You Don’t Have to Be Complicit in Our Culture of Destruction – The New York Times

“People feel a kind of longing for a belonging to the natural world,” says the author and scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer. “It’s related to, I think, some of the dead ends that we have created for ourselves that don’t have a lot of meaning.” In part to share a potential source of meaning, Kimmerer, who is a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and a professor at the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, published her essay collection, “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.” That book, which was put out by Milkweed Editions, a small Minnesota nonprofit press, and which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, has more than done its job. “Braiding Sweetgrass” has now been a yearslong presence on best-seller lists, with more than 1.4 million copies in print across various formats, and its success has allowed Milkweed to double in size. Given the urgency of climate change, it’s very unlikely that the appetite for the book’s message of ecological care and reciprocity will diminish anytime soon. “As we’ve learned,” says Kimmerer, who is 69, “there are lots of us who think this way.”

There’s a certain kind of writing about ecology and balance that can make the natural world seem like this placid place of beauty and harmony. But the natural world is also 

 Do you think your work, which is so much about the beauty and harmony side of things, romanticizes nature? Or, maybe more to the point, do you think it matters if it does? I am deeply aware of the fact that my view of the natural world is colored by my home place. Where I live, here in Maple Nation,2 is really abundant. We live in a place full of berries and fruits. So thinking about the land-as-gift in perhaps this romantic way would come more naturally to me than to someone who lives in a desert, where you can have the sense that the land is out to kill you as opposed to care for you. That’s absolutely true. But I don’t think that’s the same as romanticizing nature. Of course the natural world is full of forces that are so-called destructive. I think about Aldo Leopold’s3  often-quoted line, “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” But those destructive forces also end up often to be agents of change and renewal. It is a mistake to romanticize the living world, but it is also a mistake to think of the living world as adversarial.”

Trying to Live a Day Without Plastic – A. J. Jacobs – The New York Times

Jacobs is a journalist in New York who has written books on trying to live by the rules of the Bible and reading the Encyclopaedia Britannica from A to Z.

11 MIN READ

“On the morning of the day I had decided to go without using plastic products — or even touching plastic — I opened my eyes and put my bare feet on the carpet. Which is made of nylon, a type of plastic. I was roughly 10 seconds into my experiment, and I had already committed a violation.

Since its invention more than a century ago, plastic has crept into every aspect of our lives. It’s hard to go even a few minutes without touching this durable, lightweight, wildly versatile substance. Plastic has made possible thousands of modern conveniences, but it has come with downsides, especially for the environment. Last week, in a 24-hour experiment, I tried to live without it altogether in an effort to see what plastic stuff we can’t do without and what we may be able to give up.

Most mornings I check my iPhone soon after waking up. On the appointed day, this was not possible, given that, in addition to aluminum, iron, lithium, gold and copper, each iPhone contains plastic. In preparation for the experiment, I had stashed my device in a closet. I quickly found that not having access to it left me feeling disoriented and bold, as if I were some sort of intrepid time traveler.”

The world produces about 400 million metric tons of plastic waste each year, according to a United Nations report. About half is tossed out after a single use. The report noted that “we have become addicted to single-use plastic products — with severe environmental, social, economic and health consequences.”

I’m one of the addicts. I did an audit, and I’d estimate that I toss about 800 plastic items in the garbage a year — takeout containers, pens, cups, Amazon packages with foam inside and more.

Before my Day of No Plastic, I immersed myself in a number of no-plastic and zero-waste books, videos and podcasts. One of the books, “Life Without Plastic: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy,” by Mr. Sinha and Chantal Plamondon, came from Amazon wrapped in clear plastic, like a slice of American cheese. When I mentioned this to Mr. Sinha, he promised to look into it.

I also called Gabby Salazar, a social scientist who studies what motivates people to support environmental causes, and asked for her advice as I headed into my plastic-free day.

“It might be better to start small,” Dr. Salazar said. “Start by creating a single habit — like always carrying a stainless-steel water bottle. After you’ve got that down, you start another habit, like taking produce bags to the grocery. You build up gradually. That’s how you make real change. Otherwise, you’ll just be overwhelmed.”

Margaret Renkl | You’re Pointing Your Camera the Wrong Way – The New York Times

Ms. Renkl is a contributing Opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.

“NASHVILLE — Not quite halfway through the new season of HBO’s “The White Lotus,” a young woman, Portia, breaks into tears at breakfast. She is staying at a luxury resort in Sicily as the personal assistant of one of the wealthy guests. While her tablemate, a true vacationer, takes smiling selfies with the shining Ionian Sea in the background, Portia glances across the terrace at her despairing employer. “Is everything boring?” she asks, her voice quivering.

Portia’s problem is only partly the obscene wealth to which she exists in permanent adjacency. As her breakfast companion’s cheerful self-portraits suggest, she is at also odds with her era: “I just feel like there must’ve been a time when the world had more, you know? Like mystery or something,” she says. “And now you come somewhere like this, and it’s beautiful, and you take a picture, and then you realize that everybody’s taking that exact same picture from that exact same spot and you’ve just made some redundant content for stupid Instagram.”

This is the cry of anyone in Portia’s generation who is paying attention. It should be the cry of everybody else, too. With the advent of the self-facing camera, the human world turned in fundamental ways.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera,” the great documentary photographer Dorothea Lange often said. That was surely true of Ms. Lange, whose iconic photographs of Depression-era migrants and urban bread lines captured the beauty as well as the profound anguish of the period.”

David Wallace-Wells | Is Peak Climate Alarmism Behind Us? – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“It wasn’t so long ago that the world was truly on fire with climate alarm. In September 2019, millions of people around the world participated in a global climate strike, the largest ever, calling for immediate World War II-scale mobilization against the climate crisis in more than 150 countries. A week later, several million marched again. The marches had been organized by Fridays for Future, the youth movement founded by Greta Thunberg, which had been striking every week all year and drawing tens or even hundreds of thousands of protests in a given city.

If Thunberg was the patron saint of this new global climate protest army, Extinction Rebellion was its radical flank. The group announced itself in the fall of 2018, as Thunberg was first gaining attention in Stockholm, with a series of protests in London designed to shut down the city center and force a frank conversation about the state of the climate crisis. “Tell the truth” was the group’s chief demand.

XR was a self-consciously radical outfit, decentralized in structure, and blockaded highways and stock exchanges and disrupted subway service, among other protests. The approach incurred a cost, and much of the British public turned against the group. But it also helped move the needle of public opinion on climate somewhat dramatically in Britain and generated a series of commitments from even the conservative governments under Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson. More recently, its tactics have been embraced and replicated by a new suite of disruptive climate groups: Insulate Britain, Scientist Rebellion and Just Stop Oil, which has tossed soup onto museum canvases.

Then, on New Year’s Eve, XR U.K. made a surprise announcement: “We quit.”

“Despite the blaring alarm on the climate and ecological emergency ringing loud and clear, very little has changed,” the group declared in a statement. “As we ring in the New Year, we make a controversial resolution to temporarily shift away from public disruption as a primary tactic.” Instead, the group declared it was going to focus on mass mobilization to pressure those in power rather than shaming or inconveniencing everyday citizens.

In certain ways, the turn reflected debates that have preoccupied the group’s leadership for years. The former XR spokesperson Rupert Read has spent much of the last few years advocating for a “moderate flank” — a more broad-based climate movement less defined by its most radical members. But the XR co-founder Roger Hallam, who left the group to found Just Stop Oil, has been subtweeting the announcement from prison. (“Disruption is not a tactic,” he wrote recently, but “a way of being in the face of the infinity of evil.”) Elsewhere, other groups have staged disruptive protests, as in Germany, where police and protesters have clashed near an open-pit coal mine and Greta Thunberg has been arrested twice.

This month, I spoke to Clare Farrell, a co-founder of XR, and Alanna Byrne, who coordinates its press team, about the strategic turn and why the group believes the time for it is now. This conversation below has been edited and condensed.

Let’s just start narrowly with the statement itself. The headline is a little bit of a red herring. What are you quitting and where did that decision come from?

Alanna Byrne: The media have framed it as us saying we’re stopping disruption altogether, which isn’t exactly right. What we’re saying is that we’re going to take a step back from disrupting the public in the way that we have been — disrupting roads and bridges and getting in the way of people going about their day-to-day business — and instead going straight to government. Disrupting the perpetrators more. We’re working toward a big date in April where we’re aiming to get 100,000 people to come to Parliament.

What is prompting that change of focus?

Clare Farrell: I think people all over the world have been looking at Britain and going: What are you doing?

Opening a new coal mine in Cumbria, for instance, the first new mine in 30 years.

Farrell: It’s very, very frightening. And at the same time, obviously, we’ve got a cost of living crisis. We’ve got people threatening to strike on their energy bills. We’ve got workers on strike in all sectors, it feels like. And we’ve also got a kind of nature and conservation space that is messaging to the public that the government has declared war on nature itself, which is quite a revolutionary language for the conservation N.G.O. sector. There’s an awful lot of people in the U.K. who all have a lot in common, in that the political system isn’t meeting any of their demands.

But there is a massive democratic deficit. And we think that there’s a big opportunity now to talk about the fact that we are a pro-democracy movement — that we have a democratic solution that we propose for citizens to be involved in the decision making about what should be done to face up to these crises. I think people are ready to look at politics and say, surely we could do this differently. And the system we have is completely out of touch and out of date.

Byrne: And it also feels vital and necessary to be able to look at your own strategy and be honest, to say what’s working and what isn’t, and sometimes to say, let’s just try something else. I think that’s where we’re at.

Farrell: We used to talk about shifting the Overton window. I think we have successfully shifted that.

That gets to something else I wanted to ask you about. In the statement, you quite prominently say nothing’s changed. And I know what you mean, in the sense that emissions are still going up and mostly what we have is new rhetorical commitments, both in the public and the private sector. But I also agree with what you just said: that the Overton window has shifted, as has climate policy, if not as much as you or I would hope for. In part because of the radical commitments of activists in particular, we also now have a much more open space for people to express concern or engage on climate issues without having to lie down in front of S.U.V.s, glue themselves to banks or throw paint in museums. That all seems to me to be quite a big deal — not “nothing has changed” so much as “not enough has changed.”

Byrne: The reality is, in the past four years, tons has changed in terms of public awareness and engagement. Shifting from climate change to climate emergency was a radical shift when we first came onto the scene. But even as people become more and more aware, the reality is, as you’ve just said, emissions are still rising. And here in the U.K., certainly, the government is backpedaling on climate progress. I think we have a responsibility as sort of climate communicators in this space to be radically honest and true to that first principle, which is to tell the truth. And the truth is, four years later, nothing much has changed, even though people are more aware than ever.

We know from polling that people across the U.K. are terrified of the climate crisis, but the reality is that those people aren’t showing up — they’re not coming out on the street. So I think we have to say to ourselves, if people aren’t going to come and put their arm in a lock or glue themselves to something, how do we create a space where people can show up?

There’s also a big question about demands, isn’t there? What I mean is it’s not just a matter of whether there are more people who are willing to go to a protest outside of Parliament than there are who are willing to lie down in a busy intersection; undoubtedly there are. It’s also a matter of how many people want a 1.5-degree Celsius pathway and how many people would be satisfied with a two-degree pathway, and how many people would be satisfied just knowing that policy is moving in the right direction even if it points somewhere north of two degrees.

Farrell: The “tell the truth” demand was never about having a declaration of emergency with nothing to follow it up. It was about working really hard to get the public to actually understand the position that they find themselves in — and playing enormous amounts of catch-up, because of the obfuscation that the fossil fuel industry’s perpetuated, because of the failure of the media, because of a media that actually helped the most deadly campaign of disinformation, in my opinion, in all human history. Because of all that, what was required was a major effort on public information. If people don’t understand why they need to make these drastic policy changes, obviously they’re not going to advocate for them. But if they have the full facts about where they find themselves sitting in the context of human history, where we’re going, how soon we’re headed there, then they will back those policies.

And to me that has a lot to do with advocating for a democracy that isn’t just more inclusive and more representative and more just but also wanting to have a democratic society where more people have better access to the truth and to information and to really understand what needs to happen and why.

How much progress has been made in informing the public, in your view?

Farrell: To me, the general public has a very basic understanding of the causes and the likely impacts of climate change, but I really don’t think that people have got their head around how fast it’s happening.

I think statistical scientific analysis has been part of the problem, frankly, because people have been able to use uncertainty to say, well, you’re not sure. They’ve used that weak point as an intellectual leverage point to screw us all.

But it’s not a statistical analysis problem, it’s a risk problem. And I don’t think we’ve had a decent public discourse on risk. Even if there’s a 0.05 percent chance that you kill everyone, you don’t do that thing — you don’t do that project, you don’t build that bridge, you don’t get on that plane. But talk to people from the insurance sector and they will tell you that the whole of humanity is acting like a crazy person. It’s a total madness that we’ve allowed the thinking to be so poor.

But if there’s still so much misunderstanding, why is that then a moment to take a moderate turn, rather than calling out the hypocrisy and malfeasance a little bit more aggressively?

Farrell: I fully intend to carry on speaking about the crisis in that way.

Byrne: In all honesty, as much as people are becoming more aware here, there does feel like there’s a complacency where people still feel like someone else is going to do it for them. People are waiting for the next election as though that’s going to be the thing that’s going to fix everything. And I think part of our role right now is to say that’s not necessarily going to fix everything. We need you to fully engage with this and come out onto the street.

For me, the statement is quite clear that it’s a short time that we are saying that we’ll do this in order to build up to something in April and then reassess.

So your message to Parliament is, basically: There are many more people who have much greater demands on climate than you might think. Is that right?

Farrell: Completely. But in addition to pushing that Overton window about what’s a reasonable ask of a political system, there’s also pushing the conversation about the fact that the systematic problems of our politics as it is set up today. Our politics is completely incapable of doing anything about these problems in a short space of time, which is when it needs to happen.”  -30-

David Wallace-Wells | Electric Vehicles Keep Defying Almost Everyone’s Predictions – The New York Times

Opinion Writer

“It is striking that in the same year that Tesla’s stock price dropped by about two-thirds, destroying more than $700 billion in market value, the global market for electric vehicles — which for so long the company seemed almost to embody — actually boomed.

Boom may not even adequately communicate what happened. Around the world, E.V. sales were projected to have grown 60 percent in 2022, according to a BloombergNEF report prepared ahead of the 2022 U.N. climate conference COP27, bringing total sales over 10 million. There are now almost 30 million electric vehicles on the road in total, up from just 10 million at the end of 2020. E.V. market share has also tripled since 2020.

The pandemic years can feel a bit like a vacuum, but there are almost three times as many E.V.s on the world’s roads now as there were when Covid vaccines were first approved, and what looked not that long ago like a climate pipe dream is now undeniably underway: a genuine transition away from fossil-fueled transportation. This week, the Biden administration released a blueprint toward a net zero transportation sector by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal, especially for such a car-intoxicated culture as ours. But it’s also one that, thanks to trends elsewhere in the world, is beginning to seem more and more plausible, at least on the E.V. front.

In Norway, electric vehicles now represent four out of every five new cars sold; the figure was just one in five as recently as 2016. In Germany, more than 55 percent of new cars registered in December were electric or hybrid. In China, where more electric vehicles are sold than everywhere else in the world combined, the rise is perhaps even more dramatic: from 3.5 percent of the market at the beginning of 2020 to 20.3 percent at the beginning of 2022. And growing, of course: Nearly twice as many electric vehicles were sold last year in China as in the year before. The country also exported $3.2 billion worth of E.V.s last November alone, more than double the exports of the previous November. Its largest single manufacturer, BYD, has surpassed Tesla for global market share — so perhaps it should not be so surprising that Tesla’s stock is dimming while the global outlook is so sunny.”

David LIndsay: This is good news. Here is the most popular comment:

Richard Blaine Not NYC Jan. 11

We rode to work in electric cars for 25 years. . They weren’t expensive at all. They didn’t require batteries. We didn’t have to worry about parking or repairs. We had a professional chauffeur, too. . That’s the beauty of an electrified catenary, the miracle of steel wheels on steel rails, and the proper provision of public transit. . Electric automobiles are probably not the solution to Climate Change, although they may be part of it. . The bigger part of the solution is reliable, frequent, electrified public transit.

6 Replies506 Recommended

U.S. Carbon Emissions Grew in 2022, Even As Renewables Surpassed Coal – The New York Times

3 MIN READ

“America’s greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry increased 1.3 percent in 2022, continuing to rebound from an abrupt pandemic decline in 2020 but not quite reaching prepandemic levels, according to preliminary estimates published Tuesday by the Rhodium Group, a nonpartisan research firm.

Emissions ticked up even as renewable energy surpassed coal power nationwide for the first time in over six decades, with wind, solar and hydropower generating 22 percent of the country’s electricity compared with 20 percent from coal. Growth in natural gas power generation also compensated for coal’s decline.”

Thomas Friedman on Hal Harvey | The Green New Deal Rises Again – The New York Times

“. . . .   As I wrote in my 2007 column: “To spark a Green New Deal today requires getting two things right: government regulations and prices. Look at California. By setting steadily higher standards for the energy efficiency of buildings and appliances — and creating incentives for utilities to work with consumers to use less power — California has held its per-capita electricity use constant for 30 years, while the rest of the nation has seen per-capita electricity use increase by nearly 50 percent, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. That has saved California from building 24 giant power plants.”

To keep it simple, my goals would be what energy innovator Hal Harvey has dubbed “the four zeros.” 1. Zero-net energy buildings: buildings that can produce as much energy as they consume. 2. Zero-waste manufacturing: stimulating manufacturers to design and build products that use fewer raw materials and that are easily disassembled and recycled. 3. A zero-carbon grid: If we can combine renewable power generation at a utility scale with some consumers putting up their own solar panels and windmills that are integrated with the grid, and with large-scale storage batteries, we really could, one day, electrify everything carbon-free. 4. Zero-emissions transportation: a result of combining electric vehicles and electric public transportation with a zero-carbon grid.

That’s my Green New Deal circa 2019. It basically says: Forget the Space Race. We don’t need a man, or woman, on Mars. We need an Earth Race — a free-market competition to ensure that mankind can continue to thrive on Earth. A Green New Deal is the strategy for that. It can make America healthier, wealthier, more innovative, more energy secure, more respected — and weaken petro-dictators across the globe.”

EPA Tightens Rules on Pollution From Vans, Buses and Trucks – The New York Times

By Lisa FriedmanDec. 20, 2022, 9:45 a.m. ET4 MIN READWASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Tuesday strengthened limits on smog-forming pollution from buses, delivery vans, tractor-trailers and other trucks, the first time in more than 20 years that tailpipe standards have been tightened for heavy-duty vehicles.The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency is designed to cut nitrogen oxide from the vehicles by 48 percent by 2045. Nitrogen dioxide is a poisonous gas that has been linked to cardiovascular problems and respiratory ailments like asthma. The rule will require manufacturers to cut the pollutant from their vehicles starting with the model year 2027.

The Climate Impact of Your Neighborhood, Mapped – The New York Times

“Households in denser neighborhoods close to city centers tend to be responsible for fewer planet-warming greenhouse gases, on average, than households in the rest of the country. Residents in these areas typically drive less because jobs and stores are nearby and they can more easily walk, bike or take public transit. And they’re more likely to live in smaller homes or apartments that require less energy to heat and cool.

Moving further from city centers, average emissions per household typically increase as homes get bigger and residents tend to drive longer distances.

But density isn’t the only thing that matters. Wealth does, too.”

Caitlin Doughty | Human Composting Should Be an Option for New Yorkers – The New York Times

By Caitlin Doughty

Graphics by Taylor Maggiacomo

Caitlin Doughty is a mortician and the author of three books on death and the funeral industry. She founded the Order of the Good Death, a nonprofit that promotes end-of-life alternatives.

“Eight years ago, panting heavily in the humid summer air, I carried a pair of orange work buckets full of wood chips up a leafy hill in rural North Carolina. Although these were ordinary wood chips, the pilot study I’d come to observe was planning to put them to an extraordinary use: composting a dead human being into soil.

The deceased gentleman I saw that day, lying on the forest floor in dappled sunlight, had donated his body to science in order to be useful to society after death. Now that gift and the study, by the Forensic Osteology Research Station of Western Carolina University, have borne fruit. With human composting technology, our dead have the chance to become nutrient-rich soil that can be used to plant trees and regrow forests.

As of today, five states — Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Colorado and, most recently, California — have either legalized or set a date for legalizing human composting as a means of disposition after death. In New York, one such bill has passed the Assembly and Senate. It now awaits Gov. Kathy Hochul’s signature.”

David Lindsay: This gets me really excited about dying, just not till human composting is legal in Connecticut.