For generations, the core mission of the National Park Service has been absolute conservation. Instructions to preserve iconic landscapes unchanged are inscribed in the founding documents of many parks. But what happens when climate change makes that impossible?
Park managers have been asking themselves that question for a while now. Caught in the reality of the climate crisis, they’ve mostly had to improvise. But late last month the service published new guidance for park managers in the era of global warming.
The document, essentially a tool kit for the new world, aims to help park ecologists and managers confront the fact that, increasingly, they must now actively choose what to save and what will vanish.
The new guidelines represent a major shift for the Park Service and, for people who work in conservation, the change is a brutal one. You can read more here.
Quotable: “It’s bargaining. Nobody wants to do this. We all got in this game, as the Park Service mission says, to ‘conserve unimpaired,’” one scientist said. “But if you can’t do that in the way you thought, you have to see what you can do. There’s often more flexibility there than one imagines.”
A road map for cutting emissions
What would a major global plan to quickly halt climate change look like? Nations around the world would immediately stop approving new coal-burning power plants and oil fields. They would phase out sales of new gasoline-powered cars in 15 years. And they would start building the equivalent of the world’s largest solar farm every single day for the next decade.
Those are the conclusions of the International Energy Agency, which this week issued a detailed road map for how the world’s nations could slash their planet-warming greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by midcentury — a goal that could help avert the worst effects of climate change. Here’s our article.
Why it’s notable: This report isn’t an appeal from environmentalists. The International Energy Agency is a major global organization that advises world capitals on energy policy. Their reports are widely used by companies and investors as a basis for long-term planning. And the agency is loudly warning that governments need to think much, much bigger if they want to keep climate change under control.
Related: New data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency shows how global warming is making life harder for Americans in myriad ways.
Join the conversation: Creating a ‘circular’ economy
There’s a new event in our virtual series Netting Zero on Thursday. Andrew Ross Sorkin, a columnist and assistant business editor at The Times, will speak to activists and experts including Ellen MacArthur, the former champion yachtswoman who now runs a foundation focused on economic transformation, about reshaping the global economy to fight climate change. You can sign up to attend here.
Who’s behind all that plastic?
Probably like many of you, I have a lot of single use plastic in my life. My supermarket spinach comes in a plastic bag, also my ground beef (both real and fake). A pair of jeans I recently bought for my daughter was delivered in a plastic bag, and all that hand sanitizer I used during the pandemic came in plastic, too.
I’ve long known about the environmental concerns posed by single-use plastic, much of it thanks to my colleague, Michael Corkery, a business reporter who has written a lot about plastic waste. But neither of us quite realized that so much of the single-use plastic we use is made by a small handful of big companies, like Exxon Mobil, by far the leading manufacturer of single-use plastic. Nor that the main financiers in single-use plastic are familiar financial institutions, including those that run retirement accounts and mutual funds, like Vanguard and BlackRock. Those were the findings of a report published this week by a team of researchers and vigorously contested by the plastics industry group.
Michael and I wrote about it here.
Why it matters: The plastics business is booming. That’s because it’s cheaper to extract the fossil fuels that are the building blocks of plastic, then toss it or burn it on the side of a road than it is to recycle it. That could change, but only if the economics of plastic production and pollution change.
What to look out for: Legislation that would compel consumer products, including packaging, to be made up of some recycled content.
Also important this week:
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Real-life zombies of the Far North
Here’s a term to make your flesh creep: “Zombie forest fires.” It sounds like one of those terrible horror mash-ups, like “Sharknado.”
They’re real, and you can read our article about them here.
These are fires in the Northern reaches of the globe that can stretch from one fire season into another: the peaty, carbon-rich soils keep the fires smoldering though the dark and wet of the winter months, and when things start warming up again in the spring the fires re-emerge and can extend the range of the original blaze.
A new study published in the journal Nature looks at the weird phenomenon and provides a warning: these “overwintering” fires are uncommon, but climate change is setting the stage for them to become a lot more common, with possible consequences for fire management, greenhouse gas emissions and human health.
“It’s rare — but it won’t be,” said Michael Waddington, a peat researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who was not involved in the research.
Rebecca C. Scholten, a researcher at the VU Amsterdam and lead author of the paper, said that when she first set out to study what are also known by the less-catchy term “overwintering” fires, she was “doubtful I was researching a phenomenon that exists.” Now, she said, she has plenty evidence, and knows that “they are connected to climate change and they are happening more often.”
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