Opinion | Can Deb Haaland Stay a Hero? – The New York Times

Claudia Lawrence is a freelance journalist.

Credit…Adria Malcolm for The New York Times

“Within minutes of the announcement that President-elect Joe Biden had nominated Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico as interior secretary, Native social media was celebrating. People in our community who have met Ms. Haaland began posting photos of her at Native events throughout Indian Country; one of my friends wrote, “Our auntie has done it!”

The jubilation is warranted, because Ms. Haaland, a citizen of Laguna Pueblo, one of the country’s 574 federally recognized tribes, would be the first Native American to head the Department of the Interior, indeed the first Native American to serve in the cabinet at all. But there is no question that if Ms. Haaland is confirmed, her seat at the table would be a very hot seat indeed.

Native representation is good, but the community will want her to deliver on expectations. And right now, expectations are stratospheric. In the Native community, many assume that Ms. Haaland will be our warrior, righting centuries of federal wrongs against our people and our tribes, especially those inflicted by the Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

But Ms. Haaland would need to calibrate a delicate balance between her populist identity as a champion of Native rights and tribal sovereignty and her new role defending the interests of the federal system. One of the first two Native women to be elected to Congress, Ms. Haaland is a remarkable trailblazer, but as anyone who has done it will affirm, breaking new trail, especially as one climbs upward, is riddled with potential mishap.

Ms. Haaland would not be the first Native American to serve in the upper echelons of a presidential administration. Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s running mate in 1928, was Native and even spoke fluent Kaw, which he learned at his grandmother’s knee. Curtis, though, is not admired as a role model, but instead derided as a reactionary assimilationist who promoted policies that significantly harmed Natives. The Curtis Act of 1898, which he introduced as a member of the House, broke up tribal lands, weakened tribal governments and abolished tribal courts.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
I would have been much more impressed by this essay, if it had arrived after Ms. Haaland had made it through the confirmation period, or at least, after the Democrats won the senate.
I agree with two conflicting comments. One, that this piece was thoughtful and deep. I especially liked hearing about the Indian Vice President who screwed his people. That was an ugly, new story for me. But I also agreed with the comment, that the whole piece was a bit insulting to Ms. Haaland. Has she ever showed signs of betraying her people, or their environment? The writer offers little detail about Haaland’spolitical resume and skills, so the she appears more opportunistic, than informed.
Bless Joe Biden for proposing to put an American Indian and an environmentalist into his cabinet, to head the Dept of the Interior.

Opinion | Watching Earth Burn – By Michael Benson – The New York Times

Mr. Benson, an author and artist, has special interests in planetary imagery and climate change.

“I have a pastime, one that used to give me considerable pleasure, but lately it has morphed into a source of anxiety, even horror: earth-watching.

Let me explain.

The earth from space is an incomparably lovely sight. I mean the whole planet, pole to pole, waxing and waning and rotating in that time-generating way it has, and not the views from the International Space Station, which is in a low orbit about 200 miles up and gives us only part of the whole.

My earth-watching, made possible by NOAA and Colorado State University websites, originates in three geostationary weather satellites parked in exceedingly high orbits above the Equator. Despite their seemingly static positions, GOES-16 and 17, two American satellites, and Himawari-8, a Japanese one, are actually whizzing through space at 6,876 miles per hour. They do so to remain suspended imperturbably over the Ecuadorean-Colombian border, the Eastern Pacific and the Western Pacific respectively. At 22,236 miles above sea level, they are in effect falling around earth at the exact pace it turns.

ImageWaning gibbous Earth taken by the GOES-16 satellite on Sept. 11 this year. Smoke from fires in the Amazon and Pantanal of Brazil dominates South America. A vast vector of smoke expands across North America and the Pacific from West Coast wildfires.
Credit…Michael Benson/CIRA/NOAA”

Arctic’s Shift to a Warmer Climate Is ‘Well Underway, Scientists Warn – By Henry Fountain – The New York Times

“The Arctic continued its unwavering shift toward a new climate in 2020, as the effects of near-record warming surged across the region, shrinking ice and snow cover and fueling extreme wildfires, scientists said Tuesday in an annual assessment of the region.

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska and one of the editors of the assessment, said it “describes an Arctic region that continues along a path that is warmer, less frozen and biologically changed in ways that were scarcely imaginable even a generation ago.”

“Nearly everything in the Arctic, from ice and snow to human activity, is changing so quickly that there is no reason to think that in 30 years much of anything will be as it is today,” he said.

While the whole planet is warming because of emissions of heat-trapping gases through burning of fossil fuels and other human activity, the Arctic is heating up more than twice as quickly as other regions. That warming has cascading effects elsewhere, raising sea levels, influencing ocean circulation and, scientists increasingly suggest, playing a role in extreme weather.”

Opinion | Our Oceans, Our Future – By Fabien Cousteau – The New York Times

Mr. Cousteau is an ocean explorer.

Credit…Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

This is an article from Turning Points, a special section that explores what critical moments from this year might mean for the year ahead.

Turning Point: The spread of Covid-19 in 2020 led to dramatic reductions in global carbon dioxide emissions, with one study finding that emissions fell by roughly 1.5 billion metric tons during the first half of the year compared to the same period in 2019 — the largest half-year decline in recorded history.

” “No ocean, no life.” Being a Cousteau, this message was practically written into my DNA. And it’s one I’ve tried to share with the world through my many years of work as an environmental advocate.

Unfortunately, given the dire state of our oceans today, it’s clear that the message hasn’t gotten through to most people.

As we reflect on 2020 — one of the most socially and scientifically difficult years in recent memory — and look for ways to move forward, it’s crucial that we understand this simple fact: Without a healthy ocean we will not have a healthy future.

Many of us have experienced the magic and beauty of the ocean. Yet its vital connection to our daily lives — the ways in which it supplies the oxygen we breathe and nourishes the crops we eat — remains far less understood.

I’ve had the challenge — and the privilege — of spending 31 continuous days living in an underwater habitat, which has given me a unique perspective on the intrinsic value of the ocean as our primary life support system. The truth, to paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke, is that our planet would more appropriately be called Ocean, not Earth. Without our water, Earth would be just one of billions of lifeless rocks floating in the inky-black void of space.

How can we change our perspective on the ocean as it relates to our planet? We can start by heeding the lessons of 2020. While the coronavirus has caused great suffering and tragedy, it has also shed light on some of the invisible structures that underpin our daily lives, from racial injustice to the extreme disparities in wealth that burden our communities. While these realities have always been plain to some, it took the seismic shifts created by the pandemic for many of us to wake up to them.

The pandemic has also served to remind us of the beauty of nature. As Covid-19 spread across the globe in the spring, prompting nation upon nation to impose strict lockdown measures, the natural world briefly reasserted itself: Cloudy Venetian canals grew clearer. The smog dissipated over the Hollywood Hills. Cars vanished from the roads, leading to a significant, though temporary, drop in carbon dioxide emissions. These developments were encouraging, suggesting that dramatic change was possible, and that there was hope for a greener future after all.

Yet, as the pandemic has continued, it has also caused the use of disposable plastics to skyrocket. Grocery bags and latex gloves fill our trash bins. Discarded face masks flow down the drains of our city streets and into our waterways, potentially harming sea life. Whether we realize it or not, discarded plastics are choking the life out of our ecosystem.”

Excellent, sad, and disturbing. Thank you, Excellent comments also.  Here is one I especially liked:

David Roy,  Fort Collins, Colorado   4h ago

The conceit of humanity is two-fold: We have created a global system of commerce and economics that we believe we have to depend on for our survival, and we enforce that global system of commerce with the institutions of politics, grounded in law. At our essence, humans are neither economic or political beings. Like every species we share this planet with, we are biological beings first. Our wealth is accumulated from what we take from the earth. The extraction of that bounty is the bio-diversity of life. We are destroying what humanity itself needs just to simply survive. The politics that are in play, the rules and the laws governing commerce, puts wealth ahead of bio-diversity in the courts of law across the planet. Simply saying that humans are more valuable than the values of the state puts individuals in harms way, and in jail. As soon as humanity adjusts to reality, and accepts that we are no more and no less than all of the other forms of life we share this planet with, than we will begin to find and create solutions to the problems that are vexing us. Climate change will obliterate our civilization, and we take only intellectual baby steps at doing our best to mitigate it. Over-population devours what is left of once was our bounty, too many mouths feeding at too little of a degraded planet. This condition makes the unthinkable more real, the use of nuclear weapons to protect a nation(s) from the scarcity we are all inflicting on our planet. Live simply.

Reply10 Recommended

In Madagascar, Endangered Lemurs Find a Private Refuge – By Erik Vance – The New York Times

By 

SAMBAVA, Madagascar — Madagascar has always been one of the best places on Earth to study the natural world. Seventy percent of its species are found nowhere else — the largest concentration of endemic wildlife anywhere. In the last 10 years alone, scientists have discovered 40 new mammals, 69 amphibians, 61 reptiles, 42 invertebrates and 385 plants in the country. Its parks are ecotourism destinations and points of national pride.

With the world’s largest concentration of endangered species, Madagascar is also a leading place to study extinction. Last year the country lost the greatest percentage of primary forest, making it one of the most deforested places on Earth. Since 2012 the International Union for Conservation of Nature has named lemurs, which are found only in Madagascar, as the world’s most endangered group of animals, with 95 percent either threatened or endangered.

Poaching, farming, charcoal cultivation and illegal logging have placed enormous pressure on the country’s wildlife. The next looming danger is climate change; in Madagascar and across the world, warming temperatures threaten to push wildlife out of the conservation areas created to protect it. The land that was set aside yesterday might not be right for tomorrow, requiring scientists to think outside traditional park borders.

“Parks and large tracts of land are the core of how we save stuff,” said Timothy Male, the executive director of a Washington, D.C., think tank called the Environmental Policy Innovation Center. But, he added, small, local parks “tend to be where a lot of dynamism happens.”

Opinion | I Am Watching My Planet, My Home, Die – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — I was writing a love letter to autumn and its perfect miracle of timing — the way berries ripen just as songbirds migrate through berry-filled forests — when the songbirds suddenly began to die. With no warning at all, thousands and thousands of birds, possibly millions of birds, were simply falling out of the sky.

It’s not yet clear why the birds were dying — smoke from the wildfires on the West Coast? an unseasonable cold snap? the prolonged drought? — but whatever its immediate reason, the die-off was almost certainly related to climate change or some other human-wrought hazard. Every possible explanation for the birds’ deaths leads back to our own choices.

We think of songbirds as indicator species — so sensitive to environmental disruptions that they serve as an early warning of trouble. But the fact that the environment has become increasingly inhospitable to songbirds — and to human beings — is only one measure of a planet under life-threatening stress.

The earth is getting measurably hotter, each year breaking records set the year before, while Arctic sea ice continues to thinWildfires are growing hotter, more frequent, more widespread and more deadly. Northeastern forests are sick. Our oceans are full of plastic. The world’s largest wetland is on fire, and the Amazon rainforest is on its way to becoming a savanna. The pandemic that has paralyzed global life is itself the manifestation of a disordered relationship between human beings and the natural world.

None of this is new. We’ve seen it all happening, worsening with every passing year, for decades now. Any chance of reversing climate change is long since gone, and the climate will inevitably continue to warm. The question now is only how much it will warm, how terrible we will let it become.

There are days when I lose all hope, when it feels as if the only thing left to do is to sit quietly and bear witness to all that will soon be gone: the rain forests and the tidal estuaries, the redwood forests and the Arctic sea ice, the grasslands and the coral reefs. Every wild place and every living thing that wild places harbor, all gone. I held my father’s hand as he died, and I held my mother’s hand as she died, and now it feels as though I am watching my planet die, too.

But that isn’t how I feel most days. On most days I am still fighting as hard as I can possibly fight, living as lightly on the earth as I can manage. The only other option is surrender.

But personal responsibility isn’t going to save the planet by itself. Saving the earth at this late date will also require us to reform the entire global economy. It will require government regulation. It will require industry innovation. It will require companies to invest in the very planet they have been profiting from.

None of that can happen in a country governed by “leaders” in thrall to the fossil fuel industry. Instead of getting serious about climate change, Republicans have run headfirst into the fire, repealing or weakening nearly 100 existing environmental protections. Those changes alone, if left to stand, will add 1.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2035.

We cannot let them stand, and I’m heartened by signs that we won’t. Money from philanthropic organizations is finally flowing into planet-saving research. As the costs of failing to address climate change have become increasingly clear, people on both sides of the political aisle are beginning to wake up: Today, 72 percent of Americans recognize that climate change is happening, a marked departure from the position of the climate-denier in the White House. Fewer than 10 percent share his view that climate science is a hoax.

Despite the Democratic Party’s forward-thinking position on conservation and Joe Biden’s own $2 trillion plan to address climate change, Mr. Biden is not an environmentalist’s dream candidate: There is just no responsible way forward that includes fracking, which Mr. Biden would not move to end. Nevertheless, he represents our only hope at the moment, and preserving hope is our only chance to inspire change.

Every single issue that matters to me — education, social justice, women’s rights, affordable health care, criminal justice reform, gun control, immigration policy etc. — won’t mean a single thing if the planet becomes uninhabitable. The same is true for my brothers and sisters across the political aisle: If they care about the right to life, as they say they do, if they care about the economy, about freedom, about national security, as they say they do, then they have no choice in this election but to vote for candidates who are committed to halting the rate at which the planet is heating up.

For now and for the foreseeable future, there is only one issue, and in this election there is only one choice. Because there is only one planet we can call home.”  -30-

A Desperate Bid for Survival as Fire Closed In on an Oregon Mountain Town – The New York Times

“SALEM, Ore. — They were trapped. As walls of fire and smoke encircled their town and blocked the roads, the last people in Detroit, Ore., trickled onto a boat launch beside a half-drained reservoir — residents and vacationers, barefoot children in pajamas, exhausted firefighters. There were two people on bikes. One man rode up on a powerboat.

Seven miles to the west, one path to safety out of the mountains along Highway 22 was blocked by flaming trees and boulders as the largest of 30 wildfires consuming Oregon raced through the canyons. Thirteen miles to the east, the other way out of town was covered with the wreckage of another seething blaze.

So as a black dawn broke one morning last week, the 80 people trapped in the lakeside vacation town on the evergreen slopes of the Cascades huddled together in a blizzard of ash, waiting for a rescue by air.”

Opinion | Human Weakness Is Responsible for This Poisonous Air – By Farhad Manjoo – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

“Among the few remaining advantages that Americans can claim over other countries is the relative cleanliness of our air. Air pollution is a leading risk factor for early death; it is linked to an estimated four million premature fatalities around the world annually. But over the last 50 years, since Congress passed environmental legislation in 1970, air quality in the United States has steadily improved. Today, America’s air is significantly cleaner than in much of the rest of the world, including in many of our wealthy, industrialized peers.

Well, not literally today, considering I needed an N95 mask to walk to the mailbox this morning. Over the last few years, for weeks and sometimes months in late summer and fall, my home state, California, and other parts of the American West erupt in hellish blaze, and plumes of smoke turn the heavens visibly toxic.

In some of the country’s most populous cities in the last few weeks, the concentration of dangerous particulates in the air shot up to levels worse than the averages in the most polluted cities in China, India and Pakistan. Ash generated by some of the largest wildfires in California’s and Oregon’s history fell across the region like snow. The sky burned Martian orange — a hue so alien that smartphones struggled to faithfully photograph it.

I have been searching for some glint of optimism during an otherwise bleak time. While choking through a walk this past weekend (I had to leave the house), I came up with this: Maybe such disasters will finally force us to recognize the steep costs of incompetent, neglectful, uncaring government.”

It’s Not Just California. These Places Are Also on Fire. – By Veronica Penney – The New York Times

By 

“Wildfires are devastating the American West, but the United States isn’t the only place on Earth that’s burning. This year, other countries have also experienced their worst wildfires in decades, if not all of recorded history.

In each case, the contributing factors are different, but an underlying theme runs through the story: Hotter, drier seasons, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, have made the world more prone to erupt in flames.

“We don’t have a fire problem; we have many fire problems,” said Stephen J. Pyne, an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies wildfires and their history. “One, obviously, is a deep one. It has to do with fossil fuels and climate.” “

The Arctic Is Shifting to a New Climate Because of Global Warming – By Henry Fountain – The New York Times

 

“The effects of global warming in the Arctic are so severe that the region is shifting to a different climate, one characterized less by ice and snow and more by open water and rain, scientists said Monday.

Already, they said, sea ice in the Arctic has declined so much that even an extremely cold year would not result in as much ice as was typical decades ago. Two other characteristics of the region’s climate, seasonal air temperatures and the number of days of rain instead of snow, are shifting in the same way, the researchers said.

The Arctic is among the parts of the world most influenced by climate change, with sharply rising temperatures, thawing permafrost and other effects in addition to shrinking sea ice. The study, by Lara Landrum and Marika M. Holland of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is an effort to put what is occurring in the region in context.

“Everybody knows the Arctic is changing,” said Dr. Landrum, a climate scientist and the lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. “We really wanted to quantify if is this a new climate.”

In other words, she said, “has the Arctic changed so much and so fast that the new climate cannot be predicted from the recent past?”

Using years of observational data from the region and computer models, the researchers found that sea ice is already in a new climate, in effect: The extent of ice in recent years is consistently less than what would be expected in even the worst year for ice in the mid-20th century.

Arctic sea ice has declined by about 12 percent per decade since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s, and the 13 lowest sea-ice years have all occurred since 2007. This year is expected to be a record or near-record low for ice extent, which will be determined by the end of this month as the summer melt period ends.”