Category Archives: Environment

Depth of Experience

While in her office overlooking the entrance to Lincoln County’s most popular attraction, she’s like a child in a candy store — she watches trees and shrubbery get yanked out to make way for a new admissions and ticketing station. “Wow, what a change.”

Then a nuthatch alights on the feeder suction cupped to her office window. “Spring’s coming early.”

Keiko put us on the map': Oregon Coast Aquarium turns 25 | KVAL

Now the show really gets going — Carrie E. Lewis lugs into her second-floor office 10 large architectural design images for the aquarium’s five new capital improvement projects and one program improvement.

In the brochure, “Our Ocean, Our Coast, Your Aquarium” she states: “Since opening in 1992, the Oregon Coast Aquarium has immersed over 15 million visitors in the mysteries of the Pacific Ocean.”

Sleepover - Oregon Coast Aquarium

Lewis is showing me the remodeling and new construction phases:

  •  new ticketing area-offices
  •  remodeling the entrance, great hall and café
  •  creating a children’s nature play area
  •  improving three indoor galleries
  •  building a marine rehabilitation center

We are talking about $18 million and some change for these huge improvement and enhancement projects for the aquarium. They’ve raised almost $14 million toward this adventure in expansion.

“As we grow toward our vision of serving as a trusted resource for ocean education and conservation in the Pacific Northwest, it is more important than ever that our facility reflects that,” Lewis said.

That’s entertainment — and science

This proposed state-of-the-art, behind-the-scenes veterinary facility for marine wildlife rehabilitation and resident animal medical care is only one of three in the Pacific Northwest. Providing care for injured and sick marine animals is vital to a coast where ship, boat and beach traffic is increasing exponentially as people realize coming to the Central Oregon Coast is both affordable and adventurous.

Lewis and I talk about how education is the cornerstone to conservation and getting youth to understand the threats not just to our area of the Pacific Ocean, but to all oceans due to warming, acidification and loss of habitat and species.

One recent presentation of the American Cetacean Society-Oregon Chapter echoes Lewis’s belief how the aquarium incubates an interest in science and conservation among young visitors.

“My belief is that every person getting out of high school and the community college be able to stand before any city council or board of commissioners and communicate why preserving these forests and rivers are vital goals to protect wetlands, and our oceans,” said Paul Engelmeyer, The Wetlands Conservancy Coastal Land Steward and Conservationist at Audubon Society of Portland.

For Lewis, more is better. She wants outreach to be expanded, as the aquarium currently has a van with an inflatable, true-to-scale whale and a staff member traveling to outlying communities to present marine facts and science.

Sleepover with the sharks | Georgia aquarium, Sleepover, Aquarium

CEO with a history

Lewis has worked in several capacities at the aquarium, beginning in 1998. As the backhoe is digging up earth, she is transfixed momentarily. “It’s like updating your house,” she says while observing stumps being ripped up. “It’s like remodeling your old home where all the marks the kids have made get covered up.”

She has worn a number of hats: planning events, marketing, crisis communications, business development, director of marketing and then, in 2010, she became the CEO. That’s significant institutional memory of 28 years of the aquarium’s existence. “I am pretty blessed to be in this industry … one where I get to give back. We really make a difference in people’s lives.”

She’s 52 and talks about how she is asked by many groups to talk about her “amazing life” and “profession representing women.”

She’s quick to poo-poo the “unique” biography, but she realizes the aquarium/zoo field is quickly being dominated by female professionals, volunteers and staff.

She also honors coworkers and board members associated with this landmark. Did I say volunteers? That’s more than 400 aquarium volunteers ranging in age from 15 to 90.

All volunteers have been in limbo from doing their magic at the aquarium since COVID-19 lockdown. More than 80 percent of staff has been furloughed, though still paid through a Paycheck Protection Program loan.

She’s jazzed about even the smallest details — like a new backlit glass design for the front entrance — showing me a rendition of the aquamarine glass sculpture from Bullseye Glass Company out of Portland. “It represents beach glass.”

Total person, total experience

Her emphasis is on “enhanced total experience” for the more than 500,000 annual visitors.

It’s a simple formula — a family drives in from the Valley with the kids; they have this amazing view of Yaquina Bay and the bridge; then they come upon this inviting and lush entrance way and path; and they leave all their worries in the car.

More ADA-accessible walkways and paths are also part of the design improvements.

All those details add up to a 39-acre wonderland, with a coastal forest landscape design, a new and improved great hall with a jellyfish exhibit and articulated whale skeleton; a modernized café through new furnishings and facelift; and a playground that includes more climbing structures, an eagle’s nest and better interpretative signage.

“In our zoo and aquarium industry, we are all about getting kids outside and off their phones,” she emphasizes.

For the two or three hours a family might spend at the aquarium, proverbial lightbulbs go off in young people’s minds. Families share knowledge in an unstructured but intentional space. Newport and surrounding locations realize a huge economic boost — an annual economic impact of over $100 million.

The woman at the helm, Carrie Lewis, who was raised in Maui and came on board to help with crisis communication when Keiko was at the aquarium has been CEO for a decade.

“If I inspire one youth to think about going into the zoo or aquarium industry, I would be happy.”

Keiko Orca, Oregon Coast Aquarium Pat Hathaway© | Keiko, Ore… | Flickr

Killer Whale Problems

A simple answer to a tough question: What is one big negative lesson you have learned during your tenure? “The decision to house a large cetacean at the aquarium.”

Those were the “Free Willy days,” and while there was a movie, and lots of press, Lewis said it was “not a positive move.” She rolled her eyes and moved onto the next questions.

It doesn’t take a marine biologist to understand capturing and then moving a huge apex carnivore like a killer whale is highly stressful on the individual orca and those in the pod from which it was removed. Add to that the international protests against aquariums like Sea World for putting an intelligent and social mammal like a killer whale into the equivalent of a bathtub does not make for a positive marketing model.

The aquarium built the tank for Keiko; the orca was housed in Newport from January 7, 1996 until September 9, 1998, when he was eventually shipped to Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.

The largest exhibit is “Passages of the Deep,” in Keiko’s former tank, and features a walk-through acrylic tube surrounded by deep water marine animals such as sharks, rays and rockfish.

Orford Reef displays rockfish and other smaller Pacific-Northwest fish. Halibut Flats is all about halibut, ling cod, small rays and other large fish. The Open Sea exhibit is the last section in the tunnel, holding sharks including seven-gills, as well as rays, mackerel, anchovy and salmon.

The aquarium hosts sleepover events in the tube.

Oregon Coast Aquarium asks for support during closure | KVAL

Growing up on a Pacific island

Lewis and I talk about her upbringing in Hawaii: her father who was a conservationist who went to developing countries to assist with setting up garbage/waste-to-energy renewable projects. Her stepfather was a lawyer.

Hawaii’s Saint Anthony was her high school alma mater. She attended and graduated from St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga. She liked the small campus, as she majored in communications. She thought she might go into conservation writing. One year back in Hawaii, then four years in Palm Springs, one year living in Seattle.

“I fell in love with the beauty and bounty of the Pacific Northwest. The mountains, the water, and the mentality of the people — I just loved it all.”

How she ended up in Newport is attributed to her mother who had a house here. She took Lewis to this “little aquarium.” And, viola, there was an opening in the marketing department.

Keiko: The Untold Story - Wikipedia

Stories from old connect to the future

In her book, The Kid from Valsetz, about Don Davis, first city manager of Newport, Deborah Trusty credits Davis with a large legacy in our area — arts and sciences.

“When Don and I talked about the aquarium, I noticed that even he was a bit astonished that the plan had actually come to fruition,” Trusty writes. “As the city worked through this project, Don said he experienced some of the most extensive and far-flung collaborations in his career.”

Carrie Lewis ramifies the collaborative process by pointing out the facility’s large number of benefactors and the diverse membership base — more than 7,000 household members. There’s the Rockfish Society. And the foundation support, including the Siletz Tribe, Oregon Foundation, Meyer Trust. “Every museum, aquarium and zoo is struggling in this financial climate.“

Collaboration and a vision toward the future through deep research on many aspects of the aquarium are what Carrie Lewis emphasizes. “Our aquarium has been voted in the Top 10 consistently by USA Today.”

It’s all in the details

Little things count like how signage might be improved — deciding upon static designs in some parts of the facility versus digital signs in other areas.

Lewis is proud of including new features such as “sensory inclusion” areas where the aquarium addresses the sensory needs of children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Weighted blankets, quiet spaces and sound-reducing headphones are just a few of the new accommodations.

She’s aware expanding exhibits and activity areas — not increasing the site’s footprint — can require more staffing. Currently, there are 80 full-time staff as well as a cadre of part-time workers, interns, practicum students at OCCC and volunteers.

She explains the aquarium is contracting with a Canadian firm to redesign the playground. The original (1990) Portland landscape designer — Walker/Macy Landscape Architects — is on board for the Five Phase upgrades.

Right now, Lewis thinks long and hard about updating the three-year strategic plan which was undertaken in 2015. They were operating under a basic business plan whose impetus was “to get out of debt.” A Pennsylvania firm that advises zoos helped identify strategic and financial goals, as well as messaging, conservation and communication goals.

Soon afterward, Lewis spearheaded a feasibility study to increase visitor experience and more educational programming. Again, an expert company — this time out of Houston — helped with the feasibility study.

Lewis is proud that “even when we were in financial straits, we did not go to the state for help.”

Carrie Lewis is a case study of a woman in a significant leadership role demonstrating sustainability and success. She talked to groups about the obstacles they could face and how to overcome them. There are 27 accredited aquariums in the US, and Lewis points out that her time in the industry has seen more young women and men getting into the profession. This was before the COVID-19 lockdown, which has realized thus far $3 million loss in revenues.

Her confidence in the aquarium weathering the lockdown and huge loss of visitors and revenue bespeaks her years in the trenches.

“We’re trying to get through this together because when we re-open, and I believe that we will, it’s going to look very different. The landscape in our community, in our state, in our country is going to be very different,” Lewis said. “But the aquarium will get through this. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from people all over the world that believe in what we do and want to see our animals healthy and happy and taken care of.”

One of the more recent statements by Aquarium Communications Director Julie Woodward speaks to both the dire results of the pandemic closure and the work that has had to continue:

“We are struggling as are many non-profits. We have no revenue coming in as the majority of our revenue comes from ticket sales,” Woodward said in a May 18 news release. “Unlike most other non-profits, we still have to care and feed our 15,000+ animals each and every day. We are still looking for support.”

Lewis took over as president and CEO from Gary Gamer September 2010. The outgoing CEO’s statements reflect the confidence he had in her abilities.

“Working at the aquarium has been an incredible experience,” Gamer said. “Leading the staff has been an honor. They and the legion of volunteers working alongside them are very committed to the well-being of our ocean and the life within it. I’m confident the Oregon Coast Aquarium will remain a great place to visit in Pacific Northwest.”

Oregon Coast Aquarium unveils $18m expansion plans | blooloop

Note: From Paul’s column, Deep Dive, Oregon Coast Today, with permission.

Moore’s Planet of the Humans: More Misanthropic than Malthus

In reverential tones with ominous background music, director of Planet of the Humans Jeff Gibbs intones about “the most terrifying realization I ever had.” Gibbs instructs us, “Every expert I talked to wanted to bring my attention to the same underlying problem.” It is “not the elephant but the herd of elephants in the room,” Prof. Nina Jablonski warns. “The underlying problem,” the movie earnestly preaches is that “there are too many human beings.”

Planet of the Humans is produced and promoted by Michael Moore and is free online. The underlying message of the movie, critiquing the green energy movement, is about the existential threat of human overpopulation. “Without seeing a major die-off in population, there is no turning back,” is anthropologist Steven Churchill’s gloomy prognostication.

This truly draconian deduction makes the “zero population growth” (ZPG) folks look like baby boom boosters. Seminal overpopulation theorist Thomas Malthus, who opposed the English Poor Laws because they relieved human suffering, would be by comparison a humanitarian. (Spoiler alert: the movie does not prescribe any particular means of achieving the die-off.)

Prof. Churchill presents a cautionary tale in the movie: “Species hit the population wall and then they crash. It is a common story in biology. If it happens to us, it is the natural order of things.” As a professional conservation biologist, I can attest that not a single one of the 1,540 species on the US Endangered Species list got there because their populations indiscreetly boomed and then crashed. The cautionary tale is really a fictional tale, not a common story and not the natural order of things.

Paradox of Our Times

An uncritically favorable review of the movie by a self-described “pal” of the director comments, “The bottom line is that there are too many Clever Apes, consuming too much; too rapidly. And ALL efforts on addressing the climate costs are reduced to illusions/delusions designed to keep our over-sized human footprint.”

So, are we humans using too much, too fast as the movie warns? The answer is apparently not everybody. Some 24,600 of us die every day from starvation in a world where there are food surpluses and more than enough food to feed everyone. Likewise, 3,000 children die every day from preventable malaria. And 10,000 fellow human beings die every day because they are denied publicly funded healthcare.

To put these numbers into context, the peak world daily death toll for the coronavirus pandemic was 10,520 on April 26. The current world daily death toll, as of this writing, is 5,728. That is, the magnitude of preventable starvation is over four times the current death rate for COVID-19.

An anti-viral vaccine is not yet available to protect from COVID-19, but a square meal is all that is needed to cure the malady of starvation. And there is no impediment from international property rights in sharing bread.

These dreadful statistics on existing world hunger are, in relative terms, the good news. The UN World Food Program most recently reports that the coronavirus crisis could double the number of people suffering acute hunger. “COVID-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program. “It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock – like COVID-19 – to push them over the edge.”

Especially hard hit are the countries in the crosshairs of US imperialism, including a third of humanity subject to unilateral coercive measures by the US – so called, sanctions. For example, the UN World Food Program reports, “the needs in Syria have never been greater”; likewise for Yemen. These people are suffering from imperialism not, as the movie contends, from overpopulation.

Obscured by overpopulation ideology, which monomaniacally focuses on over-consumption, the movie fails to recognize the existence of monumental under-consumption for the majority of the world’s population. The paradox of our times is that we live in an era, for the first time in human history, when the technical means to end poverty are in place. The means of production have advanced so that human needs can be met. At the same time, the relations of production are such that these needs are not met. Gross over-consumption and acute under-consumption are two sides of the same coin.

Left out of the “every expert” interviewed in Planet of the Humans are authorities such as Eric Holt-Gimenez, former director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy. His research indicates, “We already grow enough food for 10 billion people – and still can’t end hunger. Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity.” The world’s population is currently 7.8 billion. The 10 billion people that Holt-Gimenez refers to is what the UN Population Division projects as the leveling out number, which is projected to occur by the end of this century.

Clearly more than simple human demographics are at play with the paradox of starvation amidst plenty, especially considering Holt-Gimenez’s finding: “For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth.” That story is omitted by the misanthropic Planet of the Humans.

Too Many People?

When in the movie Richard Heinberg, author of The End of Growth, says “There are too many human beings, using too much, too fast,” he is right about some people. We have too many super-rich, though you wouldn’t know that from watching the movie.

The wealthiest 1% of the population own over half of all household wealth in the world. From a global warming point of view, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half of total lifestyle consumption emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50% are responsible for only about 10% of the total lifestyle consumption emissions.

A similarly inequitable pattern, ignored by the movie, is evident when comparing the wealthy developed countries to the rest of the world. Per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the more developed countries are around three times higher than the world average. The developed countries are the ones most responsible and least at risk from global warming. The poorest nations contribute less than 1% of total world greenhouse gas emissions.

While the US unjustly calls upon the poor nations of the world to assume a level of responsibility for combatting global warming, which would impede their development, the rich nations of the world have been both the beneficiaries and the cause of today’s excessive greenhouse gas production.

The United States stands out in terms of global warming in three respects: greatest historical contributor of greenhouse gasses, among the highest per capita greenhouse gas producers of the more populous countries, and the highest oil producer.

The rich nations, with the US as most prominent, have a “climate debt” to pay off, because it is their military and their industry which has disproportionately caused global warming. For all the angst and indignation expressed in Planet of the Humans about the environment, not a murmur is heard about climate justice.

Climate Science and Overpopulation Ideology

The climate movement, so roundly criticized in the movie, is based on science, while the overpopulation ideology espoused in the movie is not. The climate movement can scientifically demonstrate, when human-caused global warming began. But the overpopulation ideologues cannot say what date overpopulation began. As Karl Marx demonstrated in his critique of Thomas Malthus 200 years ago, the overpopulation ideologues theorize the planet was always overpopulated.

The climate scientists can demonstrate a relationship between concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and global warming. The overpopulation ideologues cannot demonstrate a scientific relationship between population and resource consumption because they ignore the issues of concentration of wealth and unequal distribution.

The climate scientists can quantify a level of greenhouse gasses which is desirable to prevent catastrophic global warming. In fact, the leading US climate movement group, 350.org, takes its name from that scientific finding. In contrast, the overpopulation ideologues can give no optimal number of humans other than the prejudicial declaration “there’s too many of them.” And by “them,” they implicitly mean people that are not like them and their friends.

Time to Fix the Population Fixation

Planet of the Humans savages the green energy movement for its collusion with capitalists, yet the movie fails to make the next logical step of indicting the capitalist system’s inherent imperative for endless growth while generating inequalities. Instead, movie director Jeff Gibbs blames overpopulation, concluding: “We must accept that our human presence is already far beyond sustainability.”

Fortunately, there is a growing understanding that his is not the right “fix.” According to a commendable recent issue of the Sierra Club magazine, it is “time to fix the population fixation.”

The problem is not the fertility of women but over-consumption and the outsized contribution of the wealthiest few, found in the wealthiest nations, to the climate catastrophe. Birth rates go down when human needs are met and women are afforded reproductive freedom. Planet of the Humans director Gibbs is right that there are some things truly “terrifying” going on (e.g., nuclear annihilation), but it is not due to that most human act of procreation.

Arctic Heat Overwhelms Green Infighting Issues

Arctic temperatures are soaring to new records… and staying there, ever since May of this year. Truth be known, the Arctic’s been heating up for years. Siberia recently hit 105°F. That’s not normal. It’s 30°F hotter than normal.

Farther south, the Amazon rainforest is hit with a drought every 5 years like clockwork, not regular run of the mill droughts but massive excessive devastating droughts. NASA’s GRACE satellite, measuring water levels stored deep beneath Earth’s surface showed Deep Red Zones beneath the Amazon rainforest, not watery blue.

Climate activists have been warning about overheating of the planet for decades, ever since Dr. James Hansen’s testimony before the Senate in 1987: “The greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.” (Hansen)

Fast forward to June 2020: Since Hansen’s testimony, thirty-three years of climate activists bitching, protesting, kicking and screaming and bellyaching about excessive human-generated CO2 has gone nowhere but backwards as a relentless rise in CO2 emissions trudges ahead measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii.

Post-Hansen’s testimony the annual rate of CO2 increase has more than doubled, not gone down but doubled. Up, up and away, year-over-year, it never goes down.  It’s the main culprit blanketing the atmosphere, retaining heat for hundreds of years and fast becoming the Big Oven in the Sky.

Clearly, too much heat has already overwhelmed the Arctic and Amazon rainforest ecosystems. Along the way, greenie frustration is finally coming to a head as environmentalists “cat fight” in open public.

For example, Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs’ controversial film Planet of the Humans (Rumble Media) serves as an opening salvo, exposing a green movement that has turned a light shade of brown. The film paints a painful picture of a movement that, in certain instances, has gone off the rails.

Both Moore and Gibbs are lifetime greenies born green. Their film has spooked the green movement into bouts of self-examination and ferocious anger directed right at them, bull’s-eye. After all, the film pulls no punches by highlighting several rash infections of hypocrisy in the uppermost ranks of environmental leadership, acceding to big corporate interests that frankly could care less about the health of ecosystems, other than purely for show.

Otherwise, if they, meaning big corporate interests and billionaires, really cared and were truly concerned, by now they would’ve thrown everything they’ve got, including the kitchen sink, at fixing the climate change conundrum. But, they have not done that, have they?

Still and all, if the intention behind the making of Planet of the Humans was a “wake-up call” (Hey fellas and gals, this is not working) then it was enormously successful. After release of the film, green protestors protested the filmmakers like crazy, but not in the streets. Evidently, Moore and Gibbs struck a chord.

But still, what has 33 years of green advocacy wrought? Answer: Record high CO2 in the atmosphere and nearly 80% dependency upon fossil fuels, same as 50 years ago. Which advocacy group celebrates that?

Now, along comes another frustrated former greenie, Michael Shellenberger, an active environmentalist throughout his career, publishing a book that takes the green movement to the woodshed, as fully exposed in a recent Wall Street Journal review, d/d June 21st by John Tierney of Shellenberger’s book Apocalypse Never, Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All (Harper).

Based upon Tierney’s review, and assuming Tierney did not “cherry pick” and massage the facts to satisfy corporate interests; i.e., the WSJ, Shellenberger misses the target by a country mile. For example, Shellenberger’s “reach for credibility” includes claims such as: “No, climate change has not caused an increase in the frequency or intensity of floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes.” Really? Did Tierney get that right? (Maybe check in with Nebraska, Missouri, S. Dakota, Iowa, and Kansas re the Great Flood of 2019, the longest flood on record, just for starters)

Shellenberger, who evidently promotes industrialization as humanity’s savior, actually suggests, not facetiously, capitalist entrepreneurs saved whales by discovering cheap substitutes for whale oil, like petroleum. Ahem!

And, not to worry about plastics as sunlight and other forces break down the substances…. not to worry. And, solar and wind power are impractical and damage the environment requiring vast areas of land and harm flora and fauna. Oh, really! Did Tierney get that right…? (I know, I know! “Read the book,” but, based upon the review, no thanks)

And, finally, according to Shellenberger: “While industrialization causes a short-term rise in carbon emissions, in the long term it’s beneficial to the environment as people move to cities, allowing farmland to revert to nature, and as prosperity enables them to switch to cleaner and more compact forms of energy.”

Hmm – Just wondering, thinking out loud, where does sophism come into play here?

As a final note about Shellenberger’s book, a positive review in the WSJ is nothing to be proud of if you are an eco warrior of any stripe. It’s the ultimate sell-out, although, it’s not Shellenberger’s fault that the WSJ picked up on his diatribe of the green movement.

Still, aren’t Wall Street and its kissing cousin the WSJ responsible for promoting the neoliberal leviathan that “sucks up” to fossil fuel interests and literally destroyed America’s middle class and unions and checks and balances on pollution by shipping U.S. manufacturing offshore to the lowest common denominator of wages and avoidance of environmental regulations? Answer: Yes!

Based upon Tierney’s review, Shellenberger is simply one more lifeline for the fossil fuel industry and Wall Street’s neoliberal dreamland advocacy. Although its constituency is quite narrow, the one percent plus a few lesser want-a-be millionaire/billionaire luminaries. So, who’s really left to buy the book?

When it comes to neoliberal advocacy, it’s certainly worth mentioning Ross Perot nailing it during the 1992 presidential debate (Bush, Clinton, Perot) when he warned the country about the devastation to follow in NAFTA’s footsteps:

If you are paying $12 per hour, $13 per hour for factory workers, and you can move your factory to south of the border, pay a dollar an hour for labor, have no health care, have no environmental controls, no pollution controls, and no retirement plans and you don’t care about anything but making money, there will be giant sucking sound going south.

Perot elaborated:

These kinds of deals will wreck the country.1

P.S. His speech is pretty good fodder for an American revolution.

Perot’s statement speaks volumes as it illuminates why America’s middle class and its unions are broken. Neoliberal ideology, along with its kissing cousin globalization, shipped labor offshore, shipped environmental/pollution regulations offshore, decimated unions, and as much as possible, adopted the green movement with largess of their own making. Motto: Whatever it takes! Overtake and dilute and/or use to market products.

Meanwhile, the planet itself, speaking on its behalf, likely disagrees with Shellenberger. Ecosystems are coming apart at the seams, which Shellenberger ignores and refutes by advocating as core values industrialism and fossil fuels and nuclear over renewables and eco economics. He misses an important point as far as the biosphere is concerned. Salvation for humanity and for the planet is dependent upon tossing out the entire neoliberal experiment in favor of eco economics that favors natural systems and human values over profits and inane infinite growth schemes.

Meantime, throughout the biosphere, ecosystems are breaking down. It is palpable, and Shellenberger knows it. And Moore and Gibbs know it and expressed concern about it.  Further to the point, how could anybody who’s knowledgeable about the climate system miss it?

Consider: It was a little over one year ago when tens of thousands of bats fell out of the sky in Australia because of excessive heat at 42C. According to Dr. Welbergen, president of the Australasian Bat Society:

This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since European settlement.2

In May 2020 bats dropped dead in the streets in India.

It appears the mass mortality of bats was caused due to brain hemorrhage, caused by excessive heat.” 3

Not only that, this June 2020 scientists verified the hottest temperature ever recorded in the coldest place on Earth:

The World Meteorological Organization is investigating a record-high temperature for the Arctic after the Siberian town of Verkhoyansk registered a high of 38 degrees Celsius 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 4

That’s Miami weather, and it’s not happening all of a sudden. The entire Arctic has turned into a heat machine that’s been coming on stream for years now.

Not only that, collapsing permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic is happening 70 years earlier than scientists expected, to wit:

Observed maximum thaw depths at our sites are already exceeding those projected to occur by 2090.5

In some locations of the Canadian High Arctic landscape collapsed by three feet, houses sunk into the earth, and roads slip slide in wavy curvatures.

Special Alert! Permafrost covers 25% of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s loaded with all kinds of greenhouse gas carbon frozen in place just waiting for release.

Not only that, the Wet Bulb Temperature (WBT) effect has already arrived 50 years earlier than expected in some regions of the planet as measured by a recent study. 6

The human body has limits. If “temperature plus humidity” is high enough, even a healthy person seated in the shade with plentiful water to drink will suffer severely or likely die. A threshold is reached when the air temperature climbs above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is above 90 percent. Death ensues.

Previous studies projected that this (WBT) would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now. (Raymond)

Not only that, a major study by 89 climatologists in the journal Nature revealed unprecedented rates of ice melt at the planet’s two greatest ice masses. The combined rate of ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica averaged 89 billion tons per year in the 1990s. Yet, by the 2010s (if standing, please sit down) the average rate exploded to 523 billion tons per annum. 7

Not only that, throughout the world, mega droughts are hitting harder and more viciously than ever before. An Australian research paper identified the worst droughts in 800 years.8

Not only that, according to the UN World Food Program, as for Central America: “Five years of recurring droughts have destroyed maize and bean harvests, leaving poor subsistence farmers in the so-called Dry Corridor that runs through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua struggling to feed their families.” Solution: Pray for rain or migrate north.

And, central Chile is in the midst of what scientists have labeled a “Mega Drought,” an uninterrupted period of dry years since 2010. Half of the country has been designated “Emergency Status.” Farmers are going out of business.9

And, in South America’s Brazil, “The SPI-12 time series showed that from 2011 to 2019, excluding the south region, the other Brazilian regions have been exposed to the most severe and intense drought events in almost the last 60 years.” 10

Not only that, according to NASA, the Middle East’s drought cycle from 1998-2012 was the most severe in 900 years. According to Ben Cook of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It continues to this day as the eastern and southern Mediterranean coastlines are drying out faster than anywhere else on the planet. Eco migrants follow in kind.

Not only that, throughout much of Asia drought is becoming the norm rather than the exception.11

Remarkably, the impact of global warming is just now starting to strut its stuff so visibly and so perceptibly that average people are recognizing its threat. Fox News reported on the Arctic temps of recent. That’s as average as it gets. But, is Fox really average, or is it something else altogether different?

Yet, according to Tierney’s review of Shellenberger’s book:

The trouble with the new environmental religion is that it has become increasingly apocalyptic, destructive, and self-defeating.

And, of course, as stated previously, Shellenberger claims:

No, climate change has not caused an increase in the frequency or intensity of floods, droughts, hurricanes and tornadoes.

Not to worry, apocalypse never.

The truth of the matter is environmentalists have not screamed loud enough to make a difference as greenhouse gases are presently at all-time highs after three decades of screaming but not loud enough! Should environmentalists scream ever louder or adopt neoliberalism’s laissez-faire approach to business? BTW – Look where that got us.

Ross Perot’s statement at the 1992 presidential debate (see above) is a full description of laissez-faire economics in one long sentence. How’s that working for working people in America and around the world? And, for the greater environment?

Here’s a big part of the problem in a nutshell: In many respects, the Amazon ecosystem and the Arctic are facsimiles of the larger biosphere but more sensitive to climate change. In other words, some ecosystems are ultra-sensitive to changes in the climate system and thus serve as proxies or early warning signals prior to recognition of a looming threat by civilization at large.

Meantime, whilst climate change disrupts ecosystems on the fringes of civilization, society comfortably exists in artificial complexities of cement, steel, glass, and wood within a vast chemically induced world that only recognizes the danger of collapsing ecosystems after it’s too late. Then, it is too late!

Because of fabricated/artificial life styles, as just described, humans are the last living organisms to see and feel, and indeed, truly comprehend the impact of climate change. Artificial life styles masquerade the bigger issues. Thus, artificiality breeds ignorance and stupidity, as reflected in political elections. It’s the “Cement, Steel, Glass, Wood, Chemically Induced Syndrome,” and it’s deadly by stealthily hiding the truth from society at large.

Yet, there are thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers that see the truth. Some of those papers are quoted in this article.

Postscript: A fact worth repeating, time and again because it’s not going away: According to NOAA Climate.gov:

In fact, the last time the atmospheric CO2 amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago, when temperature was 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era, and sea level was 15–25 meters (50–80 feet) higher than today.

The lag effect is in-process.

  1. Perot in 1992 Warned NAFTA Would Create ‘Giant Sucking Sound’ The Washington Post, July 9, 2019.
  2. How One Heatwave Killed ‘a third’ of a Bat Species in Australia, BBC News, January 15, 2019.
  3. IVRI- Indian Veterinary Research Institute director, R.K. Singh.
  4. “Arctic Siberian Town Hit With Record Heatwave”, Al Jazeera, June 25, 2020.
  5. Louise M. Farquharson et al, “Climate Change Drives Widespread and Rapid Thermokarst Development in Very Cold Permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic”, Geophysical Research Letters, June 10, 2019.
  6. Colin Raymond, et al, “The Emergence of Heat and Humidity Too Severe for Human Tolerance”, Science Advances, Vol. 6, no. 19, May 8, 2020.
  7. “Ice Loss in Antarctica and Greenland Increased Sixfold in the Last 30 Years”, LiveScience, March 2020.
  8. Multi-century Cool-and Warm-Season rainfall Reconstructions for Australia’s Major Climatic Regions, European Geosciences Union, Vol. 13, Issue 12, November 30, 2017 by Mandy Freund and Benjamin Henley.
  9. “Chile Declares Agricultural Emergency as Extreme Drought Hits Santiago and Outskirts”, Santiago Times, August 26, 2019.
  10. Ana Paula M.S. Cunha, et al, “Extreme Drought Events Over Brazil from 2011 to 2019”, Atmosphere, October 24, 2019.
  11. China Daily News, August 12, 2019.

“Six Months To Avert Climate Crisis”: Climate Breakdown And The Corporate Media

In his classic science fiction novel, Foundation, Isaac Asimov posited a future in which ‘psychohistorians’ could predict outcomes based on past history and the large-scale behaviour of human populations by combining psychology and the mathematics of probability. Using ‘psychohistory’, the protagonist Hari Seldon discovers that the 12,000-year-old Galactic Empire will collapse in 500 years. He warns the galactic rulers of this likely fate, while explaining that an alternative future in which human knowledge is preserved can be attained. For his trouble, he is exiled to the remote planet of Terminus.

In today’s world, the prospects for human civilisation, never mind the existence of historians in the future, look bleak indeed.  According to many leading climate scientists and biologists, the most likely outcome for humanity is the collapse of what is called ‘civilisation’. They warn that it may already be too late to change course. These are the shocking expert conclusions, rooted in scientific evidence and careful rational arguments, which are routinely underplayed, marginalised or simply ignored by ‘mainstream’ news media.

Last November, the world’s most prestigious science journal, Nature, published a study by eminent climate scientists warning that nine major ‘tipping points’ which regulate global climate stability are dangerously close to being triggered. These include the slowing down of ocean circulation in the North Atlantic, massive deforestation of the Amazon, and accelerating ice loss from the West Antarctic ice sheet.  Any one of these nine tipping points, if exceeded, could push the Earth’s climate into catastrophic runaway global warming. There could even be a ‘domino effect’ whereby one tipping point triggers another tipping point which, in turn, triggers the next one and so on, in a devastating cascade. Given the normal custom of academics to use sober language, the warning statements in the pages of Nature were stark:

‘The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel [our emphasis] political and economic action on emissions.’

The researchers are clear that:

‘We are in a climate emergency and [our study of tipping points] strengthens this year’s chorus of calls for urgent climate action — from schoolchildren to scientists, cities and countries.’

In short, there is ‘an existential threat to civilization’ and ‘no amount of economic cost–benefit analysis is going to help us.’This should have dwarfed news coverage of Brexit for months. One of the study’s co-authors, Will Stefen, emeritus professor of climate and Earth System science at the Australian National University, told Voice of Action, an Australian publication, that all this raises the ultimate question:

‘Have we already lost control of the system? Is collapse now inevitable?’

In other words, there may simply not be enough time to stop tipping points being reached, as he explained with this metaphor:

‘If the Titanic realises that it’s in trouble and it has about 5km that it needs to slow and steer the ship, but it’s only 3km away from the iceberg, it’s already doomed.’

We searched the ProQuest media database for mentions of this particularly disturbing quote by Steffen, a world-renowned climate expert, in national UK newspapers. We found the grand total of one in a short article in the Daily Express. What could better sum up the pathology of the ‘mainstream’ news media than ignoring urgent authoritative warnings of the likely collapse of the climate system?

Scientists have been sounding the alarm for some time that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction in Earth’s long biological history. But this time the cause is not a natural calamity, such as a huge volcanism event or an asteroid strike, but human ‘civilisation’. Worse still, the careful evidence accrued by biologists in study after study indicates that the global mass loss of species is accelerating. In 2017, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reported that billions of populations of animals have disappeared from the Earth amidst what they called a ‘biological annihilation.’  They said the findings were worse than previously thought. Earlier this month, a new study revealed that five hundred species of land animals are likely to become extinct over the next two decades.  Gerardo Ceballos, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and lead author of the paper, declared:

‘We’re eroding the capabilities of the planet to maintain human life and life in general.’

While humans continue to destroy species and natural habitats, Ceballos and his colleagues warn of a ‘cascading series of impacts’, including more frequent occurrences of new diseases and pandemics, such as Covid-19. He summarised:

‘All of us need to understand that what we do in the next five to 10 years will define the future of humanity.’

But the crucial window for action is likely much shorter than that. And it is not just the ‘usual suspects’ of Greens and wild-eyed radicals who claim so.  According to Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, the world has just six months to avert climate crisis. This is the timescale required to ‘prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe’.

Samuel Alexander, a lecturer with the University of Melbourne and research fellow at the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, told Voice of Action that the looming end of organised human society would not be a single event. Instead, we are approaching a stage:

‘where we face decades of ongoing crises, as the existing mode of civilisation deteriorates, but then recovers as governments and civil society tries to respond, and fix things, and keep things going for a bit longer.’

He added:

‘Capitalism is quite good at dodging bullets and escaping temporary challenges to its legitimacy and viability. But its condition, I feel, is terminal.’

Meanwhile, Steffen believes that current mass protests, such as Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, are not yet a sign of collapse but one of ‘growing instability’. Alexander concurs, saying that it is a sign of ‘steam building up within a closed system’. Without large-scale grassroots action and radical shifts in government policies, we are ‘likely to see explosions of civil unrest increasingly as things continue to deteriorate’. However, he offered hope that, with sufficient public pressure, the future could still be ‘post-growth/post capitalist/post-industrial in some form.’

Graham Turner, a former senior Australian government research scientist, observed:

‘I think if we all manage to live a simpler and arguably more fulfilling life then it would be possible still with some technological advances to have a sustainable future, but it would seem that it’s more likely … that we are headed towards or perhaps on the cusp of a sort of global collapse.’

He fears that the public as a whole will only demand change once ‘they’re actually losing their jobs or losing their life or seeing their children directly suffer’.One positive practical step that people could take, he says, is to push for changes in the law governing corporations:

So that corporations don’t have more legal rights than people, and are not compelled to make a profit for shareholders.’

Meanwhile, Siberia, of all places, is undergoing a prolonged heatwave, described by one climate scientist as ‘undoubtedly alarming’, which is driving 2020 towards being the globally hottest year on record.Media ‘Failure’ Is Default Media PerformanceMany new and dramatic climate findings are, of course, reported in the science and environment sections of newspapers. But the compelling case for a radical shift in society towards sustainability are barely touched upon in corporate news media, for obvious reasons.In particular, the imminent threat of climate collapse rarely intrudes into the numerous pages devoted to ‘politics’, business and the economy. These pages feature a whole slew of correspondents, columnists and commentators who are rewarded for not questioning the status quo.Worse, no leading political editor – the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg and ITV’s Robert Peston spring to mind – ever seriously challenges the Prime Minister, or other senior politicians, on the huge risk of climate breakdown. The Westminster ‘village’ – surely as insular a social bubble as has ever existed in this country – is almost entirely divorced from the reality of onrushing climate chaos.As independent journalist Rebecca Fisher, formerly of Corporate Watch, noted recently:

‘UK’s current form of “democracy” cannot protect the public. The “Westminster model” was developed to promote unregulated economic growth and prevent the public from real participation in how society is run.’

And yet, unlike the power-hungry Westminster navel-gazers, the public does believe climate is an urgent issue. A new survey of 80,000 people conducted across forty countries reveals that fewer than three per cent believe climate change is not serious at all.But, as we and others have long argued, a fundamental obstacle to shifting to a saner, more democratic society is the narrow concentration of media ownership; a structural impediment in today’s world to truly free and open debate. This extreme state of affairs has been tracked in the UK by the independent Media Reform Coalition which represents several groups and individuals committed to promoting journalism and communications that work for the benefit of the public. The MRC is currently chaired by Natalie Fenton, professor of media and communications at Goldsmiths, University of London.The coalition’s most recent report on UK media ownership, published in 2019, revealed that the problem is now even worse than at the time of its previous report in 2015. Just three companies – Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, Daily Mail Group and Reach (publisher of the Mirror titles) dominate 83 per cent of the national newspaper market (up from 71 per cent in 2015). When online readers are included, just five companies – News UK, Daily Mail Group, Reach, Guardian and Telegraph – dominate nearly 80 per cent of the market.The report’s authors warned:

‘We believe that concentration in news and information markets in particular has reached endemic levels in the UK and that we urgently need effective remedies. Concentrated ownership creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests.’

The warning is further backed up in a forthcoming book, The Media Manifesto (Polity Books, August 2020), by Fenton and co-authors Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg and Lina Dencik. They emphasise a crucial point that is a longstanding characteristic of rational media analysis: we must stop using the misleading framework of media ‘failures’. As Noam Chomsky observed many years ago in describing media performance:

‘The basic principle, rarely violated, is that what conflicts with the requirements of power and privilege does not exist.’1

It is therefore not a ‘failure’ when newspapers and broadcasters neglect to scrutinise state-corporate power. Granting a free pass to power is virtually their raison d’être. Or, as ‘The Media Manifesto’ observes:

‘[The] inability to hold power to account shouldn’t be seen as an unprecedented “failure” of the media to perform its democratic role when, in fact, this has long been the media’s normal role under capitalism: to naturalize and legitimize existing and unequal social relations.’

The authors continue with examples:

‘It’s not about failing to hold banks to account but about the complicity of financial journalists and commentators in celebrating neoliberal economics ahead of the 2008 financial crash; it’s not about failing to be tough on racism but about the media’s historic perpetuation of racist stereotypes and promotion of anti-immigrant frames; it’s not about failing to recognize the challenges of apocalyptic climate change but about repeating tropes about “natural” disasters such as hurricanes, heatwaves and forest fires, together with routine “balanced” debates between climate change scientists and deniers. These are not examples of the media’s malfunctioning but of its default behaviour.’

But, goes up the cry from the back row, what about ‘our’ blessed BBC? It is, after all, obliged by its Royal Charter to report objectively and impartially, untrammelled by billionaire ownership or tawdry commercialisation. Right? Not so. As Des Freedman observes of the BBC:

‘[It] is a compromised version of a potentially noble ideal: far too implicated in and attached to existing elite networks of power to be able to offer an effective challenge to them’.2

As can be seen every day of the week, the BBC typically follows a similar agenda to UK newspapers in its own news coverage. Freedman adds:

‘Far from retaining its autonomy from all vested interests, and delivering a critical and robust public interest journalism, the BBC has been a key institutional mechanism for reinforcing establishment “common sense” and has represented the strategic interests of the powerful more than the disparate views of ordinary audiences.’

He continues:

‘It has reached the point where even the accomplished former World Service journalist, Owen Bennett-Jones, has condemned the BBC’s dependence on official sources and argues that “there is plenty of evidence that the BBC, in both its international and domestic manifestations, deserves the epithet ‘state broadcaster’.” Without significant reform, public service media are, in reality, just as likely to be embroiled in the reproduction of media power as their commercial counterparts and therefore just as likely to be part of the problem rather than the solution.’ (pp. 23-24)

Fenton emphasises the point later in the book:

‘despite its claims to be impartial and independent, the BBC has always sided with the elite and been in thrall to those in power.’ (p. 88)

Regular readers will be aware that, since we began publishing media alerts in 2001, we have examined in depth hundreds of examples of the BBC doing exactly this. If you include those examples that we highlight almost daily on Twitter and Facebook, they undoubtedly number in the thousands. Many of the most insidious examples of such bias, omission and distortion in BBC News have been expanded upon in several of our books. There is no shortage of evidence that BBC News functions as a propaganda outlet for state and corporate interests.

A fundamental obstacle to radical societal change to avert climate breakdown, therefore, is that ‘mainstream’ media, including BBC News, exist primarily to uphold the interests of capital and, in addition, particularly in the case of the BBC, the state:

‘Modern capitalism resides on the complex relationship between the neoliberal market and the neoliberal state. To address meaningfully the consequences of climate change, massively reduce inequality and eradicate poverty, would destabilize the power relations that underpin finance-led growth. For example, if the mainstream [sic] press industries do not attempt to maximise their profits in any way they can today, they will probably not exist tomorrow.’ (pp. 84-85)

Concluding Remarks:

In a sane world, if senior scientists who normally use understated academic language start warning of an ‘existential threat’ to human civilisation, then responsible news media would leap into action with huge headlines and in-depth coverage. There would be extensive interviews with scientists on BBC News at Ten, ITV News, Channel 4 News, Newsnight, Good Morning Britain, BBC Radio 4 Today, and other major programmes. They would all follow up with urgent analysis of what needs to be done immediately in the realms of politics and economics to avert the climate threat, or at least minimise the serious consequences of that threat. Instead, state-corporate media have, in effect, exiled scientists to a distant planet in a remote part of the Galaxy where they can be ignored.

Billionaire-owned media, controlled by corporate boards and dependent on corporate ad revenue, and a state broadcaster forever hobbled by bowing to corporate-beholden governments, can never provide the answers to climate breakdown.

As The Media Manifesto argues, with detailed recommendations, we need properly accountable, public-interest news media that are truly democratic, diverse and sustainable.  All the citizen movements that we see today, including Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, will not succeed unless common aims are sought across diverse campaigns with a united goal; namely, dismantling the state-corporate media that are the propaganda wing for destructive state-corporate power, and replacing such media with news organisations that serve the public interest.We must be clear that the powerful need to be challenged directly; non-violently, yes, but with strength, persistence and wisdom on the basis of clear strategic aims. Meekly asking for change and accepting weak compromises will not work given the gravity of the climate crisis. Media academic Robert McChesney put it well:

‘Many liberals who wish to reform and humanize capitalism are uncomfortable with seemingly radical movements, and often work to distance themselves from them, lest respectable people in power cast a withering eye at them. “Shhh,” they say to people like me. “If we antagonize or scare those in power we will lose our seat at the table and not be able to win any reforms.” Yet these same liberal reformers often are dismayed at how they are politically ineffectual. Therein lies a great irony, because to enact significant reforms requires a mass movement (or the credible prospect of a mass movement) that does indeed threaten the powerful.’3

In short, the powerful need to have their power – originally stolen from us anyway – taken away from them in order to ensure human survival.

  1. Deterring Democracy’, Hill & Wang, 1992, p. 79.
  2. The Media Manifesto, op. cit., p. 88.
  3. Robert McChesney, Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy’, Monthly Review Press, 2014, pp. 26-27.

Global Issues Require United Action and a Reinvigorated UN

Whatever corner of the world one happens to live in, the most pressing issues of the day affect everyone. Pandemics/epidemics and the environmental emergency; war and terrorism; poverty and food insecurity; overpopulation and the displacement of persons. Such crises cannot be limited by borders or controlled by nation states; no government or corporate power can manage them. They are interconnected global issues and they require a coordinated global response.

Drawn together by economic interest or shared geo-political concerns various allied groupings and regional alliances exist in the world. While such assemblies present the possibility of nations unifying, self-interest, ideology and partisanship dominate the approach of many governments to global problems: achieving consensus is rare, and consistent implementation of agreements even more so. And with the rise of tribal nationalism in recent years, led by major nations like America, Russia and China, the space for cooperation and unity has been further eroded, the major issues of the times ignored, or in many cases enflamed.

The United Nations: What now?

In addition to highlighting a range of social inequalities the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasized the need for nations to work cooperatively in response to global issues, under the coordinated stewardship of an international body. One that is free from political ideology is non-partisan and works to build the broadest level of consensus.

Established in 1945 at the end of World War II, The United Nations (UN), with its range of 15 specialized agencies is the obvious body to take on such an expanded, essential role. Not by adopting powers of governance over member states but by being invested with a new status based on the recognition that certain issues demand unified strategic action and the understanding that the future of individual countries rests upon the health and stability of the whole.

Like all global organizations the UN is imperfect and reforms are needed, but it represents a high point in human achievement and the world is a richer place for its existence. Since its inception million of people have been fed, educated and cared for by UN agencies. Its overall aim is, “the maintenance of international peace and security.” However, with member states pursuing their own ideologically fuelled agendas and with limited or no influence to tackle the underlying causes of conflict, this has proven impossible. One of the most significant accomplishments in the history of the UN is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed in 1948. It includes the right to not be enslaved, the right to free expression, the right to food and shelter and the right to seek asylum from persecution.

Despite the fact that many of the rights expressed remain unrealized the existence of the UDHR is crucially important, establishing a clear set of rights for every human being in the world. And, as we move into a new time, the UDHR could serve as a guiding template for systemic change, in particular the rights outlined in article 25, which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Within the UN there are a range of relevant departments concerned with the global issues outlined, agencies that are overflowing with expertise and people of goodwill. But whether it’s the UNHCR (working with refugees), the WHO or the UN Environment agency, all too often their efforts to act for the benefit of those they serve are inhibited by the power exerted by the 15-member Security Council, in particular the permanent five (P5), by the self-centered short -term approach of member states, lack of funding and a somewhat ambiguous world role.

Agents of Change

At the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WHO works to bring about “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health… physical, mental and social well-being.” And much has been achieved in the 70 years since it was set up. But in developing regions (where nations cannot fund health care adequately) access to medical support is extremely limited and, as in countries where health care is not (freely) provided by the state, the quality of treatment received by patients is conditioned by their economic status. The agency has been criticized by some, most notably President Trump (who has now withdrawn US funding), for failing to act quickly enough over Covid-19. Certainly mistakes were made. The worldwide response to the virus, however, should have been coordinated by the WHO; consistent methodologies followed – while being adapted to specific populations – with clear messages and detailed scientific information. Instead, nations turned within and formulated their own approach.

Together with the IPCC, UN Environment has potentially the most important role of any UN agency. But their aim to encourage partnership in “caring for the environment” is frustrated by the forces of commercialization and the consumer obsessed way of life relentlessly promoted by corporate governments and followed by the mass of humanity. Governments are fixated on ‘growth’, and ‘caring for the environment’ is a secondary consideration, if considered at all. “Reducing food insecurity and rural poverty” is the concern of the UN food agency (UNFAO). Around 2 billion people in the world are estimated to be ‘food insecure’, of which, just under a billion ‘don’t have enough to eat’. The world is vastly overpopulated; common estimates suggest that the planet can comfortably support 3.5 – 4 billion people, but currently the global population stands at 7.8 billion. There is, however, food enough for everyone; starvation and malnourishment are fundamentally problems of poverty and distribution, not over-population, although this is a significant issue which is having a devastating impact on the natural environment.

Peace, hunger, displacement, environment, health care, every issue is interconnected, one impacting on the other. All arise from, and are intensified by, the all-pervasive unjust socio-economic system. Everything and all areas of life have become commodified and commercialized, including the natural environment, food, health care and education. No money no food, no cash no health care, no income poor or non-existent education and sub-standard housing. As a means of organizing the socio-economic life of humanity, promoting human wellbeing and environmental health it is utterly deficient, detrimental, in fact. And whatever bailouts and stimulus programs are concocted to mop up the Covid economic spillage it is a system in decay; a vessel running on empty, propelled only by the momentum of the past.

Renewed UN

Key to overcoming the global issues here outlined and bringing about socio-economic change is the introduction of sharing, together with a reinvigorated expanded United Nations. Most people and many nations are poor, or poorly off, but the world is rich, overflowing; it is an abundant world and everyone is entitled to benefit from its collective riches.

Sharing as a principle of living needs to be planted in all areas of life, a unifying seed of goodness infusing all systems and modes of living. This will require the establishment of a new UN agency (‘The United Nations Office for Sharing (UNOS)’ perhaps) and eventually the dissolution of the Security Council, which is currently the most powerful arm of the UN.

The new agency would design systems of sharing and oversee the equitable distribution, firstly of food and water, then, through a massive volunteer program, of other resources that are held collectively, including knowledge, skills, creativity. Sharing is an extraordinarily potent quality, both an action and an attitude of mind. It is an expression of trust and an acknowledgment of our oneness, it encourages cooperation and cultivates trust, and when there is trust much can be achieved between individuals and groups. It a vibrant force for good and its time has come.

All countries are deficient in some areas, but as humanity begins to function as a World community, the needs of everyone can be met; all that is required is that we acknowledge the needs of all and learn to share. And although the current systems work against such commonsensical ways, through the application of creative thinking and goodwill, coordinated by a revitalized unifying UN, much can be achieved.

Air Pollution, Mental Illness, and Covid-19

Lockdowns imposed in response to Covid-19 forced millions of people to stay at home, businesses closed and a widespread hush descended. The major beneficiary of the controls has been the natural environment; in particular there has been a dramatic reduction in air pollution everywhere. But as countries begin to lift restrictions, road traffic levels are once again increasing, air and noise pollution rising.

Changes to working patterns and daily living have created a unique opportunity to re-imagine how we live and work. Central to any new pattern needs to be the environment; many people recognize this and the importance of not ‘going back’. Some cities in Europe are already responding positively (Milan, London, Bristol e.g.), proposing pedestrian only areas together with an increase in cycle lanes, and the results of a recent survey by the Automobile Association (AA) in Britain are encouraging. “Half of those polled said they would walk more and 40% intended to drive less…to maintain the cleaner air of the lockdown and protect the environment.” In addition around a quarter said they planned to (continue) to work more from home, as well as flying less.

Death by Breathing

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 90% of the global population breathe filthy toxic air. The bulk of air pollution is the result of burning fossil fuels for heat and power generation (e.g. oil and coal power plants and boilers) and fuel combustion from vehicles – cars, motorbikes, lorries etc. All of which not only throw toxins into the air but also generate enormous levels of noise pollution.

Worldwide, air pollution is said to kill around nine million people a year, making it the fifth leading risk factor for death in the world. Children are particularly vulnerable; they inhale more airborne toxins than adults, tend to spend greater periods of time outside and are more active. The detrimental effects can be long lasting, affecting their physical and mental health as well their education.

Contaminated air is also a significant factor in a person’s susceptibility to Covid-19. Air pollution, particularly Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), as well as Particulate Matter (PM) – both of which are released by vehicles burning fossil fuels, causes and exacerbates respiratory complaints.  A university study conducted in Germany found that of the total number of coronavirus deaths in 66 administrative regions of Italy, Spain, France and Germany, “78% of them occurred in just five regions, and these were the most polluted.”

The results of the research “indicate that long-term exposure to this pollutant may be one of the most important contributors to fatality caused by the Covid-19 virus…poisoning our environment means poisoning our own body, and when it experiences chronic respiratory stress [Covid-19 e.g.] its ability to defend itself from infections is limited.” A separate study in the US shows that even small “single-unit” increases in particle pollution in the years prior to the pandemic is linked with a 15% increase in deaths. Cleaner air in London or New York; e.g., in the past could have saved hundreds of lives.

Air pollution affects everyone but predictably the poorest members of society, including people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups, are the most severely impacted, they appear also to be the most at risk from Covid-19. In multi-cultural Britain; e.g., people in deprived areas have been dying of coronavirus at double the rate of those in affluent areas. And those from BAME backgrounds –making up around 13% of the UK population – account for a third of virus patients admitted to hospital critical care units. Similar patterns have emerged in other European countries with large minority populations as well as the US. Black Americans represent around 14 per cent of the US population but total 30 per cent of those who have contracted the virus. In Norway people born in Somalia have infection rates more than 10 times above the national average.

The social causes behind the figures are complex. Many people from BAME groups live in overcrowded housing in extremely polluted areas and work in high-risk low paid jobs. Diet among some BAME communities is poor and (in part as a result) there is a propensity to underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and respiratory illnesses, all of which make people more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Poverty is the world’s biggest killer, and Covid-19 is, it seems, the most recent addition to the symptomatic causes of death for the poor, the vulnerable and people from minorities, which, in many cases are one and the same.

In addition to causing millions of deaths and a variety of respiratory conditions, air pollution is increasingly being linked to a range of mental health illnesses, including depression, bipolar, and, according to a study in the UK, psychotic experiences in children.

An estimated 300 million people in the world suffer from depression, a similar number are plagued by anxiety. Many aspects of contemporary living contribute to mental health illnesses. Various studies in recent years show that air pollution is one of them. The finest particle pollutants are known to reach the brain via the bloodstream and the nose, The Guardian reports, causing increased brain inflammation, “damage to nerve cells and to changes in stress hormone production, which have been linked to poor mental health.” Air pollution has also been shown to quadruple the risk of depression in teenagers and is being linked to dementia.

Together with noise pollution, studies show that filthy air feeds sleep apnea symptoms and may disturb sleep by exacerbating asthma, COPD, or other respiratory or chronic diseases. This, in turn, creates greater vulnerability to depression and anxiety, as well as the current Covid-19 virus.

Changing behavior

Air pollution is poison. We are literally breathing in toxic compounds that are making us ill, physically and mentally. Urgent and lasting steps are required to reduce to an absolute minimum the levels of air pollution. This requires humanity to drastically reduce its dependency on fossil fuels.

For this to happen there needs to be a major shift in attitudes, triggering a change in behavior and greater levels of environmental responsibility. Consumerism (including consumption of animal food produce) is the principle cause of the environmental emergency, including air pollution. Excessive, unnecessary consumption needs to stop, sufficiency not excess promoted and adopted as the guiding principle. Meat and dairy diets reduced and the trend towards plant-based diets encouraged.

At the same time investment in renewable sources of energy generation and supply needs to be increased throughout the world. All unnecessary travel should be eliminated (including air travel), and (where practical) a strategic movement away from the car onto public transport – reliable and clean, cycling and walking. Public transport needs to be state-owned and run as a service, not for profit. China, with 99% of the world’s total electric fleet, leads the way in the electrification of public transport.  In addition, the Chinese government has invested heavily in electric cars and has set a target of 40% electric vehicles by 2025.

The beautification of our towns and cities (where over 50% of the world’s population now live) goes hand in hand with the reduction in traffic and the promotion of clean modes of transport. Bold imaginative initiatives are required that prioritize the environment and human welfare over corporate concerns. Whole sections of cities and towns, major streets and abandoned sites could be redesigned as peaceful green spaces. And while many fear the closure of retail outlets and the slow death of shopping streets, the possibility of converting these areas to parklands and gardens, present itself and should be embraced.

All flows from a shift in thinking. The environmental emergency is the greatest crisis facing humanity; with every new report published the scope and depth of the crisis becomes increasingly stark, the need for action more urgent. To date the complacency of governments and corporations, as well as large tracts of the public, has been astonishing and shameful; this must now change.

Covid-19 forced governments to act (albeit in many cases inadequately); the same sense of urgency needs to be applied to tackling air pollution, which, I say again, is responsible for at least nine million deaths a year, and the wider environmental emergency. The pandemic has given the natural environment a brief respite from human abuse; as countries ‘open up’, we have the chance to adopt a new responsible approach to living and not revert to old destructive ways.

Climate Crisis, Pandemics and Bad Governance: Humanity’s Existential Threats

Since I started News Junkie Post, eleven years ago, I have, as a rule, avoided the first person narrative. In my mind, there is a simple reason for an aversion for the “me, myself, and I” type of storytelling so widespread in our culture. The first person is fine for a journal, an autobiography of course, or if you have the immense literary talent of Marcel Proust. Otherwise, it amounts to a navel gazing narcissism common in our era and society as a spectacle where anyone, with no particular talent to speak of, aspires to achieve his proverbial 15 minutes of fame and to milk for as long as possible. The reader might wonder why I will make an exception to this self-imposed rule of first-person narrative avoidance. The answer is simple: once in a blue moon, events that either already impact humanity or are about to turn upside down all mankind’s existence personally hit you in the face like a thunderbolt.

Like most people on Earth, I have been dealing with COVID-19 while trying not to let the fear and paranoia factors affect me too much. What I didn’t expect was for humanity’s biggest challenge, the climate crisis, to join the pandemic. In my recent life experience, I’ve had to deal, at the same time, with the impacts of the climate crisis, a pandemic, and chronic bad governance, which are, unless we radically change course, humanity’s future. This is a snapshot of our common future. The three factors are compounded threats to the very survival of our species.

A town where “We Stand for Our Flag and Kneel for Our Cross”

I have lived for the past four years in a small rural community deep in the United States Bible Belt, where people are, by a large majority, white evangelicals. I call this part of the US Trumpistan, because of the strong support President Donald Trump has in this neck of the woods. Trumpistan is neither a state nor a country, but a state of mind. As an example, in the 2016 presidential election Donald Trump obtained 93 percent of the votes in the county. Incidentally or not, this part of the US used to be within the Confederacy during the US Civil War. Economically, this community is poor, and it barely survives from cattle ranching and fracking. Most people, except the ranchers, are poor, but nonetheless they follow, as patriotic evangelicals, what has become Trumpistan’s core motto, “We Stand for Our Flag, and Kneel for Our Cross.” Many are climate change deniers and creationists. At first, they viewed the COVID-19 pandemic either as a hoax concocted by the Democrats to make Trump lose his reelection bid, or as a deliberate Chinese attack on the US. In this context, I view myself as an amateur anthropologist and a sociologist.

Elderly COVID-19 lock-down misery in a retirement home

For me, the dramatic events occurred on May 22, 2020. It was a Friday, and the town had scheduled its yearly high school graduation celebration. Naturally, the townspeople, like most people on this planet, were still trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. For this purpose, and to celebrate the end of the strict lockdown affecting its retirement home, the community held an event where about 40 elderly people (see photographs) were allowed to sit outside to be greeted by relatives who drove by. It was overall an extremely sad ceremony, and I could not help myself thinking of the inherent sickness of our so-called modern civilization, where the older generation is institutionalized while, in most cases, they could have been cared for by their children or grandchildren.

In western Europe and the US, retirement homes had an extremely high mortality rate during the COVID-19 pandemic. The residents of this specific facility, just like in the rest of the US and most western European countries, were further victimized by the interdiction of visits from their relatives. They had to deal with the great psychological pain of isolation, on the premise of their own good, all of it by governmental decrees.

One could hope that the pandemic will give an acute sense a guilt to people who consider their elderly parents to be inconvenient and put them in the care of others in an institution. It is morally wrong and cruel to treat your elderly parents this way. In decent societies, either archaic societies or ones of recent past, the entire family took care of their aging relatives when they became weak and frail. The wisdom of age was respected, and older people in need of help were not put away, institutionalized and subcontracted to strangers. Furthermore, the elders were actually revered, as the younger generation would seek their advice.

On a tornado path

At dusk, a thunderstorm came. The sky turned black towards the north-west while it was still clear in the south-east. The temperature dropped abruptly. The thunderous black clouds had company: it was a tornado. The rain didn’t start right away, as the winds were gathering strength. At about 9:00 o’clock, the town sirens went off, and shortly afterwards I got a tornado warning on my phone that said: “Tornado alert seek shelter immediately.” I did so in a closet that seemed to be relatively strong and was not directly under big trees or near to windows. Then the power went off, and I could only hear the extremely loud fury of sheets of rain, thunder, and deadly winds, combined with the glaring sirens. The cacophony was intense. Nature’s wrath had hit the town, and the tornado chewed away like a giant chainsaw. It lasted for about 45 minutes. Later, while the rain continued to pour, I quickly inspected the house I live in, with help from the lightnings. The structure seemed okay, and all windows were intact. Exhausted, I went to bed.

Tornado’s wreckage

When I woke up the next day, two sizable trees were down in my muddy backyard. I did not yet realize quite how lucky I had been. Having no immediate means to clear anything, I decided to take a survey (see photographs) of the worse-hit areas of town. Someone told me where the tornado had done most damage. It was literally on the wrong side of the tracks. Urban development is interesting that way. Pretty much anywhere in the world, parts of cities, big or small, are more desirable than others. There are always dividers, either natural or man made, which sort of segregate a town by the level of income and sometimes by race. It is quite often in relationship with elevation and risk of flooding. This little town is split by a freight train railroad track. Because life is usually unfair, the poorer part of town was the one hardest hit by the tornado.

According to a local news source, over 450 structures were either seriously damaged or destroyed. For a town of slightly more than 5,000 people, already suffering from the COVID-19 recession like the rest of the US, and with the crash of oil prices, whose business sustains many in the community, the recovery will be an uphill battle. This little rural community will be joined by countless more in the very near future, and it will not make headlines in any mainstream news cycle. Many poor people became homeless that night. Many small business owners lost their livelihood. Countless majestic old oaks, sycamores and hackberry trees were snapped like matches or uprooted. Last, but not least, baby birds in the trees were killed by the thousands. The infrastructure suffered a great deal too, with many wooden electrical posts broken like twigs or laid flat on the ground.

What I saw reminded me of Katrina‘s aftermath in New Orleans, which I had covered. Natural disasters are always a reminder of life’s incredible frailty and the brutal yet awesome forces of wind, rain and fire. Some human beings, in all their arrogance, think and act like they can control natural phenomena, but this is a dangerous delusion. When the wrath of nature falls on us, we then realize that, as a species, we have no more survival power and skills than fire ants. Actually, probably less so. When you experience disasters, it usually gives you a great sense of humility as well as an appreciation for life.

The COVID-19 pandemic did that too. Disasters also, in the case of a hurricane, a tornado or a fire, bring people closer. If on Friday, during the day, in this little town, wearing a mask and social distancing was still officially on the behavioral menu, on Saturday morning, after the tornado, the COVID-19 cautions of mask wearing and social distancing were thrown to the wind. People who had lost everything were trying to help and comfort each other. This spontaneous sense of solidarity is what humanity can be at its best.

Unfortunately, just as I witnessed in New Orleans post Katrina almost 15 years ago, the citizens in this small rural town had to rely on themselves and their neighbors to start sifting through the rubble to salvage bits and pieces of their lives; rely on themselves to clear trees that had fallen on their houses, cars, and across their yards. City government authorities were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps this was because the elected town’s major powers have been de-facto stripped and assumed by an unelected and designated City Manager.

Privatization of critical sectors: the rise of banana republics

The day after the tornado hit, the private power company that has the contract from the city to maintain and fix all the electrical grid, power station, electrical posts, transformers and lines showed up, assessed the damage and immediately shut down part of the grid. Fair enough. The repairs had to be done. I asked the crew’s foreman what was a projected time estimate to restore service to the town. He didn’t want to answer and abruptly told me to contact the press representative of the corporation that employs him. The following week we had, in the town, several daily power outages as well as Internet disruption. A few years before the town had made a huge technological jump to fiber optics, all of it run underground. Of course, the Internet/communication company that won the bid to wire the town is different from the power company.

When I called the Internet company about the numerous connection problems, they told me that the underground fiber optic had been disrupted in many places in my areas. One can easily solve this problem here. Power company A is digging deep holes to set up new electrical posts, and carelessly disturbing the fiber optics of company B. This is, in a nutshell, what you get when you privatize and subcontract government functions on a local, state or federal level. There is no more coordination. Private companies only care about profits and their bottom lines. If this town was really run in a democratic manner by an elected mayor, instead of a designated city manager, the citizens could ask him in person why, for example, in a part of the US at the edge of tornado alley, major electrical wires are run above ground. Why not run them underground as is done in a city with no extreme weather hazard like Las Vegas, Nevada?

My partner at News Junkie Post, Dady Chery, and I often joke about the US and other so-called developed nations, like France, becoming banana republics, where all the infrastructure is falling apart, vital services like power and water are marginal, and corruption is rampant at all levels of government. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed governmental failures in most countries. In France, years of budget cuts in what used to be a stellar public health care system did the job. The culprits are government officials and technocrats who decided in an office somewhere, just because they could, that money must be saved. The French technocrats in question, just like the politicians in the US who for years have blocked laws to establish a free universal health care system, have blood on their hands. Indecision, and bad political decisions except the ones to dismantle the public sector to privatize government, kill.

The politician culprits will not be held accountable, as the system has been rigged to keep them, and the corporations that finance their elections and therefore maintain them in power, above the law. Yes the banana republic factor is becoming widespread, as real democracies become an endangered mode of governance. The banana republic model is contagious too, as bad governance has reached a stage of pandemic. Sadly enough, most of the aspiring banana republics do not even have the merit of growing bananas.

This first person story had to be told because I perceive this little community to be a microcosm of not only the dysfunctional aspects of the US but also the rest of the world. As the climate crisis intensifies — and this is not in humanity’s future, it is right now — millions, or perhaps even billions, will join the ranks of the homeless in this little town. Conservative estimates put the likely number of climate change refugees at 600 million by the end of the century.

As the temperature of the oceans keeps rising, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and severe droughts will affect regions of western Europe that have been so far spared. With global warming, diseases that were confined to tropical areas, like dengue fever and malaria, will move away from the equator towards the north and south. Current medical habits to overprescribe antibiotics will cause the appearance of many more antibiotic resistant bacteria. Humanity’s general forecast is grim. Our future is under multiple threats, dark clouds are gathering, and many storms are on their way. Real storms and the growing clamor of popular anger. The global COVID-19 pandemic, and its gross political mismanagement has turned people’s chronically simmering anger into a pressure cooker. Will this blow in the face of the billionaire class and their political enablers? Time will tell. It always does.

• All photos by Gilbert Mercier

How Much Violence and Destruction is Enough for Depraved American Leaders and Their Subjects?

Without trampling through all the historical details, we can designate the entire history of [Americans]—the glorious past so eulogized by our fathers—as the history of shame, for in that history there is more betrayal, apostasy, perfidious intrigue, ignominious defeat, well-deserved failure, base vengeance, merciless retaliation and brutality that no hypocrisy can mask…So let’s forget about the past and old glories, namely let’s leave it be, let’s no longer bring up those shames of the past and the jumbled mendacities considered worthy of praise, it’s more than enough for us just to remain on the surface of that swamp if at all possible, the swamp denoting the state of moral values today…Whoever is [American] continually postpones his present, exchanging it for a future that will never arrive.

Baron Wenkheim’s Homecoming, Laszlo Krasznahorkai

What subcategory of human being takes a knee on a handcuffed man, mashed face down on the pavement and, ultimately, forces him to die? Such was the action of a psychopathic white Minneapolis, Minnesota, police-paramilitary officer named Derek Chauvin, that resulted in the death of a black man, George Floyd.

Right there, on the street, recorded live by a bystander. Chauvin continued his personal application of the death penalty even as he knew he was being filmed. Idiot or no? Did he think he’d be exonerated by his superiors? Now the world can watch a uniformed member of the Minnesota State paramilitary apparatus snuff the life out of a human being. For what? An allegedly forged $20 bill?

And the result?

A long overdue protest movement in major cities across the United States that is posing a challenge to the State-Wall Street monopoly on violence that disproportionately eliminates blacks, Latino’s and poor whites. And let’s not forget those citizens in foreign countries wiped off the map by perpetual US bombing and drone attacks. (State-Wall Street: referring to corporations, lobbyists, finance houses, politicians, mainstream media, upper echelon military, etc.)

Power to the State-Wall Street, Not the People

It’s not the death of a black, white, Latino, Syrian or Iraqi, that is of concern to the State-Wall Street; rather it is the fear of the violent challenge posed by the protestors here at home (or insurgents abroad, China, Russia) to the State-Wall Street monopoly on violence.

The fear of the State-Wall Street crowd is so intense that the governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, called the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to talk about strategy and tactics to subdue the protestors. Is that such a good idea given that the Taliban is pushing the US military out of Afghanistan?

The Pentagon is finally going to go to open war against its own—again— people first starting with the National Guard deployment in Minneapolis and followed by active duty military police. Most Americans will not care as they have been pummeled with constant propaganda about the military being a divine institution. What’s next? Another Jackson State?

The protests underway have at their foundation the totalitarian economic conditions which the State-Wall Street benignly incarcerate the larger population leaving them with the sham outlet of elections that simply replaces one prison warden with another. Vote for what? Another fascist like President Donald J. Trump or governors around the country who have their eyes on senate or house seats?

Why would someone like Floyd, allegedly, try to pass off a $20 note? You can’t separate that act from the grueling austerity measures and unemployment in the USA that leaves the young and poor, and lower classes of all stripes with no economic future and struggling to make ends meet each day, even to put food on the table.Yeah, sure, the COVID-19 Pandemic has been really tough on most Americans. But where are the trillions of federal dollars in the form of food aid, unemployment benefits, jobs programs for the Floyd’s and others in this country?

The State-Wall Street act as if over 100,000 Americans deaths from COVID-19 (largely poor, elderly, black) don’t matter at all. Nothing to see here, move along, the dear leaders say. Put the American flags at half mast, the president says. Here’s $1200 for each household, the US Congress says. Bow your heads in remembrance of the 100K religious leaders say. With this kind of American psychopathic leadership mentality that seems now to have infected nearly all American political and economic leaders, what’s one more George Floyd to them?

And it was chaotic ineptitude by the Trump administration, and his predecessors, that led to so many deaths. Even the nonpartisan Lancet weighed in on the matter with an unsigned editorial:

Funding to the CDC for a long time has been subject to conservative politics that have increasingly eroded the agency’s ability to mount effective, evidence-based public health responses. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration resisted providing the sufficient budget that the CDC needed to fight the HIV/AIDS crisis. The George W Bush administration put restrictions on global and domestic HIV prevention and reproductive health programming.

The Trump administration further chipped away at the CDC’s capacity to combat infectious diseases. CDC staff in China were cut back with the last remaining CDC officer recalled home from China CDC in July 2019, leaving an intelligence vacuum when COVID-19 began to emerge.

If You Can Kill 1 or 100K Americans, Why not Kill the Environment and Wildlife?

Everywhere across the spectrum that you look you can see the State-Wall Street turning the clock back to the early 1960s. Nowhere is this more evident than in the repeal of environmental and wildlife protections.

The Trump administration is relaxing a rule on the hunting and killing of bear cubs and wolves in their dens. According to Newsweek this report:

The National Park Service described the new rule as an effort to reinstate federal alignment with the state’s hunting regulations, according to an NPS news release. The rule, which is expected to go into effect in late June, would reverse course on hunting restrictions introduced in 2015 by President Barack Obama’s administration.

NPS spokesperson Peter Christian told the Anchorage Daily News that hunters would be allowed under the new rule to use artificial lighting to entice black bears out of their dens, employ bait to attract black and brown bears, hunt wolves and coyotes during their denning season, and catch caribou while they are swimming.

The New York Times has a running list of Trump’s assault on the environment. It notes that:

The bulk of the rollbacks identified by the Times have been carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency, which repealed and replaced the Obama-era emissions rules for power plants and vehicles; weakened protections for more than half the nation’s wetlands; and withdrew the legal justification for restricting mercury emissions from power plants. At the same time, the Interior Department has worked to open up more land for oil and gas leasing by cutting back protected areas and limiting wildlife protections.

And, Oh, The Joy of Watching People Suffer and Die

Isn’t it enough for Americans to have hunted down Osama Bin Laden and killed him (a video somewhere); captured Saddam Hussein only to watch him hang in a stairwell; or have Muammar Gaddafi killed and stabbed in the anus with a bayonet?

Isn’t it enough for Americans to have lived with nearly 10 to 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and hear/see the daily reports of civilian casualties killed by US and Coalition forces and the millions of displaced persons caused by US wars, combat action?

S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us

If the planet Earth were animate, it would have shuddered at the news that S. David Freeman passed away this month. Freeman was that important to Earth’s future.  In his 94th year, he inspired all he met with his burning passion, relentless energy, and keen intellect.

Freeman, an engineer and a lawyer, knew where decisions were being made or ignored regarding our energy future. He mocked the foolish embrace of fossil fuels and warned all who would listen about the deadly impact of coal, oil, and natural gas consumption on our   environment. This humble son of an immigrant umbrella repair man made the most of his formidable talents over seven decades and helped steer mankind toward renewables and energy efficiency. Freeman worked to prevent the perilous use of fossil and nuclear fuels.

Freeman was one of the first environmentalists to warn us of the dangers posed by fossil fuels and he was one of the first to offer practical remedies.  He started his career in the 1950s as an engineer with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) before holding a series of positions with the Federal Power Commission (FPC) and the Johnson White House. In 1974 Freeman    authored the Ford Foundation’s groundbreaking report “A Time to Choose: America’s Energy Future.”  He was an adviser to President Jimmy Carter, who appointed him chairman of the giant TVA in 1978.

At the TVA, Freeman managed with a no-nonsense, down-to-earth, results-focused approach to reform. Using what he learned at TVA, Freeman became known for turning around hidebound giant utilities that were unable to process evidence contrary to their wasteful ways and environmental destructiveness. The tenacious Tennessean had no patience for self-serving talk that avoided obvious solutions. Freeman was a serious advocate who used humor, wit, and charm to make his case in the court of public opinion and the corridors of power. “Mother Nature doesn’t care what we say, Mother Nature only cares about what we do,” he would remind bloviators!

Freeman shut down or suspended construction of half a dozen nuclear reactors at the TVA, scoring them as dangerous, uneconomical, and unnecessary. He liked “free” sources of energy, such as solar and wind, instead of lethal coal, gas, oil, and uranium that had to be ripped perilously from the bowels of the Earth. As for vast opportunities afforded by energy efficient sources, he paraphrased Benjamin Franklin, saying a megawatt of energy that isn’t wasted is a megawatt you don’t have to produce.

In between his clearheaded impact on conferences around the world, advising presidents, governors, members of Congress and parliaments, and many cogent writings, Freeman ran three other giant utilities (other than TVA, Freeman ran utilities in California, Texas, and New York). At Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), he implemented a public vote against the troubled Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, replacing its energy with conservation and renewables.

In the decades I knew David, he always made the changes he implemented look easy because he so deftly and honestly used evidence, facts, and economics— sometimes to rectify his previous positions. He used his knowledge to serve the public that was too often shoved aside by bureaucratic and corporate vested interests.

Freeman had that unparalleled combination of managerial experience, scholarly knowledge, and programmatic urgency in confronting the climate crisis. We would invite him for brown bag lunches with younger leaders working on energy transition. He would “out urgent” them, mocking dilatory cap and trade ideas while demanding  mandatory reduction in fossil fuels and ending nuclear power, and replacing them with job producing energy conservation, retrofitting homes and buildings as solar and wind ramp up. Freeman said, “We need to pass a law that says that every utility in this country must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5% of 2020 emissions every year, starting now, and until we get down to zero.”

You may be wondering why you haven’t seen Freeman on television or read about his urgent proposals, as a doer, covering the crisis of climate and regular air water soil safeguards from ruinous extractive fuels.

Certainly, the mass media has devoted many hours and pages to these subjects, interviewing far lesser and often conflicted people on NPR, PBS, commercial networks, and major newspapers. I made many calls to energy and environmental reporters about David’s availability, but to no avail.

Was it ageism? Which is rampant. Was it his free-thinking challenges to named influential corporations? Was it that he was seen as no longer an adviser to powerful officials? At age 93 he was flying to California negotiating the closure of the last nuke plant there with Pacific Gas Electric. He co-authored a book All-Electric America: A Climate Solution and the Hopeful Future with Leah Y. Parks in 2018 and his human interest memoir The Green Cowboy: An Energetic Life in 2016. Recently he was meeting with the pro-“Green New Deal” members of Congress.

But the media wasn’t calling. Until, that is, David’s “energetic” life came to an end and the obituary pages gave him his due in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other outlets. Unlike like celebrity entertainers and athletes, however, he didn’t make page one. But his prescient legacy is an enduring example of how we can save our green planet and brighten our future. Biographers may wish to wrap their minds around this functional, enlightened life of such immense productivity.

We Don’t Have To Choose Between Our Health And The Economy

The United States is at a critical moment in the COVID-crisis. This week, the nation is likely to surpass 100,000 deaths and new hotspots in the south and midwest are developing. Forty-two states have either started “reopening” their economies or imminently plan to do so without putting in place essential public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus. As of May 7, more than half of the states that had either reopened or planned to do so (30 at the time) have seen an increase in case counts or positive tests. Public health experts are predicting another round of mass illness and deaths.

President Trump, whose political future is tied to the pandemic and economic collapse, has been encouraging protests demanding the reopening of the economy. This is the latest in a series of mistakes made since China first warned the Centers for Disease Contol of the new virus on January 3. He is putting the economy ahead of public health and risking more than 200,000 deaths by October at the height of the 2020 elections. He seems to fear a recession becoming a depression more than mass COVID-deaths. In the end, he may get both.

Two opposite popular movements are developing. The movement encouraged by Trump is minimizing the pandemic and pushing for reopening the economy. They garnered national attention because of their open display of weapons, which resulted in the Michigan legislature closing down. The other movement is characterized by a wave of wildcat strikes, rent strikes, and a nascent general strike campaign calling for health protection for workers, hazard pay, a basic income during the pandemic, and access to healthcare without financial barriers. This movement is covered only in independent and social media.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, April 15, 2020. A protester holds a sign with a swastika (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Extremist Reopen Movement

The reopen protests play on the frustration of the restrictions put in place to respond to the pandemic. They shroud themselves with labels of “patriotism,” “freedom” and “libertarianism” but there are indications of manipulation by the Charles Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The pro-business magazine Forbes described the reopen protests as not spontaneous but astroturfing. They report on a security firm’s finding that they come from “various gun rights groups, state Republican Party organizations, and conservative think tanks, religious and advocacy groups.”

Many of the protesters wear Trump red hats and t-shirts. Trump responded by embracing the state-level push to reopen, and even encouraged protests against governors who maintain shelter-in-place instructions, declaring in late April, “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” When protesters confronted the media, Trump encouraged them, calling the media “nonessential” and “fake news.” He described armed anti-lockdown protesters as ‘great people.’

In Michigan, the brandishing of weapons has been aggressive. Groups such as the Michigan Liberty Militia sent armed protesters inside the statehouse and crowded into the gallery of the state Senate after demanding to be allowed on the House floor. An attempt to ban weapons inside the statehouse was blocked by the Republican-dominated legislature resulting in Michigan canceling their legislative session.

Newsweek reports, “Dozens of posts in private invitation-only Facebook groups called for Whitmer to be hanged, lynched, shot, beaten or beheaded. One suggested crowdfunding sources to hire a hitman to kill her.” These followed President Trump’s attacks on Whitmer. Some legislators wore bulletproof vests to the capitol building and one black legislator was escorted by armed protectors. The armed extremists are in the minority as polling has shown that a majority of Michigan residents support the lockdown measures.

In Wisconsin, Governor Tony Evers’ lockdown order was overturned by a 4-3 ruling by the Republican-controlled state Supreme Court. The Tavern League of Wisconsin posted news of the ruling on its website and said it meant businesses could open immediately. Just hours after the decision, people flocked to bars in Milwaukee without wearing face masks or practicing physical distancing. Some county governments moved quickly to impose their own lockdown rules. Evers said the Supreme Court does not change science and urged people to stay safe at home to protect their families, friends, and communities. There have been reopen protests even though 70 percent of Wisconsinites support the governor’s order.

At protest rallies, people were seen holding signs with swastikas on them. At a May 2 protest in Boise, Idaho, militia extremist Ammon Bundy compared government quarantine measures to the Nazi holocaust and called public health measures “tyranny.” A “Reopen Philadelphia” protest, organized by small business owners and members of the far-right Proud Boys, was held at City Hall last Friday.

These reopen extremists that use fear are a slim minority in the United States. A recent PBS/Marist poll showed broad opposition to the rush to reopen. Results included 85 percent opposed to reopening schools, 80 percent opposed to allowing dine-in restaurants, and 65 percent believe reopening now would be a bad idea. Nicole Hammer, author of Messengers of the Right, said these were protests designed for media coverage, but “The thing to remember about these protests is they’re very small. They represent a small constituency.”

Evidence throughout history shows that pandemics can have second and third waves. Countries that have attempted to reopen have seen spikes and closed down again. During the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, the second wave was worse than the first. We have been warned that a second wave is likely in the fall, during flu season, especially if we reopen too quickly.

The reopen protests are a death choir that is willing to sacrifice lives for the economy. Former Republican governor Chris Christie compared it to World War II when soldiers were sent to battle. He said, “In the very same way now we have to stand up for the American way of life” as we ‘are going to have to’ accept more death to reopen the economy. Along the same lines, Trump issued an executive order under the Defense Production Act to force meat processors to stay open despite the risk to workers’ health and urged states to deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to return to work.

RNs affiliated with National Nurses United placed white shoes outside the White House, each pair representing a nurse lost due to insufficient PPE during COVID-19. | NNU via Twitter

The Larger Popular Movement Protects Life

People are taking action for the majority view by calling for adequate health protection for workers as well as hazard pay, access to healthcare without financial cost and an ongoing basic income to provide economic security throughout the pandemic and economic collapse.

There have now been three months of a COVID strike wave. The Payday Report has identified over 200 wildcat strikes since the beginning of March. Essential workers in the food industry, healthcare, and transportation are among those striking. The fruit workers strike wave in Washington State has spread to 13 major sites and there is a growing movement of truckers striking nationwideTruckers disrupted a Rose Garden presentation by Trump blowing their horns as he spoke. Trump falsely told the audience they were supporting him. When sanitation workers went on strike in New Orleans, they were replaced by prison slave-labor but the contractor has since stopped that. The strike is now in its second week.

Amazon, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest human, is being protested across national boundaries including in Spain, France, Germany, Poland, and the United States. Among the workers’ demands are permanent wage increases and extra break time,  two weeks of paid sick leave, and extending the unlimited unpaid sick leave program that the company just ended in the U.S. They want the company to work in good faith with unions and reinstate the workers fired for their activism. As Bezos’ wealth increased by $30 billion amid the pandemic, Amazon ended its $2 per hour hazard pay for workers. One executive engineer for Amazon resigned over the mistreatment of workers.

In the US, 91 nurses have died from treating patients with COVID19, while no nurses have died in Canada. Multiple nurses, doctors and hospital staff have been fired for complaining about the lack of protective equipment. An empty shoe protest was held outside the White House over the deaths of nurses.

Amalgamated Transit Workers Union members across the country have engaged in work stoppages to demand safety in mass transit. Detroit bus drivers kicked off protests on March 17, early in the pandemic, and won all of their demands around health and safety.  Birmingham drivers took action on March 23 and went back to work the following day after having won multiple safety measures. In April, drivers in Richmond, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina also won safety measures. Transit workers are now looking to redefine mass transit in the post-COVID era where confronting climate change will be important.

Groups representing workers, immigrants, and civil rights advocates are protesting reopening the economy too soon. As one advocate said, “We will not be guinea pigs.”  People want to return to work but they want the economy reopened safely. People’s lives should not be jeopardized for the economy.

These advocates have science on their side. On May 12, two top health officials in the federal government informed a Senate committee that the coronavirus is not contained and that reopening too swiftly is profoundly dangerous. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci warned that “there is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control.” Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the current director of the CDC, who was hired by Trump said, “We are not out of the woods yet.”

Deborah Burger, the co-president of National Nurses United (NNU), told In These Times, “We are way premature for opening when the cases nationwide have not gone down but continue to go up,” adding, “We are still experiencing a rationing of personal protective equipment, N95 masks, and other protective gear. We just did a vigil for over 100 nurses who have died.”

#GeneralStrike2020 How to Participate

Protect Public Health before Reopening

It is a false choice to claim the country must immediately reopen despite the health risks. This is a red herring political maneuver by Trump. We can protect public health and economic security so we can quarantine safely and reopen when it is safe. This includes a public health system in every county that screens and tests for COVID19, traces the contacts of those who test positive and isolates all positives and their contacts until they are clear. It requires a universal basic income until the pandemic and recession are over. And it requires housing for all, universal health care and debt forgiveness. Essential workers must be provided with whatever they need to protect their health during the pandemic. This may include child care and separating them from their families so they can work.

President Trump’s divisive politics may mean the US will have more than 200,000 COVID deaths by the fall and that the recession has turned into a depression. His politics of disposability will result in human sacrifices for a failed restarting of the economy. Already data is being manipulated to falsely lower the number of deaths. For example, Florida is not counting reports from medical examiners. And, the loss of jobs is being underreported. In the end, none of this will hide reality.  People will see how the super-rich Wall Steeters once again cheated the rest of us while pillaging Main Street. To prevent this, we need to organize and strike now.

We are continuing to build the General Strike campaign. Join the next organizing call on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00 pm Eastern/4:00 pm Pacific. The featured speaker is Kali Akuno of the People’s Strike and Cooperation Jackson who will describe the organizing behind the General Strike campaign. Register at bit.ly/MayDayMeeting for the Zoom information.

The crises of COVID and economic collapse are triggers for people to demand change as a gateway to a new and better world.  The short term demands of public safety and economic security should be followed by longer-term demands for Medicare for all with a community-controlled national health service. After the pandemic and recession, we need to restart the economy in a way that provides economic security for all by confronting inequality and protecting the planet with a Green New Deal. The realities of capitalism have been exposed as the stock market shows its disconnect to the real economy and high unemployment.

The established order has been exposed and this experience will be embedded in people’s understanding of the world. This makes the powerholders weaker than ever before and if we act in solidarity, the opportunities for positive change are great.