Preaching to the Climate Converted

Why Showtime's "Years" Is Unlikely to Reach Non-Believers

In the first episode of the $20 million Showtime series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously, which aired last Sunday, we meet a 46-year-old evangelical Christian named Nelly Montez. Montez was laid off from a local meatpacking plant that closed due to a drought. Every week she and other women march around the plant, praying for rain. The actor Don Cheadle, one of the show’s celebrity correspondents, asks Montez if she attributes the drought to anything. She says, “I think it’s biblical.”

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Off on the Wrong Foot

Why A Footprint Is A Poor Metaphor for Humanity’s Impact on the Planet

On the cover of Our Ecological Footprint, published in 1996, a giant foot stomps on the Western hemisphere, carrying the weight of cars, overpasses, and skyscrapers. William Rees, a population ecologist at the University of British Columbia, first thought of the footprint metaphor while boasting to a graduate student about the “small footprint” of his new computer tower in 1992. Linguists trace the use of footprint to mean “space occupied” to 1965 when astronomers described the landing area for a spacecraft. It would be another 14 years before a Senate committee first uttered “environmental footprint.” But is this the best metaphor for humanity’s impact on the natural world?

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Jesse Ausubel Announced as 2014 Breakthrough Paradigm Award Winner

Environmental Scientist Has Demonstrated How Humans Save Nature

Modern humans are destroying the planet. Once, there was a time in which people lived in harmony with nature, but those days are long gone. In order to save the Earth, we must roll back the clock and live like pre-industrial civilizations lived. Or so goes the classic environmental narrative, which blames industrialization, modernity, and human development for what ails Mother Nature.

But as environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel argues in his landmark paper, “The Liberation of the Environment,” human beings have been committing sins against the environment for thousands of years. And contrary to conventional wisdom, modernity, development, and technology are not drivers of human-led destruction of the environment. Rather, Ausubel contends, human development is the liberator of the environment. 

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Fighting to Breathe

New WHO Report Says Air Pollution from Cooking Caused 4.3 Million Premature Deaths

Nasty airborne particles kill 7 million people a year prematurely, reports the World Health Organization—way more than previous estimates.

That news may not come as a surprise to anyone who has seen images of smog-belching smokestacks in Beijing, Delhi, or Mexico. But those factories—or even the clogged roadways of modern cities—are not the biggest culprit. Each year, some 4.3 million people die earlier than they should because of foul air inside their homes, says the WHO. (Its study accounted for fact that people spend time both indoor and outdoors.)

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Farm to Fable

Eating Local May Feel Good, But Is It Smart for the Planet?

The local food movement has captured the imagination of many foodies, chefs, and gardeners. But is “going locavore” also good conservation — or just an exercise in feeling good?

The term “local” food has various and sometimes conflicting definitions. It often means food grown “near” the consumer (eg, within 50 miles, the county, or the same state). It can also mean food sold in an alternative food market. And it could refer to food that has some characteristic reminding people of what they think of as home.

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The Human Toll of Anti-GMO Hysteria

Study Estimates Opposition Has Cost 1.4 Million “Life Years” Since 2002

By 2002, Golden Rice was technically ready to go. Animal testing had found no health risks. Syngenta, which had figured out how to insert the Vitamin A-producing gene from carrots into rice, had handed all financial interests over to a nonprofit organization, so there would be no resistance to the life-saving technology from GMO opponents who resist genetic modification because big biotech companies profit from it. Except for the regulatory approval process, Golden Rice was ready to start saving millions of lives and preventing tens of millions of cases of blindness in people around the world who suffer from Vitamin A deficiency.

It’s still not in use anywhere, however, because of the opposition to GM technology. Now two German economists have quantified the price of that opposition, in human health, and the numbers are truly frightening.

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Four Surprising Facts About Population

Why Humans Are Not Fated to Ecological Disaster

One often hears that we are in the midst of exponential population growth, and that the Earth cannot support many more people. Unless we take immediate measures to control population growth, the story goes, we are on a crash course for ecological and humanitarian disaster.

But what is really going on with global population trends? In this essay, we present four surprising facts that will change the way you think about population, the environment, and human progress.

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Conservation and Development

We live on a human planet, in an era of our own making: the Anthropocene. Pristine nature is largely a thing of the distant past. As it approaches ten billion, the global population is becoming increasingly wealthy, urban, and well-connected. At the same time, economic modernization and technological evolution is continuing apace. The "Age of Humans" is an age of opportunities but also hard choices.

The Conservation and Development Program – through in-house research and in collaboration with its network of innovative thinkers – seeks to offer pragmatic new frameworks and tools for navigating these challenges.




Amy Mathews Amos, "What's Wild? The Battle for Nature in the 21st Century," February 11, 2014

David Ropeik, "The Double-Edged Metaphor of Frankenstein," January 7, 2014

Robert Krulwich, "How Important is a Bee?" December 6, 2013

Fred Pearce, "Admit it: we can't measure our ecological footprint," November 20, 2013

Paul Voosen, "Who Is Conservation For?" November 10, 2013

David Biello, "Forget What You've Heard: Humans Are Not Using More Than One Planet," November 7, 2013

Ross Pomeroy, "Are Global Footprint Estimates Accurate?" November 6, 2013

UN Development Policy and Analysis Division, "World Economic and Social Survey 2013: Sustainable Development Challenges"

Bryan Walsh, "The Trouble With Beekeeping in the Anthropocene," August 9, 2013

Keith Kloor, "The Future of Conservation," July 26, 2013

Hillary Rosner, "Is Conservation Extinct?" July 22, 2013

Mark Halper, "Agribusiness is Greener Than Urban Farming," July 17, 2013

Fred Pearce, "New Green Vision: Technology As Our Planet's Last Best Hope," July 15, 2013

Oliver Geden, "Climate Change: What Next After the 2 Degree Celsius Boundary," June 11, 2013

Brad Plumer, "Why Are Birthrates Falling Around the World? Blame Television," May 13, 2013.

Robert Lalasz, "Debate: What Good Are Planetary Boundaries?" March 25, 2013

Erle Ellis, "Time to Forget Global Tipping Points," March 11, 2013

Tom Zeller Jr., "Tipping Points: Can Humanity Break the Planet?" March 2, 2013

ryan Walsh, "Anthropocene: Do We Need a New Environmentalism for a New Age?" December 18, 2012



"Boundary Conditions," June 16, 2012


Matt Ridley, "The Global Doomsayers' Ever-Changing Story," June 15, 2012


David Biello, "Walking the Line: How to Identify Safe Limits for Human Impacts on the Planet," June 13, 2012


Linus Blomqvist, 



Marian Swain, Policy Analyst





Erle Ellis

 Erle Ellis, Senior Fellow







Peter Kareiva, Senior Fellow





Barry Brook


Barry Brook, Senior Fellow






Mark Sagoff, Senior Fellow






Michelle Marvier, Senior Fellow








David "Toby" McGrath, Senior Fellow






Paul Robbins, Senior Fellow