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.]
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.]
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.]
I wrote the lead article to the YES! issue on science, which became especially timely when it was published about a month into the Trump presidency.
… If federal politicians wage war on scientific institutions, can the public take ownership of science again? There are signs that the internet and global technology are reviving the role of citizens in documenting how the world around us is changing. [Read more.]
I interviewed the E.P.A.’s first administrator, William Ruckelshaus, in time for the confirmation hearings for the next nominee to head the agency.
In the early nineteen-sixties, a young lawyer named William Ruckelshaus was assigned to Indiana’s state board of health to prosecute cases of toxic dumping. At the time, it was commonplace for manufacturers to discard untreated industrial swill—ammonia, cyanide, pesticides, petroleum waste, slag from steel plants, “pickle liquor” (sulfuric acid)—into the nearest sewer, river, or lake. Sometimes, it formed piles of noxious froth nearly as tall as a house. “Those rivers were cesspools,” Ruckelshaus told me recently. [Read more.]