Environmental concerns and conflicts have surfaced throughout human history, from the earliest settlements to the latest headlines. This comes as a surprise to many people because our emphasis in history has all too often been on war and politics, rather than environment, culture and development.
The evidence for a longstanding concern for environmental issues has been readily available in manuscripts, publications and historical archives. It can be found under labels like conservation, public health, preservation of nature, smoke abatement, municipal housekeeping, occupational disease, air pollution, water pollution, home ecology, animal protection or many other topic areas.
The modern word “environmental” was developed as an umbrella to encompass a variety of related concerns, but the concerns and related conflicts are threaded through history like the underside of a tapestry — sometimes not visible, but always part of the fabric of life.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is signed Oct. 10, 2013, with a thousand delegates from 140 nations adopting an international treaty that controls the use and trade of mercury. The convention was named for the Japanese city that suffered thousands of deaths and injuries from uncontrolled releases of mercury by the Chisso Chemical Co. In the 1950s and 60s, “Minimata disease” was one of the world’s earliest and strongest wake-up calls for environmental protection. And yet, recognition and even minimal compensation in Japan has been a struggle for some 65,000 who have applied for help; only 3,000 have been officially recognized. That number is set to expand following an April 16, 2013 ruling of Japan’s Supreme Court.
By Bill Kovarik
The Daily Climate
Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series at The Daily Climate exploring climate change impacts hitting society right now. Find more stories here on The Daily Climate.
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Weary of debating the causes of climate change, mayors and other elected officials from Virginia’s battered coastal regions gathered here last week and agreed that local impacts have become serious enough to present a case for state action.
“We are here to ask for your assistance,” said Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. “It’s a threat we can no longer afford to ignore.”
So far, assistance from the state level has been paltry and grudging at best. In 2011, a group of coastal scientists and planners, with the backing of mayors like Fraim, were asked to study the problems, but only after tea-party conservatives in the state Legislature insisted that “recurrent flooding” – and not climate change – would be the study’s sole focus.
The report, Recurrent Flooding Study for Tidewater Virginia was released in February and did indeed point to increasing local problems from sea-level rise. Continue reading
An historian is always hopeful when stumbling across an appeal to history in the popular press. But more often than not, an historian is disappointed.
Take, for example, one particularly baleful reaction to the Balcombe fracking protests in the UK this August of 2013. That the protesters were a superstitious lot, lacking any sense of history, is an argument employed by Daily & Sunday Express columnist, Niel Hamilton.
Although it must be read in its native ‘red-top’ context to be fully enjoyed, here are a few of Hamilton’s ‘lessons’ of history:
The doom-mongers are like primitive tribes, firing flaming arrows at the sun at sunset in order to make it rise again the next day, which obviously ‘works’ because the sun does rise again. Continue reading
There’s a great opinion article in The Tyee by artist Robert Bateman in the wake of the the incredible oil train disaster in Quebec early in July, 2013. While many newspaper opinion writers are looking at the disaster as a “trains versus pipelines” issue, Bateman says we need to consider deeper issues.
The total transformation of planet Earth has happened due to cheap energy. Has this been a good idea? Perhaps even if we could find a new, cheap energy source, it might be a bad idea. Do we need to change our goals? THE TYEE, July 13, 2013.
Rex Tillerson, Exxon CEO
A Mahatma Gandhi for the 21st century? Not exactly. Even so …
For one shining moment in Houston, Rex Tillerson, head of the world’s most powerful corporation, asked a Gandhi-like question. Speaking about climate change at the ExxonMobil annual meeting last week in Houston, Tillerson asked:
‘What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers? The statement strikes you right away on about a dozen levels: First, obviously, without a planet, we wouldn’t have to worry about suffering humanity. Secondly, the possibility of a “saved” planet seems rather unusual, coming from Tillerson, since it begs the question: “from what?” Continue reading
Environmental politics is often symbolic, so its no surprise that the symbolic legacy of most power figure in environmental history — Rachel Carson — has become highly contested.
She is, for some, the woman who turned a sleepy conservation movement into a green typhoon. For a few people, however, she is the symbol of environmentalism gone horribly wrong, a nightmarish figment of their fertile imaginations. And the most persistently contested areas of Carson’s symbolic afterlife involves a controversy over one pesticide ( DDT ) and one disease (malaria).
In the pugnacious facts-be-damned style of American extremists, Carson’s legacy is the nightmare of a worldwide ban on DDT that has (supposedly) killed Continue reading
The oil octopus – a 19th century cartoon.
By Bill Kovarik
One reason the Keystone pipeline debate seemed so unfocused in 2012 – 13 is that until recently, nearly everyone believed that 2/3 of all the world’s oil was in the Middle East. How is it that we ignored the abundance of oil from so-called “unconventional” reserves such as those in Canada that would be carried by the Keystone pipeline? Why did the US fight for Middle Eastern oil in the first place?
As a very young news reporter in Washington DC in 1979, I was invited to one of those think tank “luncheons” where the speakers chat amiably about the next imminent disaster. This one was about world oil reserves and the imminent collapse of the Persian Gulf.
Not surprisingly, all the speakers agreed that a shut-down of the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic and must be prevented at all costs. All the speakers, that is, except one smiling Venezuelan named Alirio Parra, who was then the country’s oil minister. The bottom line of his talk was this: Don’t worry. Venezuela has more oil in the eastern Orinoco region than all the Middle East. And if this seems surprising, he said, your petroleum geologists should be more honest with you.
I remember the shouts of outrage from the assembled policy wonks, one of whom yelled that there was “a journalist here” in the same tone that a Victorian preacher might caution: “ladies present.”
By Douglass Fischer
The Daily Climate
Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” of British politics who died Monday at the age of 87, is being lionized as the woman who tilted British domestic and economic policy to the right.
Less noted is how seriously she viewed the threat of climate change.
In a 1990 speech at the second World Climate Conference, in Geneva, Thatcher compared the threat of global warming to the Gulf War, which was then just escalating following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
Thatcher, who spent 11 years as the United Kingdom’s prime minister, spent almost a quarter of her 2,500-word speech touting the importance of climate science and the UN body tasked with assessing that science. She called the work of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “remarkable” and “very careful.” Continue reading
By Peter Dykstra, Publisher
Daily Climate and Environmental Health News
An aura of excitement and predictability surrounds the president’s annual State of the Union speech: A few days of hyped drama and TV punditry builds to a political Woodstock featuring generals, justices, senators, cabinet secretaries and Congress, all under one roof. Up in the balcony, the First Lady plays host to a few iconic, symbolic taxpayers who recently shared a heroic moment of fame with America.
If the past is prologue, the green talk and pageantry may be the only things delivered on the president’s lofty words this year on Feb. 12.
Environmentalists are on higher-alert than normal this year, after President Obama made a sweeping inaugural promise to tackle climate change, an issue he’d largely avoided during his first term…. More
By Bill Kovarik
Occasionally, the Great Question of America’s august place in the global order is best elucidated in a location far, far from the glare of kleig lights and the stares of Washington wonks. We then see the wisdom lurking within statehouse committees and cracker barrel country stores and signs painted on the sides of tobacco barns.
And the message: Get the US out of the United Nations. Look out for blue helmets in black helicopters. Most of all, these days: Beware of Agenda 21.