Sunday, April 18, 2010

Jed Lipinski tells all here in interview with Bill McKibben on new book: EAARTH

"Eaarth": Earth is over

A climate pioneer declares our planet Earth -- with its rising humidity and
hot oceans -- dead
. Polar cities might be needed in year 2500 for survivors of climate chaos sure to come. Read news below and weep. And then start preparing, spiritually, for what's coming down the road, circa 500 years from now. But today? ENJOY! LIFE IS WONDER FULL!

Jed Lipinski tells all here (via Saloon)

According to Bill McKibben, the respected environmentalist and
author of the pioneering "End of Nature," the planet Earth, as we know
it, is already dead. Over a million square miles of the Arctic ice cap
have melted, the oceans have risen and warmed, and the tropics have
expanded 2 degrees north and south. Global warming has caused such
pervasive and irreversible changes, he argues, that we now live on a
new planet with a new set of environmental and climatic realities —
and, as such, it deserves a new name: Goodbye, Earth. Hello, "Eaarth."

McKibben’s hair-raising new book, "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough
New Planet,"
is a scrupulous and impassioned account of the severely
compromised globe on which we now live. He lays out the myriad ways in
which climate change has remade our world, but he also goes much
further, chronicling its current and future human toll. He explains
how droughts in Australia helped precipitate the 2008 food crisis and
put 40 million people at risk of hunger, and how the rapidly melting
glaciers of the Andes and Himalayas may soon threaten the water supply
of billions. Our only hope of survival, McKibben suggests, is a
reversion to small-scale, local ways of life
. "We simply can’t live on
the new earth as if it were the old earth," he writes. "We’ve
foreclosed that option."

I spoke with McKibben over the phone about the meaning of
"Eaarth," our grim future, and what oh so smart Tommy Friedman got wrong about
global warming.

What is "Eaarth"?

The meaning behind the title is that we really have created a new
planet. Not entirely new. It looks more or less like the one we were
born into; the same physical laws operate it. But it’s substantially
different. There’s 5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere than
there was 50 years ago, much less ice at the top of the Earth, et
cetera. Calling it "Eaarth," an admittedly weird word, is a way of
calling people’s attention to the fact that the changes that have
already happened are large enough that if you were visiting our planet
in a spaceship, this place would look really different from the
outside than it did just decades ago.

What’s the biggest observable difference?

The most visible change is what’s happening to ice around the world.
But probably the most important is what’s happening to liquid water.
Warm air holds a lot more water vapor than cold, so you get a lot more
evaporation in dry areas, and hence more drought. Even easier to
measure, and more troubling, is the fact that what goes up must come
down, and what’s coming down are these intense precipitation events.

In the book, I describe the rainfalls in my small town in Vermont —
record floods that cut us off from the rest of the world. But that’s
happening around the world almost every day now. The 100-year storm
comes three times a decade in a lot of places. Stuff like that is
sobering, not only because it demonstrates how out of balance things
are, but also because the consequences of a world run amuck are not to
be taken lightly.

What consequences are we talking about?

India, for example, is constructing this massive wall to protect it
from Bangladesh. Not because it represents a military threat, but
because there’s 150 or 160 million people there who are increasingly
squeezed by a rising ocean. As best we can tell, the failure of the
monsoon across Africa is climatically related, and that’s clearly
played a big role in what’s been happening in the wars in Sudan and
Somalia. It’s not that there’s an out-and-out war about climate
change; it’s that all the stresses that already plague the planet get
harder and harder to deal with. If you’re already short of water, say,
now you’re shorter.

Forty-four percent of Americans still don’t believe global warming is
manmade. What’s the best way to convince them?

Most accounts terrifically underplay what’s actually going on already.
But in my life as an organizer, we’ve been very successful without
trying to scare people. Last fall, my organization organized
5,200 simultaneous demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN called
"the most widespread day of political action in the planet's history."

And people were organizing around a pretty obscure scientific data
point, a parts-per-million concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The
lesson we took is that people are capable of understanding the
science. It’s not harder than understanding that if your cholesterol
gets too high, you’re going to have a heart attack. If the doctor says
your cholesterol is too high, your first instinct isn’t to demand a
rundown of how the lipid system works. You say, "OK, what do we do?"

At Copenhagen, we managed to get 117 nations to sign on to the
350-parts-per-million target, which NASA believes to be the safe
percentage. They were the wrong 117 nations, of course. But in 18
months, with little money, we’ve had some real effects.

Then why was Copenhagen such a failure?

Simple: The countries that are most powerful and most addicted to
fossil fuel aren’t ready to come to terms with it. You can’t really
have an AA meeting while everyone’s still in denial. In each of the
last three years, Exxon Mobil made more than any company in the
history of money. That may give them enough political power to keep
the U.S. in denial for years to come.

Thomas Friedman and others recommend a technologically advanced “green
growth” project — big windmills throughout the Midwest, solar arrays
in the Arizona desert, hybrid cars — to kick our addiction to fossil
fuel. Won’t that work?

We eventually run into limits to further growth on the planet. All the
things Tom Friedman would like to do are good things. They just cost
an immense amount of money and an immense amount of resources. We can
do some of them. We’d be very smart to think less about grand,
continent-spanning schemes, and wise to think more about localized and
somewhat humble versions of these same things. Nuclear power plants,
for example, are off-the-charts expensive, because they’re highly
centralized and dangerous. They’re the engineering example of too big
to fail. By contrast, if the solar panel on my roof fails, I have to
fix it, but it doesn’t destroy the electric grid, or release dangerous
solar particles into the atmosphere.

Larry Summers, Obama’s chief economic advisor, said that "putting
limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error."
Is he wrong?

He’s wrong, but for an interesting reason. Economists, and many of us
to some extent, have come to believe that the economy is more real
than the physical world. Think about the incredible regard we have for
the economy. "It’s healing," we say. "It’s going through a rough
patch." We talk about it like it’s our aging mother. Whereas with the
Earth, we say, "Oh well, it’s going through its natural cycles, don’t
worry." Which is slightly crazy, because clearly the economy is a
subset of the natural world, not the other way around. We lavish
intense worry and affection and brainpower on the economy, but not so
much on the environment. Summers is the perfect exemplar of that
attitude: an incredibly smart guy whose context is so narrow it ends
up making him very dumb indeed.

So what’s the best way to proceed?

First we need to reach an agreement capping our carbon emissions, and
then help finance the developing world to skip the fossil fuel step
and develop in different ways. Places like South Africa and Bangladesh
haven’t yet gone through the development cycle that makes them rich,
and they’re being told, "That’s not on offer anymore." At the moment,
solar panels are more expensive than coal and will be for a while.
Still, we’re going to have to provide these countries with a better
alternative, and the resources to follow it, if we want to act in a
way that could be described as moral.

As for the nuts-and-bolts engineering, over the long run, I’d
recommend a combination of conservation; harnessing wind and sun, from
both distant and nearby sources; and lifestyle changes. There's no
good reason the Jersey Turnpike should be crowded with cars, not in a
dense area easily served by better transit. In the transition, we'll
be using a lot of natural gas to make electricity, would be my guess.

In the book you use Vermont, where you live, as an example of an
environmentally forward-thinking state.

Vermont hasn’t gotten everything right. Its energy system isn’t very
good. But it’s been ahead of the rest of the nation in experimenting
with local food, for example, which is the easiest commodity to get
back under control. Vermont is also important because of its political
history (it declared its independence from New York in 1777 and was
its own republic before becoming a state), and its ongoing campaigns
against federal subsidies for big agriculture. Its attitude of self-
determination is a reminder that small-scale activities — things like
town meetings, farmers’ markets, composting — can work quite well.

But lately, in the U.S. as a whole, local and regional action has
reached more than a level of experimentation. The number of farms
across the country is growing for the first time in a century and a
quarter, with 300,000 new farms this decade. The one business that
boomed in the last two years was seeds — Burpee Seeds was up 40
percent or something. There’s an awful lot of land in American suburbs
currently devoted to growing grass, often with lavish infusions of
fertilizer and chemicals. Turn some of that energy and resources
toward growing vegetables, and you’re getting somewhere.


dan said...

"many thanks for spreading the word." -- BM in email to this blog today.... said...

Looking out beyond Earth Day 40, perhaps we can reflect upon words from the speech that Norman Bourlaug delivered, coincidentally in 1970, on the occasion of winning the Nobel Prize.

Near the end of the very first year of Earth Day celebrations Dr. Bourlaug reported,

” Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.”

Plainly, he states that humanity has the means to decrease the rate of human reproduction but is choosing not to adequately employ this capability to sensibly limit human population numbers. He also notes that the rate of human population growth surpasses the rate of increase in food production IN SOME AREAS {my caps}.

Dr. Bourlaug is specifically not saying the growth of global human population numbers exceeds global production of food. According to recent research, population numbers of the human species could be a function of the global growth of the food supply for human consumption. This would mean that the global food supply is the independent variable and absolute global human population numbers is the dependent variable; that human population dynamics is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. More food equals more people; less food equals less people; and no food, no people.

Perhaps the human species is not being threatened in our time by a lack of food. To the contrary, humanity and life as we know it could be inadvertently put at risk by the determination to continue the dramatic overproduction of food, such as we have seen occur in the past 40 years. Recall Dr. Bourlaug’s prize winning accomplishment. It gave rise to the “Green Revolution” and to the extraordinary increases in the world’s supply of food. Please consider that the seemingly miraculous increases in humanity’s food supply occasioned by Dr. Bourlaug’s great work gave rise to an unintended and completely unanticipated effect: the recent skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers.

We have to examine what appear to be potentially disastrous effects of increasing, large-scale food production capabiliities (as opposed to sustainable farming practices) on the population numbers of the human species between now and 2050. If we keep doing the business-as-usual things we are doing now by maximally increasing the world’s food supply, and the human community keeps getting what we are getting now, then a colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort could be expected to occur in the future.

It may be neither necessary nor sustainable to continue increasing food production to feed a growing population. As an alternative, we could carefully review ways for limiting increases in the corporate production of food; for providing broad support of sustainable farming practices; for redistributing more equitably the present superabundant world supply of food among the members of the human community; and for following Dr. Bourlaug’s recommendation to “reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely.” said...

Thanks, Danny, for speaking out loudly and clearly to the family of humanity about what people somehow need to hear, see and understand: the reckless dissipation of Earth's limited resources, the relentless degradation of the planet's frangible environment, and the approaching destruction of the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the human species, when taken together, appear to be proceeding synergistically at a breakneck pace toward the precipitation of a catastrophic ecological wreckage of some sort unless, of course, the world's gigantic, ever expanding global economy continues to speed headlong toward the monolithic 'WALL' called "unsustainability" at which point the runaway economy crashes before Earth's ecology is collapsed.

Many scientists have remarked eloquently on the collapse of civilizations. The global challenge we appear to face today, one that singular and unimaginable, is that the collapse of human civilization in Century XXI is not simply the end of another human civilization. What is occurring now is likely not only the collapse of a human civilization but also the human-driven destruction of the natural resource base, the ecology, and biodiversity of Earth.

Concern for the future of life as we know it and for the Earth as a fit place for human habitation by the children leads me to point to the great value I attach to the open discussion of the global predicament looming before the human family. We simply must make good use of the best available science to adequately explain the population dynamics leading to the collapse of our civilization. Without such knowledge, I cannot see how necessary changes in the behavioral repertoire of humankind can be made.

Is there doubt in the mind of anyone in the Northward Ho! community that the future will ultimately be brighter for children everywhere if people choose now to consume and hoard less; to protect, preserve and share more; and to effectively check the unbridled increase of unsustainable large-scale production capabilities as well as to humanely regulate the propagation of the human species?