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MIT-educated physicist and engineer, a serial entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and a social innovator Peter Fiekowsky, whose latest book Climate Restoration provides an insight into the steps we need to take in order to save the planet from climate change, had a conversation with Earth.Org on July 2. During the interview, Fiekowsky talked about the imminent risks that our planet is facing, and where humanity stands in terms of mitigating the climate crisis.

Peter shared his thoughts with us on several topics, including: 

“We collectively settled on the Paris Goals because we were told to – primarily because of economic reasons.” In the interview’s opening statement, Fiekowsky immediately summarised the central issue presented in his latest book ‘Climate Restoration’, written with Carole Douglis and published in April 2022.

The real goal of humanity, he argues, should be restoring the earth’s atmosphere to something close to pre-industrial levels. Fiekowsky firmly believes that we can achieve this with existing methods, technologies, and finance. The only thing that is missing, he argues, is “collective will.” 

The author recognises three main risks that humans are facing nowadays: climate change, the methane burst from the Arctic – which is likely to happen within the next decade and have catastrophic consequences – as well as overpopulation. The latter is one of the central topics of his book. “The Earth” – he said – “is already home to 10 times the population it can support”, a clear sign that population growth is one of the main roots of today’s climate and ecosystem catastrophe. The only way out of this is to change the population growth curve so that the number of humans on the planet can be gradually restored to a sustainable level – which he estimates is two billion.

You can check out the full-length video of Earth.Org ‘s conversation with Peter Fiekowsky below:

Featured image: peterfiekowsky.com

You might also like: In Conversation with David Pogue, Author of How to Prepare for Climate Change

On June 22, we had a conversation with Sujan Sarka, winner of the 2022 Earth.Org Photography Competition. A teacher with a huge passion for photography, Sujan spends his free time taking powerful photos of wildlife in India in a bid to raise environmental awareness through what he describes as a ‘powerful’ and ‘essential’ tool.  

Sujan Sarka is a teacher based in India, winner of the Overall Best Environmental Photo as well as the Wildlife in Peril Category of our 2022 Photography Competition

In our online conversation on June 22, Sujan shared his thoughts on several topics, including: 

Sujan’s home country, India, is among the world’s most vulnerable areas to climate change, with its effects visible everywhere across the country, from its extremely polluted cities and waterways to the extreme weather events – such as floods and droughts – that relentlessly hit the country , sparking food insecurity, large-scale destruction, and biodiversity loss.

You might also like: 5 Biggest Environmental Issues in India in 2022

You can check out the full-length video of Earth.Org’s Conversation with Sujan Sarka here: 

Our competition for 2023 has already kicked off! Make sure to follow us on social media for updates. If you would like to become a part of our global movement and mission, consider becoming an EO photographer. Earth.Org’s official photographers and their content will be regularly featured in our articles and our Instagram and Facebook posts. There is no financial commitment. When we post one of your photographs, we will inform you and ask you to repost the article or post on your Instagram story.

On June 21, we had a conversation with Md. Mudassir Hussain, winner of the Human Impacts on the Environment Category of the 2022 Earth.Org Photography Competition. As a freelance photographer and former tour guide, he has been travelling across Bangladesh for nearly 15 years, documenting how climate change is affecting one of the world’s most vulnerable countries and the impact that the climate crisis has on its people.

Md. Mudassir Hussain is a freelance photographer based in Bangladesh, winner of the Human Impacts on the Environment Category of our 2022 Photography Competition

In our online conversation on June 21, Mudassir shared his thoughts on several topics, including: 

You Might Also Like: Rain-triggered Deadly Floods in Bangladesh and India Leave Millions Displaced

As a tour guide, Mudassir had the chance to travel across his home country – Bangladesh – for nearly 15 years. During his travels, he has experienced firsthand the impacts of climate change, noticing the vicious cycle of how human activities are causing global warming and compromising the environment but also how the climate crisis is harming humans. 

What started as a hobby quickly turned into a job as Mudassir decided to pick up his camera and document ‘untold stories’ of Bangladeshi people that are directly impacted by climate change. His goal, he said, is to raise awareness about the environmental issues of our time and change people’s perspectives on the detrimental impact of human activities on the environment.

“If you can connect with the subject and find untold stories to tell, then your photos have the potential to change the perspective of people on environmental issues.” – he said.

You Might Also Like: See the Winners of the 2022 Earth.Org Photography Competition!

You can check out the full-length video of Earth.Org’s Conversation with Md. Mudassir Hossein here: 

Our competition for 2023 has already kicked off! Make sure to follow us on social media for updates. If you would like to become a part of our global movement and mission, consider becoming an EO photographer. Earth.Org’s official photographers and their content will be regularly featured in our articles and our Instagram and Facebook posts. There is no financial commitment. When we post one of your photographs, we will inform you and ask you to repost the article or post on your Instagram story.

On June 21, we had a conversation with Lorenzo Mittiga, winner of the Climate in Action Category of the 2022 Earth.Org Photography Competition. We spoke about the importance of protecting coral reefs but also the power of photography in raising awareness of the devastating impacts of humans on the environment. 

Lorenzo Mittiga is an Italian award-winning underwater conservation photographer based in Bonaire, an island in the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. Passionate about the underwater world and committed to environmental causes, he won the Climate in Action Category of our 2022 Photography Competition with a powerful image depicting the incredible efforts of scientific divers involved in a restoration project to rescue dying corals in the proximity of Bonaire. 

protecting coral reefs

Climate Action Category Winning Photo by Lorenzo Mittiga

Mittiga shared his thoughts with us on several topics, including: 

The photo was taken in 2021 during the ReeFiesta in Bonaire, an event that aims to bring diverse and ocean conservation-minded individuals together to promote coral reef restoration and ocean conservation. Since 2012, the Reef Renewal Foundation Bonaire has been dedicated to restoring coral reefs in the area through innovative coral nurseries and highly successful restoration techniques, such as coral propagation by fragmentation. “Scientific divers harvest coral fragments in artificial coral trees known as nurseries” – explained Mittiga. “Within four to six months, these fragments are grown enough to be collected and outplanted back to the reef”. 

Protecting Coral Reefs

Lorenzo Mittiga

When asked about his duty as a conservationist photographer, Mittiga explained that his work goes far beyond aesthetic ideals. A camera is an extremely powerful tool and, in our modern society, a simple picture can influence millions of people and raise awareness on key issues such as the climate crisis. “We always say that through the eyes we can reach the soul of people, so through good pictures, we can send powerful messages.”, said the photographer.

You Might Also Like: See the Winners of the 2022 Earth.Org Photography Competition!

The Importance of Protecting Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are among the most valuable ecosystems on the planet. Besides containing one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth, coral reefs protect coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms. They are also a source of nitrogen and other nutrients for marine food chains and play a crucial role in nitrogen and carbon fixing. Lastly, they play an important role in generating the sand and rubble that maintain islands and cays. 

Unfortunately, coral reefs around the world are facing events of severe bleaching and physical destruction due to human actions such as coastal development, unmanaged tourism, anchoring, fish feeding, marine litter, and diver contact. These systems have also been hit hard by the effects of climate change. Indeed, warming oceans cause thermal stress that contributes to bleaching and infectious disease, while sea level rise may lead to increases in sedimentation for reefs located near land-based sources of sediment. Sedimentation runoff can lead to the smothering of corals.

The global scale of coral bleaching has tripled since 40 years ago and severe bleaching currently occurs in over 30% of coral reefs globally compared to less than 10% in the 1980s. Their resilience depends almost exclusively on effective management. To keep up with this widespread bleaching, conservationists engage in a variety of strategies to improve the resilience of coral reefs, such as the use of artificial nurseries as depicted in Mittiga’s photo.  

You Might Also Like: Improving the Resilience of Coral Reefs

You can check out the full-length video of Earth.Org’s Conversation with Lorenzo Mittiga here:

Our competition for 2023 has already kicked off! Make sure to follow us on social media for updates. If you would like to become a part of our global movement and mission, consider becoming an EO photographer. Earth.Org’s official photographers and their content will be regularly featured in our articles and our Instagram and Facebook posts. There is no financial commitment. When we post one of your photographs, we will inform you and ask you to repost the article or post on your Instagram story.

Featured Image by Lorenzo Mittiga

Peter Fiekowsky’s mission in life is “to leave a world we’re proud of to our children”. This is the ultimate reason why, as an MIT-educated physicist and engineer, a philanthropist, a social innovator and an entrepreneur, he has been researching how to restore our climate for at least a decade. In his book Climate Restoration, he explains why we need to do more than the Paris Agreement suggests if we want to save humanity and the planet. However, he wants to make sure that anyone who reads his book sees that there is plenty of room for optimism, by learning more about “a dramatic transformation that will lead to a vibrant future rather than a catastrophic one.”

As stated above, the message of Fiekowsky’s book is, in a nutshell, that the goals set in the Paris Agreement don’t go far enough to protect the future of humanity. For this reason, he insists on the urgent necessity of climate restoration. 

The Paris Agreement was designed to limit the “worst effects” of climate change, which became the basis for the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. However, as explained by Fiekowsky, until about 100 years ago humans have always lived in a world where atmospheric CO2 levels remained below 300 ppm (parts per million). Therefore, he argues, 300 ppm and lower is proven safe for humanity: nothing higher passes that test (today, CO2 levels are around 420 ppm, and they are rising about 2.5 ppm each year). Fiekowsky calculates that meeting the Paris goal of net zero emissions by 2050 will lead to a CO2 level of about 460 ppm, which is still unprecedented and catastrophic. 

With this in mind, Fiekowsky lays out two possible futures: in the first one, it is 2050 and the Paris Accords on climate change have been achieved. The net greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced to zero and the trend toward global warming has stabilised. However, the global level of atmospheric CO2 is still 50% higher than the highest humans have lived with. The all-important coral reefs are gone; high water temperatures and acidity persist; most of the forests and rainforests have also disappeared, along with the Arctic; and there are hundreds of millions of climate refugees. 

This, of course, sounds not only dire but disconcerting, as said scenario is rarely invoked in the popular discourse: the climate community insists that meeting the Paris goals will avoid the worst effects of climate change. But what Fiekowsky is presenting may provoke cognitive dissonance, “a state of psychological distress people experience when confronted by new information that contradicts what they already know, believe or value.” He invites us to acknowledge this potentially uncomfortable experience so that we can go on to read the rest of the book and look at the data he is offering with an open mind. 

Going back to the two future scenarios, there is fortunately a second potential outcome. In this one, although the disruption of climate by human activity has still left its mark on the planet and some people will have had to relocate, climate restoration has allowed the atmospheric CO2 levels to drop below 300 ppm for the first time since 1910. This means they have returned to levels that humans have survived long-term. Coral reefs are on the way to recovery, along with fisheries; extreme wildfires are a distant memory; and extinction rates of plant and animal species have returned to their pre-industrial levels. 

The above would be made possible, Fiekowsky argues, with climate restoration – which has the goal of restoring the safe, healthy levels of greenhouse gases last seen on Earth over a century ago. In technical terms, this requires removing roughly a trillion tons of carbon dioxide that humans have pumped into the air, as well as removing any continuing emissions while we head to zero emissions. Fiekowsky claims that this can be done by reproducing large-scale natural processes. The methods that he proposes are not the only ones available, but they meet three crucial criteria: they are permanent (which means that the CO2 removed by the technology stays securely out of circulation for at least a century); scalable (meaning that the technology could be scaled up within a decade to remove and store at least 25 gigatons of CO2 per year); and financeable (which indicates that funding for this technology is already available or is ready to be mobilised). Fiekowsky further explains that a climate restoration method is particularly financeable when it produces something that can satisfy a large existing market. 

So let us briefly go into the methods suggested by Fiekowsky. He calls all of them “clever human adaptations of processes long ago ‘invented’ and honed by Mother nature  – approaches known as biomimicry and geomimicry”. Firstly, he suggests synthetic limestone manufacture, which entails using captured CO2 to produce synthetic limestone (high-quality rock that can substitute the aggregate that is now used to make roadbeds and concrete). Fiekowsky argues that by purchasing carbon-negative limestone aggregate and associated products, the already existent global rock market would finance climate restoration. 

Secondly, he mentions seaweed permaculture. Kelp and other seaweeds create their tissues from sunlight and CO2, and when they die, they sink, and in the right circumstances they carry the carbon they contain to the ocean depths for hundreds or thousands of years. Back when kelp forests used to line many of the world’s coastlines, they absorbed more CO2 than the rainforests of the Amazon. Kelp forests are currently suffering as a result of rising ocean temperatures, but allowing them to recover would provide food and shelter for fish, shellfish, and other marine animals. Fiekowsky claims that this is financially feasible since half of the seaweed output could be harvested for commercial use (kelp is a common ingredient in products such as toothpaste or shampoo), while the other half would be sunk, therefore capturing CO2. 

Thirdly, Fiekowsky advocates for Ocean Iron Fertilisation (OIF), which mimics (in a controlled manner) the process that cooled the Earth 10 times in the last million years. Over time, when atmospheric CO2 levels approached 300 ppm, nature removed large quantities out of the atmosphere via photosynthesis by phytoplankton in the ocean. Three ingredients are necessary for this process: sunlight, water, and iron-rich dust blown into the ocean from dust storms and volcanoes. According to experts, iron and phytoplankton levels have been declining globally in recent decades. However, in the 1980s, marine biologist John Martin and his team found that when small amounts of iron-ore dust are added to iron-poor ocean regions,  photosynthesis accelerates quickly and phytoplankton flourishes. This approach is one of the most controversial ones due to a few factors. On the one hand, it removes CO2 from the atmosphere without reducing emissions, so critics have seen it as an unethical threat to the UN climate goals. On the other hand, studies such as this one carried out by the MIT suggest that seeding the oceans with iron may not impact climate change after all. In addition, an experiment conducted in 2011 by the eccentric entrepreneur Russ George in Haida Gwaii (an archipelago off British Columbia’s west coast, in Canada) reportedly led to a record salmon harvest the next year, but it also got George accused of illegal dumping and trying to curb climate change unilaterally, which experts saw as frightening. In any case, Fiekowsky insists that his research and calculations show that restoring ocean pastures with iron dust is one of our best bets for restoring the climate. And while it is true that we don’t know how much CO2 iron fertilisation can sequester, we need to actually begin carrying out fertilisation to find out. 

Finally, Fiekowsky promotes the acceleration of natural methane oxidation. Methane is the main component in the natural gas we use for cooking or heating. One ton of methane generates 120 times more warming than a ton of CO2, and according to the latest IPCC report, atmospheric methane is responsible for 30% of today’s warming. In this sense, even more concerning is the possibility of a rapid spike in temperatures due to a methane “burst” released by permafrost melting beneath the Arctic Ocean. Because of the implications this would have, Fiekowsky is working with a team to enhance atmospheric methane oxidation, which would have the capability of halving methane levels. He sees this as an “insurance policy” against the ecosystem damage that would be caused by a methane spike. 

You might also like Earth.Org’s review of How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos

Fiekowsky also devotes one chapter to the idea of “population restoration”. He argues that “population growth is the root of today’s climate and ecosystem catastrophe”, and that small families will help humankind survive and thrive. He believes that if we’d kept the world population stable, CO2 levels would have risen by just 1/10th of the current amount. Therefore, he claims it is necessary to change the population growth curve so that the number of humans on the planet can be gradually restored to a sustainable level  – which he estimates is two billion. He then addresses controversies regarding this topic, such as the Malthusian debate, concerns about who will take care of the elderly, and the argument that dealing with the amount consumption is more important – which he considers a myth. 

While he tackles all of these issues in a convincing way, laying out facts and including other perspectives, he leaves out a crucial part of the equation: inequality. Fiekowsky’s arguments may ring true in the sense that the planet has finite resources, which would not be enough for an ever-growing population. However, it is important to consider that, as noted by the Australian Academy of Science, an average middle-class American consumes 3.3 times the subsistence level of food and almost 250 times the subsistence level of clean water. In addition, as calculated by the former director of the Princeton Environment Institute Stephen Pacala, the world’s richest half a billion people – about 7% of the global population – account for half of the world’s emissions. Therefore, even though sustaining humanity might require restoring the population as well as the climate, it is also necessary to address inequality and all of its implications. In this sense, Fiekowsky’s choice (or negligence) to include it in an otherwise incredibly well-rounded work is frustrating. 

Throughout the book, as Fiekowsky presents the ways in which we could restore the climate, he does a great job explaining complex scientific concepts and methods to a non-specialised audience, and he approaches the most common criticisms and controversies around them, debunking myths with clear data and sources while also addressing common concerns. This has a great persuasive effect on the reader, and by the time you finish this book you will most likely be convinced by his argument – unless, perhaps, if you are very familiar with these topics and already have knowledge which contradicts that of Fiekowsky. Even in this case, as Fiekowsky makes it clear, “with the global climate crisis continuing to spiral out of control, the time for tough conversations about what it will really take to create a healthy future for humanity is here.” This book offers not only that, but an indistinguishably bright glimmer of hope. 

For a limited time, a 54-page white paper adopted from the book is being made available for free by the publisher, Rivertowns Books, “in order to stimulate informed discussion of our climate options at this critical moment in human history”. To download the white paper, you can visit Fiekowsky’s website

Climate Restoration: The Only Future That Will Sustain the Human Race
Peter Fiekowsky (with Carole Douglis)
2022, Rivertowns Books, 263pp

On May 19, Earth.Org had an online conversation with Edwin Keh,  the CEO of The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), an organisation dedicated to the research, development and technology transfer in the fashion and textile industries, including sustainable fashion research and solutions. He has extensive experience working with supply chain operations as well as holding multiple IPs which won several international invention awards. Some ongoing projects HKRITA is currently involved with include a partnership with the H&M Foundation that sees old garments turned into brand new clothing.

In the fireside chat, we talked about several topics, including:

Edwin believes that tackling the fast fashion crisis is not a technological challenge, but one that is systematic that starts with the business model. There needs to be a fundamental and behaviour changes to reduce mass production and consumer demand. Today, people treat clothes as a “disposable commodity”. We should bring back the culture of treating clothing as long-term and functional investment, almost like heirlooms. He is also inherently optimistic about the future of the fashion and apparel industry, and that humanity will not be extinct because of our fashion choices. But, greater investment and changes are needed, and quickly, to rapidly reduce the damages and impacts to the environment.

You can check out the full length video of Earth.Org ‘s conversation with Edwin Keh below:

You might also like: Fast Fashion Pollution and Climate Change

In Hong Kong, there is growing research pointing to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women. However, women’s voices continue to be marginalised and men continue to have the final say over climate policies. If Hong Kong wants to achieve gender and climate justice, decision-making processes need to be more gender-inclusive. But to do so, the city will have to recognise that gender inequality cannot be achieved merely through legislation but also through cultural shifts in how we conceive leadership. This involves challenging taboos and stereotypes that have acted as barriers to women’s ability to become leaders in Hong Kong.

On March 8, the world celebrated its 111th International Women’s Day, a day commemorating the cultural, political and socio-economic achievements of women. Like most parts of the world, Hong Kong has been a celebrant of the occasion. Building on global momentum, March has been an exciting month for organisations, charities and rights groups in Hong Kong to bring attention to issues like gender equality and reproductive rights, as well as to use the opportunity to promote awareness about violence against women in the city, following a recent study which found that almost 40% of Hong Kong women experienced sexual abuse in 2021.

Recognising that gender inequality is no trivial issue in Hong Kong, there is a growing awareness that citizens need to work together to actively protect and support women from all kinds of injustices. What reflections can the environmental sector make?

Women and Climate Change

The impacts of climate change on women are already well documented in the research literature. Take air pollution as an example. Air pollution is found to be a huge risk factor for breast cancer. High levels of exposure to pollutants, toxins and smoke can disrupt women’s menstrual cycles (e.g. early or late periods), which can have long-term impacts on reproductive health. For pregnant women, the risks are even higher. On top of the aforementioned threats, they are more likely to suffer from cardiac and respiratory disease and other mental health problems. Pregnancies may also be affected, as poor air quality has been found to lead to premature births and low birth weight. These can pose further health risks to mothers.

So not only are women being negatively impacted by climate change, but they are also disproportionately affected, as many of the health risks mentioned above do not apply to men. However, because of existing gender inequalities in society, the climate crisis has led to more women facing increased domestic violence, sexual intimidation, human trafficking and rape because of changing economic circumstances and agricultural practices, especially in developing countries.

In fact, many have described climate change as a “double injustice” to women. As a 2014 paper published by CARE International, a leading humanitarian organisation explains, not only are women disproportionately affected by climate change, but they also lack the resources, options and opportunities to overturn these inequalities. Men have a larger carbon footprint than women, yet climate action policies rarely acknowledge these gender differences.

Are women disproportionately affected by climate change in Hong Kong? While the city remains under-researched as a context, there is a growing body of research suggesting so. Studies have already shown that women in Hong Kong are more sensitive to extreme weather conditions than men. For example, consecutive hot nights can bring a 6% higher risk of death for women, because they tend to have a higher proportion of body fat, which makes them more susceptible to heat and weakens their ability to recover. Hong Kong also has a dreadful air pollution problem, as most pollutant concentration levels still fall short of WHO goals. While the impacts of climate change on local pregnancies are relatively unexamined, the replicability of findings from other contexts to that of Hong Kong is likely high.

Climate Inequality is More Than Just A Number

There’s no question that data and science have all pointed to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women – climate change reinforces gender inequality. But numbers can be misleading and unhelpful.

Apart from the fact that inequalities can often go unquantified, attempts to quantify inequality through metrics are always reductionist. Take domestic violence against women in Hong Kong as an example. According to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Women’s Coalition of Equal Opportunities earlier this year, it found that almost 40% of women had experienced sexual violence in the past year. But a statistic like this says nothing about the true impacts of domestic violence. A single experience is great enough to create a cascade of consequences: from contracting sexually transmitted infections to long-lasting emotional problems, broken family relationships or long-term barriers in employment, all of which can never be expressed fully through a simple mathematical equation.

By the same token, the unique effects of climate change on women in Hong Kong can never be quantified in a way that will do justice to their gravity. They will always be omitted from the larger picture. As climate change becomes a bigger issue in Hong Kong, inequalities may only widen. Just because women in Hong Kong may be more resilient and better prepared for future risks today, does not mean that women’s bodies deserve to be continually put to the test.

The question is not why these inequalities have persisted – the reasons are crystal clear – but why it is so hard to disrupt them. To understand why women find it so difficult to effect change on a macro level, it is important to consider constraints to women’s abilities to spearhead Hong Kong’s justice movements.

hong kong female representatiionThe Marginalisation of the Female Body in Hong Kong’s Decision-making Circles

When it comes to decision-making in policy, women are completely outnumbered by men in Hong Kong. For example, female representation in the Legislative Council (LegCo) has never exceeded 20% in its two centuries of history, which is far below the global average of 26% (as of 2020). Most women engaged in climate-related work in Hong Kong reside in non-governmental organisations. Although they may occasionally have an opportunity to express their views in public consultations, they nevertheless do not have sufficient influence in the final stages of policy decisions. As a result, most policy decisions in Hong Kong, whether related to the climate or not, continue to remain in the hands of men who pay scarce attention to the importance of gender. 

As a result, the female body is marginalised in climate policy. As Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), argues, “male-dominated teams will [only] come up with male-dominated solutions”. There is still a tremendous legislative incapacity to recognise the existential impacts of climate change on women: climate change does not only “make life more difficult”; it can put their lives at risk. In the powerful words of Itumeleng Komanyane, International Programme Manager at Sonke Gender Justice in South Africa, “If [male policymakers] don’t understand gender, how can they pass anything progressive regarding women’s rights and empowerment?”

Given the dangers of not having enough female voices in decision-making, the case for more women in positions of decision-making should be clear. But this understanding has not been translated into  support for women to take up leadership roles in Hong Kong. Why is Hong Kong’s “double injustice” so hard to tackle?

Hong Kong’s Gender Inequalities in Leadership is a Cultural Problem

Hong Kong’s gender problem is more than just an institutional problem. Even if there are no structures that explicitly prohibit women from seeking certain advancement opportunities, women can still be disadvantaged culturally. 

In a detailed study conducted at The Women’s Foundation (TWF) in 2015, Marya Saidi found that gender stereotypes remain very prevalent in Hong Kong. They are further exacerbated by media representations, which lead to harmful portrayals of women and men and promote unhealthy perceptions, attitudes and behaviours.

The troublesome consequences of gender stereotypes on women’s career and leadership prospects have been helpfully highlighted by two comprehensive survey-based studies. One was conducted by TWF in 2011 and a more recent one was conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong and released by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) in 2020. Although there is no law that bans women from becoming leaders, the gender stereotypes in Hong Kong can have equally strong inhibitory effects. They can be considered in two dimensions:

According to the TWF survey, almost 30% of women did not wish to be very successful in their careers, because of family obligations such as housework and looking after children. The existence of a “work-family trade-off” for women has yet to be proven, and a trade-off need not exist in the first place if both mothers and fathers are equally involved in domestic responsibilities. Yet, the fact that these tasks are often considered “mainly for women” has unfortunately led to women being more reluctant to develop their careers and reach for leadership positions. It is also not very helpful when more than a fifth of women’s partners do not want their spouses to be successful in their careers for these reasons.

But just because some women rise to become leaders does not mean they are free from gender stereotypes. Women leaders continue to be “expected to take good care of their families regardless of their leadership roles”. For men, this is not an expectation but a bonus.

Often, the social expectations placed on women are also contradictory. In Hong Kong, women are expected to embody “feminine” traits of being empathetic and compassionate. In contrast, leadership qualities are often associated with “masculine” qualities of being dominant and assertive. The issue here is not role incongruity, i.e., a mismatch between their “nature” and their “jobs”, but the problematic assumption that women and men need to act “according to their gender”. When women cannot be seen as “good leaders” and “good women” at the same time, their desire to stay on as leaders can decrease drastically.

Gender Inequality in Hong Kong’s Green Sector

To what extent are these findings applicable to the environmental sector? While gender gaps are evident in Hong Kong’s male-dominated industries like finance, engineering or construction, gender gaps also exist within the so-called “socially responsible” and “purpose-driven” sectors (such as the sustainability or green sectors). While the social sector is perhaps one of Hong Kong’s most gender-balanced sectors (more than 40% are women), employment figures do not paint the full picture.

A series of interviews with sustainability professionals in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia conducted by Robin Hicks and Aditi Tandon from Eco-Business showed that in the green sector, women were not given the same respect as their fellow male counterparts. Many found their opinions frequently doubted and undermined, and people often did not know how to manage situations when a woman was in charge. Maggie Lee, currently Asia Pacific Regional Lead for Global Seafood Traceability for WWF, recalling an instance where she felt patronised by a director-level person when he commented on her “youthfulness” – and by implication, inexperience – shared that she would turn her camera off when speaking to top-level officials to avoid condescension. When women are not taken seriously, they are severely hampered in their ability to succeed, like attracting funding that is essential to much of their work.

Women are also subject to many other forms of leadership inequalities such as unexplainable pay gaps and unwanted public attention regarding their body shape, appearances and personal relationships. Together, they hinder women’s social and economic advancement and impede Hong Kong’s journey to becoming a more equal and inclusive society. With regard to climate change, this prevents women from being able to determine what is most important to protect and support themselves as they continue to disproportionately shoulder the impacts of climate-related injustices.

gender and climate justicePhoto credit: Mongkhonsawat Luengvorapant/Oxfam (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Hong Kong’s Climate Justice Must Begin with Gender

As shown, it is clear that climate change and gender inequality are interrelated. Their effects compound one another: women are more vulnerable to changing environmental conditions; at the same time, the silencing of women’s voices will only exacerbate Hong Kong’s climate change problems. While legislation has been a key promoter of gender equality in many domains of life in Hong Kong, these structural developments have not been enough to remove some of the city’s deep-rooted discrimination and stereotypes. They can be extremely harmful and are the main reason why women continue to experience frustration in their efforts to make a change. 

Women are the building blocks of society; in Hong Kong, they account for more than half of the total population. When they suffer, society suffers with them. Hence, as Sonalie Figueras, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Green Queen asks, “without lifting women up, what chance do we have of creating a fairer, kinder, greener world?”

Thus, Karen Ho, Head of Corporate and Community Sustainability at WWF-Hong Kong, urges Hong Kong needs to really realise and harness the value that women bring to society. The diversity that women bring, along with the unique traits that they offer, enrich organisations and businesses as they offer new perspectives, foster healthier communicative practices within the workplace and help develop more sustainable practices. Relating to climate change, having more women in decision-making positions allows a more inclusive approach to policy. Decisions can therefore be better informed.

The lesson is not that Hong Kong needs to “inject more femininity” into organisations, but that we need to discard those harmful gender labels that specify what a “man” or a “woman” is (not) supposed to be or do. When there is more representation at the senior level, men can also learn from their female colleagues and be encouraged to adopt traits that they believe are not “masculine”.

In fact, since COVID-19, there has been growing interest for organisations to embrace an “androgynous” style of leadership, which emphasises the need to blend these two traditionally diametrically opposed categories. In practice, leadership styles are adopted within organisations based not on who the leader is, but on what works best to support all employees and members.

Overall, Hong Kong needs to be a more receptive society. As David Smith, associate professor at the John Hopkins Carey Business School puts it bluntly, we need “more listening” and “less mansplaining”. For women to be able to speak for themselves, men, having historically been in positions of power, need to be responsive to the concerns of women and pay careful attention to their own practices so as to not let their own egos get in the way of others’ successes.

It is also crucial that gender inequality in Hong Kong is not simply used to reproduce pitiful and patronising narratives about women. Instead, inequality should be seen as an “artefact of absurdity” that can propel all actors in society to start interrogating their own worldviews, values, assumptions and habits to help create a new world.

There is no guarantee that achieving gender equality will lead to climate justice in Hong Kong. Many other inequalities and injustices (along the lines of skin colour, class, religion, age etc.) need to be addressed. Given the challenges of fighting climate change, having more diversity in leadership positions does not mean we will immediately make wiser decisions about our climate and environment – education will have to play a huge part. But if Hongkongers are determined to fight injustice, we must be open to new ideas and solutions – as the saying goes, two heads are better than one. Inviting more people to contribute would be a simple but good start.

On April 21, Earth.Org had an online conversation with Erin Spencer,  a marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer who has recently debuted a picture book, The World of Coral Reefs. As a National Geographic Explorer, she has travelled all over the world to learn how communities can work together to protect our ocean’s fisheries. Erin has also worked with a number of educational programmes to encourage young individuals in STEM fields in hopes to inspire the next generation of marine ecologists.

The World of Coral Reefs

In the fireside chat, we talked about several topics, including:

You can check out the full length video of Earth.Org ‘s conversation with Erin Spencer below:


You might also like: 5 Coral Reefs That Are Currently Under Threat and Dying

Amid the ongoing debates regarding governments and private corporations’ responsibilities in climate change, one thing is certain: the climate crisis is a multifaceted issue with human activities being the main driver. Aside from institutional and market reforms, individual contribution can make a huge difference in addressing the climate emergency. But this raises a question: what specific action do we need to take? David Pogue, notable American tech columnist, writer and TV presenter, offers a comprehensive list of adaptation strategies in his latest book, How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos.

With a refreshing lack of scepticism and offering endless discussions on whom to blame, David Pogue takes a more direct route by calling for immediate action on an individual level to deal with the climate chaos. Since the planet started to warm up 150 years ago upon the commencement of the Industrial Revolution, we are damaging the planet to the point it cannot be reset even if we stopped burning fossil fuels and deforestation. We have reached a deadlock in which humanity can barely do anything to stop the irreversible effects of climate change. 

Does this really mean we are simply sitting ducks, waiting for the end of the world to arrive? To this, David vehemently disagrees. Instead, he sheds light on a more proactive approach in which humans should adopt to combat climate change and to minimise the potential catastrophic effects that threaten the survival of future generations. Taking inspiration from John Holdren, a Harvard energy expert and climate advisor to former US President Barack Obama, we basically have three choices on climate change: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. For David, he believes climate adaptation to be highly important as it allows us to develop coping strategies to make us strong enough to weather through the menaces we are going to face. 

The book starts off with recommending actions we can take, from macro to micro level, and ways to address eco-anxiety. Here, David reminds us that we always have the right and ability to reach out to governments and influence groups to voice our opinions and concerns. On a personal level, the author emphasises the importance of mental health in order to be prepared for the road ahead, advising techniques on how to manage stress and feelings of despair in the face of the climate crisis. Doing exercise, exposing oneself to nature, and deep breathing are effective stress relief strategies. If all these fail, we should revert to individual therapy or group therapy. 

The subtitle of the book suggests that the author is addressing climate change in a practical sense that even climate change deniers or those who refute the claim that human activity is the root cause can find value in. In fact, David dedicates an entire chapter on Where to Live and discusses the pressing problem of climate migration, as more and more places are subject to floods or extreme weather conditions. What can be worse than being forced to relocate and the subsequent uncertainty of settling in a new location and the stress of the hefty relocation expenses? Instead of moving endlessly, David introduces a radical idea of constructing resilient buildings with energy backups, drought protection, and flood-resistance facilities. Such a proposal is justifiable from a cost-and-benefit analysis, as the durability of the asset means that it can be inherited by your descendants and future generations. He also dives deep into every aspect of life and provides a survival manual that prepares people for any foreseeable circumstances including drought, food shortage, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, civil unrest, and even mosquitoes and ticks. 

You might also like Earth.Org’s review of Sentient by Jackie Higgins

Climate despair is unquestionably a growing phenomena, but does it mean we should lose faith in solving the climate crisis? David is steadfastly optimistic about our chances and offers a range of  reasons to it. In the concluding chapter Where to Find Hope, he states that an overwhelming number of governmental bodies and organisations are doing extraordinary things to mitigate the crisis. For instance, the Paris Agreement legally binds 195 countries in setting long-term goals in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Multinational corporations are taking serious measures in reducing the emission of carbon dioxide and reverting to renewable energy. Many big idea solutions have emerged in recent years such as putting a price on carbon, designing safer nuclear power, inventing carbon removal technology, and reverting to geo-engineering. Yes, the world at large has had a late start in protecting our environment. Nevertheless, in detailing all the horrifying consequences and possible adaptation and solutions throughout his book, David hopes we can get ourselves well-prepared to protect ourselves and our future generations. 

David plays the dual role of the author and the reader, which makes for a more powerful and convincing read. This persuasive yet personal style of writing successfully builds an emotional connection with the audience. As a responsible member of this planet, and as a father to three, he understands acutely the negative impacts and the fears brought about by climate change, just like us. But with this book, and its comprehensive list of doable and pragmatic action items that require an overhaul in our current lifestyle, it is not too late to start now. If every individual on this planet picks one suggestion recommended by David, commits and adheres to the transition, this aggregate effort can certainly help to mitigate the global issue of global warming, and bring hope not only to human beings, but other species on Earth.

Check out Earth.Org’s fascinating video conversation with David here.

How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos
David Pogue
2021, Simon & Schuster, 624pp

What would happen to humanity if we fail to overcome our darkest impulses? If we continue to ignore the signs of a dying planet Earth? What would follow if the United States were to disintegrate due to the social tensions and cultural divisions that are already prevalent today? If the glue that holds opposing ideological forces were to eventually wane? And what would occur if the greed of the oil industry were to compromise humanity’s last hope? In his debut novel, ALT, Aleksandar Nedeljkovic presents a world in which all of the above has become a reality but ultimately offers a glimpse of hope.

ALT by Aleksandar Nedeljkovic tells the story of Theo Smith, a computer scientist who is trying to recreate his father’s long-lost invention. Augustus Smith was a pioneer in alternative energy technology who devised Chorus, a new generation solar panel that captured the sun’s energy through chlorophyll and resonance energy transfer, a process known as artificial photosynthesis. However, a month after Augustus presented his findings, his laboratory burned to the ground and he died under suspicious circumstances. Now, a group of scientists is working with the Atlantic Commonwealth (part of the now dissolved United States) to develop  Sundance, a solar energy collection and delivery system that promises to solve two of the biggest challenges faced by civilisation: the global energy crisis and climate disruption. However, in order for the project to work out, they need to recover Augustus Smith’s design of Chorus, and they can’t do this without Theo’s help. 

Although the Atlantic Commonwealth keeps the project secret for safety precautions, a private security corporation known as Sheng Long invades Theo’s home and kidnaps him and his wife, Maritza. Their son Miles barely escapes with the help of their neighbour, Lupo “Moonie” Belan, who happened to be driving by at exactly the right time. After this series of events, the novel then focuses on a different character in each chapter: some track Moonie and Miles as they flee east, while others show Theo and Maritza’s captive situation. It turns out Sheng Long was hired by Epiphany Resources, an open-pit mining operation. The CEO, Stuart Fletcher, is attempting to create an algorithm that can identify the optimal conditions for abiotic generation of hydrocarbons – and he can only do this with the help of a computer scientist as skilful as Theo Smith. At the same time, some chapters focus on the agents Russ and Weiss from the Atlantic Commonwealth Intelligence Service, as they race to free Theo and Maritza as well as find Miles before Sheng Long does.  

The world built by Nedeljkovic seems largely plausible in many ways: specifically, he proves to be very familiar with the present political climate in the United States and how the situation may develop in the not-so-far future. Against a backdrop of increased social tensions and cultural polarisation, along with an outdated two-party system that fails to reimagine itself, the novel presents a future in which the “economic opportunity that was always the glue that held together the opposing ideological forces throughout American history waned” (p. 96). In this scenario, the only former US states that do not join the Atlantic Commonwealth are California, Hawaii, Alaska and Texas. The latter then absorbs Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and Mississippi, along with the Mexican states of Nuevo Leon of Tamaulipas, while also creating armed turmoil in Tijuana and San Diego.

If you enjoyed ALT by Aleksandar Nedeljkovic, you might also like: 5 Great Climate Change Fiction Novels

However, in contrast to the complex near-future world presented by the author, the plot can feel overly simple. It is mostly a description of events and at times reads like an action movie – which is likely due to Nedeljkovic’s background in television and film. For instance, after Miles and Moonie narrowly escape Sheng Long,  a large part of the plot is devoted to an ultimately inconsequential manhunt where the characters lack development. Additionally, Theo and Maritza’s rescue is surprisingly easy, and the apparent inherent goodness of the Atlantic Commonwealth Intelligence Agency reads as naive and idealistic at times. In a similar sense, the rest of the characters lack depth, and as a reader it is difficult to be invested in the future of anything other than the planet. 

In addition, all of the main characters are men. The only women are either the mothers and wives of these characters (Theo’s wife and Miles’s mother, Maritza, is present in some scenes, but we do not learn anything about her except that she grew up in Eugene, California, does yoga, and is an architect), or sexual objects that they interact with. On the one hand, and rather ironically, the depicted sexist dynamic would perhaps be seen as social criticism if the novel was set in the past and not the future. On the other, it could have been a part of the dystopian situation if there was an explanation for it, but there is none. 

Nevertheless, Nedeljkovic does show a good understanding of the technological possibilities that lie ahead of us as alternatives to ecological destruction (such as the above-mentioned artificial photosynthesis). What’s more, towards the ending he also proves to have a clear grasp of the global response that would be needed if humanity were to overcome all the challenges presented in the novel. In this sense, the author offers a ray of hope: he lays out a situation in which it is possible to save the planet without self-interest conflicting with the greater good (as it very often does). This is reminiscent of a theory brought forward by Varvarousis and Kallis, who suggest to approach alternative economies and practices as commoning projects. Although Nedeljkovic does not use this label, it would seem that he presents Sundance as a planet-saving commoning project, which is refreshing and necessary (and readers might even wish that the book had focused more on this aspect). All things considered, we need fiction that conveys alternative and utopian ideas like this one, as it can inspire individuals and communities – and ultimately help shed some light in the face of crises such as climate change. 

ALT
Aleksandar Nedeljkovic
2022, Atmosphere Press, 456pp

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