Climate Change

The World Needs Ideas

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For most of our previous century, the world needed one primary thing (or rather, many things that fell under the same subheading): Stuff. More stuff. Higher quality stuff. Cheaper stuff.

When a young child was born into the developed or developing world, he or she could dream of no brighter future than one which featured a central role in this assembly line of stuff. Working in a factory, managing a team of workers, or owning a business have all been perfectly aspirational life options, all forms of cranking out the raw materials and finished goods that the people of the world have craved and have been eager to pay for. For more than a century, more stuff and better stuff made life easier, safer, healthier, more convenient and longer for all of us. Stuff has paved the roads, streamlined medical care, made living spaces cleaner and more efficient, made food tastier and safer, and made entertainment more available and more entertaining.

On the hierarchy of ideas, from bad to great to brilliant, most of the profitable ones have involved “inventions” (new stuff) and better ways to use, make and distribute the stuff that exists already.

But it’s possible that we’re reaching “peak stuff”, and the best ideas that lie ahead will fall into a new set of categories: not stuff, but fixes. If you’re a child born into the world today, we may need something new from you—Not inventions and objects, but solutions. Specifically, solutions like these:

Identifying new sources of energy

Our primary energy drivers have so far relied on the same basic idea: we burn something (coal, oil, natural gas) and use the resulting heat to turn turbines and charge batteries. Wind and solar energy are stepping in to turn the same turbines and charge the same storage units, but new possibilities abound…if we can identify and harness them. They’re everywhere, from tides to geothermal heat to the pounding of thousands of feet down a sidewalk that captures that motion and uses it to charge fuel cells. If we can collect the clean and free-roaming energy all around us, we’ll all reap the benefits.

Making habitations cooler

Cities are essential to the support of human life. They’re the hubs of humanity as we know it—centers of art, commerce, culture, communication, and human vibrance. As the planet warms, cities are also poised to trap excess heat and become very difficult places to live. But what if we painted roads and buildings white? What if we designed streets so the wind could blow through a clean channel and carry excess heat away? What if we planted trees that shielded and protected the most densely populated areas? What else?

Cleaning up

In our rush to make, transport, sell and use the stuff that defines modern life, we’ve polluted our oceans, waterways, soil and air far beyond the point of easy recovery. But this recovery isn’t optional; our future depends on it. How can we approach each of these areas of the world around us and form a plan to systematically extract the plastics, heavy metals, and chemical byproducts that reside there? We can do it—We just have to figure out how.  

Developing new forms of economic stability

People don’t just need food and shelter to live a good life. They need paychecks. Or more generally, every person on earth has an inherent right to pursue some form of financial stability and independence. But as the population skyrockets, automation takes the place of manual jobs, farms consolidate, and more and more people migrate from place to place in search of better conditions, what will all of us do for a living? A universal basic income would be nice, but how will such a thing come to pass? We don’t know yet. But we’ll need to figure it out. The clock is ticking.

Will you be one of the great minds of our new era? Will you be one of the rare few who will generate the ideas and solve the problems that define our new century? Let’s get to work!

 

Assaults on the Endangered Species Act: Details and Consequences

The Trump administration and Ryan Zinke’s Department of the Interior are currently pushing for draconian changes to the Endangered Species Act, a set of laws in place since the Nixon era that have protected many fragile species threatened with extinction.

The proposed changes are part of a wide-reaching effort to dismantle environmental protections and remove regulations placed on industry, an appeal to the administration’s pro-business base. These efforts have been met with outrage and objection from groups and individuals concerned about environmental threats, including climate change, ecosystem degradation, and the loss of biodiversity.

The proposed changes will cover two broad areas of the law: They will make it easier to remove species from the list, re-exposing once protected animals to previous dangers. And the changes will remove automatic protections for species that are classified as threatened, not yet endangered. These protections include limitations to development in areas recognized as crucial habitat for the species in question.

The widely-supported current law, signed in 1973, has so far protected over 1,200 species from extinction, including bald eagles and Yellowstone grizzly bears, both of which once hovered at the brink. At this point, the list is managed and overseen by US Fish and Wildlife (land animals) and NOAA (marine species), and may be the last crucial barrier protecting imperiled species like the polar bear, the sage grouse and the American grey wolf.

Almost every species placed on the list or granted essential protections by the statutes of the act has struggled with backlash or counterpressure from industry groups who feel the protections limit their specific profits or productivity. For example, wolf protections face ongoing, high-pitched emotional condemnation from ranchers and cattle producers who feel the ESA represents a threat to their livelihood.

Every addition to the list has come with heavily politicized caveats and intense dialogue from industry groups representing everything from housing development to ranching to tourism. The outcome of these recent proposals remains to be seen, but the administration has collected a dismal environmental record so far, and these proposals appear to be taking shape along established partisan lines. Please join us as we follow these developing events.

The Options That Lie Ahead

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This is an existentially stressful day. It’s Monday, July 16th, and as of last week, fresh evidence has been revealed that suggests a massive, cohesive effort to subvert democracy in the United States in 2016. The perpetrators of this effort are now meeting behind closed doors in a presumably friendly session with the political leader that the efforts successfully installed.

Meanwhile, the planet is warming in ways that will not likely be stopped or reversed, even in the event of globally unified, beautifully coordinated campaign, the odds of which are vanishingly slim. Capitalist pressures and disruptions to democratic systems are powerful forces that push back against this effort at every turn, by both deregulating industry and by breaking down a harmonious coordination between nations that might represent our last chance at salvation. The prospects for human health and prosperity during the second half of the 21st century are increasingly cloudy, and as resources diminish, desperation and its attendant scapegoating, panic and violence are likely to follow.

For reasons that may or may not be scientifically linked to this predictable set of events, birthrates are slowing, but no rate of reduction will likely be enough to forestall a spike in measurable human suffering that seems to lie on the horizon.

We are a product of the things that happen around us. No person is born into a world free of influences, and no person lives a life untouched and unshaped by their culture and circumstances. In other words, not a single one of us can opt out of whatever lies ahead. There is no exit from this ride; our only responses, reactions and choices will come from a menu of options, a menu which will become easier to read as time goes by.

Humanity will survive, of course: Humans have seen worse and have endured worse than what we are experiencing right now, and on every occasion so far we have emerged on the other side of change and hardship intact, if damaged by the experience. This will happen again. But on the path ahead, every one of us will be forced to adapt in one way or another. Here are some of the options and adaptations that seem to be appearing in front of us. Do any of them look familiar?

Selective consumption

Temperature increases around the globe appear linked to human activity, which seems to take one primary form above all others: consumption. “Activity” seems to be synonymous with making stuff, buying stuff, transporting stuff, using stuff, and throwing stuff away. Between food, plastic, travel, amusement, and personal comfort, stuff lies at the heart of the fossil fuel blaze that keeps us in motion, and pushing back against reckless consumption seems like a wise and promising personal choice. Saving our money and limiting plane flights, meat consumption, and plastic use seem like easy decisions with a measurable impact. Are they? Only time will tell, but many of us are leaning toward this option as a way of stemming the tide.  

Adoption

The choice to have children isn’t always considered a choice; for many of us, bringing children into the world is a biological drive as natural and urgent as preserving our own lives. But as birthrates drop, what becomes of this drive? There are still millions of children around the planet who need parents and don’t have them. And “adoption” can be considered a kind of metaphor. It’s a way of redirecting our energy toward protecting, preserving, and finding personal meaning in devotion to that which is already here.

Degrees of activism

It’s one thing to make a choice that protects the planet and the people around us. But it’s another thing altogether to take a leadership role in this process and extend our influence beyond ourselves. Activism means doing wise things, and then to encouraging and helping others to do those things as well. The only hurdle: activism requires effort, energy, and lots of typically uncompensated labor. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a rewarding option for some.

Adjustments of consciousness

Not doing anything at all appears to be one of our options, and it’s an option that most of us will appear to take until the day we are forced into action by the circumstances of our own lives. But this is an illusion. When we tune out, we aren’t really tuning out. We aren’t really turning off the radio when we do this, we’re just changing the station, and frequent station changes may actually be healthy and wise. Turning our attention toward art, communication, spirituality, and connection with others in any form can widen a shrinking perspective, ward off desperation and fear, and help us remember that there are thousands of ways to feel and many sides to every story. It’s never a bad idea to remember this. Turning away often just means looking at the same world from different angles.

Adjustments of environment

Here’s a common scenario: A person wants to lose weight, but every night he finds himself opening the fridge and eating cookies and cake. One day, he accepts that willpower and self-determination cannot solve this problem. These things have not worked, and they never will. So he throws away the cookies. Every night he stares into the fridge longing for cookies, but they aren’t there. So he can’t eat them, and he loses weight. Sometimes we change ourselves by changing the things around us. We move, shift jobs, adjust our friends, or alter the landscape we see when our eyes open each morning. We will adapt to whatever we place in front of ourselves; we just have to get past the first and hardest step.

Do you see your own course of action on this list? Do you see a course of action that you’d like to take, but you aren’t sure how? We’re here to help. Contact our team and join our mission. Together, we’re going to face whatever lies ahead. The only way out is forward.

 

Changing Living Conditions in India as a Result of Climate Change

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The World Bank has just released a study indicating that by 2050, India’s GDP will may drop by 2.8 percent and the living standards of much of the country’s population may drop as well, both due to climate change.

The study was originally designed to examine the economic impact of predicted rainfall and temperature increases in specific areas throughout the subcontinent. Titled “South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards”, these research findings indicate a projected 1 to 2 degree change (Celsius) by 2050, even with the restrictions put in place by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015. Almost half of south Asia’s population lives within designated “hot spots”, or areas in which the standard of living is expected to drop under all potential scenarios, from best case to worst.

Here’s a visual depiction of how living conditions may change in the researched area. Contrary to some assumptions, the most affected areas in this case will not lie along the coast (though in other countries, hard-hit regions will be those that maintain high residential and commercial development along potentially flooded shorelines). Instead, India’s “hot spots” will be concentrated in flatter (not mountainous) inland regions.

As always, reports like this study compel us to ask and re-ask our central question: What does this mean for us?

Here at Just Atonement, legislation passed in India that may affect national emissions standards, taxes on higher polluters, manufacturing controls, public energy usage, and waste disposal lie outside of our immediate control. But this news helps us anticipate the consequences of global trends, global emissions, and global laws related to human migration.

The report highlights two areas of looming and possibly inevitable change, and encourages us to prepare for these changes as a global community. The first will be a temperature increase that recognizes no national borders. And the second will be a pattern of human migration that will likely begin with an outward flow from these identified hot spots.

Where will the affected people go? If they must leave, which cultures, regions, and nations are prepared to take them in? How will both parties (residents and new arrivals) benefit or suffer as a result of this flow?

Most important, what can we do to prepare for the ensuing events so that we, as a global community, are not caught off guard by changes that will not wait for us to announce our readiness?

Climate change will change the way we live. And the first and most powerful changes are likely to affect two key identifiable aspects of our lives: 1) How we obtain and distribute energy, food, and water, and 2) how we migrate.

Immigration issues are intimately linked to temperature issues; it’s our job to fix our gaze a few miles down the road and draw meaningful conclusions about these intersections and how we might ease the most disruptive aspects of climate change on the generations that are soon to arrive among us. Contact our office for more information and opportunities to make a difference.

What will Become of Us?

Here at Just Atonement, we pay close attention to events taking place around the world that can help us accurately anticipate the future and achieve our twofold goal of protecting democratic institutions and mitigating the impact of climate change. Our primary concern lies with the world we are leaving for our children and we work every day to inform, inspire action, clarify principles, and light the way to a safer, wiser, and more sustainable future for all of us.

So when we encounter certain studies or face global events that relate to our goals, we often pause and ask: What does this mean for us? And sometimes the answer is far from simple.

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This week, we’re examining this study in the journal Nature, which provides evidence that Antarctic ice sheets are not only melting (which we already knew) but are melting much faster than researchers previously believed.

The rate of Antarctic ice loss has tripled since 2007. This is a difficult fact to process, specifically because no individual among us can take a quick, easy form of personal action that will have any impact on this melting rate within our lifetimes.

News and conversations about injustice, policy decisions, elections, and cultural trends can light a spark that can quickly flare into personal and collective change. But news about a melting continent doesn’t have the same effect. The scale is so massive and incomprehensible that no matter the context in which it’s presented, and no matter the metaphors and scaling mechanisms used to bring it into perspective, it still tends to produce one response in the recipient: paralysis. We stop moving, and we regain our ability to continue on with the day only when we decide to stop thinking about it.

Antarctica itself is a world that most of us will only ever see in our imaginations, and no youtube video can fully capture the spectacle of a collapsing ice sheet the size of Manhattan. So with that in mind, we’re asking for your support. Please let us know what this information means to you. How does it affect you as you hear it? Do you find it upsetting? Does it increase or diminish your urge to act, or spark an impulse to take protective action on behalf of yourself, your family, or the natural world? Are you awed, inspired, or unconcerned?

We are constantly amazed to find ourselves alive in an era in which we have so much control over the longevity and ultimate fate of the human race, compared to the control exercised by our ancestors. But how we will we use this control? How will we wield the remarkable tools available to us, the tools that allow us to understand how our actions impact the planet, and the tools that allow us to communicate with each other on a vast and rapid scale?

 Help us find answers to these questions by sharing your response to the news above. We’ll use your answers to guide our path forward.

Please leave a comment on our Facebook page, send us a message, or contact us directly.

The United Nations and Water Management

As the planet warms, scientific communities and governments around the world are working to identify and stay ahead of the major areas of concern that will result from this change first, second, and third.

For example, here at Just Atonement, we recognize that what begins as a global temperature increase will eventually result in shifting patterns of human movement and migration; as sea levels rise and natural resources expire in some areas and open up in others, human beings will move across the planet from one place to another in large numbers. These population shifts will lead to cultural collisions and mergers that may be impossible to accurately predict, but it’s our obligation to anticipate this upheaval all the same and make an effort to identify what these seismic shifts will require of us as a civilization.

Another widely-recognized—but still unpredictable—global flashpoint relates to water and water resource management. While much attention has been devoted to the issue of rising sea levels and flooding, massive droughts are an equally imminent aspect of rising temperatures and shifting ecosystems. India (home to about 1.3 billion people, or about one fifth of the global population) is now experiencing what the government identifies as the worst water crisis in its history. Read more here.

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So our question for the moment is: How does the United Nations address issues related to water distribution? Water is essential to human life, and access to drinkable clean water is a fundamental human right, one that is often controlled and disrupted by policy, politics and class divisions around the world.

The United Nations has no single specific entity dedicated exclusively to water issues. Because water concerns run through almost every one of the organization’s major efforts to sustain peace and to protect human rights and the global rule of law, water and sanitation programs are distributed among about 30 programs under the UN’s aegis, and their shared efforts are coordinated by a group called UN Water and its partners, who work to facilitate communication between these diverse entities.

UN Water: 1.) monitors and reports on the water-related actions of these 30 groups 2.) provides data that informs policy decisions, and 3.) inspires action.

The members and partners of UN Water support each connected entity in combined efforts to build sustainability agendas, create disaster risk reduction frameworks, secure financing for development, and anticipate climate change.

To learn more about UN Water’s goals and accomplishments since the 1970’s, please check out their homepage here: http://www.unwater.org/about-unwater/

And for a simple breakdown of each of the key dimensions of global water and sanitation issues, please click here. http://www.unwater.org/water-facts/

Single-Use Plastics: a Global Crisis

On and around June 5th, The United Nations promotes a host of activities related to World Environment Day. This year, countries around the globe are hosting public service messages, ad campaigns, and massive community clean-ups—including a giant citizen-run cleanup operation organized to remove litter from the rivers and river banks behind the Taj Mahal.

Here’s a series of videos created in honor of a single day that we hope will keep the spirit of respect and preservation alive throughout the year.

This June, many of these large and small community efforts around the world have been focused on one of the most serious environmental threats facing the planet, a threat that each individual person can influence by changing their own habits and actions: single-use plastic pollution.

A growing number of municipalities and nations are considering legislative action that bans the manufacture of single-use plastics, but so far, not quite enough of these laws have been put into practice. In most of the world, it still falls to individuals to make responsible choices and turn away from plastic cups, bags, food containers, cutlery and straws in favor of reusable options.

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Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, so every plastic object that is used and thrown away remains intact…somewhere. There are two possible destinations for a discarded straw or plastic bottle: on land or in the ocean.

Ocean pollution has become an international crisis that threatens marine ecosystems and spreads to every continent. The circulation of oxygen and maintenance of all life on the planet both begin with the oceans, and the spread of non-biodegradable ocean garbage is a tragedy with effects that have been underestimated for decades. The global community is beginning to take notice and act, though it remains to be seen if this action will be enough.

Plastics accumulating on land are creating an equally serious threat, as those who live near New Delhi landfills can testify.

As of this June, India is officially making plans to ban single use plastic by 2022 which will set an example for other developed nations drowning in their own garbage. In the meantime, please join our team as we follow the actions of UN member nations who celebrate the spirit of World Environment Day.

Water in the West: The Summer of 2018

For several years, researchers, agricultural managers, ecologists and a variety of experts have been monitoring water usage in the west and southwest with some concern. Most of the municipal and agricultural water used between New Mexico and Colorado flows from two sources. The first is the Colorado River (including Lake Powell and Lake Mead which frame the Grand Canyon and nourish populations all the way to Southern California). And the second source--the Rio Grande--supplies water for vast agricultural and community use in southern states from California to Texas.

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Increasing water requirements and agricultural demands have strained both of these two water resources for a long time, but so far, management and distribution practices have allowed the water to continue flowing throughout the summer months of highest need. Though the Rio Grande drops precipitously during these months, the water is typically replenished by the heavy snowpack that melts and flows from the Rocky Mountains every spring. It’s a cycle that repeats every two years; this year’s river water tends to represent last year’s melting snow.

In 2018, a cycle of consistently warming winters has taken a toll on the snowpack. An unusually warm, dry winter has reduced runoff from the Utah and Colorado land masses that typically direct that water into Lake Powell. Water level predictions for 2018 are among the worst in the last 54 years.

At the same time, the Rio Grande is drying with unusual speed this spring. In a typical year, the river levels drop and the mighty Rio Grande becomes unable to sustain heavy agricultural use by October. But this year, the water is already vanishing in May and will be expected to dry up by July, too early for farmers in the region who depend on the river to carry them through the full growing season. While late summer monsoons typically supplement the river and help growers finish the summer, the monsoons are notoriously unpredictable. This year, farmers may find it difficult to survive if they don’t show up.

Since the cycle of snow-to-river takes two years, not one, this year’s reduced snowpack will be felt more heavily in 2019. And as a result of heavy monsoon rains in 2016, Rio Grande reservoirs are high enough right now to partially mitigate concerns for the current year. But this year will provide a testing ground for future seasons in our current pattern of steadily rising global temperatures and shrinking water resources across the west. How we manage the summer of 2018 may help us predict and plan for potential water crises that may influence agricultural production and population fluctuations in the area during the decade ahead.

 

Support for Strategic Ethical Investing

We’ve shared posts in the past that deal with the subject of ethical financial divestment, or the act of divesting funds and portfolios away from the production and refinement of coal, oil, and natural gas. This move represents a comparatively low-effort, high-impact decision for many individuals and institutions, since the fossil fuel industry gains substantial oxygen from institutional portfolios (universities, 401Ks, health systems, etc). Ride-sharing and turning off unused appliances can make a difference, and so can similar moves on behalf of institutions and companies. But conservation should go hand in hand with broad financial decisions that reallocate funds to cleaner and greener businesses.

With that in mind, some conscientious investors are working toward both divestment from fossil fuels AND investment in solar and renewable money-makers that can still carry them toward retirement (in the case of individuals) and financial stability (institutions and non-profits.) The New York Times recently introduced us to an organization that facilitates this process, called DivestInvest (www.Divestinvest.org). Targeting healthcare institutions, trust funds, foundations, governments, private companies and individuals, the organization takes pledges from those who are willing to commit to its global clean energy goals. Not sure where to put your recently- or soon-to-be divested holdings? Check in with DivestInvest to find organizations who have taken the pledge.

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If you have the freedom to do so (which individuals typically do while institutions sometimes do not), review your portfolio and make some changes…but be careful. You’ll still need to choose funds and vehicles that meet your standards regarding returns and fee structures, and some commitments are more extensive than others. In total, the organizations and individuals who have taken the pledge have managed assets totaling six trillion USD, including foundations that have agreed to commit five percent of their holdings to clean and renewable technologies.

As is often the case, these efforts may not be quite enough to bring us closer to a collective tipping point at which we alter the trajectory of increasing fossil fuel use. But every action that slows the rise can be considered a move toward the ultimate goal: achieving a change in course before we reach an all-important global two-degree increase. Momentum in either direction matters as much as course and speed, and DivestInvest seems to be driving momentum by reducing the feeling of risk associated with investment shifts. By normalizing the process of conscientious reallocation, they’re paving the way for the rest of us.

 

United Nations Climate Change Talks in Bonn

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty adopted and ratified by the UN in the early 1990s. The framework sets non-binding, unenforced limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual member countries with a single goal in mind: "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".
Between late April and early May, UN representatives met in Bonn Germany with the UNFCCC framework in mind, using the treaty to guide what have become regular meetings focused on the search for a transition in global energy consumption. The next annual climate conference will be held in Katowice, Poland in December. Here are a few of the key highlights of the recent meeting.

Urgency

Urgency remains a focus, specifically for Pacific Island nations. The Bonn meeting provided the backdrop for the Talana Dialogue, led by the Prime Minister and representatives from Fiji. This dialogue centers around the personal stores shared by 250 Fiji participants. These stories collectively inspire a necessary sense of speed and expediency in the search for climate solutions. Read more here.

Gender Equality

Gender equality plays an important role in the success and forward motion of climate change mitigation. The Gender Action Plan (https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/cp23_auv_gender.pdf) acknowledges that many of the known impacts of climate change will have a disproportionate effect on women, and climate policy should be gender-responsive and involve balanced representation during planning and implementation stages. This plan urges the advancement of women’s participation in ongoing talks and Read more here.

Job Creation

Talks in Bonn also focused on the green economy and job development over the next several decades as renewable and sustainable resource options come to the foreground for policy makers. According to research conducted by the International Labor Organization, the right policy moves can pave the way for 24 million new positions created globally by 2030. According to ILO Deputy Director-General Deborah Greenfield, an emerging green economy can help millions of people around the world overcome a life of poverty and improve financial opportunity for this and future generations.  The report accounts for the possibility that some regions (those that depend heavily on petroleum mining and extraction) may experience job declines during the transition, and that higher outdoor temperatures will cause some forms of labor to become more difficult and dangerous. Read more about this priority here.

Dialogue, speakers and panel discussions throughout the two-week event emphasized a critical point: that without actionable policy change, these positive predictions would not materialize. The political decision making process will need to be bold, decisive, and inclusive of voices from across the labor spectrum to generate timely change.