Climate Roundup: Same as the old year

Happy new year, climate-anxious readers. What will you resolve to do this year to reduce environmental harm?

Climate research

I love the science of climate proxies, or the artifacts that scientists in different fields cross-reference to piece together a picture of what climate was like before history could be recorded digitally: tree rings, packrat middens, ship logs, and on and on. Ice cores are a climate proxy with a lot of information about the composition of ancient atmospheres. What is in an ice core? (JSTOR, January 17, 2022)

Study Maps Urban Heat Islands With Focus on Environmental Justice (State of the Planet, Columbia Climate School, August 26 2021)

How rising groundwater caused by climate change could devastate coastal communities (Technology Review, December 13, 2021)

I couldn’t find a really in-depth review to link, but here’s a summary of an incredible book I read this month: Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by biologist Thor Hanson. The title sounds dire–I absolutely picked it up because I worried that squid were incorporating ocean trash into their bodies somehow–but it’s primarily focused on how different plant and animal species are moving or adapting to climate change. The plastic of the title refers to plasticity, which is when a species drastically alters its behavior within a generation rather than waiting for evolution to run its course. The most plastic species are those that are generalists rather than specialists: mobile, omnivorous, able to live in a wide range of locations and circumstances. In clear, accessible prose, this book explains the different environmental factors that can stress a species as the climate changes–stuff I didn’t even think of, like trees blooming before their pollinators have hatched. It also covers a really surprising range of successful examples of adaptation–surprising to me, at least, because the only solid example I knew of is a little alpine mammal called pika. But the argument is clear: humans are one of the most plastic species there is, and it is critical that we move and adapt (preferably in ways that support instead of deplete our habitats).

Consumer choices

Just a strong, self-assured, and persuasive essay doing what a good persuasive essay does best: contextualizing an idea we take for granted and asking us to rethink it, or at least reframe our thinking. The Waste Age (Aeon, January 4, 2022)

Beyond reusing and recycling: How the US could actually reduce plastic production (Grist, December 13, 2021)

I hate this headline, so I was surprised to find that I more or less agree with the interviewee’s base claim–which is that climate change is not a future we need to avoid but a present we need to survive. That is true, although it is also true that definitive action now can have positive impacts on the future, just due to the chemistry of carbon and how long it resides in the atmosphere. Still, if you find yourself alienated by “we can fix this!” approaches like mine, you might like The Trap of Climate Optimism (The Nation, December 23, 2021).

Solutions, maybe

The win-wins of climate and biodiversity solutions (Project Drawdown, December 6, 2021)

In December, New York City became the largest city in the US to agree to phase out fossil fuels in new building construction. Is this the beginning of the end of gas stoves and dirty heat in buildings? (Vox, December 16, 2021)

They are not all focused on solutions, but many of these predictions identify some of the fields that seem most ready for change. 22 Predictions for 2022 (Grist, December 15, 2021)

Biden orders federal government to become carbon neutral by 2050 (Grist, December 8, 2021)

Climate culture

I feel like this question is not yet determined! Did we figure out how to make good ‘climate pop’ songs in 2021? (Grist, December 17, 2021)

Atmos picks up the climate music thread, and looks at how climate issues appeared in other popular mediums. Not much mention of pop literature–I’ve noticed so many new novels tossing out a casual mention of climate change, just as part of the background hum of anxiety. How Climate Infiltrated Pop Culture in 2021 (Atmos, December 23, 2022)

This article with a terribly misleading title nonetheless describes an interesting example of climate fiction from 1941 which is written from the point of view of a storm. The Puzzle of Eco-Fiction (The Nation, December 9, 2021)

I don’t agree with all of the author’s criticism of these “tics,” but I think it’s valuable to identify patterns and think about what it means to use them as a writer. Is Climate Writing Stuck? (Literary Hub, January 3, 2022)

I didn’t get very far into Don’t Look Up–they lost me at the opening frames, showing Jennifer Lawrence fixing a snack with her fingerless gloves still on–but I really enjoy how much it has become a flashpoint in climate discourse–primarily by inviting us to think about how we talk about climate and how climate crises are treated in the media. Here are a handful of related links.

Sort of consistent with the message of Don’t Look Up, expressly counter to the narratives of other famous asteroid movies: Heroes Will Not Save Us From the Climate Change Crisis (Electric Literature, January 19, 2022)


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