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Explore Issue #5

Editor's Note: Try This at Home

Try this at home. Hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same time:

We need to do everything possible to halt the release of carbon pollution into the atmosphere.

We need to do everything possible to adjust to the reality of more carbon pollution in the atmosphere.

It isn’t easy. But that’s the point. Neither is functioning in the Anthropocene.

This issue takes up the challenge of working simultaneously on two sometimes contradictory fronts.

The theme of the deep dives section is, simply and powerfully, “relocate.” If history has a grand lesson, this might be it.

Climate change is remaking the known world, and Earth’s inhabitants are on the move. With that starting point, we prompted writers to imagine a geographically altered world and to explore what smart responses to the shifts might look like.

The conversation opens with sea-level rise. Elizabeth Rush, a noted author and Pulitzer Prize finalist, takes up the question of how and when people will retreat from low-lying coastal areas (page 40). The “if” is notably absent from her story. The only question left, Rush asserts, is whether retreat will be managed or chaotic. She goes on to describe what those opposing scenarios might look like. Her story is grounded in specific US locales from New York’s Staten Island to Louisiana’s coastal islands. But the larger notion of shifting the managed-retreat conversation away from losses and toward a climate-changed future is applicable—well, everywhere.

That theme is echoed in Lauren Oakes’s story about a massive tree-planting program under way in British Columbia (page 68). Instead of simply restoring forests lost to fire and harvesting, Canadian researchers are actively assisting the migration of billions of trees from south to north in a bid to get out in front of climate change.

And if you’re game for a mental stretch, turn to page 50. Seema Jayachandran, an economics professor at Northwestern University, poses a bold question: Could nature reserves be more dynamic if they borrowed a page from the Airbnb business model? It is not, as Jayachandran artfully explains, an abstract theoretical question.

In addition to these deeper dives, this issue also contains an array of stories and innovations, many of which exhibit a kind of built-in cognitive dissonance. For example, in her article on the race to reinvent room air conditioners (page 8), Emily Underwood notes that one of the great ironies of climate change is that as the planet warms, the technology that people need to stay cool will only make the climate hotter. In another, a team of economists argues that we’ve gotten carbon taxes backward. Instead of starting out low and building slowly, they say, we should set a high initial price for carbon, increase it modestly for a decade, and then let it fall. Their model, which runs counter to the conventional climate-economy models used for the past quarter-century, cleverly incorporates future uncertainties.

The challenge herein is neither to shy away from such contradictions nor to let them impede constructive solutions. It is, as F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly remarked, the test of a first-rate intelligence.

Kathryn Kohm

1. Idea Watch

It’s an unsinkable idea

The concept of settling the high seas is back—this time as a sustainable answer to sea-level rise, with an impressive team and UN support.

Oceanix floating city

2. Deep Dives

3. Science Shorts

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