The Pope Gifts Trump Light Reading on Climate Change

Pope Francis and Trump
He may be smiling here, but the Pope was a frowning Franciscan for much of his photo ops with the Trumps (Photo Credit: White House)

The images from Pope Francis’ recent meeting with President Trump and his family are priceless. Inexplicably donning black dresses and veils as if for a funeral, Ivanka and Melania stand with stricken expressions beside the grinning President. A healthy distance to his left, slumps Pope Francis, a dour frown on his face. It’s a color-coded portrait of good and evil in the same frame.

During the visit, the two leaders exchanged gifts. Trump offered a set of books by Martin Luther King, Jr., while the Pope slyly bestowed Trump with his 2015 encyclical on climate change. Whether or not this will change Trump’s perspective on compromising the environmental fate of the world remains to be seen.

The upside: this is no global warming rant by a left wing conspiracist, as many a climate scientist is perceived to be. Pope Francis even kicks off his encyclical gently, noting that his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, “reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.”

Who doesn’t want to be embraced by a beautiful madre? Certainly Trump would be eager for such maternal cuddling. Given the President’s respect for the Pope, he may be open to his message on climate change–and even to his concern for the refugees displaced by climate change.

“There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation,” Francis remarks, noting that these migrants are not legally considered refugees.

Pope Francis
Forget about girl on fire–the words in this Vatican-made meme are on fire as they celebrate the Pope’s climate change encyclical.

If Trump is of sound mind (arguable), he might even perceive Pope Francis’ not-so-subtle tactic embedded in the gift and grow angry. Why is the Pope trying to manipulate him into making bad deals for America with what is essentially a long, boring list?

“He’s a showboat,” I picture Trump muttering under his breath as he flips through the encyclical. “A factory-fresh white Lamborghini. A not-so-great Versace suit you get ketchup up. A slice of cream cheese cake with 24 karat gold sprinkles on top. Look, that’s what he is. You know that, I know that, even Catholics know that.”


A “Potential Apocalypse” Lurking in Antarctica?

Ross Ice Shelf
Going, going, gone? (Photo Credit: NY Times)

160 feet. That’s how much sea levels could rise if the entire Antarctic ice sheet disintegrated.

What would that mean for the world? We’re already witnessing the sinking of small island nations thanks to a warming ocean and the melting of glaciers at both poles. But if the Antarctic ice sheet melts, we’d see an increase in ocean volume dramatic enough to alter the entire world map.

Even wealthy cities like London and New York that can afford sea walls and other coastal defenses would be calling uncle by the turn of the next century. The ocean would swallow and destroy the world’s greatest metropolises, perched strategically by water.

More of this to come (Photo by Johndal)

Recently, the New York Times published “Antarctic Dispatches,” a three-part series on this disaster brewing in Antarctica. Reporter Justin Gillis toured the icy continent on a Columbia University expedition. He calls the prospective melting of Antarctica “a potential apocalypse, depending on exactly how fast it happened.”

Antarctic ice melting
Image Credit: NY Times

This wouldn’t be the first time humans have experienced massive flooding (a subject covered extensively in Brian Fagan’s The Attacking Ocean, which I’m currently listening to on CD in my car).

When the Ice Age drew to a close thousands of years ago, the melting of ice sheets that covered Russia, Europe, and North America flooded some of the places that our hunter/gatherer ancestors called home. These deluges may even explain the common trope of flooding in mythology ranging from Hindu lore to Noah and the Ark.

But when this flooding occurred many thousands of years ago, there were but a few million primitive humans inhabiting the Earth. These mobile communities had plenty of space to which to relocate.

When oceans redraw our coasts now, they impact a world filled with 7.5 billion-and-counting people, who are by comparison immobile and made further immobilized by borders and immigration restrictions. It’s no longer so simple to pick up and go.

Today, the Greenland and Antarctic sheets are among the last remnants of the Ice Age, but they might not be around for long.

After presenting stunning visualizations of ice flow patterns, Gillis is kind enough to end on a hopeful note: it’s not too late to sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions and avert some of the forecasted melting. While we are already locked into a certain amount of warming that will increase sea levels, we could avert the fate of nearly 200 feet of sea level rise in the next couple centuries.

Blaming the Media, Blaming Ourselves

When things don’t go our way, we lay blame. It’s our way of understanding and rationalizing what happened. Grasping who or what is responsible for undesirable outcomes makes us feel like we have better control of future outcomes. We’re striving to learn from our mistakes.

When we elected Donald Trump on Tuesday, we blamed ignorance. We blamed white men. We blamed the Republican Party. The Democratic Party. The electoral college. The polling process. The two-party system. And a lot of us blamed the media.

The media, we argue, gave Trump undue coverage. It may have been negative coverage, but as the old saying goes, succès de scandal, or “there is no such thing as bad publicity.

We also blame the media for inciting violence, ignoring climate change, and providing biased information on just about everything. But what responsibility does the media really hold?

Here are three reasons why we cannot lay the blame for a Trump victory–or anything else–on the media’s doorstep:

  1. We aren’t paying enough for our media. Even public media like PBS or NPR are only funded in small part by the government, drawing additional resources from individuals and private companies. Most of our media companies are held by large mass media conglomerates. We consume information freely online or pay small subscriber fees for print resources, while the real costs are borne by advertisers.
  2. We don’t hold media to standards. Legally, the media can provide fallacious information. Since media is mostly privately funded, we can’t hold the media to funding-contingent ethical standards. While the media is answerable to its readership, it is by no means obligated to capture an even swath of issues, give multiple sides to a story, or pursue objectivity by the FCC or any other regulating agency unless we demand it through boycott.
  3. Media is increasingly bottom up. No longer do we listen to a few trusted media sources. Today, we often turn to social media and individual blogs and pundits for information. Certainly, there is no way to regulate the dissemination of half-truths, subjectivity, and lies through social media, nor would we want to wade into such dangerous territory.

The solution? The onus is on the individual to be a discerning consumer of media. Corresponding to the above issues of media culpability, we might:

  1. Increase public media funding. One avenue is to advocate for higher public funding for media so it’s less dependent upon corporate and ad funding. However, one might argue that this would make the media increasingly obligated to defend political status quos.
  2. Pursue media reform. If we want media held to standards, we might pursue legislation to do just that. Additionally, we should vow to suffocate media that traffics in fallacies, as well as media purporting to be objective yet clearly veering into subjective territory by declining to consume it.
  3. Act as stewards of knowledge on social media. We should pop our information bubbles by listening to voices that differ from our own so that we can understand them. We should also take it upon ourselves to debunk fallacies and spread sound information.

Just as we are responsible for the media that informs us, we are also responsible for this election. Only about half of this country voted. We wrote off Donald Trump and his supporters as a joke and an impossibility. We blindly trusted polls. We retreat deeper and deeper into our filter bubbles.

While some people likely voted for Trump because his bigotry appeals to them, the exit polls show that many voted for him because they wanted change–the same word that triggered the election of Barack Obama in 2004. If someone longs for change, they are unhappy and fearful.


Increasingly, I see Trump’s election as an act of desperation by his primarily white voter base. White people currently comprise 63% of the population, and by July 2011, minority births exceeded white births. Black Lives Matter has gained the nation’s ear, and millions of people are supporting the fight at Standing Rock. Gay marriage is legal and marijuana is becoming decriminalized around the country. We elected a black president for two terms. We have a long way to go, but we’ve made major gains.

I think Trump’s election shows that progressive causes are (slowly) winning (but then again, what happens quickly in this country?). Minorities are winning. The fight against fossil fuels is winning. And this terrifies the status quo of America and the less than 20% who qualify as rural–those who don’t know how to succeed in a new era of globalization, digital revolution, environmental reform, and heterogeneity.

We will move past this. We will elect a progressive leader again who endeavors to undo the harms that Trump will undoubtedly commit during his term. Some wrongs will never be righted–like the 3.4 billion additional tons of CO2 that his administration will unleash semi-permanently into our atmosphere.

For many, Trump’s election is a devastating setback. But let’s view it as a sign that equality and environmental protection are on the victory path, and that for some, that’s a scary thing.




Graphic Environmental Warning Labels (Originally Published in Truthout)

pesticide ad placement

What if every time you filled up at the pump, the image of a child displaced by climate change-caused drought confronted you? Would you make an effort to drive less, or at least be more aware of the tragic connectivity and causation inherent to the Anthropocene? Inspired by graphic tobacco warning labels, I explore how visualizing the impacts of our consumptive lives might impact behavior.

History of graphic warning labels

First introduced in 1985, graphic warnings on cigarette labels began to spread in the early 2000s in spite of industry opposition. The Bulletin of the World Health Organization records Canada as the first country to require graphic warning labels in 2001, with many more countries following suit, including:

  • Brazil (2002)
  • Thailand (2005)
  • Australia, which requires a rotation of two sets of labels every 12 months (2006)
  • UK (2008)
  • Taiwan (2009)
Philippines cigarette labels
Cigarette labels in The Philippines (Photo from Aotearoa Independent Media Centre)

Some of the countries with the largest graphic health warnings are Mauritius, Paraguay, Australia, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Finland.

Brazil cigarette labels
Warning labels in Brazil (Photo from the Brazilian Health Ministry)

Substantial evidence demonstrates that graphic warning labels are more likely to be noticed than text-only labels. Graphic labels are also more effective at motivating smokers to quit.

The United States has still not enacted legislation to require cigarette packaging to include graphic warning labels. In 2009, a federal law required the FDA to issue a final ruling on graphic labels by June 22, 2011. With no final ruling yet issued, the American Cancer Society and other medical and advocacy organizations filed suit against the FDA on October 4, 2016.

Graphic labels recontextualized

If graphic warning labels haven proven effective at targeting the disconnect between cigarettes and the health risks they pose, could a similar strategy bridge the gaping divide between other actions and consequences?

Katrina flooding
Natural disaster victims–like those pictured here in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina–will become more numerous as climate change accelerates. How can we draw connections between the agents and victims of climate change? (Photo by Marty Bahamonde/FEMA)

Could visualizing the human health, human rights, and environmental impacts engendered by our everyday actions affect behavior? Rob Nixon calls for the visualization of these issues–in particular, the spectacularization of these issues–in his book Slow Violence. “How can we convert into image and narrative the disasters that are slow moving and long in the making, disasters that are anonymous and star nobody, disasters that are attritional and indifferent to the sensation-driven technologies of our image-world?” he asks.

all environmental labels

Read the rest of the story on Truthout

My Name is Maya and I’m a Climatarian

Climate guilt is real, and it may affect up to 64% of Americans (aka the percentage of people in the U.S. in 2016 who are greatly or fairly worried about global climate change and probably have a carbon footprint significantly higher than zero).

In 2015, the New York Times named “climatarian” one of the words of the year (right after cat café), defined as:

a diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change. This includes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy in transportation), choosing pork and poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions), and using every part of ingredients (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit food waste.

However, “climatarian” (n) is not yet recognized by any of the major dictionaries, such as Merriam Webster or Oxford.

Therefore, I’m proposing a second, broader definition of this newfound term:

climatarian (noun) | ‘klīmit(e)rēən : a person who makes both day-to-day and major life decisions based around the prospect of climate change and its impacts; experiences often debilitating guilt regarding their contributions to climate change; and spends inordinate amounts of time worrying about catastrophic climate change


When Ricardo declined to travel to Paris because of the carbon footprint of the trip, Suzy accused him of being a climatarian

The Smiths opted to raise felines instead of children because they identify as climatarians.

Reilly is having difficulty completing her classwork because she is distracted by the prospect of runaway climate change destroying everything she knows and loves. 

You might be a climatarian if:

  1. The taste of shame overpowers even the strongest delicious flavors when you consume beef, pork, out-of-season produce, and unsustainably farmed fish.
  2. You agonize over simple decisions at the grocery store, baffled by whether you should prioritize local, non-GMO, organic, free-range, and/or cost.
  3. You try to hide the plastic bottle/disposable coffee cup that you bought in a moment of weakness from others.
  4. You love the show Tiny House, but don’t live in a small home yourself, and therefore experience a measured degree of self-hate while watching.
  5. You experience a minor panic attack when you’re forced to throw away the now moldy leftovers you forgot about in the back of your fridge because you haven’t gotten around to establishing a compost pile yet.
  6. Water World is one of your favorite movies!
  7. Netflix keeps recommending environmental documentaries like GMO OMG and Cowspiracy.
  8. You tell people you have a Costco membership because of the great deals, but really you’re starting to horde non-perishables in case of a potential climapocalypse.
  9. When you forget your reusable bags, you attempt to cram groceries into your purse or carry them in a carefully balanced pile in your arms to the amusement/pity of the cashier.

But if climatarians are going to try to affect large-scale change, they must dwell in this reality. Climatarians must strike a balance.

We can’t ask everyone to totally abandon their cars, go off-grid, and become subsistence farmers. But we can make a concerted effort to reduce our impacts as we fight for systematic change.

And so The Climatarian documents the daily struggle to live (and eat) in a way that contributes as little as possible to environmental injustices, the oppression of others, and, of course, climate change.