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Archive for the ‘climate change’ Category

Two recent British news items are cause for, alternately, hope and despair.

For hope, we can look to the Daily Telegraph’s news that “Cheap solar power [is] poised to undercut oil and gas by half.”

The bad news comes from the Guardian, which warns that our “Climate target is not radical enough” — referring to the targets set by the EU for CO2 emissions.

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When environmental issues collide with rival policy concerns, the environment has long been the likely loser.   Even in America, with its agency dedicated to keeping the nation’s air and water clean, the planet too often loses when environmental push meets the shove of wealthier, more entrenched political interests.

A case in point is the recent decision by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to wave the normal Federal requirement that its actions don’t cause environmental harm and go ahead with a plan to build a 700 mile fence between the USA and Mexico — straight through vast areas of huge ecological sensitivity.

As today’s New York Times editorializes, the plan “will be a disaster on the ground.”

And as the Times also points out, the fence won’t even stop that many illegal immigrants.   But its symbolism plays to a powerful national constituency.   Clearly, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff feels that throwing a symbolic bone to the anti-immigrant lobby buys him more political capital than taking a position that would prevent far-from-symbolic harm to a large chunk of one of the nation’s most sensitive ecological areas.

The outrage that Chertoff’s decision has provoked, in Congress and elsewhere, suggests that the political value of deciding against the environment when it conflicts with other policy priorities is decreasing.  But it also shows that politicians still feel they won’t be asked to pay too big a political price for trashing the planet — even when the reasons they give for allowing that destruction make no sense.

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Climate change threatens to destabilize our lives, for both ill and (perhaps, even) good.

One mark of that instability will likely be a disruption in the way we produce and distribute food.

Could this be why the UK Independent finds the world suddenly ‘going crazy for allotments‘ — those small plots of land that cities lease their citizens at a peppercorn rent to grow spare fruit and vegetables for their homes? The paper discovers allotments thriving in the UK, France, Kenya, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong and the USA. In the UK alone, it says, “there are an estimated 300,000 allotments, yielding about 215,000 tons of fresh produce every year.”

It’s not just home owners who are seeing the attractions of micro-farming. As food security becomes a concern to societies accustomed to having fresh produce flown in from all over the world, the New York Times tells us, “the purposeful reclamation of urban and suburban lands is serious fodder for artists, architects and academics alike.”

Allison Arieff’s article is a good round-up of current hipster urban farming and land-reclamation projects in the US — many of them on the super-micro level, but worthy none the less.

Let’s hope, certainly,that we see more initiatives like the Edible Estates project — which “proposes the replacement of the domestic front lawn with a highly productive edible landscape.” Their motto — Attack on the Front Lawn! As Arieff reminds us, that front lawn typically uses “up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre . . . than farmers use on crops.”

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We’re glad to see that John Tierney gets what we were saying about climate change and behavioral economics the other week.

In his ‘Findings’ piece this week, Tierney points out that:

“We’re not good at making immediate sacrifices for an abstract benefit in the future. And this weakness is compounded when, as with climate change, we have a hard time even understanding the problem or the impact of our actions today.”

He quotes the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler, co-author of a new book “Nudge,” in  suggesting that people need help when it comes to actually acting on any desires they have to do something about climate change.

“Getting the prices right will not create the right behavior if people do not associate their behavior with the relevant costs,” says Dr. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics. “When I turn the thermostat down on my A-C, I only vaguely know how much that costs me. If the thermostat were programmed to tell you immediately how much you are spending, the effect would be much more powerful.”

No word, though, where (or even if) we can buy ourselves such a device.

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It’s not from elephants, though, and no animals are killed for it.  Mammoth ivory, the NY Times tells us, is a commodity in increasing abundance as the arctic tundra of Siberia is melting.

There’s a lot of it out there to be found, apparently:

The Siberian permafrost blankets millions of square miles, ranging in depth from a few feet to more than a mile and resembling frozen spinach.

Hidden in one of the upper layers of this mass, corresponding to the Pleistocene Epoch, are the remains of an estimated 150 million mammoths.

The trend has conservationists delighted that it leaves living animals less threatened.  Palaeontologists, though, are less sanguine.  As author Andrew Kramer writes:

In their growth rings and possible prehistoric human butcher marks, [mammoth tusks] hold a wealth of data on the ancient climate and peoples of Siberia that could shed light on, among other things, the debate about whether climate change or overhunting, or both, felled the mammoths.

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Many people feel that biofuels are not exactly the solution to climate change that others — especially in the current US administration — are claiming them to be.

They were joined by a number of European ‘top scientists’ this week, the Guardian reports.

In particular, says the article, Professor Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser at the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has warned that biofuels “could exacerbate climate change rather than combat it.”

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Proponents of sustainable living, recycling, ethical consumption and carbon offsets may be dismayed to hear that an environmental hero, James Lovelock — he of the original ‘Gaia’ hypothesis — thinks that all those ideas are pointless.

We have about twenty years left to enjoy life as we know it and then we’re essentially doomed to global disaster, Lovelock tells the Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead in a profile that’s well worth a look.

“More alarming even than his apocalyptic climate predictions,” Aitkenhead reports, “is his utter certainty that almost everything we’re trying to do about it is wrong.”

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