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In recent years, “climate justice” has emerged as a new framing for climate change activism, one in which the grassroots energy of the environmental justice movement intersects with the global catastrophe that is climate change. A broad range of individuals and organizations identify as climate justice activists, from the well-known (Bill McKibben and Tim deChristopher) to the less well-known (Peaceful Uprising and Rising Tide)....
There has been a long overdue flurry of recent activity in developing better indicators of national progress, prosperity, well-being, and happiness. This activity has arisen from the growing recognition of the inappropriate misuse of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a proxy for these goals. This article reviews the history of GDP and what we can learn from that history in creating new and better indicators of societal well-being. For...
On September 27, 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its long-awaited report on climate change. The message was clear: evidence of climate change is “unequivocal,” and it is “extremely likely” that humankind has been the “dominant cause” of it.1 Yet there was little consensus on what to do next. The conflicts over how to redress climate change derive from two important concepts: environmental protection...
In 2010 the United States government supported a proposal by Monaco that would have imposed a ban on the international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).1 The proposal recognized the cold fact that these prized tuna populations have been fished to less than 5 percent of their numbers from just a few generations ago (tuna live about 15 years...
In March 1995, after several years of study, the oil company Esso proposed to the Norwegian government that they be allowed to sink the steel understructure of an offshore platform named Odin after its petroleum production days were over. This pilot project offered the possibility to determine the viability of turning offshore oil structures into artificial reefs in the North Sea, an idea called rigs-to-reefs. Esso’s plan might have...
In humanity’s relentless search for the industrial minerals that undergird our modern technology and economy, we have extensively and comprehensively ravaged natural landscapes. Sites like the Berkeley Pit in Montana or Western Australia’s Kalgoorlie Super Pit exemplify the awesome scale of these transformations. Indeed, as an industry quip has it, mining is primarily a waste management business. Mineral solid waste accounts for the...
Editors’ note: For historical context, it is important to acknowledge that much of Chile’s business community supported the 1973 coup to replace democratically elected Salvador Allende with Augusto Pinochet. On an August day in 1988, Eugenio García took a call that was to change his life. It was an executive from a rival advertising agency, a slick account man called Francisco Celedón whom García knew by reputation but had never spoken...
When a society experiences a natural disaster, it is forced to consider a variety of responses that will both ameliorate the immediate crisis and put in place structures to enable it to prevent—or better cope with—future disasters. Whatever the concrete solutions may be, in modern states and legal systems, they will either have to operate within existing legal frameworks or require novel legal regulations. The latter are particularly...
After three centuries of forest policy that put the interests of the state above locals, the French are realizing that a more inclusive policy is better for both people and forests. The dispatch arrived in haste at the prefect’s office in June 1843. “Sergeant Ruty, state forest officer in the Forêt de Chaux, has been found dead—a victim of murder.”1 For months, tensions had been rising in this heavily wooded region of eastern France,...
The Balaton Group has been responsible for the creation or accelerated development of a number of innovations in the field of sustainable development. However, to understand the history of the Balaton Group, one must begin with the history of the Club of Rome, and the report that the club sponsored and published in 1972, The Limits to Growth. The Roots of the Balaton Group In April 1968 a group of 30 influential individuals from 10...
The fight against the Keystone XL pipeline has been one of the most publicized environmental controversies in the United States over the past decade. The proposed pipeline would bring oil derived from tar sands in Alberta to the coast of Texas. Since the pipeline crosses an international border, the U.S. State Department must complete an environmental impact assessment of the pipeline and President Barack Obama ultimately has authority...
This June 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) will convene in Rio de Janeiro on the 20th anniversary of the Earth Summit, which was also held in Rio. (The conference is more commonly known as Rio+20.) UNCSD is the most recent expression of UN environmental “summitry,”1 a series of diplomatic megaconferences that have marked the evolution of modern international environmental law and policy. Precedents include the...
The outcome of the 2011 Durban summit on climate change seems to have been little more than an agreement to keep talking: “to launch a process to develop a protocol.”1 Even that was a surprise to some! But the chances of limiting global warming over the next century to an increased 2 degrees Celsius are vanishing fast. A major barrier to effective international action is skepticism about climate change in the United States, the richest...
A thin green ribbon threads its way across the Korean Peninsula. Viewed from space, via composite satellite images, the winding swath clearly demarcates the political boundary between the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Its visual impact is especially strong in the west, where it separates the gray, concrete sprawl of Seoul from the brown, deforested wastes south of Kaesong. In the east, it...
The terms “ecosystem” and “Dust Bowl” coincidentally both entered the English language in 1935. Before then ecologists had focused on the study of plant and animal “communities,” but British ecologist Arthur Tansley thought they were neglecting the surrounding earth, air, and water. He suggested that the word “ecosystem” better captured the connections between the living and nonliving worlds.1 He did not have the Dust Bowl in mind when...
In 1974, chemists Mario Molina and Frank Sherwood Rowland published a landmark article that demonstrated the ability of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to break down the ozone layer, the atmospheric region that plays a vital role in shielding humans and other life from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.1 It marked the opening salvo of a decade-long fight to phase out and ban the use of these widespread industrial compounds. The period...
Current climate and energy policy debates in the United States rarely involve historians. If you search the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 synthesis report, you will not find the words history or historical. Even so, history pervades climate and energy policy discussions. History guides policy choices, inspires proposals for action, and structures institutional development. Historical interpretations have already...
In March 2000, I joined an environmental justice field trip that met with women of Washington State's Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. One of the poorest tribes in the West, the Shoalwater people were losing their tiny reservation to erosion and legal battles, and they were losing their future to a mysterious run of miscarriages. One woman after another described losing her fetus. They spoke to us of their grief, anger, sense of confusion...
The 1930s were a difficult time for the fishing industry. Prices dropped as the Great Depression eroded markets. Fishermen in Europe’s North Sea had an even more difficult problem—falling catches. There had been more than 44,000 British fishermen in 1914, but by 1940, there were fewer than 32,000. Men could no longer make a living fishing. The problem, according to Britain’s chief fisheries scientist, Michael Graham, was that as soon...
Have you taken a good look at American children lately? They’re pudgy. Indeed, nearly 20 percent of them are obese.1 They watch a lot of television and play a lot of video games—over seven and a half hours of electronic entertainment a day if they’re between ages 8 and 18 (infants and toddlers watch about two hours of television a day).2 Four and a half million of them suffer from ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), a...
Upon taking office in January 2009, President Obama began tackling a host of economic problems plaguing the nation, foremost among them the loss of nearly 2 million jobs in 2008 and a stubborn unemployment rate that continued to hover at just under 10 percent far into the summer of 2010. To combat this unemployment emergency, Obama’s economic team formulated a recovery plan to create jobs for out-of-work Americans over the next four...
It is tempting to start this article with a quip: what do Athens and Essen have in common? At first glance, the only answer seems to be that they are both in Europe. Athens is the capital of Greece and the birthplace of Western civilization, whereas Essen is in the heart of the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial powerhouse for almost two centuries. However, both cities have been designated European Capitals of Culture by the European Union....
Every Antarctic summer, in front of a spectacular backdrop of calving icebergs, the Southern Ocean becomes the theater for an often-slow but occasionally action-packed show called The Whale Wars. The title of a reality TV program produced by the cable television company, Animal Planet, the phrase also suffices as a description of a conflict that has taken place for the past 35 years. This conflict, undoubtedly one of the most...
Introduction A pioneering report, The Limits to Growth, published in 1972, marked a turning point in thinking about the environment, selling some 30 million copies in 30 languages.1 The two-year study behind the report took place at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the request of the Club of Rome, an international group of distinguished business people, state officials, and scientists founded by Aurelio Peccei, a former...