Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Is Climate-Themed Fiction All Too Real?

When extraordinary hurricanes and floods battered parts of the United States and Caribbean this month, Paolo Bacigalupi’s readers started sending him news clips. In “Ship Breaker,” which was nominated for a National Book Award in 2010, Mr. Bacigalupi, a science fiction writer, had invented a monster “Category 6” hurricane.

Now, his readers were asking: Is this what you were talking about?

Climate change presents a peculiar challenge to novelists; it often seems to simmer without a singular moment of crisis. So fiction writers like Mr. Bacigalupi hurtle current science into drought-ravaged, flooded, starved, sunken and sandy futures. Climate-themed fiction, like most science fiction, is extension, not invention.

But as scientists’ projections about the effects of climate change have increasingly become reality, some works of apocalyptic fiction have begun to seem all too plausible. We chose seven climate-themed stories and asked the experts: How likely are they to come true?

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The cost of abandoning the Paris climate agreement

By abandoning the Paris agreement on climate change, the United States risks missing out on up to $23 trillion in climate-smart investment opportunities worldwide, a George Mason University professor said.

That will allow other countries to take advantage of the opportunities that will open in emerging markets by 2030, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation.

“They’re doing everything they can to put their businesses front and center to compete for those contracts in that $23 trillion economy,” Andrew Light said of countries such as China and India. “We’re not, and we’re doing it for ideological reasons.”

Light, a University Professor who from 2013-16 worked for the U.S. Department of State as a senior negotiator on the Paris agreement, said the pullout from the agreement doesn’t preclude U.S. businesses from bidding for those contracts.

“But two things have happened,” Light said. “Reputationally, our businesses are going to suffer because we’re turning our back on the rest of the world. If you look at what happened on climate at the G20, we’re isolated. Only the U.S. didn’t sign on to the action plan on climate change. The second thing that happened is you don’t have a government, as we did under the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, using institutions like the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and all our bilateral programs on energy assistance to grease the tracks, as the Chinese and the European Union and others are doing.”

President Donald Drumpf’s abandonment of the Paris agreement is personal for Light, as well, as both his grandfathers were West Virginia coal miners. Light acknowledged the loss of coal jobs in that state, but said the causes are automation and cheap natural gas, not regulations associated with meeting the goals of the Paris agreement, as Drumpf has suggested.

“He talks again and again about how the commitment to fulfilling its targets under Paris was going to destroy jobs in the United States, and saying we’re leaving the agreement to help those communities in West Virginia,” Light said. “No sir, that’s not how you help those communities. You do not destroy one thing in hopes of saving the other.

“I think we can make the transition to renewable energy in a very just way that also does justice to the legacy of what people have done in the communities where my parents grew up, and then help them find a more sustainable basis for their environment and their economy moving forward.”

Andrew Light, George Mason University
Andrew Light can be reached at 703-993-6530 or alight1@gmu.edu.
From George Mason University:
Climate change is one of the most crucial issues of our time, and one of the most complex. University Professor Andrew Light has captured international attention for his work in helping to create global solutions to this problem. In recognition of his work, the International Society for Environmental Ethics awarded him its inaugural Public Philosophy Award, and announced the award is to be renamed the Andrew Light Award for Public Philosophy.
In naming the award, the environmental ethics group focused primarily on Light’s work inside and outside government in creation of the 2016 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. On leave from George Mason from 2013-16, Light worked at the U.S. Department of State as one of the senior members of the delegation that negotiated the landmark agreement.
Ken Shockley, the Holmes Rolston III Chair in Environmental Ethics and Philosophy at Colorado State University, presented the Public Philosophy Award, noting Light’s extraordinary capacity for working across traditional barriers and boundaries, whether between disciplines or between public policy and academic work.
Light’s work on the Paris Agreement was also recognized in March 2016 with the inaugural Alain Locke Award for Public Philosophy, presented by the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. In July 2016, the U.S. Department of State awarded him a Superior Honor Award for “contributions to the U.S. effort that made the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, where the landmark Paris Agreement was concluded, a historic success.”
Light has been at Mason since 2008, and is director of the university’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, in which leading ethicists and political scientists offer expertise on public policy issues, including peace and security, bioethics, climate change and other topics involving environmental sustainability.
One of the originators of the environmental pragmatism school of environmental ethics, Light has authored or edited 19 books and more than 100 articles, book chapters and policy reports. He also is a founding co-editor of the journal “Ethics, Policy, and Environment,” now in its 20th year.
“I’m humbled to be recognized in this way for my own work, but I’ll be really thrilled when I start to see people win this award who are working on issues that are completely different from what I’ve done,” Light said. “Providing important components to improve regional planning issues or working with local communities to establish their own sustainable agricultural systems. There are all kinds of ways in which people can embody what I think this award is trying to celebrate.”
Light defends the Paris Agreement 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

"death knell of the internal combustion engine"

Great news! Another Volvo in my future?
...Volvo Cars on Wednesday became the first mainstream automaker to sound the death knell of the internal combustion engine, saying that all the models it introduces from 2019 will be either hybrids or powered solely by batteries.
The decision is the boldest commitment by any major car company to technologies that currently represent a small share of the total vehicle market, but that are increasingly viewed as essential to combating climate change and urban pollution.
While most major automakers offer hybrids and battery-powered options, none of them have been willing to forsake cars powered solely by gasoline or diesel fuel. On the contrary, United States automakers have continued to churn out S.U.V.s and pickup trucks, whose sales have surged because of relatively low fuel prices.
Yet Volvo’s move may be the latest sign that the era of the gas guzzler is slowly coming to an end. Tesla, which makes only limited numbers of electric cars, this year surpassed Ford and General Motors in terms of stock market value, despite making significantly fewer cars than those automotive giants — a clear indication of where investors think the industry is headed...Continue reading the main sto

"Utopia for a dystopian age"

"...Thomas More’s island "utopia" was an earthly paradise of plenty. No amount of human intervention would ever exhaust its resources. We know better. As the climate is rapidly changing and the species extinction rate reaches unprecedented levels, we desperately need to conceive of alternative ways of inhabiting the planet.

Are our industrial, capitalist societies able to make the requisite changes? If not, where should we be headed? This is a utopian question as good as any. It is deep and universalistic. Yet it calls for neither a break with the past nor a headfirst dive into the future. The German thinker Ernst Bloch argued that all utopias ultimately express yearning for a reconciliation with that from which one has been estranged. They tell us how to get back home. A 21st-century utopia of nature would do that. It would remind us that we belong to nature, that we are dependent on it and that further alienation from it will be at our own peril."

Espen Hammer, nyt Stone

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Revisiting “Silent Spring”

Fifty-five years ago this week, Rachel Carson published the first part of “Silent Spring” in The New Yorker. Carson exposed, in detail, the dangers of the pesticide DDT; her work jump-started the American environmental movement and helped bring about the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. This week, we’re bringing you “Silent Spring” in its entirety, along with a few recent pieces on the environmental challenges that define our era. Raffi Khatchadourian tells the story of the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster. Elizabeth Kolbert surveys the effects of global warming. And Jane Mayer, in a piece published this week, explains how “a tiny clique of fossil-fuel barons has captured America’s energy and environmental policies,” resulting in Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. These days, we have especially urgent reasons to revisit Carson’s work: the movement that she helped inspire has never been more necessary.

—David Remnick, New Yorker

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Can we slow global warming and still grow?

On March 17th, the International Energy Agency announced that 2016 marked the third year in a row that global carbon emissions had stayed at the same level while the world’s economy grew. This three-time repeat has put to rest any lingering suspicions of gremlins in the data. Something new is happening. The global economy has now grown nearly ten per cent without any increase in the annual CO2 emissions that are the principal human contribution to climate change. In the parlance of sustainability, growth and emissions appear to have “decoupled.”

Nearly as remarkable was the star of the latest announcement: the United States. Long decried as a climate-action laggard, America led the world in reducing carbon pollution in 2016, with a decline of three per cent. More important, this improvement was not tied primarily to the evolution of its economic system. Wealthy nations have long been moving toward economies anchored in finance and services, which produce less pollution, but, by continuing to consume, they effectively outsource carbon pollution from manufacturing to other countries. While the Global Carbon Project estimates that U.S. emissions should still be adjusted upward by about ten per cent to account for products consumed in America but made elsewhere, recent gains within the United States have been achieved by burning less coal and more natural gas, which is a cleaner fuel, and, to a lesser extent, through an increase in renewables. If that’s not news enough, G.C.P. scientists reported, in a paper published in January, that current trends in energy are “broadly consistent” with Paris Agreement targets for 2030, which aim to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

This is shout-it-from-the-rooftops stuff. Since 1972, and the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” there has been debate over whether economic growth and a sustainable environment are incompatible. Can humans live with the comforts to which we have become accustomed (or aspire to)—air-conditioning, cars, constantly updated wardrobes—without doing environmental harm? “The Limits to Growth” both warned against infinite growth on a finite planet and acknowledged that “it is success in overcoming limits that forms the cultural tradition of many dominant people in today’s world.” That dominant world view has not shifted. Decoupling economic activity from its ecological consequences is central to the goals of international sustainability and development. It’s the foundation of American faith that technology can resolve climate change without the need to substantially change our life styles. It’s the holy grail of “green growth.”

If the I.E.A.’s announcement didn’t quite become a eureka moment, it’s in part because the Drumpf Administration’s plans suggest that current trends are about to shift. On Friday, the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada received a Presidential permit, while a proposed budget released by the White House earlier this month would end spending on federal climate-change research and prevention programs. As Amy Davidson and others have described, the Drumpf Administration is hostile toward efforts to combat climate change, and it has promised that energy and climate policies will focus on reviving the coal industry, reducing carbon-emission standards for vehicles and power plants, and revisiting requirements that climate change be considered, and its costs accounted for, in decisions by federal agencies. Critics have pointed out that at least some of these efforts are unlikely to succeed (the I.E.A. emphasized that America’s 2016 emissions drop was driven by markets and new technologies as much as by policy), but any one of them would increase carbon emissions. A historic advance against climate change is threatened with reversal... (continues)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Climate Science Meets a Stubborn Obstacle: Students

To Gwen Beatty, a junior at the high school in this proud, struggling, Drumpf-supporting town, the new science teacher’s lessons on climate change seemed explicitly designed to provoke her.

So she provoked him back.

When the teacher, James Sutter, ascribed the recent warming of the Earth to heat-trapping gases released by burning fossil fuels like the coal her father had once mined, she asserted that it could be a result of other, natural causes.

When he described the flooding, droughts and fierce storms that scientists predict within the century if such carbon emissions are not sharply reduced, she challenged him to prove it. “Scientists are wrong all the time,” she said with a shrug, echoing those celebrating President Drumpf’s announcement last week that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

When Mr. Sutter lamented that information about climate change had been removed from the White House website after Mr. Drumpf’s inauguration, she rolled her eyes.

For his part, Mr. Sutter occasionally fell short of his goal of providing Gwen — the most vocal of a raft of student climate skeptics — with calm, evidence-based responses. “Why would I lie to you?” he demanded one morning. “It’s not like I’m making a lot of money here.”

She was, he knew, a straight-A student. She would have had no trouble comprehending the evidence, embedded in ancient tree rings, ice, leaves and shells, as well as sophisticated computer models, that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the chief culprit when it comes to warming the world. Or the graph he showed of how sharply it has spiked since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began pumping vast quantities of it into the air.

Thinking it a useful soothing device, Mr. Sutter assented to Gwen’s request that she be allowed to sand the bark off the sections of wood he used to illustrate tree rings during class. When she did so with an energy that, classmates said, increased during discussion points with which she disagreed, he let it go.

When she insisted that teachers “are supposed to be open to opinions,” however, Mr. Sutter held his ground.

“It’s not about opinions,” he told her. “It’s about the evidence.”

“It’s like you can’t disagree with a scientist or you’re ‘denying science,”’ she sniffed to her friends.

Gwen, 17, could not put her finger on why she found Mr. Sutter, whose biology class she had enjoyed, suddenly so insufferable. Mr. Sutter, sensing that his facts and figures were not helping, was at a loss. And the day she grew so agitated by a documentary he was showing that she bolted out of the school left them both shaken.

“I have a runner,” Mr. Sutter called down to the office, switching off the video.

He had chosen the video, an episode from an Emmy-winning series that featured a Christian climate activist and high production values, as a counterpoint to another of Gwen’s objections, that a belief in climate change does not jibe with Christianity.

“It was just so biased toward saying climate change is real,” she said later, trying to explain her flight. “And that all these people that I pretty much am like are wrong and stupid.”