September 30, 2017
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Lifelines: A Guide to the Best Reads on Climate Change And Food

By Tom Knudson

Every day, we wake to a world of refugees – people on the move, fleeing war, poverty and oppression. Now there is another force pushing people into the unknown while prodding others to stay put and resist: climate change.

Two stories about how global warming is shaping human destinies top my list of the most interesting recent reporting about climate. Not far behind is a much different story, one that signals hope for a less carbon-intensive future.

  1. A Wrenching Choice for Alaska Towns in the Path of Climate Change

Many reporters have trekked to Alaska to report on global warming. Rarely has anyone come back with a story as compelling as Erica Goode in The New York Times on Nov. 29. She doesn’t delve into data or policy. Instead, she brings us the stories of indigenous Alaskan people whose village is under siege from coastal flooding and erosion, two signs of climate change.

She focuses on the village of Shaktoolik, where people have chosen to stay. And she begins with a woman’s nightmare of rising floodwaters that seems all too real:

“The Inupiat people who for centuries have hunted and fished on Alaska’s western coast believe that some dreams are portents of things to come.”

  1. Heat, Hunger and War force Africans onto a `Road on Fire’

Half a world away on the edge of the Sahara, people are on the move. And climate is one reason why. Again, the Times takes us there with a Dec. 15 story that starts in the dusty village of Agadez, Niger, where refugees gather for the harrowing journey north.

That’s where reporter Somini Sengupta met many migrants, including a young man from Mali who told her he was compelled to leave by drought and dwindling yields of millet and rice. “I know it’s difficult. But everyone goes,” he told her. “I also have to try.”

Sengupta also talked to a smuggler who blamed Western countries for the Sahel’s climate woes. “The big powers are polluting and creating problems for us,” he said.

Her story and Goode’s are part of a Times series about the impact of climate change on people. You can find it here: Carbon’s Casualties.

  1. Breaking the habit: The future of oil

If such stories have you feeling down, the Economist offers a hint of climate cheer.

“Oil has changed history,” the publication reports. Over the past century, it has fueled our cars, taken people to the moon and brought us cheaper food. “Even in the 21st century, its dominance remains entrenched.”

But now, that may be changing. Oil “may be facing its Model T moment,” the magazine says.

“The danger is not an imminent collapse in demand but the start of a shift in investment strategies away from finding new sources of oil to finding alternatives to it.”

Even if President-elect Donald Trump unleashes a new wave of drilling on public land, the world will slowly begin to distance itself from oil, the magazine concludes on Nov. 26. The reasons include completion from solar, wind, electric vehicles, cleaner natural gas and global pressure to reduce CO2 emissions under the Paris climate change agreement.

“The oil industry’s rallying cry, `Drill, baby drill,’ now meets a shrill response: `Keep it in the ground!’ ” the magazine reports. “This marks a huge shift.”

  1. 2016: Canada’s Oil Sands Downturn Hints at Ominous Future

Even oil companies are turning away from oil in the tar sands northern Alberta, Canada, which is home to some of the dirtiest fossil fuel in North America. Over the past two years, more than 60 projects have been delayed or canceled in the region, Inside Climate News reports.

One reason is plunging oil prices, which make new drilling and exploration unprofitable. Another is Canada’s plans to cap carbon emissions in hopes of meeting the country’s commitment to the Paris climate agreement.

“Still, it’s too soon to cue the dirge,” Inside Climate News reported on Dec. 29. “The Canadian government last month approved two pipeline projects that would expand export capacity. And a deal to cut production announced weeks later by oil exporting nations has led to a moderate jump in prices that many hope will continue.”

  1. Agriculture Eyed as Culprit in Global Methane Emissions Spike

Methane emissions have risen sharply in recent years, threatening to undercut progress in the battle against global climate change. But where is that methane coming from?

Citing a recent study in the journal Environmental Research Letters, Inside Climate News reported on Dec. 16 that the most likely suspect is not oil and gas extraction. It’s agriculture, especially in the tropics. To be more specific, it’s manure pits and bovine belching.

Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, behind carbon dioxide. It’s responsible for about a fifth of global warming, In California, lawmakers recently passed legislation that will set targets for methane reductions, the most ambitious law of its kind in the country. In Australia, scientists have found that adding a certain seaweed to cattle feed could cut global methane emissions by 70 percent.

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