Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Hot Stuff in Copenhagen

December 18, 2009

Today one of the most important meetings in the world is going on in Copenhagen: the Climate Conference, where world leaders are supposed to come up with some sort of deal to prevent a heat death of the biosphere. 

Despite drowning in tons of papers to correct, I’ve been following the news and it is not good.  At last reading there is a stand-off between the rich countries, who are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, and the poor countries, who are going to suffer the most from global warming.  Bill McKibben has an impassioned piece about this on  Read it: it is a great piece of writing.

Now it turns out that a top secret UN document was leaked in Copenhagen that predicts that with the deals that are now on the table, carbon dioxide levels will rise to 550 ppm, a truly unsustainable level that will cause a temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees F).  For reference the safe upper limit is estimated to be at 350 ppm and we are currently at 387 ppm and rising.  Read about the leaked document.    Bill McKibben comments on this: “In one sense this is no secret—we’ve been saying it for months. But it is powerful to have the UN confirming its own insincerity.”

So what to do?  There seems to be some evidence that public pressure works — so I’ve signed appeals from Avaaz and and Greenpeace India.  I’m hoping world leaders will stretch their brains a bit beyond the ends of their noses and take the action that needs to be taken. Otherwise — you know what?  The survival of the biosphere is not negotiable.  As the protest banners have said, we don’t have a Planet B.  So if the so-called leaders don’t come forth we’d better have a Plan B.  We are living in a science fiction novel that is turning into an apocalyptic horror story.  Time to brainstorm.

The Great Betrayal

November 21, 2009

On October 24th, this year, many thousands of people across the globe performed an action or campaign to publicize the number 350 and to put pressure on their governments to come up with a binding climate treaty in Copenhagen in December.  The number 350 ppm is the highest amount of carbon dioxide that scientists think the Earth’s climate can tolerate, above which we are looking at catastrophic warming scenarios reminiscent of apocalyptic science fiction.  There were over 5000 events in a coordinated global movement spearheaded by

The response of world leaders?  They agreed not to come up with a binding treaty in Copenhagen. 

In other words they are going to go there, talk, probably play golf, and go home.  In the meantime the world is warming faster than our science can explain and the window of time before irreversible feedback loops begin (some have already started) is getting narrower and narrower, from 4 years (estimated by an IPCC report in 2007) to two years and shrinking.  And the carbon dioxide continues to go up — currently we are close to 390 ppm and rising.

There is a very interesting interview with Kim Stanley Robinson in which he makes it quite clear that what we are up against is capitalism itself — he pits science versus capitalism (which is likely an oversimplification given what capitalists do with science) in the context of global warming. 

Given all this, and assuming that the destruction of the biosphere is not an option, and recognizing that there will be ecological deterioration for decades or centuries even if we do what needs to be done — in other words the choice is between reversible hell and irreversible worse-than-hell — given all this, what is to be done?

Let me repeat that: if we assume that destruction of the biosphere is not an option, what would it take to slow and ultimately stop global warming?

What would we have to do if we cannot depend on governments?

What would we have to do despite the campaigns of corporations and climate change deniers?

Currently sites like and organizations like Greenpeace have been directing their action toward putting pressure on government leaders.  This is fine and necessary, but is it enough?  Should these groups focus their attention on different strategies?  If so, what would these strategies be?

And lastly, where is the science fiction that deals with the current crisis?  In other words, who are the writers, after Robinson and his Science in the Capitol series, who are taking this up?


September 27, 2009

I’ve lately been so busy and exhausted that I feel as though I’ve been run over by a succession of trucks — but of course, that is just Life. Since I have neither the brain power nor the energy at the moment to write a properly thought-out and coherent blog post, I’m going to, instead, commit a few disjointed paragraphs to the screen. They mostly have to do with the thoughts jostling about in my head and are by construction somewhat random. For which I ask the forgiveness of discerning readers.


Indigenous Amazonians confront Fossil Fools

July 15, 2009

This is inspiring:

But it also brings forth the question as to why Climate Change isn’t at the top of the coverage of our news media. 

I’m horribly jet-lagged but among the random thoughts jostling in my brain is this one: where is the science fiction about regular/ indigenous/ traditionally downpressed people in the world fighting climate change?  Because they are.  Maybe we SF writers should come out of little blinkered existences and take note of that.

More soon on the IIT workshop, etc.

P.S.  After posting this the first time I realized I meant to add this reference to an anthology of environmental SF.  Thanks to Bodhisattva (my student at IIT-K, whose knowledge of SF is impressive) for this reference:

Dream’s Edge, edited by Terry Carr, published in 1982.  The excerpt from the introduction, quoted on the amazon site, is well worth reading.

“The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer”

June 11, 2009

I’ve been too busy lately to write anything of substance on this blog, but thanks to Kurt Kremer this remarkable speech — the 2009 commencement address at the University of Portland by Paul Hawken — came my way. 


When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world.

And also:

What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

This is also of relevance to an essay I wrote last October as a guest blogger at Jeff VanderMeer’s site, called Science Fiction and the End of the World

Here’s to hope.


An otter in my garden!

April 20, 2009

Otter Napping

Otter Napping


Note: I wrote this piece yesterday but didn’t have a chance to post it.  At the end is an update.


This morning I was walking in the back garden with my dog when he suddenly got excited.  Instinctively I tightened his leash and from a bed of reeds there burst a long, sinuous dark shape with a rounded, muscular, tapering tail.  “Otter!” I thought to myself incredulously.  The apparition vanished into the bushes at the front of the house.


Post-Earth-Hour Thoughts on a busy Monday

March 31, 2009

Well, we did it.  On March 28, this past Saturday, at 8:30 pm local time, more than 4000 cities around the world and possibly nearly a billion people turned off or dimmed their lights for an hour.  India and China participated for the first time. 

What did I do? 

Well, this past week was insanely busy with post-midterm marking papers and so on, but somehow between classes and between breaths I managed to spread the word at the college where I teach.  Students in the college green team made a facebook page, the administration cooperated readily, and somehow we became official participants.  But I had no idea to what extent the dorm students would cooperate and how effective it would be, until I happened to drive by the college on my way to an Earth Hour gathering at a local Unitarian Universalist church.

It was an amazing sight.  Usually the college is a blaze of lights on a hill above the main road, but the hill was completely dark, except for the college sign and the streetlights.  I was stunned into silence, then couldn’t help cheering and yelling.  I almost felt like abandoning my party and going up to see what mischief the young people were up to, but managed to resist the temptation.  I felt very proud of them, however.  And amazed at how my minimalist networking had resulting in this near-complete voluntary blackout.

My earth hour party was fun, though.  We were a small group, sitting in a large, empty room around four small candles (soy and beeswax only, so they are part of the carbon cycle and not a “new” carbon source as a petroleum-based candle might be).  We had a guitar and an Irish flute, and we sang songs and chatted.  At first it was a bit awkward but there is something magical about candle-light.  So the conversation warmed up and the singing became more enthusiastic, and we had some poetry as well.  The hour went by but we were all reluctant to turn on the lights so we sat around for another half hour or so.  Then it was time to go. 

When the lights were back on it was as though a spell had broken.  I realized then that I hadn’t really relaxed for months before then, so that I had forgotten what it felt like.  Sitting around a few candles was perhaps like sitting around a fire, telling stories, which humans have been doing for millenia.  Somehow electric lights don’t have the same effect. 

Not that I don’t appreciate technology — I love my computer, for instance.  But it is nice to be reminded that there is life beyond electricity. 

I am now waiting for reports from the Earth Hour folks.  I have read that 36 million people in the US participated, and that the world figure was perhaps close to a billion.  If this builds momentum it will be really exciting.

Here are some pictures and an update

I wish there was more about all this in the SF blogosphere.  Perhaps I simply haven’t been looking at the right blogs, but SF folks seem to be very quiet about this.  And here we are, trying to build a mass social movement to stop climate change, to save the world — what could be more SFnal than that?

Earth Hour 2009: A Call to Action

March 20, 2009

What can I say that can be better said than this short video?




What are you doing? 


I’m turning off the lights and having a neighbourhood party! We’ll be playing music from around the world and singing.  And maybe telling ghost stories.  The kinds of things I remember us doing when there were power-outs in India in the summer (we grumbled too, but I don’t plan to do that this time). 


This is a historic occasion — the largest global call to action against climate change.  The idea is to send a message to governments and policy makers that people want serious action at the Copenhagen meeting in December to counter climate change.  Since lighting is a big fraction of electricity usage and since coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions, this symbolic act of turning off the lights for an hour speaks volumes. 


Already scientists’ worst fears are being realized, with the melting of the icecaps at an unprecedented rate and the extreme weather events and sea level rise.  But we have a window of time in which to act. 


So let us act, us earthlings, SF writers and readers, plumbers and professors.  Please publicize on your blogs and websites and social networks! 


So far, over 1800 cities have signed up, including Boston, Washington D.C., Beijing, Copenhagen, Paris, Capetown…  Even the Eiffel tower is going to turn off its lights!  And over 7000 schools, 18,000 businesses and millions of individuals around the world.  Here is more information and a place to sign up. 


For folks in India, here is the Indian website for Earth Hour.  The campaign has the blessings of Aamir Khan! 


Earth Hour is being organized by the World Wildlife Fund.  For me this has a particular significance because when I was a young teen in Delhi, I became a member of WWF and remained so for many years.  The office was a room in one of the big government bungalows that had been built by the British — I remember the gorgeous lawns, the thick yellow-plastered walls, the air of hushed importance of the place.  I think it may have been the home of some big shot in the government.  As a terminally shy kid the one thing that would make my speak with passionate fervor was the situation of vanishing wildlife and the wilderness — within a month of membership I had signed on 15 classmates as members! 

The “situation” is much worse than it was all those years ago.  Then, I felt for the creatures whose habitats were being destroyed by so-called development, and for the great tracts of forest being cut down.  Later, through my membership with that amazing and unique organization, Kalpavriksh, I realized how the fate of other species was connected with our own, and with social justice issues, and learned to regard “economics versus ecology” as a false dichotomy.  But even in those days I could not imagine that a couple of decades of economic liberalization in my country (starting in the 1990’s) would end up in such a mass destruction of the environment as to make all previous assaults pale into insignificance.  That the ravenous appetite for an energy-consuming lifestyle like that of the West would also engulf India, displacing a slower, more modest way of living.  And I surely could not have imagined that in my lifetime I would be a part of a global movement to literally save the world: the specter of global warming had not raised its ugly head in those innocent days.  In those days, although I penned letters to editors about how we were at the eleventh hour, I could not have imagined, as I know now, that we would ever be this close to midnight.