By Bill McKibbenThoreau posed the two practical questions that must come dominate this age if we’re to make those changes: How much is enough? and How do I know what I want? For him, I repeat, those were not environmental questions; they were not even practical questions, exactly. If you could answer them you might improve your own life, but that was the extent of his concern. He could not guess about the greenhouse gas effect. Instead, he was the American avatar in a long line that stretches back at least to Buddha, the line that runs straight through Jesus and St. Francis and a hundred other cranks and gurus.
By J. A. MillsCall it superpower leadership, sibling rivalry, or rising to the occasion. Whatever the label, the presidents of China and the United States have joined forces to literally save the world. This is how the world achieved game-change on climate change: U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping spoke one-on-one about concerns over human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions speed-warming the planet. The U.S. acknowledged that it, too, has a problem with GHG emissions. Then the world’s number one and number two GHG emitters—China and the U.S. respectively—jointly pledged to limit their climate impacts and lead the world to do the same.
By Wen StephensonOn Wednesday morning in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood, an interfaith group of sixteen Boston-area religious leaders—Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu—sat down and held a prayer service in the middle of Grove Street, physically blocking construction of Spectra Energy’s fracked-gas West Roxbury Lateral pipeline, part of a major expansion of its Algonquin Incremental Market (AIM) pipeline system. All told, their civil disobedience brought the number of arrests for nonviolent direct action along the construction route to more than eighty since October (including my own on April 28).
By Stefan Bechtel“In March, 1886, I received a severe shock, as if by a blow on the head with a well-placed mallet. I awoke, dazed and stunned, to a sudden realization of the fact that the buffalo hide-hunters of the United States had practically finished their work.” The writer was William Temple Hornaday, then a thirty-two-year-old taxidermist at the U.S. National Museum (later the Smithsonian). He’d been asked by his boss to put together a mounted display of the museum’s collection of Bison americanus, only to discover that “the people’s official museum was absolutely destitute of good bison specimens of any kind.” These great shambling creatures, with their magnificent prehistoric silhouettes, in their unimaginable numbers, symbolized the wildness and grandeur of America better than any other animal, perhaps even the bald eagle.
By Stephen KendrickFounded in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of the Boston area’s most famous attractions. This urban wildlife habitat and nationally recognized hotspot for migratory birds continues to connect visitors with nature and serves as a model for sustainable landscape practices and conservation. Author and Unitarian minister Stephen Kendrick takes us on a tour of the cemetery in his latest book The Lively Place: Mount Auburn, America’s First Garden Cemetery, and Its Revolutionary and Literary Residents, which was released earlier this month. In honor of Earth Day and its theme this year of Trees for the Earth, we’re sharing this excerpt in which Kendrick writes about how he learned to appreciate the cemetery’s trees as social creatures putting together a complex environment.
By Marilyn SewellMy husband and I went on a long-planned trip to lovely Charleston, South Carolina, last October—as it turned out, just as the city’s most recent flood was subsiding. The local paper (The Post and Courier) reported one of highest tides on record, swamping cars, creeping into homes, and tangling traffic. Hundreds of people who live near the edge of the water in this tourist area couldn’t get to work. I chatted with the wait staff in restaurants as I sought out the shrimp po-boys, the collard greens, the fried chicken I love: Are you concerned about global warming? Typically, the answer was “No, flooding is a regular occurrence, we are used to it.”
A Q&A with Jay WexlerIn Mumbai, Hindus carry twenty-foot-tall plaster of Paris idols of the elephant god Ganesh into the sea and leave them on the ocean floor to symbolize the impermanence of life, further polluting the scarce water resources of western India. In Hong Kong and Singapore, Taoists burn paper money to appease “hungry ghosts,” filling the air with smoke and dangerous toxins. These are some of the instances of religious practice colliding with environmentalism that humorist and law professor Jay Wexler investigated for his new book that came out this month, When God Isn’t Green. Over two years, he made a round-the-world trip to understand the complexity of these problems and learn how society can best address them. We caught up with Wexler to ask him about his journey and how we can work toward ecofriendly rituals.
By Fred PearceThe World Health Organization has estimated that El Niño-related weather across the globe is putting sixty million people at increased risk of malnutrition. On track to being the strongest event since 1997-98, El Niño has caused droughts in countries such as India and South Africa that have staggered farming considerably. How will we manage to feed the world when the effects of climate change continue to encroach on our food sources? In this excerpt from The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth, environmental journalist Fred Pearce argues that small-scale farming, not agribusiness, is the better solution to combat the food crisis.
By Philip WarburgSince Beacon’s publication of Harness the Sun last Fall, I’ve spent a lot of time in university classrooms and on radio shows talking up solar power’s potential as a clean energy resource. These discussions have largely focused on the supply side of renewable energy, but there’s a broader and equally exciting story to tell about the rapid transformation of our built environment. It’s a story that is as much about what we can do to reduce our buildings’ energy demand as it is about what we can do to produce the power we need to comfortably use those buildings.
By Amy SeidlScientists have confirmed that sea levels are likely rising at a faster rate than at any point in twenty-eight centuries because of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. In the coming decades, American coastal cities will be at risk of continual tidal flooding. If emissions keep up, many coastal cities could be abandoned by the twenty-second century. What does this mean for human migration when land grows scarce? In this excerpt from Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming, ecologist Amy Seidl takes a look at the impacts of rising sea levels on human populations in the last century to project the future of our increasingly complicated migration patterns.
By Christine BylEva Saulitis was a writer of uncommon insight. She was a field biologist, a soulful mentor and teacher, a passionate advocate for the natural world and its creatures, and a remarkable friend to me and to many others. Eva was also a Beacon author, which is why I write of her here. She died at age fifty-two on January 16, 2016, in Homer, Alaska, of the metastatic breast cancer that she journeyed with so mindfully for two and a half years. Surrounded by her treasured family and held up by a community that spans continents, Eva piloted the end of her life like one of the small boats on which she spent years doing field work—nimbly, with curiosity and stamina amidst difficult conditions, an ear cocked toward the engine, alert to the beauty and the losses that pepper the world. In her passing she leaves a wake of influence that belies a life ended much too early.
By Lydia DenworthIn the tragedy of Flint, Michigan’s lead poisoning crisis, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is one of the heroes. Last September, Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at Flint’s Hurley Children’s Hospital, stood up at a press conference and presented research suggesting that the city’s water supply was poisoning its children. The number of kids with elevated blood lead levels—five micrograms per deciliter or more—had doubled, she said, and in some neighborhoods, it had tripled.
As the applause rang out in Paris, the French foreign minister and climate conference chair, Laurent Fabius, declared the deal he had just gavelled through was a “historical turning point.” From Al Gore in the front row to the back of the hall, everyone seemed to agree. Even normally cautious climate scientists were beaming.
Given that chimpanzees are humankind’s closest relatives, it only seems logical that they should merit our special respect. Yet these intelligent creatures—capable of making and using tools, having strong social and family bonds, and mirroring us in so many ways—seem to continuously suffer from our actions. Anthropocentrism has always been an enemy of chimpanzees, and sadly, because of it, chimpanzees have been deemed as “acceptable stand-ins” whenever we run into something we view as unethical to do to ourselves.
Tiger farming is a business venture, plain and simple. It is about wealth, not health. If China’s government lifts its 1993 ban—and there is intense industry pressure to do so—a handful of investors stand to become very rich from the tiger skeletons now steeping in vats of wine inside farm wineries.
Wen Stephenson was invited by the Reverend Kyle Childress, longtime pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas and one of the key voices in What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other, to speak to the congregation. The church's congregation plays a crucial role in the resistance to the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. They supported the Tar Sands Blockade and welcomed young blockaders into their homes.
Rampant wildfires across the West, venomous sea snakes on California beaches—sound familiar? Rarely does a day pass without a headline focused on climate-related news. Every time I read one of these stories, my mind goes to the people living amidst it: exhausted hotshot crews in Twisp, WA, barefoot beachcombers in Oxnard, CA. Though national in distribution, every story begins in its own neighborhood.
When the country’s largest consumer co-op retailer announces it will close its doors and website on one of the biggest shopping days of the year, it attracts attention. REI did just that when it announced last week that it’s closing all 143 stores on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, and won’t process any online purchases until the following day. Employees will get a paid day off and be encouraged to get outside—and no doubt many of them will.
It is mysterious and beautiful, literally a creature from a different world. Its body is ebony above and golden below, a serpent with aposematic paint. The edges of the opposing colors undulate down its side until the yellow becomes drips on the black, dorsally flattened tail. The exotic animal is a yellow bellied sea snake, Pelamis platura, which is normally found in warm, tropical waters. But due to a recent climatic vagary, the snake has found its way onto an Oxnard beach, miles up the coast from Los Angeles, hundreds of miles from the edge of its normal range. It is stunning, amazing, but how is the event chronicled?
My mother took me to my first protest when I was six, against the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire in 1976. She also took me for walks in the local woods and taught me about trees. So I had a good grounding both in caring about nature and citizen activism, which has stayed with me throughout my life. At this point in history, the number one issue is climate change. If we don't address that, everything else will be beside the point.