On the anniversary of Dr. James Hansen’s famous 1988 Congressional testimony about climate change, I ask, how did we lose the American public’s confidence on this subject? And do the generations of people who have grown up since then think differently about global warming? I spoke to the nation’s leading public opinion researchers in search of an answer. [Read more.]
I reviewed Kyle Harper’s book The Fate of Rome — on the intriguing and compelling case that Rome fell in large part because of climate change and major pandemics.
… If Americans want to compare our country’s faults to those of Rome, they might more closely scrutinize our biological and environmental vulnerabilities than our institutions alone. [Read more.]
This story took me to rural Minnesota, where two organizations — the Jefferson Center and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy — are leading conversations about the politically charged subject of climate change in conservative, rural communities.
For 47 years, Harvey Krage lived in a white farmhouse with red shutters on the side of a bluff about 11 miles from the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota. He and his family kept ducks in a pair of ponds and drank water from the springhouse in their backyard. For three decades, Krage commuted from the farm through a woodland of red cedar and black maple, past corn and bean fields, to the small city of Winona, where he retreaded massive, heavy construction tires for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. Then for another decade, he drove the company’s semitrailers, passing the long hours with talk radio, especially the diatribes of right-wing commentator Rush Limbaugh. That’s how he first heard about climate change, “about how crazy these scientists were.” [Read more.]
There are no silver bullets in this book, no obvious happy endings. But its message isn’t hopeless — rather a warning against folly. Miami was built on a dream, but we are not living in one. It’s pointless to pretend that we can rely on the brash optimism and hubris of the past to insulate us from the floods of the future. The water is rising, and things will get ugly, filthy, and dangerous if we ignore what’s coming. [Read more.]
In this month’s cover story for Seattle Met Magazine, my coauthor, Valerie Schloredt, and I tour key moments in our city’s history of protest and civic engagement over the past century.
(Here’s from 1968.)
Neither North Cascades National Park—signed into existence by Lyndon Johnson on October 2, 1968—nor the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, nor many of the other outdoor playgrounds Seattleites enjoy today would exist without the work of the feisty hikers and mountaineers who organized, in the 1950s and 1960s, to stop plans to log and mine much of the state’s vast wilderness areas.
In 1957, they founded the North Cascades Conservation Council. Its early members included people like Polly Dyer, a mild-tempered but indomitable woman who testified on behalf of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and the irascible Harvey Manning, who penned columns for their newsletter under the pseudonym the Irate Birdwatcher. “They were then the fightingest and scrappiest outfit around,” remembered conservationist Brock Evans in a history of the council. [Read more.]
A story about the decades-long quest to develop “perennial wheat.” Now one perennial grain, called Kernza, may be about to hit the big time.
On an August morning in Minneapolis, I sat at a wooden table inside the Birchwood Cafe, a bright, cheerful restaurant a few blocks from the Mississippi River waterfront, tasting an éclair as attentively as I could. The flavor I wanted to detect was partly obscured by more conspicuous ingredients: a high-pitched, jammy blueberry glaze painted across the top of the pastry, and the sweet song of a yellow corn custard. But beneath that, there was a subtle and earthy background note: the grain. [Read more.]
Over the course of a full year, I talked with scientists in national parks about what it means to steward nature as climate change exerts more and more influence.
… After all, even as tens of millions of tourists throng through their gates every year to get a glimpse of the “wild,” official policy has, for decades, directed scientists and managers to keep the parks they oversee as untainted as possible, looking as nature would if humans had never intervened. But how do you preserve the wilderness when nature itself is no longer behaving like it’s supposed to? How do you erase human influence when that influence is now everywhere, driving up temperatures, acidifying oceans, melting glaciers, and rapidly remaking the landscapes we’ve come to know as our national parks? [Read more.]
This story took me to Arctic Alaska and was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
On a morning in September 2015, sterile, gray Arctic light filtered through a blanket of woolly clouds as Matt Gunsch and Tate Barrett parked their rented pickup truck on a dirt road and clomped in rubber boots down a long, icy boardwalk to their air-monitoring laboratory on the tundra.
From the outside, the lab looked unglamorous — a dingy, white shack perched on a metal frame in a meadow speckled with snow and grass stubble. It felt distinctly like the middle of nowhere — though it was just a couple of miles beyond the main streets of Utqiaġvik, Alaska, the northernmost town in America. Inside the shack, a cracked window was patched with red tape. There was a shelf stacked with steel-toed and military-style “bunny” boots designed for extreme cold, tables scattered with miscellaneous lab supplies, a toaster oven — and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of air-monitoring equipment whose internal motors filled the room with a constant high-pitched hum. Partially isolated from the dirt and exhaust of town, this turned out to be a good place to try to sniff out small intruders in the delicate Arctic atmosphere. [Read more.]
Some tips for taking aim at alternative facts, from two data scientists at the University of Washington.
In early January this year, several days before the presidential inauguration, University of Washington professor Carl Bergstrom invited his colleague, Jevin West, over to his North Seattle house. Beers in hand, the two sat in the living room with their laptops, putting the finishing touches on the website for their new spring class, provocatively named “Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data.” They had talked about the class syllabus for months: a set of lessons that would help students detect and call out falsehoods and perversions of logic, a la George Orwell, not just in rhetoric but in the form of bogus statistics and shoddy mathematical analyses. At about 11pm, the syllabus went live, West went home, and they each “went to bed and thought, I hope that some of our friends have seen it and don’t think it’s too stupid,” Bergstrom says. [Read more.]