Category Archives: EARTH WATCH

‘We Can’t Recycle Our Way Out of This Problem’: Ben & Jerry’s Bans Single-Use Plastics

By Lorraine Chow – Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s announced major efforts on Monday to quickly curb its use of single-use plastics.

All together, the move is expected to prevent 2.5 million plastic straws and 30 million plastic spoons from being handed out each year, Jenna Evans, Ben & Jerry’s Global Sustainability Manager, said in a press release.

“We’re not going to recycle our way out of this problem,” she said. “We, and the rest of the world, need to get out of single-use plastic.”

In response to the initiative, Greenpeace praised the brand for setting clear, short-term targets and for acknowledging that recycling alone is not enough to solve the world’s mounting plastic problem.

We’ve all been taught that recycling is an important environmental responsibility, but of the 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste generated since the 1950s, only 9 percent has been recycled, according to one recent study. What’s more, recycling plastics only perpetuates the use of fossil fuel-based polymers. more>

Globalization at a Crossroads

By Gordon Brown – Whether or not one realizes it, 2018 may have been a historic turning point. Poorly managed globalization has led to nationalist “take-back-control” movements and a rising wave of protectionism that is undermining the 70-year-old American-led international order. The stage is set for China to develop its own parallel international institutions, auguring a world divided between two competing global-governance systems.

Whatever happens in the next few years, it is already clear that the 2008-2018 decade marked an epochal shift in the balance of economic power.

Whereas around 40% of production, manufacturing, trade, and investment was located outside the West in 2008, over 60% is today.

For decades after its formation in the 1970s, the Group of Seven (G7) – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the US – essentially presided over the entire world economy. But by 2008, I and others had begun to discern a changing of the guard. Behind the scenes, North American and European leaders were debating whether it was time to create a new premier forum for economic cooperation that would include emerging economies.

These debates were often heated. On one side were those who wanted to keep the group small (one early US proposal envisioned a G7+5); on the other side were those who wanted the group to be as inclusive as possible. To this day, the results of those earlier negotiations are not fully understood.

The current trade conflict between the United States and China is symptomatic of a larger transition in global financial power. On the surface, the Trump administration’s confrontation with China is about trade, with disputes over currency manipulation thrown in for good measure. But from Trump’s speeches, one gathers that the real battle is about something bigger: the future of technological dominance and global economic power.

While Trump at least detects the growing threat to American supremacy, he has ignored the most obvious strategy for responding to it: namely, a united front with US allies and partners around the world. Instead, Trump has asserted a prerogative to act unilaterally, as if America still rules over a unipolar world. As a result, a trail of geopolitical ruin already lies in his wake. more>

Overcoming The Trust Deficit

By Dimitris Avramopoulos – A prosperous, secure and united Europe will not be delivered to us on a silver platter. We will have to fight for it more than ever – with facts, with authenticity, with courage. It will not be enough to have the right solutions on offer – our citizens will have to be willing to trust and accept them too.

Citizens in Europe and across the world today are experiencing a growing deficit of trust. While the world is increasingly becoming globalized, interconnected, digitized and information-saturated, citizens are having trouble discerning what is fact and what is fancy – and most importantly: who to turn to and who to trust. Our citizens are looking for clear and straightforward answers and solutions, in a reality that is becoming all the more complex.

Populists and nationalists are experiencing heydays in times like these. What they tell citizens and their electorate no longer has to be true, as long as it is simple and appealing. We have seen very recently how in the absence of an actual crisis or problem, an imaginary one is created instead and how the seeds of distrust, confusion and fear are sown daily.

Today, there is no single, coherent enemy or threat: terrorism, cybercrime or hybrid threats constitute a particularly toxic and interchangeable cocktail of risks that we need to face on a daily basis, with the same unity in our approach. The cooperation between Member States was enhanced especially in the field of exchange of information between law enforcement authorities, crucial to fight terrorism, organized crime and cybercrime. more>

Are We Living Through Climate Change’s Worst-Case Scenario?

By Robinson Meyer – The year 2018 was not an easy one for planet Earth.

In the United States, carbon emissions leapt back up, making their largest year-over-year increase since the end of the Great Recession. This matched the trend across the globe. According to two major studies, greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide shot up in 2018—accelerating like a “speeding freight train,” as one scientist put it.

Many economists expect carbon emissions to drop somewhat throughout the next few decades. But maybe they won’t. If 2018 is any indication, meekly positive energy trends will not handily reduce emissions, even in developed economies like the United States. It raises a bleak question:

Are we currently on the worst-case scenario for climate change?

When climate scientists want to tell a story about the future of the planet, they use a set of four standard scenarios called “representative concentration pathways,” or RCPs. RCPs are ubiquitous in climate science, appearing in virtually any study that uses climate models to investigate the 21st century. They’ve popped up in research about subjects as disparate as southwestern mega-droughts, future immigration flows to Europe, and poor nighttime sleep quality.

Each RCP is assigned a number that describes how the climate will fare in the year 2100. Generally, a higher RCP number describes a scarier fate: It means that humanity emitted more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during the 21st century, further warming the planet and acidifying the ocean. The best-case scenario is called RCP 2.6. The worst case is RCP 8.5.

“God help us if 8.5 turns out to be the right scenario,” Jackson told me. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Growing Pile of Human and Animal Waste Harbors Threats, Opportunities
By Josh Brown – As demand for meat and dairy products increases across the world, much attention has landed on how livestock impact the environment, from land usage to greenhouse gas emissions.

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are highlighting another effect from animals raised for food and the humans who eat them: the waste they all leave behind.

In a paper published November 13 in Nature Sustainability, the research team put forth what they believe is the first global estimate of annual recoverable human and animal fecal biomass. In 2014, the most recent year with data, the number was 4.3 billion tons and growing, and waste from livestock outweighed that from humans five to one at the country level.

“Exposure to both human and animal waste represent a threat to public health, particularly in low-income areas of the world that may not have resources to implement the best management and sanitation practices,” said Joe Brown, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “But estimating the amount of recoverable feces in the world also highlights the enormous potential from a resource perspective.” more>

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The World Order Is Starting to Crack

By Stewart Patrick – When Donald Trump was first elected U.S. president, foreign observers hoped that he would moderate his more outrageous campaign positions as the practicalities of governing socialized him to adopt more conventional stances. Failing that, they hoped to contain the damage until the U.S. electorate returned to its senses. Trump’s scythe has sliced through these thin reeds.

For a onetime chaos candidate, Trump has been remarkably methodical in his efforts to destroy the liberal international order.

Stunned U.S. allies are now adapting to their new normal by taking steps previously unimaginable. They are hedging their bets in dawning recognition that the America of old may never return, regardless of who succeeds Trump. They are pursuing strategic autonomy, seeking to decouple from an unpredictable United States. And they are considering how to restore some semblance of international cooperation in a world left rudderless in the wake of the U.S. abdication of global leadership.

Collectively, Trump’s actions have sent U.S. allies reeling, shaking their long-standing faith in the West as a community of shared values, interests, and institutions. In response, they are working with China to safeguard globalization, expanding their own strategic autonomy vis-à-vis Washington, and grasping to defend what remains of the open world from the depredations of its erstwhile creator.

Trump’s trade protectionism has done the seemingly unimaginable. It has allowed mercantilist China—which flagrantly steals intellectual property, restricts foreign investment, and protects entire sectors from foreign competition—to portray itself as a bastion of multilateral trade. more>

Anthropic arrogance

By David P Barash – Welcome to the ‘anthropic principle’, a kind of Goldilocks phenomenon or ‘intelligent design’ for the whole Universe. According to its proponents, the Universe is fine-tuned for human life.

The message is clearly an artificial one and not the result of random noise. Or maybe the Universe itself is alive, and the various physical and mathematical constants are part of its metabolism. Such speculation is great fun, but it’s science fiction, not science.

It should be clear at this point that the anthropic argument readily devolves – or dissolves – into speculative philosophy and even theology. Indeed, it is reminiscent of the ‘God of the gaps’ perspective, in which God is posited whenever science hasn’t (yet) provided an answer.

Calling upon God whenever there is a gap in our scientific understanding may be tempting, but it is not even popular among theologians, because as science grows, the gaps – and thus, God – shrinks. It remains to be seen whether the anthropic principle, in whatever form, succeeds in expanding our sense of ourselves beyond that illuminated by science. I wouldn’t bet on it. more>

How evil happens

BOOK REVIEW

Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, Author: Noga Arikha.
Eichmann in Jerusalem, Author: Hannah Arendt.
The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, Author: Simon Baron-Cohen.
Home Fire, Author: Kamila Shamsie.

By Noga Arikha – The ‘sapiens’ in Homo sapiens does not fully describe our species: we are as violent as we are smart.

This might be why we are the only Homo genus left over in the first place, and why we have been so destructively successful at dominating our planet. But still the question nags away: how are ordinary people capable of such obscene acts of violence?

Today, biology is a powerful explanatory force for much human behavior, though it alone cannot account for horror. Much as the neurosciences are an exciting new tool for human self-understanding, they will not explain away our brutishness. Causal accounts of the destruction that humans inflict on each other are best provided by political history – not science, nor metaphysics. The past century alone is heavy with atrocities of unfathomable scale, albeit fathomable political genesis.

The social neuroscientist Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig in Germany defines empathy as the ability to ‘resonate’ with the feelings of the other. It develops from babyhood on – as imitation at first, then joint attention – into the ability to adopt the point of view of another, along with a shift in spatial perception from self to other, as if one were literally stepping into another’s shoes.

This requires an ability to distinguish between self and other in the first place, an aspect of the so-called ‘theory of mind’ that one acquires over the first five years of life.

But while empathy ensures the cohesion of a group or a society, it is also biased and parochial. Revenge thrives on it. more>

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Breaking Down Yemen’s Escalating Military Strife

By Kelly McFarland – Yemen lies on the southeastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, buffered by the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, and bordered by Saudi Arabia and Oman. About 29 million people call Yemen home, and they are the poorest in the Middle East.

Portions of the nation have a history of British and Ottoman colonial rule, it was divided into two separate countries, and two civil wars—on top of the current one—have been waged since the early 1960s.

To understand the current conflict, which began in January of 2014, it’s necessary to know something about the Huthis.

The Huthis are a Zaydi Shiite political movement. Zaydi Shiite Muslims are around a quarter of Yemen’s population. Zaydis led much of Yemen until the 1962 overthrow of the Yemeni ruler. The government has since repressed their home region economically and culturally. More recently, the government has charged that the Zaydis are proxies for Iran and an existential threat.

As a result of the popular uprisings unleashed by the Arab Spring, an internationally backed transition removed Yemen’s autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011. The transition consisted of what was called a “National Dialogue,” inclusive of all parties, that would provide recommendations for reforms, elections, and the eventual writing of a new constitution.

The Huthis initially participated, but became disillusioned.

The war has created a major humanitarian disaster with no foreseeable end. more>

Colliding Worlds: Donald Trump And The European Union

By Michael Cottakis – US President Donald Trump is not naturally inclined towards the EU. The EU represents the antithesis of what Trump aspires for in himself, or of the value he sees in others. For the President, the EU is an essentially effete project – a civilian power that likes to see itself as human rights based and collegiate, but with no hard power of its own. It is not a real force in the world because it cannot project military power, or speak with a single, unified voice, putting its interests first.

A defensive Brussels, reeling from recent crises and keen to assert itself as an important international actor may, with provocation, respond.

The European Commission tends to respond to Trump’s provocations with smugness and belittlement. Other European leaders are cannier and understand better the risks of such an approach. Emmanuel Macron has adopted the guise of the EU’s chief diplomat to the US, speaking regularly with Trump. Climate change, Iran, trade policy and Syria have all been on the French President’s agenda. While discussions remain relatively cordial, little impact is being made in policy terms.

The international system is greatly changed. A battle of new world views, political and socio-economic models is at play in which new authoritarian values gain ground at the expense of traditional ‘western’ values. The international influence of the US is determined not only by the number of its weapons, or the power of its commerce. Traditionally, it is a consequence also of its power of attraction, the emancipatory quality of its core values – democracy, human rights, economic openness. These values, and their adoption by third countries, have helped drive the world to levels of prosperity never before experienced.

These achievements ought not to be squandered. more>