A Turning Point

Every Friday, Atmos editor-in-chief William Defebaugh reflects on the week in climate and culture, sharing stories of insight and inspiration.

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In her 2018 song “I Love You, Earth,” artist, activist, and Atmos contributor Yoko Ono describes the planet as being a “turning point in eternity.” While this is true from a cosmological perspective, it also describes our present position relative to climate change. As we learned from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s alarming report just six months ago, the actions we take now will affect the future of this planet in irrevocable ways.

 

Thankfully, the IPCC report did not go unheard by all. Since being warned that we only have until 2030 to stem catastrophic changes—and since the Democratic Party took back the House—climate change has become a more prominent part of the political conversation in the United States. On Tuesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held its first climate hearing, a four hour discussion that saw the likes of John Kerry, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and more urging that this issue be taken seriously. Whether or not these conversations will lead to tangible results will ultimately determine their value. (By comparison, the Labour Party of Norway just committed to permanently banning oil drilling and exploration in the Norwegian Arctic.)

 

Meanwhile, in the corporate sector, more than 3,500 employees at Amazon have come forward demanding that the company evaluate its impact on the planet. (In 2017, the company shipped over 5 billion items worldwide through Prime alone.) It is the largest employee-driven movement directed toward climate change in the tech industry to date. This comes during the same week as the Vegan Food Tech Conference, during which researchers and entrepreneurs have convened to ask the same of the food industry, presenting novel and innovative concepts for making our sustenance more sustainable.

 

Speaking of banding together, ecologists and astrophysicists have joined forces in what is being called the first-ever official collaboration between these two sciences. A team from Liverpool John Moores University who set out to monitor critically endangered Bornean orangutans discovered that they could locate and count the individuals more effectively using drones equipped with thermal infrared technology traditionally used to find and study stars. The success of this experiment represents a leap forward for monitoring rare and endangered species around the world.

 

Endangered orangutans also take center stage in Netflix’s new climate documentary series, Our Planet. With a more direct conservationist approach compared to similar titles like Planet Earth and Blue Planet, each episode journeys to a different biome, and ends on a species that is threatened by human activity—like the orangutan. A number of the graphic realities showcased in the series led Netflix to issue a viewer discretion warning (spoiler alert: if you love walruses, you might need to heed the message). The show also partnered with the World Wildlife Foundation on a website that helps impassioned viewers take action.

 

Finally, this week saw the unveiling of the first-ever image of a black hole, made possible by 200 scientists across the globe using their observatories in unison, acting as one massive, Earth-sized telescope. These victories serve as a testament to what we are capable of achieving when operating in unison—a timely reminder as we stand at this particular turning point in eternity. As Yoko Ono put it in her Atmos interview, “We are here, and we can make [this world] better and better.”

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