can I have a single print-on-demand shirt made for me at cost? Making my own shirt (I’d need to buy a bunch of single-use supplies) or getting a one-off printed doesn’t seem very climate-friendly at all. How about taking orders from other interested folks (like you all) and selling the shirts at cost? That seems much more climate-friendly but also firmly against the symbol maker’s strict policy.

I think we’re bumping up against an inconvenient truth about capitalism here: it is sometimes (or perhaps even often) the most efficient and least wasteful way to produce something because it’s actually a deeply collectivist endeavor. Let’s say you’re holding a climate protest, 100,000 people are coming, and those people want to bring shirts or signs or other protest equipment to the protest to “advertise” their displeasure to those watching, near and far. Is it more climate friendly for all those people to individually buy supplies and each produce their own things or would it be better to rely on a organization whose sole purpose is to produce protest supplies (using carbon-free energy and materials) and pay them more than the cost of the supplies so they can provide their employees a living wage and even advertise their services a little so they can actually remain in the protest supplies business and take even more advantage of economies of scale to keep prices down? Run it as a non-profit if you’d like. That seems far less wasteful to me than people buying one-off supplies, even on a group basis.

You might interject here that producing anything that uses any natural resources for such a protest is wasteful and unethical. I think that’s a fair point! What’s the ROI for protest materials? Is it wasteful to spend a little CO2 now to possibly save a bunch of CO2 in the future or is it smart? Gah, all I want is a shirt to express myself! Are there any simple and ethical solutions in a world that’s so densely networked and interconnected?

David Attenborough Hosts “Climate Change: The Facts”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 23, 2019

From the BBC and hosted by David Attenborough, “Climate Change: The Facts” is an hour-long program on the science of climate change and what we might be able to do about it.

Sir David’s new programme laid out the science behind climate change, the impact it is having right now and the steps that can be taken to fight it.

“In the 20 years since I first started talking about the impact of climate change on our world, conditions have changed far faster than I ever imagined,” Sir David stated in the film.

“It may sound frightening, but the scientific evidence is that if we have not taken dramatic action within the next decade, we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and the collapse of our societies.”

With each successive nature series, Attenborough has become more vocal about the effects of climate change on our planet and its plant and animal populations. In his new Netflix series Our Planet, climate change takes center stage.

Compared to its predecessors, the series also frames the value of nature in a new way. Usually Attenborough’s programs establish a place or a species as a thing of remarkable beauty-this soulful orangutan, that industrious bird of paradise-before warning that it is somehow imperilled. The value of the creature is its existence. We may never see a polar bear, but we take pleasure from knowing that they’re out there. In “Our Planet,” the value of nature is presented as something much closer to home, and more practical. Attenborough reminds viewers again and again of the connections that link these far-flung ecosystems to our own species’s survival. Protect the sea otter because it’s lovely, if you like, but also because it keeps in check the sea urchins that otherwise mow down kelp forests, which act as crucial carbon sinks. “We are part of nature. We aren’t separate from nature,” Attenborough told me.

Only Mass Protests Can Prevent “an Ecological Apocalypse”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2019

In an opinion piece for the Guardian, George Monbiot argues that mass protests are “essential” to force a political response to climate change.

As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble, someone somewhere will come to our rescue: “they” won’t let it happen. But there is no they, just us.

The political class, as anyone who has followed its progress over the past three years can surely now see, is chaotic, unwilling and, in isolation, strategically incapable of addressing even short-term crises, let alone a vast existential predicament.

This paragraph neatly summarizes a bunch of important points about climate change and our current system (italics mine):

Every nonlinear transformation in history has taken people by surprise. As Alexei Yurchak explains in his book about the collapse of the Soviet Union — Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More — systems look immutable until they suddenly disintegrate. As soon as they do, the disintegration retrospectively looks inevitable. Our system — characterised by perpetual economic growth on a planet that is not growing — will inevitably implode. The only question is whether the transformation is planned or unplanned. Our task is to ensure it is planned, and fast. We need to conceive and build a new system based on the principle that every generation, everywhere has an equal right to enjoy natural wealth.

As I wrote several years ago, “nonlinear systems, man”.

Going Real Estate Shopping in a Climate Change-Threatened Miami

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2019

Sarah Miller went looking for real estate in Miami, a place where the sea level could rise between one and three feet in the next 30 years. As she discovered, the real estate agents there have gotten good at deflecting buyers’ concerns about such matters.

I asked how the flooding was.

“There are pump stations everywhere, and the roads were raised,” he said. “So that’s all been fixed.”

“Fixed,” I said. “Wow. Amazing.”

I asked how the hurricanes were.

He said that because the hurricanes came from the tropics, from the south and this was the west side of Miami Beach, they were not that bad in this neighborhood. “Oh, right,” I said, as if that made any sense.

I asked him if he liked it here. “I love it,” he said. “It is one of the most thriving cities in the country, it’s growing rapidly.” He pointed to a row of buildings in a neighborhood called Edgewater that were all just three years old. “That skyline was all built in the last three years.”

Wow, I said, just in the last three years… “They’re not worried about sea level rise?”

“It’s definitely something the city is trying to combat. They are fighting it, by raising everything. But so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

I couldn’t wait to steal this line, slightly altered. “I am afraid of dying, sure, but so far, it hasn’t been an issue.”

Later, I texted Kristina Hill, an associate professor of urban ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, whose main work is helping coastal communities adapt to climate change. I told her that a real estate agent had just told me hurricanes were weaker near Sunset Harbour, because it was in the east side of Miami, and hurricanes come from the south. She wrote back, “That’s ridiculous!”

The analysis of why Amsterdam and Miami are quite dissimilar when it comes to their respective responses to climate change is enlightening.

The Big Plan in the Netherlands depends on walls. Since Miami is built on limestone, which soaks up water like a sponge, walls are not very useful. In Miami, sea water will just go under a wall, like a salty ghost.