Do you know about Peter Matthiessen?
Many people have, over the years, told me that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But no one ever told me that I shouldn’t judge a sunset (or sunrise) by its beauty. After all these years, a group of scientists finally pulled the curtain off of the golden lights of dawn and dusk.
This piece is part II of a multi–part exploration on ‘climate impasse’. Most nation states are not interested in solving the climate crisis. This state of collective global inaction is what I call climate impasse. … In part I, I had discussed mass consumption that you can read here. Let us now move forward, with Progress. … For the purpose of interpreting the climate impasse, however, I’d frame Progress, not as a myth, but as a paradox. Progress is as real as an apple, and it can also hold contradictions.
The two countries I know best are India and the US. I spent the first 22 years of my life in the former, and the following 24 in the latter, where I continue to live. Recently I returned home, after spending three months in India. The combination of what I saw there in plain view, and what I see here in America, may shed some light on—why we have arrived at the climate impasse.
The Arctic sea ice is the most famous visual indicator of climate change. This year the climate deniers took the lead to explain what’s going on with the Arctic sea ice. “And now it’s global COOLING! Record return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60% in a year,” by David Rose in the Mail on Sunday, and “Global warming? No, actually we’re cooling, claim scientists” by Hayley Dixon in The Telegraph—both published on September 8—led the parade. Quoting all these irresponsible disinformation, on September 10, Greg Gutfeld of Fox News put an end to global warming with these words: “Global warming? Yes, it’s finally dead.”
On July 25 the journal Nature published an article about the “Economic time bomb” that is slowly being detonated by Arctic warming. Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and Chris Hope and Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge suggest—based on economic modeling that the “release of methane from thawing permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea” would come with an “average global price tag of $60 trillion.” The news should have sent a shock wave through the media. But instead, predictably, the public were encouraged to celebrate—again and again, and again—the birth of the royal son.
Part I: UN IPCC Climate Assessment Report 2013. VIEW PART I ONLINE
Part I: The media has utterly failed its responsibility to inform the public of the link between climate change and worsening natural disasters. VIEW PART I ONLINE
In the last decade and a half Colorado (and its neighbor New Mexico) has gone through three major assaults—massive tree deaths, massive wildfires, and now massive floods—each in turn has been called “the worst natural disaster” the region has seen. Each in turn has also made the next one worse—millions of dead trees made the wildfires worse, and we are now learning that the wildfires are making the floods worse.
Weather Report did “deluge the populace with artwork” exhibited all across town in numerous venues and outdoors. I surmise that no one in Boulder had imagined then that the real “deluge” would arrive—so soon.
Two recent disasters: one in Uttarakhand, India and the other in Arizona, US show us—that not only ecological devastation but also human casualty—arise from climate change. In both cases, those who tried to save lives—lost their lives. On June 25 an Indian air force helicopter crashed on a steep hillside in Uttarakhand “while on a mission to rescue people stranded in monsoon floods,” the Times of India reported. Twenty people died in that crash. And last Sunday nineteen firefighters died in Arizona “as they were overcome … by the swift, erratic Yarnell Hill Fire,” the USA Today reported.
Before we get teary eyed with joy or scoff with derision, we should take a closer look at President Obama’s June 25 speech on climate change, and set it within the context of his five years in power. This is a position he himself argued for during his speech when he said that we need to “be more concerned with the judgment of posterity” than short–term political considerations.
ClimateStoryTellers founder Subhankar Banerjee edited the anthology, Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point (New York: Seven Stories Press; hardcover: 3 July 3, 2012; updated paperback: 22 October 2013).
BANERJEE CONVERSATION WITH AMY GOODMAN & JUAN GONZALEZ—WATCH ONLINE
Last week brought good news from the trenches of resistance to extractivist industries as two energy companies were forced to abandon major drilling projects. In the Peruvian Amazon, Talisman Energy officially abandoned oil-drilling plans in Achuar territory. The Canadian company was forced to leave Block 64 because the Achuar people vetoed drilling on their lands. Meanwhile, in the Arctic, Shell Oil announced that it was abandoning drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea.
When you go to the mountains, you go to the mountains. When it’s the desert, it’s the desert. When it’s the ocean, though, we generally say that we’re going “to the beach.” Land is our element, not the waters of our world, and that is an unmistakable advantage for any oil company that wants to drill in pristine waters.
PNM’s San Juan Generating Station. Photograph by Erika Blumenfeld
It’s time we secure a future without coal in New Mexico, across America, and around the world. It won’t be easy. Along the way, we will need a lot of help, creativity and inspiration.
News Update: In a July 28 front–page article “Enviros win voice in carbon battle,” in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan reports, “The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday (July 27) cleared the way for environmental groups to intervene in an ongoing legal battle over whether the state should regulate greenhouse–gas emissions.” You can read the full article here.
Often we focus on a single act—more heroic the act is, more attention we pay. We also focus on a single result—more it tends toward either end of a good–bad spectrum, more attention we pay. Along the way, we skip the journey that led to the act or realize that the result is only a small stop on a long journey. Such is the story of young climate justice activist Tim DeChristopher, who is without a doubt a lightning rod of his generation.
News Update: On July 26, 2011 Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in federal prison and removed immediately from court in chains. On April 21, 2013 he was released after serving nearly two years in federal prison. On Earth Day, April 22, 2013 he gave an interview to Democracy Now!. Tim’s story is told beautifully in the award–winning film Bidder 70, directed by Beth and George Gage.
India must unconditionally release Binayak Sen immediately and put an end to the great suffering that he and his wife have already endured since May 2007. Binayak Sen deserves a Nobel Peace Prize, not lifetime imprisonment as an enemy of India.
News Update: On April 15, 2011 the Supreme Court of India granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen and dropped charges of sedition against him.
Industrial globalised agriculture is heavily implicated in climate change. It contributes to the three major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2) from the use of fossil fuels, nitrogen oxide (N2O) from the use of chemical fertilizers and methane (CH4) from factory farming. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC), atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased from a pre–industrial concentration of about 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million in 2005. The global atmospheric concentration of CH4 has increased from pre–industrial concentration of 715 parts per billion to 1774 parts per billion in 2005. The global atmospheric concentration of N2O, largely due to use of chemical fertilizers in agriculture, increased from about 270 parts per billion to 319 parts per billion in 2005.
In 2008, a small Inupiat village in Alaska sued ExxonMobil and 23 other fossil fuel companies including Peabody Energy and BP for contributing to the destruction of their homeland, and charged a smaller subset with deliberately creating a false debate around climate change science. You might have heard of the lawsuit—Kivalina v. ExxonMobil et al.
Is this the time to tinker with trading carbons by taking away the forests from the indigenous inhabitants and then selling the credits to the polluters—or is it possible to develop a common global vision of moving away from fossil fuel altogether and working with forest dwellers on sustainable solutions? It is a moral question that we must answer. And that I’d call trust–and–partnership.
This week families across the country will be celebrating Thanksgiving—sharing food and telling stories. Here is my story about our food and culture that would be destroyed if Shell Oil gets the permit to drill for oil in our homeland—the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
PROTECT: CARIBOU AND SALMON, Gwich'in Human Aerial-Art, Fort Yukon, Alaska, 2010. Courtesy Gwich'in Steering Committee
Soon I’ll will tell you about five Godzilla–scale fossil–digging projects in North America that if approved will set us on a course to repeat our past with grave implications for the future of our planet. You may have already heard about some of these projects individually, but the urgency to stop them collectively is more than ever before.
For almost three decades I’ve been studying nudibranchs in the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. Nudibranchs are beautiful and brightly colored sea slugs that thrive on healthy coral reefs. While that has been exhilarating, it is the changes that I’ve seen on these reefs that make me sit upright in bed in the middle of the night. Climate change is seriously endangering these richest reservoirs of marine biodiversity. Here is my story of some of these alarming changes.
I recently urged young people to start a climate revolution in a post titled “Letter to Young Americans.” Here are some of the comments that were posted in the blogosphere1 | 2 in response to that post: “Your letter will be thrown into the marginalized bin and be lost forever. You’re asking for honesty and sincerity in the land of hypocrisy;” and “American college kids (and others their age) have other things on their minds –– like sports, drinking, i–pods, text–messaging, video games, TV, etc;” and “I’m a college freshman, and I, along with most other Americans, disagree with almost every tired idea you bring up in this article;” and “I’m not a ‘young American’, and, I don’t even go to college. But, I’ll go ahead and sink this stinky diatribe to the bottom of the briny depths.”
Imagine you live in New York City, and one fine morning you awake to the realization that 90 percent of all the buildings that were more than five stories tall have been destroyed. You will hardly have the words to talk about this devastation, but I’m sure you will walk around the rubble to make sense of it all.