Tag Archives: environment

This is Bad, but Worse is Coming!

Pearl River     There was a day, long ago, when Betsey Ross sewing the flag was a symbol of America.  Now, if we just knew what Debbie Downer really looked like, she might be the new picture of America.  If you think I’m just talking about the current multi-pronged horrors of the pandemic, the depression, and the White House, you’re only thinking about today.

I’m really talking about the inundation of stories now, that essentially say, “hey, you don’t like the pandemic?  This is nothing.  This is bad, but worse is coming!”  These reports with scientific foundation are looking at temperatures rising, seas swamping us, food shortages, and millions, perhaps billions, of people forced to migrate or die because of these coming horrors.

I read a review by Bill McKibben, the Middlebury professor and longtime climate change Cassandra in the New York Review of Books recently.  He posed the question now as not whether or not we meet the challenge of climate change, but whether we are already almost past the point of no return, and the question really is whether people and civilization as we know it can survive the certainty of climate change.  He notes that scientists, who have been warning all of us of the effects of climate change, as scientists are being conservative, and what we are already finding is worse that what many predicted.  McKibben quotes Mark Lynas from his new book, that…

“If we stay on the current business-as-usual trajectory, we could see two degrees as soon as the early 2030s, three degrees around mid-century, and four degrees by 2075 or so.  If we’re unlucky with positive feedbacks…from thawing permafrost in the Artic or collapsing tropical rainforests, then we could be in for five or six degrees by century’s end.”

Wow!  Think about it.  The 2030s are tomorrow.  Our adult children will be alive, though it seems not well, in 2075.  For those of us lucky enough to have grandchildren, they will be trying to make it somehow in 2100.  Oh, and don’t forget famine comes with all of this as crops fry in the fields.  A New York Times Magazine special report said that for every one degree of temperature rise, one billion people will have to move.  That may not be them, but us!

If the heat doesn’t get you, the other shoe is dropping water up to our knees.  Heads we lose.  Tails we lose.

I could go on, but here’s the point that perplexes me.  Is there any place really safe? Where could anyone run and hide to know that 10, 20, 30 years from now, you and yours could make it?  Once I thought the West, but heat, fires, and no water in many areas could make some of my favorite spots as much “islands in the storm,” as New Orleans where I live.

See what I mean?  Once you start wrapping your mind around all of this, it’s a deep dive into the darkness.  Might be easier if we all forced some real action everywhere to deal with the hella-messes coming quickly around the corner.


Are Single Use Plastics Getting a Bad Rap?

New York City      Once the breeze picks up between the canyons formed by New York City skyscrapers, the most common local bird that seems to be floating in the sky when you see something flutter by is most often a plastic bag.  Every delicatessen seems to use a ton of them daily with impunity.  Straws are passed out like party favors everywhere.  We think of New York City as one of the most progressive in the world, so what’s up?

According to a piece I read recently in Scientific America, maybe they know something that I didn’t understand as clearly as I should have about plastic.  According to a science writer named Wade Roush,

“Biodegradable” plastic doesn’t do what you think it does.  Your paper or metal straw takes only a tiny sip at the problem of plastic pollution.  And your supposedly eco-conscious cloth grocery bag is more damaging to the environment than conventional plastic bags – unless you reuse it literally thousands of times.”

What?!?  We thought we were ahead of the curve at Fair Grinds Coffeehouses when we banned all straws except on personal and desperate request.  We’re a social enterprise.  We compost and give our coffee grounds to local farmer cooperatives.  How could we not be on the cutting edge?

Scientific American says that the technical standards “for biodegradability are mostly about industrial composting” meaning it requires high heat and microorganisms and in six months later 90% is released as carbon dioxide, then it’s OK to call something “biodegradable” or “compostable.”  You hear that?  “Released as carbon dioxide!”  Worse, if the whole supposedly environmentally friendly stuff ends up in a regular landfill, and the odds are great on that score, then it creates methane.  More carbon dioxide and methane, hey, why not, kill the climate even faster while deluding yourself, eh?

Mostly this is due to the fact that a lot of this supposedly climate friendly stuff is made of “polyester derived from starchy plants, including corn and sugarcane” when, according to these scientists, plastics need to be “bio-based.”  Of all people, Coca-Cola and Pepsi have said they are moving to 100% plant-derived polyethylene terephthalate (PET), but they aren’t ready for primetime yet.

Here’s the clincher:

“The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out that to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C over preindustrial levels, we may need to remove tens to hundreds of gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere, ideally by 2050.  If the world fully converted to bioplastic starting in 2020, the carbon sequestered over the next 30 years could amount to more than 10 gigatons – which would be a good start.  When it comes to plastic, it’s time to think more flexibly.”

All of which says that the New York delis are not ahead of the curve, but that we’re all behind where we need to be.  It’s not simply switching one for the other, but getting it right with a tech that does no harm, rather than something that just makes us feel better about the morality of doing something rather than nothing.