This year began with huge bushfires in southeastern Australia that drove one community after another into temporary exile, killed an estimated billion animals, and turned Canberra’s air into the dirtiest on the planet. The temperatures across the continent broke records—one day, the average high was above 107 degrees, and the humidity so low that forests simply exploded into flames. The photos of the disaster were like something out of Hieronymus Bosch, with crowds gathered on beaches under blood-red skies, wading into the water as their only refuge from the flames licking nearby. But such scenes are only a chaotic reminder of what is now happening every hour of every day.
Grinnell: America’s Environmental Pioneer and His Restless Drive to Save the West
by John Taliaferro
Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America's Public Lands
by John Clayton
The right-wing effort to privatize or obliterate many of the institutions of our public life—from public education to public broadcasting to public libraries to public health care—includes, not surprisingly, an unrelenting attack on a particularly distinctive tradition: the vast complex of public lands that date back more than a century …
2020 Vision: Why You Should See the Fossil Fuel Peak Coming
a report by Kingsmill Bond
A New World: The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation
a report by the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation
Over the last decade, there has been a staggering fall in the price of solar and wind power, and of the lithium-ion batteries used to store energy. This has led to rapid expansion of these technologies, even though they are still used much less than fossil fuels: in 2017, for instance, sun and wind produced just 6 percent of the world’s electric supply, but they made up 45 percent of the growth in supply, and the cost of sun and wind power continues to fall by about 20 percent with each doubling of capacity. One analysis suggests that in the next few years, they will represent all the growth. We will then reach peak use of fossil fuels, not because we’re running out of them but because renewables will have become so cheap that anyone needing a new energy supply will likely turn to solar or wind power.
Even before the pandemic kicked in, the economic future had begun to sour for the petroleum majors. Solar and wind engineers have relentlessly cut the price of their technology, to the point where it was both cleaner and cheaper than digging stuff up and burning it. Facing this pressure, the fossil-fuel industry has been the laggard in the last decade of economic expansion, underperforming every other sector of our economy. Exxon, in that span, went from being, in the words of a recent Bloomberg Businessweek report, “once the undisputed king of Wall Street,” the most powerful corporation on the planet, to a “mediocre company,” worth less than Home Depot Inc.
As giant a consumer as the Pentagon is, its use of energy pales next to that of the civilian population of some three-hundred million Americans—let alone that of a couple of billion humans wealthy enough to consume lots of fossil fuel. Energy use is the result of a billion actions every minute of every day. But the military’s focus on energy use is uniquely important for other reasons. This ability could be harnessed more directly to help us build the new technologies and connect them in the systems necessary for a renewable energy age. The military-industrial complex may not be the single best place to conduct R&D, but given current political realities, it is likely to be one of the few places where it’s actually possible.
In 1980, I wrote my college newspaper endorsement of a man named Barry Commoner who was running for president. He was the candidate of the Citizens’ Party, a kind of precursor to the Greens, and since I was disgusted with both Carter and Reagan, and because he was an environmentalist well ahead of his time, I thought it made sense to back him. It made emotional sense at the time—though it’s hard for me to remember why I was so righteously indignant about poor Jimmy Carter—but it made no logical sense. Since this was a college paper, and since it was in reliably Democratic Massachusetts, it didn’t really matter—but my self-absorption did teach me a lesson I haven’t forgotten.
Over the last few years, we’ve spent considerable time in refugee enclaves across the nation. They are among the most admirable—and the most American—communities we’ve ever visited. Which is to say, President Trump’s ban on refugees is clearly racist and probably unconstitutional but it’s also just plain stupid, at least if the goal is to build a strong, safe, working nation.