James Lovelock, de profeet van moeder aarde

‘The Rocket House’ staat er op het schuurtje van James Lovelock. Een houten hutje, op nog geen twintig meter van de zee. Terwijl ik de tuin inloop, speculeer ik volop. Bouwt hij hier aan een raket? Is hij op zijn 100ste nog bezig met een top secret mission?

Niet zulke gekke gedachten, in het licht van Lovelocks veelzijdige loopbaan. Hij ontwierp onder andere apparatuur die meeging met de eerste Marslander, en is naar eigen zeggen ‘hoogstwaarschijnlijk’ de uitvinder van de magnetron. Hij deed tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog onderzoek naar virusverspreiding in schuilkelders, stond ooit op een paar meter afstand van een kernraket en hielp de Britse geheime dienst met het ontmantelen van bommen ten tijde van de IRA („Maar daar mag ik niets over vertellen.”). En rond de leeftijd waarop anderen al aan hun pensioen gaan denken, baarde hij wereldwijd opzien met de theorie dat de aarde een superorganisme is: de Gaia-hypothese. Link

7 things we’ve learned about Earth since the last Earth Day

Air pollution is a deadly threat, killing millions around the world every year. It’s also linked to more severe outcomes for Covid-19. Conversely, the economic slowdown stemming from Covid-19 showed that reducing pollution yields massive benefits for public health. One researcher estimated that the drop in air pollution in China saved 20 times as many lives as were lost to the virus.

And China isn’t the only place seeing clearer skies. In the United Kingdom, nitrogen dioxide pollution fell 60 percent after the country implemented a lockdown compared to the year prior. A nationwide lockdown in India revealed skylines and mountain vistas that had been obscured for decades.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how quickly air quality can improve. But it doesn’t mean we should celebrate the pandemic for its impact on the environment. The clearer skies came at a devastating social and economic cost. The challenge for countries, then, is to reduce pollution without a massive toll.

Countries like China and the United States are weakening environmental regulations in the hope of helping industries better recover from the slowdown, so the pollution could come back with a vengeance. But it’s worth asking why we tolerated so much dirty air for the sake of the economy for so long and whether there’s a better way. Link


Electric bikes, like cars, come in tiers of quality and prestige. Dependable commuter bikes start at around $1,000. At $1,500, they start to look nice, with batteries and motors integrated into the overall aesthetic. Above $2,000 you start seeing sleek designs, advanced electronics, and a preponderance of high-end or original components. On that scale, VanMoof’s premium prices have made it the BMW of e-bikes – or Tesla, if you prefer.

VanMoof is now taking preorders for its newest pedal-assisted electric bikes: the S3 and X3. They’re follow-ups to the full-sized S2 and compact X2 theft-defying e-bikes released in 2018 and two of the highest-rated e-bikes we’ve ever tested. Link

‘Tip of the iceberg’: is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today? Link

Are vegetables vegan?

Will Bonsall is a homesteader and 45-year vegan living in rural Maine with a message for Americans – your vegetables are “very un-vegan”. He is an influential member of a small but growing group of vegan and organic – “veganic” – farmers, who want to revolutionize organic agriculture, which traditionally depends on animals byproducts such as cow manure.

“There’s a little bit of a disconnect, even hypocrisy, in vegans … We vegans like to put on our plates [vegetables] grown in methods that are very un-vegan,” Bonsall said.“Most organic agriculture is focused on moo poo,” said Bonsall. “Cow manure, animal manure, but also blood meal and bone meal,” he said.

A vegan diet excludes all products derived from animals, including meat, dairy, eggs and honey. Often, these products are avoided for health, environmental and ethical reasons. Link

Fossil fuel production on track for double the safe climate limit

The world’s nations are on track to produce more than twice as much coal, oil and gas as can be burned in 2030 while restricting rise in the global temperature to 1.5C, analysis shows.

The report is the first to compare countries’ stated plans for fossil fuel extraction with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, which is to keep global heating well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, and to aim for 1.5C. It exposes a huge gap, with fossil fuel production in 2030 heading for 50% more than is consistent with 2C, and 120% more than that for 1.5C.

Scientists have warned that even the difference between 1.5C and 2C of heating will expose hundreds of millions of people to significantly higher risks of extreme heatwaves, drought, floods and poverty.

The report was produced by the UN Environment Programme and a coalition of research organisations. It complements an earlier UN analysis showing the current Paris agreement pledges to cut emissions would still lead to a catastrophic 3-4C rise. Link

In 1989, capitalism won. Today its greatest ideological challenge is the planet

George Smiley finally gets his man at the end of John le Carré’s Karla trilogy, but is far from jubilant as the Soviet spymaster defects from East to West Berlin. Reminded by a colleague that he has won his cold war battle, Smiley replies: “Did I? Yes. Yes, well, I suppose I did.”

Smiley’s world-weariness was notable by its absence when the west finally claimed victory in the cold war 30 years ago this week. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of oppression. Its demolition was a euphoric moment.

But everything was black and white back then. Freedom had triumphed over tyranny. Washington had defeated Moscow. The market would extend into parts of the world where it had been off limits. The power of a united Germany would be diluted by a new pan-European currency. Victory for a certain set of American-inspired principles meant ideological conflict was at an end. The demolition of the Berlin Wall marked not just the end of history, but the end of geography and the end of politics as well.

That was the theory. But three decades on, Le Carré’s caution appears to be warranted. Link


After years of headlines about air pollution, we’ve been misled on a few things about the world’s biggest environmental health problem. For example, we’re told that “PM2.5” – solid pollution particles measuring 2.5 micrometres or less – can pass through our lungs and into our blood stream.

But, in fact, the vast majority of them can’t.

We’ve also been told NOx gases – including nitrogen dioxide – are the biggest threat to health within cities. However, NOx is responsible for just 14% of deaths attributed to air pollution in Europe.

The biggest killer of all never makes the headlines, isn’t regulated, and is barely talked about beyond niche scientific circles (despite their best efforts to change that narrative): it’s nanoparticles.

PM2.5 may be too small to see, being roughly 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. But, compared to a nanoparticle it’s a relative heavyweight. PM2.5 stomps in at 2,500 nanometres (nm), while the real killers are 100nm or below. This issue is that local authorities consider PM2.5 and any particle smaller than it to be the same – which means that often their reports underrepresent the true risks. Link

‘Insect apocalypse’ poses risk to all life on Earth

The “unnoticed insect apocalypse” should set alarm bells ringing, according to conservationists, who said that without a halt there will be profound consequences for humans and all life on Earth.

A new report suggested half of all insects may have been lost since 1970 as a result of the destruction of nature and heavy use of pesticides. The report said 40% of the 1million known species of insect are facing extinction.

The analysis, written by one of the UK’s leading ecologists, has a particular focus on the UK, whose insects are the most studied in the world. It said 23 bee and wasp species have become extinct in the last century, while the number of pesticide applications has approximately doubled in the last 25 years.

UK butterflies that specialise in particular habitats have fallen 77% since the mid-1970s and generalists have declined 46%, the report said. There are also knock-on effects on other animals, such as the spotted flycatcher which only eats flying insects. Its populations have dropped by 93% since 1967. Link

The 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions

New data from world-renowned researchers reveals how this cohort of state-owned and multinational firms are driving the climate emergency that threatens the future of humanity, and details how they have continued to expand their operations despite being aware of the industry’s devastating impact on the planet.

The analysis, by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, the world’s leading authority on big oil’s role in the escalating climate emergency, evaluates what the global corporations have extracted from the ground, and the subsequent emissions these fossil fuels are responsible for since 1965 – the point at which experts say the environmental impact of fossil fuels was known by both industry leaders and politicians.

The top 20 companies on the list have contributed to 35% of all energy-related carbon dioxide and methane worldwide, totalling 480bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) since 1965! Link

The growing wave of climate change lawsuits

In 1998, 46 states and the District of Columbia signed on to the largest civil litigation settlement in US history, the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. Stunning in its scope and scale, the agreement forced the four largest tobacco companies to stop advertising to youth, limit lobbying, restrict product placement in media, and fund anti-smoking campaigns. It also required them to pay out more than $206 billion over 25 years.

Tobacco companies had in previous decades successfully swatted down hundreds of private lawsuits. But states found an opening by suing companies for the harm they caused to public health. “This lawsuit is premised on a simple notion: You caused the health crisis, you pay for it,” said then-Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore in 1994.

Now another wave of lawsuits is trying to hold powerful institutions accountable for an even bigger crisis, by making them pay and change their ways. At least eight US cities, five counties, and one state are suing some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies for selling products that contribute to global warming while misleading the public about their harms. In parallel, 21 young people are trying to suspend fossil fuel development as part of their high-profile climate rights case, Juliana v. United States, against the government. (The case is currently awaiting a hearing at the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals.)

And with several new Democratic attorneys general elected in the 2018 midterm elections, even more litigation may be on the horizon. “It feels like there is a lot of climate change litigation right now,” said Paul Sabin, a professor of environmental history at Yale. “But this is only the beginning.” Link

“It is, I promise, worse than you think.” – David Wallace-Wells

I think one of the great lessons of climate change is that even those of us like me who grew up over the last few decades living in the modern world, in cities, and felt the whole time that we had sort of built our way out of nature. And that while there were things to be concerned about, with regard to climate, and other environmental issues, I still had this deep belief that we had built a fortress around ourselves that would protect us against a hostile world.

I felt that even if climate change unfolded quite rapidly, those impacts would be felt far away from where I lived, and the way I lived.

I think, especially with the extreme weather that we’re seeing over the last couple of years, we’re all beginning to relearn the fact that we live within nature, and in fact all of our lives are governed by its forces. None of us, no matter where we live, will be able to escape the consequences of this.

There are still people who focus on sea level rise and imagine that they’ll be fine so long as they don’t live on the coastline. But this is pure fantasy. No one will avoid the ravages of warming, and the reality of this will be impossible to ignore in the coming decades.

Now, there are countries in the world that are going to, at least in the short term, benefit slightly from global warming. Especially in the global north. Russia, Canada, and parts of Scandinavia are likely to see a little bit of benefit from warming, because slightly a warmer climate means greater economic productivity and higher agricultural yields.

But where we’re headed, we’re likely to even pass those optimal levels for those countries. And even in the short term, the balance of benefits and costs is so dramatically out of whack that the overwhelming majority of the world will be suffering hugely from the impacts of climate change. Even if there are a few places that benefit. Link

The Hypocrisy of ‘Davos’

“It feels like I’m at a firefighters conference and no one’s allowed to speak about water, right?” Bregman said. “Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes. … We can invite Bono once more, but we’ve got to be talking about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullshit in my opinion.”

As if to prove his point, one Davos attendee — Ken Goldman, the former CFO of Yahoo — used the question-and-answer period to denounce Bregman and Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of Oxfam International also on the panel, for a “very one-sided panel,” and demanded that they offer solutions to inequality besides higher taxes.

I’ve followed Bregman’s work for some time because of our shared interest in universal basic income (UBI); his book Utopia for Realists is a passionate argument for UBI, open borders, and a 15-hour workweek as important and achievable goals. But with UBI so fashionable in Silicon Valley circles, and global capitalists frequently denounced by right-wing populists as tools striving for open borders, I had thought he was the kind of lefty whose ideas were safe for Davos. Link

Our inability to look beyond the latest news cycle could be one of the most dangerous traits of our generation

For many of us currently in adulthood, how often can we truly say we are thinking about the well-being of these future generations? How often do we contemplate the impact of our decisions as they ripple into the decades and centuries ahead?

Part of the problem is that the ‘now’ commands so much more attention. We are saturated with knowledge and standards of living have mostly never been higher – but today it is difficult to look beyond the next news cycle. If time can be sliced, it is only getting finer, with ever-shorter periods now shaping our world. To paraphrase the investor Esther Dyson: in politics the dominant time frame is a term of office, in fashion and culture it’s a season, for corporations it’s a quarter, on the internet it’s minutes, and on the financial markets mere milliseconds. Link

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