We environmentalists know the environment is the most important public issue of our time, in this age of climate disruption. But it fails to rise to the top of the issues list in opinion polls—it’s way below the economy, and below terrorism.
I’m therefore calling for environmentalists to declare that the environment is their number one issue in the 2016 elections. I’ll take the pledge—will you?
If enough of us will publicly pledge to vote primarily on the basis of the candidates’ environmental positions, we will have a voting bloc large enough to influence the election. We will be able to ask candidates to declare that they, too, support #EnvironmentFirst.
Today is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Pollution was front and center on the original Earth Day, and Rachel Carson was the prototype activist for this second phase of the U.S. environmental movement.
I’m very disappointed to have found no obvious reference to Earth Day in today’s Los Angeles Times. The LA-based events are paltry and insignificant, though I’m planning on attending the Sierra Club’s event in Griffith Park. Earth Day clearly has faded in significance.
The initial Earth Day celebration in New York in 1970 had a million participants. That is a huge number. We got 400,000 participants for the New York People’s Climate March in September 2014, the largest recent U.S. environmental event. This disparity is startling in light of the 57% population increase in this country since 1970.
Pollution still polls much more strongly than climate change. (See the Cheap and Clean book by Ansolabehere and Konisky.) Americans are still very concerned about drinking, eating and breathing poisons, direct threats to their personal health. They are much less concerned about climate disruption, feeling that its effects are to distant in time and space to have much effect on them personally.
The Cheap and Clean book has a suggestion U.S. climate activists: focus on the harms (mostly from pollution) from dirty energy (especially coal) rather than dirty energy’s climate-disruptive effects.
Earth Day should be a big deal, because the environment—especially climate change—is the most significant problem of our age.
John Muir’s birthday is today. This is the first of three days corresponding to the three phases of the environmental movement.
Muir is the arch-activist for this “conservation” phase. “Saving” Yosemite is the arch-typical action.
The three phases, with their arch-activists are:
- Conservation, John Muir (birthday April 21), starting around 1890
- Pollution, Rachel Carson (Earth Day April 22), starting around 1970
- Climate Change, Bill McKibben (April 23), starting around 2005
Rachel Carson and Bill McKibben were, like Elizabeth Kolbert, who just won a Pulitzer Prize for The Sixth Extinction, writers for the New Yorker whose activism expanded beyond writing.
A new study from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) shows that, for the first time, in 2013, more electrical new generation capacity came from renewables than from new fossil-fuel generation plants. And clean-energy investment rose in 2014, following a three-year slump caused by low natural-gas prices.
The Sierra Club has had tremendous success in shutting down existing coal-fired power plants and blocking new ones. The 2014 People’s Climate March showed that large segments of the U.S. population are fired up about dealing with climate disruption. But popular pressure and government action alone cannot solve the problem.
Investment in renewable power plants is the key to converting the electric-power sector in the U.S. to clean energy. Government can and should make such investment attractive, for example by eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies and regulating and increasing taxes on the fossil-fuel industry. It can require utilities to purchase more renewable energy via renewable portfolio standards. But there’s only so much the government can do to help increase investments in renewables.
Unfortunately, the BNEF study shows that investment in new renewable generating capacity, though it’s growing again, is not growing fast enough to allow renewables to replace fossil-fuel power generation quickly enough to avoid increasing average global temperature by more than 2 degrees Celsius.
This situation is new for us environmentalists. We’re accustomed to getting our way by pressuring the government. Don’t build dams in the Grand Canyon. Ban DDT. Preserve Yosemite as a national park. In this case, government can’t give us what we want because they aren’t the decision-makers. Investors are the decision-makers who can give us what we want.
What we need to do is use every means possible to increase the attractiveness of investing in clean energy, and to decrease the attractiveness of investing in building fossil-fuel (natural gas) power plants. We can steer our own investment dollars. We can buy green power when our utilities make it available. And we can pressure government to do what it can to make investment in renewables more attractive. Let’s just hope it’s enough.
Where will it end? First Monsanto developed sterile GMO seeds for crops such as corn and soybeans. The genetic modifications made them resistant to Roundup, a glyphosate weed killer, so weeds on fields planted with those seeds could be kept in check by spraying the fields with Roundup. The seeds were patented, and farmers were required by the seed licensing terms to buy new seeds every year from Monsanto.
Now, according to a Reuters article published today, weeds have developed resistance to Roundup, much as bacteria develop resistance to overused antibiotics. 84 million acres of U.S. farmland are infested with glyphosate-resistant weeds. So now comes Dow with its “Enlist Duo” herbicide and Enlist-Duo-resistant GMO seeds. This new combination will solve the problem of Roundup resistance, but only for a while. Weeds developed resistance to Roundup by natural selection — the few weeds with a mutation protecting them from Roundup survived applications of Roundup, flourished and spread. The same thing will happen with Enlist Duo, and then the big chemical companies will develop another GMO crop/insecticide pair.
This cycle will not end until farmers see that this approach is only a short-term fix. Organic farming and natural means of pest control will solve the problem in the long run.