If you want to understand how American politics changed for the worse, according to moral psychologist and bestselling author Jonathan Haidt, you need only compare two quotations from prominent Republicans, nearly 50 years apart.
The first is from the actor John Wayne, who on the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 said, "I didn't vote for him, but he's my president and I hope he does a good job."
The second is from talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who, on the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, said, "I hope he fails."
Michael Skinner didn’t start the experiment with the hypothesis that he’d find a connection between the insecticide DDT and obesity.
“We didn’t expect to find that,” he said. “In fact, the frequency of obesity really came as a surprise.”
Skinner, a scientist at Washington State University, wanted to take a close look at the way DDT affected inheritance. So his team injected DDT into pregnant rats and watched first their children, and then their grandchildren (or is it grandrats?). It was only in the third generation, the great-grand-rat, that they saw it: Fully half of these rats were obese. The implication is that the same thing could be happening with humans.
Remember a couple of weeks ago when you read about how Mitch McConnell and Sarah Palin threw a huge party to celebrate America’s newfound “energy independence"? No? That’s weird, maybe they forgot to invite the media.
The U.S. Energy Information Agency projected earlier this month “that the United States will be the world's top producer of petroleum and natural gas hydrocarbons in 2013, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.”
Q.Do you have recommendations for hosting large gatherings in a sustainable way?
Lise O. Wellesley, Mass.
A. Dearest Lise,
I, too, love a good party. When my workload here in the stacks allows, I will occasionally indulge in an evening with friends, a good homebrew in hand and Engelbert Humperdinck on the hi-fi. And with the holidays swiftly approaching, I suspect we’re all in for some serious merriment. In fact, some of you may even be kicking off the season with a Halloween gathering this very weekend.
While dishware is a big part of any festal gathering -- whether reusable, compostable, or recyclable -- we dove into that discussion not long ago. So I'll focus this column on greening one’s gatherings beyond the forks and knives.
If your parties are anything like mine, you have several factors in play: invitations, festive décor, and what on earth you’re going to feed all these people. Let’s take each one in turn.
When planning a recent trip to Beijing, I was delighted to see that the forecast predicted perfect weather: sunny, clear, highs in the 70s with no chance of rain. So imagine my surprise when on my first morning in the city, I looked out the window and saw a dense, immobile ceiling of dark gray clouds.
It wasn’t that Weather.com got it wrong. It was that pollution was unusually high that day -- the U.S. Embassy Air Quality Index (AQI) readings were over 400 parts per million of PM2.5, well into the “hazardous” range, and at least eight times what the embassy would deem completely non-dangerous. The embassy advises that under such conditions, “everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.” The particulate matter comes from the burning of fossil fuels in factories, coal-fired power plants, and cars -- the same culprits that cause climate change.
I had always imagined air pollution as a largely invisible phenomenon: It’s out there and it’s bad for you, but other than when it makes the sunset over New Jersey especially colorful, I had never actually seen it. During my trip to China, I had to get used to the idea that I didn’t need to bring my rain jacket just because it looked as if the sky was filled with ominous rain clouds. The friends I was visiting would schedule their jogging routines around low-pollution days, and keep the windows tightly shut when the AQI spiked. Some people walk around in face masks, as if they are extras in a horror film set in the post-nuclear apocalypse.
Over the last few days, the news media has been filled with stories of northeast China’s epically bad pollution. (Due to wind patterns, the pollution comes and goes and can vary dramatically.) As The Washington Post reported Tuesday:
You may have heard that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear several cases that challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s methods for regulating greenhouse gases. But there is another case currently being reviewed by the high court that could be far more damaging to the federal government’s ability to address climate change. You wouldn’t know that it was an environmental case from looking at its name, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, but it has high stakes for anyone concerned about millionaires and billionaires from fossil fuel businesses using their ill-gotten riches to influence politics.
McCutcheon, which was heard before the Supreme Court on Oct. 8, is about melting caps -- but not those of the glacial variety, vanishing due to climate change. It’s about melting away the legal caps that limit the amount of money individual donors can give to candidates, political parties, and political action committees.
The case, brought by Shaun McCutcheon, the millionaire owner of an Alabama coal mining and engineering business, has been called the sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that granted corporations “personhood” and allowed super PACS to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. In the 2012 campaign, the ruling opened the floodgates to over $933 million in new campaign contributions, most of which funded attack ads.
Now along comes McCutcheon, wanting to inject even more money into politics.
Architecturally, a keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place. Without the keystone, the building blocks of an archway will tumble and fall, with no support system for the weight of the arch. Much of the United States climate movement right now is structured like an archway, with all of its blocks resting on a keystone -- President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.
This is a dangerous place to be. Once Barack Obama makes his decision on the pipeline, be it approval or rejection, the keystone will disappear. Without this piece, we could see the weight of the arch tumble down, potentially losing throngs of newly inspired climate activists. As members of Rising Tide North America, a continental network of grassroots groups taking direct action and finding community-based solutions to the root causes of the climate crisis, we believe that to build the climate justice movement we need, we can have no keystone -- no singular solution, campaign, project, or decision maker.
The Keystone XL fight was constructed around picking one proposed project to focus on with a clear elected decider, who had campaigned on addressing climate change. The strategy of D.C.-focused green groups has been to pressure President Obama to say “no” to Keystone by raising as many controversies as possible about the pipeline and by bringing increased scrutiny to Keystone XL through arrestable demonstrations. Similarly, in Canada, the fight over Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline has unfolded in much the same way, with green groups appealing to politicians to reject Northern Gateway.
However, the mainstream Keystone XL and Northern Gateway campaigns operate on a flawed assumption that the climate movement can compel our elected leaders to respond to the climate crisis with nothing more than an effective communications strategy. Mainstream political parties in both the U.S. and Canada are tied to and dependent on the fossil fuel industry and corporate capitalism. As seen in similar campaigns in 2009 to pass a climate bill in the United States and to ratify an international climate treaty in Copenhagen, the system is rigged against us. Putting Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the keystone of the archway creates a flawed narrative that if we, as grassroots groups, work hard enough to stack the building blocks correctly to support them, then elected officials will do what we want. Social change happens when local communities lead, and only then will politicians follow. While we must name and acknowledge power holders like Obama, our movement must empower local communities to make decisions and take action on the causes of the climate crisis in their backyards.
Germany is racing past 20 percent renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing "billions." What is often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country's relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).
How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?
One year ago today, Superstorm Sandy was just a twinkle in meteorologists' eyes. The storm, which kicked up from a low-pressure area in the Caribbean Sea on Oct. 22, wouldn't become an official hurricane for two days still. Even after it gained official hurricane status, raking across Jamaica and Cuba and soaking the Bahamas, U.S. weather models predicted that it would spin off into the North Atlantic and peter out, as most such storms do.
But Sandy did something different. After briefly losing steam, it rolled northward along the Eastern Seaboard and then veered left like a car that had just lost a wheel, barreling into the Jersey Shore and pushing storm tides through the streets of New York City. When the skies finally cleared and Wall Street opened back up, at least 159 people were dead, and the storm had caused $65 billion in damages and relocated the city's rat population.
It was a shocking turn of events. Hurricane Irene had given New York a good scare (and New England a thorough drubbing) in August 2011, but the last time a major hurricane had hit the city was 1938. That storm killed 600 people, according to a New York Times report. But after decades of relative quiet, many New Yorkers doubted it would happen again. It's easy, in those canyons of concrete and brick, to imagine that nothing will change.
There was one man, however, who saw Sandy coming. Nicholas K. Coch, a professor of coastal geology at Queens College, had been warning for almost two decades that a major hurricane could take out New York. The habit earned Coch the nickname "Dr. Doom" -- a sobriquet that he didn't take kindly to. ("No serious scientist wants to be called Dr. Doom," he says.)
Necessity being the mother of invention, congressional inaction on climate change has forced environmentalists to be creative. Since Congress won’t pass a cap-and-trade bill to control atmospheric emissions, activists are trying to apply existing laws to the problem. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA forced the Environmental Protection Agency to examine whether greenhouse gases harm the public. Since -- surprise! -- they do, the EPA will now regulate them like every other pollutant.
First air, now water. A federal lawsuit against the EPA, filed last week by the Center for Biological Diversity, may do the same for ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act that Massachusetts v. EPA did for climate change under the Clean Air Act. And since acidification is caused largely by CO2 emissions, the results could help combat climate change as well.
As a 2010 report from the National Research Council explains, “The ocean absorbs approximately a third of man-made CO2 emissions. The CO2 taken up by the ocean decreases the pH of the water and leads to a combination of chemical changes collectively known as ocean acidification. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, the average pH of ocean surface waters has decreased approximately 0.1 unit -- from about 8.2 to 8.1 -- making them more acidic. Models project an additional 0.2 to 0.3 drop by the end of the century.”
In other words, thanks to all our cars, agriculture, and industrial pollution, ocean waters are becoming overly acidic. Acidity causes aquatic species such as oysters to die out, and the problem will grow a lot worse unless we dramatically scale back CO2 emissions.