Pollution Killed 7 Million People Worldwide in 2012

A World Health Organization report found that the fossil fuel economy and industrial civilization is already leading to 1 out of 8 deaths among humans each year (the number would be high for non-humans too). That is an immediate danger, more immediate than what climate change may be contributing to now. In the developing world, the main culprit is burring biomass for cooking and heating, with women being at greater risk than men. In the developed world, the main culprit are fossil fuel automobiles and industrial production.

Elegy for a Country's Seasons

A beautiful, moving essay by Zadie Smith on climate change and mourning a world we lost: 

Oh, what have we done! It’s a biblical question, and we do not seem able to pull ourselves out of its familiar—essentially religious—cycle of shame, denial, and self-flagellation. This is why (I shall tell my granddaughter) the apocalyptic scenarios did not help—the terrible truth is that we had a profound, historical attraction to apocalypse. In the end, the only thing that could create the necessary traction in our minds was the intimate loss of the things we loved.

Palau to Ban Commercial Fishing and Become Marine Sanctuary

 
Image Screen Capture of Google Maps via treehugger.com

Image Screen Capture of Google Maps via treehugger.com

Fascinating idea: moving from an extraction economy to a tourist economy by creating a gigantic marine sanctuary. Worth following this development. Bonus story: they will be using drones to help enforce the ban.

California Snowpack January 2013 Versus January 2014

 
California snowpack January 2013 and January 2014. Image via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

California snowpack January 2013 and January 2014. Image via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not good. Not good at all.

Middle-class Driving Solar Revolution in U.S.

Interesting article and accompanying data that indicates that the growth in solar panel installation is being driven by the middle-class, not the upper-class, in the US. 

Your first thought is probably that the wealthy are the only ones putting solar panels on their houses in large numbers, but according to a new report on residential solar in Arizona, California, and New Jersey, that's not the case.

The reason? Solar leasing.

Important question: how can folks work to bring working-class folks into the solar revolution and distributed power? This is an area that sorely needs to be addressed in research and action.  

Pregnant Pause

Hillary Rosner: 

Pregnancy has allowed me for the first time to understand how hard it is to tell good information from bad. As a science journalist, I make my living by being able to decipher the two, but all these warnings bewilder me. As a result, I feel like I can see a bit more clearly how misinformation can become epidemic, leading to collective panic and seriously bad policy making.
And suddenly, I began to understand something else: exactly how — and why — so many people opt to ignore the looming threat of climate change. Or to cherry-pick the facts that convince us that environmental problems are vastly overstated. Or to think that those preaching the most alarming outcomes are being melodramatic.

In Case You Need to Hear this Again

Ninety-seven percent of scientists support the scientific consensus that human induced climate change is happening, according to a new paper by Cook et al (2013)

Sixty-three percent of those polled in the US also support the scientific consensus, which is down 7% last year, and only about 50% of those who support the consensus think humans are causing it, according to Yale School of Forestry

Via Tom Zeller Jr at Huffington Post.

Disaster

“Our world appears to be on the brink of disaster, an appearance that is itself disastrous. The disaster of disaster is that disaster is everywhere, all the time: while on the one hand it appears obvious that disaster should be the exception that proves the rule of a generally non-disastrous world, in actuality no non-disastrous moment arrives.”

Timothy Morton, “Romantic Disaster Ecology: Blake, Shelley, Wordsworth.”

What if We Never Run out of Oil

 
The Atlantic

The Atlantic

Why waiting for peak this or that and waiting for doom and gloom is a bad strategy. Capitalists and technologists continuously find ways to circumvent "limits" and "barriers." We need to take on the inequalities and socio-ecological harms the fossil fuel economy creates, rather than wait for the system to implode. They're not waiting.

De-extinction?

Should we bring animals back from extinction? The how to do it is within our grasp. Stewart Brand has a good rundown of the argument, science, and politics involved. I believe that in 100-years time it will seem funny that we even debated this. Still, intentional geo, bio, and eco-engineering frightens, and irks, some as hubris. 

Why Global Warming Won't Go Viral

The global warming meme is this web of cultural expressions about the human relationship with nature (Harmony), with one another (Cooperation), and the threat of extinction for the human race (Survival) that evokes a wide diversity of sentiments about expert authority and political power (Elitism). 
And yet the core themes of the global warming meme evoke exactly this kind of crippling anxiety.  Are we out of harmony with nature?  Is it going to kill off everyone we have ever loved?  Does this mean there is something wrong with us?  Who has the audacity to claim that humans have the power of gods to shape the planet in such profound ways?  Questions like these cause people to react defensively or shut out the conversation entirely.  Our research shows that these are the questions that arise when climate memes enter the minds of people, explaining why both denialists and advocates respond so strongly to the different threats they perceive from the global warming meme. 
This is why global warming won’t go viral.  It is psychologically toxic to the human mind and won’t spread on its own. 

Worth a look at this study and their conclusions about what could be done to further the conversation of global climate change and specific action.

Antithesis of Sustainability

 
The Patriot, Gold and Silver Exchange, Chico, CA

The Patriot, Gold and Silver Exchange, Chico, CA

A new store in Chico, CA called The Patriot. This store specializes in "Emergency Food and Supplies" as well as precious metal exchange. You can buy all your supplies to get you through the coming (political, climate, civil, Obama, etc) apocalypse. People will capitalize on anything.

History

"The skeptics are quite right when they say that the history of humanity is one long succession of missed opportunities. Fortunately, thanks to the inexhaustible generosity of the imagination, we erase faults, fill in lacunae as best we can, forge passages through blind alleys that will remain stubbornly blind, and invent keys to doors that have never even had locks." Jose Saramago, The Elephant's Journey, 2008

Annihilation of Space by Time: High Speed Rail Edition

 
Alfred Twu via grist.org

Alfred Twu via grist.org

We can dream. We can dream.

Update: Sarah Laskow on Grist gives us the depressing actual state of train travel in the US. It's not pretty.

Climate Change: End of Social Science?

A new article by Clive Hamilton argues that climate change reveals the long Western notion of the separation of humans from nature (nature/culture dualism) to be a sham. Climate change, he argues, lays bare that humans are and always have been embedded within natural systems, which at this point in time, we are so entangled we cannot epistemologically and ontologically separate the two. Hamilton writes, 

Climate science is now telling us that such a separation can no longer be sustained, that the natural and the human are mixed up, and their influences cannot be neatly distinguished.

This is an idea that has been circulating in environmental history (William Cronon) and political and urban political ecology (e.g. Nik Heynen, Maria Kaika, and Erik Swengedouw, among many others). Recently, the hybrid thesis is moving into mainstream writing with the help from writers like Emma Marris.

Hamilton declares the social sciences to be on the way out. Why? He argues that since nature and society are not separate categories there is no longer a need for a dedicated social science. He writes,

So the advent of the Anthropocene shatters the self-contained world of social analysis that is the terrain of modern social science, and explains why those intellectuals who remain within it find it impossible to “analyze” the politics, sociology or philosophy of climate change in a way that is true to the science. They end up floundering in the old categories, unable to see that something epochal has occurred, a rupture on the scale of the Industrial Revolution or the emergence of civilization itself.

It's a bold argument. But I think he's wrong.

Environmental sociologists and other environmental studies folks, far from fading into oblivion, have an unique position in these matters because of their understanding of cultural, political, and economic systems, which analyzed properly are not siloed away from nature, but rather the society-nature hybrid is integrated into an overall analysis. Multi-disiplinary and trans-disciplinary collaboration, such as the Sustainable Engineering and Ecological Design institute at my alma matter. 

Furthermore, Hamilton oddly enough makes an environmental determinist claim, which goes against his overall argument:

From hereon our history will increasingly be dominated by “natural processes”, influenced by us but largely beyond our control. Our future has become entangled with that of the Earth’s geological evolution...it can no longer be maintained that humans make their own history, for the stage on which we make it has now entered into the play as a dynamic and capricious force.

He wants to argue that social science is going away, that the Modernist human-nature duality is crumbling, but then makes a statement that subsumes society into the totality of nature and puts us at the complete whim of nature. This is not hybrid socio-nature thinking that I and others, and Hamilton, up until that point, make.

Environmental studies requires systems thinking rather than category thinking. We may be embedded within natural systems, but it is incorrect to argue that we are now at the whim of nature. It is not enough to just turn Modernity on its head, as Marx once turned Hegel on his head, replacing base with superstructure. We need to continue to push the boundaries and dissolve the categories towards new socio-ecological studies. Down with dualisms, old and new.