TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 7

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Learning from our mistakes: Global response to the current Ebola crisis should improve our handling of the next outbreak.

By Lena H. Sun, Brady Dennis, Lenny Bernstein, Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post

2. A blueprint for reopening the tech industry to women: be deliberate, build a new pipeline that is openly focused on women, and attack the archetype of tech success.

By Ann Friedman in Matter

3. We need to change what’s taught in business schools and the narrative about business success that dominates boardrooms.

By Judy Samuelson in the Ford Forum

4. A health system that learns from its experience through data analysis can change medicine.

By Veronique Greenwood in the New York Times Magazine

5. A long overdue move to align our international development with climate reality could trigger sweeping policy changes around the world.

By Charles Cadwell and Mark Goldberg in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Religions for the Earth: Redefining the Climate Crisis

Karenna Gore is the director of Union Forum at Union Theological Seminary. The Reverend Dr. Serene Jones is the President of Union Theological Seminary.

The climate crisis is not just a scientific and political challenge--it is an urgent moral imperative.

This coming week in New York City has the potential to be for climate change what the 1963 March on Washington was for civil rights. The world’s political leaders will gather at the UN for an urgent Climate Summit called by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and hundreds of thousands of people will descend on the city for the People’s Climate March.

At Union Theological Seminary, a remarkably diverse group of more than 200 religious and spiritual leaders will gather for the Religions for the Earth conference. Representing Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, Australia, the Pacific nations and the Arctic, these leaders will bring a much-needed moral perspective to the climate crisis. They represent billions of people of faith.

Through the work at this conference, we hope to help redefine the climate crisis. It is not just a scientific and political challenge, it is an urgent moral imperative.

The Religions for the Earth initiative at Union seeks to create a place where visionary religious and spiritual leaders from around the world will convene to find common ground and offer new strategies to deal with a crisis that politicians have been unable to solve.

In meeting after meeting, from Rio to Kyoto to Copenhagen to Durban, politicians and technocrats have been thwarted, because at its core, climate change is not just about science, or zero-sum financial negotiations between emitters: it’s about values. It relates profoundly to the meaning of life rather than just its mechanics—to the essence of how we experience our being, share our resources, and regard one another across space and time. It has implications for the existence of the world itself, and humanity’s place within it.

It will take a values-driven conversation to change the materialistic and consumer-oriented culture that assigns worth only to financially quantifiable things. The unchecked profit-driven model of maximum production devours what we care most about: clean air, clean water, and the wellbeing of the most vulnerable families. We need a new moral equation.

There is already an international grassroots movement to make climate justice a moral issue, drawing on the strength of spiritual traditions around the world and often led by their representatives. Especially in places hard-hit by weather events and rising seas, leaders like Father Edwin Gariguez in the Philippines are speaking out on behalf of their beleaguered communities. This moral movement holds the potential to greatly expand our vision and options.

Climate change isn’t the first crisis around which religious and spiritual leaders have provided a moral vision when politicians could not. In India, Mahatma Gandhi led the way toward political independence through his ethical teachings and his own example, resisting imperial force with a call to personal sacrifice and higher consciousness. The great leader of the American civil rights movement was a Baptist minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., who helped the United States reimagine a moral inheritance tarnished by racism, war and poverty. In South Africa, Desmond Tutu indicted apartheid in a spiritual language that resonated around the world. In the final decades of the Cold War, Pope John Paul II helped stir deep aspirations for basic human rights throughout the Eastern bloc through his uncompromising stand against oppression.

We need to deepen and expand the worldwide movement to fight climate change and sieze its moral trajectory. Many religious leaders are already transforming their approaches to ministry and service, determined to achieve the small changes that can aggregate into a global movement. These must be accompanied by advocacy for bold strategic actions to shift power away from those who do not take the earth into account.

On all these fronts, it is incumbent on religious institutions to take the lead. At Union Theological Seminary, we were proud this past spring when we became the first seminary to divest our endowment from fossil fuels. The World Council of Churches divested soon after, and many religious groups and institutions around the world have done the same. If we can convert this growing momentum into a movement, many more will follow—because divestment is a moral claim, a clear stand for the principle that we have values more important than money. We invite our political leaders to follow our lead by taking bold steps to defend our natural world.

Spiritual leaders have been a crucial part of many of the major justice movements throughout history. As indigenous traditions have long known, harmony with nature is no less vital. To successfully emerge from this crisis, faith leaders must build public will for action by casting climate change as a clearly-defined, irresistible moral imperative. We need to harness the power of faith to affect social change. The well-being of our earth depends on it. What could be more sacred?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 11

1. Increasing access to education is the best way to close the employment gap between black and white males in America.

By Rory O’Sullivan, Konrad Mugglestone and Tom Allison in Young Invicibles

2. New tools are making secure communication with journalists – and whistleblowing – possible.

By Sarah Laskow in Columbia Journalism Review

3. Disconnect: Americans have long believed stopping genocide was a core interest for our nation. They’re wrong.

By Dhruva Jaishankar in Foreign Policy

4. America should use our law protecting victims of human trafficking to manage the border crisis and grant asylum for migrant children.

By Kathy Bougher in the Denver Post

5. Gamify the Environment: Instead of a binding global treaty on climate change, let’s make it a “race to the top” competition among nations.

By Timothy Wirth and Tom Daschle in Yale Environment 360

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME climate

June Was Hottest on Record, NOAA Says

Temperatures Soar To Highest Of The Year
A giant plastic ice cream cone glints in the sun on the South Beach Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

May was the hottest on record, too

Not only did 2014 boast the hottest May on record, but new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says that the global population experienced its hottest June ever, too.

Well, at least this summer is keeping things consistent.

According to the NOAA, the combined average temperatures of land and ocean surfaces was 1.30°F above the 20th century average of 59.9°F. If only looking at land surface temperature, though, it was only the seventh highest June on record.

Anomalies are now becoming less of an anomaly as nine of the ten warmest Junes recorded occurred in the 21st century, including every June in the last five years.

TIME natural disaster

Charred Earth: The Wreckage of the Washington Wildfires

Hundreds of people have been displaced in the northeast part of the state

It took thousands of firefighters Saturday and Sunday to battle a wildfire raging east of Washington state’s Cascade Mountains. The four-blaze Carlton Complex fire destroyed about 100 homes and displaced hundreds of people.

The weekend inferno is the latest in a series of fires that have plagued the drought-ravaged west coast this summer. Area residents hope that forecasts for cooler weather this week will help quell the siege of flames, the Associated Press reports.

TIME faith

Union Becomes the World’s First Seminary to Divest from Fossil Fuels

New York's Union Theological Seminary--home to famed theologians Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as a $108.4 million endowment--will be the first seminary in the world to divest from fossil fuels.

At Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, we have a particular call to live out our values in the world. In accordance with that call, our Board of Trustees voted unanimously today to begin divesting the school’s entire $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuels, becoming the first seminary in the world to take this dramatic step in the fight against global climate change.

As a seminary we are familiar with the scriptural warning that “the wages of sin is death,” and this could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels. As vulnerable communities have been swallowed by rising shorelines, as potable water has become a commodity of increasing rarity, as hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by violent weather, it is ever clear that humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels is death-dealing—or as Christians would say, profoundly sinful.

This concerns us deeply, and we are actively committed to finding new ways to participate in healing our wounded creation. We believe that the divestment of our endowment from fossil fuel companies is one small step in this direction.

This was not an easy decision for us. We depend on our endowment to support Union’s educational mission, and are committed to ensuring that our endowment can continue to support needed scholarships and faculty positions.

Fortunately, we can do this and remain fiscally responsible to our students, staff, faculty, and members of the Union community. We were heartened to learn that over the past two decades, a portfolio that had left out fossil fuel companies would have returned, on average, only six tenths of one percent less. This is a small financial loss when compared to the importance of our moral statement.

We realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat. That said, it is on moral grounds that we pursue divestment, and on theological grounds that we trust it matters. The Christian term for this reckless hope in the power of God to use our decisions of conscience to transform the world is resurrection, and I have faith in the power of resurrection.

In addition to our divestment and campus sustainability efforts, Union will host a conference in the days leading up to the United Nations’ Climate Summit in September called Religions for the Earth (religionsfortheearth.org). The event will culminate in an interfaith service and will be held in partnership with GreenFaith, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace. We know that the effort to care for the earth must be an interreligious, global one, and we at Union look forward to hosting continuing conversations about the role of faith communities the movement to combat climate change.

Yet these efforts do not mark the end of our obligation to be faithful stewards of the earth. Certainly, there is more work to be done, by Union and by all people of conscience.

I hope our decision to divest encourages other seminaries and universities to recognize that there are things we can do as a country and as a people to cut down on our greenhouse gas emissions. For Christians, sin is the word that describes anything that prevents us from having a faithful relationship with God, with each other, with ourselves, and with creation.

We have sinned, and we see this divestment as an act of repentance for Union. All of the world is God’s precious creation, and our place within it is to care for and respect the health of the whole. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat. As stewards of God’s creation, we simply must act to stop this sin.

Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York where she holds the Johnston Family Chair in Religion and Democracy. She is Vice President of the American Academy of Religion, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World. She tweets online at @SereneJones.

TIME Environment

Climate Change Is Here — But That Won’t Make Americans Care

Climate Change Report
Floodwaters from the Souris River surround homes near Minot State University in Minot, N.D. in this June 27, 2011 file photo. Charles Rex Arbogast—AP

If climate action has to wait until we all feel climate pain, we're doomed

The National Climate Assessment released Tuesday did not break much new scientific ground, but it debuted a new scientific message. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report concluded. President Obama parroted that message while flacking the report: “This is not some distant problem of the future. This is a problem that is affecting Americans right now.” The media also focused on the here-and-now. “U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds,” declared the New York Times. “U.S. Climate Report Says Global Warming Impact Already Severe,” said the Washington Post.

It’s true, of course. We’re already seeing hotter weather, nastier droughts, rising seas, and more damaging floods. I live at Ground Zero for climate change, so I’m keenly aware that it’s not just a someday phenomenon. But I’m also a bit skeptical that the new here-and-now message will get Americans to care about an issue that’s never really grabbed them in the past. Because while climate change really is our most daunting problem, it’s not our most imminent problem. It isn’t severely hurting most Americans who aren’t drought-ravaged farmers. It’s annoying that Biscayne Bay now floods the Whole Foods parking lot near my house once a month, but it’s not the end of the world.

Climate change, on the other hand, really could create the end of the world, or at least the end of the world as we know it. The scientific warnings about climate refugees, underwater cities, extreme storms, and agricultural depressions are unbelievably scary. The National Climate Assessment documented some of those potentially horrific scenarios for the U.S., like the baking of the Southwest, the melting of Alaska, and the drowning of Florida, but it emphasized the bad stuff that’s already happening.

This is partly because environmental activists are known for being Debbie Downers and Chicken Littles, for always accentuating the apocalyptic. Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two longtime critics of the green movement, made a splash last month with a Times op-ed arguing that “images of melting glaciers, raging wildfires and rampaging floods” only increase skepticism about global warming. “More than a decade’s worth of research suggests that fear-based appeals about climate change inspire denial, fatalism and polarization,” they wrote.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger love nuclear power and natural gas, and the conclusion of their op-ed—that the public will start caring about global warming when enviros start embracing nuclear power and natural gas—smacked a bit of motivated reasoning. But their contention that Americans don’t like being hectored about looming disasters sounded plausible enough. (Joe Romm at Climate Progress disputed it; Nordhaus and Shellenberger responded here. I don’t know enough to adjudicate that particular fight.

Honestly, I don’t know what will get the public to start caring about global warming. The BP oil spill didn’t. The warmest decade in recorded history didn’t. Neither did Superstorm Sandy, despite Bloomberg Businessweek’s memorable “It’s Global Warming, Stupid” cover.

The epic drought in California doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, either. Part of the problem is a soft economy that makes environmental concerns seem like unaffordable luxuries. Part of the problem is the Republican Party’s rejection of climate science in the Obama era. And part of the problem is the invisibility of carbon pollution. It doesn’t make the air hard to breathe. It’s a huge threat to wildlife, but it doesn’t instantaneously wipe out species of charismatic megafauna. The recent coal ash spill in the Dan River in North Carolina and oil tanker explosion on the James River in Virgina were brought to you by fossil fuels, but it’s hard to connect those kind of accidents to the larger climate issue.

I’ve always thought that the “green jobs” argument for abandoning fossil fuels was pretty compelling; the wind and solar industries now employ more Americans than the coal industry. Maybe the spurious Republican assaults on Solyndra ruined that line of reasoning. Again, I don’t know. I’m not a marketing expert.

What I do know is that global warming is going to get a lot worse than it is now, and that it doesn’t feel that bad right now. I could see how the immediate effects of climate change would be a top-tier political issue in Kiribati, but for the U.S., the overwhelming majority of the pain lies decades in the future. I get that the new strategy is to use the impact that people are already feeling to get them to understand that the impact is only going to grow, but most people aren’t feeling any dramatic impact yet—even those of us at Ground Zero.

Maybe freaking people out about the future is as off-putting as the critics say. Unfortunately, the future on a warmer planet would be as frightening as the scientists say. The truth is unpleasant, but it’s the truth. If climate activists want to put a happy face on it, they can also point out that a warmer planet is not inevitable, that wind and solar and energy efficiency are getting cheaper while dirty energy is getting more expensive, that clean energy can be a vibrant source of economic growth. That’s the truth, too.

But if climate action depends on getting people outraged about what’s happening outside their window, we’re all doomed. We need action because of the pain that’s coming for our kids and grandkids, not because of the pain that’s already here. If we only act once the pain becomes unbearable, we’ll be way too late.

TIME climate change

A Tale of Two Winters

Winter ice on Lake Michigan on Chicago
The winter was brutal in Midwestern cities like Chicago Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you lived east of the Rockies, you froze this winter. But the other side of the country experienced unusual warmth—and sometimes record-high temperatures

As I write this in New York, it’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.9 Celsius)—about 21 F degrees below normal for Mar. 13—and frankly, we’re all sick of this. For much of the eastern half of the country, 2013-14 has been the winter that will never end. And now the numbers are in from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and we’re mostly right: It’s been very cold. But probably not as cold as you think.

The average temperature for the continental U.S. from December to February was 31.3 F (-0.4 C), 1.0 F (0.55 C) below the 20th century norm. That’s hardly record-breaking—it’s only the 34th coldest winter in recorded U.S. history—but it’s a lot colder than last winter, where the average temperature was 34.3 F (1.3 C), which helps explain why it felt so frigid. Even so, the continental U.S. experienced a colder winter as recently as 2009-2010, well before anyone had heard of the term “polar vortex,” and back when only hurricanes—not snowstorms—were given names.

How cold you were this winter depended largely on where you were in the U.S. If you lived east of the Rockies—home to significantly more than half the U.S. population and sometimes, it seems, virtually all the U.S. media—you experienced below-average temperatures. Midwesterners had it particularly bad—most of the area north of the Ohio River was 7 to 15 F (4 to 8 C) below normal, which helps explain why at their peak in early March 91% of the Great Lakes were frozen over. It was nasty for the Northeast as well, where temperatures were largely cooler than normal, especially in the western regions near the lakes (pity the citizens of Erie, Pennsylvania, where temperatures were nearly 5 F, or 2.75 C, below normal for the winter.) From Washington D.C. to Caribou, Maine, it seems that not a single town in the Northeast had above-normal temperatures this winter.

That wasn’t the case in the West, though. California—already in an incredibly severe drought—had the warmest winter on record, with average temperatures of 48.0 F (8.9 C), some 4.4 F (2.2 C) above the 20th century average and nearly 1 F (0.55 C) hotter than the previous warmest winter, in 1980-81. That’s a reminder of just how big the U.S. is, and how variable weather can be—which brings us to climate change. Scientists are going to have fun figuring out just what was behind phenomena like the polar vortex (one theory is that higher temperatures in the Arctic could impact the jet stream, allowing colder Canadian air to sweep down to the East). But a nasty winter in New York City no more disproves climate change than an all-time hot winter in California clinches the case for global warming. Climate change is a global phenomenon and a long-term one, which is why icy temperatures along the East Coast in January are a lot less important than the fact that the global land and ocean surface average temperature for January was 1.17 F (0.65 C) above the 20th century norm, which made it the fourth-warmest January on record globally.

Barring even weirder weather, winter should finally be giving way to spring even in the coldest states in the U.S.—finally. But with scientists warning of a possible El Nino later this year—which usually brings hotter temperatures—we may end up looking back on the polar vortex with fondness as the dog days of August drag on. Maybe.

TIME climate science

U.S. Carbon Emissions Climb for the First Time in Three Years

Coal plants would see their carbon emissions regulated by the EPA Dennis MacDonald via Getty Images

As coal regains footing, U.S. carbon emissions are likely back on the rise

Energy related CO2 emissions in the United States are projected to have risen in 2013, the first growth in three years, due largely to an increase in the use of coal to produce electricity, according to data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The EIA expects carbon emissions from producing energy from coal, natural gas and petroleum to be around 2% higher in 2013 than 2012, as the use of coal—which had been falling thanks to cheaper natural gas and air pollution regulation—rebounds slightly from a low in April 2013.

Even with the increase, emissions in 2013 are still more than 10% lower than they were in 2005 due to the increasing use of natural gas, improving energy efficiency, the growth of zero-carbon renewables and a sluggish economy. The Obama administration has set a goal of achieving a 17% reduction in emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels as part of the effort to combat of climate change.

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Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Short-Term Energy Outlook, January 2014

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