Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Renewal of Religious Environmentalism

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 5.47.29 PMThis article was written prior to the Pope’s comments on environmentalism and our moral obligation to it. It explains how, although some Republican members of congress are using their religion to deny climate change, many religious organizations are using their religion to fight against climate change. It describes a movie, Renewal: Stories from America’s Religious-Environmental Movementthat shows all the different ways that interfaith groups fight for the environment.

Read about it here 

Climate Justice as a Moral Issue

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 3.58.49 PM Washington Post columnist David Ignatious once asked: “But what if the climate change problem were instead treated as a moral issue — a matter like civil rights where the usual horse-trading logic of politics has been replaced by a debate about what’s right and wrong?”

In their study, “The Francis Effect: How Pope Francis changed the conversation about global warming,” scholars from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication explored that theme in the aftermath of Pope Francis’ encyclical and visit to the U.S. Here’s a clip:

“A moral framing of global warming is new to most people in the U.S.: In the spring of 2015, only 10 percent of Americans viewed global warming as a religious issue; 13 percent thought it was a spiritual issue, and just over a third (36%) thought it was a moral issue. Three-quarters, by contrast, saw it as an environmental issue (76%). If a moral framing resonates with values people already hold dear –protecting future generations, for example –it may shift people’s perceptions of the meaning and importance of the threat posed by climate change.

This report examines how consistent a moral framing of climate change is with the values and beliefs Americans already hold. It explores the values and beliefs of Americans regarding spirituality, religion, and humans’ relationships with each other and the natural world. The analysis describes the spiritual and environmental perspectives of Global Warming’s Six Americas
–six discrete groups within the American public distinguished by their views on global warming –to assess the correspondence between a moral framing of climate change and the moral and spiritual values of Americans in the six groups…

Values and beliefs that are widely held among Americans, however, suggest that a moral framing of global warming could resonate with many people currently unconcerned about the issue. For example, most Americans believe that caring for the poor, the environment and future generations is important, but fewer understand that reducing global warming will help all three. Most Americans believe that humans should be stewards, rather than rulers of nature, and levels of environmental concern are relatively high.

Together, the results suggest that many Americans in the less engaged segments hold values that are consistent with a moral or religious argument for climate action. The communication of a moral perspective on global warming by religious leaders such as Pope Francis may therefore reach segments of the U.S. public that have yet to engage with the issue.”

Finally, check out this video produced for Yale Climate Connections on the moral question of climate action. The video asks: “In the end, economic arguments are powerful but not as strong as ‘What is right?’”

Water Restoration in the Florida Everglades

Everglades Water FlowEverglades National Park makes up most of the southern tip of the state of Florida. Some neat facts about the park can be found here but it contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, serves as an important breeding ground for tropical wading birds, and Predominant water recharge area for all of South Florida through the Biscayne aquifer. This is also one of the world’s largest freshwater wetlands and provides the drinking water for much of southern Florida. A road (i.e. U.S. Highway 41 a.k.a. the Tamiami Trail) built almost 90 years ago, however, has transformed the water flow pattern through the Everglades by acting as a dam.

“On the western side, we’re at about 10.3 feet, and if we walk over here to the eastern side, water level on this side is about 7 1/2,” he says. “So you’ve got almost a 3-foot difference in water levels.”

Over the years this structural change in the natural flow of water has changed the vegetation community and resulted in the disappearance of peat soils and vital algal communities that make the base for the food chain in the Everglades.

“We’ve lost about half of the natural ecosystem. We’ll never get that half back. It’s developed, “Sherreffs says. “Most of us are living on land that was formerly Everglades. But we can stop hemorrhaging the existing Everglades.”

The article (found here) ends with a theme all too familiar with climate change, time and how important this has become from restoring the Everglades to the urgency needed to fix it.

“…Ecosystem restoration is not for the impatient. It’s work measured not in years, but in decades. With climate change and sea level rise, Everglades restoration has taken on new urgency.”

Capturing Life in a Drowning World

João Pereira de Araújo Taquari District Rio Branco Brazil March 2015

João Pereira de Araújo
Taquari District
Rio Branco
March 2015

Photographer, Gideon Mendel, creates art that touch on a wide range of social justice issues. His most recent endeavor is a project entitled, Drowning World, in which he photographs portraits of people submerged in the floodwater that destroyed their homes. Mendel’s hope is that these striking images and personal narratives will shed light on the everyday effects of climate change that are normally too minute to notice.

On his website, Mendel explains that Drowning World is his, “attempt to explore the effects of climate change in an intimate way, taking us beyond faceless statistics and into the individual experiences of its victims.” Mendel’s work has been showcased across the world, including various locations in Paris during the COP 21. These portraits and the stories behind them appear to engage audiences more than a written report on flood damage, or a statistic that documents the amount of homes lost in a particular flood. Although there is a definite place for statistics and reports, the work of artists and storytellers like Gideon Mendal challenge the traditional methods used to present information about climate change.

“These images, taken across the world, bear witness to a shared experience that erases geographical and cultural divides. They invite the viewers to reflect on our impact on nature and ultimately, on our own attachment to our homes and personal belongings.”

– Gideon Mendal

Read more about Mendel’s Drowning World in this article.

View all of the portraits on Mendel’s website.

Daily Iowan: Climate Narrative Project Turns to Art

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 10.29.59 AM Nice overview of this semester’s Climate Narrative Project in the Daily Iowan. Here’s a clip:

The project is all about bringing together people from different backgrounds and areas of study, Biggers said.

One of the fellows is Anthony Lucio, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in chemistry whose research relates to carbon dioxide’s role in causing global climate change.

He said he joined the project to find better ways to communicate issues about sustainability and climate change to the public.

“It’s really fun, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to learn more,” Lucio said.

Another fellow, UI freshman and pre-medicine student Gina Mostafa, said she’s focusing her project on how food production can lead to climate change.

“People don’t know how eating a burger a week contributes to climate change,” Mostafa said. “I want the goal to be to encourage people to cut down to a point that’s good for their health and good for the environment.”

Lucio said he plans to focus his project on national parks through a film, despite having no experience in filmmaking.

“Everyone has different backgrounds, and it’s fun to learn from those people,” he said. “We’re all looking to become better speakers about these issues.”

“Global Warring” and Thoughts on Refugees

I recently completed Cleo Paskal’s book Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map. The book included many shocking consequences of climate change that we rarely think of, such as compromised international security due to the Northwest Passage being opened up by melting sea ice, and a realignment of nations and international politics as global economies react to changes in resource availability. It also talked extensively about climate refugees, including:

  • Populations in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia who have to move as melting permafrost destabilizes the ground, making transportation dangerous and impeding the growth of native vegetation
  • Refugees moving into India from Bangladesh, which experiences serious flooding so often that over 50 percent of the country must be flooded for the flood to be considered “heavy”
  • Pacific island nations who are losing their homelands to rising sea levels

One question the book asks, especially in regard to the Pacific islands, is how nations will retain their autonomy if their citizens become dispersed throughout the globe.

“If Tuvalu [a Pacific island nation] and/or other countries have to be abandoned because they become uninhabitable, it could have profound repercussions for the global balance of power. The question would be, if Tuvalu and other states physically disappear, do they cease to exist as a legal country? Do they lose their seat at the UN? Does their territory become international waters? Or do vast swaths of ocean end up being administered by a population that doesn’t live there? If so, do their descendants have a right to return if, eventually, the islands reappear?”

Paskal wonders whether nations dispersed due to environmental catastrophe will be able to continue to exist through some sort of network under a displaced, sovereign government, or if they will simply cease to exist and become assimilated by their host nations. Where the refugees will go is another question entirely. Paskal suggests a possible incentive for nations to accept climate refugees. She says that “the countries that host the refugees from a given swamped territory will then be in the best position to claim a “special relationship” with the patch of ocean where that territory used to be.” In other words, a country could accept refugees in exchange for access to their former territory, allowing the host country to expand its influence and access to fisheries, oil, or even militarily strategic areas. This could certainly persuade some more conservative leaders to become more open to climate refugees. However, I wonder: is this argument worth making, or would it simply open up another Pandora’s box of problems?

Here is a book review on Global Warring if you would like to learn more.


Eating Less Meat Essential to Curb Climate Change


Eating-Less-Meat-Essential-to-Curb-Climate-Change-Says-Report-The fact that “twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming” is truly disturbing. The meat and dairy industries have enormous power that needs to be combatted because the consequences of indifference are too costly to accept. I think telling people to stop eating meat and dairy for the environment would be completely ineffective. The first step is to reduce consumption, educating individuals on why it is integral to our planet, but also to their wellbeing. People tend to feel helpless in these scenarios and it is important to make them understand that as consumers, they have the power. These harmful and manipulative industries feed off of consumer ignorance and indifference. This is a large part of the problem: ““A lot is being done on deforestation and transport, but there is a huge gap on the livestock sector. There is a deep reluctance to engage because of the received wisdom that it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people’s lives and tell them what to eat.

“The report concludes that keeping meat eating to levels recommended by health authorities would not only lower emissions but also reduce heart disease and cancer. THIS IS KEY: “The research does not show everyone has to be a vegetarian to limit warming to 2C, the stated objective of the world’s governments.”
Article link here

Water and Climate Justice

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.17.17 PM According to a new study in the Science Advances journal, ” two-thirds of the global population (4.0 billion people) live under conditions of severe water scarcity at least 1 month of the year. Nearly half of those people live in India and China. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round.”

In an age of climate change, should access to clean water be considered a human right?

And if so, how do we begin to consider water rights as a climate justice issue?

As the Guardian noted recently, agriculture and growing food demands account for the biggest water demand. ““Taking a shorter shower is not the answer” to the global problem, said Hoekstra, because just 1-4% of a person’s water footprint is in the home, while 25% is via meat consumption. It takes over 15,000 litres of water to make 1kg of beef, with almost all of that used to irrigate the crops fed to the cattle.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-19 at 12.20.23 PM

The Guardian provided a global overview:

“These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities.

“If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.”

Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia.”

Check out this excerpt from the documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously, on the drought in Texas, and a community’s struggle with climate change dynamics:

Washington Post: Trees–Solution to Climate Change

The Washington Post has a long article today on stopping deforestation in the Amazon as a key climate solution. Here’s a clip:

“Calls for saving rainforests have a long history, but including forests as a core part of the global climate solution is “very very recent,” said Naoko Ishii, CEO of the Global Environment Facility, an international body that invests in restoring tropical forests. “Without taking care of the forests, it’s going to be just impossible to achieve the Paris agreement.”

In fact, recent estimates suggest as much as a third of climate emissions could be offset by stopping deforestation and restoring forest land — and that this solution could be achieved much faster than cuts to fossil fuels.

Forests are a crucial “carbon sink,” living engines for absorbing and storing carbon. Tropical forests store the most carbon of all, and no tropical forest on Earth is bigger than the Amazon. It accounts for about half of all the carbon these forests store. But the Brazilian Amazon has lost nearly a fifth of its forest cover already — and the forest left behind also suffers because it is more fragmented and less continuous.”