Distracted from Distraction By Distraction: On Killer Convenience and Missing the Forest for the Screens

The Javits Center green roof: home to a hundred nesting birds, five beehives, and the PR aspirations of an institution

A dozen odd people have assembled around the model who – having scaled part of a broken wall in a West Village lot, currently vacant, but no doubt destined for development – now makes, in no discernible sequence, expressions – raunchy, exuberant, incoherent – while vamping in modes – alternately, ambivalently – suggestive and defiant. I pass two such scenes on my five-minute walk home, a walk which culminates in my passing a gentleman wearing a backpack and cargo shorts who has mounted his iPhone on a selfie stick, and walks numbly forward, smiling, recording the emptiness of our block – someone is walking a dog; a few of the gentleman’s fellow tourists have assembled, at block’s other end, before a house notable for its relationship to a savagely-banal TV show; a construction crew eat lunch on the wood-encased stoop of one of the countless townhouses across the Village currently undergoing never-ending gut-renovation to accommodate future super-rich occupants; otherwise, nothing is happening – and numbly smiling into the screen through which he experiences the world, the gentleman walks on before, and one supposes behind me, as I pass him, recording it all – the picturesque scene, my backside – for some notion of posterity – my posterior – but more immediately, to be parsed by the machine-learning algorithms of some nascent AI in a vast, private, energy-devouring data center. These are the activities, the images, by which humans are consumed as the Earth, and we with it, hurtle ever deeper into global ecological and climate catastrophe.

One might be inclined to despair, but then – that very same morning – the Internet has been awash in the news that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has won her primary. Clearly, someone – a great many someones – are awake out there and caring.

Later that same afternoon, I walk out our front door to discover a third film crew shooting on our stoop. One of the crew members signals to me in alarm – mouthing something like, “One second,” finger held aloft as if to shoosh or correct – and for a moment I pause, bags of recycling and trash (we produce it too, and sometimes it stinks) in hand, before proclaiming, “Sorry. It’s our house” – which it is not; we rent, though the sentiment stands – and proceeding to deposit bags in proper receptacles, noting, in the process, that further down the block, another film crew is similarly abusing another stoop, that of our neighbors.

As I muse on these words, roll them over in my mind, I pass a man sleeping across the street from the Tesla store in the great open pit of the Meatpacking District; he curls, fetal, on the sidewalk beneath the awning in front of what used to be a dive bar, is currently shuttered, and will no doubt soon reopen as luxury retail. I’m on my way to the High Line – not for a relaxing walk, because such is not possible, for a New Yorker, on what has become the City’s premier architectural showroom-cum-tourist attraction; I’m going to tour the green roof of the Javits Center – the City’s largest, the nation’s second, or so the Center advertises – and once aloft on the elevated train platform-turned-park, I find children dancing as if they were embodied memes; young adults Periscoping their uneventful walks to who-knows-whom (comments and emojis springing, not quite to life, on the screens as I pass this screen-following sleepwalker, that); my peers vaping absently with dead looks, blowing their treacly-sweet toxic smoke, indifferently, into the faces of passersby; then I’m face-to-screen face with a giant Kate Spade video ad – infused with a neoliberal whimsy no words are necessary to accentuate – no doubt the product of just such a production as those that have dogged my morning into my afternoon, though now confronting me from the side of 10 Hudson Yards. I wend my way around that immensely banal monument to waste, greed, tastelessness, climate denial, ecological insanity, and (no doubt) corruption, and only then catch sight of that other Hudson – which has other names that predate, by millennia, the arrival of the so-called explorer – swelling, as it always now seems to be, swelling within encrouched-upon and foreclosed banks nearly to the point of bursting.

The caption above summarizes my impressions of the green roof. I’ll only add that, as I’m up there – amidst the birds, and with the bird watchers; chaperoned by our lovely, over-exuberant, true-Javits Center-believer of a guide – hundreds of construction workers stop traffic on 11th Avenue, protesting at-the-moment-I-can’t-exactly-say-what treatment at the hands of Related on that very same vast Hudson Yards mega-project. Everywhere one looks, potential reasons for hope mingle with the numb indifference of the transfixed spectators, transmogrified by spectacle.

Then I’m back on the High Line, headed south; every which way one looks, people – not models – are posing and shooting, posing and shooting, reflexively; and as if by way of coda, I pass a fifth and final crew – this time only a photo – capturing images for I-know-not-what.

“They are always like,” says the model, in her Italian accent, as she mimics an expression of awe and surprise. “People these days are just obsessed.”

What I’m Doing

Enough of that dourness, though! Please allow me to offer some potential reasons for optimism and – hopefully – sources of inspiration:

  • I have, at last, joined the Democratic Socialists of America. I encourage you to self-educate and consider doing the same. Ocasio-Cortez’s inspiring primary victory (and my experience canvassing, donating to, and spreading the word about her campaign) was most certainly the catalyst for my choice.
  • I’ve been making the most of my summer schedule. I’ve been to Swale; The River Project (again, this time with a bevy of Love Child toddlers, no less!); Weeksville (if you’re not familiar with it, absolutely go pay a visit); AgTech-X; and on a number of Social Justice Tours across Brooklyn and Manhattan. I urge you to check out all of these great orgs/institutions/initiatives; we live in New York for a reason – please, this summer, go out and learn and love your City that much more, and support it becoming the best/a better version of itself. In my opinion, that collective process is rooted in education, and each of us can take action to be educating ourselves for change.
  • On the subject of the City, I made a Tree Service Request in June and re-acquainted myself with the Wait… pilot project. The City doesn’t always do the best job communicating with citizens about its numerous and various initiatives, but it’s nice to be reminded how responsive, progressive, and accountable our municipal government is in many respects if one can only navigate its layers.
  • Finally, I had the privilege of speaking with Travis at PowerMarket about their evolving community solar model. Working on the possibility of arranging site visits at the new solar installation in the Bronx, but in the meantime, I encourage you to consider (if you live in NYC) switching to community solar. We already have.

What I’m Reading

Our natural world is disappearing before our eyes. We have to save it – The latest from George Monbiot. Title speaks for itself.

Treated Like Trash and Hell on Wheels – continuation of Kiera Feldman’s must-read coverage of the deadly and hyper-corrupt private trash collection industry in NYC.

Cities face dramatic rise in heat, flood risks by 2050 and Antarctic melt holds coastal cities hostage – both brief, but to keep things in perspective.

How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects Around the Country –  monthly reminder to keep in mind the well-funded and coordinated efforts that exist to undermine sane public policy and climate action.

Pennsylvania Fracking Health Impacts – monthly reminder of the human-cum-ecological ravages of the fracking currently unfolding all across this country.

The War of Hunger That Afflicts the World’s Poor – one of numerous must-read articles from the indefatigable Vijay Prashad, whose Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research is consistently doing some of the most important, socially-engaged intellectual work of which I am aware.

Vigil held for Queens taxi driver whose family says committed suicide – monthly reminder of the human toll of convenience-consumption coupled with political corruption and corporate greed.

‘Poop Train’ Full of NYC Sewage Raises Stink in Alabama Town and How worried should New Yorkers be about sewage ending up in city waterways?– sewage for thought on the subject of NYC’s (massively excessive) consumption of “resources” and production of “waste.”

Illuminated Futures and Is LEED Tough Enough for the Climate-Change Era? – two pieces on design (failure) – the first, on the harms of LED streetlights, is essential reading for New Yorkers as we think about how to take swift and well-considered climate action while avoiding inadvertently creating major new problems or making old ones worse.

Are You Paying Enough for Your Food?There Are Ecological Limits to Growth – Just Look at Himachal PradeshWhy the War Against Plastics Must Be Unforgiving and Brook No ConcessionAs bioplastics get popular in India, a more genuine green choice is to boot out plastic altogether, and Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth (other than not having kids) – and finally, a handful of articles from India, and one from the UK, on food, plastic, and excess consumption.


If that wasn’t enough (or far too much!) already, please take a minute to watch this segment from Democracy Now! in which the executive director of Indigenous Climate Action criticizes the Trudeau Government’s purchase of Kinder Morgan’s embattled Trans Mountain pipeline as a “huge step backward” for Canada.

And if you are dying for more TED videos, eat your heart out: Here’s one on sane economics (that centers thriving, not growing) and another on a breakthrough in cooling technology. Both worth watching, and to be taken with the requisite TED grain of salt, and then some.

Finally finally, here’s a photo – by way of thank you for making it to the bottom – that I hope will brighten your day:

Fennel courtesy of Roots, Shoots, and Flowers at our local GreenMarket

Climate is a Culture Problem

Moving towards food independence in our kitchen

At root, climate problems are culture problems, which is to say, at once, that climate “solutions” do not depend (solely) on technological advances, and that climate “progress” is unlikely to be made in the absence of massive cultural change.

We were upstate recently owing to a death in my mother’s family, and I couldn’t help but reflect how suicidal and dead-hearted persons (corporate or otherwise) must be not to value water. Sitting lakeside in the small town outside of which my mother grew up, looking out over the water towards the forested hills surrounding, how could I not feel reverence?

And yet, these matters immediately become overwhelmingly, fractally complex; our ability to drive upstate – the condition of my state of revery – had been app-mediated, facilitated by a venture-funded startup, and, of course, only the availability of (cheap) gasoline had made the drive possible. While my ancestors settled in Upstate New York – poor Bavarian peasants fleeing the ravages of the Interwar Years in Germany – settle they did, and their participation in the settler colonial project still unfolding in what’s called the United States becomes, then – like global neoliberal capitalism – a kind of precondition for my moment on the dock looking out over the lake as the sun set behind the wooded hills.

All to say, there are no easy answers or outs if one is really committed to cultural conversation, but, in my opinion, it is the only conversation that stands any reasonable chance of halting (and reversing) climate breakdown while also opening the door to a future more just and equitable than the ravaged present.

Does that lessen my commitment to the brave little-c citizen activists fighting upstate to protect, for example, Seneca Lake or Orange County from the depredations of state-and-federally-abetted fossil fuel companies? Not at all. It’s just that things are complicated, and people aren’t always very good at staying committed to their own struggles while also acknowledging those of others – especially when most of us find ourselves constantly both part of solutions and part of problems in ways that often feel irreconcilable. As Tuck and Yang point out, Decolonization is not a metaphor. (Credit and thanks to our friends at Decolonize This Place for pointing me to this brilliant and unsettling essay.)

The struggles of We are Seneca Lake and Protect Orange County rhyme with the ongoing struggle at Standing Rock, and the more that we form local, national, and global coalitions around true and honest reckonings with our common needs and aspirations and our meaningful differences, the greater our chance of winning something that looks like a just and livable future. Who this we is – and how it comes to have more than sentimental or rhetorical meaning – may be among the hardest of cultural questions to resolve, however.

Incidentally, for our part, New York City draws its water from watersheds upstate that are menaced by the same pipelines, power plants, and natural gas infrastructure projects  that are threatening lakes and farmland, health and livelihoods, and one of the farmers at our local Greenmarket hails from Orange County, just downwind of the CPV Power Plant.

Back in our neck of the woods, repair of a short stretch of Hudson-fronting bulkhead drags into at least its seventh or eighth month. According to the “Minutes of a Meeting of the Board of Directors” of the Hudson River Park Trust from July of 2016, the contract for this work was valued at approximately $400,000 – frankly, lower than I expected; to do some quick math, I’d guess that the “Morton Street Bulkhead” in question is no more than 100 yards in length, and probably well less. New York City alone has more than 500 miles of coastline. At more than 1700 yards per mile, we’re in the vicinity of 10,000 Morton Street Bulkhead-lengths of NYC coastline. Now, admittedly, much of the City’s coastline – for example, in Washington or Brooklyn Heights – is mercifully not terribly exposed to the immediate threat of sea-level rise, but if even half of NYC’s coastline is under relatively immediate threat from rising tides, the cost of some equivalent remediation based on this no-doubt-low price would already be into the billions (5,000 x 400,000 = 2,000,000,000); however, for the areas, like our own, that are exposed to an immediate and growing threat from rising sea levels and increasingly extreme weather, simply repairing existing bulkheads and the like will obviously not be enough. Massive sea walls will be necessary. If we speculate that such an undertaking would cost an order of magnitude more than basic repairs, then we’d be looking at a $20 billion price tag. For comparison, that’s about on par with the recently-proposed plan to “Fix the Subways.”

Now imagine that another Superstorm Sandy-like event devastates the City. And then perhaps five years later, another. Christian Parenti’s great piece in Jacobin, If We Failto which I’ve linked before – is a good notional primer on the type of spiraling fiscal-infrastructural crisis that climate change could catalyze in New York, as elsewhere, including in many of the world cities – like Singapore, Tokyo, and Bombay – that serve as key nodes in the global economy.

Anyway, enough (highly realistic and pragmatic) doom and gloom. As always, in the end, this blog is meant to be devoted to tangible action, and the point I hope I’m making here is this: In the absence of dramatic changes in culture, technological “solutions” to climate breakdown will almost certainly fall short. The changes start with each and all of us. Here’s what I’ve been to.

What I’m Doing

Short version: Not very much right now. Between the end of the school year, family and friends visiting, and nice weather, I’ve put off everything I can until June.

  • Still, I’ve started laying groundwork to facilitate a series of “sustainability” site visits for (especially young) New Yorkers, and hope/plan to make significant headway on this over the summer with a goal of launching at least some programming in the fall. More to come on this, but my vision is to create experiences that will help people better understand the systems/infrastructures of water, food, energy, and “waste” upon which we rely in the City through the lens of great work being done within the five boroughs, for example, on urban ag, recycling, and river stewardship.
  • I never cease to marvel at the grandeur of the trees, and have made a priority this spring of luxuriating in flowers in bloom and trees in bud. I believe that – along with empathy – reverence will be at the heart of the essential cultural shifts we so desperately need to make, and I’ve been making a point of embracing – and making time and space – for my own sense of wonder.
  • Finally, I donated to our friend Electra’s GoFundMe, Food Security for Puerto Rico, and I encourage you to do the same! (Big thanks to Fred Wilson for his support for this worthy campaign.)

What I’m Reading

WHITE HOUSE THOUGHT BURYING A REPORT ABOUT POISON DRINKING WATER WAS A GREAT IDEA & THE EPA’S “LEADERSHIP SUMMIT” ON PFOA POLLUTION WILL EXCLUDE VICTIMS AND COMMUNITY GROUPS – I recommend reading these two pieces through the lens of the recent report on the catastrophic health impacts of fracking, and as parables about just how essential cultural change is. As long as we (that is, corporations) keep pumping our environments full of toxins and carcinogens, no amount of pharmaceutical research (often pursued by corporations which are, themselves, major polluters) and no number of 5Ks will cure cancer. You may want to take a minute to look up your own water utility in this helpful database, and to consider using a water filter at home if you don’t already; please don’t start drinking exclusively bottled water though unless you, like the people in Flint, really have no other option – that would be stupid and self-defeating.

Paid actors faked public support for a power plant in New Orleans & Crowd Source:
Inside the company that provides fake paparazzi, pretend campaign supporters, and counterfeit protesters – because we are all almost always being subjected to (state and corporate) surveillance and manipulation. Especially in view of recent developments regarding the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana, these articles are sobering.

America is more diverse than ever — but still segregated & Gerontopoly: Homeownership, wealth, and age – the first of which allows you to look at neighborhood-by-neighborhood segregation in every major American city, and the second of which offers perspective on how macro factors have shaped the national “housing crisis”.

The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right – as my friend Josh, of Green Top Farms, pointed out after sharing this with me, the authors make no mention of food justice, but the piece is very helpful from a nutritional perspective.

No Mincing Words: India Is Warming RapidlyA rough monsoon has left India’s ramshackle cities more decrepit than ever. Get used to it – reminders that the people most immediately paying the harshest price for climate breakdown are those least responsible for it.

Tick and Mosquito Infections Spreading Rapidly, C.D.C. Finds – because it’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and we should all be doing our best to keep ourselves healthy and safe.


I encourage you to check out (and subscribe to) the ZeroWasteHabesha newsletter. My partner pointed me to it, and the author, Olivia, does a far better job than do I in centering environmental justice (and calling out environmental racism).

Finally, this excellent, long interview with Vijay Prashad and this short blurb on the mother and daughter who attempted to stop a fracked gas pipeline from being built through “their own property” in Virginia – before being literally starved out of the trees in which they were sitting – should provide perspective and inspiration.

Doing More, Doing Less

April is the Fool-est month – the weather playing tricks on us as the flowers come into bloom

In the spirit of the title, I’m aiming to keep this month’s newsletter short and sweet – or at least shorter and sweeter than those past. Attempting to summarize even a small portion of the climate news each month was – as mentioned in my last newsletter – coming to feel overwhelming and exhausting. One reader commented, via email, “wow, that is a “link heavy” blog !!!” which struck me as funny and indisputably correct.

My goal in summarizing was to let the aggregation of articles, podcasts, video clips, etc. speak for itself, and although I found it a worthwhile exercise, in deference to my own well-being and in an attempt to draw down less data from power-hungry data centers, I’m going to pivot somewhat starting now. Going forward, at least until the next pivot, I hope to use this writing as a way to work through and share my own progress in taking climate action big and small.

One key idea here is that – as the title suggests – for those of us living in rich countries, or who are relatively rich, and especially both, some of the most important climate action we can take is what we don’t do. We should fly less. Drive less. Consume less. We should watch less, and less carelessly. We should waste less, and less wantonly. We should take seriously the responsibilities of stewardship and lower-case-c citizenship, even if it leads us to uncomfortable questions.

We shouldn’t delude ourselves that shopping local, or not using plastic bags, or buying Fair Trade – or any of the other palliatives the relatively rich use to salve our consciences – will actually “solve” the global climate crisis that is a function of extractive capitalism; however, harm reduction is harm reduction, and to repeat the redundancy, when we do less harm, less harm is done. Rather than let ourselves be overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, and hence wallow in fatalism, denial, and toothless guilt, we should always be looking to take concrete steps that feel achievable, while also having the courage to stay uncomfortable about everything that still needs to be done.

What I’m Doing

Some good news to share:

  • We have signed on with OnForce Solar, via PowerMarket, to get both our residential and commercial electricity via a community solar project currently under construction in the South Bronx. What this means is that, rather than paying a minuscule premium on our ConEd bill to Arcadia Power in exchange for their purchasing (and retiring) Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) on our behalf, we will now be paying OnForce – which will in turn pay Con Edison – in exchange for OnForce feeding solar-generated electricity directly into the New York City grid. Our electricity still will not, necessarily, come directly from a renewable source, but we have moved one step closer to that goal, and in the process, we will be saving approximately 10% on our electricity bill (an unexpected bonus which I don’t fully understand yet, but which I suspect has something to do with government subsidies, and will be looking into). If you live in New York City, and would like to save a little money on your electricity bill, I encourage you to check out PowerMarket and OnForce, and if you would like to learn a little more, just reach out, and I’ll be happy to introduce you to Travis at PowerMarket.
  • I’ve attended a number of public forums and events on climate issues in the last month or so, and am pleased to see a wide variety of organizations – including the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the New School, Columbia University, Civic Hall, and Green-e (a great resource for educating yourself about some of the more arcane and technical aspects of current US renewable energy policy and circumstances), among others – taking the necessity of climate action seriously.
  • I attended a workshop of The Truth Has Changed, a powerful monologue by Josh Fox centering climate issues, the Global War on Terror, and their intersection in the fracking boom that has been driven by the post-9/11 shift towards American “energy independence.” Look for the show to open this September 11th in NYC. Josh and his team are currently seeking funding and support should you be interested in backing the theatrical run, which we may. If you haven’t yet seen his film, Awake: A Dream from Standing Rock, I recommend you check it – and Gasland – out. One episode in The Truth Has Changed is devoted to recounting the coordinated energy lobby-funded smear campaign that was launched against Fox after the release of Gasland in 2010.

What I’m Reading

Charlton Heston: Prophet of the Eco-Apocalypse? – excellent piece by Justin McBrien  framing climate resiliency as a form of apology for capitalist exploitation and calling for an end to eco-apartheid, all through the lens of the films and life of Charlton Heston.

An Unsustainable World Managed With an Iron Fist – long read by Todd Miller, via TomDispatch, on climate breakdown, climate refugees, and the global rise of neo-fascism.

This Is What Happens When Bitcoin Miners Take Over Your Town – is what it sounds like, from Politico.

The Last Days of Jerry Brown – owing to Gov. Brown’s support for fracking in California, I have come to be something of a skeptic, but I learned something in reading this piece from The California Sunday Magazine, and recommend you have a look.

Latin America: End of a golden age? How the Commons creates alternatives to neoliberalism and the vanguard left – fascinating, dense, and long deep-dive into recent and current state of politics in the Americas to the south.

The Year Climate Change Began to Spin Out of Control – a piece as alarming as it sounds like it would be from the MIT Technology Review.

IN THE RUINS OF THE PRESENT – a sweeping assessment of the current global political situation from Vijay Prashad’s Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research – among the best things I’ve read of late.


This helpful series of short videos from UCLA’s Climate Lab, in partnership with Vox, offers great primers on easy climate action steps you can take right now related to take-out food, two-day delivery, and many other day-to-day mundanities. Although I don’t endorse all the (often corporatist) positions advanced in the series – for example, support for nuclear power generation – I hope you’ll find many of the ideas and tips actionable and accessible yourself.

The Ideas of March

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.


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.


The Empire Is Always Striking Back

Let’s start with our monthly roundup of good climate news: California is getting more aggressive about its #stopsucking campaign to ban plastic straws and has also informed Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department that it will not cooperate with plans to transport offshore oil through the state; New York State is suing the federal government over EPA head Scott Pruitt’s attempt to suspend the Clean Water Act for two years; the President’s anti-environmentalist nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality has withdrawn her name from consideration for the post; a diverse cross-section of grassroots groups convened for the Fossil Free Fast gathering in DC to push a “bold agenda” of climate action; a number of leading universities have joined together to form the University Climate Change Coalition (or UC3) with a mission to “prototype a collaborative model designed to help local communities achieve their climate goals and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon future”; Oregon is installing significant new solar capacity; even as Cape Town faces the possibility of literally running out of water, residents of that city are meeting the challenge with great ingenuity; 3M has settled with the state of Minnesota to pay nearly $1 billion in penalties for poisoning drinking water (debatable whether this is really good news), while meanwhile, also in Minnesota, indigenous groups and their allies rallied to urge US Bank to divest from fossil fuels; and here in New York City, activists – including myself – gathered on Valentine’s Day outside the courthouse where Gov. Cuomo’s former aide and close friend Joseph Percocco is on trial for corruption to urge Gov. Cuomo to break up with the fossil fuel lobby.

Also, Queen Elizabeth has apparently “banned plastic straws and bottles from all cafés, dining halls, and catered events on royal estates”, although, from a climate standpoint, it would probably be more beneficial if the British Royal family simply stopped squandering vast sums on their lavish lifestyles and sheltering their assets in offshore tax havens.

There is, of course, manifold bad climate news as well – the Pacific island nation of Kiribati at risk of disappearing; our corrupt legal system punishing lawyers for defending ecological sanity; daily, new unforeseen threats from climate disruption being, literally, unearthed (as, in this case, may be immense amounts of mercury); coal lobbyists at the EPA; fracking continuing to cause earthquakes; Scott Pruitt; the President, his recently announced tariff on solar panels, and his scammy, anti-environmental, privatizing so-called infrastructure plan; Monsanto; Bitcoin (some of which I own); Republicans; record low winter sea ice; deodorant; bottled water in general, and Nestlé in particular; microfibers polluting the oceans and ending up in human blood streams; the list could, sadly, go on practically ad infinitum – but lest you throw your hands up in despair, I’d like to focus on one under-discussed issue this month: the role of US militarism in driving global climate breakdown and ecological destruction.

Although not seen as topics for polite conversation, the United States has entered its 17th straight year at war and the (still undeclared) war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. That the US invasion of Iraq was all, at root, about “the price of oil” is, by now, a commonplace; however, what has been less discussed is the role of domestic oil production in US military-diplomatic strategy. On this topic, I recommend that everyone read Michael Klare’s excellent piece for TomDispatch (the newsletter of a different Tom, whose work I admire). Even as I am committed to our local and regional struggles here in New York City and New York State, I am aware that a focus on individual issues can sometimes serve to obscure the larger picture.

Certainly, it is clear by now that plans are afoot – and well on their way to being realized – to extract every last drop of extractable shale oil in North America, and to crisscross the continent with leaky, all-too-often-explosive pipelines to allow for distribution and export of this extremely dirty fuel. Not always so clear are the underlying military / strategic motivations of the United States Government in backing and facilitating the massive buildout of this fracked gas infrastructure. This is the true meaning of our much vaunted “energy independence”: that in the future, we will have no breathable air or drinkable water left, but we will be secure on our fortress (Turtle) Island of a continent, so long as we don’t fall victim to our own increasingly psychotic, militaristic, and homicidal culture.

What we really must struggle against are relentless militarism and parasitic capitalism. The United States – already the world’s largest producer of natural gas – has now passed Saudi Arabia to become the world’s second largest producer of oil, with many prognosticators predicting that the US will soon pass Russia as well to become the world’s leading oil producer. From a historical perspective, militaries in general – and the US military in particular – are major drivers of climate breakdown. (Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz have written a great book on this, among other, topics.) So as we celebrate the courageous work of citizen activists, like those behind FracTracker – which “studies, maps, and communicates the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation” – we must also be savvy to and intransigent in the face of the machinations of our own imperial military-industrial complex lest we find ourselves unwitting accomplices in leaving the continent (further) toxified by fracking and girded by deadly pipelines in the name of empire.

In spite of the near-complete scientific consensus and growing chorus of popular voices calling for urgent climate action, the US Department of Energy predicts no decrease (and, in fact, an increase) in US carbon emissions by 2050. Perhaps next month we will consider the human and ecological toll of the mineral economies underlying solar power technologies just to keep things real, but for now, I think this has already been quite enough.

What I’m Doing

In softening my tone last month in the name of accessibility, I came to fear being guilty of glad-handing; perhaps, this month, I’ve overcorrected.

As for my concrete climate action in February, it has thus far been modest:

In this last instance, all of these fracked gas infrastructure projects are meant to serve NYC’s insatiable demand for energy. I feel that those of us who live in the city have a deep obligation to take ownership of the consequences of our consumption and fight for more sane and just alternatives going forward – alternatives that spare us the worst ravages of climate breakdown and ecological degradation, while also sparing our friends and neighbors outside the Greater New York metropolitan area the manifold harms engendered by our excesses.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to share your comments with the Delaware River Basin Commission in support of a full and permanent ban on fracking (and all fracking related activities, including wastewater disposal) in the Delaware River Basin. You can do so here, and it should only take you a few minutes.

What I’m Reading

Is this the end of civilisation? We could take a different path – interview with George Monbiot via the P2P Foundation (which focuses on “Commons-based approaches to societal and consciousness change”).

Rights of Nature & Mother Earth: Rights-based law for Systemic Change – perhaps prohibitively long report from the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), and others, which I haven’t had the chance yet to read in full myself; if 30+ pages is, understandably daunting, you may at least find it if worth looking over the introduction and first section which summarize a “Rights of Nature” framework.

Carbon Pricing: A Critical Perspective for Community Resistance – another prohibitively long report, also from IEN, but which offers one page of “Main Takeaways” (challenging various carbon pricing strategies) which I recommend you read.

Shop Here, Not There: Science Says Reducing Inequality Is Almost That Simple – encouraging piece from YES! Magazine on a study suggesting that shifting even a small percentage of purchases can significantly help reduce inequality; although I am somewhat skeptical of this particular finding, I am increasingly committed to conscious consumerism (to the extent we engage in consumerism), which is why I continue to boycott Amazon, among other megacorporations, and make a concerted effort to patronize locally-owned small businesses.

The Uneven Gains of Energy Efficiency – another CityLab piece, this one on the urgent need to improve – and retrofit for – energy efficiency, with an eye toward the social, economic, and ecological tolls of substandard housing for the poor.


No bonus this week. If you’ve made it this far, you’ve read enough! If you enjoyed this piece, you might also appreciate The Fierce Urgency of Now, the first in this new series of essays. As always, comments, likes, and especially shares appreciated.

The Fierce Urgency of Now

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of the “fierce urgency of now.” With 2018 now well underway, our collective commitment to climate urgency is a great source of inspiration for me. History happens now – is always happening – and we make it whether we like it or not.

The year started with inspiring news: New York City has announced plans to “divest $5bn from fossil fuels and sue oil companies.” I believe we are at an inflection point, and that 2018 will be the year when concern about climate issues ceases to be (even vaguely) marginal, and we see sustained, substantial actions – from governments, some corporations, and most especially citizens and civic and social groups – that make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions and finally start the process of slowing and reversing global climate breakdown.

A Climate Museum has opened in New York City, and is looking for a permanent home; a study commissioned by the U.S. Congress found that for every dollar spent on climate mitigation, society reaps six dollars of benefit; and at least one tech commentator believes that market forces alone will be enough to drive a near complete transition to renewable energy in the coming decades.

We should be hopeful, and we should put our shoulders to the grindstone, because, on the flipside, the fossil fuel industry has effectively commandeered the United States Government, and it seems that it will stop at nothing to lock at least the U.S. into another century of fossil fuel dependence. It is hard to imagine the global ecological impacts of such an American eventuality. As it is, 2017 was the second hottest year on record (behind only 2016) and “the warmest year on record without El Niño.”

What I’m Doing

I will start this brief update with a few disappointments: I have yet to successfully change banks; this is proving sticky, both for the obvious reason – inertia – as well as owing to the challenge of finding good, ethical alternatives.

We also visited loved ones in India over the US holiday season – which was lovely and overdue – but points to just how challenging it is to find sustainable alternatives to things like air travel.

In more positive news, I continue to self-educate about and support battles against fracking and the construction of fracked gas infrastructure in New York State and the Greater Northeast, and I would like to encourage you, again, to watch Josh Fox’s film Gasland – as a primer – if you haven’t watched it already. Additionally, if you live in New York City, New York State, or anywhere that receives drinking water from the Delaware River Basin (as we do here in Manhattan, and our friends in Philly do as well), I strongly encourage you to come up to speed on two key regional struggles:

  • The fight against the construction of the CPV Power Plant in Upstate New York – a 650 MW plant that would be fueled by fracked gas piped in from Pennsylvania, and which would necessitate the construction of extensive networks of (always leaky) pipelines across wide swathes of forest and agricultural land. The group Protect Orange County has led a citizens struggle against CPV and the affiliated Millennium Lateral Pipeline; although this recent New York Times article fails to highlight at all the question of power plant and pipeline, it does make clear just how much corruption has been involved in the relevant approval processes. As things stand now, it seems that completion of the pipeline and activation of the plant are imminent, and that only sustained mass grassroots resistance stands a real chance of preventing that outcome.
  • And the fight to ban not only fracking, but all fracking-related activities in the Delaware River Basin. Not only is the Delaware River Basin a remarkable “natural resource” – if one cares to think about it that way – but it is also a key source of drinking water for New York City and Philadelphia, and in total provides drinking water for approximately 17 million people. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is currently considering an outright ban, but also the possibility of allowing some fracking-related activities – for example related to wastewater – to go forward in the Basin. It is essential that a full ban come into place and never be lifted, and you can help make that happen by participating in the public comment period that is currently open. Simply follow this link to submit your comments to the DRBC. You might consider watching (even just the first 10 to 15 minutes of) this helpful webinar to get a better sense of the issue. You can also visit Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Berk’s Gas Truth (official motto: “Don’t frack your mother”) for more background.

Finally, in a small piece of personal news, I bought my first real solar panel. I see it as a minor step towards preparedness for another potential Superstorm Sandy-like event, as well as a way to catalyze my own thinking and learning around renewables, given that – as renters in New York City – we are not in a position to go fully renewable of our own accord as yet. Even in the midst of New York winter, this small panel has been sufficient to charge my phone, and I appreciate the fact that it was designed for use in contexts without centralized electricity generation, as I suspect that is what the future looks like everywhere.

And on the subject of renewables, we have been pleased with Arcadia Power, and encourage all of you to consider using Arcadia yourselves. The cost is quite low; it is illuminating to be able to easily track our energy consumption; and the dashboard alone is worth the expense.

What I’m Reading

Trashed: Inside the Deadly World of Private Garbage Collection – fascinating deep dive on the human and ecological toll of private garbage collection in NYC.

What Is a City Street? And What Will It Become? – on the future of urban design, with an emphasis on present-tense ways we can start making New York (and others cities) far more sustainable.

Can We Keep Food Scraps Out of the Landfill?

Too right it’s Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet – good piece from the holiday season by George Monbiot.

Bad News Travels Fast – analysis of the credibility, or lack thereof, of the 25 most shared climate articles of 2017. I linked to at least one of them – the New York Mag piece – though seem to recall drawing attention to its hyperbole…

Humanity’s fight against climate change is failing. One technology can change that. – I continue to be deeply skeptical that geoengineering (or any technological fix) can meaningfully address global climate breakdown in the absence of collective shift of social and political norms and values.

Seeing Red on Climate – about the “eco-right.”

The doomsday glacier problem & Time Thwaites for No One – about accelerating collapse of Antarctic glaciers (sufficient to inundate every major coastal city globally, in case you were flirting with inaction or not feeling motivated enough.


Oh, and have a look at this map, and these two. Three pictures, at least three thousand words.