Dept. Of Dubious Documentaries: Planet Of The Humans

I haven’t watched this controversial Michael Moore-backed documentary. But if you are tempted to watch, read this first:

But the film, directed by Jeff Gibbs, a long-time Moore collaborator, is not the climate message we’ve all been waiting for — it’s a nihilistic take, riddled with errors about clean energy and climate activism. With very little evidence, it claims that renewables are disastrous and that environmental groups are corrupt.

What’s more, it has nothing to say about fossil fuel corporations, who have pushed climate denial and blocked progress on climate policy for decades. Given the film’s loose relationship to facts, I’m not even sure it should be classified as a documentary.

Great Whales Are More Valuable Than Trees…

Hard not to love great whales for their beauty and intelligence alone. But they are also among the greatest carbon recyclers on the planet:

A whale accumulates carbon through feeding and stores it in its body during its long lifetime. Some whales weigh up to 200 tonnes, with an average lifespan of 70 years. One species, the bowhead whale, is estimated to have a lifespan of 268 years.

When a whale dies, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean, where the carbon in its body is sequestered. The IMF estimates that each great whale sequesters 33 tonnes of CO2 on average, and that a tree absorbs only up to 22kg of CO2 a year. Tree-planting schemes are being seen as the cheapest and fastest method of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, but the evidence suggests conserving and boosting whale populations also has great carbon-capturing potential…[snip]

…Whales do more for carbon capture when they are alive, however, thanks to their jumbo-sized poo. These “faecal plumes” contain enormous amounts of nutrients – including phosphorus, iron and nitrogen – that are essential for the growth of microscopic organisms known as phytoplankton. When these plants photosynthesise, they consume carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. The IMF calculates that phytoplankton are responsible for capturing about 37 billion tonnes of CO2, the same as 1.7 trillion trees, or four Amazon forests’ worth. They also contribute as much as 50-85% of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. The famous National Geographic ocean explorer Sylvia Earle has estimated that they provide the oxygen for one in every five breaths we take.

Scientific research shows that whales have a “multiplier effect”, increasing phytoplankton production wherever they are found. As well as bringing nutrients from the ocean’s depths to the surface through their vertical movement, called the “whale pump”, whales also distribute them laterally on their vast migrations, a phenomenon named the “whale conveyor belt”.

Great whales are by far my favorite example of “Everything is connected.” Let’s let them be, so they can do what they do.

Yes, dockless electric scooters might annoy you…

…but they will also make your city better:

Almost overnight, countless American cities witnessed a mass demonstration of “the geometry problem” of urban transportation: Space in cities is limited, and different modes of getting around use that space with different efficiencies. Each car takes up about 50 square feet of space (more for trucks and SUVs) and requires 85 feet of stopping distance when traveling a measly 25 miles per hour. By contrast, scooters take up about the same amount of space as a jogger, and bikes typically take up no more than 10 square feet. That’s why a two-way, protected bike lane can transport about seven times more people than a car lane of equal size. And it’s why bike and scooter riders don’t really experience problems like gridlock or circling for parking.

American cities that for generations have sought without success to combat congestion with more car lanes are now being hit over the head with another solution: smaller vehicles. This is a lesson that cities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe absorbed long ago, as seen in the popularity of bikes, mopeds, and tiny cars. Micromobility, in concert with “macromobility” offered by mass transit vehicles like buses and trains, promises to use limited road space more efficiently than passenger cars—including electric or autonomous cars—ever could.

No transport revolution is without angst and anger. But get in board this one. It will help make your city less polluted, less congested, and more livable.

COVID Is Shutting Down The Meat Industry

Just as the virus shut down car culture and traffic, it is shutting down meat processing:

Tyson Foods, one of the U.S.’s biggest meat processors, didn’t mince words in a full page New York Times spread that ran Sunday, in which they warned, “the food supply chain is breaking.”

“As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain,” John Tyson, Chairman of the Board of Tyson Foods, wrote in a letter published as an advertisement. “As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

Tyson then goes deep Orwell by adding that millions of animals will be “depopulated.” Apart from the cruelty, apart from the fact that industrial meat production will be a source of future pandemics, apart from the fact that meat is a climate disaster, Americans will now get a chance to discover that that daily life without gobs and gobs of meat is…fine.

Bird BS

This is the sort of thing I find totally enraging (and dispiriting, if I am honest):

Known as ashy tailorbirds, they were destined for the Indonesian island of Java, where they were likely to spend their lives in a collector’s cage.

Millions of similar birds are stolen from the wild every year, and prized specimens can ultimately sell for thousands of dollars. These birds are not treasured for their plumage or meat, but for their songs.

An illicit trade that begins in the primeval forests takes many of the birds to Indonesia’s teeming capital, Jakarta, where they are entered into high-stakes singing competitions at which government officials frequently preside.

It is a perfect allegory for how dysfunctional humanity’s relationship with nature truly is, and could only happen in a culture where we value profit and entertainment above all else.

Elegy For An Icon…

giant sequoias are dying:

Because now giant sequoias are starting to die where they stand. And it’s been my job to document it. Last summer, our park botanist requested a photo log of declining sequoia health. So each week when I was out in the field, I took pictures of several groups of dying sequoias, snapping photos from the same GPS point each time. Then I carefully labeled each photo with the date and location and dropped it into a folder on the park’s internal network. These photos won’t do anything to save the trees. But it seems important, somehow, to provide our grandchildren with some kind of record of the time we realized we might be losing the largest trees on Earth.

 

Honeybees and Humanity

A moving and thoughtful meditation on how caring for other creatures can change who you are and how you see the world:

A friend of mine once told me that soon after he started beekeeping, he began noticing color differently — began picking out particular hues, as a bee might do. And as the summer wore on that year in Oxford, I realized that I, too, was seeing differently. Cycling to and from work, I spotted wild places I hadn’t before; I became aware of what creature life existed between and through the city’s walls. I was newly alert to changing weather patterns, shifting seasons — I noticed how these affected the colony in my hive; how vulnerable pollinators were to environmental change. I’d imagined the bees might offer an escape from the wider world; in fact they seemed to be leading me into a new relationship with it.

When we connect with nature we plug ourselves into the universe.

Weekend #Earthism Reads…

The Sound Of Icebergs Melting: My Journey Into The Antarctic

It was the opposite of what we imagined. Rather than water dripping down through air, we were listening to air escaping up through water. We were so close to the ice that this ancient fizz was surprisingly loud. Though we humans never hear it above the surface, this is the sound the Antarctic makes every summer. And as the planet heats, the sound is getting louder.

The Baller: Can attitude help save the planet? A frightened climate reporter meets an ex-basketball player with a serious game plan

Attempting some sort of equanimity about, basically, horror, I’d been vacillating along a “hope or despair” continuum. But recently I’d decided that both ends of that scale were bankrupt. Hope wasn’t precisely rational, and despair was too cruel to the living—anyone who genuinely cared about a place or a child had to come up with something, anything, more useful than “Good vibes only” or “We’re screwed.”

So I was quietly seeking a better approach as I wrote story after story on efforts to curb climate emissions. And while working on a cover story earlier that year about how the built environment (cities, roads, offices, homes, infrastructure) was an enormous part of the problem, I’d called up Mazria, who was recognized as a thought leader on the topic.

One hour on the phone with him had jolted me.

After I hung up, I told a colleague, “I just spoke with a man who has a strategic plan to beat climate change. Not ‘fight the good fight,’ but win.”

The Ecological Vision That Will Save Us: To avoid the next pandemic, we need a reckoning with our place in nature

With faith, you can ask how life will be on the other side. Will you be changed personally? Will we be changed collectively? The knowledge we’re gaining now is making us different people. Pain demands relief, demands we don’t repeat what produced it. Will the pain of this pandemic point a new way forward? It hasn’t before, as every war attests. This time may be no different. But the pandemic has slipped a piece of knowledge into the body public that may not be easy to repress. It’s an insight scientists and poets have voiced for centuries. We’re not apart from nature, we are nature. The environment is not outside us, it is us. We either act in concert with the environment that gives us life, or the environment takes life away.

Read. Enjoy. Think.

 

Multo Bene: Milan is ready to shift…

…from cars to walking and biking:

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

I hope this idea is contagious.