Category Archives: Climate

Neil DeGrasse Tyson Takes Science Deniers to the Woodshed: ‘Fringe Information Is Unraveling Our Democracy’

The astrophysicist fears for America’s future as a leader of the free world.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson warned this week that America’s democracy is “unraveling” because “fringe” information is treated with the same weight as legitimate science.

Tyson appeared on MSNBC on Wednesday to comment on the recent catastrophic hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

“Earth is pissed off,” Tyson informed MSNBC co-hosts Ali Velshi and Stephanie Ruhle. “I don’t know how else to put it. These are shots across our bow at this point.”

Tyson noted that some “people are still saying, ‘I choose not to follow the consensus of observations and experiments gives us.’”

“Anyone who wants to base policy on research papers that are not in the consensus of what others have shown,” he continued, “that is risky — no! It’s irresponsible.”

Ruhle pointed out that voters and shareholders are not interested in “adding thoughtfulness” to their decisions.

“That is the unraveling of an informed democracy,” Tyson replied. “If you have people deciding based on fringe information and making policy based on it, yes, it is the unraveling of an informed democracy. And I fear for the future of this country as a leader of the world.”

By David Edwards/Alternet/RawStory

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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After Backlash, French President Vows To Rebuild St. Martin, Diversify Economy

Nearing the end of a sweeping visit to assess the devastation wrought by Hurricane Irma, French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild the wrecked island of St. Martin and diversify its economy away from tourism.

Image: ENA-POOL/SIPA/SPPFR

In further responses to complaints that his government didn’t do enough to handle Irma’s wrath, Macron also promised to evacuate residents of his country’s Caribbean territories and provide services and shelter for those who choose to stay.

Macron stayed overnight on St. Martin, reportedly sleeping on a camp cot, and was heading Wednesday to the heavily-damaged island of St. Barts with the French health minister, who has warned about diseases spreading on the islands after water supplies, electricity and communication were knocked out for days.

“What we have seen today are people determined to rebuild and return to a normal life,” Macron said Tuesday in a news conference. “They are impatient for answers and some are very, very angry. The anger is legitimate because it is a result of the fear they have faced and of being very fatigued. It is certain that some want to leave, and we will help them in that effort.”

He said France was bringing in air-conditioned tents so children can start classes again soon, and that a center would be established by Monday to begin processing requests for financial help.

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Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America

As Hurricane Harvey lashed Texas, Naomi Klein wasted no time in diagnosing the “real root causes” behind the disaster, indicting “climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police.” A day after her essay appeared, George Monbiot argued that no one wants to ask the tough questions about the coastal flooding spawned during Hurricane Harvey because to do so would be to challenge capitalism—a system wedded to “perpetual growth on a finite planet”—and call into question the very foundations of “the entire political and economic system.”

Of the two choices, I vote for Monbiot’s interpretation. Nearly forty years ago, the historian Donald Worster in his classic study of one of the worst natural disasters in world history, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, wrote that capitalism, which he understood as an economic culture founded on maximizing imperatives and a determination to treat nature as a form of capital, “has been the decisive factor in this nation’s use of nature.”

Care must be taken not to imagine capitalism as a timeless phenomenon. Capitalism has a history and that history is important if we are to properly diagnose what happened recently in Texas and is about to happen as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida. What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England.

The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era.

All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature.

It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods
mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

At the same time that the U.S. government launched the NFIP, a Keynesian crisis that would extend over the course of the next decade and a half began to unfold. Declining corporate profits were brought on by rising wages, mounting class conflict, escalating competition from Japan and western Europe, and increased consumer and environmental regulation. The profit squeeze combined with stagflation and widespread fiscal problems to produce major economic dislocation.

A new form of capitalism began to slowly emerge as business responded to the crisis. Major institutional change occurred in the global economy, in the relationship between capital and labor, and most important for our concerns here, in the state’s role in economic life. In the early 1970s the Business Roundtable was established as a corporate lobbying group. Among its tasks was to undermine various forms of consumer and environmental regulation.

This was the context for the assault on the liberal flood insurance program. By the 1990s, under the Clinton Administration, the pretense of regulating land use on the local level was all but dismissed in favor of a policy that simply encouraged localities to do the right thing to ensure the safety of people and property. It is not an accident that one of the worst-hit developments in Houston—southern Kingwood—was built in the last years of the twentieth century and the aughts right in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s designated 100-year floodplain.

Nor is there anything the least bit natural in how cities in the postwar United States have functioned as profitable sites for capital accumulation. Developers have been able to derive profits from capitalist urbanization in coastal locations because of what was effectively a giant subsidy by the American state.

Flirtation with disaster is in a sense the essence of neoliberal capitalism, a hyperactive form of this exploitative economic order that seems to know no limits. Some might find comfort in the words of Alexander Cockburn: “A capitalism that thrives best on the abnormal, on disasters, is by definition in decline.”

Others, myself included, worry that the current organization of this market economy to benefit the interests of capitalists, with its blind, utopian faith in the price mechanism, is likely to head in precisely the direction that the economic historian Karl Polanyi predicted in 1944. An institutional arrangement organized around a “self-adjusting market,” he warned, “could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.”

Rush “Bimbo” Is Now Running From Irma, Days After Mocking Storm as Liberal Conspiracy

Conservative broadcaster Rush Limbaugh seems to have abandoned his plans to ride out Hurricane Irma at his Palm Beach home, where he records his radio show, after originally downplaying the risk of the storm as the product of a giant conspiracy.

Irma is currently grazing by Cuba, possibly on its way to make landfall on Limbaugh’s doorstep, though forecasts still provide for a wide variety of possibilities. The National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. ET advisory Friday placed all of coastal South Florida in hurricane and storm surge warnings.

More than 100,000 Palm Beach residents were ordered to evacuate as of Friday at 10 a.m., the Miami Herald reported, including President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. The uber-wealthy area hosts a gaggle of conservative celebrities’ homes.

On Tuesday, Limbaugh said that he wasn’t a meteorologist, but rather the “go-to-guy” in his circles for hurricane advice. He painted the storm’s early forecasts as a grand conspiracy between local retailers and media, meteorologists and public officials hungry to sell the public on the reality of climate change.

More from Mother Jones

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How Washington Made Harvey Worse A federal insurance program made Harvey far more costly—and Congress could have known it was coming.

Hurricane Harvey was a disaster foretold.

Nearly two decades before the storm’s historic assault on homes and businesses along the Gulf Coast of Texas this week, the National Wildlife Federation released a groundbreaking report about the United States government’s dysfunctional flood insurance program, demonstrating how it was making catastrophes worse by encouraging Americans to build and rebuild in flood-prone areas. The report, titled “Higher Ground,” crunched federal data to show that just 2 percent of the program’s insured properties were receiving 40 percent of its damage claims. The most egregious example was a home that had flooded 16 times in 18 years, netting its owners more than $800,000 even though it was valued at less than $115,000.

That home was located in Houston, along with more than half of America’s worst “repetitive loss properties” identified in the report. There was one other city with more repetitive losses overall, but Houston is where the federation went to announce its Higher Ground findings in July 1998, to try to build a national case for reform.

“Houston, we have a problem,” declared the report’s author, David Conrad. The repetitive losses from even modest floods, he warned, were a harbinger of a costly and potentially deadly future. “We haven’t seen the worst of this yet,” Conrad said.

Houston’s problem was runaway development in flood-prone areas, accelerated by heavily subsidized federal flood insurance. Now that Hurricane Harvey has turned Conrad’s warnings into reality, it’s worth noting that Houston’s problem was in part a Washington problem, a slow-motion disaster that was easy to predict but politically impossible to prevent. Congress often discusses fixing flood insurance to stop encouraging Americans to build in harm’s way, but the National Flood Insurance Program is still almost as dysfunctional as it was 19 years ago. It is now nearly $25 billion in the red, piling debt onto the national credit card. Meanwhile, cities like Houston—as well as New Orleans, which Higher Ground identified as the national leader in repetitive losses eight years before Hurricane Katrina—continue to sprawl into their vulnerable floodplains, aided by the availability of inexpensive federally supported insurance.

More from Politico

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Houston Megachurch: We ‘Never Closed Our Doors’ To Those Displaced By Harvey

The Lakewood Church in Houston, a megachurch with a 16,800-seat arena where Joel Osteen serves as pastor, on Monday denied that it closed its doors to residents displaced by massive flooding after Hurricane Harvey made landfall last week.

“We have never closed our doors. We will continue to be a distribution center for those in need,” church spokesman Donald Iloff told CNN. “We are prepared to shelter people once the cities and county shelters reach capacity.”

The church provided CNN with photographs of standing water in hallways and a parking lot.

BUT….

Image: Twitter

Iloff, who is televangelist pastor Joel Osteen’s father-in-law, said the church is scheduled to open around noon and will also serve as a donation center.

The church on Sunday posted on Facebook that it was “inaccessible due to severe flooding” and included a list of “safe shelters” in Houston as well as the National Guard rescue hotline.

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American public to President Trump: Leave our national monuments alone

The comment period for the Trump administration’s national monument review has officially ended, and the administration if facing stiff public backlash over its attempt to downsize national monuments across the West.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in April directing the Department of the Interior to review two decades’ worth of national monument designations in an effort to decide whether to rescind, modify, or maintain their designations. The review encompasses 21 monuments, mostly located in the Western United States, from New Mexico to Washington.

Image: Patrick Whittle, Associated Press

The review’s public comment period, which lasted for 60 days, elicited more than 2.5 million responses. According to a Center for Western Priorities analysis of the 654,197 comments that had been processed by Interior Department staff as of Monday morning, 98 percent were supportive of maintaining or expanding current national monument boundaries, while just 1 percent supported the idea of shrinking monuments.

Several recently-designated monuments have been the target of Republican lawmakers, primarily the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which President Obama designated in December of 2016. The designation, which was granted after a proposal from five indigenous tribes, meant that oil and gas companies would not be allowed to drill or mine for minerals in some 1.35-million acres of the state. On June 13, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke released a recommendation calling for Bears Ears to be downsized, which Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a fierce opponent of the national monument, called “ an unquestionable victory for Utah.”

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