Newsdesk – June 27, 2020

Basic income street art. Photo: Michael von der Lohe, (CC BY 2.0)

Should Environmentalists Embrace Universal Basic Income? Cash payments from the government could help ease the transition to a climate-safe economy and weather the natural and economic storms to come. It’s a question a lot of Americans started pondering after entrepreneur Andrew Yang proposed just that when he jumped into the 2020 presidential race. Yang’s idea of a “freedom dividend” lasted about as long as his candidacy,  but the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) is neither radical nor new. The principles behind the idea date back at least as far as Thomas Paine in the late 1700s. Over the past 40 years, dozens of universal basic income programs have been tested across the world, in countries like Finland, Namibia, Brazil, India, Canada, and Spain. Currently, small pilot projects are running in the United States in  Stockton, California, and Jackson, Mississipi. The motivations behind universal income programs aim to help ensure that everyone has a decent standard of living. But could it also be a useful tool for addressing another, larger problem? That is, climate change and related efforts to transition to a clean economy? How would UBI benefit the environment? There are many theories. More income, some experts say, could help people purchase longer-lasting and eco-friendly goods, including sustainably produced foods, that are now financially out of their reach. And it could give people the resources to increase the energy efficiency of their homes or purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles. “I think it’s incredibly hard to quantify, but if you actually can give people the financial freedom to have more options generally, then I think that there is, at the very least, the opportunity that you could get people to make more environmentally responsible choices,” Jim Pugh, co-founder of the  Universal Income Project says.  One bit of recent evidence could support that. An anti-poverty program in Indonesia that provided cash payments to the poor resulted in a 30% drop in deforestation. Many people no longer had to resort to cutting down the forests around their communities to get by – The Revelator

  • Climate change is also a racial justice problem – The Washington Post
  • How 2 nuns helped Southern Co. wake up to climate – E&E News
  • South Pole warmed 3 times the global rate over the past 30 years, new study suggests – CBC
  • Government climate advisers running scared of change, says leading scientist – The Guardian
  • The Arctic is on fire: Siberian heat wave alarms scientists –
  • How green sand could capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide – MIT Technology Review
  • Mass die-offs in marine mammals are accelerating, and climate change will only make it worse – Popular Science
Our energy systems have been slow to change, even though rapid climate change represents the ultimate in imaginable violence, injustice, and chaos.Photograph by Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty

What Stands in the Way of Making the Climate a Priority.   Inertia and vested interest are the two forces that make changing the system for the better so rare. Some group benefits from them—and that group usually has more of a stake in maintaining the status quo than others have in changing it. Inertia and interest are the main reasons our energy systems have been slow to change.  Consider, for instance, the fact that many of our homes have a large tank of flammable gas that we burn when we wish to heat our food, resulting not only in global warming but also in levels of indoor air pollution that are often so high they would be illegal were they outside. At some point in our history, this was perhaps an improvement over burning wood or dung. But now we have easy-to-use and more affordable induction cooktops.  Some jurisdictions have started mandating the installation of such electric appliances in new construction. The California gas-workers’ union threatened a “no-social-distancing” protest in a town, at the height of the pandemic, in an effort to block such a law.    Inertia plays as large a role as interest, sometimes. A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an excellent account of the effort to make the Empire State Building more energy efficient.  The management changed out old lights, added insulating film to the building’s sixty-five hundred windows, stuck reflecting foil behind the radiators, and provided “regenerative braking” for the building’s seventy-three elevators, so when they slow down, the extra electricity is returned to batteries. These and other changes reduced the building’s electricity use by forty percent. Forty is a big number, considering that the tenants still get the same use from their offices, which are as well lit, warmed, cooled, and ventilated as before. We obviously have to install a lot of solar panels and wind turbines in the next decade to meet climate goals, but if we cut electricity use by forty percent we’d have to install far fewer.  As the great poet James Russell Lowell once observed, “New occasions teach new duties” – The New Yorker

Satellite image of smoke from active fires burning near the Eastern Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, Russia, on June 23, 2020. Photo: Handout/NASA Earth Observatory

Global Warming Is Melting Our Sense of Time. You may register temperature records as the sign of a new normal, in which record-breaking heatwaves fade out of newsworthiness and into routine. The records are not being set only once; in many cases, they are being set annually. The city of Houston, for instance, has been hit by five “500-year storm” in the last five years. While the term has obviously lost some of its descriptive precision in a time of climate change, it’s worth remembering what it was originally meant to convey: a storm that had a one-in-500 chance of arriving in any given year and could, therefore, be expected once in five centuries. How long is that time span, the natural historical context for a storm like that? Five hundred years ago, Europeans had not yet arrived on American shores, so we are talking about a storm that we would expect to hit just once in that entire history — the history of European settlement and genocide, of the war for independence and the building of a slave empire, of the end of that empire through civil war, of industrialization and Jim Crow and World War I and World War II, the cold war and the age of American empire, civil rights and women’s rights and gay rights, the end of the cold war and the “end of history,” September 11 and 2008. One storm of this scale in all that time is what meteorological history tells us to expect. The city of Houston, for instance, has been hit by five “500-year storm” in the last five years,  and may yet be hit with another this summer — which is already predicted to be a hurricane season of unusual intensity. On June 20, in the small Siberian town of Verkhoyansk, north of the Arctic Circle, a heatwave baking the region peaked at 38 degrees Celsius,  just over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic. In a world without climate change, this anomaly, one Danish meteorologist calculated would be a 1-in-100,000-year event. Thanks to climate change, that year is now – Intelligencer