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Climate change got you down this Earth Day? Time for a badger mask

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It’s not often that any magazine profiles an environmentalist. So when the New York Times Magazine did just that this week, I got excited. Just in time for Earth Day! Setting aside, of course, the uneasiness that I feel about Earth Day. When you are the only habitable planet in the solar system, as well as the large spheroid mass whose rotation around the sun actually makes days happen, arguably all of the days are yours. But Earth Day itself has very sweet and thoughtful origins as an idea, proposed by a Wisconsin senator in 1970, to host teach-ins on ecological issues around the country. The teach-ins became so huge that the momentum from that day of meetings is credited with the creation of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act — along with the persistence of Earth Day itself, which very few people seem to get excited about any more, but which hovers in our vision anyway like the afterimage of a camera flash. Part of that persistence is a consequence of the news cycle, which requires holidays in order to write about things — civil rights, women, the fact that the only planet we live on seems to be having some tropospheric issues — that we all should be writing about anyway. And so, for its Earth Day story, the Times chose, in something of a punk move, to profile another generator of an unexpectedly viral idea — Paul Kingsnorth. Kingsnorth is a British environmentalist and anti-globalization activist who, back in 2009, very publicly lost faith in both struggles. Climate change was not something that could be stopped, he decided. “Sustainability” wasn’t something that was attainable, given the current human population and fondness for things like heat, light, and food. The future did not look good. “Decline, depletion, chaos and hardship” were in store for the lot of us, and the sooner we realized it, the better. Many people who come to such conclusions start hoarding a lot of canned goods; Kingsnorth’s response to impending collapse was to found a lavish hardcover literary journal. The journal was called Dark Mountain, as is the group of uncertain size that has organized around it, which Kingsnorth described as “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself.” Together, he wrote “we are able to say it loud and clear: we are not going to ‘save the planet’.” In 2012, he elaborated further during an email exchange with the writer Wen Stephenson: I do think that climate change campaigners like yourself should be more upfront about what you’re trying to ‘save.’ It’s not the world. It’s not humanity either, which I’d bet will survive whatever comes in some form or another, though perhaps with drastically reduced numbers and no broadband connection. No, what you’re trying to save, it seems to me, is the world you have grown used to. Dark Mountain, Kingsnorth wrote, would bring about gatherings of “practical people with hands-on ideas for building the post-oil world in a century of chaos.” The festival that Daniel Smith, author on the Times profile, attends, though, has more of a Burning Man vibe: A man wearing a stag mask bounded into the clearing and shouted: “Come! Let’s play!” The crowd broke up. Some headed for bed. A majority headed for the woods, to a makeshift stage that had been blocked off with hay bales and covered by an enormous nylon parachute. There they danced, sang, laughed, barked, growled, hooted, mooed, bleated and meowed, forming a kind of atavistic, improvisatory choir. Deep into the night, you could hear them from your tent, shifting every few minutes from sound to sound, animal to animal and mood to mood. The next morning over breakfast, Dougie Strang, a Scottish artist and performer who is on Dark Mountain’s steering committee, asked if I’d been there. When he left, at 3 a.m., he said, people were writhing in the mud and singing, in harmony, the children’s song “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” (“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.”) “Wasn’t it amazing?” he said, grinning. “It really went mental. I think we actually achieved uncivilization.” If this sounds less like an enduring movement with relevance to the environmental movement as a whole than a midlife crisis, you wouldn’t be the first to think so. In the profile, even Kingsnorth says as much: “What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad? And that’s not a series of questions that have any answers other than people’s personal answers to them. Selfishly it’s just a process I’m going through.” He laughed. “It’s extremely narcissistic of me. Rather than just having a personal crisis, I’ve said: ‘Hey! Come share my crisis with me!’” At 41, Kingsnorth is at the age when a lot of people who’ve devoted themselves to a project, whether it’s saving the world or selling inground swimming pools, tend to burn out and wonder what the hell they’re doing with their lives. In declaring the largest problem of our era unfixable, Kingsnorth gave himself — and a few other earnest, idealistic types – the perfect excuse to put on a badger mask and go party in the woods. When someone goes and names their organization “Dark Mountain,” that’s a sign of a few things: 1) They’re a little depressed at the moment; and 2) they’re probably on a quest of some sort. For most of us, mountains are pilgrimage sites, not destinations. It’s hard to grow anything on a mountain. The air gets mighty thin. There are clues that even Paul Kingsnorth finds it hard to live up to Paul Kingsnorth’s ideals of retreat and preparation for social collapse. He’s spent the last three years organizing to keep a supermarket development out of his rural community, though he uses some bleak poetry to justify it. “I’m increasingly attracted,” he says, in the article, “by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.” The story of Dark Mountain reminds me of another British phenomenon that poured a lot of hubris and energy into hopelessness: the Sex Pistols. When Johnny Rotten howled “No Future” into a microphone in 1977, he couldn’t, of course, see the actual future, where he would be 58, something of a whale-watching enthusiast and preparing to tour with a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Another Brit put it better. As Joe Strummer said, “The future is unwritten.”Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

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These biologists created a gorgeous film about African glaciers

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Chasing Ice launched a new sub-genre of horror films: Watch big beautiful glaciers melt. OK, that might not sound as date-night friendly as a slasher flick, but, hey, if a kid talking to a wagging finger named Tony can be scary, watching the Arctic melt away is downright terrifying. Filmmakers Neil Losin and Nathan Dappen recently joined the field with Snows of the Nile, a visually stunning documentary about the disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains (you can watch the trailer here). Losin and Dappen brought a twist to their ice-gazing short by focusing on glaciers where you might not expect them: the tropics. The emerging filmmakers, who both have PhDs in biology and star in the film, got some financial help from a Dos Equis promotion. Snows follows their journey to the Rwenzori, with prints of its glaciers from a 1906 expedition in hand. And yes, as compared to the original photos, the glaciers have changed. A lot. Grist interviewed Losin and Dappen about their respective transitions from young science students to photographers to documentarians — and on beer’s starring role. On liquid courage: Losin: I was a fan of [Dos Equis'] page because I loved The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. And one day this thing about the “Stay Thirsty” grant came across my Facebook feed, and I thought “wow, I could really use that $25,000 – what could we pitch that would cost that much to do.” Dappen: We already had this idea of documenting tropical glaciers that are disappearing, since not a lot of attention is given to them. Neil started doing research on the topic and he found the Rwenzori Mountains. And then he discovered there was this expedition there in 1906 that photographed the glaciers. We came up with the idea to replicate the photographs. Losin: It turned out when all was said and done, the Rwenzori idea could cost about as much as the Dos Equis grant – or at least enough to get us there so we could get the footage to tell the story. On finding science: Losin: When I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave me an old bird book and a pair of binoculars that she got at a garage sale. And I was just like immediately hooked. I knew from that point forward that I wanted to do science in some way. Dappen: Growing up, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a scientist. But my mom was an agricultural economist working mostly in the third world, and my dad was a doctor and a big adventurer. So I spent a lot of time traveling in kind of exotic locations, like in the new world tropics and in Africa. On finding photography: Losin: My passion for photography also started out with birds, but there’s sort of a barrier to entry for equipment costs to photograph birds because you need enormous, expensive lenses. But ultimately I was able to invest the money into getting a big telephoto lens, and my bird photographs were like the first images that I actually sold into magazines and books. Dappen: I started taking photos in high school – I was really interested in art. I worked a lot in black and white. And then I got a job working in a photo studio and started shooting weddings and stuff like that. During my biology PhD, I still did a lot of that on the side, just because pay is not very high in grad school. On forming Day’s Edge, their production company: Dappen: We met when we were both in grad school, on an eight-week intensive field biology course for graduate students. We both quickly realized that we had a lot in common and became close friends. We talked a lot about science and photography and communication. At that point in time I think both of us thought we’d go into academia and research, but over the next few years we continued to meet up and go on adventures and talk about using our images to communicate science. And it sort of just evolved to the point where we said, “Hey, maybe we could do more with our sort of visual storytelling skill set in science than by actually doing research.” On telling the story of climate change: Losin: We really wanted to make Snows of the Nile more experiential than just beating people over the head with the same messages over and over again. So we framed it in terms of us going on a quest to recapture the images from the 1906 expedition, and the conflicts we have fighting against the weather and fighting against the clock, because we didn’t have a lot of time in the mountains to get what we came for. I also think it’s important to see climate change not just in terms of shrinking glaciers, but also in terms of what that’s going to do to human inhabitants. I think the people from the Bakonjo tribe who helped with our trip were such a great embodiment of the human impacts of climate change in the Rwenzori Mountains. To see the surprise in their eyes when we showed them the prints from 1906 – they knew stories of what it used to be like from their great-grandparents, but most of them had never seen images of it before. On green guilty pleasures: Dappen: Both Neil and I are really big into equipment. When the new camera gear comes out, we’re always excited about buying it, you know? And, finally, on dealing with green guilt: Dappen: I try to set certain guidelines of how to live and what to buy, but for me it’s not the end of the world. I think everybody just has to change in small ways. Losin: There comes a point where it can be your entire life trying to have a lower impact. And I think it’s because there isn’t necessarily an infrastructure to make life easier for people to consume in a way that doesn’t release enormous amounts of CO2. And that’s why I don’t think it should be on every individual’s shoulders – there are things that every individual can do and should do, because it really doesn’t place any undue burden on you, but the most important things might be if we can advocate politically, because then we can make it easier for everyone to live greener. Once we have a certain kind of infrastructure in place, then it doesn’t have to take your entire day to go out of the way and do these things. They become a lot more natural.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living

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‘Like end of the world… for a while’

<!– google_ad_section_start –> As thunderstorms and gusts of wind up to 100 kilometers per hour spread across the city, a freak hailstorm featuring hailstones of about three centimetres in diameter hit Wong Tai Sin, before spreading to areas including Yuen Long, Tsing Yi, Tsuen Wan, Tuen Mun, Kowloon Tong and parts of the North District. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Fred Phelps Gave Me My First Big Break

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In April 2003, The Black Table, a fledgling internet site started by me, Will Leitch, Eric Gillin, Aileen Gallagher, and Jim Cooke, had its first big, exclusive story, which was an interview with one Rev. Fred Phelps. Our full Q&A is reprinted below; here’s how that happened. Read more…

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Happy End of the World

A new book explores the history of mass extinctions and how the human species can survive the next one.

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Cyclone Mahasen batters Bangladesh as one million flee

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The outer bands of Cyclone Mahasen struck the southern coast of Bangladesh on Thursday, lashing remote fishing villages with heavy rain and fierce winds that flattened mud and straw huts and forced the evacuation of more than one million people. The eye of the storm was expected to reach land Thursday evening, but at least 18 deaths related to Mahasen already have been reported in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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21 hurt in Nepal plane crash

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Twenty-one people were hurt, including eight Japanese tourists, when a small plane skidded off a Nepal airport runway on Thursday and plunged into a river, police said. All 21 people aboard the Nepal Airlines Twin Otter aircraft were injured, five seriously, police spokesman Keshav Adhikari said. The plane’s brakes failed and it crashed into the Kali Gandaki river in the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal’s northwest, Adhikari said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Six bodies found after fire on ship in Japan

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Six bodies, suspected to be those of Russian crew members, were found aboard a cargo ship that caught fire on Thursday while anchored in a Japanese port, a coastguard and news reports said. Fire took hold of the 497-tonne Cambodian-registered freighter, Taigan, which has been in the port of Wakkanai in northern Japan since Tuesday, said an official at the local coastguard office. A total of 23 Russian and Ukrainian crew members were on the ship, which had transported crabs from a Sakhalin port. Six of them – all Russian – had been unaccounted for, the coastguard said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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China downplays frictions with India ahead of Li Keqiang’s visit

<!– google_ad_section_start –> China downplayed border tensions with India on Thursday, days before the new Chinese premier visits the neighbouring country on his first foreign visit since taking office in March. Disagreements over the Himalayan frontier can be handled under existing mechanisms and should not affect overall relations, Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao told reporters at a briefing. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Thai ghost film remake appeals with funny twist

<!– google_ad_section_start –> BANGKOK (AP) — Thais’ deep affection for ghost stories and laughter has brought a new phenomenon to movie theaters — comic touches added to an oft-told tragedy of true love, which have made the latest adaptation of the Mae Nak legend into the all-time highest-grossing Thai film. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Turkey arrests four over bombings near Syrian border

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Four suspects were arrested in Turkey late on Wednesday in connection with car bombings that killed 51 people in a town near the Syrian border at the weekend, state-run Anatolian news agency reported. The two bomb blasts in Reyhanli fanned fears that Syria’s civil war is dragging in neighbouring states. Damascus has denied Turkish allegations it was involved in the blasts. Turkish prosecutors sent eight suspects to a court in the southern city of Adana after questioning and the court released four, remanding the other four in custody, the agency said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Slower Chinese growth adds to pressure on leaders

<!– google_ad_section_start –> BEIJING (AP) — Global economic malaise has knocked the stuffing out of Luo Yan’s business making toy animals. Sales of Hello Kitty dolls and plush rabbits have fallen 30 percent over the past six months, according to Luo, owner of Tongle Toy Enterprise, which employs 100 people in the southern city of Foshan, near Hong Kong. Orders from the United States and debt-crippled Europe are down 80 percent. “We don’t talk about profits anymore,” said Luo. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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First patient-to-nurse spread of new Sars-like virus reported

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Two health workers in Saudi Arabia have become infected with a potentially fatal new Sars-like virus after catching it from patients in their care – the first evidence of such transmission within a hospital, the World Health Organisation said. The new virus, known as novel coronavirus, or nCoV, is from the same family of viruses as those that cause common colds and the one that caused the deadly outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) that emerged in Asia in 2003. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Obama fires head of US tax agency over scandal

<!– google_ad_section_start –> An angry President Barack Obama sacked the acting head of the US Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday over a fast moving scandal sparked when officials unfairly targeted conservative groups. Obama said Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had asked for and received the resignation of tax agency chief Steven Miller and promised a new system of checks and safeguards to make sure the episode was not repeated. “Given the controversy surrounding this audit, it’s important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward,” Obama said. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Japan reports economy grew at 3.5 percent annual pace in 1st quarter, beating expectations

<!– google_ad_section_start –> TOKYO (AP) — Japan reports economy grew at 3.5 percent annual pace in 1st quarter, beating expectations. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Obama says treasury secretary requested and received resignation of acting tax agency chief

<!– google_ad_section_start –> WASHINGTON (AP) — Obama says treasury secretary requested and received resignation of acting tax agency chief. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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NBA owners follow committee’s recommendation, reject bid to move Kings to Seattle

<!– google_ad_section_start –> DALLAS (AP) — NBA owners follow committee’s recommendation, reject bid to move Kings to Seattle. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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White House releases 100 pages of emails and notes on Benghazi attacks

<!– google_ad_section_start –> WASHINGTON (AP) — White House releases 100 pages of emails and notes on Benghazi attacks. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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First tropical storm of Pacific hurricane season forms off coast of Mexico, no land threat

<!– google_ad_section_start –> MIAMI (AP) — First tropical storm of Pacific hurricane season forms off coast of Mexico, no land threat. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Iraqi officials say wave of bombings in Baghdad raises overall daily death toll to at least 29

<!– google_ad_section_start –> BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi officials say wave of bombings in Baghdad raises overall daily death toll to at least 29. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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New July 2013