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Archive for the 'Environmental Studies' Category

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

Video: Michael Mann Discusses “The Madhouse Effect”

In the following video, Michael Mann discusses The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, which includes illustrations from Tom Toles, the editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post. Mann explains how Toles’s cartoons uses humor, irony, and satire to expose the hypocrisies of climate change deniers. While Mann criticizes the pseudoscience of those who deny climate change as well as the way they have politicized the issue, he also argues that with new agreements and awareness, we are beginning to turn a corner.

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

Michael Mann and Tom Toles Name 9 Prominent Climate Change Deniers

The Madhouse Effect

“Yet we have a Republican presidential nominee who has repeatedly called climate change a ‘hoax.’ ‘Perhaps there’s a minor effect,’ Donald Trump told The Washington Post’s editorial board, ‘but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.’ So it goes in the madhouse of the climate debate. Even as the evidence has become unmistakable, and even though the alarm has been sounded several times, public policy has been paralyzed—sometimes from ignorance, sometimes from uncertainty, but often from a campaign of deliberate misinformation.”—Michael Mann and Tom Toles

Michael Mann and Tom Toles’s The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy examines and seeks to refute those who manipulate scientific data and the media to deny the truth about climate change.

In a recent piece for The Washington Post, Mann and Toles name 9 prominent deniers “clouding the climate change debate.” In addition to naming the figures, Toles and Mann also provide a quote from each that encapsulates their view on climate change:

1. Donald Trump, politician and businessman: “Perhaps there’s a minor effect but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.”

2. S. Fred Singer, founder of think tank, the Science and Environmental Policy Project: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. On the contrary, it makes crops and forests grow faster.”

3. Steve Milloy, lawyer and commentator for Fox News: “We don’t agree . . . that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases are having either detectable or predictable effects on climate.”

4. Marc Morano, former communications director for James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.): “[Climate scientists] deserve to be publicly flogged.”

5. Joe Barton, Republican congressman from Texas and a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee: “The science is not settled, and the science is actually going the other way. . . . We may in fact be going into a cooling period.”

6. Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska: ““Climate science is to this century what eugenics was to the last century.”

7. Rupert Murdoch, founder and head of News Corporation: ““Climate change has been going on as long as the planet is here. There will always be a little bit of it. We can’t stop it.”

8. David and Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, ““Climate does fluctuate. It goes from hot to cold. We have ice ages.” — David Koch

9. Bjorn Lomborg, author and adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School: “On average, global warming is not going to harm the developing world.”

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “The Madhouse Effect,” by Michael Mann and Tom Toles

This week we are very excited to be featuring The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, by Michael E. Mann and Tom Toles.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Madhouse Effect to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, October 21 at 1:00 pm.

The book has already won praise from everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio to Naomi Oreskes. Bill McKibben writes:

Michael Mann is one of the planet’s great climate scientists, and Tom Toles may be the great climate communicator–together they are a Category 5 storm of information and indignation, wreaking humorous havoc on those who would deny the greatest challenge humans have ever faced.

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

Fighting Deforestation and Climate Change

Capital and the Common Good

“REDD was originally premised on the idea that forest conservation could attract significant financial resources by allowing verified reductions in emissions to generate credits that could be used for compliance in cap-and-trade programs in other countries. With the delayed development of these compliance markets in places like the United States, the REDD framework has evolved as a kind of innovative finance development assistance, relying primarily on public sources of funds.” — Georgia Levenson Keohane

This week, our featured book is Capital and the Common Good: How Innovative Finance Is Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problems, by Georgia Levenson Keohane. Today, we are happy to present part of an excerpt from Capital and the Common Good, originally posted at impactalpha, in which Keohane looks at the way that REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is attempting to combat deforestation in Brazil through innovative finance.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Capital and the Common Good.

Fighting Deforestation and Climate Change: REDD Financing Lessons from Brazil and Indonesia
By Georgia Levenson Keohane

REDD — Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation — is a pay-for-success program designed to create economic incentives to protect forests and the carbon they contain. First introduced into the UN climate talks in 2005, by scientists and environmental advocates from Brazil and the U.S. using the term “Compensated Reductions,” REDD has evolved to include a range of innovative financing approaches to reduce emissions related to deforestation.

The motivation behind REDD is as much long-term sustainable development as it is forests per se. Among the primary drivers of growth in countries like Brazil have been the development of commodities like palm oil, soy, and beef, often through deforestation—clearing trees to raise crops and cattle. REDD’s pay-for-success design is meant to motivate less carbon-intensive production. That means improving economic output while decreasing emissions. (more…)

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

The Sierra Club as Book Publisher — An Excerpt from The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, Robert Wyss

“Brower was now the darling of publishing, the upstart who had proven that the commercial publishers were wrong. He had created a new genre, an expensive, sprawling book that openly touted an environmental message.”—Robert Wyss, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

In the late 1950s David Brower wanted to produce a book of Ansel Adams photographs celebrating nature. It would be a big, slick, oversized book of very high quality. But commercial book publishers scoffed at the proposed book, saying it was too expensive and it would never sell. Brower convinced the Sierra Club to assume the risks and thus was born the first in a series of what were called Exhibit Format books. Brower edited or oversaw virtually all of the books, which were wildly successful and changed both the club, and publishing.

Today we excerpt from The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A life of David Brower, the story behind one of the early books published by Eliot Porter.

In 1950 Eliot Porter’s wife suggested that Porter do a book on Henry David Thoreau. “Your pictures remind me so much of him,” she told Porter. “They show his Walden as it is.” No one was more qualified than Porter, who ten years earlier had given up a career in medicine and research at Harvard to take photographs of nature.

What catapulted Porter’s reputation, bringing Brower and the Sierra Club books along for the ride, was the color Porter could achieve. His chemistry background enabled him in his own darkroom to experiment with Eastman Kodak Company’s new Kodachrome film at a time when other photographers shunned it. Porter spent years experimenting, but the result was clear, crisp color transparencies that dazzled. They pushed Porter to the forefront of photography as the popularity of color surged and that of black and white waned.

It took Porter ten years to finish the Thoreau book, and the expense of printing it scared publishers until it got to Brower. The beauty of the proposed book overwhelmed Brower, and he told Porter in a letter in February 1961 that he would be willing to begin a life of crime to pay for its publication. He knew he would need lots of cash to undertake the book and he finally convinced a local businessman, Kenneth Bechtel to provide $50,000 in loans and grants to subsidize the book. Bechtel was an interesting choice. His family owned an engineering and construction company based in San Francisco that was best known for building oil refineries, power plants, and facilities. In later years Brower would rail against such projects.

The next challenge was to find a printer capable of reproducing Porter’s superb color photographs. It took months before Barnes Press of New York passed muster on the samples it showed to Brower and Porter. Barnes needed to produce ten thousand copies of Porter’s seventy-two color prints and to get the four colors to balance and register on the presses. The firm used a sixteen-plate form, with four rows of four, each of a different photographic image. The yellows, reds, blues, and blacks had to be matched perfectly in trial runs, with paper spewing off the presses. These experimental runs took an inordinate amount of time and often forced another trial. Brower recalled one evening when he stayed to supervise, while Porter and the owner of the press, Hugh Barnes, went to dinner around seven. Barnes returned at nine. Brower stayed until eleven and returned to his hotel. Porter, who had slept after dinner, returned at one and stayed until dawn. This kind of pattern was not unusual at Barnes, and Brower’s journal for years in the 1960s was filled with entries of his returning to the printing company at odd hours of the day or night.

Finally, on a day in August 1962, Brower, Porter, Barnes, and others gathered around press number 3 and watched the first 2,500 sheets roar off the presses. The men examined them at a table, using lenses carefully.

They were excellent, recalled Brower, but they were not perfect.

Hugh Barnes agreed. “How about it, Dave, shall we throw out the first 2,500 sheets, and will you go fifty-fifty with me on the cost of the paper?”

How much would that cost? Barnes said $200 for each of them. For Brower, that was equal to the amount of dues the club got in a year from twenty-five members, but he agreed.

Barnes returned a few minutes later. “You did the right thing,” he said. “Now they (the Barnes workers) really know that this is a fussy job.”

Even though this book would be sold at an incredibly expensive $25 (the equivalent of nearly $200 fifty years later), the first five thousand books of In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World quickly sold out, as did the next nine reprints. Critics praised the book. “Only a bold photographer could try to capture Thoreau’s vision again and again. But Mr. Porter succeeds triumphantly,” declared the Christian Science Monitor.

In Wildness Is the Preservation of the World, Eliot Porter


Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Who Was David Brower — A Post by Robert Wyss

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, Robert Wyss

“What mattered [to David Brower] was the long term, not for what his contemporaries thought of him. ‘Environmentalists make terrible neighbors,’ he often said, ‘but great ancestors.’ And Brower was both.”—Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

The following post is by Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower:

John McPhee writing in the New Yorker in 1971 called him the Archdruid, a moniker he expanded upon when he wrote Encounters With An Archdruid.

Two documentary films were produced about Brower during his lifetime and the titles say a great deal about the duality of the man they were profiling. One was For Earth’s Sake and Brower liked it so much he borrowed it for one of the several memoir-type books he produced. The other was even more grandiose — Monumental.

Those productions along with a vast trove of newspaper and magazine stories including obituaries after Brower’s death in November, 2000 were what I had to go on when I began working on my biography, The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower.

It turned out that Brower was a far more complicated character than I ever imagined. In some respect, a researcher’s delight because of all of the trails he took me down. But in others, a writer’s challenge.

Here’s what I wrote in the book’s introduction:

Over the years, David Brower has been called many things—tireless, unyielding, passionate, visionary, bold, influential, uncompromising, handsome, charismatic, opinionated, and articulate. He became a circuit-riding prophet, the environmental movement’s conscience who defined conservation and environmentalism from the mid-1950s until his death in 2000. He was an angry trailblazer responsible more than any other for turning environmentalism from hiking and bird-watching into a social and political force.

Those same admirers also called Brower stubborn, contentious, controversial, irascible, impossible, polarizing, impolitic, impolite, and a notorious curmudgeon. He on occasion would willingly stretch facts into falsehoods, was so unwilling to tamp down his views that he destroyed lifelong friendships, and refused to take orders even from those in institutional positions above him. He was frustratingly independent.

And yet he did all of this for one selfless reason—to sustain the earth’s natural environment. He wanted to save as much of the planet as possible from humans. He wanted to preserve what remained of the natural world and safely pass it to future generations.

Two related stories illustrate the opposing sides of Brower, the idealist conservationist who awakened a new movement and the messianic hubris that prompted him to engage in willful insubordination.

In 1966 Brower was engaged in his greatest conservation battle of his days as executive director of the Sierra Club, and he was losing. The federal government wanted to build two dams in the Grand Canyon, and as outlandish as this plan was, few seemed alarmed.

Brower placed full-page advertisements in some of the nation’s largest newspapers. The most famous declared: “Should We Also Flood the Sistine Chapel So Tourists Can Get Nearer the Ceiling?”

The next day the U.S. Internal Revenue Service told the Sierra Club it was under investigation because the club was violating its’ tax exempt status by engaging in political activity. This was a blow—the Sierra Club depended on such donations for its financial survival.

Brower announced that the federal government was trying to censor the Sierra Club and the story literally exploded in the news. Why was the club losing its tax status? Because we’re trying to save the Grand Canyon, Brower said. Newspapers were irate, so was the public.

It was the tipping point. Dam builders were quickly on the defensive and they never recovered. Within months the dam project was dead.


Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

An Interview with Robert Wyss, author of “The Man Who Built the Sierra Club”

The Man Who Built the Sierra Club, Robert Wyss

“[David] Brower was a true bellwether, a man ahead of his time.”—Robert Wyss

The following is an interview with Robert Wyss, author of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower:

Question: What was the status of the environmental movement when David Brower began as the head of the Sierra Club in 1953?

Robert Wyss: Weak. It was called the conservation movement and there was a plethora of volunteer organizations from (women’s) garden clubs to professional science organizations to a very few broad based groups like Audubon. But only a handful employed even a single full-time employee. Brower was the first at the Sierra Club. Washington D.C. was also far smaller in those days so it was possible for either prominent volunteers of these organizations (or their paid directors) to meet and have personal relationships with people who headed the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. But they had very little clout in Congress. In contrast, a little known agency such as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for decades made massive changes in America’s landscape by erecting these massive dams. Dams created jobs and both voters and Congress appreciated those federal dam builders.

Q: How did Brower’s approach to environmental conservation differ from others?

RW: Brower was absolutely fearless. While his colleagues refused to directly challenge the Bureau of Reclamation, Brower took them on and soon he was also criticizing the Forest Service and even those who should have been his friends running the national parks. The incident that first began to build Brower’s national reputation occurred during the fight to oppose the construction of two dams in Dinosaur National Monument. Reclamation officials had made a very basic math mistake in their calculations to justify the dams but it dealt with an arcane issue few understood. Engineers told Brower that while the mistake was obvious, it would be foolhardy to confront Reclamation. No one would believe the dam builders made such a mistake. Brower ignored the advice, he publicly confronted the Bureau in a Congressional hearing, and ultimately Reclamation engineers backed down. Such reckless, plucky daring can be found throughout Brower’s career.

Q: How did he change the Sierra Club from the mission set by John Muir?

RW: John Muir founded the club in 1892 to encourage his friends in the greater San Francisco area to hike and camp in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Muir was a pretty radical conservationist for his era, but after he died in 1914 the club became politically conservative. It was a California-based hiking and social club that preferred to work through gentlemanly channels to protect natural resources. That was changing after World War II when a new, younger board of directors hired Brower. Brower expanded the club’s focus nationally and it became increasingly confrontational. Older members were immediately uncomfortable with this approach and as Brower (over the years) became more radical he began to lose the support that would contribute to his firing in 1969. But in many respects Brower was only following in the footsteps of Muir. They both strongly believed in protecting natural resources over anything else.


Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Man Who Built the Sierra Club

This week we are featuring The Man Who Built the Sierra Club: A Life of David Brower, by Robert Wyss.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Man Who Built the Sierra Club to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 8th at 1:00 pm.

In their review of the book Library Journal wrote, “A riveting…. extensively researched, balanced account…. This absorbing portrait of a flawed yet fascinating figure, beloved and scorned, who defined America’s national parks will engage all biography lovers.”

You can also read the Introduction:

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Developers Don’t Get It: Climate Change Means We Need to Retreat from the Coast

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“It is time for a profound new outlook—where we construct smaller, less expensive and perhaps mobile structures and do not replace buildings destroyed and damaged in storms. It is time we prepare to retreat from the rising sea.”—Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C Pilkey

Earlier this year in an incisive and impassioned op-ed published in The Guardian, Orrin H Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis and Keith C Pilkey, authors of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, pointed out the continued folly of developing in coastal areas. 13.1 million people along the U.S. east coast will be at risk of flooding at the end of the century. While such statistics suggest the need to retreat from coastal areas, development continues.

Particularly vulnerable is the Florida coast where multibillion-dollar construction projects are underway. The Pilkeys cite several cities heading down the wrong path, including Miami:

In Miami, a city perilously perched atop a very porous limestone, two multibillion-dollar construction projects are under way, despite the fact that parts of the city routinely flood during high tides and that widespread flooding by the rising sea in a few decades is a virtual certainty. No sea walls, levees or dikes can stop the rising waters from flowing through the underlying spongy limestone and into the city. Miami is ultimately doomed.

Ft. Myers is also adding new hotels and restaurants to its coast using seawalls in the hopes of protecting them from flooding. The authors provide some succinct and much-needed advice on why that’s a bad idea:

If you need to build a seawall to protect your construction project, you should not be building at that site. Remember – seawalls destroy beaches.


Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

Is New York City Prepared for Climate Change? — An Excerpt from Retreat from a Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“New York’s poststorm actions show at this point, the city is best situated to respond to the challenges it faces from climate change and sea-level rise (while also revealing that we are in only the earliest stages of the response).” — From Retreat from a Rising Sea

In the following excerpt from Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey examine the state to which New York City is ready to handle climate change. As they write (see above), New York City is perhaps the best-prepared of all U.S. cities for future threats to coastal areas. While the authors praise former Mayor Bloomberg for the City’s preparedness and response to Hurricane Sandy, there is still much work to be done in terms of planning and the recognition that the New York City might need to “retreat” from the coast.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Orrin Pilkey on the Costs of Ignoring the Rising Sea

Retreat from a Rising Sea

“We can prepare now and respond to the sea-level rise in a planned fashion, or we can act later in response to natural catastrophes (storms). Responding to the rising sea now will be painful, but ignoring the rising sea will produce catastrophic pain.” — Orrin Pilkey

Now that summer is officially here, many of us will undoubtedly be heading to the beach. However, as Orrin Pilkey points out in a recent op-ed in the Fayetteville Observer, many of our coastal areas are in serious danger. Ignoring these problems and continuing to develop these areas, Pilkey warns, will have serious and long-lasting consequences.

Pilkey is most recently the coauthor with Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey of Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, which examines a variety of coastal areas in danger. In his article for the Fayetteville Observer, “Why N.C. can’t ignore the rising sea,” he focuses on North Carolina’s failure to take any action at all:

In spite of these alarming suggestions, North Carolina has taken virtually no action or done any planning for response to the future sea-level rise. It’s fair to say, viewing the action of the Coastal Resources Commission and other environmental agencies, that the state’s coastal management program has crashed.

The science panel of the CRC was ordered to produce a report on the sea-level rise expected only for the next 30 years. Frank Gorham, CRC chairman, has written that the science panel itself chose that 30-year number, but that is incorrect. The 30-year time limit was a political decision forced upon the science panel to avoid comment on the post 30-year time frame when sea-level rise is expected to accelerate.

The short 30-year time span is out of sync with all other government entities concerned with sea-level rise in the U.S. and globally. By comparison, the UN’s climate change panel (IPCC) looks out 100 years, Holland plans out 200 years and has designed its storm gates for a 10,000-year storm (a bit of a stretch), and Germany looks out 500 years.

In the United States, North Carolina stands alone in doing basically nothing of consequence in sea-level rise planning and even discourages state employees from mentioning global climate change. New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia are planning, as well as taking baby steps, in an effort to start responding to sea-level rise. These states recognize the huge implications of the rising sea on developed shorelines.

Instead, the response of North Carolina has been to hold the shoreline in place at great cost and even encourage further development. The recent projected sea-level rise virtually dooms much of North Carolina’s beachfront development by this century’s end, especially the Outer Banks.

In even more danger from the rising sea is the northeastern corner of the state behind the Outer Banks. Here, the slope of the land is so gentle that a one-foot sea-level rise could push the water inland four miles or more.


Monday, June 20th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Retreat from a Rising Sea”

This week we are featuring Retreat from a Rising Sea: Hard Choices in an Age of Climate Change, by Orrin H. Pilkey, Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, and Keith C. Pilkey.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Retreat from a Rising Sea to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, June 24 at 1:00 pm.

In their review of the book Publishers Weekly wrote, “This accessible, impassioned argument considers the scientific, political, and socioeconomic dimensions of climate change and fervently presses for Americans to come to terms with the disastrous changes to the world’s oceans sooner rather than later.”

You can also read the chapter,”Control + Alt + Retreat”:

Friday, May 27th, 2016

Can Business Help Stop Global Warming and the Other Four Horsemen? — Daniel Callahan

The Five Horsmen, Daniel Callahan

“If my other four horsemen can learn anything from the success of the Paris agreement for global warming, it may be that success is possible with the following approach: work diplomatically to gain the cooperation of industry, regardless of how obstructionist it has been in the past; intensify efforts to find technological pathways that work while also lowering prices; develop citizens’ groups at the local level and broader grassroots social movements to break through the barrier that too often succeeds in raising interest and concern but fails to generate action and legislative attention; if there are real dangers and hazards, do not hesitate to evoke them (but do not exaggerate); and, most of all, don’t give up. The problems of the five horsemen are most likely chronic, to be lived with and combatted simultaneously. That can be done.”—Daniel Callahan, The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity

We conclude our week-long focus on Daniel Callahan’s book, The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity with a list of organizations and business-led initiatives that are working to solve the key problems affecting today’s world. As Callahan argues in the final chapter of his book after decades of causing many of these problems, businesses are now increasingly active in trying to combat them. Most of these companies and industry partnerships are focused on ending global warming but the organizations at the bottom are concerned the other issues Callahan discusses in his book. Here is Callahan’s list:

* GreenBiz Group: large-membership group with annual detailed re­ports on global industry and environment efforts
* Risky Business Project: a potent group of U.S. business leaders working to get business to prepare for global warming
* The New Climate Economy: an international group of economists aim­ing to achieve lasting economic growth while also attacking the risks of climate change
* UN Global Compact: UN-business partnerships with voluntary corpo­rate responsibility
* The International Business Leader’s Forum (UK): founded by the prince of Wales to focus on the role of business in society, embracing social responsibility as “core business”
* World Economic Forum: producing studies and reports and holding an annual meeting in Davos combining economic growth and risk of global warming
* The Climate Group and the CDP (formerly known as the Carbon Dis­closure Project): formed RE100 with the aim of getting 100 companies to pledge to switch to 100% renewables
* New York Declaration on Forests: thirty-four companies pledged to cut deforestation
* Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP): twenty-nine consumer businesses that have the goal of getting widespread U.S. bi­partisan energy and climate legislation; its 2013 Climate Declaration gained 800 companies and had 1,000 signatories by September 8, 2014, just before New York climate week and march
* World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD): a CEO-led organization of companies working to create a “sustainable” future for business
* United States Climate Action Partnership (USCAP): business and envi­ronmental organizations to get national legislation to require signifi­cant emission reductions
* The B-Team: not-for-profit organized “to catalyze a better way of do­ing business for the well-being of people and the planet”
* The Divest-Invest Campaign: led by the Wallace Global Fund to pledge divestment from fossil fuel stocks and move money into clean energy investments; announced gaining 800 global investors with combined assets of $50 billion by 2014, and aiming for $150 billion by 2015
* We Mean Business: a coalition of organizations working with the world’s influential businesses and investors to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy

Here are a few examples pertinent to the other four horsemen. There are not as many organizations doing for four of the horsemen what busi­ness is doing for global warming:

* Anheuser-Busch: SmartBarley benchmarking to improve crop yield through better water efficiency
* Sustainable Agriculture Guiding Principles: Coca-Cola, requiring its supply-chain members to practice these principles to maintain farm­lands and communities
* Coca-Cola: with Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Founda­tion, collecting water fees from companies operating in the develop­ing world to restore natural ecosystems
* Better Cotton Initiative: founded by partnership between World Wild­life Fund and IKEA to address water-gobbling cotton production
* WATERisLIFE: the Drinkable Book holding twenty filter pages, each capable of filtering up to 100 liters of water at a cost of about 10 cents per page
* Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: partnering 1,000 groups with 45 national governments to built a sustainable market for clean cooking solutions
* Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation: a CEO-led partnership to reduce obesity, comprising more than 250 active corporations and nonprofits

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Fat: To Be Or Not To Be? — Daniel Callahan

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, Daniel Callahan

“There is a public health change that needs to be made. If people by the hundreds of thousands are dying from obesity, that tips my judgment toward broadcasting it the way it is: obesity is dangerous, it can kill and cripple you. If saying that bluntly in order to deter those not yet obese offends the already obese, that is inadvertent and a price worth paying.”—Daniel Callahan

The following post is by Daniel Callahan, author of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity:

Obesity is everywhere. Many of us have obese friends or coworkers. If you, yourself are obese, there is a good chance you have tried to lose weight. It is no less likely that you have found it difficult and aggravating to do so, and exceedingly frustrating when the pounds come back again. You are not alone. Obesity is a world-wide scourge, and one that has grown steadily worse over decades. Of all my five horsemen, it seems to be the most intractable.

An international study reported in April, 2015, in the British medical journal, The Lancet—encompassing 19.2 million participants—came to a stark conclusion: no progress of any significant kind can be found in stemming obesity’s increase, now well into its 40th year. Global obesity has more than doubled since 1980. Some 38 percent of Americans were obese in 2013 and 2014, up from 35 percent in 2011 and 2012—and still rising. At least 2.8 million people already die each year from overweight or obesity, and the US is the most afflicted. While global warming has gained much more attention than obesity, the World Health Organization (WHO) projects an average of 250,000 deaths from obesity per year between 2030 and 2050.

How is it possible to get nowhere with a problem well recognized, amply studied, and right before our eyes? The first policy step years ago seemed the most obvious: education. If people understand how dangerous obesity is—as was happening with smoking—and how possible it is to make some dietary and exercise changes, they can lose weight. Weight loss programs and education campaigns blossomed, for both adults and children, in schools, community centers, and the media. Weight Watchers, now operating in 30 countries, emerged in 1963 as the leader of a business rush to a massive ever-growing market. On the medical side, it was early on believed that there must be a genetic explanation of obesity. An oft-cited figure is that 60% is a likely proportion of the cause, but that insight has not led to treatments. A few weight-reducing drugs are on the market, expensive bariatric surgery is increasing, but is not the solution with the number of the obese in the millions. One of the most disturbing findings is that once a person is obese, even if they can lose weight for a time, only 5-10 percent can keep it off.


Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

An Interview with Daniel Callahan, author of “The Five Horsemen of the Modern World”

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, Daniel Callahan

“At the heart of the progress problem is that we usually do not want to stop progress, and don’t know how to do so even when we need to try.”—Daniel Callahan

The following is an interview with Daniel Callahan, author of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity

Question: Why did you write this book?

Daniel Callahan: Most people write books because they have something to say: a careful analysis, a heated conviction, or a message to spread. Most scholarly savants usually spend years thinking through a topic and then put it all in a book. I don’t seem to fall easily into any of those categories. I wrote The Five Horsemen out of sheer curiosity, knowing something about some of my five horsemen but almost nothing about others; and not knowing where it would lead me. My curiosity was stimulated by what seemed to me a troubling similarity: a rare group of global problems, each seemingly different, that were all getting worse not better. How has that happened, and could it be that they do share some traits

Q: Do you offer solutions to the global threats posed by the five horsemen?

DC: My flat, candid answer to that question is: no! Initially, I naively thought, I could, being the kind of smart guy who thinks he can solve all human problems if simply given the chance to do so. It soon became obvious that I could not do that, but was consoled to notice that no one else could either. I should have seen at once that problems festering for forty or more years, that had consumed billions of dollars in research and policy efforts, that evoke deep ideological and political differences, and that display a wide range of disparate convictions in public opinion, do not lend themselves to easy solutions. If you don’t believe that, read the book. That is not to say there is an absence of ideas. It is that most have not worked, and those that have are not sufficient.

Q: Why are they so hard to solve?

DC: At the root of each of the horsemen is the modern value of progress, but reaching back to the eighteenth century. At its core is the belief that through reason and science the human condition can be improved. There is no end of the possibilities. Global warming is the result of economic progress, bringing millions out of poverty and affluence to many more. It also pollutes our atmosphere. Food shortages are in great part due to population growth, a result of medical progress keeping people alive much longer. Waters shortages also result from population growth and great agricultural gains (70% of water consumption is for agriculture). Chronic illness is heavily due to aging populations, another fruit of medical progress. Obesity is a function of the availability of cheaper but less health foods. At the heart of the progress problem is that we usually do not want to stop progress, and don’t know how to do so even when we need to try.


Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, by Daniel Callahan

This week we are featuring The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity, by Daniel Callahan.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, May 27 at 1:00 pm.

Barron H. Lerner, author of The Good Doctor: A Father, A Son and the Evolution of Medical Ethics, writes:

“It is hard enough to write a wise book on a single major social problem, but Daniel Callahan has written a wise book about five of them, ultimately proposing important suggestions for moving forward. The Five Horsemen should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in climate change, food distribution, the water supply, chronic illness or obesity…. This book challenges us to look at the global and local ramifications of everything we know and do.”

You can also read the chapter,”Our Overheating, Fraying Planet”:

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

“One of the Things We Need to Rethink Weirdly Is Time.” — Timothy Morton

Dark Ecology, Timothy Morton

“One of the things we need to rethink weirdly is time. If future coexistence includes nonhumans—and Dark Ecology is showing why this must be the case—it might be best to see history as a nested series of catastrophes that are still playing out rather than as a sequence of events based on a conception of time as a succession of atomic instants.”—Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology

We continue our week-long feature on Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, by Timothy Morton, with an excerpt from the book’s “Second Thread”. In the excerpt below, Morton considers the necessity for rethinking our conceptions of time as we grapple with ecological concerns and the posthuman:

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Timothy Morton and Olafur Eliasson

The intellectual range of Timothy Morton, author of Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, is rare among today’s academic. In addition to his important theoretical and philosophical work, he has also collaborated with visual artists and musicians, including Bjork. In the following video, Morton talks with noted contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson.

Morton and Eliasson’s interests intersect in many ways, ranging from man’s evolving relationship to nature to the role of art in such a society. In the following talk, Morton and Eliasson discuss these issues and more:

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Dark Ecology,” by Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology

This week our featured book is Dark Ecology
For a Logic of Future Coexistence
, by Timothy Morton.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Dark Ecology to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 15th at 1:00 pm.

Imre Szeman writes, “Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology is a brave, brilliant interrogation of the presumptions that have driven our approach to the ecological and environmental challenges of our era.”

For more on the book, here is the chapter “The First Thread”:

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

VIDEO: Jeffrey T. Kiehl on What Earth’s Past Tells Us About the Future of Climate Change

In the following video, Jeffrey T. Kiehl, author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future, discusses how we can learn about future climate from Earth’s deep past. He offers a warning about the current trajectory we are on in terms of climate change:

“If we don’t start seriously working toward a reduction of carbon emissions, we are putting our planet on a trajectory that the human species has never experienced. We will have committed human civilization to living in a different world for multiple generations.”