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The president and his supporters say they want to solve illegal immigration by building an immense wall along our southern border, turning local police into immigration agents, and applying “severe vetting” to immigrants from certain countries—all of which are predominantly Muslim.

Opponents say these proposals suffer from over-simplification and racism. But there’s an even bigger problem: These “fixes” fail to understand that we can’t address immigration if we continue to deny the science of climate change, because increasingly, climate change is driving global human migration.

Let’s first acknowledge that our border with Mexico is a place of hardship, violence and injustice. Let’s also recognize the wrenching reality that many of those pressed against our border are children.

In fiscal year 2016, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended at our southern border. Even as the president and his supporters lump them together with “murderers and rapists,” the U.S. Border Patrol reports that they’re kids 17 and under, who, by a 4-to-1 margin, are from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—not Mexico. Nearly 75,000 of the other people apprehended in 2016 were members of migrating families, mostly from the same three countries. Overall, Central Americans outnumbered Mexicans apprehended at the border in both 2014 and 2016. This reflects a trend showing fewer Mexicans and single adults illegally entering the Unaited States.

Migration from Central America is a reaction to pervasive violence and extreme poverty. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have some of the world’s highest murder rates, fueled by gangs and drug cartels. For children and families, conditions are terrifying. This drives desperate migration, both internally and externally to Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico and the United States. It is a regional issue.

Increasingly, climate change worsens existing problems. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters shows that, in the last four decades, Central America has experienced a tenfold increase in extreme heat, drought, forest fires, storms and floods. Among the most affected countries are Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, where millions today lack reliable food due to drought-related crop failures. The resulting migration to urban areas stresses already over-burdened housing, education and other services. It worsens gang violence, drug trafficking and corruption, forcing people to flee.

The changing climate threatens yet more instability for Central America. The region’s volcanic soils are prone to massive landslides from increasing storms, and millions of people live beside rising seas. Often, local economies and infrastructure are ill-prepared for disaster.

Evidence also suggests that climate change helped ignite today’s war in Syria. Extreme drought beginning in 2006 withered crops and drove people to cities already swollen with Iraqi refugees and political discontent. The root causes of the war are complex, but we cannot ignore indications that climate played a role, thus contributing to the migration crisis now straining Europe.

For more than a decade, stretching back to the George W. Bush presidency, the U.S. military has warned that climate change will increasingly contribute to unrest and drive potentially massive human migrations that threaten our national security. Similar warnings have come from the International Organization for Migration, the World Bank, the Government Accountability Office (which reports to the U.S. Congress) and the Department of Homeland Security.

Their warnings, and the reality of a refugee crisis in both Syria and at our own southern border, underscore the value of the Paris climate agreement, which Republicans are presently working to undermine. Aside from its impact on reducing carbon emissions, it also provides for climate-change adaptation in Central America and other vulnerable regions. The agreement represents an investment in social stability that can help to relieve immigration.

The last Congress under President Obama saw the value in addressing the seed causes of migration, appropriating $750 million in 2016 for Central American support and aid. Such actions were part of a smart immigration strategy that also included modernizing border security technology, disrupting criminal smuggling outfits, and clear enforcement priorities that greatly increased deportation of convicted criminals.

In contrast, the Trump administration’s broad crackdown on illegal immigrants in this country reeks of xenophobia and prejudice. These emotional reflexes that fuel cries for border walls or bans on Muslim immigrants don’t reflect ethical or realistic thinking. Denial of climate science is a similarly emotional and unhinged response to a complex issue.

As climate and immigration change our physical and cultural landscapes in entwined ways, we must demand rational, science-based responses, not walls or other bad ideas driven by fear.

Tim Lydon is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News, where this first appeared.

Published in Community Voices

The teams of President Trump’s temporary appointees who are laying the groundwork for taking over and remaking federal agencies refer to themselves as “beachheads” or “beachhead teams.”

That’s a military term for the point of invasion.

Politico reports there were approximately 520 members of such teams when Trump took the oath of office. In any presidential transition, there will be tensions between career civil servants and political appointees pushing a new president’s agenda—but according to experts on the matter, this administration’s use of the term may exacerbate those relations.

The term was offhandedly used in 2000 by George W. Bush’s incoming press secretary, Ari Fleischer. It was central to the language of Mitt Romney’s 2012 transition plan, which was provided to the Trump team. But its use here seems systematic, making many within various federal agencies feel they are being conquered.

“The language of war being used suggests that cooperation is not the primary philosophy dictating this transition period,” says professor Heath Brown, who studies presidential transitions at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “If the operating philosophy is one of combat rather than cooperation, then we’re in for some trouble with how these agencies are going to function on a day-to-day basis.”

Because the Trump team threw out Chris Christie’s transition plans and “started from scratch on Election Day,” Brown says, there is “a larger level of chaos in the past for an already chaotic process.”

Given the fact that Trump was a reality TV star, it is not surprising that communications is the main focus of these beachhead teams.

“(Trump’s people) want to control message in a lot of different ways, and for that reason, I think they have made that a priority,” Brown says. “The Trump transition team devoted a lot more staff resources to communications than transition teams in the past. … In the past, communications just hasn’t been a first priority.”

In 2009, Obama only had two communications people on his 13-member senior transition staff. In contrast, at least 10 of 23 staffers in Trump’s transition team served some communications function, Brown says.

In the process, they may well be changing what “communications” means—from informing the public, or even spinning the message, to something more like outright propaganda.

I uncovered a 1996 Cornell Daily Sun article about then-CNN analyst Kellyanne Conway that shows she has been thinking about media and manipulation for at least 20 years. The story paraphrases Conway (née Fitzpatrick) speaking to student groups about “manipulative media and political jargon.” In the talk, she also criticized people for “following what is decided by a few elite.”

A section of the article subtitled “Questions of Reality” notes: “In a generation where television and Internet images ‘bombard our senses,’ it is essential, according to Fitzpatrick, to realize that the soundbytes or visuals prepared by the evening news editors do not represent reality.”

Conway, the article reads, “applauded (Bill Clinton’s) ability to use the media to his advantage.”

While this shows that Conway’s obsession with controlling the media narrative is not new, it also underlines how she and her boss are pushing from the standard spin of ’90s-era Washington into the full-blown denial of reality in the age of Trump.

During the Trump campaign, Politifact found that only 4 percent of his claims could be considered entirely truthful. Some, including President Obama, naively thought the power of the presidency would curb, rather than increase, Trump’s tendency to lie. But thus far, truths remain merely occasional, and almost accidental.

On Jan. 21, during the first “unofficial” press conference of the new administration, press secretary Sean Spicer stood in front of reporters and repeatedly lied to the press about things that didn’t matter. It was pointless from any standard political means-ends perspective. (The Baltimore City Paper did a great job putting together the actual numbers.)

Later, in his first “official” press conference, Spicer said, “Sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

Between Spicer’s two statements, on the Sunday talk shows, Conway baptized Trump-speak with a succinct name: “alternative facts.” She also threatened to “rethink our relationship” with NBC if Meet the Press host Chuck Todd persisted in saying Spicer had lied.

A couple of days later, Trump advisor and Lenin wannabe Stephen Bannon called the press the “opposition party,” which, he said, should “keep its mouth shut.” Almost immediately after this, Trump gave Bannon a spot on the National Security Council.

The attacks on the press, however, are only part of a larger attack on facts themselves—attacks beginning, appropriately, with the communications-obsessed beachheads now inside federal agencies.

Trump ordered the EPA to freeze all of its grants, to take down the climate change section of its website, and to cease all communications with the press.

Then, according to an email obtained by BuzzFeed News, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research division prohibited employees, including scientists, from communicating or sharing information with the public. The USDA later lifted the gag order, saying that it was released “without departmental direction” and was not sent at the request of the Trump administration.

The Trump team also censored the Badlands National Park Twitter feed, deleting tweets mentioning climate change. In response, people claiming to be rangers created a Twitter account for the AltUsNatParkService, which tweeted that it was activated “in a time of war and censorship to ensure fact-based education.”

But information about climate change is not the only thing at risk—data, science, and research are being suppressed. And Trump’s congressional allies are all too happy to play along.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced bills this week that say “no federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.”

This racist bill, which would help maintain the kind of segregation affecting cities like Milwaukee, Baltimore and St. Louis, could still die in committee, but it is of a piece with Trump’s all-out War on Facts. Deprived of access to facts, citizens are incapable of making decisions. This is an essential feature of tyranny.

As an air of war prevails in Washington, using the term “beachhead” may, in fact, be among the small minority of things the Trump team is honest about.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney's, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. He is the author of the book Coffin Point: The Strange Cases of Ed McTeer, Witchdoctor Sheriff," about a white sheriff who used hoodoo to govern a largely black county for 37 years. He earned a doctorate in philosophy, focusing on ethics and tyranny and became a reporter in an attempt to live like Socrates. He wrote the libretto for Rhymes With Opera's climate-change opera film Adam's Run."

Published in Politics

If you conduct an online search of news stories with the keywords “Trump” and “climate change,” the results might give you reason to bury your head in the (tar) sand during the next four years:

“How the Trump Administration Could Gut NASA’s Climate Change Research,” read one Newsweek headline.

“What Does Trump Think About Climate Change? He Doesn’t Know Either,” announced The Atlantic.

And: “Without action on climate change, say goodbye to polar bears” — a Washington Post tearjerker.

According to reports like these, Trump is preparing for everything from a witch hunt against our government’s foremost climate scientists to de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency. But in the world of academia—where facts don’t bow to the short attention spans that dominate in the media—do California’s most level-headed researchers and earth-science experts respond to Trump’s ascension with similarly grabby quips? Are they as terrified by the nominations of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (for Department of Energy) and Scott Pruitt (for Environmental Protection Agency head, even though the former Oklahoma attorney general is suing the agency)?

We asked David M. Romps, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Berkeley and director of the school’s Atmospheric Sciences Center, if he thought there was grounds for this bevy of doomsday news flashes.

“In a sense, yes,” he replied. “I’m certainly frightened. There’s one data point for you.”

That data point? “There’s just not that much time to bend down that curb of emissions,” he explained, referring to the level of CO2 humans are spewing into the atmosphere.

Trump, of course, hasn’t implemented a lick of policy yet, and every expert interviewed for this story reiterated that they don’t want to guess how his administration will approach climate change. In the words of Hal Harvey, the CEO of San Francisco-based Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental policy firm, “one shouldn’t either be sanguine or suicidal” just yet.

That said, the cast of anti-climate change actors on the Trump transition team doesn’t inspire much confidence.

For instance, there’s Myron Ebell, tapped to lead Trump’s EPA changeover. Ebell runs an Astroturf outfit called the Center for Energy and Environment, and he masquerades as a sort of science-friendly, social-justice warrior, writing things like “abundant energy makes the world safer and the environment more livable,” and “affordable energy should be accessible to those who need it most, particularly the most vulnerable among us” on his group’s website. But his organization is mostly underwritten by the oil industry, and his modus operandi has always been to countervail legitimate climate research with smarmy deception.

Other Trump advisers hail from various outposts of the fossil fuel industry and its policy shops, including Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist and policy analyst for erstwhile majority whip Tom DeLay; Doug Domenech, a George W. Bush administration staffer turned pro-fossil-fuel advocate; and Bob Walker, who has gone on the record as wanting to eliminate all climate-science research at NASA. 

This is, of course, not to mention the more well-known anti-climate-science cronies, such as proposed Trump secretary of state and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, or Perry (who memorably said he wanted to disband the department he’s now poised to lead), or Pruitt (one of the foremost players in the resistance against the Obama administration’s energy policy).

“All of these people share a common thread,” explained professor Romps. Namely, they are employed by, work for, or operate a front organization at the behest of major oil and energy corporations.

“And, of course, the fossil-fuel industry has a strong agenda; that’s no longer a secret,” he added. Read: They’re about profits, not mitigation. Their game plan is to demolish Obama’s climate-change policy and profit off what remaining dead dinosaurs lay beneath the Earth’s surface.

So goes the collision course: Two opposing forces—one for saving the planet, the other for digging up and burning every last drop of oil and coal—with a scheduled face-off in a little more than a week at the White House. And the clock is, as they say, very much alive and ticking.

“Time is of the essence,” emphasized Harvey, who said he’s not one for fear-mongering, but he didn’t want to underestimate how costly it would be to stall out, or go in reverse, when it comes to climate and energy policy, during the next four years.

The positive news for environmentalists is that climate policy is complicated, often dictated by market forces beyond the Trump administration’s influence, and in many ways insulated by state’s rights and world movements.

For instance, if Trump pushes to cut off federal research-and-development money, there will be pushback. California’s wordsmithing governor Jerry Brown told a San Francisco audience last month that, “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” There you have it.

On the flip side, there are climate-action strategies and pacts scarily within the realm of Trump’s authority, such as the Paris Agreement, which was settled upon by nearly 200 nations. It went into effect just days before Trump’s election last November. The goals of the accord include limiting the rise of the average global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (right now, the world is nearing 1 degree), and focusing development on green industries and practices.

The Paris Agreement isn’t binding—it’s a name-and-shame type deal, sources explain—and Trump has hinted at abandoning the pact. This would mean that, while the rest of the world is adopting smarter climate policies, we’ll be discredited as an outlier nation.

Trump also carries influence over the EPA’s Clean Power Initiative, which is stuck in the courts, and fuel-efficiency efforts, an area where the nation has seen significant progress. He can revive and approve contentious pipeline infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL project, and de-regulate oil drilling and transport industries.

All of this will invariably grow carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, even while the rest of the world implements policy to keep CO2 levels at below 400-parts-per-million.

There’s also the concern that the Trump administration might slash already meager climate-science research dollars. For instance, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory falls under the purview of the Department of Energy—but if Gov. Perry nixes research-and-development funding for California …

“We spend more on potato chips in America than we do on energy R&D,” Harvey explained of science’s currently limited coffers.

Regardless of how well, or poorly, it’s funded, Paul Alivisatos, the vice chancellor of research at UC Berkeley, said that “historically, science has been strongly supported by both parties.”

He said he hopes to have “very productive discussions” with the new leadership in Washington, D.C., and he pointed out that this is a unique moment in time when “the science community is generating dramatic advances that do have an advantage of benefitting society at large,” such as electric cars, energy storage and affordable solar cells.

Romps agreed. “California potentially could step up to a new role here, and now it could really be the bastion of hope,” he said.

California indeed has a lot at stake. Both Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act passed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, and Senate Bill 32, which Brown inked last year, mandate greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions unequaled in the rest of the country (specifically, 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). Trump could, in theory, run interference against these ambitions, but his plate in D.C. will surely be brimming with controversy. He may not have time to throw a wrench into California’s climate innovation gears.

“The state can make decisions for how to incentivize” industry to meet these reduction goals, independent of the federal government, Romps said. “I think there’s a lot the state can continue to do locally.”

All the California experts agreed, however, that an uphill battle is education—something Trump can very easily stump, often with just 140 characters.

“The scientific understanding about what’s happening with climate and environment, and human activity, arises from a very deep level of understanding of climate, physics, earth science,” Alivisatos explained. “But clearly we have a lot of work to do, because so many citizens really don’t understand that science.”

Romps, who will teach the first-ever undergraduate introductory course on climate change at UC Berkeley next fall, said that he’s “fascinated” by the question as to why so few Americans relate to and comprehend the threat of climate change.

“But I would not pin this on a failure of the American people,” he added. “The American people are not dumb. They’re smart. But they get swayed by very intentional and deliberate campaigns to confuse people, and the scientists are naturally more reserved than that.”

Meanwhile, the frightening headlines keep appearing in our news feeds, and that climate-change clock keeps ticking. “It will scare the beejesus out of you,” Harvey said of the possibility of not progressing during the next four years. He argued that, to have a chance at achieving any meaningful emission-reduction mitigation, “you have to do pretty much everything pretty much right away.”

Right now, we’re just waiting for Jan. 20.

This piece originally appeared in the East Bay Express.

Published in Environment

Impose a Price on Carbon

This could occur in several ways. The revenue-neutral carbon fee has a great backbone of advocacy support. It would charge fossil fuel producers at the first point of sale, and the revenue would be distributed among the public. Prices of goods and services dependent on fossil fuels would go up, while people who buy less of those products and therefore contribute less to climate change would come out ahead. The revenue-neutral system’s one flaw, according to some, is that it doesn’t provide government with a new source of revenue for funding social systems that promote renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and other climate-focused measures. A cap-and-trade system, on the other hand, would fund public agencies while creating incentive for industries to pollute less. Republicans, however, tend to oppose cap and trade because it acts much like a tax on businesses that they argue will depress the economy.

Carbon Farming

Agriculture has been one of the greatest overall emitters of atmospheric carbon. Now, agriculture must play a role in reversing the damage done to the planet—and it’s theoretically a simple task: When plants grow, they draw carbon into their own mass and into the soil. All that a farmer needs to do is keep that carbon there. By planting long-standing trees and perennial row crops, farmers and other land managers have the power to sequester a great deal of the carbon dioxide that has been emitted into the atmosphere. In the process of slowing climate change, soils will become richer and healthier, with more natural productivity and greater water retention properties than depleted soils.

Redesign Our Cities

Urban areas are responsible for more than half of America’s carbon footprint, by some estimates. The role of cities in driving climate change can be largely offset by turning linear material and waste streams—like water inputs—into circular loops that recycle precious resources. Jonathan F.P. Rose, author of The Well-Tempered City, says 98 percent of material resources that enter a city leave again, mostly as waste, within six months. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings would be one very significant way to reduce a city’s carbon footprint. Upgrading transit systems and making streets more compatible with zero-emission transportation, like walking and riding a bicycle, would also cut emissions.

Shift to Renewable Energy

This is a big one that has to be tackled, and it will mean fighting the powerful petroleum lobby. Generating electricity currently produces 30 percent of our greenhouse-gas emissions, the single largest source by sector in the country, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. However, Donald Trump has promised to revive the American coal industry and tap into domestic reserves of natural gas and oil—quite the opposite of developing renewable energy technology.

Strive for Low- to Zero-Emission Transportation

Driving your car—one of the most symbolic expressions of American freedom—contributes significantly to climate change. Transport accounts for 26 percent of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions, says the Environmental Protection Agency. More than half of this total comes from private vehicles. Airplanes, ships and trains produce most of the rest. Against the will of the petroleum industry, national leaders must continue pressing for more efficient vehicles, as well as electric ones powered by clean electricity.

Make Homes More Efficient

A single pilot light produces about a half-ton of carbon dioxide per year, according to Peter Kalmus, author of the forthcoming book Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution. That is just one example of how households contribute to climate change. According to the EPA, commercial and residential spaces produce 12 percent of the nation’s greenhouse-gas emissions. In his book, Kalmus discusses how and why he took simple but meaningful action that reduced his carbon dioxide emissions from about 20 tons per year to just two.

See also:

Crisis Coming: Battling Climate Change in the Trump Era Won't be Easy—but It's Vital

California's Disappearing Dream: How Climate Change and a Booming Population Continue to Shape Our Environmental Future

Published in Environment

The highest mountains in the West run north-to-south through the Mediterranean latitudes and just 150 miles from the Pacific Ocean—a remarkable stroke of geologic luck that has made California one of the richest ecological and agricultural regions on the continent. 

These mountains accumulate deep snow in the winter, which in turn feeds cold rivers that flow through the hot, dry months. But the unique conditions that California’s native fish, its farms and its cities depend on are acutely threatened by climate change. In 2015, virtually no snow fell in the Sierra Nevada.

Droughts occur naturally, but research indicates the current drought in the American West has been made worse by climate change—and that future droughts will be exacerbated by the warming planet. A 2015 paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters calculated that climate change has made California’s current drought as much as 27 percent worse than it would otherwise have been. In 2015, Stanford researchers, led by associate professor of earth sciences Noah Diffenbaugh, predicted that extremely hot years in California will increasingly overlap with dry spells in the future. Greenhouse gases, the scientists reported, are pushing this trend. Diffenbaugh explained to The New York Times that, even if precipitation remains ample, warmer winters in the future will mean less water stored away as snow—historically the most important reservoir in the state.

As water supplies shrink, the human population is booming. By 2050, the agencies that manage and distribute California’s water will be answering to the needs of roughly 50-60 million people as well as the state’s enormous agriculture industry. Current squabbles over California’s water will escalate into blistering fights, and native salmon—once the main protein source for the West Coast’s indigenous people—will probably vanish in the fray as the Sacramento and San Joaquin river system is tapped to the max for human needs. Other native fishes, too, like green sturgeon, will almost certainly dwindle or disappear. 

The atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases will manifest in other ways, too. Disruption of ocean currents could reduce the upwelling of cold bottom water so critical for California’s coastal ecosystem. California’s shoreline will erode as the sea level rises, threatening coastal real estate, roads and public space. In 2009, the Pacific Institute released a report predicting that a 100-year flood combined with a 5-foot rise in sea level could cause more than $100 billion in damage, most of it in the San Francisco Bay area.

Californians are as much to blame for climate change as nearly any other comparable economy. In 2013, California generated 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution—more than every other state except Texas, which emitted more than 600 million. Most of California’s emissions came from burning petroleum, and more than half could be linked directly to transportation—mostly private vehicles. Globally, the United States’ 324 million residents generate more carbon dioxide from fossil fuels than every other nation but China. Even all the nations of the European Union emit just 60 percent as much CO2 as Americans do, in spite of outnumbering Americans by almost 200 million. 

California has responded to the alarms of climate researchers with aggressive emissions goals. Assembly Bill 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions rates to 1990 levels by 2020. More recently, the California Assembly passed Senate Bill 32, which extends some of the targets of AB32 to 2030, at which point the new law requires California to be emitting 40 percent less greenhouse gases than it was in 1990.

These goals will likely prompt shifts to renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, a carbon fee, more walking and cycling in place of driving, and adoption of clean energy. If other governments follow suit, rates of global warming could be slowed or stopped.

If business continues as usual, though, Californians will reap what we sow.

See also:

Crisis Coming: Battling Climate Change in the Trump Era Won’t be Easy—but It’s Vital

A Call to Action: Six Things Leaders Must Prioritize To Address Climate Change

Published in Environment

If President-elect Donald Trump actually believes all the warnings he issued during the election about the threats of immigration, he should be talking about ways to slow global warming as well.

Rising sea levels, caused by the melting of the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps, will probably displace tens of millions of people in the decades ahead, and many may come to North America as refugees.

Climate change will cause a suite of other problems for future generations to tackle—and it’s arguably the most pressing issue of our time.

A year ago in December, world leaders gathered in Paris to discuss strategies for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, and scientists at every corner of the globe confirm that humans are facing a crisis. However, climate change is being basically ignored by American politicians and lawmakers. It was not discussed in depth at all during this past election cycle’s televised presidential debates—and when climate change does break the surface of public discussion, it polarizes Americans like almost no other political issue.

Some conservatives, including President-elect Trump, still deny there’s even a problem.

“We are in this bizarre political state in which most of the Republican Party still thinks it has to pretend that climate change is not real,” said Jonathan F.P. Rose, a New York City developer and author of The Well-Tempered City, which explores in part how low-cost green development can mitigate the impacts of rising global temperatures and changing weather patterns.

Rose says progress cannot be made in drafting effective climate strategies until national leaders agree there’s an issue.

“We have such strong scientific evidence,” he said. “We can disagree on how we’re going to solve the problems, but I would hope we could move toward an agreement on the basic facts.”

That such a serious planetwide crisis has become a divide across the American political battlefield “is a tragedy” to Peter Kalmus, an earth scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, who agreed to be interviewed for this story on his own behalf (in other words, not on behalf of NASA, JPL or Caltech). Kalmus warns that climate change is happening whether politicians want to talk about it or not.

“CO2 molecules and infrared photons don’t give a crap about politics, whether you’re liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat or anything else,” Kalmus said.

Slowing climate change will be essential, since adapting to all its impacts may be impossible. Governments must strive for greater resource efficiency, shift to renewable energy and transition from conventional to more sustainable agricultural practices.

America’s leaders must also implement a carbon-pricing system, climate activists say, that places a financial burden on fossil-fuel producers and reduces greenhouse-gas emissions. But there may be little to zero hope that such a system will be installed at the federal level as Trump prepares to move into the White House. Trump has actually threatened to reverse any commitments the United States agreed to in Paris. According to widely circulating reports, Trump has even selected a well-known skeptic of climate change, Myron Ebell, to head his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Ebell is the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Steve Valk, communications director for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, says the results of the presidential election come as a discouraging setback in the campaign to slow emissions and global warming.

“There’s no doubt that the steep hill we’ve been climbing just became a sheer cliff,” he said. “But cliffs are scalable.”

Valk says the American public must demand that Congress implement carbon pricing. He says the government is not likely to face and attack climate change unless voters force them to.

“The solution is going to have to come from the people,” he said. “Our politicians have shown that they’re just not ready to implement a solution on their own.”


After Paris

There is no question the Earth is warming rapidly, and already, this upward temperature trend is having impacts.

It is disrupting agriculture. Glacial water sources are vanishing. Storms and droughts are becoming more severe. Altered winds and ocean currents are impacting marine ecosystems. So is ocean acidification, another outcome of carbon dioxide emissions. The sea is rising and eventually will swamp large coastal regions and islands. As many as 200 million people could be displaced by 2050. For several years in a row now, each year has been warmer than any year prior in recorded temperature records, and by 2100, it may be too hot for people to permanently live in the Persian Gulf.

World leaders and climate activists made groundbreaking progress toward slowing these effects at the Paris climate conference. Leaders from 195 countries drafted a plan of action to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions and steer the planet off its predicted course of warming. The pact, which addresses energy, transportation, industries and agriculture— and which asks leaders to regularly upgrade their climate policies—is intended to keep the planet from warming by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit between pre-industrial years and the end of this century. Scientists have forecasted that an average global increase of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit will have devastating consequences for humanity.

The United States pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent from 2005 levels within a decade. China, Japan and nations of the European Union made similar promises. More recently, almost 200 nations agreed to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, extremely potent but short-lived greenhouse gases emitted by refrigerators and air conditioners, and reduce the emissions from the shipping and aviation industries.

But in the wake of such promising international progress—and as 2016 draws to a close as the third record warm year in a row—many climate activists are disconcerted both by United States leaders’ recent silence on the issue and by the outcome of the presidential election. Mark Sabbatini, editor of the newspaper Icepeople in Svalbard, Norway, believes shortsighted political scheming has pushed climate change action to the back burner. He wants to see politicians start listening to scientists.

“But industry folks donate money, and scientists get shoved aside in the interest of profits and re-election,” said Sabbatini, who recently had to evacuate his apartment as unprecedented temperatures thawed out the entire region’s permafrost, threatening to collapse buildings.

Short-term goals and immediate financial concerns distract leaders from making meaningful policy advances on climate.

“In Congress, they look two years ahead,” Sabbatini said. “In the Senate, they look six years ahead. In the White House, they look four years ahead.”

The 300 nationwide chapters of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby are calling on local governments and chambers of commerce across America to voice support for a revenue-neutral carbon fee. The hope is that leaders in Congress will hear the demands of the people. This carbon fee would impose a charge on producers of oil, natural gas and coal. As a direct result, all products and services that depend on or directly utilize those fossil fuels would cost more for consumers, who would be incentivized to buy less. Food shipped in from far away would cost more than locally grown alternatives. Gas for heating, electricity generated by oil and coal, and driving a car would become more expensive.

“Bicycling would become more attractive, and so would electric cars and home appliances that use less energy,” said Kalmus, an advocate of the revenue-neutral carbon fee.

Promoting this fee system is essentially the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s entire focus.

“This would be the most important step we take toward addressing climate change,” Valk said.

In the carbon fee system, the revenue from fossil-fuel producers would be evenly distributed by the collecting agencies among the public, perhaps via a tax credit. Recycling the dividends back into society would make it a fair system, Valk explains, since poorer people, who tend to use less energy than wealthier people to begin with and are therefore less to blame for climate change, would come out ahead.

The system would also place a tariff on incoming goods from nations without a carbon fee. This would keep American industries from moving overseas and maybe even prompt other nations to set their own price on carbon.

But there’s a problem with the revenue-neutral carbon fee, according to other climate activists: It doesn’t support social programs that may be aimed at reducing society’s carbon footprint.

“It will put no money into programs that serve disadvantaged communities who, for example, might not be able to afford weatherizing their home and lowering their energy bill, or afford an electric vehicle or a solar panel,” said Renata Brillinger, executive director of the California Climate and Agriculture Network. “It doesn’t give anything to public schools for making the buildings more energy efficient, and it wouldn’t give any money to farmers’ incentive programs for soil building.”

Brillinger’s organization is advocating for farmers to adopt practices that actively draw carbon out of the atmosphere, like planting trees and maintaining ground cover to prevent erosion. Funding, she says, is needed to support such farmers, who may go through transitional periods of reduced yields and increased costs. California’s cap-and-trade system sets up an ample revenue stream for this purpose that a revenue-neutral system does not, according to Brillinger.

But Valk says establishing a carbon pricing system must take into account the notorious reluctance of conservatives in Congress.

“You aren’t going to get a single Republican in Congress to support legislation unless it’s revenue-neutral,” he said. “Any policy is useless if you can’t pass it in Congress.”


Sequestering the Farm

In Washington, D.C., the nation’s leaders continue tussling over popular issues like immigration, taxes, healthcare, abortion, guns and foreign affairs.

Climate-change activists wish they would be thinking more about soil. That’s because stopping greenhouse gas emissions alone will not stop climate change. The carbon dioxide emitted through centuries of industrial activity will continue to drive warming unless it is removed from the air and put somewhere.

“There are only three places carbon can go,” Brillinger said. “It can go into the atmosphere, where we don’t want it; into the ocean, where we also don’t want it because it causes acidification; or into soil and woody plants, where we do want it. Carbon is the backbone of all forests and is a critical nutrient of soil.”

But most of the Earth’s soil carbon has been lost to the atmosphere, causing a spike in atmospheric carbon. In the 1700s, the Earth’s atmosphere contained less than 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide, according to scientists. Now, we are at more than 400 and counting. Climate experts generally agree that the atmospheric carbon level must be reduced to 350 or less if we are to keep at bay the most disastrous possible impacts of warming.

This is why farmers and the soil they work will be so important in mitigating climate change. By employing certain practices and abandoning other ones, farmers and ranchers can turn acreage into valuable carbon sinks—a general agricultural approach often referred to as “carbon farming.”

Conventional agriculture practices tend to emit carbon dioxide. Regular tilling of the soil, for example, causes soil carbon to bond with oxygen and float away as carbon dioxide. Tilling also causes erosion, as do deforestation and overgrazing. With erosion, soil carbon enters waterways, creating carbonic acid—the direct culprit of ocean acidification. Researchers have estimated that unsustainable farming practices have caused as much as 80 percent of the world’s soil carbon to turn into carbon dioxide.

By carbon farming, those who produce the world’s food can simultaneously turn their land into precious carbon sinks. The basic tenets of carbon farming include growing trees as windbreaks and focusing on perennial crops, like fruit trees and certain specialty grain varieties, which demand less tilling and disturbance of the soil.

Eric Toensmeier, a senior fellow with the climate advocacy group Project Drawdown and the author of The Carbon Farming Solution, says many other countries are far ahead of the United States in both recognizing the importance of soil as a place to store carbon and funding programs that help conventional farmers shift toward carbon-farming practices. France, for instance, initiated a sophisticated program in 2011 that calls for increasing soil carbon worldwide by 0.4 percent every year. Healthy soil can contain 10 percent carbon or more, and France’s program has the potential over time to decelerate the increase in atmospheric carbon levels.

Toensmeier is optimistic about the progress being made in the United States, too. The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds programs that support environmentally friendly farming practices that protect watersheds or enhance wildlife habitat, largely through planting perennial grasses and trees.

“And it turns out a lot of the practices they’re paying farmers to do to protect water quality or slow erosion also happen to sequester carbon,” Toensmeier said.

He says it appears obvious that the federal government is establishing a system by which they will eventually pay farmers directly to sequester carbon. Such a direct faceoff with climate change, however, may be a few years away.

Climate activists may even need to wait until 2021.

“First, we need a president who acknowledges that climate change exists,” Toensmeier said.


National Politics and City Reform

Climate-reform advocates still talk about Bernie Sanders’ fiery attack on fracking as a source of global warming in the May primary debate with Hillary Clinton.

“If we don’t get our act together, this planet could be 5 to 10 degrees warmer by the end of this century,” Sanders said then. “Cataclysmic problems for this planet. This is a national crisis.”

Sanders was not exaggerating. The Earth has already warmed by 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, and it’s getting hotter. Even with the advances made in Paris, the world remains on track to be 6.1 degrees Fahrenheit warmer by 2100 than it was in pre-industrial times, according to a United Nations emissions report released in early November. The authors of another paper published in January in the journal Nature predicted temperatures will rise as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

In light of the scientific consensus, conservatives’ denial of climate change looks childish at best, and dangerous at worst. In low-lying Florida, so vulnerable to the rising sea, an unofficial policy from its Republican leadership has effectively muzzled state employees from even mentioning “climate change” and “global warming” in official reports and communications. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz suggested NASA focus its research less on climate change and more on space exploration, according to The Christian Science Monitor.

Most frightening of all, perhaps, is the incoming American president’s stance on the matter: Trump said in a 2012 tweet that global warming is a Chinese hoax. In January 2014, during a brief spell of cold weather, he asked via Twitter, “Is our country still spending money on the GLOBAL WARMING HOAX?”

While most of the rest of the world remains poised to advance emissions reductions goals, Trump is aiming in a different direction. The Trump-Pence website vows to “unleash America’s $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves.” His webpage concerning energy goals only mentions reducing emissions once, and it makes no mention of climate change or renewable energy.

While meaningful action at the federal level is probably years away, at the local level, progress is coming—even in communities led by Republicans, according to Rose. That, he says, is because local politicians face a level of accountability from which national leaders are often shielded.

“At the city level, mayors have to deliver real results,” Rose said. “They have to protect their residents and make wise investments on behalf of their residents. The residents see what they’re doing and hold them accountable.”

Restructuring and modifying our cities, which are responsible for about half of America’s carbon footprint, “will be critical toward dealing with climate change,” Rose said.

“On the coast, we’ll have sea-level rise,” he said. “Inland, we’ll have flooding and heat waves. Heat waves cause more deaths than hurricanes.”

Simply integrating nature into city infrastructure is a very low-cost but effective means for countering the changes that are coming, Rose says. Many cities, for example, are planting thousands of street trees. Trees draw in atmospheric carbon as they grow and, through shade and evaporative cooling effects, can significantly reduce surface temperatures by as much as 6 degrees Fahrenheit in some circumstances, Rose says.

Laws and policies that take aim at reduced emissions targets can be very efficient tools for generating change across entire communities. However, Kalmus believes it’s important that individuals, too, reduce their own emissions through voluntary behavior changes, rather than simply waiting for change to come from leaders and lawmakers.

“If you care about climate change, it will make you happier,” he said. “It makes you feel like you’re pioneering a new way to live. For others, you’re the person who is showing the path and making them realize it’s not as crazy as it seems.”

Kalmus, who lives in Altadena, Calif., with his wife and two sons, has radically overhauled his lifestyle to reduce his carbon footprint. Since 2010, he has cut his own emissions by a factor of 10—from 20 tons per year to just 2, by his own estimates. This personal transformation is the subject of his forthcoming book, Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, due out in 2017.

Kalmus rides a bike most places, eats mostly locally grown food, raises some food in his own yard, has stopped eating meat, and—one of the most important changes—has all but quit flying places.

He hopes to serve as a model and help spark a transition to an economy that does not depend on constant growth, as ours currently does. One day, he believes, it will be socially unacceptable to burn fossil fuel, just as it’s become shunned to waste water in drought-dried California. The oil industry will eventually become obsolete.

“We need to transition to an economy that doesn’t depend on unending growth,” Kalmus said.

Unless we slow our carbon emissions and our population growth now, depletion of resources, he warns, will catch up with us.

“We need to shift to a steady-state economy and a steady-state population,” he said. “Fossil-fueled civilization cannot continue forever.”

Though Americans will soon have as president a man who is essentially advocating for climate change, Valk, at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, expects time—and warming—to shift voter perspectives.

“As more and more people are personally affected by climate change, like those recently flooded out in Louisiana and North Carolina, people of all political persuasions will see that acting on climate change is not a matter of partisan preferences, but a matter of survival,” he said.

See also:

California’s Disappearing Dream: How Climate Change and a Booming Population Continue to Shape Our Environmental Future

A Call to Action: Six Things Leaders Must Prioritize To Address Climate Change

Published in Environment

Throughout its 40-year history, Project Censored has covered a lot of ground that the corporate mainstream media has missed.

Begun by Carl Jensen, a sociology professor at California’s Sonoma State University shortly after Watergate in 1976, it’s become an institution involving dozens of faculty members and institutions working together to come up with an annual list of the Top 25 Censored Stories of the Year.

The Watergate burglary in June 1972 “sparked one of the biggest political cover-ups in modern history,” Jensen later recalled. “And the press was an unwitting, if willing participant in the coverup.”

“Watergate taught us two important lessons about the press: First, the news media sometimes do fail to cover some important issues, and second, the news media sometimes indulge in self-censorship,” he said.

As with the Watergate story, these Project Censored stories aren’t censored in the overt, heavy-handed manner of an authoritarian dictatorship, but in the often more effective manner reflecting our society―an oligarchy with highly centralized economic power pretending to be a “free marketplace of ideas.”

The missing stories concern vital subjects central to the healthy functioning of our democracy—which is precisely why Project Censored is essential.

This year, 221 students and 33 faculty members from 18 college and university campuses across the United States and Canada were involved. A panel of 28 judges including of media studies professors, professional journalists and even a former commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission also participated.

Project Censored has always dealt with specific stories, but on anniversaries like this one, the larger patterns those stories fit within are impossible to ignore. Economic inequality, global warming, petro-politics, the suppression of health science, government spying, the corporate influence on government—these are all familiar themes that appear again on this year’s list.

Jensen began the preface to Project Censored’s 20th-anniversary edition with the story of how John F. Kennedy killed a detailed New York Times story blowing the whistle on the planned invasion of Cuba. A shrunken, muted version ran in its place. Afterward, Kennedy told a Times editor, “If you had printed more about the operation, you could have saved us from a colossal mistake.” Interestingly this year’s No.1 censored story is a direct descendent of the story JFK wished he hadn’t managed to kill.


1. U.S. Military Forces Deployed in 70 Percent of World’s Nations

The covert exercise of U.S. military power is a recurrent subject of Project Censored stories. This year’s top censored story joins that long tradition. It deals with the massive expansion in the number of countries where the War on Terror is now being waged by U.S. Special Operations Forces—147 of the world’s 195 recognized nations, an 80 percent increase since 2010. This includes a dramatic expansion in Africa.

The majority of the activity is in “training missions,” meaning that this expansion is promoting a coordinated worldwide intensification of conflict, unseen at home, but felt all around the globe. Writing for TomDispatch, The Nation and The Intercept, Nick Turse exposed different aspects of this story and its implications.

Turse’s story for The Intercept focused on the development of a single base, Chabelley Airfield, in the East African nation of Djibouti. It’s an “out-of-the-way outpost” transformed into “a key hub for its secret war … in Africa and the Middle East.”

In The Nation, Turse tackled the question of mission success. Project Censored noted: “Turse (had) reported skepticism from a number of experts in response to this question, pointing out that ‘impacts are not the same as successes.’”

In Vietnam, body counts were mistaken for signs of success.

“Today, tallying up the number of countries in which Special Operations forces are present repeats this error,” Vietnam veteran and author Andrew Bacevich told Turse.

Sources:

Turse, Nick, “A Secret War in 135 Countries,” Tomdispatch.

Turse, Nick, “The Stealth Expansion of a Secret U.S. Drone Base in Africa,” Intercept.

Turse, Nick, “American Special Operations Forces Have a Very Funny Definition of Success,” The Nation.


2. Crisis in Evidence-Based Medicine

The role of science in improving human health has been one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but the profit-oriented influence of the pharmaceutical industry has created a crisis situation: Research simply cannot be trusted.

Burying truth for profit is a recurrent theme for Project Censored. The top 1981 story concerned fraudulent testing from a single lab responsible for one-third of the toxicity and cancer testing of chemicals in America. But this problem is much more profound.

“Something has gone fundamentally wrong,” said Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, commenting on a UK symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research:

Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. … The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming.

Horton’s conclusion echoed Marcia Angell, a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, who went public in 2009.

A classic case was Study 329 in 2001, which reported that paroxetine (Paxil in the United States, Seroxat in the United Kingdom) was safe and effective for treating depressed children and adolescents, leading doctors to prescribe Paxil to more than 2 million U.S. children and adolescents by the end of 2002—before the pill’s effects were called into question. The company responsible (now GlaxoSmithKline) agreed to pay $3 billion in 2012, the “largest health-care fraud settlement in U.S. history,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nonetheless, the study has not been retracted or corrected, and “none of the authors have been disciplined,” Project Censored points out. This, despite a major reanalysis which “‘starkly’ contradicted the original report’s claims.” The reanalysis was seen as the first major success of a new open data initiative known as Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials.

While Project Censored noted one Washington Post story on the reanalysis, there was only passing mention of the open data movement. “Otherwise, the corporate press ignored the reassessment of the paroxetine study,” and beyond that, “Richard Horton’s Lancet editorial received no coverage in the U.S. corporate press.”

Sources:

Lancet 385, no. 9976.

Cooper, Charlie, “Anti-Depressant Was Given to Millions of Young People ‘After Trials Showed It Was Dangerous,’” The Independent.

Boseley, Sarah, “Seroxat Study Under-Reported Harmful Effects on Young People, Say Scientists,” The Guardian.


3. Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels Threaten to Permanently Disrupt Vital Ocean Bacteria

Global warming is a recurrent Project Censored subject. Systemic changes associated with global warming threaten human welfare and all life on Earth through a multitude of different pathways. These remain largely hidden from public view.

One potential pathway —directly dependent on carbon, not temperature—is through the catastrophic overproduction of Trichodesmium bacteria, which could devastate the entire marine food chain in some regions. It lives in nutrient-poor parts of the ocean, where it fixes atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, an essential nutrient for other organisms—from algae to whales.

A five-year study by researchers at the University of Southern California and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that subjecting hundreds of generations of the bacteria to predicted CO2 levels in the year 2100 caused them to evolve into “reproductive overdrive,” growing faster and producing 50 percent more nitrogen.

As a result, they could consume significant quantities of scarce nutrients, such as iron and phosphorus, depriving the ability of other organisms to survive. Or the Trichodesmium bacteria could drive themselves into extinction, depriving other organisms of the ammonium they need to survive.

“Most significantly, the researchers found that even when the bacteria were returned to lower, present-day levels of carbon dioxide. Trichodesmium remained ‘stuck in the fast lane,’” Project Censored noted, a finding that one researcher described as “unprecedented in evolutionary biology.”

Sources:

Perkins, Robert, “Climate Change Will Irreversibly Force Key Ocean Bacteria into Overdrive,” USC News.

Howard, Emma, “Climate Change Will Alter Ocean Bacteria Crucial to Food Chain—Study,” The Guardian.


4. Search Engine Algorithms and Electronic Voting Machines Could Swing 2016 Election

Social media has played an important role in recent social movements, from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter—but technology can potentially undermine democracy as well as empower it.

In particular, search engine algorithms and electronic voting machines provide opportunities for the manipulation of voters and votes, which could profoundly affect the 2016 election.

Mark Frary, in Index on Censorship, describes the latest research by Robert Epstein and Ronald E. Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology on what they call the Search Engine Manipulation Effect, or SEME.

Their study of more than 4,500 undecided voters in the United States and India showed that biased search rankings “could shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more” and “could be masked so that people show no awareness of the manipulation.”

In an earlier article for Politico, Epstein wrote that the Search Engine Manipulation Effect “turns out to be one of the largest behavioral effects ever discovered. … We believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.”

Because courts have ruled that source code is proprietary, private companies that own electronic voting machines are essentially immune to transparent public oversight, as Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis documented.

In 2016, about 80 percent of the U.S. electorate will vote using outdated electronic voting machines that rely on proprietary software from private corporations, according to a September 2015 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.

The study identified “increased failures and crashes, which can lead to long lines and lost votes” as the “biggest risk” of outdated voting equipment, while noting that older machines also have “serious security and reliability flaws that are unacceptable today.”

“From a security perspective, old software is riskier, because new methods of attack are constantly being developed, and older software is likely to be vulnerable,” Jeremy Epstein of the National Science Foundation noted.

On Democracy Now! and elsewhere, Wasserman and Fitrakis have advocated universal, hand-counted paper ballots and automatic voter registration as part of their “Ohio Plan” to restore electoral integrity.

While there has been some corporate media coverage of Epstein and Robertson’s research, the transparency and reliability advantages of returning to paper ballots remain virtually unexplored and under-discussed.

Sources:

Epstein, Robert, “How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election,” Politico.

Frary, Mark, “Whose World Are You Watching? The Secret Algorithms Controlling the News We See,” Index on Censorship 44, No. 4.

Norden, Lawrence and Famighetti, Christopher, America’s Voting Machines at Risk, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law.

Harvey Wasserman interview by Goodman, Amy, “Could the 2016 Election be Stolen With Help From Electronic Voting Machines?” Democracy Now!

Fitrakis, Bob and Wasserman, Harvey, “Is the 2016 Election Already Being Stripped and Flipped?” Free Press.


5. Corporate Exploitation of Global Refugee Crisis Masked as Humanitarianism

The world is experiencing a global refugee crisis (60 million worldwide, according to a June 2015 report—11.5 million of them Syrian). This has been covered in the corporate media—though not nearly enough to generate an appropriate response. What hasn’t been covered is the increasingly well-organized exploitation of refugees, particularly those displaced in Syria.

An Alternet article by Sarah Lazare warned of the World Bank’s private enterprise solution to the Syrian displacement crisis.

“Under the guise of humanitarian aid, the World Bank is enticing Western companies to launch ‘new investments’ in Jordan in order to profit from the labor of stranded Syrian refugees,” Lazare wrote. “In a country where migrant workers have faced forced servitude, torture and wage theft, there is reason to be concerned that this capital-intensive ‘solution’ to the mounting crisis of displacement will establish sweatshops that specifically target war refugees for hyper-exploitation.”

A World Bank press release touted “the creation of special economic zones or SEZs,” but Project Censored noted: “Myriam Francois, a journalist and research associate at SOAS, The School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, told Lazare that the development of SEZs in Jordan ‘will change refugee camps from emergency and temporary responses to a crisis, to much more permanent settlements.’”

The SEZ proposals, Francois said, are “less about Syrian needs and more about keeping Syrian refugees out of Europe by creating (barely) sustainable conditions within the camps, which would then make claims to asylum much harder to recognize.”

Another story, by Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report, described a related agreement between Turkey and the European Union to keep millions of refugees from entering Europe as “a deal between devils,” adding that Turkey has “cashed in on the people it has helped make homeless.”

In addition to the $3.3 billion in EU money, Project Censored noted, Turkey has also sought admission to the European Union, and, with this, the right for 75 million Turks to enter Europe without visa restrictions as a condition for controlling its refugee population.

Thus, according to Ford, Turkey has engaged in a “vast protections racket trap,” effectively agreeing to protect Europe from further incursions by “the formerly colonized peoples whose labor and lands have fattened Europe and its white settler states for half a millennium.”

“Europeans will never accept Turkey into the fold, because it is Muslim and not-quite-white,” Ford concluded.

Sources:

Lazare, Sarah, “World Bank Woos Western Corporations to Profit From Labor of Stranded Syrian Refugees,” AlterNet.

Ford, Glen, “Turkey and Europe: Human Trafficking on a Scale Not Seen Since the Atlantic Slave Trade,” Black Agenda Radio, Black Agenda Report.


6. More than 1.5 Million American Families Live on $2 Per Person, Per Day

Even the working poor receive scant attention, but those living in deep poverty—less than $2 per day—are almost entirely absent from media coverage.

Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, sociologists and authors of the book $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, state that in 2011, more than 1.5 million U.S. families—including 3 million children—lived in deep poverty in any given month.

Their depiction of what poverty looks like reads “like a Dickens novel,” Marcus Harrison Green wrote in YES! Magazine, Project Censored noted, while in The Atlantic, economist Jared Bernstein noted that the research highlights the problematic long-term consequences of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform initiative, with its “insistence on work without regard to job availability.”

Project Censored notes that Edin and Shaefer proposed three policy changes to address extreme poverty in the United States:

First, policy must start by “expanding work opportunities” for those at the very bottom of society.

Second, policy must address housing instability, which Shaefer described as both a cause and a consequence of extreme poverty: “Parents should be able to raise their children in a place of their own.”

Third, families must be insured against extreme poverty, even when parents are not able to work.

William Julius Wilson, a leading sociologist in the study of poverty, described their book as “an essential call to action,” in a New York Times book review—but this was a rare bit of recognition in the corporate press.

Sources:

Green, Marcus Harrison, “1.5 Million American Families Live on $2 a Day—These Authors Spent Years Finding Out Why,” YES! Magazine.

Bernstein, Jared, “America’s Poorest Are Getting Virtually No Assistance,” The Atlantic.


7. No End in Sight for Fukushima Disaster

More than five years after the Fukushima nuclear power plant was destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the nuclear disaster continues to unfold, with the ongoing release of large quantities of radioactive waste water into the Pacific Ocean, which is in turn affecting ocean life through “biological magnification.”

Meanwhile the Japanese government has relaxed radiation limits in support of its efforts to return the refugee population—a move that younger people, prime working-age taxpayers, are resisting.

Project Censored cites a media analysis by sociologist Celine-Marie Pascale of American University. Pascale, covering more than 2,100 articles, editorials and letters to the editor on Fukushima in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Politico, and the Huffington Post between March 11, 2011 and March 11, 2013, focused on two basic questions: “Risk for whom?” and “from what?

She found that just 6 percent of articles reported on risk to the general public, and most of those “significantly discounted those risks.” She concluded: “The largest and longest lasting nuclear disaster of our time was routinely and consistently reported as being of little consequence to people, food supplies or environments. … In short, the media coverage was premised on misinformation, the minimization of public health risks, and the exacerbation of uncertainties.”

In contrast, Dahr Jamail’s reporting for Truthout pointed out that the cooling process—still ongoing after 5 years—has produced “hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of tons” of highly radioactive water, much of which has been released into the Pacific Ocean. Such nuclear disasters “never end,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, told Jamail.

Project Censored also cited Linda Pentz Gunter, writing for the Ecologist about the Japanese government’s ongoing coverup.

“In order to proclaim the Fukushima area ‘safe,’ the government increased exposure limits to 20 times the international norm,” Gunter wrote, in order to force refugees to return home, despite medical or scientific evidence to the contrary.

Sources:

Jamail, Dahr, “Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Leaking Into the Pacific,” Truthout.

Pentz Gunter, Linda, “No Bliss in This Ignorance: The Great Fukushima Nuclear Cover-Up,” The EDcologist.

Pascale, Celine-Marie, “Vernacular Epistemologies of Risk: The Crisis in Fukushima,” Current Sociology.


8. Syria’s War Spurred by Contest for Gas Delivery to Europe, Not Muslim Sectarianism

The Syrian war and its resulting refugee crisis have repeatedly gained headlines over the past five years, but the origin of the conflict—the control of oil—is rarely considered. The hidden influence of oil—from climate change to campaign finance and corporate lobbying to foreign policy—has been a recurrent subject of Project Censored stories.

Project Censored cites a single September 2015 story by Mnar Muhawesh for MintPress News, but that story cites others as well, notably an August 2013 story in The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed.

“The 2011 uprisings, it would seem―triggered by a confluence of domestic energy shortages and climate-induced droughts which led to massive food price hikes―came at an opportune moment that was quickly exploited,” Ahmed wrote, as part of a broader strategy to undermine governments in the region, as well as manipulate social movements and armed factions for the purpose of maintaining control of oil and gas.

Muhawesh and Ahmed both point, in particular, to President Bashar al-Assad’s choice between competing pipeline proposals. He refused to sign a proposed agreement for a pipeline from Qatar’s North field through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey in 2009, because it would have hurt his ally, Russia.

“The proposed pipeline would have bypassed Russia to reach European markets currently dominated by Russian gas giant Gazprom,” Project Censored notes. Instead, Assad pursued negotiations—finalized in 2012—for a pipeline through Iraq from Iran’s South Pars field, which is contiguous with Qatar’s North Field.

Muhawesh cites U.S. cables revealed by WikiLeaks as evidence that “foreign meddling in Syria began several years before the Syrian revolt erupted.” Ahmed came to the same conclusions by drawing on multiple sources, including a RAND corporation document, “Unfolding the Future of the Long War,” which discussed long-term policy options (trajectories) dealing with the complex interplay of energy interests and ethno-religious-political manipulations.

There’s a whole deeper level of driving forces not being reported on behind the Syrian war and refugee crisis.

Source:

Muhawesh, Mnar, “Refugee Crisis and Syria War Fueled by Competing Gas Pipelines,” MintPress News.


9. Big Pharma Political Lobbying Not Limited to Presidential Campaigns

The pharmaceutical industry (aka “Big Pharma”) already appeared in story No. 2, due to the destructive influence of its financing on the practice of basic science in testing and developing new drugs. But that’s not the only destructive impact of Big Pharma’s spending.

Although the industry spent $51 million in campaign donations in the 2012 presidential election, and nearly $32 million in the 2014 midterms, Mike Ludwig of Truthout reported that the industry spent $7 lobbying for every dollar spent on the midterms.

“The $229 million spent by drug companies and their lobbying groups that year was down from a peak of $273 million in 2009, the year that Congress debated the Affordable Care Act,” Project Censored noted. Legislation influenced involved all the industry’s top concerns, “including policy on patents and trademarks, management of Medicare and Medicaid, and international trade.”

The last item includes pressuring other countries to suppress the manufacture of life-saving generic AIDS drugs in India, to cite just one example.

“Pharmaceutical lobbyists also consistently lobby to prevent Medicare from negotiating drug prices,” Project Censored also noted. Coverage of this spending is scant, and virtually never tied directly to the issues on which Big Pharma itself is lobbying.

Source:

Ludwig, Mike, “How Much of Big Pharma’s Massive Profits are Used to Influence Politicians?” Truthout.


10. CISA: The Internet Surveillance Act No One Is Discussing

In July 2015, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to attach the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, or CISA, as an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act. However, the Senate blocked this by a vote of 56-40, in part, because the act—unlike an earlier version—essentially enabled intelligence and law enforcement officials to engage in surveillance without warrants.

Yet on Dec. 18, 2015, President Barack Obama signed CISA into law as part of a 2,000-page omnibus spending bill, amid media silence—with notable exceptions at Wired and The Guardian. The act authorized the creation of a system for corporate informants to provide customers’ data to the Department of Homeland Security, which, in turn, would share this information with other federal agencies—the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and others—without privacy-protecting safeguards.

As The Guardian reported, civil liberties experts had been “dismayed” when Congress used the omnibus spending bill to advance some of the legislation’s “most invasive” components, making a mockery of the democratic process. But this effort was different, in a way, since censored stories usually do not stifle powerful voices, as Project Censored observed: “(Andy) Greenberg’s Wired article noted that tech firms—including Apple, Twitter and Reddit—as well as 55 civil liberties groups had opposed the bill, and that, in July 2015, DHS itself warned that the bill would ‘sweep away privacy protections’ while inundating the agency with data of ‘dubious’ value.”

In April 2016, Jason R. Edgecombe reported for TechCrunch on the glaring inadequacies of interim guidelines to deal with privacy and civil liberties concerns—while the corporate media silence continued. In May, Violet Blue wrote for Engadget about candidates’ positions on cyber issues: Only Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul opposed CISA—but it never became the subject of any broader media discussion.

Sources:

Greenberg, Andy, “Congress Slips CISA Into a Budget Bill That’s Sure to Pass,” Wired.

Thielman, Sam, “Congress Adds Contested Cybersecurity Measures to ‘Must-Pass’ Spending Bill,” The Guardian.

Edgecombe, Jason R., “Interim Guidelines to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act,” TechCrunch.

Blue, Violet, “Where the Candidates Stand on Cyber Issues,” Engadget.

Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor at Random Lengths News at the Port of Los Angeles and is a contributing columnist for Salon.com. Terelle Jerricks is the managing editor at Random Lengths News.

Published in Features

On the morning of July 23, the city of Los Angeles was covered in a dusting of ash. An apocalyptic haze muted the sun, and the sky was an eerie, unnatural pink. Just a day before, a wildfire had broken out on private land 30 miles northwest, near Santa Clarita. Within 24 hours, the Sand Fire scorched 20,000 acres, and in a week, it burned another 21,000 acres. At least 10,000 people had to evacuate before it was contained by early August.

Every day seems to bring another fire. Today, the Blue Cut fire is ravaging the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino County; as of 4 p.m. today, 6,500 acres have burned, with an unknown number of structures damaged.

The most volatile fire activity in the West this year has occurred in Central and Southern California—from Big Sur to Carmel-by-the-Sea to San Bernardino—causing the closure of the Pacific Coast Highway, the destruction of hundreds of homes, and the death of at least six people. According to experts, these blazes offer a glimpse into the West’s “new normal” wildfire season that has been intensified by climate change in recent years. Warmer temperatures, less snowfall and increased drought mean that fire seasonbegins earlier in Apriland lasts longer, until November or December.

Last winter, California breathed a sigh of relief during El Niño, expecting it to drench the parched landscape after four years of drought. Northern California got more rain and remains relatively wet, but El Niño didn’t deliver enough to prevent fires in the southern part of the state.

“It’s the legacy effect of the long-term drought: these large, volatile, fast-moving wildfires in California,” says Crystal Kolden, fire science professor at the University of Idaho. By the first week of June, firefighters in California had already tackled more than 1,500 fires that burned almost 28,000 acres—twice as many acres burned as in the first half of 2015.

Looking at the West as a whole, this fire season is similar to the last couple of years—longer, hotter and harder to control— except in the Pacific Northwest, where there’s been a near-average wet, cool summer. According to a recent report from the National Interagency Fire Center, that delays the region’s greatest fire risk until later in the season. However, it has been extremely dry and hot in the Great Basin and Rockies, leading to more fire starts. Those areas should return to normal fire risk by September.

The high fire potential in California will continue during the season’s peak and through November, though, perhaps even until the first snowfall.

Typically, when the Pacific Northwest is particularly active with wildfire, the Southwest is less so, and vice versa, Kolden says, due to large-scale climate dynamics. But because of climate change in the last five to 10 years, regional wildfire seasons now often overlap. Fires are also burning a wider range of ecosystems than in the past, Kolden says. The lower-elevation sagebrush steppe is fueling fires just as much as high-elevation ponderosa forests, Southern California’s chaparral, and Idaho’s rangelands—and often, all these ecosystems are experiencing fires at the same time.

“Climate change is starting to take over,” says Kolden, “so there’s a higher probability and incidence of fires all over the West every single year.”

Two of the largest are the Soberanes Fire in California, which has burned over 76,000 acres and is only about 60 percent contained; and the Pioneer Fire near Boise, which has burned more than 76,000 acres and is about half contained. The NIFC considers both these fires its top priority because they’re proving hard to contain and near highly populated areas. As peak fire seasons stretch and overlap, firefighting resources aregetting stretched thinner. The Pioneer Fire, for example, currently has about 1,800 firefighters working on it, while the Soberanes has a record-breaking 3,800, about 1,000 down from the peak.

It’s still unclear what caused the Pioneer Fire, but an illegal campfire ignited the Soberanes blaze, and faulty hot tub wiring caused the Sand Fire. A growing percentage of wildfires are started by humans, says Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at UC Berkeley, particularly in Southern California, where the population in fire-danger areas is increasing exponentially. That’s part of the reason that, even though that area’s fires aren’t necessarily more severe than usual, this year’s have resulted in morehomes lost and a high fatality rate in California.

By this point, Stephens says, it’s clear that Western communities and federal agencies need to be more proactive at planning for fire and drought when building homes and structures and managing land. According to his research, we should be restoring forests by thinning and using prescribed burns at five to 10 times the rate we are now.

“If we don’t start to change the trajectory of forest conditions in the Western U.S., we’re literally going to be running out of options,” he says. “The big fires will continue to come.”

This piece originally appeared at High Country News.

Published in Environment

When it comes to conservation, energy and many other issues, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been a lot of hat and not much cattle. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., recently offered some insights into what his father’s natural-resources policies might look like.

While speaking at June a media summit organized by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Fort Collins, Colo., Trump Jr., an avid hunter and angler, defended keeping federal lands managed by the government and open to the public. He also reiterated his father’s strong support for U.S. energy development, proposed corporate sponsorships in national parks, questioned humans’ role in climate change, and criticized Hillary Clinton for “pandering” to hunters with “phoniness.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, spoke for Clinton’s campaign at the summit a day later, providing plenty of contrast between the presidential candidates.

Trump Jr. has served as an adviser to his father on natural-resources issues and has even joked with family that, should his father win, he’d like to be secretary of the interior, overseeing national parks and millions of acres of federal public lands. In Fort Collins, he said he’s not “the policy guy,” but repeated his frequent pledge to be a “loud voice” for preserving public lands access for sportsmen.

Trump Jr. also mocked some gun-control measures, such as ammunition limits, boasting, “I have a thousand rounds of ammunition in my vehicle almost at all times because it’s called two bricks of .22 … You know, I’ll blow … through that with my kids on a weekend.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate, partly distinguished himself among other GOP candidates during primary season—not that that was a problem for the New York real-estate developer—by balking at the transfer of federal public lands to states or counties. While Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others expressed support for public-land transfers, kowtowing to some Western conservatives, Trump rejected the idea. Speaking to Field & Stream in January, Trump said: “I don’t like the idea, because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

Trump Jr. reaffirmed that stance—but also supported more input for states as long as those efforts don’t jeopardize public access.

Trump, however, did attack the Bureau of Land Management and its “draconian rule,” writing in an op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal, also in January: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians.”

Rep. Thompson called Trump’s somewhat muddled stance of federal land management a “dangerous position to take,” saying Clinton unequivocally opposes public-land transfers. As far as Clinton’s sporting cred, Thompson said the Democratic candidate doesn’t pretend to be a hook-and-bullet enthusiast, but “she gets it” when it comes to access issues.

During a campaign loud with proclamations yet nearly vacant of substantive policies, the most in-depth view into Trump’s resource agenda came during his May speech at a North Dakota petroleum conference. Trump pledged to “save the coal industry,” approve the Keystone XL gas pipeline, roll back federal controls limiting energy development on some public lands, and withdraw the U.S. from the Paris global climate agreement. A Republican National Committee spokesman recently said more details on Trump’s energy and environmental policies should be coming soon. His son reiterated the campaign’s “very pro-U.S. energy” position, although he did say agencies should have some role in regulating energy development on public lands, referring to the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed fracking rule that was recently rejected by a federal judge.

On climate change, Trump Jr. said U.S. and global policies shouldn’t penalize industries, and while acknowledging the strong scientific consensus on climate change and its causes, he added that humans’ and industries’ roles in global warming have “yet to be shown to me.”

Trump Jr. also offered mild support for the Endangered Species Act, saying it had achieved some successes, but argued the law has served as a “Trojan horse” to entirely prohibit development in some cases. He also suggested national-parks management and budgets could benefit from increased corporate partnerships. Trump’s son declared his own affinity for the backcountry and described national parks as being “a little bit too ‘tourist-ized’ for myself,” but he said, “I think there are ways you can do (corporate sponsorship) in a way that is beneficial” without installing flashing logos on natural features or commercializing the parks.

Clinton has shared several detailed policies on the environment and energy so far, including a white paper on land management and conservation that lays out support for a national park management fund and increased renewable energy development on public lands. Those proposals signal Clinton will “double down” on protecting public lands and preserving access, Thompson said.

Thompson also lauded Clinton for taking “a risky public position” on energy development—referring to her previous statement that she will put lots of coal mines “out of business”—and said “she hasn’t backed away from it. She understands there are better ways to generate the energy resources that we need.”

This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Environment

Last month in Paris, 195 of the world’s leaders reached a historic agreement to lower-greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to stave off the most drastic effects of climate change—a momentous shift that will lay the groundwork for climate preparations across the globe.

Just a few weeks before the talks began, a new report showed that many Western states are unprepared to face the increasing weather-related risks posed by climate change. However, California is leading the nation in its efforts.

The States at Risk Project is a nationwide report card released last month by ICF International, a consulting firm, and Climate Central, a non-advocacy science and journalism organization. It’s the first-ever comprehensive assessment of threats to each of the 48 states in the continental U.S., such as extreme heat and drought that researchers predict will grow more severe in the future.

See an interactive map with each state’s status below.

Those findings matter because of the potential damage to human health, property and the economy. Taking steps to address these inevitable disasters cuts long-term costs, reduces impacts and ensures states and communities can more quickly rebound from losses, rather than continue to write big checks post-disaster.

In assessing those risks, the report’s authors hope to challenge the perceived lack of urgency among lawmakers and the general public that has helped thwart the policies needed to curb emissions. Human beings tend to be motivated by relatively short-term concerns, but climate change is a colossal, slow-moving, planetary scale problem—the worst of which will unfold not in our own generation, but in the next one or one after.

“One of the challenges of climate change is to make it personal and not something that’s an abstract, long-term concern,” says Richard Wiles, the senior vice president of Climate Central.

To help put climate change in concrete terms, researchers examined five major threats associated with warming global temperatures, using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: extreme heat, drought, wildfires, and inland and coastal flooding. Analysts then assessed how prepared states are to protect people and infrastructure against those risks by looking at what each state has already done in terms of reducing current threats, as well as what states have done to plan for the future. Those actions were evaluated in five major sectors of the economy, transportation, energy, health, water, communities, as well as states as a whole.

According to the report, states in the West face some of the greatest threats from climate change. California ranks second in wildfire and inland flooding risk, and third in extreme heat. Overall, the report found that extreme heat is the most pervasive threat to the lower 48 states. Heat wave days—which the National Weather Service defines as a period of abnormally and uncomfortably hot and humid weather lasting two or more days—are projected to more than triple by 2050 in every state except Oregon.

The West also faces a growing wildfire threat concentrated in California, Arizona and Nevada, where wildlands and development converge. Increasing drought is another big concern: By 2050, all 11 Western states are projected to see their summer drought threat more than double, and in Washington, the threat level is expected to increase fourfold—the most of any state nationwide.

On the whole, the researchers found that states are prepared for the climate-related risks they face today. But 10-30 years down the road? Not so much. Arizona, for instance, completed a statewide plan in 2013 to help mitigate natural and human-caused disasters and recognizes that climate change could potentially increase some of those risks. But researchers found no evidence of funding, policies or guidelines to improve resilience against climate change-related extreme heat, drought or wildfire. Overall, the state received a C- grade for its preparedness. Neighboring Nevada fared even worse, with an F—the lowest in the West. The state has taken no action to plan for or implement measures for any of its future climate risks.

The lack of readiness for extreme heat days is particularly worrisome because of the direct threat to human health, says Wiles. That’s particularly true for people who work outdoors and those living without air conditioners, which includes the elderly and those living in poverty.

Many states have yet to begin even basic infrastructure planning required to address these future risks, like where to put cooling centers, temporary air-conditioned public spaces set up by local authorities to help people escape the heat.

Other states that received grades of C+ or lower include Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. In general, coastal states scored better in their preparedness, with California leading the way with an A grade for its efforts. Those include the 2014 Safeguarding California document, one of the most comprehensive climate-change-adaptation planning documents in the country.

What also distinguishes California from, say, Arizona is the state’s willingness to explicitly consider climate change in their planning documents.

“There’s a subtlety there,” says Kathy Jacobs, who runs the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona; she was not involved in writing the report.

“They feel like they’re prepared for the current risks but haven’t used the words climate change or climate risk,” she notes. In the future, as the threats from climate change become ever more pressing, that linguistic omission may be harder to ignore.

Sarah Tory is a correspondent for High Country News, where this story first appeared.

Published in Environment

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