Too right it’s Black Friday: our relentless consumption is trashing the planet | George Monbiot

Growth must go on and its destroying the Earth. But theres no way of greening it. So we need a new system, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

Everyone wants everything how is that going to work? The promise of economic growth is that the poor can live like the rich and the rich can live like the oligarchs. But already we are bursting through the physical limits of the planet that sustains us. Climate breakdown, soil loss, the collapse of habitats and species, the sea of plastic, insectageddon: all are driven by rising consumption. The promise of private luxury for everyone cannot be met: neither the physical nor the ecological space exists.

But growth must go on: this is everywhere the political imperative. And we must adjust our tastes accordingly. In the name of autonomy and choice, marketing uses the latest findings in neuroscience to break down our defences. Those who seek to resist must, like the Simple Lifers in Brave New World, be silenced in this case by the media.

With every generation, the baseline of normalised consumption shifts. Thirty years ago, it was ridiculous to buy bottled water, where tap water is clean and abundant. Today, worldwide, we use a million plastic bottles a minute.

Every Friday is a Black Friday, every Christmas a more garish festival of destruction. Among the snow saunas, portable watermelon coolers and smartphones for dogs with which we are urged to fill our lives, my #extremecivilisation prize now goes tothe PancakeBot: a 3D batter printer that allows you to eat the Mona Lisa, theTaj Mahal, or your dogs bottom every morning. In practice, it will clog up your kitchen for a week until you decide you dont have room for it. For junk like this, were trashing the living planet, and our own prospects ofsurvival. Everything must go.

The ancillary promise is that, through green consumerism, we can reconcile perpetual growth with planetary survival. But a series of research papers reveal there is no significant difference between the ecological footprints of people who care and people who dont. One recent article, published in the journal Environment and Behaviour, says those who identify themselves as conscious consumers use more energy and carbon than those who do not.

Why? Because environmental awareness tends to be higher among wealthy people. It is not attitudes that govern our impact on the planet but income. The richer we are, the bigger our footprint, regardless of our good intentions. Those who see themselves as green consumers, the research found, mainly focused on behaviours that had relatively small benefits.

I know people who recycle meticulously, save their plastic bags, carefully measure the water in their kettles, then take their holidays in the Caribbean, cancelling any environmental savings ahundredfold. Ive come to believe thatthe recycling licences their long-haul flights. It persuades people theyvegone green, enabling them to overlook their greater impacts.

None of this means that we should not try to reduce our footprint, but we should be aware of the limits of the exercise. Our behaviour within the system cannot change the outcomes ofthe system. It is the system itself thatneedsto change.

Research by Oxfam suggests that the worlds richest 1% (if your household has an income of 70,000 or more, this means you) produce about 175 times as much carbon as the poorest 10%. How, in a world in which everyone is supposed to aspire to high incomes, can we avoid turning the Earth, on which all prosperity depends, into a dust ball?

By decoupling, the economists tell us: detaching economic growth from our use of materials. So how well is this going? A paper in the journal PlosOne finds that while, in some countries, relative decoupling has occurred, no country has achieved absolute decoupling during the past 50 years. What this means is that the amount of materials and energy associated with each increment of GDP might decline but, as growth outpaces efficiency, the total use of resources keeps rising. More important, the paper reveals that, in the long term, both absolute and relative decoupling from the use of essential resources is impossible, because of the physical limits of efficiency.

A global growth rate of 3% means thatthe size of the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is why environmental crises are accelerating at such a rate. Yet the plan is to ensure that it doubles and doubles again, and keeps doubling in perpetuity. In seeking to defend the living world from the maelstrom of destruction, we might believe we are fighting corporations and governments and the general foolishness of humankind. But they are all proxies for the real issue: perpetual growth on a planet that is not growing.

Those who justify this system insist that economic growth is essential for the relief of poverty. But a paper in the World Economic Review finds that the poorest 60% of the worlds people receive only 5% of the additional income generated by rising GDP. As a result, $111 (84) of growth is required for every $1 reduction in poverty. This is why, on current trends, it would take 200 years to ensure that everyone receives $5 a day. By this point, average per capita income will have reached $1m a year, and the economy will be 175 times bigger than it is today. This is not a formula for poverty relief. It is a formula for the destruction of everything and everyone.

When you hear that something makes economic sense, this means it makes the opposite of common sense. Those sensible men and women who run the worlds treasuries and central banks, who see an indefinite rise in consumption as normal and necessary, are beserkers: smashing through the wonders of the living world, destroying the prosperity of future generations to sustain a set of figures that bear ever lessrelation to general welfare.

Green consumerism, material decoupling, sustainable growth: all areillusions, designed to justify an economic model that is driving us to catastrophe. The current system, basedon private luxury and public squalor, will immiserate us all: under this model, luxury and deprivation areone beast with two heads.

We need a different system, rootednot in economic abstractions butin physical realities, that establishthe parameters by which we judgeits health. We need to build a world in which growth is unnecessary, aworld of private sufficiency and publicluxury. And we must do it beforecatastrophe forces our hand.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

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Trump’s day of doom for national monuments approaches

Created by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the Cascade-Siskiyou monument protects Oregons extraordinary biodiversity, from butterflies to trout. But a Trump review threatens to open the landscape to the timber industry

Dave Willis, a grizzled woodsman and backcountry outfitter, has spent decades laboring to protect the mountains of south-western Oregon, one of the most beautiful, biodiverse regions in the country.

Through grassrootsactivism, Willis and his conservationist allies have won the support of two US presidents. In 2000, Bill Clinton created the roughly 52,000-acre Cascade-Siskiyou national monument, proclaiming it an ecological wonderland. Located just outside of Ashland, it was the first such monument established solely for its extraordinary species diversity. Its a place that harbors rare lilies and endemic trout, Pacific fishers andgoshawks, black bears and a stunning array of butterflies.

During his final week in office, meanwhile, Barack Obama added about 48,000 acres to the Cascade-Siskiyou monument, nearly doubling it in size.

Now, the Trump administration is threatening to undo it all. In April, the White House announced its intent to review 27 different national monument designations, as the Interior Department looks for commercial opportunities for the oil, mining and timber industries on American public lands. And the Cascade-Siskiyou preserve is on the list.

All the signs indicate that were in the crosshairs, says Willis, as his horses drift through 10-storey trees during a recent ride through the monument. We could lose it all.

With the monument review due to the president on Thursday, conservationists like Willis are on edge. Ryan Zinke, the swaggeringMontana native who is the secretary of the interior and is leading the effort, has already unveiled some of his recommendations. They include shrinking the Bears Ears national monument in Utah, a 1.3 million-acre monument created by Obama to protect Native American antiquities. Zinke said six monuments should be left alone, which leaves 20 including the Cascade-Siskiyou at risk of being reduced in size, eliminated or opened to industrial uses.

Ryan Zinke, whos overseeing Trumps review of 27 national monuments, has said only six should be left alone. Photograph: Steve Marcus/AP

In late July, Zinke, visited Cascade-Siskiyou; he met with monument opponents and supporters. He hasnt yet publicly signaled the direction he is leaning in. But since his arrival in Washington, Zinke has been remaking the interior department by filling senior positions with representatives from extractive industries and rightwing advocacy groups.

At its core, the monument review is an attempt to weaken the Antiquities Act, one of Americas oldest public-interest conservation laws. Backing the review are some of the most powerful conservative factions in Washington, including organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Americans for Prosperity, all heavily financed by dark-money funds tied to wealthy Republican donors.

The debate over Cascade-Siskiyou presents a snapshot of the cultural and economic conflict that so often characterizes public land management in the American west. Its a conflict that regularly pits scientists, conservationists and the burgeoning outdoor-recreation economy against the industrial interests that have dominated the region for well over a century. The struggle is about power and wealth and culture who gets to decide how the publicly owned mountains and mineral deposits and timberlands are managed.

The underlying issue, across the west, says Steve Pedery, the conservation director at Oregon Wild, is that oil, gas, mining, grazing and logging interests are angry because 20 years ago they ruled public lands, and today they dont.

Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president is authorized to unilaterally declare any federally owned object of historic or scientific interest a national monument and preserve it in perpetuity for all Americans. Every president since Theodore Roosevelt, save Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush, has used it, and this country now has a grand total of 129 such monuments. The 27 monuments now under review were set aside over the past three decades by Clinton, George W Bush and Obama. Donald Trump is the first president to consider undoing the designation of monuments by his predecessors.

Bill Clinton, flanked by Al Gore, designates the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photograph: Doug Mills/AP

In 2000, when Clinton initially established the Cascade-Siskiyou monument, he described it as a biological crossroads the interface of the Cascade, Klamath and Siskiyou eco-regions, in an area of unique geology, biology, climate and topography. The monuments extraordinary species diversity includes a vast selection of birds and furbearers, of wildflowers and ferns and fungi, much of it undisturbed by industrial activity or real estate development.

In 2011, however, local scientists came together and concluded that the monument did not sufficiently protect the full range of species diversity in the landscape. They published a report that urged the Obama administration to expand it and began a campaign to make the Cascade-Siskiyou monument bigger.

A cascade within Sucker Creek inside the Siskiyou National Forest in southern Oregon. Photograph: Kevin Schafer/Getty Images

The Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, chaired by Dave Willis, along with a slew of other environmental groups, led the charge. They did the slow grassroots work that conservation work often requires, from lobbying federal representatives to taking people into the backcountry to see the landscape for themselves. Oregons governor, both its senators and numerous state legislators backed the expansion. The nearby Klamath Tribes were behind it, too.

In mid-January, they largely prevailed when Obama agreed to expand the monument.

But the opposition was significant. The expansion would permanently withdraw as much as 45,000 acres of land from most commercial timber production though many of these had already been set aside for conservation purposes. Greg Walden, the states powerful Republican congressman opposed the expansion. The governments of all three counties containing the monument, as well as seven Oregon state legislators and two California members of Congress, also were against it. The most vigorous foes, though, were members of the timber industry.

The economic impacts [of the monument expansion] would be devastating, says Travis Joseph, president of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council, or AFRC, a timber industry trade group. Joseph says neighboring counties would forever lose revenue for public safety, health and roads, asserting that those acres could support or create a few hundred jobs.

In March, the AFRC filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that Obamas national monument expansion wasnt just economically harmful but also fundamentally illegal. The suit relies on a little known law called the the Oregon and California Revested Lands Sustained Yield Management Act (known as the O&C Act) of 1937. The law declares that these lands are to be managed for permanent forest production to provide timber, protect watersheds and contribute to local economic stability.

In its lawsuit, AFRC claims that Obamas monument expansion violated the 1937 law by banning most commercial logging. A few other parties, including a regional wood products manufacturer called Murphy Company and an alliance of county governments, filed similar lawsuits last winter.

While this fight is about timber production on public lands, it also reflects the sense among some people that the federal government is an overweening bully trying to snuff out the economic and cultural heritage of rural westerners. Colleen Roberts, for instance, a Jackson County commissioner, sees the monument expansion as a top-down designation that will stifle local authority.

Another concern I personally have is just a continuation of federal land-grabbing, she says, sitting in front of an American flag in her Jackson County office. Constitutionally I dont know if that is what the federal government was supposed to do, to own all of our land and control it.

A similar mentality was on display last February, in what might be the Cascade-Siskiyous most Bundy-esque moment. For one day, a caravan of big pickups descended on the area for an anti-monument rally meant to protect culture, heritage and livelihoods. Scores of protesters drove to the Green Springs Inn, a small restaurant and hotel located on private property inside the Cascade-Siskiyou area and whose owners are ardent monument advocates. The rally featured a hodgepodge of members of interest groups from militia supporters to motorized vehicle proponents, who stood outside the inn and held signs reading New Endangered Species: Rural American and Quit Closing Roads.

We really need to stick up for our culture, said Ryan Mallory, a local marketing consultant who helped organize the rally, during a radio interview in February. And in a way I feel like this is an attack on a culture, a culture of people that has been here for more than 150 years.

Diarmuid McGuire, one of the Green Springs Inns proprietors, says the monument has helped business and put us on the map. But it has also inflamed raw divisions.

You have two cultures with two totally different value systems and two different political agendas and in our community everyone is sort of amalgamated, McGuire says. It is a culture war, really, and when you organize a political rally around it, you get the anti-monument people, you get the gun people … and then you get the anti-government militia mixed in, and we had them all here across the street. He points to his neighbors property across the street, displaying a sign in block letters: NO MONUMENT OUR LAND OUR VOICE.

Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild says the forest products industry and its allies are trying to return Oregon to some long vanished golden era of timber riches. The industry, after all, has declined immensely in the state, from a peak of having nearly 90,000 direct payroll jobs in the 1950s to roughly 31,000 today.

All the while, the outdoor recreation industry has blossomed, currently employing more than 140,000 people in Oregon, according to a report from the Outdoor Industry Association.

In February and March, conservation groups like Oregon Wild, Williss Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and some of their collaborators, fearing that the Trump administration might settle with the timber industry, lawyered up and intervened in the court cases in an attempt to defend the monument.

Willis is troubled bythe lawsuits and Trumps monument review, but he and his allies have battled what he calls the timber-county industrial complex for years. Its been a hard slog to prevent timber sales, buy out grazing permits, limit off-road vehicle access and otherwise preserve and restore this place. Willis, who lost both feet and his fingers to frostbite during a Denali ascent decades ago, is a determined man. And no matter what transpires now, no matter what the secretary of the interior says or a distant judge declares, hell keep fighting to protect the landscape he loves.

Love where you live, he says, riffing on a conservationist slogan. Defend what you love.

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How climate scepticism turned into something more dangerous

The long read: Doubts about the science are being replaced by doubts about the motives of scientists and their political supporters. Once this kind of cynicism takes hold, is there any hope for the truth?

Last month Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. For his supporters, it provided evidence, at last, that the president is a man of his word. He may not have kept many campaign promises, but he kept this one. For his numerous critics it is just another sign of how little Trump cares about evidence of any kind. His decision to junk the Paris accord confirms Trump as the poster politician for the post-truth age.

But this is not just about Trump. The motley array of candidates who ran for the Republican presidential nomination was divided on many things, but not on climate change. None of them was willing to take the issue seriously. In a bitterly contentious election, it was a rare instance of unanimity. The consensus that climate is a non-subject was shared by all the candidates who appeared in the first major Republican debate in August 2015 Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Mike Huckabee and Trump. Republican voters were offered 10 shades of denialism.

As Huckabee quipped in January 2015, any talk of global warming was a distraction from the real dangers the country faced: A beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn. Trumps remarks on climate may have more been erratic (I want to use hairspray! he said at one point, confusing global warming with the hole in the ozone layer) but their consistent theme was that manmade climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by the enemies of the US, who may or may not include China.

Climate science has become a red rag to the political right. The scientific consensus is clear: more than 95% of climate researchers agree that human activity is causing global warming, and that without action to combat it we are on a path to dangerous temperature rises from pre-industrial levels. But the mere existence of this consensus gets taken by its political opponents as a priori evidence of a stitch-up. Why else would scientists and left-leaning politicians be agreeing with each other all the time if they werent scratching each others backs? Knowledge is easily turned into elite knowledge, which is tantamount to privileged snobs telling ordinary people what to think. Trumps stance reflects the mutual intolerance that now exists between those promoting the scientific consensus and those for whom the consensus is just another political racket. Trump didnt create this division. He is simply exploiting it.

It is tempting for anyone on the scientific side of the divide to want to apportion all the blame to the alt-facts crowd, who see elite conspiracies everywhere. But there is more going on here than dumb politics versus smart science. The facts are not just the innocent victims of politics. The facts have long been put in the service of politics, which is what fuels the suspicions of those who wish to deny them. The politicisation can cut both ways.

The politics of climate change poses a stark dilemma for anyone wanting to push back against the purveyors of post-truth. Should they bide their time and trust that the facts will win out in the end? Or do they use the evidence as weapons in the political fight, in which case they risk confirming the suspicion that they have gone beyond the facts? It is not just climate scientists who find themselves in this bind. Economists making the case against Brexit found that the more they insisted on agreement inside the profession about the dangers, the more it was viewed with suspicion from the outside by people who regarded it as a political con.

Post-truth politics also poses a problem for scepticism. A healthy democracy needs to leave plenty of room for doubt. There are lots of good reasons to be doubtful about what the reality of climate change will entail: though there is scientific agreement about the fact of global warming and its source in human activity, the ultimate risks are very uncertain and so are the long-term consequences. There is plenty of scope for disagreement about the most effective next steps. The existence of a very strong scientific consensus does not mean there should be a consensus about the correct political response. But the fact of the scientific consensus has produced an equal and opposite reaction that squeezes the room for reasonable doubt. The certainty among the scientists has engendered the most intolerant kind of scepticism among the doubters.

Not all climate sceptics are part of the alt-right. But everyone in the alt-right is now a climate sceptic. Thats what makes the politics so toxic. It means that climate scepticism is being driven out by climate cynicism. A sceptic questions the evidence for a given claim and asks whether it is believable. A cynic questions the motives of the people who deploy the evidence, regardless of whether it is believable or not. Any attempt to defend the facts gets presented as evidence that the facts simply suit the interests of the people peddling them.

Climate change is the defining political issue of our times and not simply because of the risks we run if we get it wrong. An inadequate response if we do too little, too late could inflict untold damage on the habitable environment. But even before that day comes, the contest over the truth about climate change is doing serious damage to our democracy.

The fight over climate reveals how easily politics can get in the way of the facts, and how hard it can be to escape once cynicism exerts its grip. In many ways, climate science is particularly vulnerable to political distortion. But the issue of climate change also shows that it is a false comfort for liberal elites to think that the facts will win in the end. If they do, it wont be because we woke up to the science. It will be because we woke up to the politics.

Climate science has not always been so political. The idea that manmade carbon emissions are contributing to significant changes in the climate first came to public notice in the 1960s and 1970s. But attention to the issue was not primarily driven by politics, despite an attempt by Richard Nixon when president to push for more research into the issue. Most of the early consciousness-raising came from journalists.

In 1975, Newsweek made a splash with the claim that the science of climate change was pointing to the imminent threat of global cooling. This warning gained notoriety but little political traction, at a time when the dangers of nuclear war and the economic consequences of the oil crisis crowded out other forms of apocalypse. The political consequences had to wait decades to be felt. Many of the recent Republican presidential candidates cited over-the-top scare stories about global cooling from their childhood as a reason to discount scare stories about global warming today.

What politicised the idea of climate change was its adoption as a cause by Democratic politicians in the 1980s, above all by Al Gore. By the start of that decade, evidence of global cooling had faded and a scientific consensus was starting to form around the idea that the climate was warming up. Gore belonged to a group known as the Atari Democrats, for their wonkish attachment to science and technology. These politicians saw climate as a useful issue, as well as an urgent one. It was a way of appealing to moderate Republican voters, because the concerns it raised cut across party lines. In the words of another member of the group, Chuck Schumer, then a Brooklyn congressman, now Senate minority leader: If youre a Democrat, especially in a middle-class district or on the west coast, [climate] is a great issue It is an issue with no downside.

Former British Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who in 1989 called global warming one of the most serious threats facing humanity. Photograph: Dave Caulkin/AP

The ecumenical quality of climate change as a political cause was emphasised when Margaret Thatcher took it up at around the same time. In her speech to the UN general assembly in 1989, she spoke of global warming as one of the most serious threats facing humanity. She was comfortable speaking the language of science, having been a scientist herself. But her motives were political: it suited her prior point of view. She drew extensively from the warnings of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, in part because she had grown to trust their advice on climactic conditions during the Falklands war. She believed in nuclear power as an emblem of free enterprise. And she had historic reasons to be suspicious of coal. For Thatcher, climate change was a convenient truth.

But no issue, once politicised, remains ecumenical for long. In 1989 Thatchers time was nearly up. Gores was just beginning. Through the 1990s and 2000s, as climate change became associated with left or liberal policy positions, it started to receive serious pushback from the right, for whom the political motivations of those championing the science were obvious. Climate change was seen as a vehicle for promoting big government and higher taxes. It became a totem of the partisan divide.

This was the beginning of a vicious circle of mutual distrust. Once science gets dragged into the territory of politics, its opponents can accuse it of being a distortion of science. Scientists are meant to be politically neutral, at least as far as their science is concerned. Yet it is almost impossible to remain neutral when you are under political assault.

In these politically charged circumstances, there is no safe space for the facts to retreat to. That was made clear by the so-called climategate scandal of 2009, when a series of hacked emails from the University of East Anglia was held up as evidence that the scientific evidence was being distorted to fit a political agenda. The emails showed no such thing. What they did reveal is that in an environment of highly politicised scepticism, climate scientists were forced to think about guarding the evidence against opponents looking for any excuse to discredit it.

In private correspondence, the UEA scientists talked about presentational tricks for describing the data and the need to favour certain outlets for publication over others. They looked out for their friends and they were wary of their enemies: thats politics. There was nothing wrong with the science, as was confirmed by an extensive series of inquiries into the affair. But the emails betrayed the scientists awareness that the idea of a consensus on manmade climate change was under concerted attack. So they went out of their way to shore up the consensus. Which, when revealed, confirmed to their opponents that the consensus was a sham.

This is how climate scepticism becomes climate cynicism: doubts about the evidence are replaced by doubts about the motives of the people using it. In 2012, Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican who once brought a snowball on to the floor of the senate to show that climate change wasnt real, published The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. The book contains two lengthy appendices. The first is the full transcript of the UEA emails, presented as prima facie evidence that the science is a fix. The second is a history of the United Nations global development programme. The argument goes like this: there is no need for world government unless there are issues that cant be solved by national governments. Climate change is such an issue. So it follows that it has been invented by people who cant justify world government any other way. It is a globalist plot.

Once cynicism becomes the default mode of attack, then both sides are trapped. Moreover, it is not a level playing field. It favours the cynics. Scientists have to decide whether to let the facts speak for themselves, or whether to try to take on the cynics at their own game. If they pull back from politics, they risk letting the cynics set the agenda. If they dont, they risk proving the cynics right.

Cynicism is fuelled by the ease with which uncertainty about the science can be spread. All it takes is time and money. Questioning climate science suits the interests of the fossil fuel industry, where the politics of climate change has long been seen to pose a direct threat. Ever since climate became a political issue in the 1980s, the big oil companies have been funding an extensive PR operation to raise questions about the strength of the evidence. ExxonMobil alone has spent more than $240m on public relations in this area in the past two decades. Many of the leading Republican candidates for president in 2016 (though not Trump) took campaign funding from the Koch brothers, who have been at the forefront of the fight against the scientific consensus on climate change.

The currency in which these campaigns trade is doubt. Their goal is to sow uncertainty in the public mind about what the science shows. In the words of an American Petroleum Institute action plan from 1998: Victory will be achieved when average citizens understand uncertainties in climate science. To that end, money has been funnelled towards scientific researchers who dissent from mainstream opinion, even if those researchers are in a very small minority. Sowing doubt turns out to be relatively cost-efficient, because dissent only needs a few exceptions to the orthodoxy, whereas consensus requires everyone else to hold fast to it.

However, it is no coincidence that this is how the oil industry chooses to see the struggle. Framing it as a contest between heterodoxy and orthodoxy fits the language of scepticism. In that way, it can be made to appear consistent with both science and democracy. Democracy needs dissent in order to function. Scientific progress depends on people being willing to challenge the conventional wisdom. Many climate sceptics argue that they are the ones on the side of science, because the currency of science is doubt. But when heterodox opinion gets purchased with hard cash, it cements the triumph of cynicism. Money ensures that motives are what matter.

The ultimate goal of the merchants of doubt has been to politicise the orthodoxy, not simply to dispute it. What has given climate scepticism political teeth over the past two decades is the drive to associate the scientific consensus with the political establishment. Mainstream scientists and mainstream politicians are both viewed as belonging to a club that is comfortable spending other peoples money but deeply uncomfortable with anyone elses point of view. In an age when all kinds of elites are viewed with suspicion, portraying scientists as a well-connected interest group leaves them vulnerable to political attack. Scientists take public funding. Scientists pass judgment on each others work. The scientific establishment is just another a closed shop.

Political cynicism has weaponised climate scepticism. But it might also prove to be its achilles heel. Just as pure science struggles with the fact that it cant avoid politics, so pure politics struggles with the fact that it cant avoid science. Even the most cynical political operators need to know whats really likely to happen. As reporting in the Los Angeles Times has shown, at the same time that it has been funding a PR campaign to question the scientific consensus, ExxonMobil has also been funding some of the research that underpins that consensus, including studies of rapidly shrinking ice levels in the Arctic. In the words of David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman, writing in the New York Review of Books, a company as sophisticated and successful as Exxon would have needed to know the difference between its own propaganda and scientific reality. Kaiser and Wasserman argue that, as a result, the company has committed fraud: it failed to disclose to its shareholders the basis on which it was making its investment decisions. Its business plans take it for granted that climate change is a real and imminent threat.

This behaviour has clear echoes of an earlier attempt to challenge the scientific consensus: the campaign by the big tobacco companies to dispute the link between smoking and cancer. Although many of these businesses recognised as far back as the 1950s that the science was sound, they funded a body of widely disseminated research designed to throw doubt on that view. Their goal was to keep the public open-minded about the dangers of cigarettes, and therefore to keep as many of them puffing away for as long as possible. It was a purely cynical business strategy, and in some cases it was criminal as well. It worked to the extent that it bought the tobacco industry time to reorient its investment and marketing to take account of the new reality. But in the long run it failed. No reasonable person and certainly no serious politician now doubts the link between smoking and cancer. The fate of tobacco can give hope to people who worry that the truth is always outgunned: the science won out over the cynics in the end.

Are there grounds for thinking that the same will be true for climate science? The tactics of the industries in question may be similar, but the cases are different in crucial respects. Tobacco impacts on its victims directly smokers do eventually die and it was when personal experience caught up with industry denial that the argument was lost. It is possible that climate change could kill even more people than smoking. But any damage on that scale is still a long way off. It is also far less direct. The victims will not necessarily be the people who are currently engaged in the most harmful behaviour.

Once it had been established that smoking causes cancer, it was clear what had to be done to prevent it: individuals would have to stop smoking and tobacco companies would have to stop encouraging them. There is no equivalent certainty around climate change, even once we accept the scientific consensus that it is real. Those responsible for causing it are not those who will suffer most from it. The current migration crisis is partly being driven by changes in the climate affecting food and water supplies in Africa and the Middle East. But the politics of migration will never find answers in the science of climate change, for the simple reason that the science does not tell us what to do about it.

Climate change has distinctive features as a political issue that make it much more intractable than other controversies in which the science was once in cynical dispute. The hyper-politicisation of climate science has coincided more or less directly with the rise of social media; the fight over tobacco took place before the age of the internet, which at least gave scientists some measure of protection from personal exposure. Meanwhile, the consequences of climate change are long-term, global and uncertain. That means any solution places a huge premium on trust. We have to trust that it really will cause harm. We have to trust that we are responsible for any harm it causes. We have to trust that any action we take wont be undone by the inaction of others. In an age of enormous mistrust in politicians, this poses a huge challenge.

We need far more trust in politics than we have at present in order to take concerted action on climate change: apart from anything, we would need to believe that politicians would be willing to share in the sacrifices they ask of us. In the meantime, those who are determined to sow suspicion about the merits of concerted action are fuelling our mistrust in politics. There is no equivalent of watching a relative die of lung cancer to split the difference.

The people who made the case that smoking causes cancer were not generally thought of as hypocrites. Its true that some of them still smoked, even after they knew the dangers. But there were far more smokers inside the tobacco industry, where being seen with a cigarette in hand was positively encouraged as a signal that there was nothing to worry about.

Climate science is different. Ever since it became a political issue, it has been bedevilled by accusations of hypocrisy. The internet is awash with tales of Al Gore and his monstrous double standards: he racks up enormous air-conditioning bills in his multiple homes; he leaves his private jet idling on the runway as he spreads the message that flying is wrong; he sells his television network for megabucks to al-Jazeera, where the money to buy it comes from Qatari oil. In the words of the National Review in 2016: The [climate] hysterics are hypocrites. Its austerity for thee but not for me as they jet around the world to speak to adoring audiences about the need for sacrifice. Until wealthy liberal New Yorkers start selling up their Manhattan real estate and moving to higher ground, the cynics say, theres really nothing to worry about.

Recent research by a group of psychologists shows why this is such a problem: we dislike hypocrites because we hate they way they seem to be signalling their superior virtue. Take two kinds of claims about environmental activism. Under one set of conditions, a speaker claims to recycle his rubbish, after which it is revealed that he does no such thing. Under the other, a speaker tell his listeners they should recycle their rubbish, after which it is revealed that he does not do it himself. The first is a liar. The second is a hypocrite, but not a liar, since what he says is still true (people should recycle their rubbish). Most people respond with relative equanimity to the lie. But they loathe the hypocrisy, because the hypocrite seems to be patronising them.

Environmentalist and former US vice president Al Gore at Trump Tower in New York in December last year. Photograph: Kevin Hagen/Getty Images

This is terrible news for environmentalism. Doctors who smoke are not really patronising their patients: if anything, they are revealing sympathetic human weakness. But environmental activists who leave the engine running are easily portrayed as dreadful elitists: they think the rules dont apply to them. The populist rabble-rousers of the right have exploited this fact mercilessly. Hypocrisy is hard to avoid when it comes to the politics of climate change, since it is a collective-action problem. Its far from clear what difference any individual action will make. What matters is what we do together. This makes it practically impossible for any one individual to match words to deeds. Yet the failure to do so provides the perfect stick for the climate cynics to beat their opponents with.

If we dislike hypocrisy more than we dislike lying, then it is not just a problem for climate politics. It is a problem for democracy. It gives the liars their chance. During the presidential campaign, it was widely hoped that Trumps relentless record of untruths would be his undoing. In the New York Times, David Leonhardt painstakingly listed the 26 lies Trump told in the first presidential debate, which ought to have been enough for anyone. But Trump has always been careful not to come across as the wrong sort of hypocrite: the kind who seems to be talking down to people. Hillary Clinton was not so careful. And when the voters get to choose between the two, the hypocrite loses to the liar.

In the febrile, divisive state of our politics, its not what you say, its what you say about yourself by saying it that really counts. The social media revolution amplifies and exaggerates these kinds of accusations. It has become easier than ever to find evidence of how individuals public attitudes are given the lie by their private actions. There are now so many public attitudes to choose from, and private actions are now so much harder to hide. Twitter is a vast hypocrisy-generating machine that is corroding democratic politics. Scepticism, which is a democratic virtue, is giving way to cynicism, which is a democratic vice, across the board.

Since his arrival in the White House, Donald Trump has been in the middle of a tug of war between the liars and the hypocrites inside the West Wing. On one side stands Steve Bannon, representative of the alt-right, still looking to flush out the hypocrisy of the globalists and ready to peddle any old conspiracy theory to achieve his goals. On the other stand the younger members of Trumps family, including his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner, who are more concerned with keeping up appearances.

Climate change quickly emerged as one of the fault lines in this showdown. In the end it was Bannon who persuaded Trump to make good on his promise to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord. Kushner argued that this would send the wrong signal and that much more could be achieved by sticking with the agreement but reorienting it to suit the interests of the big American fossil fuel producers. Trumps secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who was previously the CEO of ExxonMobil, sided with Kushner. They lost.

In this case, both approaches are equally cynical. For Bannon, everything, including climate science, is just an extension of politics: all that matters is which side you are on. For his opponents inside the administration, climate change can be sidelined as an issue by paying lip service to the consensus while acting in ways that make it irrelevant. The liar denies that climate change is really happening. The hypocrite accepts that it is real but behaves as if the words dont mean anything.

Trumps administration is dragging climate science further into the swamp of partisan politics. Populist attacks on the scientific consensus co-opt reasonable doubt and turn it into unreasonable suspicion of another self-interested elite. The natural tendency of any elite under this sort of pressure it to build the castle walls higher in order to keep the interlopers out.

Donald Trump with his advisers Jared Kushner (centre) and Steve Bannon. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Faced with a concerted assault on their integrity, what should climate scientists do? They face a choice. One option is to try to reclaim climate scepticism from the people who have corrupted it. The other is to insist more strongly than ever on the consensus. When the space for doubt has been taken away, you can respond by becoming more certain of your own position. Or you can try to take doubt back.

There are lessons for the politics of climate change from economics. The economics profession, like any other, is full of people who will express their doubts and uncertainties among friends. But when confronted with a hostile or bemused public, they will close ranks. Economists do not want to appear to be unsure of themselves, given how little the public understands of what they do anyway. So rather than admit that there are many different ways of thinking about, for example, free trade, they insist that all economists agree it is a good thing. As the economist Dani Rodrik puts it, when faced with hostile fire, the natural tendency is to start circling the wagons. For the many voters who do not see the benefits of free trade, this looks like a stitch-up.

Economists have found themselves vulnerable to the same dilemma as climate scientists. If they express doubt, the cynics rip them to shreds. But if they conceal doubt, the cynics rip them to shreds anyway. Political pressure often tempts experts into making predictions about the immediate future to prove their point, even though this is a hostage to fortune. Economics is not really meant to be a predictive science. But making predictions is a good way to get attention in a very noisy news environment. The temptation always exists to reduce long-term forecasts to short-term predictions in order to get a hearing. Some economists fell into this trap before Brexit. By talking up the immediate downside, they made it easy to dismiss their warnings when the worst failed to happen straight away. The costs of a failed prediction far outweigh the benefits of an accurate one, especially when that prediction has made in the service of politics.

Political journalism is now suffering its own version of this failure. Reasonable doubts about Trump and Jeremy Corbyn were too often accompanied by journalistic predictions that they couldnt possibly win. These predictions were made to show that scepticism about their politics was something more than just one commentators opinion: it was based on a testable hypothesis that would be borne out by events. When the predictions turned out to be wrong, the reasonable doubts got discredited, too.

Climate scientists have not faced an embarrassment on an equivalent scale to the financial crash of 2008 or the elections of 2016-17: the big shock they didnt see coming. Were global warming to turn back into global cooling, climate science might find itself in the same boat as the economics profession: derided for its failure to provide any kind of warning mechanism for the real dangers we run. For now, the main accusations it faces are of crying wolf. In their eagerness to push the idea that climate change is real, environmentalists have too often been drawn into making premature claims about when we will feel its effects. Gore did it in An Inconvenient Truth, released in 2006, when he talked about a 10-year tipping point after which disaster would be at hand. He also overstated the threat of larger and more frequent hurricanes, in the recent aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Until the wolf is at the door, shouting louder and louder about how close he is does no good. It plays into the cynics hands.

Science often makes for bad politics, because it pretends that it is not politics. The most effective political arguments for taking climate change seriously cannot therefore be ones that simply rest on the science. We need to stop thinking that one side has possession of the truth and the other is just running on money and prejudice. Both sides get tempted into being economical with the truth in the cause of politics. The cynics know what they are doing, which is what makes them cynics. The other side often doesnt, which is what leads them into the cynics trap.

We live in an age when mistrust of politics has spilled over into mistrust of expertise, and vice versa. To respond with ever-greater certainty in the name of science is a big mistake. Expertise doesnt just need humility. It also needs to reclaim the idea of scepticism from the people who have abused it. Experts need to find a way of expressing uncertainty without feeling it undermines their expertise. Voicing doubt has been allowed to become a synonym for admitting you were wrong. The way out is to stop insisting that you were right in the first place.

The scientific consensus on climate change is real. But by insisting on its merits for the purposes of politics, its champions have exposed it to ridicule. Political arguments for climate science indeed, for any science in the age of Trump should not keep saying that the populists are lying about the consensus. They should say that they are hypocrites about the doubt: they do not practise what they preach because they think they know the answers already. Climate change deniers argue they are only trying to discover the truth. We should all be sceptical about that.

Main illustration by Jasper Rietman

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How to live without plastic bottles…

Our dependence on plastic has to end as we contribute to an estimated 12m tonnes entering our oceans, polluting marine life, every year

Staying hydrated is good for our health. But contributing to the ever growing mound of waste plastic is not only bad for the planet, but for our wellbeing too.

The global demand for plastic bottles, spurred on by the drinks industry, is wreaking havoc on the environment. Every year, about half a trillion new bottles are produced, and many billions end up in landfill, the sea or the environment.

Plastic is now present in every corner of the earth and in the food we eat. As the Guardian considers the extent of this crisis, we look at six simple things you can do to stop contributing to the issue, starting today.

Find the one

The simplest thing you can do to reduce your contribution to the plastic mountain is to find a water bottle that you like enough to use more than once. There are multiple options to suit every taste. From stainless steel, bamboo or glass, to bottles with an option to add fruit to flavour the water, or flasks with filters that promise extra purity. Find the one that works for you.

Orb it

Earlier this year UK scientists unveiled the Ooho, a fully biodegradable water-filled orb made of two layers of seaweed-based packaging. The biodegradable outside layer can be recycled, while the inside is edible and can be eaten as you drink the water (or discarded, as you wish).

Watch the explanational video for Ooho

The orbs are made using a culinary process that shapes and holds liquids in to spheres and are able to hold up to a litre of water. Ooho orbs are not on the market yet but the makers claim they could be cheaper to produce than plastic bottles.

Be anti-fashion

Since the early noughties, staying hydrated has become a status symbol. A commodity that is free from the tap is now shipped from Fiji and sold for up to 5 a bottle. The marketing suggests that those clutching a bottle of water both look and feel healthier.

Public health guidelines recommend drinking eight glasses a day. Some scientists have suggested that drinking to thirst is enough to keep us ticking over, even when we are doing strenuous exercise.

Either way, nowhere does it say that you will be better hydrated if your water is sourced from a tropical rainforest or that constantly hydrating as you travel from A to B is necessary. Perhaps a glass at home and then one when you get to work will suffice?

Get over your embarrassment

Pluck up the courage to ask for the free refill to which you are legally entitled in the UK. In a recent study, 71% of consumers admitted to feeling uncomfortable when asking for free tap water from an establishment if they hadnt purchased anything. And 30% of people said they would still feel awkward asking for a free refill even if they had bought other food or drinks.

RefillBristol (@RefillBristol)

Fantastic to see the #refilldorset drinking taps on #Weymouth beach today.
Healthy hydration in the sunshine!

May 14, 2017

This might be daunting, but there is a whole movement dedicated to helping you. The refill campaign has been handing out water drop stickers to businesses to show people they are happy to offer them water for free. There is even an app that tells you which nearby business are participating in the scheme before you leave the house.

Make your own shampoo

According to Beth Terry, who blogs about being a reformed plastic addict, one route to a plastic-free life is to make the toiletries you would usually buy in plastic containers. Baking soda combined with salt can be used to make toothpaste, she says, or added to apple cider vinegar to make shampoo. Other environmental blogs suggest forgoing shampoo altogether: the theory goes that while the first few weeks will be greasy and horrible your hair and scalp gradually adjust to self-cleaning. If that sounds too extreme a shampoo bar could be a good compromise. At the very least you can buy in bulk to reduce plastic packaging waste.

Indeed, inventive shopping can have an instant impact on your plastic bottle consumption. Paperboard packaging is a better way to buy soups and juices. Soda drinks come in cans as well as bottles.And fizzy water makers are a good alternative to buying bottles of mineral water.

Recycle, recycle, recycle

Even with the best intentions, there will probably be times when you have no choice but to drink from a plastic bottle. If this happens, the key is to make sure you recycle the bottle correctly so that it can be repurposed.

There are some ingenious examples of bottle reuse around the world. In Brazil plastic bottles have been bound together and transformed into solar heaters. In Algeria they have been filled with sand and used to clad walls in houses for refugees; and in India, a local enterprise recently made a bus shelter out of 1,000 old bottles.

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Swedish supermarkets replace sticky labels with laser marking

Food retailers aiming to cut plastic packaging by ditching stickers on fruits and vegetables, instead using hi-tech natural branding

The humble fruit sticker may seem an unlikely cause for environmental concern but removing it from produce could create huge savings in plastic, energy and CO2 emissions.

In response to consumer demand for less packaging, Dutch fruit and veg supplier Nature & More and Swedish supermarket ICA have joined forces to run a trial to replace sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a laser mark.

M&S are also using it on coconuts in the UK.

Dubbed natural branding, the technique uses a strong light to remove pigment from the skin of produce. The mark is invisible once skin is removed and doesnt affect shelf life or eating quality.

By using natural branding on all the organic avocados we would sell in one year we will save 200km (135 miles) of plastic 30cm wide. Its small but I think it adds up, says Peter Hagg, ICA business unit manager.

The laser technology also creates less than 1% of the carbon emissions needed to produce a sticker of similar size.

Stephane Merit, business development manager of the Spanish company behind the technology, Laser Food, says with millions of stickers used on food produce around the world everyday, the technology could make a significant reduction in the amount of paper, ink, glue being used as well as the cutting the energy used to produce and transport them.

Ethical shoppers

The sustainability saving is particularly important for organic shoppers, who now account for almost a fifth of all ICAs fruit and veg sales, says Hagg. Organic sales are driven by environmental awareness, like climate change and belief in health benefits. Younger shoppers also choose products depending on the environmental impact of the packaging. And we know that this will be very important in coming years, he says.

Switching from plastic to cardboard is a bonus, but selling organic produce as loose is even better says Hagg. Yet under EU rules all items need to be marked hence the need for stickers if selling loose.

This is a solution that permanently marks the skin of the product, so its better from a sustainability perspective, but also avoids the problem of stickers falling off.

Laser Foods technology has been around for several years but has previously been used for marketing or branding, without being explicitly linked to sustainability.

Up to now, no one has used this technique with the specific aim of cutting packaging. It was used for novelty which is nice, but a gimmick at Easter or Christmas isnt going to pay off, says Michal Wilde, sustainability and communications manager at Nature & More. What we are saying is, by buying this product youre saving plastic.

Photograph: Guardian

The cost of a laser machine is considerable, but after that initial investment, Wilde says it is almost more cost-effective than stickers. You have to invest in an extremely expensive machine, so its very much an investment for the future. This is something we believe more and more supermarkets will take on. It saves resources, CO2 and energy, so it does calculate.

M&S lasered coconuts

While the ICA trial has begun with sweet potatoes and avocados, products where sticking labels to skin is challenging, the supermarket is already preparing to expand onto other products.

The next step will be to use natural branding on edible skin products, such as apples or nectarines, says Hagg. If consumers react positively there is no limit. We are planning to try it with melons in summer, as there is a problem there at the moment with stickers attaching to the skin.

Although ICAs involvement is the largest retail trial to date, the technology has been used in various other European markets.

Last year UK supermarket M&S trialled it on oranges, saving several tonnes of packaging according to fruit technologist Andrew Mellonie, who supervised the project. However, citrus skins ability to heal itself meant the laser mark wasnt as effective so the trial was suspended, but the retailer now uses it on coconuts and has plans to extend to other products.

The reaction of shoppers to laser-branded produce is one of the only concerns for Hagg and Wilde, but, they say, so far feedback on Swedish social media has been positive.

For Hagg, no matter how small the story, nowadays sustainability is always good news for consumers and he is hopeful that other supermarkets will follow ICAs example.

The calculations are that it costs the same, but sustainability for our consumers and ourselves is the biggest gain. I hope it will take off with more products and also non-organic. I can only imagine what a bigger retailer would be able to save. I really hope it spreads.

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Call of the wild: can Americas national parks survive? | Lucy Rock

Americas national parks are facing multiple threats, despite being central to the frontier nations sense of itself, says Lucy Rock

Autumn in the North Cascades National Park and soggy clouds cling to the peaks of the mountains that inspired the musings of Beat poets such as Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg 60 years ago. Sitting on a carpet of pine needles in the forest below, protected from the rain by a canopy of vine maple leaves, is a group of 10-year-olds listening to a naturalist hoping to spark a similar love of the outdoors in a new generation.

This is one of 59 national parks which range across the United States, from the depths of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the turrets of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. All plus hundreds of monuments and historic sites are run by the National Park Service (NPS), which celebrated its centenary last year. The parks were created so that Americas natural wonders would be accessible to everyone, rather than sold off to the highest bidder. Writer Wallace Stegner called them Americas best idea: Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

Its easy to agree. Nicknamed Americas Alps, Washington States North Cascades is an area of soaring beauty, a wilderness of fire and ice thanks to hundreds of glaciers and dense forest where trees burn in summer blazes. The Pacific Crest Trail made famous by Cheryl Strayeds memoir, Wild, and the subsequent film starring Reese Witherspoon runs through the park. Walking along Thunder Creek one midweek morning, the only sound is rushing water and birdsong. The view is a nature-layered cake of teal water, forested mountain slopes and snowy summits. But it is here that you can also observe the threats facing the parks in their next 100 years. They are fighting a war on three fronts: severe underfunding, climate change and a lack of diversity and youth among their visitors.

Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout atop Desolation Peak in the North Cascades, surrounded by silence and rocky spires, far from the drink, drugs and distractions of his San Francisco life. He drew on his Cascades experiences in Dharma Bums, Lonesome Traveler and Desolation Angels, in which he wrote: Those lazy afternoons, when I used to sit, or lie down, on Desolation Peak, sometimes on the alpine grass, hundreds of miles of snow-covered rock all around Those views look different today. Climate change is causing the glaciers to melt: their square footage shrank by 20% between 1959 and 2009.

Running with the herd: bison on the prairie below the Grand Teton mountains in Yellowstone. Photograph: Matt Anderson/Getty Images

Saul Weisberg, executive director of the North Cascades Institute, an environmental educational organisation, said that the difference between photos from September when the seasonal snow is gone in the 1950s and today was, Incredibly dramatic. Snow is melting back more and more and now you see a lot more rock when you look at the mountains.

Climate change is killing trees, threatening birds and mammals, and leading to devastating wildfires across the 85m acres run by the NPS. Patrick Gonzalez, the principal climate-change scientist at the NPS, told me about rising sea levels (theres been a 22cm rise across the bay at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, California, since 1954); high ocean temperatures bleaching and killing coral in Virgin Islands National Park; and major vegetation types and wildlife moving upwards.

Yosemite saw subalpine forests moving up into subalpine meadows over the last century and small mammals, including mice and ground squirrels, shifting 500m uphill. As temperatures warm, he said, things on higher elevations get warmer and things on lower elevations move up. Bark beetles, once killed by cold winters, are now surviving and wreaking havoc with trees. You go to Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone hillsides formerly covered in a green canopy of trees are now just rust-coloured areas.

If no action is taken, the glaciers of Glacier National Park may melt away; Joshua trees could die out in the park that bears their name; bison may disappear from Yellowstone; and the ancient cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde in Colorado could crumble away.

The NPS is tackling the issue in two ways, said Gonzalez, first by cutting emissions from its own operations by 35% by 2020; and secondly, by adapting its management of the parks to cope with how things might look under climate change rather than trying to maintain them as pictures of the past. With full implementation of the Paris climate agreement and further improvements in energy efficiency and sustainability we can avoid the most drastic effects of climate change, he said.

Digging deep: the Grand Canyon, one of 59 national parks in America. Photograph: Michele Falzone/Getty Images

However, Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax. After the election, he conceded there was some connectivity between human activity and climate change and wavered on a previous vow to cancel the Paris agreement. Yet several of his picks for key posts in his administration are climate science sceptics, including Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke.

The ravages of climate change exacerbate another peril facing the parks: lack of money. There is an $11.9bn maintenance backlog and the system is understaffed, with 10% fewer employees than five years ago. Roads and bridges are crumbling, trails need repairing and campgrounds are neglected.

The 140-mile Yellowstone loop road was designed a century ago for horse-drawn carriages and requires a $1bn rebuild. The adobe Old Santa Fe Trail building needs $2m-worth of repairs to walls damaged by water and pests.

The North Cascades, which became a National Park in 1968, has a $21.8m to-do list. All of it needs attention, said Denise Shultz, of the NPS. National parks are like mini cities with water-treatment plants, electrical grids to take care of and bridges. There are over 300 miles of trails in the park. Its like housekeeping. It never gets finished.

Although wear and tear is visible at the amphitheatre at Newhalem campground in the North Cascades, you can see the wooden stage is rotting and the asphalt is buckling visitors are shielded from much of it.

Largely, the parks service prioritises projects that improve and maintain the visitor experience and ensures the safety of visitors, said John Garder, the budget director at the National Parks Conservation Association that lobbies on behalf of the parks. But there are safety concerns, such as old wiring that has to be replaced. There are major multi-million dollar issues with water and waste water. If those ageing systems arent dealt with then it will raise questions about whether the parks are still able to accommodate visitors.

The bulk of the parks $3.1bn budget comes from Congress with the rest from entrance charges, philanthropy and fees paid by hotels, restaurants and other businesses operating on the land. But Congresss embracement of austerity after the recession saw the NPSs purse strings pulled ever tighter, the annual amount received falling 8% from 2005 to 2014 after adjusting for inflation.

Setting sun: climate change means the Joshua trees that gave the national park its name could die out. Photograph: James O’Neil/Getty Images

Half of the $11.9bn repair list is transportation infrastructure roads, bridges, car parks and the like. Money for this is earmarked for the NPS in a transportation bill passed by Congress and has stood at $240m annually for the past few years. Congress has approved an increase totalling $220m over the next five years. That investment should be hundreds of millions more, said Garder.

The non-transportation part of the backlog is funded by Congress through the park operations account (for smaller projects and day-to-day maintenance) and the construction account (for major repairs).

Garder said both had been insufficient for years and the construction account, after controlling for inflation, was scarcely half of what it was 10 years ago.

His verdict on a 9% increase given to the NPS by Congress to mark the centenary? A considerable increase, yet much more needs to be done. He hopes that Trumps promise to invest in infrastructure will cover the parks repairs, too. This would create construction jobs and help tourism, he said. The parks are vital to local economies: for every $1 invested, $10 in economic activity is generated and they fund 300,000 private sector jobs in terms of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and more.

What the national parks are not short of is visitors a record 307m in 2015, 14m up on the previous year, meaning more wear and tear that stretches funds further. The top draws were Great Smoky Mountain National Park on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, with 10.7m visitors; Arizonas Grand Canyon, with 5.5m; and Colorados Rocky Mountain National Park and Californias Yosemite, both with 4.15m.

But while the national parks belong to everyone, not everyone is going. Those who do are mainly white, middle-class and well into middle-age. The challenge is how to attract a younger crowd to ensure support for protection and funding of the parks in the future.

The NPS is trying to tell a more inclusive story of America by increasing the number of sites and monuments honouring African- American, Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander, LGBTQ and womens history.

Rust belt: pine trees in the Helena National Forest devastated by bark beetles, once killed by cold winters. Photograph: William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images

To tear millennials away from indoor digital distractions, the Find Your Park campaign is marketing the parks, ironically, via social media. Meanwhile, Every Kid in a Park gives all 10-year-olds a free family pass (many parks charge an entrance fee).

Nor do the parks staff reflect the visitors they want to attract in terms of gender, age or race. Around 80% are white, 63% male and 50% over the age of 46. Recent revelations of sexual harassment and bullying in the workforce havent helped its image. Internships and volunteer opportunities are being offered to encourage those who might not have thought of working for the NPS to apply for jobs.

In the North Cascades, rangers work with local Hispanic communities. We bring school kids out into the parks and give them experience of doing things that are fun, said Denise Shultz, but which many of us take for granted, like camping and hiking, and learning how to identify birds and plants.

Some people fear the outdoors, she said, and it was about finding out how to make them comfortable. She recalled taking a group of urban Latino female bloggers to the Grand Canyon to kayak and hike. She asked what had worried them most. One said: I am a full- figured Latino woman and the thing that scared me the most was shopping at REI [an outdoor-gear retailer]. Shed thought it was a store for skinny white people and was afraid nothing would fit and she wouldnt know what all the equipment was for. It can be a whole different language and culture for people. She said she had a great experience in the store when she actually went.

The NPS boosts its efforts by providing a ranger to help with Mountain School at the non-profit North Cascades Institute.

At the institutes learning centre on the shores of Lake Diablo, the children who were listening to the naturalist in the forest in the afternoon join 70 classmates in the evening to inspect the skulls of wolves and black bears with ranger Anna Mateljak, before singing around a campfire.

Saul Weisberg is passionate about the power of education to effect change, and gave up being a ranger to co-found the institute 30 years ago. It was at the height of fights over the spotted owl [environmentalists blamed logging for destroying their habitat] and timber wars. There were demonstrations, court fights, direct action, tree sit-ins. It seemed like no one was using education as a tool of conservation.

As well as adult and graduate courses, and weekend getaways for families, it runs leadership camps for high school pupils with no experience of the outdoors, and the Mountain School where children stay for three days of hands-on activities.

Weisberg, also a poet, was drawn to the Cascades after reading Kerouac at high school in Ohio. He still indulges his passion by running a Beats on the Peaks course, which includes a hike up Desolation Peak to the lookout. Hes not sure the Beat poets have the same pull for todays teenagers, yet at a time when the national parks future is unpredictable, perhaps Kerouacs advice is still relevant: Because in the end, you wont remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain!

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World’s largest vertical farm grows without soil, sunlight or water in Newark

AeroFarms has put $30m into a green revolution that seeks to produce more crops in less space, but whether its economically viable is an open question

An ambitious, almost fantastical, manifestation of agricultural technology is expected to come to fruition this fall. From the remains of an abandoned steel mill in Newark, New Jersey, the creators of AeroFarms are building what they say will be the largest vertical farm, producing two million pounds of leafy greens a year.

Whether it even qualifies as a farm is a matter of taste. The greens will be manufactured using a technology called aeroponics, a technique in which crops are grown in vertical stacks of plant beds, without soil, sunlight or water.

I ate some of the arugula here, said New Jersey Governor Chris Christie after a recent visit to a smaller AeroFarms facility in the neighborhood. It tastes fabulous. No dressing necessary.

The farm, built in the economically depressed New Jersey city promises new jobs, millions of dollars in public-private investment, and an array of locally grown leafy greens for sale. The company has spent some $30m to bring to reality a new breed of green agriculture that seeks to produce more crops in less space while minimizing environmental damage, even if it means completely divorcing food production from the natural ecosystem.

AeroFarms and other companies developing similar controlled growing climates claim to be transforming agriculture. Proponents of vertical farming call it the Third Green Revolution, analogizing the developments to Apple and Tesla. They tout the potential of such technology to address food shortages as the world population continues to grow.

AeroFarms touts their products as free of pesticides and fertilizer, an attribute that investors think will attract customers who buy organic produce. We definitely see the need for healthy food in the local area and Newark in particular, said Lata Reddy, vice president for corporate social responsibility at Prudential Financial, one of the investors in the project.

Is the arugula edible? Proponents say yes. Photograph: Malavika Vyawahare

But, food that is not grown in soil may not be palatable to many, even those who are opting for organic substitutes. If you take the soil out of the system, is it a legitimate organic system? questioned Carolyn Dimitri, director of the food studies program at New York University. The US Department of Agriculture does not consider the question of organic certification for growing methods that do not use soil, according to AeroFarms website.

Urban farming is trendy, Dimitri said. It remains an open question, she said, whether it will be economically viable. Prudential Financial has invested patient capital in the venture, which is used to finance social impact projects that are unlikely to yield benefits right away. There are no aeroponics projects of this scale but AeroFarms has piloted the technology at Philips Academy Charter School in Newark, where students are served greens grown at the school.

70 times the yield of traditional farms

Marc Oshima, the chief marketing officer at AeroFarms, yanked open a tiny grey door in a back alley in downtown Newark that leads into an old nightclub with vividly painted walls. In 2014, AeroFarms converted the space into a research and development facility. Out there, in nature, we dont have control over sunlight, rainfall, Oshima said, here, we are giving plants what they need to thrive.

The moist sanitized air that envelops the R&D lab is missing one ingredient: the earthiness that permeates any agricultural operation.

At the repurposed sites, AeroFarms is pushing the limits of what David Rosenberg, the companys CEO, calls precision agriculture. The scheme ditches the romanticized ideal of farming, acres and acres of open fields dotted with men and women toiling in the sun, getting their hands dirty, in favor of enclosed urban spaces where engineers, electricians and harvesters mill about, wearing protective clothing, masks, and gloves.

With its multicolored LED lights, computer screens lining the walls, and faithful preservation of club decor, AeroFarms research facility could easily pass off as a sci-fi themed club. It makes a befitting setting for a company that is promising to increase crop yields by as much as 70 times compared to traditional field farms, without using any pesticides or fertilizers.

The fine print is that the productivity is calculated using square footage occupied and not the vertical space utilized, making comparisons with ground floor-only traditional farms fraught. And critics point out that no traditional farm that size comes with a price tag of over $30m.

Much of the funding is coming from impact investing arms of big-ticket investors like Goldman Sachs and Prudential Financial. AeroFarms has leveraged its social impact goals to attract investments, promising to create jobs in a languishing economy and supplying fresh local produce to the community in Newark.

For New Jersey, where unemployment rates have been persistently above the national average, the promise of new jobs and fresh investment has ensured buy-in from the state. Christie, visiting the smaller aeroponics facility in March lavished praise on the public-private partnership.

The New Jersey Economic Development Authority provided nearly $9m in incentives, stretched over 10 years, which includes a $2.2m grant under the Economic Redevelopment and Growth program and $6.5m in tax credits.

The leafy greens nurtured under multicolored LED lights. Photograph: Malavika Vyawahare

AeroFarms currently employs close to 100 people, and is promising more jobs in the months to come as the company grows. Like other companies in this space, it is relying on productivity gains to offset high cost of expensive technology and emerge as a successful business.

But even growing success isnt a sure thing, let alone profit margins.

More like a factory than a farm

AeroFarms has grown over 250 types of leafy greens and sells more than 20 varieties of greens such as arugula, kale and spinach but hopes to expand their offering in the future. The scheme imposes height constraints; as of now, everything grown at vertical farms is a type of short-stemmed leafy green. And while controlled growing allows year-round production and protects these new-age farmers from the vagaries of nature, they still contend with the possibility of crops dying from human error or technological malfunction.

A growing unit under construction in the Newark facility. Photograph: Malavika Vyawahare

Rising from the middle of what used to be a dance floor is a gargantuan growing machine about 20-feet tall. The rectangular apparatus is a stack of growing beds, each about 20-feet long. It resembles a gigantic fridge missing its outer casing, but instead of being used to store greens, they are growing inside. Inhabiting patches on the seven-tier machine, are leafy greens of all ages: seedlings, shoots and fully grown plants. Freshly minted leaves fluttering gently in an artificially conditioned breeze.

Above each bed are columns of LED lights, bathing the plants in a sharp white glow. When plants photosynthesize they convert light of certain wavelengths into chemical energy, and store it for future use. This light does not necessarily have to come from the sun, Oshima explained.

Under the bright lights the plants appear to be embedded in crumpled soggy blankets. The use of growing mediums other than soil is not unique to aeroponics; planting seeds in cotton has been a popular idea for many a school science project. In recent years a related technology called hydroponics, that uses water as a medium to grow plants, has caught on. But Oshima is quick to distinguish aeroponics from hydroponics emphasizing that their technology is superior. And the key to the technology, is what happens under the microfleece membrane. If peeled it would reveal bare roots enveloped by nutrient-rich mist.

Breaking down the process. Photograph: PR

Farming in artificially created conditions is itself not an entirely novel idea. Similar techniques are used in extreme environments where growing food the traditional way is not possible, including the United States South Pole Station, where researchers live in a isolated hostile conditions for months at a stretch, and the International Space Station has its own space garden deploying a growing system called VEGGIE.

The rationale for using similar methods in places where land has for centuries been tilled to grow food emerged at the turn of the century in response to urbanization and population growth. The worlds population will bloat to 9 billion by 2050 and 70% of people will reside in urban areas, according to the World Health Organization. Using large swathes of land for growing food will not be an option, supporters of vertical farming argue.

Dickson D Despommier, a microbiology professor and a top proponent of vertical farming, sees the agricultural technology not just as a response to food crisis but also as a means of returning land that was previously used for agriculture to its natural state.

We are just academics, we just sit here and watch these ideas grow, Despommier said on a podcast he hosts on urban farming, marveling at the scale of the new operation.

AeroFarms has built its sales pitch to investors around more pressing and concrete concerns like land and water shortages, meeting the demand for locally-grown greens, and climate change. Growing and selling locally means emissions associated with transportation are reduced. What remains unclear is how the company accounts for emissions arising from the farms substantial energy needs.

Vertical farming cropping up around the world

In the last decade a few bold schemes have built on this seminal idea, with the first commercial vertical farm set up in Singapore in 2012. Japan boasts of its own semiconductor factory-turned-lettuce farm, an idea that gained some traction after the Fukushima reactor meltdown in 2011 exposed the susceptibility of arable land to long term contamination. In the UK Growing Underground has converted a world war two bomb shelter in London into a hydroponics farm.

In the US at least five new commercial vertical farming operations have emerged over the past five years that use a range of controlled growing technologies to allow year-round harvests of crops that typically have a short growing season in Michigan, and more efficient water use in California. At Ouroboros Farm in California, for example, hundreds of fish are fed organic feed, the waste produced by them is used to nourish seedlings and plants floating on raft beds above the fish tanks.

Some experts like Dimitri believe that such large urban farms are so far afield from traditional ones that farm may not be the word for them. It is more like a factory than farm, she said, almost like broiler production, very controlled and regimented.

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How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply

New studies show that alarming numbers of tiny fibers from synthetic clothing are making their way from your washing machine into aquatic animals

The first time professor Sherri Mason cut open a Great Lakes fish, she was alarmed at what she found. Synthetic fibers were everywhere. Under a microscope, they seemed to be weaving themselves into the gastrointestinal tract. Though she had been studying aquatic pollution around the Great Lakes for several years, Mason, who works for the State University of New York Fredonia, had never seen anything like it.

New studies indicate that the fibers in our clothes could be poisoning our waterways and food chain on a massive scale. Microfibers tiny threads shed from fabric have been found in abundance on shorelines where waste water is released.

Now researchers are trying to pinpoint where these plastic fibers are coming from.

In an alarming study released Monday, researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara found that, on average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. It also found that older jackets shed almost twice as many fibers as new jackets. The study was funded by outdoor clothing manufacturer Patagonia, a certified B Corp that also offers grants for environmental work.

These microfibers then travel to your local wastewater treatment plant, where up to 40% of them enter rivers, lakes and oceans, according to findings published on the researchers website.

Synthetic microfibers are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain. The fibers size also allows them to be readily consumed by fish and other wildlife. These plastic fibers have the potential to bioaccumulate, concentrating toxins in the bodies of larger animals, higher up the food chain.

Microbeads, recently banned in the US, are a better-known variety of microplastic, but recent studies have found microfibers to be even more pervasive.

In a groundbreaking 2011 paper, Mark Browne, now a senior research associate at the University of New South Wales, Australia, found that microfibers made up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world.

While Patagonia and other outdoor companies, like Polartec, use recycled plastic bottles as a way to conserve and reduce waste, this latest research indicates that the plastic might ultimately end up in the oceans anyway and in a form thats even more likely to cause problems.

Breaking a plastic bottle into millions of fibrous bits of plastic might prove to be worse than doing nothing at all.

Abigail Barrows, principal investigator of the Global Microplastics Initiative, says that microfibers are a bigger problem than most realize Photograph: Veronica Young

Scary science

While the UCSB study is sure to make waves, researchers are consistently finding more and more evidence that microfibers are in many marine environments and in large quantities.

Whats more, the fibers are being found in fresh water as well. This is not just a coastal or marine problem, said Abigail Barrows, principal investigator of the Global Microplastics Initiative, part of the research group Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation.

Of the almost 2,000 aquatic samples Barrows has processed, about 90% of the debris was microfibers both in freshwater and the ocean.

Microfibers are also the second most common type of debris in Lake Michigan, according to Sherri Masons research.

Finishing up research into tributaries of the Great Lakes, shes finding that microfibers are the most common type of debris in those smaller bodies of water. The majority [71%] of what were finding in the tributaries are actually fibers, Mason said by email. They exceed fragments and pellets.

Mason is finding that the wildlife is indeed being affected.

A study out of the University of Exeter, in which crabs were given food contaminated with microfibers, found that they altered animals behavior. The crabs ate less food overall, suggesting stunted growth over time. The polypropylene was also broken down and transformed into smaller pieces, creating a greater surface area for chemical transmission. (Plastics leach chemicals such as Bisphenol A BPA as they degrade.)

Mason said her concern is not necessarily with the plastic fibers themselves, but with their ability to absorb persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and to concentrate them in animals tissues.

An increasingly toxic problem

Gregg Treinish, founder and executive director of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, which oversees Barrowss microfibers work, said studies have led him to stop eating anything from the water.

I dont want to have eaten fish for 50 years and then say, Oh, whoops, Treinish said.

His organization received $9,000 from Patagonia to research microfibers in 2016.

It absolutely has the potential to move up the food chain, said Chelsea Rochman, a postdoctoral fellow in conservation biology at the University of California at Davis and the University of Toronto. She cautioned, however, against a rush to avoid fish: I think no ones really asked questions directly about that yet.

Rochmans own recent study of seafood from California and Indonesia indicates that plastic fibers contaminate the food we eat.

Testing fish and shellfish from markets in both locations, Rochman determined that all [human-made] debris recovered from fish in Indonesia was plastic, whereas [human-made] debris recovered from fish in the US was primarily fibers.

Rochman said she cant yet explain why fish in the US are filled with microfibers. She speculates that washing machines are less pervasive in Indonesia and synthetic, high performance fabrics, such as fleece, which are known to shed a lot of fibers, are not as common in Indonesia.

Tiny plastic fibers taken from a water sample in Blue Hill Bay in the gulf of Maine. Photograph: Marine Environmental Research Institute

Industry reacts … slowly

Companies that have built their businesses on the environment have been some of the first to pay attention to the growing microfiber issue. Patagonia proposed the Bren School study in 2015, after polyester, the primary component of outdoor fabrics like fleece, showed up as a major ocean pollutant.

Patagonia is part of a working group, as is Columbia Sportswear and 18 others, studying the issue through the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), a trade group consisting of about 1,300 companies around the world.

We believe the outdoor industry is likely one of those [industries that contribute to the microfiber issue], but we just dont know the breadth, said Beth Jenson, OIAs director of corporate responsibility.

In an email, Patagonia spokesperson Tessa Byars wrote: Patagonia is concerned about this issue and were taking concerted steps to figure out the impacts that our materials and products at every step in their lifecycle may have on the marine environment.

Miriam Diamond, an earth sciences professor who runs the University of Toronto lab where Rochman now works, said she believes so-called fast fashion could play a larger role than the comparatively smaller outdoor apparel industry. What I suspect is that some of the cheaper fabrics will more easily shed fibers. Its probably that the fibers arent as long or that they arent spun as well, Diamond said.

Inditex, which owns Zara and Massimo Duti among others, said microfibers fall into the category of issues covered by its Global Water Strategy, which includes ongoing plans to evaluate and improve wastewater management at its mills.

H&M declined to comment on the microfiber issue, as did Topshop , which responded by email we are not quite ready to make an official statement on this issue.

Time to take action

Mark Browne, the researcher responsible for first bringing microfibers to public attention, said that the grace period is over.

We know that these are the most abundant forms of debris that they are in the environment, Brown said. He added that government and industry must be asked to explain what they are going to be doing about it.

The Amsterdam-based Plastic Soup Foundation, an ocean conservation project co-funded by the European Union, said better quality clothing or fabrics coated with an anti-shed treatment could help.

The foundations director, Maria Westerbos, said a nanoball that could be thrown into a washing machine to attract and capture plastic fibers also seems promising.

Another solution may lie with waterless washing machines, one of which is being developed by Colorado-based Tersus Solutions. Tersus, with funding from Patagonia, has developed a completely waterless washing machine in which textiles are washed in pressurized carbon dioxide.

Others suggest a filter on home washing machines. More than 4,500 fibers can be released per gram of clothing per wash, according to preliminary data from the Plastic Soup Foundation.

But the washing machine industry is not yet ready to act. Jill Notini, vice president of communications and marketing for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, said the washing machine could very well be a source of microfiber debris, but that the proposed solutions are impractical.

How do you possibly retrofit all of the units that are in the market and then add a filter in and talk to consumers and say, Here is a new thing that youre going to have to do with your clothes washer?

She added that the industry still has trouble getting people to clean lint from the filters in their dryers.

For Plastic Soups Westerbos, the reluctance of the industries that operate in that crucial place between the consumer and the worlds waterways can no longer be tolerated.

Its really insulting that they say its not their problem, Westerbos said. Its their problem, too. Its everybodys problem.

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