The Ideas of March

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In absence of climate action, condominiums may soon have Hudson water lapping at their doormen

If only fossil fuel and military-industrial interests had to beware the Ides of March!

Or the ideas, for that matter. Truth be told, though, I’m finding it challenging to keep up with even a small fraction of the climate headlines. Given that much of the latest news is ambivalent, I’m going to go ahead and give a mixed summary of good and bad here, while trying to privilege the bright spots, and admitting that this is quite New York and US-centric.

In not so brief, “Crazy floods” hit the Midwest in February while temperatures in New England reached 80°; shortly thereafter, a series of devastating Nor’easters left wide swaths of destruction up and down the East Coast and hundreds of thousands without power; a clearer picture emerged of how deadly winter wildfires in California overwhelmed first responders and emergency response systems (in a premonition of what could happen to entire nations and megacities in the not-so-distant future); concerns grew that melting glaciers in Greenland might un-ice toxic waste left buried there from a Cold War-era US military operation; the relevance of #MeToo extended even to Antarctica; and an alarmingly early spring in the American Southeast was coupled with alarmingly low snowpack levels in the American West.

On the brighter side, not only did teenagers lead the way on gun control, but the lawsuit which sees “13 kids sue Washington state for life, liberty and a livable climate” is moving forward; Mayor de Blasio renewed his call for a plastic bag ban, which may soon also have support from Governor Cuomo (currently feeling the heat), and de Blasio’s administration will sue major oil companies (although, at the same time, it spent more than $10,000 on gas for the Mayoral fleet of cars in the second half of 2017); massive floodgates were installed to protect New York City tunnels; St. Patrick’s Cathedral rolled out in energy efficient geothermal heating and cooling system in advance of St. Patrick’s Day; and Cape Town may not run out of water this year after all.

After decades of cleanup, the Chesapeake Bay is “flourishing”residents of Uniontown, Alabama “are saying the EPA doesn’t care about black people” and are “Fighting Against Cancerous & Toxic Coal Ash Dumping“; California’s Attorney General formed a bureau of environmental justice; even Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to get in on suing fossil fuel companies; Joseph Percoco, a former top aide and close personal friend of Gov. Cuomo, was found guilty of accepting $300,000 in bribes (hence the heat) in a case closely tied to the construction of fracked gas infrastructure in New York State; and according to CDP, “Over 100 global cities get [a] majority of [their] electricity from renewables“, while the P2P Foundation mused on “The City as the New Political Centre” and the people of Babcock Ranch found that it’s harder than one might imagine to build an off-the-grid community from scratch.

A federal judge cleared the way for plaintiffs to sue “greenhouse-gas emitters” in federal court; activists are facing felony charges for shutting off the flow of tar sands oil from Canada into the United States; a court dismissed an Israel-lobby backed lawfare suit against the Olympia Food Co-op; another federal judge ruled that the White House had broken the law in failing to enforce new, stricter rules regulating ozone emissions; in India, tens of thousands of Maharashtrian farmers marched to Bombay / Mumbai to demand basic rights; in Kansas, farmers cut their water use and saved money; California crops were threatened by climate change; tractor-hackers attempted to break the monopoly of manufacturers on repair; and a Tennessee university pulled support for its own study on the environmental impact of trucking when it was revealed that a trucking company had paid for the research.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration continued to be a catastrophic train wreck; Congress got Fs on their “Environmental Report Card“; Russian trolls shared nasty climate change memes; College Republicans have a climate change plan (watch this idiotic video on “Carbon Dividends” if you’re interested); in a likely instance of greenwashing, the Climate Group claims that “WORLD-LEADING MULTINATIONALS [are] ACCELERATING A CLEAN ECONOMY“; “Michael Bloomberg [has been] appointed UN climate envoy“; Scott Pruitt believes that God has a plan for him; Ryan Zinke won an award – the Rubber Dodo – honoring “the person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America’s natural heritage or drive endangered species extinct”; and, according to Politico, Silicon Valley has a new libertarian partner in DC, namely, Charles Koch.

Winding down here, “Paleontologists discovered a huge ancient fossils trove in Bears Ears National Monument” just as the White House moves forward with plans – that, like the War in Iraq, have nothing to do with oil – to dismantle the protected site; black lung is on the rise in Appalachia; JD Vance may not be such a reliable source after all; the poor are systematically subjected to lower quality air; Houston is having an unjust Harvey recovery;  water shortages are driving conflict in Malawi; the shrinking of Lake Chad is causing hunger; mineral wars are driving war in the DRC (think cell phones and solar panels); Rolling Stone is writing about “the Age of Climate Migration”; “Climate change [is] pushing weather extremes ‘off the scale‘,” according to C40; ““Freakishly Warm” Arctic Weather Has Scientists Reconsidering Worst-Case Scenarios on Climate Change,” according to Democracy Now!; some people believe putting giant blankets on glaciers might slow the ice’s melting; Washington state’s proposed carbon tax failed, again, to be passed; and Stephen Hawking, who had spoken out against climate change, died.

But to end on a more encouraging note, yet another federal judge put a temporary stay on construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline (while critics of the pipeline decried “State & Company” surveillance of activists); an environmental journalist rejected Malthusian racism; National Geographic at least pretended to own its “decades” of racism (like thirteen of them); Puerto Ricans fought back against coal ash dumping that has been poisoning their water since long before Hurricane Maria; France pledged €700 million to the International Solar Alliance, even as “Financing and Import Duty Issues Darken the Sky” for the ISA in the aftermath of US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord; and Daily Kos petitioned Congress to “Permanently ban import of all big game trophies to United States“, in an existential blow to the President’s eldest son, although it seems all but certain that the vaquita porpoise will go extinct.

Finally, a compendious and authoritative new report found “Increased Risks of Asthma, Birth Defects and Cancer” associated with fracking and concluded that there is no safe way to frack; as one of the co-authors put it, “Fracking is the worst thing I’ve ever seen”, which in turn sheds light on just how essential is the work of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, as it continues fighting to advance the rights of nature.

To me, that felt like a lot, and that’s barely more than half of what I had flagged in the last three weeks. I’d planned to dig into the mineral economy of solar panels here, but I think that will have to wait for a future newsletter. As it is, this was exhausting to write (as it no doubt was to read); the irony being that, had I simply written less and taken a walk, that would’ve been three less hours I’d have been on my computer, drawing down data from data centers which, themselves, are consuming an appreciable percentage of global electricity.

What I’m Doing

Going to keep this as brief as possible:

  • For the past two months, I’ve charged my phone using a solar panel (and connected battery). While I have no illusions about the climate impact here, it has been illuminating to have my use of an essential device tethered more directly to energy from the sun. As the days get longer and sunnier here in NYC, I suspect we will be able to charge two smartphones, a Bluetooth speaker, and perhaps a tablet exclusively using this panel. (To keep things in perspective, the Internet suggests an iPhone uses ~ 1 – 5 kWh/year. We just booked round-trip plane tickets via which I suspect we will incur a proportional (fossil fuel) energy consumption of around 5,000 kWh each.) Perhaps it’s helpful to think about calculus, and what can happen when we multiply infinitesimally small quantities by an infinitely large number; sadly, however, we do not have infinite time.
  • We continue to compost, simply storing our weekly bio-refuse in a (plastic) bin in our freezer, and then taking it to our local farmers market every Saturday. For those who may be interested, NYC has also rolled out curbside collection for food waste on a much larger scale in the last year or two. You can apply for a brown bin so as to be able to participate.
  • Which reminds me, we have committed to doing more or less all of our food shopping at Integral Foods and our local Greenmarket.
  • Additionally, we’re proud to support our NYC-based urban farmers, Josh, of Green Top Farms – who provides twice-weekly salads for gatherings at Love Child – and Electra, of Green Food Solutions, whose rooftop greenhouse-grown greens make their way weekly from the Bronx to our kitchen.
  • Speaking of Love Child, I’m also delighted that they’ve rolled out a “Minimalist Baby Registry”, offering “All the Essential Stuff & Services You’ll Actually Use”; scroll to the bottom of this page for a mini-manifesto on shopping “small”, “ethically-made and sourced”, “reusable and eco-friendly”, “non-toxic”, and “minimalist” – in the words of the manifesto,”For our own sake, and for the sake of future generations”, but also in the belief that “we might just find that, by consuming less, we enjoy our lives more, and find more time for the things – and most importantly, the people – who really matter.” As one recent study suggested, parents – or maybe more, parenting – consumes a huge amount of energy, not only human, but fossil fuel-derived.
  • On the subject of babies, and therefore, poop, I signed up for City alerts regarding when there is a risk of sewage overflow “going into our waterways”; the idea is that we should avoid unnecessarily using water (e.g., (second) shower, doing laundry, etc.) during these periods. Here’s a Times article if you’d like a little more background.
  • I’ve continued to make regular calls to my local, state, and federal representatives, and especially to Gov. Cuomo’s office regarding Percoco, CPV, the Millennium Valley Lateral Pipeline, the Williams Pipeline (slated to pass directly under New York Harbor), and the urgent need to ban all fracking-related activities in the Delaware River Basin and keep all fracked gas, fracking chemicals, and fracking waste out of New York State.
  • Finally, I’ve been in touch with Sam at Sims Municipal Recycling in Brooklyn about the possibility of a group tour in the spring; I visited the facility over the summer, and found the experience transformative. Please let me know if you might be interested in joining.
  • Oh, and this on Arcadia Power and Renewable Energy Credits (or RECs) in case you’re considering using Arcadia or a similar service so as to support renewable energy generation when you pay your electricity bill.

What I’m Reading

Dark Money – Jane Mayer’s tour de force of investigative journalism on the Koch brothers, other right-wing billionaires, and their caustic impact on our collective politics in the United States. Significant emphasis is given to Koch Industries’ superlatively dismal environmental and work-place safety records, and the Kochs, et al’s funding of climate denial.

The Age of Unintended Consequences – excellent long piece by Tom Engelhardt on climate breakdown as the ultimate civilizational blowback.

How Fair trade can accomplish economic, social and ecological goals – dense and thorough examination by Heiner Flassbeck of what works about Fair Trade and what doesn’t. I’m hoping to talk more about food in an upcoming newsletter, and this might be a nice bridge to some of those topics.

Youth camps shape new generations with patriotism, pushups and prayer – a photo essay from Reveal that is as terrifying as its title suggests it would be.

It’s the End of the World as We Know it… (and I Don’t Feel Fine) – a long blog post that is less depressing, and more uplifting, than its title might otherwise suggest.

Bonus

I highly recommend Episode 7 of In the Field India – a podcast about India and development – which digs into the “complex” “story of women and work in India”; on the subject of women’s empowerment, this TED Talk by Musimbi Kanyoro – which argues that empowering women and girls is likely the most powerful way to fight climate change – complements the In the Field episode nicely.

 

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