*note* initially we didn't realize this, but WIRED published a counterpoint / rebuttal of their own story written by World Changing's Alex Steffan alongside the article in question. He makes many (though not all) of our points for us. */note*
The June issue of WIRED Magazine just landed in my mailbox, and the cover story is going to be an interesting one for EcoGeeks.
I'd had a bit of a heads-up from WIRED that this was going to be a feature, though I didn't know it was going to get the cover. And I knew from the start that I'd have a good time picking the article apart. And now the time has come.
The gist of the story is that, if we're going to take global warming seriously, we need to re-think environmentalism. And while I agree with the overarching theme, simply stated at the head of the article "The war on greenhouse gases is too important to be left to the environmentalists..." I'll just be taking their ten points of contention...and making my own additions.
- Live in Cities: TRUE
The pastoral life has significantly more carbon impact than city life. However, I will say that city dwellers in the U.S. tend to have larger carbon footprints because they're more likely to travel on frequent plane trips. So y'all city folk shouldn't feel too good about yourselves, until you can cut back on the flying.
- A/C is OK: meh
OK, yes, it takes less energy to cool a space than to heat it. But I'll bet WIRED magazine isn't going to ask everyone in the world to move to the equator. It's not as if people in cold climates have a choice about whether to heat their houses.
- Organics are not the Answer: True, but neither is non-organic.
WIRED is happy to point out that organic food creates more carbon per pound than non-organic. But they don't talk about huge areas of ocean that are dead due to agricultural runoff, or ecological effects of massive pesticide use. The real answer here is to decrease meat production and de-industrialize agriculture to increase yields through care, instead of through force.
- Farm the Forest: FALSE
To say that we're not harvesting enough timber in America is pure foolishness. Wood sequesters CO2, that's fantastic, and, yes, it does so faster when trees are younger. But the vast majority of forest in America is already managed as timber farms (especially where forests are most productive, in the southern half of the US)...so there's really nothing more we can do. To increase timber harvest in areas not currently being harvested would simply mean the destruction of the last few remaining pristine forests we have. The ecological implications far outweigh the carbon benefits.
- China is the Solution: TRUE, Absolutely
That's all we're going to say, to find out what WIRED (and I) believes, you'll have to buy the magazine.
- Accept Genetic Engineering
We're staying neutral on this one for now.
- Carbon trading doesn't work: FALSE
The only large-scale emissions trading scheme that we have to judge with (the American cap-and-trade system for sulfur dioxide and other emissions) has been a gigantic success. The cap has been met, lowered, met again, and then lowered again and met again. To say that a carbon cap-and-trade system won't work because Kyoto hasn't worked is, once again, foolish. Kyoto has no enforcement mechanism, and was, from the beginning, an extremely inadequate cap. All proposals on the table in the U.S. right now have two things Kyoto doesn't have. 1. Real, significant reduction targets and 2. TEETH.
- Embrace Nuclear Power
From day one, EcoGeek has remained neutral on nuclear. And that is where we remain.
- Used Cars, Not Hybrids: Only if you want a 1994 Geo Metro
WIRED's premise here presents a problem...the only choices are a 2008 Prius, a 1994 Geo Metro, or a 1997 Tercel. In this case...the obvious winner is the Geo, followed by the Tercel. Unfortunately, these aren't the choices. People buying a new car do not want a 1997 Tercel. It would certainly be better for the environment, but they'd like something with, y'know...a CD Player? And airbags maybe? Any car containing a nickel-based battery will have a large production footprint. But as we switch over to Li-ion, the environmental costs of creating a hybrid will drop dramatically.
- Prepare for the Worst: Absolutely, without a doubt, really frighteningly true.
The article is definitely worth reading...critically. And I appreciate the work that went into it, and we only really disagree on three points, which is nice.
The main point of contention between WIRED and EcoGeek is that there is more to our planet than the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The cover kinda pisses me off. I mean..."Screw Spotted Owls"? For real guys, the amount of carbon that could be saved by cutting down the last refuges of the spotted owl is not going to make a dent. And the lack of mention of the success of previous cap-and-trade systems seems like a giant hole in the article as well.
But to say that global warming is the only environmental issue is foolishness. We have a whole planet to deal with here, and while it's nice to have a unifying issue, cutting down all the forests, and poisoning the land with petrochemicals is not going to increase our long-term sustainability.
I'm glad to hear that the massive problem of global warming is being taken up beyond environmentalism. But if we end up solving the climate crisis by destroying the planet, we're all going to feel pretty stupid.
Intel's annual International Science and Engineering Fair kicked off this week in Atlanta, showcasing over 1,500 high school students from around the world in what is the world's largest pre-college science competition. Students, representing 51 countries, have come in with their projects on engineering, science, robotics, medicine, physics, electronics, and the list goes on!
They are competing for almost $4 million in scholarships and awards. A good portion of the projects exhibited relate to sustainability and the environment, and Intel was kind enough to send us down to meet with these young ecogeeks! We'll be featuring several projects daily, so on with the first. The list below shows all of the projects we've covered from the Fair so far.
These projects are amazing from any perspective. but the fact that these ecogeeks are a decade younger than me (and I am quite young) really shows that innovation knows no bounds.
Among the highlights from the week in wonk was our first "Wonk of the Week" post, featuring an interview with renowned author and activist Bill McKibben. Topics included his new project, the 350 Campaign, as well his thoughts on the ongoing presidential race.
We're still working on the fancy template and title that Hank uses for his awesome "EcoGeek of the Week" interviews, but we hope to make "Wonk of the Week" an ongoing feature as we move forward. In other EnviroWonk news:
- Another week, another depressing story about the influence of big business on EPA business. This time it's Dow Chemical, accused of getting an EPA regional director fired for trying to force the company to clean up in Michigan.
- Samantha Hulkower wrote about how the Army Corps of Engineers may finally be held liable for Katrina flooding.
- British scientist Sir Nicholas Stern, who in 2006 warned of the dire economic impact of global warming, now says he and his team underestimated the risks of climate change.
- What do you get when you combine the inane gas tax holiday proposals with those Nigerian scam e-mail? The best political parody we've read in ages.
- And after all the praise we gave Barack Obama for not taking part in the gas tax pandering, his campaign in Kentucky goes and hands out this unfortunate flyer.
- And again, be sure to check out our interview with Bill McKibben.
We all know that the Google boys are EcoGeeks. They've built themselves a 9 MW solar plant, worked to get plug-in hybrids on the streets and even sponsored a contest to create pedal-powered innovations.
But it is nonetheless good to hear Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google talking so passionately and optimistically about the future of our world. The interview, with Fortune Magazine, is a great read...full of hope and inspiration from one of the most influential entrepreneurs alive today.
I'm hugely more optimistic because now we have a conceptualization of the problems that makes some degree of sense to a fair number of people. Look at the things we worry about - poverty, global warming, people dying in accidents....I think our ability to achieve these things on a large scale for many people in the world is improving.
Page discusses Google's non-core (10% of company resources) interest in geothermal and solar thermal power. "How hard should it be to dig a really deep hole?" To be fair...it is pretty hard. But digging a really deep hole seems like a massively simpler process than the one we currently have set up to power America. Page seems honestly convinced that the world's problems will be solved. He puts emphasis on the power of small groups of smart people to make these changes...Ibut he also recognizes that the political, social and economic climate surrounding those small groups of smart people is pretty important too.