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Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.
Ultimately, what stands in the way of meaningful change is the Controlled Substances Act. As long as it is in place, the Justice Department will bring forward marijuana prosecutions. President Obama is unlikely to spend political capital pushing to change federal law. The man marijuana reformers elected in 2008 will likely leave office in January 2017 having changed as little as possible.
When it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment. Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.
Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year and has built an efficient meat industry second only to the US in pork exports. Its optimized breeding, feeding and killing system churns out wondrously cheap cutlets — but at a hidden cost to the environment and our health.
A diverse group of highly respected global leaders is calling for a radical shake-up in politics and business to deliver progress on climate change, reduce economic inequality, improve corporate practices and address the chronic burden of disease.
EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.
The Global Risks Report 2013 analyses 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and interconnections, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government and academia. This year’s findings show that the world is more at risk as persistent economic weakness saps our ability to tackle environmental challenges.
The latest IPCC report describes our current predicament with disturbing clarity. The details near the top of the knowledge pyramid can and should be intensely debated. But our solid understanding of the fundamentals of global warming – the base of our knowledge of climate science – should provide reason enough to press on with the implementation of carbon-free energy technologies.
Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.
Since it was created by the UN in 1988, the IPCC has synthesized scientific thinking around climate change and delivered a series of consensus assessments to policymakers. But the question is now being asked: Is the IPCC still fit for its purpose? It may do good science, but does it deliver what policymakers need?
The United States has been a supplier, supporter and even employer of a wide range of weapons of mass destruction, including sarin gas. The Syrian government may or may not have done what the Obama administration is claiming but the United States has its own dark history with biological and chemicals weapons, which we ignore at our peril.
Just when you thought genetically modified mosquitoes and mutated dinner entrees were the extent of biotech’s hunger to manipulate the genetic coding of the planet, scientists have now unleashed a plan to launch thousands of ‘frankenfly’ style insects into the wild in order to combat pests.
It was laughable when Coca-Cola launched a campaign to fight obesity. And even more laughable when the king of soda’s anti-obesity campaign shifted all the blame for those extra pounds to lack of exercise and chairs. But now, the company that donated $1.7 million to defeat last year’s GMO labeling initiative in California has gone from laughable to dangerous.
The idea that an impact caused the Permian extinction has been around for a while. But the abruptness of the extinctions indicates the coup de grâce was administered by something else, and that something was an asteroid or a comet causing a huge burp of methane into the atmosphere making things too hot for much of the planet’s animal life.
It is estimated over 10 million beehives been wiped out since 2007, as part of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Two Congressional Democrats have co-sponsored new legislation called the Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 to take emergency action to save the remaining bees in the U.S., and in turn, the U.S. food supply.
Trillions of dollars in “green finance” are needed annually to prevent climate change and natural constraints from stalling the global economy and threatening the livelihoods of billions of people. Policymakers need to develop more effective ways to boost green investment. Limiting regulatory reform to preventing a repetition of past crises is an incomplete, potentially damaging approach. Today’s financial-market reform must also look ahead, in order to avoid the potential crises of tomorrow.
Mander draws attention to capitalism’s obsessive need to dominate and undermine democracy, as well as to diminish social and economic equity. Designed to operate free of morality, the system promotes permanent war as a key economic strategy. Worst of all, the problems of capitalism are intrinsic to the form.
Paul Collier is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies. His research covers the causes and consequences of civil war; the effects of aid and the problems of democracy in low-income and natural-resources rich societies.
Ian Andrew Goldin is Director of the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford – the leading global scholarly centre of deep research into a broad range of future challenges. The School research faculty is seeking to find solutions to questions of health and medicine, energy and the environment, technology and society and ethics and governance.
Scientists say that the release of large amounts of methane from thawing permafrost in the Arctic could have huge economic impacts for the world. The researchers estimate that the climate effects of the release of this gas could cost $60 trillion (£39 trillion), roughly the size of the global economy in 2012.
As UK officials tout GMO foods as ‘safe’ compared to organic crops, results of a long-term, peer-reviewed study conducted by a group of scientists led by Dr Judy Carman of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in Australia proves that GMO are anything but ‘safe.’ Pigs and cows fed on the rather common diet of GMO corn and soy have suffered digestive and reproductive disorders – human digestive tract is very similar to that of pigs.
The story of the microbiome—the community of tiny organisms that coexist symbiotically with people and other animals—gets weirder every day. Until now that story, which has emerged over the past few years, has seemed one of friendly collaboration. The story’s latest chapter describes a deal between the animal host and viruses, and bacteria are the targets.
The potential risks of genetically modified fish escaping into the wild have been highlighted in a new study. The hybrid fish that resulted from the study out-compete both GM salmon and wild salmon. The study highlights the potential ecological consequences of genetically modified fish getting into the wild.
They assembled on the 40th floor of the tallest building in Seattle last week, the ex-Mexican president and the businessman who wants to be known as the Bill Gates of Bud. On the table: a pie bigger than the sky. It would involve drugs, suppliers and retailers, and laser-targeted marketing for buyers willing to pay a premium.
Food waste in America is a problem that has grown by 50 percent since the 1970s. Today, as much as 40 percent of food produced in America is thrown away. Decomposing food releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times as effective at trapping atmospheric heat than carbon.
The human body is an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants. This has large implications for human and microbial health, which turn out to be inextricably linked. The implications of what has already been learned – for our sense of self, for our definition of health and for our attitude toward bacteria in general – are difficult to overstate.
Some carmakers try harder than others to be green. Besides making their models cleaner to run, many carmakers are also trying to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing them. Having been depicted as environmental villains since the 1950s, cars and their makers may soon be able to move out of the spotlight.
To run his coal trains, Buffet needs to seize land from a bunch of Montana cowboys. The coal industry will ignore global warming. But a federal agency charged with weighing the environmental consequences of a coal-carrying railroad should do better. So should America’s most admired investor.
Without nitrogen, the machinery of photosynthesis cannot function. Corn, wheat, and rice, the crops on which humanity depends for survival, are among the most nitrogen hungry of all plants. Yet, runaway nitrogen is suffocating wildlife in lakes and estuaries, contaminating groundwater, and even warming the globe’s climate.
Many of the scaffolds that have already been commercialised for wound repair, bone grafts and surgical aids are comparatively simple. Moving to the next generation of scaffolds for the delivery of drugs, cells and eventually genes will require extensive safety testing and lengthy clinical trials.
The notion of bringing extinct species back to life has hovered at the boundary between reality and science fiction for more than two decades. De-extinction is now within reach. The species theoretically capable of being revived all disappeared while humanity was rapidly climbing toward world domination.
Venom is nature’s most efficient killer, but top medicines for heart disease and diabetes have been derived from venom. New treatments for autoimmune diseases, cancer, and pain could be available within a decade. There could be upwards of 20 million venom toxins waiting to be screened. Venom has opened up whole new avenues of pharmacology.
Critics counts air conditioning as more a curse than a miracle. Cooling buildings and vehicles pumps out almost half a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. Between 1995 and 2004 the proportion of homes in Chinese cities with air conditioning rose from 8% to 70%.
Rewilding Europe is a conservation vision for Europe, with wild nature and natural processes as key elements, where rewilding is applicable to any type of landscape or level of protection. It is an initiative by WWF Netherlands, ARK Nature, Wild Wonders of Europe and Conservation Capital.
RealClimate is a commentary site on climate science by working climate scientists for the interested public and journalists. Real Climate aims to provide a quick response to developing stories and provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary.
The Center for International Environmental Law works to strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL provides legal counsel and advocacy, policy research and capacity building services.
The CPR believes sensible safeguards in the areas of health, safety, and the environment, serve important values including doing the best we can to prevent harm to people and the environment, distributing environmental harms and benefits fairly, and protecting the earth for future generations.
Biologist Edward O. Wilson is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, and author of the books: The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth; The Future of Life; and The Diversity of Life, which describes how man is in the process of causing the “sixth extinction”.
Since 2003, Worldchanging has brought together a global network of independent journalists, designers and thinkers to cover the world’s most innovative solutions to the planet’s problems, and inspire readers around the world with stories of new tools, models and ideas for building a bright green future.
IDEO is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public and private sectors innovate and grow. IDEO helps organizations build creative culture and the internal systems required to sustain innovation.
The Government Accountability Office provides public access to its wide-ranging research related to International Affairs. Covered topics include Terrorism, Human Rights, Aids Relief, Export Controls, Nuclear Nonproliferation, Humanitarian and Development Assistance, and Diplomacy.