Introduction to Issue 1.2, “Sustainability Policy”

Robert Koch, Jr., Ph. D.
University of North Alabama

Who would have thought when we placed the call for a policy issue back in June that we would have to contend with the frustration and horror of a “science denier” in the White House for the next four years? Already, Donald Trump’s nominees for Secretary of State, Secretary of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency have demonstrated a clear lack of attention to Sustainability and the threat of climate change. Unfortunately, the journey toward a more sustainable future just became more difficult, and will need to happen despite, rather than with, American leadership over the next four years.

This second issue of the Journal of Sustainability Studies offers readers juxtaposition. First, John Langton, Professor of Political Science at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, delivers in his “Last Lecture” a desperate call to action, asking not only his college community, but the American and global community, to engage the threat of global climate change more seriously. Citing data trends in pre- and post-industrial temperature change and increased levels of greenhouse emissions, Langton argues that failure to act will likely result in a domino effect of increasingly catastrophic events affecting global cultural and political stability. He argues that not enough is being done, and that in particular America has not taken the global lead on the issue, a problem unlikely to change until after the 2020 elections. However, hope still exists as long as voters and everyday citizens insist on getting informed and insisting on positive action from elected leaders.

In contrast to the monolithic challenge presented in the last lecture of a senior professor, we feature the recent “Home Grown” efforts of one woman whose work on upcycling in her little corner of Sheffield, Alabama, illustrates the slogan “think globally, act locally.” Home Grown Art owner Barbara Cook shares her passion for salvaging the tossed aside and giving it new life in various art forms. Over twenty local artists display and sell their work in her shop, and so the environmentally conscious artist-entrepreneur advocates for both local art and eco-friendly practice.

The reviews in this issue, penned by intern Hope Johnson, review Bill Nye’s Unstoppable and the website Grist, each of which provides critical information and specific forms of action for creating a more sustainable, less threatened world. Each in its way captures the juxtaposition offered in this issue: a call to action, and specific ways to act. This is not simply good policy; given the current political and social climate, it’s the only reasonable policy.

Thanks for this issue goes to the contributors; Dr. Amanda Coffman, Director of the UNA Center for Sustainability; interns Hope Johnson and Falon Yates, who wrote reviews, edited, and took photographs; and the University of North Alabama administration. For the June issue, we are eschewing theme: as a response to the troubling, free-for-all future we now face, our journal will accept submissions in any area of interest related to sustainability. The deadline for submissions is April 1st, 2017. See the call in this issue for more details. We look forward to hearing from you.

Home Grown Art

Artist Barbara Cook smiles in her Sheffield, Alabama shop where she sells art made by herself and others from repurposed materials.

Barbara Cook, proprietor of Home Grown Art in Sheffield, Alabama, is seated on a fuzzy gold sofa, the kind you would find in your eccentric Aunt Zoe’s house. The one Aunt Zoe bought in the 1970s, and refused to part with. One look around the shop, and you begin to realize that the whole place kind of reminds you of eccentric Aunt Zoe. I look down into the succulents on a wooden rack to my right. A tiny green Apatosaurus looks back at me from beneath a cactus.

“I’m abstract, out there, and funky,” Cook says, and her shop is the proof. A riot of color, texture, and shape, the room where we are seated has geometric paintings in blues, reds, and rainbows on canvas and wood. A door sits on its side in the hall, an abstract painting by local artist Michael Banks. The coffee table before me and the bookcase to my left are covered in beaded bracelet and jewelry displays—bullet casings are a favorite found item in jewelry making—and a sunflower composed of several aluminumColor cans of varying sizes, painted the purple and gold of the University of North Alabama. Cook graduated from UNA in 2006.

“I love bringing new life to old things which some people would consider junk.

“I majored in interior design,” she tells me, “minored in art.” Unfortunately, she discovered that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for designers in our area or much of a market for abstract art, so she simply did it on the side. For the past five years or so, she salvaged furniture and bits of wood from the curbside, “anything to keep stuff out of the garbage that had potential—sometimes you really have to get creative.”

Then came Opelika. Her mother had an old home there—the house is somewhere between 80 and 100 years old. When she decided to replace some of the damaged hardwood floors, Cook decided that rather than see all that wood go into a landfill, she would bring it home and find a way to repurpose it. Soon after, Cook had a friend request to have a small painting framed; thus began the making of hardwood frames.

Cook shows off one of the frames made from the floorboards of her mother's Opelika home.
Cook shows off one of the frames made from the floorboards of her mother’s Opelika home.

“It’s strong wood and wasn’t taken up gently. Working with 80 plus year old wood wasn’t that easy and it wasn’t that fun sanding it.” She leads me to her desk in the back of this, the first of three rooms. A half dozen paintings of varying size and shape, some clearly hers, some the work of other artists, hang on the wall. This is where upcycling began for Cook. “Upcycling,” she says, “is not just repurposing. It’s making things more aesthetically pleasing. Stepping it up a couple of notches. I love bringing new life to old things which some people would consider junk.

Home Grown Art opened in June, 2016, and as of Thanksgiving, twenty artists, plus Cook, display and sell their work in her shop. Work is sold on consignment. As we tour the three display rooms, it becomes evident that for these artists, anything can become art. One of the artists has cut a wooden pallet and turned it into a decorative wine bottle holder with glass storage. A chainsaw chain has been turned into a beautiful but undoubtedly sharp impression of a guitar. Bottle top magnets sit on a display. Bright yellow and orange hand-knitted caps hang from the ceiling. A “Roll Tide” sign has been made from an upcycled piece of slate roof tile, and discarded wood paneling has been cut in the shape of the state and adorned with a white cross, reminiscent of the state flag. Cook is right at home amidst the collection: “Free material and helping our earth? It’s a win-win.”

Broken bits of tile and crockery become colorful mosaics.

One of the contributing artists has a clear devotion to mosaics. Shoes, mannequin hands and torsos, skulls, a mirror, a serving platter—each has been adorned with bits of tile, glass, pennies, beads, bottle caps and bits of chain. Sometimes the shapes are random, meant to accent the curves of a woman’s hand, fingernails and bracelets made permanent. Gold outlines the blue stone eyes of a skull, and the broken blue-gray, yellow, and maroon tile adorning it somehow reminds me of Mardi Gras, or Cinco de Mayo. Other times, a specific image is in mind: both the platter and mirror have been given tile inlays in the shape of trees. On the former mirror, a bright yellow sun cuts through lazing clouds to shine over a thick bushy tree—all of it in broken tile. Her pieces, like everyone else’s, are distributed throughout the shop.

Continued exploration reveals something more—the displays themselves are upcycled objects. A former cheese grater is an earring display, the grater painted red to contrast the jewelry. The fragile accordion-like wood trinket shelf that usually finds its way into children’s bedrooms have been hung from the ceiling, and from them colorful little air plants, squids of life and wire have been suspended from bent springs. Two small logs have been propped up for the .38 special earrings and other bullet casing jewelry. Not only were the hardwood floors repurposed for frames, they are also the backdrop and support for each painting on the gallery walls. Bathroom hooks, upcycled chairs and tables, all brought back from the rubbish heap for new life in a joyful visual and tactile menagerie.

Air plants hang from a repurposed trinket shelf.
Air plants hang from a repurposed trinket shelf.

Cook says that she wanted to create “a place where artists feel welcome and unique is accepted,” a home for local artists and their unique work. There aren’t a lot of options for local artists, she thinks. She has sold her work at First Fridays in downtown Florence, but has not yet participated in Arts Alive. Her goal, beyond selling works on consignment, is to create a workshop—her space in the back full of everything from furniture and paint to bags of fabric and yarn—and a space where local artists work together and learn from each other.

Cook’s shop is part of the community. Beyond providing a venue for the work of local artists, she is also selling prints of local landmarks created by Alabama artist Clay Allison, which have been donated to raise money for the city. But more than this, Cook is contributing to a healthy environment. “It’s important to keep stuff out of the landfill,” she says. “We’ve got to take care of mother earth.”

Home Grown Art is located at 206 E. 3rd St. Sheffield Alabama 35660. Visit them on the web at homegrownartisans.com

Gallery

Browse through some of Barbara’s upcycled furniture

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REVIEW: Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World by Bill Nye

Brandi Hope Johnson
University of North Alabama

Cover image: Bill Nye's book Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.
Nye, Bill. Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015.

In Unstoppable, science educator and mechanical engineer Bill Nye teaches his readers about global climate change and, most importantly, what they can do about it. Calling them the “Next Great Generation” who can make all the difference in saving the planet, he asks readers to consider all of the possibilities and opportunities to counteract climate change, such as creating clean, sustainable energy from solar, wind, and tidal sources rather than traditional methods like drilling for fossil fuels. “We face a challenge right now, you and I,” he writes, “that is even greater in aspect and scope than a global war. It is a battle for our house and home, and for our future on this planet.”

In contrast to the many books and articles that focus only on the terrifying effects of climate change, Unstoppable brainstorms solutions. Nye considers different ways to produce, use, and store energy and discusses various strategies for combatting climate change, both proactive (lowering carbon emissions) and reactive (actually repairing damage to the atmosphere). Some of the ideas presented, like the vacuum-tube Hyperloop transporation system, require further technological advancement to be feasible; others, such as pale pavement to lower temperatures in cities and reduce energy consumption, could be implemented today and make a significant difference in the rate and severity of climate change.

Inevitably, a book on climate change must address climate change deniers; Nye ably discredits their arguments using science and logic. “And yet,” he writes, “even now, after nearly fifty years of intensive research and more than thirty years of scientific consensus on the nature of global warming, there is still a sizeable group of people who grasp at any stray fact or, more commonly, any stray intuition, to help them deny what is happening. In denying the problem, they are also denying the need to step up and do something about it.” Nye points out that the most avid and influential climate change deniers are also the ones profiting the most from fossil fuel consumption. Overall, his argument is a convincing one.

Nye writes in a conversational, almost journal-like style, taking detours from the main topic to share stories from his childhood or explain how electricity and rockets work. Readers familiar with his 1990s TV series Bill Nye the Science Guy will recognize his characteristic sense of humor in presenting a range of scientific topics. Each chapter is short, and the concepts build on one another in a way that should be engaging and easy to follow for readers of various ages.

Unstoppable is worth reading for everyone who calls Earth home, a valuable guide to the many potential solutions to global climate change. Nye urges readers to expand on those existing ideas—to be innovative, to create tools and use materials in new ways, and to make big and small differences to curb the consequences of climate change. The book’s dedication carries his hopeful message: “To the Next Great Generation. Embrace science. Solve problems. Make things. Change the World.”

REVIEW: Grist.org

Brandi Hope Johnson
University of North Alabama

Giller, Chip. "Grist." Last modified November 5, 2016.
Giller, Chip. “Grist.” Last modified November 5, 2016.

Chip Giller founded the online magazine Grist.org in 1999 as a reliable source for environmental news from all over the world. Using mottos such as “Gloom and doom with a sense of humor,” and “A beacon in the smog,” Grist blends humor with critical information about ways in which people both succeed and fail to protect the environment. A non-profit organization funded by several foundations and individual donations, this online magazine is a great place to find the latest information on a variety of topics that are both educational and entertaining.

Grist.org is well organized and easy to navigate in order to quickly find articles, videos, and reviews on any topic of choice. The “Briefly” tab is incredibly useful, providing a list of all of the newest articles published on that day. This allows users to get caught up with all that is happening in the world of sustainability just by reading one page. The GRIST 50 tab can be used to view the top fifty up and coming environmental celebrities. Readers can learn more about each person’s “green cred.” For example, on the list are Jasmina Aganovic, president of the bacteria friendly bath company Mother Dirt, and David Bancroft, the head chef at Acre restaurant based in Auburn, Alabama. There is also a collection of website videos, easily searchable by section according to interests. Categories include Climate and Energy, Justice, Food, Cities, Living, Politics, Business and Technology, and Science. An electronic newsletter is available for readership who would like to be kept current on the latest news in sustainability.

There is a team of several writers for this website, each with their own unique personality and style. Every article is written with a clever title that grabs readers’ attention, such as, “How Climate Change is Screwing up your Favorite Season,” and “Kids, Go Nag your Parents about Saving Energy.” In the spirit of the site, each article takes on serious issues while leaving readers hopeful and optimistic about the opportunities everyone still has to make a difference on this planet. There is a lot of information to sort through when it comes to the truth about what is happening around the world; deciphering what is factual and useful is no easy task. The writers and editors do a terrific job at condensing, organizing, and explaining all of this information in a way that makes sense and inspires readers to take action.

The writers are on a mission to provide witty environmental news to anyone willing to confront the current issues and caring enough to search for solutions. They describe their jobs for this magazine thus: “You know how some people make lemonade out of lemons? At Grist, we’re making lemonade out of the looming climate apocalypse.” This one statement describes the overall satirical style of the writers and designers, which is refreshing when dealing with such large-scale issues. Giller has won numerous awards for his impact on environmental awareness including the National Conservation Achievement Award, the Jane Bagley Lehman Award for Excellence in Public Advocacy, and the Heinz Award, fitting validation for one of the top ranked environmental websites in the world.

Call for Submissions, volume 2, issue 1

Volume 2, Issue 1 (June 2017)
Deadline: April 1, 2017

The Journal of Sustainability Studies, an interdisciplinary, international, multi-modal, web-based journal hosted by the University of North Alabama’s Center for Sustainability Studies, invites submissions for publication. Submissions are reviewed year-round, with publication in June and December.

We invite research (CMS endnotes-bibliography style) and popular manuscripts, multimedia documents, art, and creative works that explore ideas and concerns regarding sustainability, on any scale and in any context. The journal serves a mixed audience of academics and the general public. Please follow the guidelines on the Themes & Submissions page of our website. Please note that the deadline for submissions is April 1st, 2017, for a June publication date.

LECTURE: Are We F**ked by Climate Change?

John Langton, Ph.D.
Westminster College

“If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”
Pope Francis

In August I will be starting my thirty-sixth year of teaching political science at Westminster College, and I have been wondering since 1989, after hearing a “last lecture” by a young, popular economics professor, who was departing to teach at another school, what I would say, what crucial wisdom I would try to impart to my students, my colleagues, and perhaps the world at large if I were asked to give an honorary last lecture, based on the conceit or useful fiction that it would be my final talk ever, my last chance to make a difference before retiring from the scene “permanently.” On June 1 this abstract, philosophical question became an immediate, practical task when the Dean invited me to deliver a last lecture on July 31, 2016, the final morning of Westminster’s inaugural Summer Retreat for alumni, faculty and students.1

I thought a lot about what I might say. I like to think I have insights to share on a number of subjects, but I concluded that I would speak about climate change and politics, after my family took a vacation in mid-July to visit my brothers in California, which was and is still suffering through the fifth year of the severest drought to have struck the state in 1,200 years.2 Wildfires were burning out of control in various locations and motels from Laguna Beach to San Francisco displayed warning signs, announcing the drought and asking their patrons to conserve water. At the John Muir Woods, I asked a park ranger if the giant Redwoods in the area were threatened and she said they were suffering because climate change had reduced the fog from which they normally derive half the 55 gallons of water they need each day (the other half comes from groundwater).

I have been teaching Environmental Policy and Politics for more than 20 years and I have become convinced that environmental degradation in general and climate change in particular pose the preeminent, existential threat to the survival and well-being of the human species and countless other species as well.3 Climate change not only creates serious ecological, economic and health problems by itself but also exacerbates a whole array of other vexing conditions from poverty and acute inequality to illegal immigration, civil and ethnic strife, interstate conflicts and ultimately, I believe, the threat of nuclear war.4 Without getting control of climate change, it is going to become increasingly difficult for us and particularly for future generations to lead decent, healthy, civilized lives. To put it more bluntly, I am convinced that unless we drastically reduce the amount of CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) that we are now putting into the atmosphere, we are going to be royally, hellishly f**ked by climate change and its cascading, catastrophic consequences. That’s the thrust of my last lecture.

Originally, I had a more sedate, more traditional academic title for my last lecture and I wrote out a dense outline of what I wanted to say so that my final talk would have more structure than my usual classroom lectures. But, at a local bar on Thursday night, before the formal beginning of the retreat on Friday, one of my former students thanked me for really challenging her, and she and a number of other alumni said they had come to the retreat specifically to hear me hold forth, to “pontificate,” to give a typical free-flowing, off-the-cuff, irreverent Langton lecture. And so that’s what you’re getting this morning, with the proviso that I will try to follow the major points in my outline, which you now have before you.

I decided to change the title of my lecture to make it more provocative, more memorable and thus to give my “final talk” a better chance to be published and disseminated to a wider audience. I don’t mean to offend people by using the term f**ked. Rather I want to convey as graphically and effectively as possible that unless we stabilize climate change, we are going to be ruined, screwed, degraded, totally messed up, FUBARed, as American GIs in WWII used to say.5

To give credit where credit is due, I derived the title of my lecture from the title of Brad Werner’s highly technical paper, “Is Earth F**ked?” which he delivered in 2012 at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco (where else?). Werner’s answer to his question was, “more or less,” “…as evidenced by widespread inability to meaningfully address such global challenges as climate change and soil degradation…within the dominant culture…”6 My answer to the question posed in the title of my last lecture, the wisdom I so desperately want to impart here is that “we are probably f**ked by climate change but not necessarily, not ineluctably.” We can save our planet and ourselves but it is going to take an incredible amount of sustained, intelligent work, large sacrifices, wise and courageous political leadership, systemic reforms, and, crucially, a massive, global “metanoia” or fundamental change of consciousness about the magnitude of the threat we face from climate change and what must be done to avoid being royally, hellishly f**ked by it. I hope you will pardon my repetition of that phrase for rhetorical effect, but, damn it, if we don’t act decisively to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases and thus anthropogenic climate change, we will be FUBARed. And that’s the unvarnished truth, as I see it.

My Thesis and Basic Argument

Plato defined political wisdom in his Republic as knowing what is “the best possible conduct for the state as a whole…”7 and the knowledge I would like to convey here is that although we are in all probability going to be f**ked by climate change, this does not have to be our fate, if we can change our conduct, if we can just shed our addiction to fossil fuels before it is too late. We still have the time, knowledge and technological resources to stabilize climate change at a point that avoids the worst scenarios now envisioned by the IPCC. But we must recognize and treat climate change as the greatest existential threat, not just to American national security, but to the security of the human species, and we must act on that realization immediately, decisively, and dramatically to ensure that the average global temperature of the planet does not go higher (for a number of years) than 2 °C or 3.6 °F above the preindustrial baseline (1880–1910) average of about 13.7 °C or 56.7 °F.8 Concretely, to achieve this imperative, to have a sustainable future, four incredibly difficult steps must be taken: (1) we (the human species) must reduce the current roughly 40 billion metric tons of CO2 and the billions of tons of other greenhouse gases like methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons we are currently emitting each year by burning coal, oil and natural gas9 by 80 percent by 2050 and then to zero by 208510; (2) we must leave approximately 85 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves underground11; (3) the United States, as one of the greatest emitters historically of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere and as the most powerful and wealthiest nation on the planet, must lead this daunting project,12 but (4) we (Americans) can’t do this without first “fixing our politics,” as President Obama put it in his last State of the Union Address.13 Taking these steps would be, I firmly believe, the truly wise course of action for the United States and the world community in the most expansive, necessary and crucial sense of the phrase.

A good argument, a good plan of action, a good political theory, I tell my classes, offers sound reasons for a conclusion and typically tries to answer three questions: (1) what is and will be the case empirically, if current trends continue; (2) what ought to be the case, morally and practically (this is often referred to as the “vision” question); and (3) what should be done to go from here to there, to move from where we are to where we ought to be (this is the question about a feasible, effective transformation strategy). In the remainder of this lecture, I would like to sketch my answers to these questions with respect to the greatest challenge we face as a species: unmitigated climate change driven by the relentless, massive burning of fossil fuels. In thinking about these questions, I have been guided by Auguste Comte’s incredibly astute observation that “we seek to know in order to foresee and to foresee in order to control.”

What Is and Will Be the Case?

What we know in general, according to physicist Myles Allen, is that “there is a simple and predictable relationship between the total amount of carbon injected into the atmosphere and peak projected warmings. Releasing a trillion metric tons of carbon [or 3 trillion tons of CO2] into the atmosphere may cause a most likely peak warming of two degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which many identify as a danger.”14 What we know specifically, according to Bill McKibben and others, is that since the start of the industrial revolution in 1750, we have released, as of 2011, 531 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, primarily coal. At current rates of release, we will put enough carbon into the air to raise the global temperature by a very disruptive 1.5 °C in about six years, and we will burn the remainder of our “carbon budget,” which has been reduced by now (July, 2016) to only about 330 billion tons of carbon (or 1000 gigatons of CO2), in another 15 to 20 years.15 At that point, around 2034, we will have warmed the planet a catastrophic 2 °C or more above the preindustrial level, and an average global temperature of 61.5 °F or higher will be the hellish, “new normal.” Not to alarm you too much, but this July was not only the hottest July on record but the hottest month since 1880, with an average global land/ocean surface temperature of 16.67 °C or 62.01 °F, which was, according to NOAA, 1.57 °F above the twentieth-century average of 60.44 °F and 4.41 °F above the preindustrial average.16

At the beginning of the industrial revolution, there were 270 to 280 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere; then 315 in 1959; 379 in 2005; 386 in 2010; 396 in 2013; 401 in 2015; and 403 to 407 in 2016.17 We are now adding 2.25 ppm of CO2 a year to our air and the average global temperature actually reached 61.52 F or 16.4 °C in June, 2016, breaking the 2 °C hotter threshold for the first time, according to NOAA. If this trend continues, we will hit 450 ppm of CO2 in less than twenty years, the average global temperature will be perhaps as much as 3 °C hotter than baseline averages and we will be royally, hellishly f**ked by climate change or rather the drastic, almost unimaginable consequences of that process.

According to reports that are readily available on the net by NASA, NOAA, Climate Central, the EPA and similar agencies and organizations,18 over the last 50 years the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. Every year for the last 40 years has been warmer than the average global temperature for the twentieth century. Fifteen of the sixteen hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. The year 2015 was by far the warmest on record since 1880 and there is a 99 percent chance that 2016 will be warmer than 2015. The first six months of 2016 were the warmest six-month period on record and were 2.7 °F warmer than the pre-industrial average. Each month in 2016 exceeded all previous average temperature records for that month. June 2016 was the fourteenth straight hottest month on record and July was the fifteenth. For the first time in recorded history, the average global temperature of the earth in 2015 was 1 °C above the preindustrial average. Another 1 °C increase in average temperature or a sustained 2 °C above the preindustrial average will produce catastrophic climate change. Previous forecasts that we will hit that by 2034 now seem rather optimistic and if we continue to practice business as usual and these trends continue, we will probably have put more than 600 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere by the end of the century, the global average temperature will be 4 to 10 °C hotter than the average temperature in which we evolved as a species, and our great grandchildren will be burning in a hellish, striated, Hobbesian world and cursing us for our incredibly immoral selfishness.

As the average global temperature moves permanently beyond roughly 16 °C or 62 °F, we can expect to see an even more rapid, unstoppable melting of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets, an appreciable sea-level rise, destructive warming and acidification of the oceans, massive storm surges, the inundation of coastal cities around the world, the disappearance of small island states, increases in allergies, asthma and infectious diseases, drastic declines in potable water, food fish and agricultural production, the unabated mass extinction of other species, and the proliferation of extreme weather events, such as relentless, murderous heat waves, sustained droughts and frequent torrential rains, more powerful hurricanes and tornadoes, and all this will, I think you must quickly realize, exacerbate a plethora of other social and political problems.19 Eventually, if these trends continue deep into the next century, a kind of “end-of-days” apocalypse could occur in which world trade collapses, democratic governments start to disappear, nation states fragment, war and ethnic strife become endemic, and civilization, as we know it, disintegrates.20 Indeed, at some point in the foreseeable future, the disastrous direct and indirect consequences of unmitigated climate change will destroy the institutional capacity of the human species to respond coherently and effectively to climate change and then our progeny will really be royally and hellishly f**ked.

In April global leaders met in New York to sign the Paris climate agreement, which had been approved on December 12, 2015 by 195 nations at the twenty-first meeting of the UN-sponsored Conference of Parties (concerned about climate change). The agreement committed virtually all the countries in the world to “holding the increase in global average temperature well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C.” Unfortunately, the average global temperature of the first three months of this year has already almost hit that 1.5 °C threshold, and it now appears that even if there is no free riding and each of the 195 countries meets its proposed emission-reduction goal, their collective total emissions of CO2 will not decline significantly and by 2050 the global average temperature will be at least 3 °C higher than the preindustrial average. In other words, while the nations of the world were willing to sign a nonbinding agreement to do something meaningful about climate change, most were individually and practically unwilling to do enough work, to sacrifice enough for the common good, to accomplish the goal. Concretely if all the nations that endorsed the Paris Accord hit their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (i.e. proposed reductions), CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions would only drop from 60 billion metric tons today to 54 billion in 2030, which clearly would not do much to slow the buildup of CO2 and the pace and magnitude of climate change.21 For all of President Obama’s good intentions, the United States has only pledged to drop its emissions 28 percent below its 2005 level (7.1 gigatons) by 2025 or only about 2 billion tons below its current level of 7.5 gigatons. And this ignores the fact that the US plans in this span to burn more natural gas and thus emit more methane, which actually captures and reradiates more heat per molecule than CO2. All this provides simultaneously an example of the problem of collective action and “the environmental policy paradox,” described by Professor Zach Smith as a recurring and puzzling condition in which policy makers seem to understand what to do about an environmental problem, like climate change, but fail, for various reasons, to respond to it in a timely and effective manner.22

Donald Trump has called climate change “bullshit” and a “hoax” perpetuated by the Chinese to weaken America, and recent polls indicate that a majority of Republicans basically agree with him.23 Thus it is no surprise that the platform just approved by the GOP at its convention explicitly rejects the imposition of a carbon tax and calls for rescinding Obama’s Clean Power Plan and withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, which the United States signed in April and agreed in September to participate in formally, in conjunction with a similar commitment from China.24 Trump, of course, did not mention climate change in his Nomination Speech at the Convention, and one editorial observed that the “GOP Fiddles While America Burns.”25 In contrast, the Democratic platform characterized climate change as “an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time,” and called for putting a tax on carbon. But alas, Hillary Clinton had only two tepid sentences about this “urgent threat” in her Nomination Speech: “I believe in science. I believe that climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying clean energy jobs.”26 Someday, I think, conditions will force the presidential candidates of both major parties to talk at great length about their plans for dealing with climate change. I just hope that this happens before it is way too late, before water from the D.C. tidal basin is lapping at Jefferson’s feet in his Memorial.

What Ought to Be the Case?

Ideally, the global economy will be substantially “decarbonized” by 2050 and certainly before 2100,27 emitting roughly 12 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year by midcentury and fueled then primarily by wind, solar, water, geothermal and, although I hate to say it, a lot of nuclear power, generated perhaps by fast-fusion reactors. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, instead of hurtling toward 450 ppm and beyond as it currently is, will be moving back toward 350 ppm, as the great climatologist James Hansen has contended is necessary to have real sustainability.28 This will mean that not only will the burning of fossil fuels virtually cease by 2085 but, according to a new study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, technologies must be in place by then that extract 15 billion tons of CO2 from the air each year, so that we actually have “negative emissions.” 29 The population of the earth will be stabilized at less than nine billion and we will have zero population growth in the future. People will lead much greener, less consumptive, more energy efficient lives. They will walk and bike more, play more tennis and other sports, watch a lot less TV, use public transportation a lot more, drive small, energy efficient cars, and eat little or no meat, whose production now contributes significantly to climate change. 30 The United States, among many other things, will have an extensive high speed rail system and scores of new, small nuclear power plants.

The American political system will be fixed, so that it can actually get things done. It will no longer be what Francis Fukuyama now describes as a gridlocked “vetocracy,” suffering from “a problem of political decay in a more acute form than other democratic political systems.”31 Virtually all the nations in the world will be strong, robust democracies, the UN will be strengthened, and there will be powerful regulatory agencies at the national, regional and international levels to control the emission of greenhouse gases, to deal with a myriad of other environmental problems, to administer a carbon tax and to direct a massive program to develop clean forms of energy, more efficient technologies and on and on.

Crucially, and I mean crucially, virtually everyone will realize that, like the earth revolving around the sun, anthropogenic climate change is not a hoax, but a scientifically established fact, that the burning of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution has contributed substantially to the growing concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and thus to the warming of the planet, and that everything possible must be done to reverse this process, including paying a very stiff carbon tax.

Of course, it goes without saying that none of this may come to pass and that we will instead be living in an extremely hot, ugly, FUBARed world.

What Should Be Done to Get There from Here?

To ensure that our nation and the world community has a decent, sustainable future, the United States should become the clear, unquestioned leader in the global effort to combat climate change, to stabilize the average global temperature at less than 62 °F or something short of 2 °C above the preindustrial level. And to achieve this goal the United States should, among many other measures, impose on itself a carbon tax of $80 dollars per metric ton by 2020 and champion the creation of a global carbon tax, which will work to reduce the burning of fossil fuel, encourage the development and use of renewables and promote technological innovations to enhance energy efficiency and the attractiveness of alternative fuels.32 The funds collected through the carbon tax should be used in part to cushion the impact of the tax on the less advantaged members of society, to provide incentives for the development and deployment of green technologies and renewable energy, and to help developing countries transition to a decarbonized future. Critically, the Paris Climate Accord must be strengthened significantly, with participating countries agreeing by 2020 to raise their “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (proposed reductions in CO2 emissions) dramatically enough to actually hold “the increase in global average temperature well below 2 °C.” And then they must abide by their new pledges.

For all this to happen, to stop just fiddling while we burn, at least two critical things must occur. First, the American political system must be fixed so that polices promoting decarbonization can be enacted. Big money must be taken out of our politics, the gerrymandering of our congressional districts must be reversed, and the filibuster rule in the Senate must be eliminated or reformed. Second, the ideological polarization about climate change must come to end. To put it simply, to avoid being unbelievably f**ked by climate change, the preponderant majority of people in this country and indeed the world must come to accept, sooner rather than later, the wisdom and advice I have sought to distill and convey in my last lecture, which is, in a nutshell, that we are going to be f**ked by climate change unless we take all kinds of actions to drastically reduce and then virtually eliminate the burning of fossil fuels. And it occurs to me that one of those actions would be for more and more professors from the baby boom generation to give last lectures that dwell on the threat of climate change and what can be done to mitigate it. Millions and millions of voices in millions of venues must speak out to change the hearts and minds of billions and billions of people across the globe in order for us to achieve sustainability.

Finally, I want to say that my goal here has not been simply to entertain you, to give you something interesting to think about, to let you experience once again one of my lectures at a pleasant Summer Retreat. I don’t want you to just passively accept my message; I don’t want you to be free riders, hoping others will sacrifice for the common good, while you continue to live high on the hog of fossil fuels, driving an SUV, keeping the AC on high, refusing to vote for anyone who proposes a carbon tax that would initially raise the price of gas perhaps a buck or two a gallon. Instead, as Gandhi said, you must actually “be the change you want to see in the world,” politically, economically, socially, and ecologically. If you want to alleviate the threat of climate change, you’ve got to live a life that helps alleviate the threat of climate change; you’ve got to walk the walk and so do I. As my wife often says to me, “if you’re such a big environmentalist, turn off the lights and TV when you leave the room.”

This is what I hoped I would be able to say in my last lecture, when I started to think about climate change as my topic. But I have to confess, it all sounds, even to me, farfetched, improbable, ridiculously idealistic, if not laughable. On such a nice day it is hard for me to believe, despite what the data say, that the planet has just suffered through the hottest month on record (again, 62.01 °F and 16.67 °C, according to NOAA) and that things will get much, much worse, if the nations of the world don’t cut their CO2 emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and leave 85 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves in the ground forever. It’s hard for me to believe we can do anything like that. It’s hard for me to believe that we, the American people, will fix our politics in the foreseeable future, enact a stiff carbon tax and encourage China, India, the EU and the rest of the world to do the same. And that’s why, in a nutshell, it’s hard for me to believe that we will give up our addiction to oil, coal, and natural gas and avoid being royally, hellishly f**ked by climate change. But again, as I said, that does not have to be our fate. Improbable does not mean impossible, necessary or ineluctable. We don’t have to overdose on fossil fuels. We can get green and clean. We’re not blind and we’re not helpless. We know what is causing climate change; we can foresee its terrible consequences, and we know how to control, reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels and to take measures to adapt to the level of warming that is now inevitable, given the CO2 already in our air. We just have to do it. So turn out the lights when you leave the room, join an environmental group or two, and become a passionate advocate of a stiff carbon tax. Start living a much greener, more environmentally sustainable and ecologically moral life. In short, live what is actually the good life for the new millennium. Your kids and their kids will praise you for your wisdom and thank you for your sacrifices for their well-being. That’s the final, practical piece of advice I’d like to give you in this my last lecture, at least for now.

Addendum

As I write this addendum to my last lecture a few days after the 2016 presidential election, I am filled with a mix of conflicting emotions: despair, dread, outrage, exasperation, sadness- but also hope and a resolute determination to fight on, to “Never give in… Never, never, never, never… except to convictions of honour and good sense,” as Churchill declared in 1941 when England was still facing defeat in World War II.

The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States has palpably and exponentially increased the probability that we are going to be royally and hellishly f**ked by climate change in the not too distant future. We have replaced a president, who became an eloquent and effective champion of the environment, who viewed climate change as the greatest long-term threat facing the world, who repeatedly warned that we were not acting fast enough to combat what he called in September its “terrifying trends,”33 with a president who will be, as Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club observed, “literally the only head of state on earth who is a climate-change denier.”34

Before the election, which I expected Hillary Clinton to win, I had become convinced on the basis of a fantastic article by Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez35 that “the Koch network,” with its incredible organizational and financial resources, was ideologically and politically the single most powerful force preventing the United States from acting more quickly and effectively to combat climate change. But now I realize that the damage done by Charles and David Koch to the climate will be almost nothing compared to what President Trump is about to do, if he carries out his campaign proposals. In short, instead of helping to reduce the global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the Trump administration will be acting to increase their output tremendously. Under President Trump the United States will opt out of the Paris Accord and this in turn will encourage China and then many other countries to withdraw too, perhaps causing the collapse of the whole structure. Even if that doesn’t occur, America’s withdrawal from the agreement will deflate the remaining participating countries and cause them to work less strenuously to fulfill their national pledges. At the same time, President Trump will rescind Obama’s Clean Power Plan and other regulations that curtail American emissions.36 Instead of helping to keep 85 percent of the known fossil fuels reserves underground, the United States will be working overtime to exploit then and thus, of course, encouraging other nations to do the same. As prominent climatologist Michael Mann observed, Trump’s climate policies could mean that it’s “game over” for the planet. Without an effective Paris Accord, Mann argues, there will be nothing the countries of the world can do to prevent the planet’s average temperature from increasing between 4.0 and 4.5 °C by 2100, as a recent scientific paper predicts.37 If the average global temperature at the end of the century is in the mid to high 60s °F, the waters of the D.C. tidal basin could be lapping at Jefferson’s feet in his Memorial, and the world will be a very hellish, FUBARed place.

Why, then, do I have any hope that fighting on, that not giving in to pessimism and despair can make any difference, can help to save the climate and the planet, during the presidency of Donald Trump? Let me give you just three reasons. First, I believe that the climate science on which my last lecture is based is correct and that nature itself will make this increasingly clear. For example, in a remarkable article, entitled “2016’s Hellish Summer Weather: A Told-You-So Moment?,” Seth Borenstein describes the massive flooding around the globe, the droughts and wildfires in California, Canada, China and India, the unrelenting, record- setting heat, and the ten extreme weather disasters that each caused more than a billion in losses and occurred between May and September (and this litany of disasters doesn’t even include Hurricane Matthew). He indicates how these events were related to the effects of climate change, and observes that James Hansen was able to forecast back in 1988 “with a crude computer model” the global temperate rise, the “big changes in the number of days when the overnight temperature would not go below 75 and the daytime highs would exceed 95 in four cities by the 2010s.”38 In another remarkable article, with the title “Flooding of the Coast Caused by Global Warming Has Already Begun” and with the subtitle “Scientists’ Warnings that the Rise of the Sea Would Eventually Imperil the United States’ Coastline Are No Longer Theoretical,” Justin Gillis documents how the rising sea is beginning to inundate and damage towns and cities along the east coast and how elections in those areas are beginning “ to be won or lost on promises to invest money to protect against flooding.”39

My point, again, is that climate scientists have got it mostly right about climate change. They have the theories and forecasting models to predict what is going to happen to our climate as the concentration of CO2 and other greenhouse gases increases and what that will do in turn to other aspects of the biosphere. Citizens who want to do something about climate change should strive to become fully informed about its causes, consequences and remedies. They then need to inform their president, senators and representatives about what they have learned and that their future political support for them depends on their willingness to do something about climate change, even if it is just to invest in green energy projects, including the building of wind farms and nuclear plants. They need to tell their senators to filibuster and refuse to see confirmed any of the President’s nominees for positions in the Cabinet, the EPA and other regulatory agencies, and the judiciary, who are not willing to be at least “pragmatic” about the issue of climate change and the degradation of the environment in general.

This leads me to my second cause for hope that the game is not over for the climate: Donald Trump did not win the popular vote for president. Let me say that again: Donald Trump did not win the popular vote for president. As I write this addendum, Hillary Clinton is leading him in the popular vote by more than almost 2 million votes, and that figure is expected to grow, since the states which have not gotten in all their tallies are large, heavily Democratic states like New York and California. Trump won the presidency because of the quirky way the anachronistic, undemocratic Electoral College “actually counts” the vote for president. Hillary Clinton received more popular votes than any presidential candidate in history, except Barack Obama. In other words, many more people voted for the candidate who said she believed in the science of climate change and wanted to do something about the problem than voted for the candidate who said that climate change was a hoax. This makes me hopeful. If Mr. Trump had won the popular vote, that would have been a cause for serious despair. But he didn’t, and four years from now he could be even more vulnerable on the issue of climate change and he should be reminded about that as often as possible.

Finally, I have hope not only because I believe that the science of climate change is valid and that nature will confirm its truth over and over in increasingly uncomfortable and undeniable ways, but also because I believe that fighting to stabilize the climate and save the planet is the morally right, just and laudable thing to do. So, as I said at the end of my last lecture, be the change you want to see in the world; turn off the lights and TV when you leave the room; join an environmental group or two; become a passionate advocate of a stiff carbon tax. And please, especially during the presidency of Donald Trump, don’t be afraid to exercise your First Amendment rights. Write letters to the editor; petition your government; assemble, march, speak truth to power about climate change and the pressing need to do something about it now, before we are royally, hellishly, f**ked by it.

After writing that last sentence less than two weeks ago, I was stunned to learn that Donald Trump had declared, on November 22, during an interviews with Thomas Friedman and other New York Times columnists, that: (1) he has an “open mind” about and is “going to look very carefully [at]” the whole issue of climate change, the Paris agreement and whether America would continue to play a leading role in confronting climate change; (2) he views “clean air” and “clean water, crystal clean water… as vitally important;” (3) he actually thinks “there is some connectivity” between human activity and climate change, but (4) he doesn’t know “how much” and is concerned about “how much it’s going to cost our companies” to do something about the climate issue.40 For me, all this is incredibly good news. It means that Donald Trump is not an implacable climate-change denier, that he is open to reason and evidence, and that he can be educated about how dealing with climate change, despite its costs, can yield enormous economic benefits and is absolutely vital to the health and well-being of American companies, their workers, and indeed the human species. It means that we can now have a bit more hope that, even during the Trump presidency, things can be accomplished that will help to save the climate and the planet, if we hold his feet to the fire and fight on. But, alas, I must leave you with a sobering thought, a last piece of wisdom, provided recently by Dr. Michael Mann on his blog. Even if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency, the United States would have been emitting approximately five to six gigatons of CO2 per year in 2020 (in contrast to the seven gigatons or so then if Trump were to fulfill his campaign proposals), and, combined with the roughly 40 gigatons released by the other nations, we would have warmed the climate a “very disruptive” 1.5 °C in just four to six years. In other words, as Dr. Mann adroitly put it, “the future of the global climate would have been fracked even had the election gone the other way,” unless a Clinton administration had undertaken almost immediately “stronger action to cut CO2 emissions” than expected.41 With the global temperature currently at 1.2 °C above the preindustrial average, it seems inevitable now that in very short order we will see a climate that is at least 1.5 °C warmer than it was only a hundred years ago. Somehow we’ve got to do more, so much more to avoid hitting in turn a catastrophic 2 °C hotter in 2034, 3 °C in 2050 and 4 °C near the end of the century, at which point the Trump National Doral Golf Club in Miami will be as much as six feet underwater, according to an estimate by the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact,42 and we will be “irrevocably fracked,” FUBARed, f**ked, royally and hellishly.

That said, I want to end my last lecture by reaffirming its thesis: although we are probably going to be f**ked good and hard by climate change, that does not have to be our fate, if we can take the tough, requisite actions to break our addiction to fossil fuels sooner rather than later. And right now, as I see it, this means, among a whole panoply of other actions, reminding President Trump, his administration and supporters in Congress over and over about what science says about climate change and its causes, consequences and remedies, and asking them again and again if they want to be remembered by future generations as politicians who, seduced by the love of power and the lure of campaign contributions, simply ignored or actively abetted an impending planetary holocaust.

End Notes

1.^ This essay is a reconstruction of the “last lecture” I delivered on July 31, 2016 at the inaugural Westminster College Summer Retreat in Fulton, Missouri for alumni, faculty and students. It was written shortly after the lecture and is largely based on the dense outline I prepared for the talk and distributed to the audience. The essay retains the title, overall structure, conversational style, and much of the substance of the lecture as delivered. Like the spoken lecture, this essay is intended for a general audience of educated people, and thus I have used mostly popular sources, which can be easily found through Google, to support my claims. I have not rewritten the main body of the essay to reflect developments that occurred after July 2016, but I do cite sources published since then. I have added an addendum that discusses how the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States bears on the argument of my last lecture.

2.^ Catherine Gautier, “How Climate Change is Making California’s Epic Drought Worse,” The Conversation, May 21, 2015.

3.^ James Hansen, “The Threat to the Planet,” The New York Review of Books,” July 13, 2006; Laurence C. Smith, “Greenhouse Warming: Prepare for the Worst, The New York Review of Books, 63, no. 15 (Oct. 2016), 44–46.

4.^ For excellent overviews of climate change, its deleterious consequences and what can be done to alleviate them see Justin Gillis, “Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change,” The New York Times, November 25, 2015; Justin Gillis, “Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst is Yet to Come,” The New York Times. March 31, 2014; Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014, 1–28.

5.^ FUBAR is an acronym for the military slang term “f**ked up beyond all recognition” that became popular during WWII.

6.^ Brad Werner, “Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism,” December 6, 2012; Dave Levitan, “After Extensive Mathematical Modeling, Scientist declares ‘Earth is F**ked’,” io9 Gizmodo, December 7, 2012. Werner’s argument and presentation of his unpublished paper is discussed by Naomi Klein, in This Changes Everything, 449–450.

7.^ Francis MacDonald Cornford, The Republic of Plato. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986, 121.

8.^ “Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report,” IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007, Topic 5: The long term perspective: 64–70; Brian Mastroianni, “Why 2 Degrees Are So Important to Climate Change,” CBS News, November 30, 2015.

9.^ The greenhouse gases countries are now emitting contain about 60 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalents. See Bobby Magill, “Negative Emissions Key to Meeting 2°C Threshold,” Climate Central, July 12, 2016.

10.^ James Ayre, “Study: Limiting Global Warming to Under 2 °Celsius Requires Ceasing Emissions by 2085 AND Technology to Remove Carbon From Atmosphere,” CleanTechnica, July 26, 2016.

11.^ R.L. Miller, “Climate Change Report Supports Bill McKibben’s ‘Terrifying New Math’.” Take Part, September 28, 2013.

12.^ Al Gore, “The Turning Point: New Hope for the Climate,” Rolling Stone, June, 18, 2014.

13.^ Carl Husle and Julie Hirschfield Davis, “Obama’s Plea to ‘Fix Our Politics’ Leaves Both Sides Looking Inward,” The New York Times, January 13, 2016.

14.^ Quoted in David Biello “How Much Is Too Much? Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” Scientific American, April 29, 2009.

15.^ Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012; I have used R.L. Miller’s recalculations of McKibben’s terrifying math in light of a more recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

16.^ NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for July 2016, published online August 2016, retrieved on November 12, 2016.

17.^ Brian Kahn, “The World Passes 400 PPM Threshold. Permanently,” Climate Central, September 27, 2016.

18.^ See, for example, Andrea Thompson, “First Half of 2016 Blows Away Temp Records,” Climate Central, July 19, 2016.

19.^ Rebecca Leber, “This is What Our Hellish World Will Look Like After We Hit the Global Warming Tipping Point,” New Republic, December 21, 2014; Bill McKibben, “Some Like it Hot!” The New York Review of Books. May 9, 2013, 59–60.

20.^ Michael Northcott, A Political Theology of Climate Change. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013, 304.

21.^ John Upton, “Paris Talks Won’t Achieve 2°C Goal: Does That Matter?” Climate Central, February 10, 2015; Bobby Magill, “Negative Emissions Key to Meeting 2°C Threshold,” July 12, 2016.

22.^ Zachary A. Smith, The Environmental Policy Paradox, Sixth Edition, Boston: Pearson, 2013. 92-93, 325.

23.^ Louis Jacobsen, “Yes, Donald Trump Did Call Climate Change a Chinese Hoax,” Politifact. June 3, 2016,.

24.^ James Bruggers, “Party platforms clash on climate change,” courier-journal, July 26, 2016.

25.^ Phil Plait, “The GOP Fiddles While America Burns,” Slate, July 20, 2016.

26.^ “Hillary Clinton’s DNC Speech: Full Text,” CNN Politics, July 28, 2016.

27.^ “’Decarbonization’,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 16, 2015, Opinion Section, A14.

28.^ James Abraham, “What’s Climate Scientist James Hansen’s Legacy?” The Guardian.  April 29, 2013.

29.^ Bobby McGill, “Negative Emissions Key to Meeting 2°C Threshold,” Climate Central, July 12, 2016.

30.^ Bruce Friedrich, “What Would the Pope Eat?” USA Today, September 17, 2015, News Section, 7A.

31.^ Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014, 487.

32.^ “Carbon Cure-All,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 27, 2012, Opinion Section, A18.C

33.^ Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Mark Landler and Coral Davenport, “Obama on Climate Change: The Trends are ‘Terrifying’,” The New York Times. September 8, 2016.

34.^ Oliver Milman, “Donald Trump Would Be World’s Only National Leader to Reject Climate Science,” The Guardian, July 12, 2016.

35.^ Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, “The Koch Network and Republican Party Extremism,” Perspectives on Politics 14, no. 3 (September 2016): 681-699. DOI: 10.1017/S1537592716001122.

36.^ Steven Mufson and Brady Dennis, “Trump Victory Reverses U.S. Energy and Environmental Priorities,” The Washington Post, November 9, 2016.

37.^ Chris Sommerfeldt, “Donald Trump’s Climate Policies Could Mean Game Over for the Planet: Scientist,” New York Daily News, November 10, 2016.

38.^ Seth Borenstein, “2016’s Hellish Summer Weather: A Told-You-So Moment?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 2016, Nation Section, A4.

39.^ Justin Gillis, “Flooding of the Coast Caused by Global Warming Has Already Begun,” The New York Times, September 3, 2016

40.^ The New York Times, “Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript,” November 23, 2016

41.^ Michael Mann, “Trump Carbon and the Paris Agreement,” Real Climate, November 17, 2016.

42.^ The Editors, “Trump and the Planet,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 28, 2016. AO9

Bibliography

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Call for Submissions: “Sustainability Policy”

Theme: Sustainability Policy
Deadline: September 30, 2016

About JSS

The Journal of Sustainability Studies, an interdisciplinary, international, multi-modal, web-based journal hosted by the UNA Center for Sustainability, invites submissions for publication. Submissions are reviewed year-round, with publication in June and December.

Call for Submissions

The upcoming 2016 United States Presidential election will be a critical one for sustainability. The Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, and Green nominees all hold different positions on sustainability, from dismissing it as a non-issue to making it a central theme that cuts across the platform. In addition, the balance of power in the United States Senate, and the ongoing challenge over Supreme Court Justice appointments, could spell either years of setbacks or present a critical opportunity to take a significant leap forward on issues of sustainability – not just in the U.S., but globally as well, as American policy and position is, for better or worse, accounted for by nations around the globe.

Yet sustainability policy is not limited to the American political arena. Around the globe, corporations, public and private institutions, and community organizations all have economic, environmental, and social policies and agendas that relate in some way to sustainability. Even in the home, families make practical decisions about how to live that are effectively policy positions, whether that means recycling, composting, and using LED lights, or just chucking the trash in one shot; whether that means walking or riding a bicycle, using mass transit, or driving an automobile; whether that means planting a container garden or buying in the marketplace.

Therefore, for the next issue we invite you to explore any of several critical questions: What are viable policies on sustainability (social, environmental, economic, etc.) that can be enacted in a specific chosen context, and what are the anticipated benefits and costs? If a policy has been enacted, what have been the results, both positive and negative? What challenges and opportunities have been presented in setting policy in a given professional, civic, or personal context? How can or have those challenges be addressed? What risks and rewards can or have those opportunities created?

For this issue of the Journal of Sustainability Studies, we invite manuscripts, multimedia documents, art, and creative works that explore ideas and concerns regarding sustainability policy – on any scale and in any context. The journal serves a mixed audience of academics and the general public. Please follow the guidelines on the Theme & Submissions page of our website. Please note that the deadline for submissions is September 30th, 2016, for a December 15th publication date.

REVIEW: TreeHugger.com

Brandi Hope Johnson
University of North Alabama

TreeHugger.com
O’Neill, Meaghan. “TreeHugger.com.” Narrative Content Group. Last modified May 27, 2016.

The website TreeHugger.com was first created in August 2004 by Graham Hill, with the goal of “driving sustainability mainstream.”  This website is important to many fields because it contains all of the diverse aspects included in the broad term sustainability.  There are useful articles from many categories to choose from, beautiful art slideshows, and videos to make information more organized and easier for anyone to understand.  A variety of audiences may find this site worth visiting: anyone who is just becoming interested in sustainable practices and looking for inspiration; construction professionals, architects, and engineers interested in the newest building materials and techniques; and avid environmentalists can all enjoy daily updates on what is new in the world of sustainability.

The website shows nine clickable tabs in the header, including design, technology, transportation, science, business, living, energy, slideshows, and social.  These diverse categories are a great way to organize all the diverse information available related to sustainability.  This organizational strategy also allows those with specific interests to navigate quickly, while making navigation easier for those who do not know where to begin their search.  The slideshow tab includes a stunning collection of photographs that range from butterflies, toads, and birds, to gardens and breath-taking landscapes. New galleries are added on a fairly regular basis, and include descriptions of the various scenes to help readers contextualize each image. This is a great place to enjoy a wide array of sustainable ideas and images in full color.

Of course, the site includes a selection of articles that are both diverse and at times controversial. Some examples include articles exploring the truth about biodegradable plastics, the irony of Earth Day cleanups, and car manufacturers’ struggles against the EPA’s newest regulations.  In an article found in the science category titled, “The Big Awful Truth about Biodegradable Plastics,” Melissa Breyer explains a how a new UN report on marine plastics proves that most biodegradable plastics never actually break down in the ocean and actually further pollution.  Another article by the same author, titled “The Unfortunate Irony of Earth Day Cleanups,” reports that every year on Earth Day about 12 million plastic bags are thrown into landfills, but the solution is as simple as burlap bags that are naturally biodegradable.  Another article found in the transportation category, titled “Car Makers are Fighting Back Against Proposed Fuel Efficiency Standards,” author Lloyd Alter lends insight into part of the rationale behind automotive manufacturers’ thinking. He quotes Scott Keogh, the president of Audi, who illustrates the challenge his industry faces: “Imagine if you were the CEO of McDonald’s and they say to you, ‘OK, in 10 years…25%, 30% of your business is going to be vegan. Go make it happen,’ he said, ‘That’s exactly what we’re staring at here in the automotive business.’” Of course, the article accepts this position as a legitimate concern before arguing for other alternatives. Overall, the arguments in this site, whether controversial or not, tend to be reasonable examinations of issues that ultimately tend toward sustainable thinking.

This site is written in a very natural and relatable voice.  Several writers collaborate to create the site in its entirety, yet the rhythm and flow from one article to next comes with ease.  The dynamic range of the topics also allow visitors to choose the technical level of the articles, videos, or photos they wish to view.  The website’s ‘about us’ category describes TreeHugger.com as, “Partial to a modern aesthetic,” and explains “we strive to be a one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information.” Indeed, they succeed in this effort.

TreeHugger.com is an invaluable website for people who are interested in sustainability and sustainable practices, but who approach from nearly any intellectual discipline, career, or background.  Readers from all over the world can access daily blogs and share their ideas on how to improve upon certain practices and concepts.  This website is recommended for those beginning on their journey of improving the planet as well as those who enjoy learning, nature photography, or simply reading about the latest news in community to global sustainability.  In short, TreeHugger.com surpasses its motto, “Your source for green design and living news, commentary, and advice.”

REVIEW: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein

Jacob Dawson
University of North Alabama

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

Why is there such a wide and jagged schism between the international environmental conservation community and neoliberal capitalism espoused by many democratic and conservative politicians alike? Is every environmental organization trustworthy? Or may some activist groups be guilty of collusion with the big industry players responsible for so much of the pollution in the ocean and atmosphere? How is objective science sorted out from pseudoscientific and manipulative studies designed to obfuscate the issue and confuse or deceive the public? Naomi Klien answers these questions and many more in her newest book on the environment. She illustrates with rich color the underlying issues behind environmental policy and activism which have too often been portrayed in black and white by mainstream media.

Published in 2014, Capitalism vs. The Climate was immediately hailed as a revolutionary work, with reviews appearing in such outlets as Vogue, The Rolling Stone, and The Guardian. , The New York Times drew positive comparisons between it and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and further wrote that it “is a book of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable.” Naomi Klein is the author of several articles, chapters and books, gaining widespread recognition with her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She has been interviewed by Amy Goodman, Bill Moyers, and Charlie Rose among others and serves as a member of the board of directors for prominent climate action organization 350.org.

The introduction to her latest work begins with a confession. She frankly admits, “I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit.” The feeling is one that many of us who make ourselves suffer through newscasts are familiar with. We all know the story but, like other forms of bad news, we tend to find reasons to ignore the problem or justify non-action on our part. This is classic denialism, and we must push ourselves to reach beyond this insidious and cowardly tendency to remain in willful ignorance. Emissions from sectors including manufacturing, big Ag, and transportation are rising, resulting in astronomical levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Global average temperature is rising, although locally this manifests as extreme weather events of various kinds. Recall the early 2014 southern shift of the Northern Polar Vortex that was the cause of 49 record low temperatures nationwide just on January 7, along with heavy snowfall prompting cancellation of flights, power outages, and other forms of widespread social disruption? How much longer can we safely remain in denial?

As human population growth continues to rise and civilization becomes increasingly concentrated in urban centers, the pressure exerted on natural systems overreaches their capacity to sustain life. Resulting unstable resource production increases susceptibility to famine and drought, and, in sequence, the spread of disease and civil unrest. Resource extraction at the current level is poisoning and stripping the land, rendering unable to yield crops in sufficient quantities to maintain high levels of population concentrated in cities. If global population continues to rise along with global emissions and global temperatures, then ecosystems will fail globally. When ecosystems fail globally, i.e., everywhere, nowhere will be left untouched.

Klein builds her case by reviewing how the political and socioeconomic climate relates to climate science. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has met annually since 1995 to discuss how to mount a coordinated response to global warming. Universities, NGOs, corporations, respected scientific personalities, celebrities, and even entrepreneurs and philanthropists recognize the need to reshape humanity’s relationship with our environment. Even while the movement is gaining strength, however, there are those who seek to undermine progress. Research and summit meetings aimed at discrediting the theory of human-affected climate change are frequently funded by oil & gas companies and laissez-faire economic think tanks favoring deregulation to minimize cost and maximize profit. One of the main forces preventing effective and rapid social change from taking place is the devotion to free-market capitalism by the same bodies (governments, corporations, NGOs) that are proponents of environmental responsibility.

Klein delves into climate change science and policy with remarkable foresight and courage. While her fondness for detail occasionally brings to mind the metaphor “beating a dead horse” after some 400+ pages, it ensures she does not fail at her task to systematically present the many varied and intertwined aspects of climate change science, policy, and activism. Wonderfully rich with passion and a sense of dire purpose, Klein is not afraid to get personal. Laced throughout with analogies and anecdotes to support the scientific consensus, she truly strives to encourage the weary would-be environmentalist. Her invitation to care is hard to resist as the story is as much about the evolution of her perspectives and feelings on the matter as it is about the matter itself. This is more than just a book. It is a challenge to engage in the world around and even within on a level of understanding and compassion rarely encountered. Please read this book!

REVIEW: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Brandi Hope Johnson
University of North Alabama

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1962.

“How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death event to their own kind?”

Rachel Carson’s question, asked in her 1962 text Silent Spring, requires the reader to take stock in the conditions under which Americans at the time were dealing with pest control.  This title, Silent Spring, comes from the silence in many forests and meadows due to the poisoning of songbirds, insects and other invertebrates, and even plants.  This now historical account of the use of pesticides has raised America’s awareness of the dangers of agricultural chemicals that had become commonly accepted during this time.  People from all generations may benefit from this book because it raises awareness of practices that are unsustainable and offers critical knowledge of effective alternative methods for pest control.

The book describes the chemical warfare in the United States and other countries that have killed so many organisms.  It begins by explaining the varieties of chemicals that have been used along with the documented affects they exert on specific life forms.  It explains different techniques that have been used to apply these chemicals and how they move from the point of source through virtually every piece of the food web.  The last chapter points out that the solution to the problem must be two processes happening simultaneously: first, experts must work towards a cure for those already affected, and second, they must isolate and remove as much of the contaminant as possible from the environment to prevent further damage.  The argument is not to avoid pest control altogether, but to find techniques that have been developed in a more natural way as an alternative to artificially-made chemicals.

Carson touches on several controversial topics that are accepted by environmentalists yet harshly rejected by others, especially those who profit from pesticide sales.  Because chemical companies profited so much from these pesticides, many companies denied Carson’s claims and attempted to discredit her research.  However, once she began tracking the effects of these chemicals, she found a trail of devastation.  For those organisms that did not succumb immediately, the chemical was stored and amplified in the fat cells.  She explains how exposure to chemicals everyday creates an accumulation of poison in the body that affects the liver and can inhibit some of life’s essential functions and even cause cancer in her research subjects.

Carson writes exquisitely about biology in a way the can be easily understood; she uses a direct voice, limited footnotes, and simple language with strong meanings to create a text that is easily accessible to lay readers who lack a deep science background.  This approach played, and continues to play, a critical part in relaying information from science labs to the general public.  One quote reads, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will ensure as long as life lasts.  There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”  These words create strong imagery in the reader’s mind.  The book was written during a time in which industrial factory production and agricultural use of pesticides were growing exponentially and many people had forgotten humanity’s connection to nature.  The exposure from this publication helped spread awareness during the beginnings of the environmental revolution.  Rachel Carson conveyed the historical, cultural, and environmental value of Silent Spring to anyone interested in more sustainable practices.

This book is suggested for anyone who has any love whatsoever for the planet they inhabit and anyone interested in sustainability.  The chemical warfare at that time was an extremely real threat to all life, yet pesticides were rained down from airplanes onto all vegetation, into the soil, into the water, into the worms, the birds, the livestock, and ultimately into the people.  The tone of Carson’s text is somewhat dark, but human degradation of planet earth is never a light topic.  The topic is difficult to discuss, and certain selections of this book can bring about feelings of guilt and remorse while reading.  However, this is sometimes necessary to help society realize the necessity of sustainability. Carson writes, “We must change our philosophy, abandon our attitude of human superiority and admit that in many cases in natural environments we find ways and means of limiting populations of organisms in a more economical way than we can do it ourselves.”  This message, which she wanted to convey to both her generation and future generations, is that humanity must look to nature for the answers if we want our forests and meadows filled anew with the sound of the songbirds.

The journal of the University of North Alabama Center for Sustainability (ISSN 2469-9357)