[This is] director Jeff Orlowski‘s beautiful yet sobering documentary about the world’s rapidly melting ice caps. His guide is James Balog, a renowned nature photographer who has become obsessed with documenting the staggering speed with which the icebergs of Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska are crumbling into the sea. Orlowski films as Balog and a small team of young scientists go on a mad mission to embed dozens of time-lapse cameras into the rock walls above various ice fields. Those cameras take one image every hour, and when Balog and his team, known as the “Extreme Ice Survey,” assemble the footage, they discover that glacier fields the size of Lower Manhattan are receding at an astonishing rate.
I’m going to try to catch this later in the week.
Alaskan hunters must now go farther out in the sea to hunt because the ice is receding, and that puts them in more danger. The direct effects of pollution hit people and animals harder in the Arctic, too. Airborne pollutants emitted in the mid-regions of the planet swirl north (that’s why you can find lead from the forges of Rome in Greenland), collect in organisms, and continue up the food chain. In an excerpt Banerjee includes from a book called Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic, the environmental journalist Marla Cone writes, “The Inuit living in northern Greenland, near the North Pole, contain the highest concentrations of chemical contaminants found in humans anywhere on earth.”
This fact is key to John Broome’s argument that climate change is primarily a matter of justice, which explains why political philosophers have tended to dominate the debate. The distribution of emissions is deeply skewed towards us in the developed world. And as we gut the world by depleting its resources, the first people we screw over – and the people we screw over the most – are those that do nothing to contribute to this crisis.
Meanwhile, as the UN Environment Programme publishes a new study today, The Guardian reports that it will urge us to halve our meat consumption:
The quest for ever cheaper meat in the past few decades – most people even in rich countries ate significantly less meat one and two generations ago – has resulted in a massive expansion of intensively farmed livestock. This has diverted vast quantities of grain from human to animal consumption, requiring intensive use of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides and, according to the UNEP report, “caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health”. The run-off from these chemicals is creating dead zones in the seas, causing toxic algal blooms and killing fish, while some are threatening bees, amphibians and sensitive ecosystems. The UN scientists said so as not to cause environmental harm, the move to meat in the developing world must be balanced with a reduction in the amount consumed in developed countries.
John Harris adds his two cents to the case for vegetarianism:
[O]ver the last decade or so, the case for vegetarianism has grown ever-more urgent, and unanswerable. A watershed came in 2008, when Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, highlighted the links between meat consumption and environmental crisis, and advised anyone listening to “give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there.” Now as then, the meat industry accounts for around a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is directly responsible for huge levels of deforestation. When it comes to wider arguments about sustainability, the arguments are just as stark. Sixteen years ago, a Cornell University study established that 800 million people could be fed with the grain used to fatten up US livestock; the majority of corn and soy grown in the world is now set aside for cattle, pigs and chickens.
And at Wonkblog, read Brad Plumer on which cities have most reason to fear rising sea levels.