Tag: pollution

Tucker Carlson Is Right About Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Jack Parkos | United States

Tucker Carlson, the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News, recently did a segment on his show where he criticized Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal” plan.

On his show, he called her a “screechy moron” as she does not criticize the amount of Chinese pollution.

But nobody in our ruling class is. You don’t see Democratic activists camped outside the Chinese embassy in protest. They’re not demanding sanctions on China. That screechy moron Ocasio-Cortez isn’t telling China to give up coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power within ten years. No way. The left loves the Chinese government. It’s their model for governing. A few years ago, California governor Jerry Brown flew — yes, flew — all the way to the Chinese mainland to praise its fascist government for its environmental leadership.

He furthermore explains how the Green New Deal has nothing to do with the environment, but rather is to give control of the economy over to Democrats.

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Mitch McConnell Takes on the Green New Deal

Michael Ottavio | United States

Senate Majority Leader and brilliant tactician, Mitch McConnell, is currently gearing up to take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Green New Deal,” a proposed solution to climate change and a massive economic overhaul program, to the Senate floor for a vote.

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What’s In A Name?

Craig Axford | Canada

Sometimes an idea comes along that just takes off. The suggestion that our conquest of the planet is now so thorough that we’ve left the Holocene behind and entered an entirely new geologic period, the Anthropocene, is a case in point. That we might be such effective niche builders that we’ve earned our own geologic age leaves me wondering whether I should feel awe-struck or pretentious.

The Anthropocene was first popularized by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000. In 2016, an expert panel recommended to the International Geologic Congress (IGC) that they make the Anthropocene official. One proposed start date for this new age, though there are many others, is around 1950 with the advent of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. So far, the IGC hasn’t reached a decision.

That we’ve had a profound impact upon the planet is hardly in dispute. From the most ardent developer to the most radical environmentalist virtually everyone agrees the earth is a far different place than it was just a couple of hundred years ago. It’s the quality rather than the scale of humanity’s impact that is in dispute.

Regardless, it’s a virtual certainty that much of our impact will leave a significant mark in the geologic record. Even if we were to vanish tomorrow, an alien arriving a million years from now would likely have little difficulty uncovering evidence of our existence. Future visitors from a nearby star system using nothing more sophisticated than the same methods and instruments we employ today would quickly find the spike in the atmospheric CO² that we’re responsible for, followed shortly thereafter by the introduction of other more exotic chemicals previously unseen. Digging just a few meters into the earth they would uncover frequent signs of our love affair with plastic. Unusually high concentrations of tar and concrete would indicate the presence of our vast transportation systems while the skyscrapers we’ve filled with office furniture and electronics could keep alien archaeologists busy for centuries.

But in spite of all of that, I’m still ambivalent about naming a geologic period after ourselves. These periods are only truly evident in retrospect and, so far at least, they’ve always spanned thousands of years at a minimum. If a comet were to slam into us right after the IGC announced it had made the Anthropocene official, in hindsight, its very short 68 years or so would appear to any possible distant investigator more like the K/T boundary marking the line between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods approximately 65 million years ago than as an entire age unto itself.

I fear we are once again overestimating our importance. Even the catastrophic events that brought the reign of the dinosaurs to an end, as calamitous as they were, fill only a few brief pages of the volumes written into the rocks that make up our planet’s history. Who are we to think our time on Earth will amount to much more than that, even if we are leaving behind some hitherto unseen debris in our wake?

But all those arguments aside, ultimately the reasons for my lack of enthusiasm for declaring this the Anthropocene are more philosophical and psychological than they are geological. We keep finding new ways to separate ourselves from nature. If we aren’t declaring ourselves in charge of it then we’re concluding we’re bringing an end to it. Either way, we see ourselves as somehow transcending nature rather than being embedded in it. The further we imagine ourselves to be from some idyllic Garden of Eden like setting the more removed from the natural world we feel we are.

This view of nature as a pristine place that humans have not gotten around to either conquering or ruining is both wrong and self-destructive. It’s wrong because humans, as much as any other species on the planet, are a product of nature. We’re animals. That we’re animals with a remarkable capacity to shape the world isn’t a reason to think we can either just let it be or enslave it.

We were having a huge impact on nature long before the Industrial Revolution. After our distant Stone Age ancestors first arrived in Australia and North America, megafauna on both continents soon went extinct. Having no impact on the environment, whether it comes in the form urbanization or our socially constructed definitions of wilderness, simply isn’t an option for us and it never was.

If we’re going to declare this the geologic age of humans, it should be because we finally recognize that leaving a mark is what our species does rather than an act of self-flagellation because we’ve failed to leave no mark at all. Ultimately, it was always going to end up being a question of what kind of record we were going to leave behind.

Unlike our ancestors, we have biologists, climatologists and ecologists closely monitoring the environmental changes we are creating and issuing warnings as we approach tipping points. Animals or plants at risk, if they have any sort of charisma at all, now make it to our Twitter feed or the evening news in a matter of days when new dangers come to light. If our power to destroy the world has grown immensely, so has our power to acquire and share knowledge that will enable us to live more sustainably.

Ironically, the same technologies now bringing us regular bulletins on the state of our planet are products of the very advances that have enabled our population to explode, doubled our average life expectancy, and created many of the materials that will leave traces in the geologic record long after we’ve likely vanished from the face of the Earth. We and the environment we’ve become so good at using to our advantage are both victims of our success. It seems humanity, like evolution itself, is a bag of mixed blessings.

But naming an era after ourselves probably isn’t the best way to build the kind of awareness and political will our times call for. To those inclined to see the planet as humanity’s oyster, it will sound more like a declaration of victory than a call to change their ways. To those worried about our most harmful behaviors, it’s more likely to produce a sense of resignation than generate support for something like a Green New Deal. Environmentalists have become very good at describing why we’ve been cast out of the Garden yet again, declaring “the end of nature” and writing premature obituaries for the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, that kind of rhetoric is far more effective at generating anxiety and paralysis than it is positive results.

Nature is neither permanent nor “pristine” and it never was. It’s a process, not a condition or a thing. It runs according to laws that apply in cities as much as they do in areas uninhabited by humans. Raise the CO² level and the atmosphere naturally responds in predictable ways. Remove a keystone species from an ecosystem and the system will naturally react as it seeks a new dynamic equilibrium. A solar panel is as natural as a lump of coal, but the consequences of using these two sources of energy are very different.

Nature is always in flux. Neither absolute control nor removing ourselves from the picture are options that are open to us. Both approaches are based on faulty premises. Change is inevitable, but as a conscious species, we can intentionally and intelligently influence the changes taking place if we choose.

If we’re going to declare this the Anthropocene, then the geologic age of humanity needs to be about the potential for redemption rather than the “end of nature”. In her book, The Human Age, Diane Ackerman praises “Reconciliation Ecology”, a term “coined by Michael Rosenzweig in his book Win-Win Ecology”.

Ackerman writes, Reconciliation Ecology “suggests fence-mending and coexisting in harmony, not a wallop of blame.” It provides individuals, NGOs, and government at all levels a way forward that will protect biodiversity and clean the air. It offers us a way to change the narrative our mark in the geologic record tells from one of accelerating pollution and disruption into a story of a reversal toward sustainability and recovery. An Anthropocene that wrote into stone a tale of mistakes learned from and acts of redemption should be, to my way of thinking, the only one worth declaring.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com

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It is the Best of Times, it is the Worst of Times

“This illustration depicts NASA’s exoplanet hunter, the Kepler space telescope. The agency announced on Oct. 30, 2018, that Kepler has run out of fuel and is being retired within its current and safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 exoplanet discoveries.” Credits: NASA/Wendy Stenzel.

Craig Axford | United States

 We live in an age of discovery far beyond any other our species has experienced so far, yet we hardly seem to even notice. We live in an era of staggering loss, but we seem paralyzed by the immensity of the problem. Had Charles Dickens foreseen the early 21st century, he may very well have reconsidered his opening line in A Tale of Two Cities.

Over this past week, two news stories drove home the point that we’re living in an extraordinary time. The first broke on October 29th. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) announced the results of a report indicating that between 1970 and 2014, global wildlife populations had declined by a staggering 60%. Even if their estimates are off by half, a 30% decline over such a relatively brief period would still be alarming.

The second story, coming just one day after the first, was NASA’s announcement that its Kepler space telescope had run out of fuel and would no longer be continuing its stunningly successful search for exoplanets. NASA’s Kepler had discovered more than 2,600 planets orbiting other worlds during its lifetime, further dislocating humanity from its perceived place at the center of the universe. By revealing “that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars”, NASA’s Kepler seems to support those convinced that we are unlikely to be the only place in the universe where life has emerged.

The tension these two stories represent stirs something deep within me, and not just because they arrived within 24 hours of each other. Because of their coincidental relationship to my own personal arrival on this planet, they each, in their own way, reflect the seemingly conflicting currents of history that have become increasingly evident with age.

 I was born just one month before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the Moon. I also entered this world just a few months before the WWF’s baseline year of 1970. So the 60% decline in wildlife populations and the nearly 28,000% increase in the number of known planets discovered during my lifetime is jarring, to say the least.

 As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not fond of adopting either optimism or pessimism as default outlooks. Going through life either perpetually cheerful or gloomy seems like avoiding confronting the world on its own terms, even if an often unconscious one. Even terrible news for us is good news for somebody. If you and bunch of your coworkers get laid off, odds are the company’s shareholders are happy. Even a corpse can be a reason to celebrate if you’re a bacteria or a vulture.

 I’m also not too keen on the way we often describe ourselves as a species. We tend to point to our impact upon the planet as though it was an indication either of genius or stupidity, leaving little room for the vast landscape of complexity and nuance that lies between these two extreme assessments. It’s just trade-offs all the way down.

As the Kepler telescope and all the other probes we’ve sent into space demonstrate, we aren’t idiots. That said, as the WWF study reminds us, scaling up our civilization to this point has also too often been an ad hoc operation that fails to consider all the possible consequences of our actions or quickly correct for them once those costs have become clear.

The progress paradox refers to a curious phenomenon that social scientists have documented over and over again: that there is often an inverse relationship between objective improvements in human well-being and people’s reported overall happiness. While those living in extreme poverty will report significant gains in personal life satisfaction following increases in income and access to resources, these gains don’t continue to follow a linear trajectory as income continues to grow. Instead, people’s happiness growth curve begins to flatten once their basic needs are satisfied. For many living in the wealthiest nations on the planet, they have even take a U-turn.

In a recent article published in the October 2018 issue of Science, researchers Carol Graham, Kate Laffan, and Sergio Pinto cite both the United States and China as strong examples of the progress paradox. “The United States has one of the wealthiest economies in the world,” the authors state, “yet life expectancy is falling owing to deaths driven by suicides and drug and alcohol overdose. This particularly affects Caucasians with less than a college education.”

In China, which “is perhaps the most successful example of rapid growth and poverty reduction in modern history,” with GDP increasing “fourfold between 1990 and 2005” and life expectancy during the same period skyrocketing by more than 6 years, life satisfaction none-the-less dropped significantly as the nation’s middle class ballooned and overall health improved. Graham, Lafan, and Pinto report that there too “suicide increased, reaching one of the highest rates in the world.”

In China’s case, however, it wasn’t those lacking an education but those with one that was “the unhappiest cohorts” surveyed. While they “benefited from the growing economy,” they also had to endure “long working hours and a lack of sleep and leisure time.”

It’s difficult to appreciate all the new planets being unveiled by instruments like the Kepler space telescope when our lives here on Earth don’t even allow us to get enough sleep. Furthermore, all our city lights are blocking out the stars that our ancestors previously enjoyed: stars that we can no longer see without first traveling great distances deep into the heart of one of the few remaining desolate landscapes large enough for us to escape the nearly omnipresent urban glow.

This rapid scaling up of our civilization without regard to its toll on the individual psyche is also happening without much regard to its toll on nature as a whole. Our inability to find the time to spend even just a few hours each week outside smelling the roses, let alone spending a leisurely weekend in the woods now and then, is directly connected to our failure to find the political will to protect the environment upon which all life, including our own, depends.

In his book On Trails, the Canadian author Robert Moor writes “We can travel at the speed of sound and transmit information at the speed of light, but deep human connection still cannot move faster than the comparatively lichenous rate at which trust can grow.” As with individual connections to one another, so it is with connections to our wider world. Slowing down enough to observe and build a relationship with the earth can only happen at a “lichenous rate”.

We cannot continue to pull ourselves out toward the stars and toward an ecological crash simultaneously. Sooner or later the lights will need to be dimmed not only for survival’s sake but so that our children can again see what it is we are reaching for. Reaching into the heavens can sustain our spirits and bring us the wisdom we need to carry on, but only if we take the time to look at what we’re finding there. Ultimately, even our loftiest achievements are still grounded here on Planet Earth.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him at Medium.com

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“Planet-Lovers” Are Less Environmentally Conscious

By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

A University of Michigan study recently revealed that those who identify as extremely concerned about environmental matters such as climate change tend to be less environmentally conscious in their personal lives.

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