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.