zoevirginia asked: Hey Michael, I was wondering if you could recommend some good books on Climate change/activism/environmentalism? Thanks!
Hi Zoe Virginia,
Hi Zoe Virginia,
Thanks for following me all this time. Honestly, I don’t know. The new EO is mostly focused on infrastructure and disaster preparedness. Things like how the Federal Government can help communities better prepare for inevitable climate impacts that will occur, such as wild fires, health impacts, coastal erosion, economic resilience. Things like that.
So, this particular Executive Order is focused on adaptation and resilience for cities, and doesn’t really focus on prevention. In fact, there’s a package of resilience actions that the President has taken published right on the White House website: “Climate Change Resilience | The White House”.
I don’t focus on prevention, so I’ll have to direct you to Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which has several energy initiatives that might interest you.
Looks like you’re taking some pretty serious classes. I’d round that list out with some history of architecture, drawing, advanced writing, and maybe a class focused on one of the great philosophers, like Plato (these will serve you through life, I assure you!).
This is incredibly complicated and I’m not really going to answer your question directly. There are a variety of design and urban planning techniques to help cities be more dense while being more livable. Form Based Code, Smart Growth, sustainable planning, etc., are very common, easily replicable, and very flexible solutions to this.
The problem with these solutions are that people are not staying in one place for very long. This trend of people moving to cities will slow a bit, and cities can adapt and absorb the influxes.
The real question, to my mind, is how to make them stay? These new people rarely participate in local government. They rarely stay or invest in a place, typically using the city as a catalyst to elevate their socioeconomic standing.
This is fine, but cities will suffer in the next demographic swing. As it stands, most cities are planning for the next 10-20 years using a stable or growing tax base. This is just not true. Tax receipts will not continue to grow, they’ll be more volatile, creating deeper dips and higher spikes in local economies.
Tax receipts, which are used for things like water, health, education, environment, security, business development, and transportation, will (probably) implode.
Detroit (or the entire country of Japan) is a good example of this. Both based their planning goals on false demographics.
So, while most cities are scrambling to provide design solutions, they really should be pivoting towards investing in the people. How? Diversity in education systems. Having a strong public school system is great, creating a system that includes charter, specialty, religious schooling options is even better. Assisting people with their health care options should include increased focus on mental health. Study after study has shown that when people improve their mental health, their physical health and relationships with communities greatly improves. Investment in parks, environmental quality, and conservation areas consistently (in nearly every country) show economic and health resiliency.
Here’s a sweet little report discussing some of these solutions: Demographic change in European cities: City practices for active inclusion.
There are tons of other things, like creating a Happiness Index, which measures how happy people are in the current situations. If there are dips and swings to this index, government can nudge the bar in one direction or the other.
Thanks for the interesting question!
You’re referring to the annual UN Framework Convention on Climate Change “Conference of the Parties.” This year will mark the 19th COP, this one to be held in Poland in November. If I recall, the “Parties” comprise of 192 countries (of the world’s 194), and each voluntarily signed on to meet every year to discuss solutions to climate change impacts.
So, at these COP meetings, countries negotiate what to do about climate change. The Kyoto Protocol - a voluntary treaty to lower emissions - is one example of a collective solution.
I think at the COP19, the “Parties” will vote to either continue or alter the Kyoto Protocol.
Ideally I’d like for decision at future COPs to be legally enforceable. As it stands, decisions and actions are voluntary. If a country pledges to lower emissions or invest in adaptation projects, they have no actual, legally enforceable obligation to carry out their promises.
This happens all the time. For example, at the COP15 held in Copenhagen in 2009, countries agreed to a laundry list of provisions, called the Copenhagen Accord. One major pledge was for countries to donate $100 billion USD per year to the Adaptation Fund, which would help poor countries with natural disaster planning.
It didn’t happen.
So, a legally enforceable mechanism would be a significant improvement over volunteering. Penalties, enforcement, and the governing body of law would be hashed out by the parties.
The second thing is a greater focus on the climate impacts on the disadvantaged, such as children, women, and the elderly. The UNFCCC COP has a group dedicated to resolving gender and health issues, but this group is weak, underfunded, and sort of an add-on.
So, this needs to be flipped around - gender and health issues should be at the center of the COP, and the rest of the negotiations aim to support and resolve those issues.
I generally avoid food posts, but am interested in the infrastructure that supports food systems.
One part of my current contract with USAID is a resilient wheat project in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the 6th largest wheat producer in the world and mostly exports to east and central Europe, the Caucuses, and Asia.
Farmers there are facing three main issues: extreme temperature swings, which are increasing in frequency and causing terrible economic havocs; when to plant their crop, a problem because the planting timing and growing seasons are shifting; and shortage of storage silos for the wheat, especially in bumper seasons.
This last part - where to store the wheat - is probably the biggest issue developing countries (DCs) face with respect to dealing with climate impacted growing seasons. The farmers in Kazakhstan don’t trust the government, nor their seasonal forecastings. Nor do they (generally) reliably purchase crop insurance. So, the farmers tend to plant “when my neighbor plants,” put their finger to the wind, and hope for a good season. It’s very risky, and very unstable. They lose when there is a bad year, due to bad timing of planting, storms, droughts, etc.
But, and back to your question-ish, some years produce so much wheat that the farmers actually lose money. The reason is two fold. First, they lose on market price. The market price goes down when there is an abundance of wheat, it goes up when there is a shortage. The other problem with high-volumes is that there’s no storage system or infrastructure to support a storage system. Thus, all the silos get filled very quickly when all farmers produce record crops - when the silos are filled, the wheat is literally thrown away.
Tl;dnr, “the food crisis” is typically not due to a bad weather year, but due to inefficiencies in distribution. There’s plenty of food grown in the world. Climate change will affect the patterns of growth, but not to such an extent that the systems cannot adapt and adjust.
Getting crops from farm to table is the real issue…
Check out the UN’s Food Security program for more.
You’re fine. In fact, you may be more interesting than most applicants. Embrace your undergrad and shape yourself as a visionary. I’m sure there are heroes and heroines in your field, so mimic their paths.
Most importantly, have a face-to-face chat with either the grad school’s dean. Tell them you’re goals, your fears, and what you’d want to accomplish. Also identify a professor you’d want to work with at that grad school and have several chats with them. These people are (usually) on the application review boards.
I assure you, ‘requirements’ are myths.
You’ll do great!
Well, EE is a sweet degree - very focused and lots of job opportunities. As far as “combating climate change” goes, I don’t want to fool you or provide a false sense of hope. I think the best thing for you to do is realize and accept that emissions are not going down. Every source that monitors emissions agrees, for example see here and here.
You may (or may not!) want to watch this talk by Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Center for Climate Research.
Maybe introspect and evaluate why it is you believe you can ‘combat’ climate change. I don’t have the answers you’re looking for - after all, I’m not even into emissions or energy, nor do I ‘combat’ climate change in any of my work. I’m an adaptation specialist. I tell governments where to build stuff, which is out of harms way.
Hi John Zhao*,
Thanks for your email. I usually don’t make a straight recommendation, but I will for you - get a bachelors in Environmental Design.
ED hits all the sweet spots you mentioned, and lays the ground work for some pretty sweet masters degrees.
You’ll learn about architecture, history, watersheds, pollution, politics, animals, ecology, anthropology, culture, viruses, art, and even law. You’ll learn how to write mo beddah, take great photographs, draw buildings, landscapes, plants, and even design transportation systems.
You contacted me, so that’s one incredibly important skill you’ll need as an environmentalist - networking - that you’ll also develop.
Many high-school and undergrads ask me questions like this. Have a look at my Reader Mail tag. And here are some possibly useful responses, which dive a bit deeper than what I’ve written above:
So, get a BS in Environmental Design. You’ll be a mini-expert in the environment, and set up to focus in your masters. I don’t think you can beat this route…
I’m curious what you decide so let’s keep in touch…
*Note: John contacted me through my about.me page. I’m cross posting here since I get so many inquiries for advice. I hope it helps someone…
Thanks for your note. I hadn’t heard about Gezi Park, actually. It seems there is a proposal to turn the park into a mall. And it seems there is a protest that is unfocused, leaderless, and has no clear demands. What is the goal? Who, exactly (by name), are the protestors protesting?
Other questions: Is turning parks into malls or other developments a regular occurrence in Turkey? Who “owns” the park, technically - the city, the country, a private person, a corporation?? Why wasn’t the public involved in the park management in the first place? For example, were any of the protestors on the review board that approved the mall plan? If not, why not?
I don’t know enough information to make a determination. But, if the city or the government body managing the park has the authority to turn parks into malls, then that is their prerogative. If the authority is corrupt, that is your prerogative to change it - not by protest, but by law. The pen (law) is always mightier than the sword (protest).
You can contact me by email. m
We’re hiring enviro-contractors (not students, sorry) in Nairobi and Mombasa: government contractors, environmental firms, agriculture, conservation, climate change, natural resources, energy, water engineering. Please hit me up.
We are hiring qualified candidates with government contractor experience.
A flavor of climate change positions around the world. This list is from IISD.
Research fellowship: Agriculture and REDD+, Climate Focus
Research fellowship: Agriculture and REDD+
Washington D.C., US
Deadline for Application:
31 August 2013click here for more information…
Institute for European Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
Researcher on climate law/policy
Deadline for Application:
7 September 2013