The Fight Against Climate Change Needs a Retrofit

Looking south from the Empire State Building. Credit: Dan Klotz

Looking south from the Empire State Building. Credit: Dan Klotz

The New York City apartment building where I grew up was built in the early 1960s. The building’s heating system still has only one thermostat for more than 150 apartments, and that thermostat is usually set in the mid-70s. If it’s too hot, you must manually adjust each radiator in the apartment (and there’s one for each room). Most people simply open a window or two instead, which is not a very climate-smart solution. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog,


Climate Change Wins Big in 2012 Elections

Post-Tropical Sandy rolling inland on Tuesday, October 30 (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)

Post-Tropical Sandy rolling inland on Tuesday, October 30 (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)

The 2012 Presidential elections was proceeding as most elections do, with one notable exception: for the first time since 1984, neither candidate mentioned climate change during any of the campaign debates.  Then Hurricane Sandy struck, changing the coastline and the policy landscape.  More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog,

Lonesome Larry: An Unsung Hero

In early August, I wrote for on the nexus between Woody Guthrie and sockeye salmon. The occasion? The folk singer’s 100th birthday, and the 20th anniversary of Lonesome Larry, the only sockeye to make it to Redfish Lake in 1992 (in decades past, the sockeye in the lake numbered at least 30,000). More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog.

Celebrating an Anniversary in the Arctic Circle

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas in Syria. Credit: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Britta Skagerfalt

Rarely do you celebrate an anniversary with raw chick peas and fava beans.

But these seeds, from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), highlighted the fourth anniversary shipment for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—located on the colder side of the Arctic circle in Norway.  The Global Crop Diversity Trust maintains the seed vault in partnership with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, as a back-up to the living crop diversity collections housed in “genebanks” around the world.

I helped publicize this shipment as part of my work for Burness Communications; click here to read more.

Extreme Winter Weather–Groundhog Day Edition

January crocuses in Maryland. Credit: Dan Klotz

When is partly cloudy and 70 degrees Fahrenheit considered extreme? When it happens in Washington, D.C., on February 1st and the temperature ends up more than 25 degrees above normal.

On Groundhog Day, the delightful weather makes for an interesting backdrop as the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal showcased another back-and-forth on the political debate about climate change. But the bottom line is: it’s here, it’s extreme, and we need to get used to it.

Climate Change Activists Need To Talk About Population Too

Maps prepared by Population Action International overlay data on populations with high growth rates and low resilience to climate change.

“The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needs, and attempts to defend it in isolation from human concerns have given the very word ‘environment’ a connotation of naivety in some political circles.”

These words come from the foreword of “Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development,” a landmark United Nations report that was written when the world’s population reached five billion. The report triggered the 1992 “Earth Summit” in Rio De Janeiro and a number of United Nations treaties and agreements all focusing on sustainable development.

It’s now 2012, and a new Earth Summit is being prepared for June of this year.  But what progress has been made in sustainable development in the past two decades, and how can you answer the problems without looking at the growing population? In my next piece for, I take a look at how these questions were addressed at an Aspen Institute event this past Thursday.

On raspberries, and climate change

When I was a teenager in New York City, one of the most important discoveries I made was that wild raspberries grew in the local parks.  The fruit was delicious, of course, and I could count on the berries appearing at the end of July.

As I grew up, though, a funny thing happened.  When I came back to the raspberry patches at the end of July, they were gone and eaten by other people or creatures. I learned that the raspberries were now ripening earlier in the season.  Today, you can count on picking wild raspberries in the Bronx in early July.

One of the long-proven impacts of climate change is the disruption in the growing seasons.  It is the anecdotal evidence that, for me, drove the point home that climate change is real.  It is not just the world that is changing, but my childhood haunts were changing as well. But far more has been proven to be at stake.  Again and again, studies have repeatedly confirmed how climate change is disrupting the growing seasons and is challenging how we live on this planet.

Are my childhood raspberries relevant now that world leaders once again failed to agree on halting the pace of climate change?  Is this an issue that affects us in small and personal ways? Or is climate change a larger planetary catastrophe in the making? Judging from the questions posed at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which met most recently in Durban, South Africa, last week, climate change is a more anecdotal problem, one that runs secondary to the major economic questions of the day.

Should developing countries be allowed to pollute the world as much as developed countries have already? Should developed countries stop polluting if developing countries can still do so? Should we save the environment at the expense of the economy? But what if the environment as we changed it disrupts the economy?

The debate is dominated mostly by those countries with large-scale economies though, and the impacts of climate change have not been felt universally on more than a personal level, on the scale of my raspberries.  Countries such as Canada can pull out of the current treaty with impunity, cynically talking about the impossibility of making economic sacrifices to reduce emissions.  For small island countries, however, whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels, addressing climate change is a critical component of their international diplomacy.

The international deliberations have taken place for decades now; as one college student put it quite memorably, “You’ve been negotiating my entire life.” The lack of progress is tied directly to this lack of universal urgency.

Ultimately, the problem will not be solved at large international meetings, where the push for consensus—a solution that everyone agrees on—results in all parties agreeing to agree, but not agreeing to take action.  The Durban talks, for example, ended with an agreement that a new agreement will be negotiated.

In reality, climate change can only be tackled in the prologue leading up to these meetings.  If consensus is needed, then representatives from every country must attend these meetings with an urgent mandate to reduce emissions.  To expect countries to negotiate on reducing emissions without committing themselves to that goal is absurd.  What we have as a result is a permanent process, not a solution to the planetary threat of global warming.