By Jude Casimir | By now, you’ve probably heard of Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish activist who’s credited with bringing much-needed attention to the climate crisis and reinvigorating youth environmental activism. You’ve most likely heard about how she passionately and bravely took the stage in September in the midst of the worldwide climate strikes to address the highly esteemed attendees of the United Nations Climate Action Summit.
By Wen Stephenson | Speaking honestly about the climate catastrophe is hard. One reason for this at times excruciating difficulty is that it requires us to acknowledge and to live with what we know—as well as what we don’t know. As one who writes and speaks about climate and politics, perhaps I’m not supposed to admit this, but the fact is, most days I don’t know what to say—much less do—as I stare into our climate and political abyss. Frankly, I wonder if any of us really do. The situation is unprecedented. It’s overwhelming. All bets are off.
A Q&A with Andrew S. Lewis | I am a person—an American—who believes in climate change. (I hate that we even have to say “believe,” as if it were a religion and not a simple fact of science that’s been proven for decades.) More difficult was the fact that I was writing about people from my hometown, people who knew people in my family, people who members of my family have to see on a regular basis. It’s a small place. But structuring the book in an investigative way, which allowed me to lean on the core tenants of journalism, offered me the opportunity to extract myself from large sections of the narrative and to simply listen objectively.
A Q&A with Andrew S. Lewis | I grew up on the Bayshore, and my family was deeply connected to the water and wetlands that surrounded us. We fished the bay, went crabbing in the creeks. I understood that we lived within a beautiful, ecologically diverse natural space. I always wanted to be a writer, and one of my favorite books as a kid was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. One of the main reasons that it was my favorite book was because the Mississippi River landscape Twain evokes reminded me a lot of the Bayshore. Later, in my teens, my grandfather would tell me stories about the Prohibition years, when bootleggers paid off his father to use his Bayshore land to transport booze smuggled in from the bay. For years, I toyed around with fictional stories about the Bayshore during Prohibition, just believing there was a story there.
By Fred Pearce | The exclusion zone that has stretched for twenty miles around Chernobyl’s stricken nuclear reactor since the 1986 accident is not quite the inaccessible dead zone often portrayed. Thousands of Ukrainians commute there every day to work on making safe and dismantling the plant and managing the zone itself. Yes, I needed an official permit to pass through the guarded gates on the road north from Kiev and a radiation scan before I could leave. But the scientists I was with had no trouble arranging my entry—and thankfully I was allowed to go home afterward.
Lyn Mikel Brown | Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg made her way to New York City a few weeks ago via an emission-free racing yacht. She’s here to tell us, as she’s been doing since she was eleven, that “our house is on fire.” The climate crisis is urgent. We dismiss it at our own peril.
By Jacy Reese | When I met Oliver Zahn in 2015, he was director of the Center for Cosmological Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Zahn was a fellow member of the local effective altruism community, a social movement and philosophy based on trying to maximize one’s positive impact on the world. In July 2016 I helped the German-born scientist and his family pack up some of their possessions as they prepared to move out of their California home. By this time, Zahn had transitioned to apply his expertise to a mission-driven startup, working as chief data scientist at Impossible Foods, one of the most famous animal-free food companies today.
By Fred Pearce | America’s iconic nuclear landscape is the Nevada National Security Site, a fenced-off and largely deserted tract of sand, cactus, and Joshua trees that is bigger than Rhode Island. Once, when America was testing its atomic bombs here, it was the site of high jinks and revelry. Everything new and exciting in America was labeled “atomic,” and Nevada was the place to experience the cutting edge of the new age.
By Jacy Reese | One roadblock that is probably slowing down mainstream acceptance of plant-based products, even artisan ones, is labeling. When the California Department of Public Health inspected Schinner’s production facility, the agent saw that the product was labeled only according to flavor, such as Aged English Fresh Farmhouse. It couldn’t be categorized as cheese, so the agent asked her for the actual name of the product. Schinner, on the spot, decided to call it a cultured nut product.
By Philip Warburg | For all their ideological differences, progressives and conservatives share an aversion to dealing with global population growth. Progressives commonly argue that privileged white people from the Global North shouldn’t meddle in the reproductive politics of poorer nations. To many in this camp, efforts to slow population growth conjure up past coercive efforts to limit fertility in places like India, with its forced sterilization programs dating back to the 1970s, and China, with its recently modified one-child policy.
By Adam Eichen | “You can love two children at once,” a colleague once told me. He meant that advocates for a single issue can integrate other reform efforts into their agenda without being subsumed—and are often more powerful for it. In my work promoting democracy reform I’ve repeated this message hundreds of times across the country, advocating for automatic and same-day voter registration, public financing of elections, and independent redistricting commissions—all measures that bulwark the power of the people against that of big money and unlock the possibility of progressive change.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker | For many years now I have been studying, writing, and thinking about what environmental justice means for Indigenous peoples. In my most recent book, As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice From Colonization to Standing Rock, I take on the topic in very broad but specific ways. I see United States settler colonialism as a history of environmental injustice; in other words, colonization and environmental injustice go hand in hand for Native people.
By Philip Warburg | Faced with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report, some environmental leaders are all too ready to toss a lifeline to aging, uneconomic nuclear power plants. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), long venerated as America’s most rigorous nuclear watchdog group, joined this chorus in early November.
A Q&A with Jacy Reese | First is the scale and ubiquity of suffering on factory farms. Over 100 billion animals are in the food system, and over 90% live on factory farms. That figure is over 99% in the US, based on USDA farm size data and the EPA’s definition of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. The animals on these farms are confined in dreadfully tight spaces; even on a cage-free egg farm, there is usually less than a square foot of space per bird. Chickens and turkeys grow so much meat so quickly that they often topple under their own weight and die from heart attacks or organ failure. Many have their beaks tips cut off without anesthetic.
By Jacy Reese | Few buzzwords are more important in food marketing than “natural.” It’s been applied to everything from Cheetos to Minute Maid with high fructose corn syrup. Yet despite its meaninglessness, fifty-nine percent of shoppers say they regularly check for the label. When it comes to meat, the situation is pretty crappy—in one experiment, 100 percent of ground beef samples tested positive for fecal bacteria. Virtually all meat today comes from animals who have been artificially bred for decades to grow in extremely unnatural ways. Chickens grow more than four times as large today as they did in the 1950s on the same diet.
The deadline is 2030. By then, if we don’t do everything in our power to curb the causes of global warming, it’ll be too late. The world’s leading climate scientists issued this warning in a report at the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Among the worst-case scenarios forecast in the report are inundated coastlines, intensifying droughts, extreme heat, and poverty. It’s harrowing to think about. Will the panic around the report incite us as a species to take a stand for our survival and climate justice for the future? Can we keep global warming at a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius? We reached out to our authors who specialize in environmental issues to find out.
By Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce | “We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
By Marcus Eriksen | On the table were familiar objects from Kamilo Beach, Hawaii: degraded toys, bottles and caps, glow sticks, small net ﬂ oats, and pieces of crates with Chinese characters on them, arranged in glass cases like museum artifacts. “Do you know this place?” Sophie asked.
In a world polluted by plastics that humankind just won’t quit, Starbucks plans on phasing out plastic straws in its 28,000 stores by 2020. Many applaud the company’s decision to do its part in reducing marine plastic pollution, even though the caffeine watering hole will be replacing the straws with sippy cup-like lids made from—you guessed it!—plastic. So how much of a dent will this make in the grand scheme of protecting our environment? We have less than two years to see the results. And what about those of the disability community who depend on straws? Did Starbucks think their decision through? We reached out to some of our authors to get a broader sense of the impact this will have on several fronts: environmental activism, consumer activism, and disability rights.
By Fred Pearce: Lanzarote, an island off the west coast of Africa, was a tranquil place in the eighteenth century, ruled by Spanish priests and visited occasionally by ships making the transatlantic crossing. Farming was rudimentary and the living poor. The island had less rain than much of the Sahara desert. Then came a series of massive volcanic eruptions that shook the island almost without a break from 1730 to 1735. A priest described how, at the height of the eruptions, “the earth suddenly opened… a gigantic mountain rose and sank back into its crater on the same day, covering the island with stones and ashes”.