“All we are not stares back at what we are.” —“The Sea and the Mirror” W.H. Auden
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Throughout my life, there have been poets and poems I’ve carried with me everywhere, like a briefcase that’s always packed and sitting by the front door. And while it might sound strange, I’ve found myself coming back to Auden in the past few weeks after two things happened in the climate world. First, it was the European Union effectively giving up on its emission trading scheme (ETS) for regulating carbon pollution. Then it was the news that atmospheric carbon levels had reached a new record concentration of 400 parts per million (ppm).
As global milestones go, this was a quiet one. Life went on much as it had when we stood at 399.9 ppm, and few will remember exactly where they were when they heard the news. What it means, though, is that the atmosphere now has more of the heat-trapping gases driving climate change than ever before, taking us further away from the 350 ppm level scientists agree we can safely handle. With the effective collapse of the ETS, our challenge in responding becomes even greater.
Which brings me back to Auden. I can’t help thinking about this line because I can’t help thinking these two events show that we’re simply not rising to meet our potential. When it comes climate change, we’re avoiding the tough decisions instead of stepping up to the challenge, pure and simple. Seeing us cross the 400 ppm threshold or reading another climate denier distort the facts in the papers, I know we are better than this. Because what we are not, as Auden would have it, is extraordinary.
As we celebrate Memorial Day, think back to the generations that came before us and the existential challenges they faced. The ones, for example, who came together selflessly to defeat Nazi tyranny, whether they were daily risking death on the front lines or working hard on the home front. They took on this challenge because there were people and places in their lives they loved deeply and utterly, and there was nothing they wouldn’t do to protect them. And in part because of that love, they won.
We don’t have to face bullets, but we do have to face reality and make real choices about climate change. Those of us who’ve been working in the movement for decades are used to being called merchants of doom and gloom (and sometimes much worse). These names miss the point entirely. What gets me out of bed isn’t dread, but love for the faces that appear in my picture frames and around my breakfast table. Given a choice between giving up my arms or something happening to my family or friends, I’d offer you my legs too. Just like any mother, I want my children to have the freedom to make the lives they want. I also want to be able to run in the mountains and savor a cup of Moka Java in the morning. I could go on and everyone will have their own list, but in every case, this means taking care of what we love on this exquisite planet.
This is the challenge of our time, the one that will define us to our grandchildren and beyond. The good news is that the solution starts with a simple step: putting a price on carbon. With a price on carbon, we curb the carbon pollution accelerating climate change and ultimately take care of what we love. It will not be easy, but it’s a challenge we can solve together. It’s past time to step up, to be worthy of the generations before us and faithful to the ones who’ll come after.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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