Bad enough that the climate is changing and humans are causing it; worse, most of us don’t even want to talk about it.
“Where are the books? The poems? The plays? The goddamn operas?” asked author and climate activist Bill McKibben a decade ago on Grist, comparing the climate crisis to the AIDS epidemic, which, McKibben noted, produced “a staggering outpouring of art that, in turn, has had real political effect.”
To be fair, that has started to change: Authors such as Paolo Bacigalupi (The Water Knife) and filmmaker Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter) have begun to address environmental catastrophe in their works. But it’s likely that other authors, artists and goddamn opera writers have assumed that their climate-focused work would struggle for an audience: A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 42 percent of U.S. citizens consider rising seas and global temperatures disturbing.
Will the United Nations conference on human-caused climate change move toward saving the earth for habitation? That’s what’s at stake as the heads of the world’s nations gather in Paris on November 30 through December 11. They intend to put teeth into the U.N.’s “framework” that is aimed to reduce carbon emissions, and which has been adopted by some 195 countries. But will they?
Bill Gates doesn’t think so. In an interview in The Atlantic, Gates praised countries for pledging to roll back emissions by 80 per cent, but cast doubts about their ability to reach that goal. It’s not that he thinks government is particularly inept and that the private sector could do it. He really doesn’t think that either can or will.
He believes that people will cut the easy stuff first, leaving the hard-to-do for the latter half of the time frame.
Paul Duncan, a battalion chief with California’s state firefighting agency, was at home in Northern California enjoying a day off on September 12 when he got the message: A wildfire was burning on Cobb Mountain, about a dozen miles away from Hidden Valley Lake, where he lived with his wife and two daughters.
Duncan, 46, decided to leave and help knock down the blaze because he knew the fire unit in the area was already short-staffed from putting out on another conflagration. Besides, his nearly 30 years of experience persuaded him there was no way a fire burning on a mountain to the west could burn down to the valley floor and then race eastward to threaten the Duncans’ home.
His optimism was short lived. Upon arriving on Cobb Mountain Duncan got some troubling news. The fire he was fighting was heading toward his family.
Old people often shake their heads and mutter about “the younger generation.” Or they’ll say to one another, “It’s not the way it used to be,” with a solemn look of dismay as if the world was “going to hell in a hand basket.” That’s the problem when an elder like me writes about human-caused climate change: I come close to being a cliché.
Perhaps such sentiments come from nostalgia for a time earlier in one’s life, an era viewed as simpler, slower and more familiar. Friends occasionally email me photo collections that supposedly represent a decade such as the 1950s without a single photo of anyone of color. It’s as if no one other than white people lived in this country. On the other hand, since most filmgoers are younger than my cohort, and if the top 10 grossing movies of a typical week are any indication, most people attending movies today choose deeply dystopian films about the violent end of civilization as we know it.
The rural Southwest feels vast and empty. Driving from Los Angeles to New Mexico, my wife Susan and I saw sweeping landscapes of alluvial fans and sheer cliffs, and mesas that stretched as far as we could see. Just the idea that people carved out a way of life on these lands left us in awe of our ancestors and, before them — centuries before them, millennia even — the first people who lived here.
People still live on this arid earthscape. They populate the small towns along the railroad tracks. They dwell in pueblos at the tops of mesas. They survive tucked into corners of cliff sides and in the bottomlands of rivers. Driving through such rugged beauty made us aware of the power of nature and the relative powerlessness of human beings in that kind of environment.
Five trillion tons.
That’s how much ice melted in Greenland and Antarctica between 2002 and 2014 – and the reason why the seas already rise above low-lying islands in the South Pacific, displacing tens of thousands of people and threatening coral reefs that nurture uncountable numbers of sea creatures. Because of the climate change crisis we’ve become used to reading this kind of metric, along with the science-class comparisons that make it easy to visualize the colossal numbers involved. (Those five trillion tons, we are told, could make an ice cube 11 miles long on each side.) What we don’t always grasp, however, is the domino effect that one environmental disaster can have on the other side of the world.
A few years back, my wife Susan and I camped at Malakoff Diggins State Park, just north of Nevada City in Northern California. The place is famous for its earth formations that are similar to those of Brice Canyon National Park,
Sometimes religious people tend to be slower to adapt to changes coursing through the culture, especially with concerns about human-caused climate change. Even though polling shows Catholics, for example, to be slightly ahead of the national curve of global warming awareness, further inspection reveals that only 53 percent of white Catholics think climate change is a critical or major problem, although 73 percent of Hispanic Catholics do. These figures were measured a year ago, but there are signs that most church members aren’t even aware of the Pope’s environmental Encyclical, released this past June.
Those figures still fall short of the nation as a whole. Some 91 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and even 51 percent of Republicans think the government should be doing more about climate change. One would think that’s too awesome a majority for a deadlocked Congress to ignore.
In the 1947 science fiction novel Greener Than You Think, a scientist invents a powerful fertilizer intended to boost crop production and combat hunger. The salesman she hires, however, sees more business potential in lawn care, and convinces a Los Angeles homeowner to try the formula on a yellowing, “sad and sickly” front yard. When the salesman stops back the next day, the lawn is transformed. “There wasn’t a single bare spot visible in the whole lush, healthy, expanse. And it was green. Green . . . over every inch of its soft, undulating surface: a pale apple green where the blades waved to expose its underparts and a rich, dazzling emerald on top.”[i]
The lawn grows uncontrollably in the novel, and the grass ultimately takes revenge and crushes cities like a green giant. Whether or not author Ward Moore chose the L.A.
I hope the oil lobbyists in Sacramento broke out some high-priced Champagne this weekend. They deserve it. They just scuttled the biggest and most likely-to-succeed effort in the history of California to save the planet.
Oil industry ad decrying what it called the “California Gas Restriction Act of 2015”
Senate Bills 350 and 32 had already passed in the upper house. As my Capital & Main colleague Bill Raden summarized, SB 32, authored by state Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would “extend the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions” achieved a few years back through Assembly Bill 32. Senate bill 350, introduced by Senate president Pro tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) – named after the threshold of carbon particles per million that our planetary life cannot surpass – aimed to set standards for California that would “double the energy efficiency of its older buildings,
State lawmakers returned from the Labor Day weekend to face a potential Greek tragedy as the current legislative session enters its final days. Taking center stage is a contentious battle pitting the oil industry, the California Chamber of Commerce and a group of business-friendly Democrats against two history-making global warming measures.
Senate Bill 32, authored by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), seeks to extend the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions already achieved by Assembly Bill 32, a bill Pavley helped write as an assemblymember, and which became the state’s highly effective 2006 carbon cap-and-trade law.
Senate Bill 350 is the attempt by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) to spell out the “Golden State Standards 50-50-50” that Governor Jerry Brown unveiled in January’s State of the State address. It would require California to double the energy efficiency of its older buildings,
A nationwide group of self-described small and independent business owners has joined the legal battle to appeal California’s landmark lead paint court ruling. But questions have arisen about the actions of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which, through its Small Business Legal Center, is part of an amici curiae (“friends of the court”) brief filed on behalf of the defendants in California’s 6th Appellate District Court of Appeal in San Jose.
Why is NFIB, which reports that most of its member businesses employ only three to five workers, going to bat for the case’s three multinational corporate defendants?
In December 2013, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ordered ConAgra, Sherwin-Williams and National Lead (NL Industries) to pay $1.15 billion to three California cities and seven counties,
I’ve always thought that if the various Protestant denominations can be said to represent a socio-economic sector of American culture, then the people who made up the United Methodist Church (UMC) were the middle of the middle. I mean that across the country and particularly in this region, which includes Southern California, Methodists never wanted to be bothered about too much social or economic justice, and when they were it was a sign that even the center of the country was getting on board.
I can vividly remember when, in the early 1970s, the UMC in my region finally climbed on board the national grape boycott to support farm workers, just as I can recall when the Conference (as the regional body is called) decided to push for divestment in South Africa.
A number of residents of the picturesque, alpine community of Mount Shasta, California are fed up with their big, new, imminent water hog of a neighbor, the Crystal Geyser Water Company. As Capital & Main reported earlier this year, a group of them have been calling for months for an environmental impact report (EIR) to measure the potential harm that the opening of a new local bottling plant may have on the region’s watershed. With the state in the fourth year of a historic drought, they argued that allowing a multinational corporation to extract precious California groundwater to manufacture and sell tea, soda and bottled water around the world is the height of recklessness.
On Monday, under the name of their nonprofit group, We Advocate Through Environmental Review (WATER), residents filed a complaint in Napa County Superior Court, the district in which Crystal Geyser’s corporate headquarters is located,
If L.A.’s landlords have their way, California’s ongoing drought woes could result in many renters having to foot the bill for their water usage. Owners are nudging city leaders to study a survey released in July by the landlord group Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).
The report claims that more than 86 percent of rental property owners in the city who pay for their tenants’ water have experienced an increase or seen no change in water usage since Governor Jerry Brown ordered mandatory restrictions in April. Landlords assert that renters have no incentive to conserve water because they aren’t paying for it, resulting in higher water costs.
Some tenant groups are crying foul, however, claiming that this proposal is little more than an attempt by landlords to use the drought to circumvent rent control laws. Los Angeles forbids owners of buildings constructed before 1979 to pass on water costs to tenants.
Here’s the good news: The percentage rate of change in global carbon emissions in 2014 was zero. It didn’t go up. That’s the first time in the record books that the world economy grew but carbon emissions didn’t. Here’s the bad news: The average global temperature has been hotter every month since February of 1985 than the 20th century average for any given month. We’re talking 360 consecutive months of warmer-than-average temperatures.
Here’s the really bad news: If we continue to extract fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – at the current pace, we will not be able to live on the planet by mid-century.
Here’s the science: Despite the climate deniers, the consensus of people who study this field professionally say that if we raise the temperatures of the planet more than two degrees Celsius (that’s about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) human life as we know it will not be possible.
Billed as the area’s first 100 percent solar-powered festival, EastSide Sol heated up Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights on Saturday. Under the scorching sun, activists, residents and community leaders gathered to explore how low-income and minority communities like theirs can be part of the growing green economy.
On the surface, EastSide Sol was a festive celebration. The crowd danced to funky live music by pan-Latin band Buyepongo, ate taquitos and pupusas provided by neighborhood restaurant Un Solo Sol and enjoyed live mural painting by Self-Help Graphics. But at the event’s core was a conversation about economics and the environment, and how to deal with the increasing realities of climate change.
In City Council Member Jose Huizar’s opening remarks to the crowd, he said “Oftentimes in the environmental movement, when we’re looking to preserve our planet, our earth and find alternative forms of energy, the Eastside is left out of the discussion.” The need to include low-income and minority areas in environmental efforts was an ongoing theme of the day.
I don’t know about you, but I love public parks. City parks for hiking, little league, and summer concerts. State parks for camping. National parks like the Grand Canyon to experience the awe of nature. Parks are some of our most precious public assets.
But only if they remain public. This week, candidates in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election suggested that the state could privatize parks to raise revenue. That’s a misguided solution to the wrong problem: the state’s failure to invest enough in essential public assets. Advocates of privatization say the private sector will attract more tourists. But that would jeopardize the central mission of public parks to provide affordable access to nature and recreation. Parks managed by companies, like other private assets, will need to generate profit—funds that should be spent on maintaining and improving them.
The citizens of Kentucky aren’t alone. To manage the 14 million acres of state park lands in the U.S.,
If you take your kids to the beach this summer, expect a gritty ride home. California has turned off most of the showers that people use at state beaches to clean the sand off their kids before the long ride home. Then, of course, you get to clean the sand out of your car. All this aggravation saves about 18 million gallons of water a year, according to the state.
In a drought like this one, it makes sense to conserve as much water as possible, wherever we can. So you would think we would be trying to stop some big water users too. Like Chevron. This mega-corporation sells 21 million gallons of treated polluted water a day to the Cawelo Water District, which, according to the Los Angeles Times, provides water to 90 Kern County farmers.
Where Chevron gets the water,
The 42nd Annual Meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) got underway in earnest Wednesday at San Diego’s Manchester Grand Hyatt resort hotel. The mood was convivial and the attire corporate casual: Brooks Brothers suits without ties, Dockers and sports shirts.
Although this year’s star attractions — a GOP presidential frontrunner, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and a returning presidential contender, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee — weren’t scheduled to speak until Thursday, conference delegates had plenty to do yesterday.
ALEC, a secretive rightwing bill mill that gets its funding from the Koch Brothers and global multibillion dollar corporations, has been described as a legislative dating service that arranges hookups between mostly Republican state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists.
The actual “dates” occur at meetings like those unfolding in San Diego — a council spokesperson said 1,300 conferees were in attendance — and take place behind locked doors,
Every year, every quarter, every month, the conventional economists either praise the increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or anxiously wring their hands because the economy has not expanded enough. Expansion requires two key elements: a constant search for the lowest possible wages and an unending supply of raw materials – particularly fossil fuels, but also fertile soil and fresh water, and sometimes, creatures who live on the earth and in the seas.
While there are still places on the planet where people will take any job they can get, the ability to extract more energy resources gets riskier, and the environment’s capacity to absorb more waste is fast approaching zero. Reaching the outer limits of expansion threatens all of life on the planet. That reality is why many people are now calling for an “ecological civilization” as an alternative to more exploitation and extraction, one that offers another pathway for human civilization to take.