Posted on Categories Air, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

How we can build a hardier world after the coronavirus


The coronavirus pandemic has revealed one particularly shocking thing about our societies and economies: they have been operating on a very thin margin. The edifice seems so shiny and substantial, a world of silver jets stitching together cities of towering skyscrapers, a globe of soaring markets and smartphone connectivity. But a couple of months into this disease and it’s all tottering, the jets grounded and the cities silent and the markets reeling. One industry after another is heading for bankruptcy, and no one knows if they will come back. In other words, however shiny it may have seemed, it wasn’t very sturdy. Some people—the President, for instance—think that we can just put it all back like it was before, with a “big bang,” once the “invisible enemy” is gone. But any prosperity built on what was evidently a shaky foundation is going to seem Potemkinish going forward; we don’t want always to feel as if we’re just weeks away from some kind of chaos.

So if we’re thinking about building civilization back in a hardier and more resilient form, we’ll have to learn what a more stable footing might look like. I think that we can take an important lesson from the doctors dealing with the coronavirus, and that’s related to comorbidity, or underlying conditions. It turns out, not surprisingly, that if you’ve got diabetes or hypertension, or have a suppressed immune system, you’re far more likely to be felled by COVID-19.

Societies, too, come with underlying conditions, and the two that haunt our planet right now are inequality and ecological turmoil. They’ve both spiked in the past few decades, with baleful results that normally stay just below the surface, felt but not fully recognized. But as soon as something else goes wrong—a new microbe launches a pandemic, say—they become starkly evident. Inequality, in this instance, means that people have to keep working, even if they’re not well, because they lack health insurance and live day to day, paycheck to paycheck, and hence they can spread disease. Ecological instability, especially the ever-climbing mercury, means that even as governors try to cope with the pandemic they must worry, too, about the prospect of another spring with massive flooding across the Midwest, or how they’ll cope if wildfire season gets out of control. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service announced that, owing to the pandemic, it is suspending controlled burns, for instance, “one of the most effective tools for increasing California’s resiliency to fire.” God forbid that we get another big crisis or two while this one is still preoccupying us—but simple math means that it’s almost inevitable.

And, of course, all these things interact with one another: inequality means that some people must live near sources of air pollution that most of us wouldn’t tolerate, which in turn means that their lungs are weakened, which in turn means they can’t fight off the coronavirus. (It also means that some of the same people can lack access to good food, and are more likely to be diabetic.) And, if there’s a massive wildfire, smoke fills the air for weeks, weakening everybody’s lungs, but especially those at the bottom of the ladder. When there’s a hurricane and people need to flee, the stress and the trauma can compromise immune systems. Simply living at the sharp end of an unequal and racist society can do the same thing. And so on, in an unyielding spiral of increasing danger.

Since we must rebuild our economies, we need to try to engineer out as much ecological havoc and inequality as we can—as much danger as we can. That won’t be easy, but there are clear and obvious steps that would help—there are ways to structure the increased use of renewable energy that will confront inequality at the same time. Much will be written about such plans in the months to come, but at the level of deepest principle here’s what’s key, I think: from a society that has prized growth above all and been willing to play fast and loose with justice and ecology, we need to start emphasizing sturdiness, hardiness, resiliency. (And a big part of that is fairness.) The resulting world won’t be quite as shiny, but, somehow, shininess seems less important now.

Read more for interview with Bill McKibben:

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags

A just and sustainable economic response to coronavirus, explained

David Roberts, VOX

In the short term, recovery; in the long term, resilience and renewal.

As the government considers stimulus going forward from this pause, it should see an opportunity to stimulate the growth of a cleaner, greener, more just economy. Workers should return to find jobs opened up in cleaner industries, with paid medical and family leave, better union protections, and a seat on corporate boards.

The coronavirus has all but ground the US economy to a halt. The list of states and cities that have closed nonessential businesses and urged citizens to stay home is growing by the day. Essential workers remain in place, and some people are able to work from home, but millions of jobs — at bars, hotels, restaurants, gyms, theaters, salons, shops — are simply evaporating.

Late last week, Goldman Sachs predicted that jobless claims in the US will spike to 2 million in the second quarter, which it calls “the largest increase in initial jobless claims and the highest level on record.” The Economic Policy Institute projects that 14 million jobs will be lost by the summer.

All those people with shaky or vanished jobs still have families to feed, mortgages coming due, utility bills, student debt payments, credit card payments, car payments, prescription and medical bills, and children or older relatives to care for. Already, millions of people are uncertain where they will live or how they will pay bills in the months ahead.

The result is a huge, rapid, ongoing loss of purchasing power in the US economy. The same Goldman Sachs report projected a 6 percent drop in US GDP in Q1 and a 24 percent drop in Q2, which is utterly unprecedented in a major modern economy outside of wartime.

The US appears to be heading into the mother of all demand recessions. On top of that, widespread social distancing has just begun. Some estimates say at best it could last three months; at worst — if distancing proves difficult to maintain, if the Trump administration botches the ramp-up of testing and tracing, if a vaccine takes longer than expected — it could last, on and off, for well over a year, stifling any recovery.

Even Republicans seem to have been terrified into action. Two short-term relief packages, with measures like limited paid sick leave and family leave for some classes of workers, have been passed through Congress. Another, reported to total $2 trillion, has just reached tentative bipartisan agreement. But no one believes that will be the end of the help the economy needs. Democrats are predicting at least two more stimulus bills; there will be much more to do.

For the past few days, I’ve been talking to economists and wonks, reading various proposals, trying to wrap my head around what a good economic response to the virus would look like. But there’s a slightly surreal atmosphere to the discussion, because the crucial period for stimulus will be the next six months or so, and for the next six months, the country will be run by Donald Trump and his administration.


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I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why. 

David Roberts, VOX
Since you asked (many times)
I did an event with environmental journalist (and personal hero) Elizabeth Kolbert late last week, in which we discussed various matters related to journalism and climate change. Subsequently, one of the attendees wrote and asked why I hadn’t talked about population. Isn’t overpopulation the real root of our environmental ills?
Anyone who’s ever given a talk on an environmental subject knows that the population question is a near-inevitability (second only to the nuclear question). I used to get asked about it constantly when I wrote for Grist — less now, but still fairly regularly.

I thought I would explain, once and for all, why I hardly ever talk about population, and why I’m unlikely to in the future.

Math confirms that population is indeed a factor in environmental impact
Human impact on the natural environment is summed up in a simple formula:
Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

All are rising. (Bill Gates has a slightly more complicated formula related to carbon dioxide, but P is a variable in his too.)

Read more at: I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why. – Vox

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , ,

Is inequality bad for the environment?

Danny Dorling, THE GUARDIAN
That equality matters in terms of health and happiness has been clear for some years. But it is also better for the environment. The evidence (which is still emerging) suggests the most unequal affluent countries contribute more to climate change via pollution than their more equal counterparts.
They may suffer more, too. A new report predicts the United States will actually see its levels of economic inequality increase due to the uneven geographical effects of climate change – resulting in “the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history”, according the study’s lead author.
In a 2016 report, Oxfam found that the greatest polluters of all were the most affluent 10% of US households: each emitted, on average, 50 tonnes of CO2 per household member per year. Canada’s top 10% were the next most polluting, followed by the British, Russian and South African elites.
In more equitable affluent countries such as South Korea, Japan, France, Italy and Germany, the rich don’t just pollute less; the average pollution is lower too, because the bottom half of these populations pollute less than the bottom half in the US, Canada or Britain, despite being better off.
In short, people in more equal rich countries consume less, produce less waste and emit less carbon, on average. Indeed, almost everything associated with the environment improves when economic equality is greater.
Read more at: Is inequality bad for the environment? | Inequality | The Guardian

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Study: Climate change will perpetuate U.S. inequality

Unmitigated climate change will make much of the United States poorer and generally exacerbate rising wealth inequalities, according to a new study.
For every one degree Celsius rise in global temperatures, the study projects that the country will lose about 1.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. The economic impact of climate change will not be uniform, say the researchers in this week’s Science magazine, with a few regions possibly experiencing gains.
“Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” said lead author Solomon Hsiang, a professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley, as reported by Reuters.
“If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”
Read more at: Study: Climate change will perpetuate U.S. inequality