Barack Obama

The 'Climate Kids' and #FridaysForFuture: "There is no Planet B."

“One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city,” Barack Obama famously said in his stirring, still memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. “And if it can change a city, it can change a state, it can change nation. And if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

Little more than a week before the planned worldwide strike on March 15 by students and grade-school pupils protesting the effects of climate change on future generations, support is surging for the legal case Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young people have sued the US federal government over climate change. A “Young People’s Brief” amicus brief was filed in US court last Friday, alongside briefs filed by environmenatlaist, women’s groups, business leaders and eight members of the US Congress in support of a case that has been before the courts for months now. On two separate occasions, US federal administrations — first under Barack Obama and again under Donald Trump — have tried to have the lawsuit tossed out of court. The government has lost both times. A early, lower-court ruling by an Oregion judge, giving legal reasons why the case should be allowed to continue, was appealed to the US Supreme Court twice. Both times, the Supreme Court sided with the climate activists over the government.

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Students and school pupils from some 50 countries have said they will rally together in the March 15 demonstration, even as the strike is being dismissed on both the right and left as a cheap publicity gimmick — so much hot air, if you will — and an excuse to skip school for a day.

As it is, school students in Australia, France, the UK, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Thailand, Colombia and Uganda have already skipped a day of school to demand stronger climate action from their governments, as part of 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg’s #FridaysForFuture climate campaign. Thunberg, who started the whole process as a solo campaigner outside the Swedish parliament last year, has become a lightning rod for both praise and controversy, and has been mentioned as a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate, and was recently invited to speak at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Some saw this as a cyncial ploy on the part of fat-cat industrialists who have already done their part to wreck the planet, but the truth is that — whether useful idiot or Nobel material — Thunberg herself couldn’t really give a (compost heap) how she’s perceived. The issue is what drives her, and that’s what has made her such a compelling voice for climate activism. She really couldn’t care whether she wins the Nobel Prize or gets to dine at Davos (don’t feed her lobster!) or not, and she’s the first to lash out sharply at soothing but empty feel-good words from those in power. Words don’t count anymore, actions do. She’s told people on her own side that. Actions deferred, whether it’s the Paris Agreement or tepid promises at the climate conference in Rio de Janeiro to scale back carbon emissions by 2050 mean nothing, she says. We need action, and we need it now.

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That this argument was first made by a 15-year-old would have seemed laughable a year ago, and the truth is that many people did laugh at the time.

Well, they’re not laughing now.

In a stroke of good timing — though, knowing the way the media works, I suspect it was planned that way all along — 60 Minutes’s Steve Kroft presented a news segment, The Climate Kids, on North America’s most-watched news-magazine program this past weekend. The amicus brief this past Friday was co-signed by 30,000 young people. Now, all of a sudden, those 21 students who filed the original court case have swelled in number to the tens of thousands.

That number will only grow on March 15.

Will any of this make any difference? It’s hard to tell. I’ve commented here about how the 1973 Hollywood thriller Soylent Green, itself based on the dystopian sci-fi novel Make Room! Make Room! by the American novleist Harry Harrison, eerily foreshadowed a world overrun by too many people and choked by carbon emissions, where fresh strawberries are a near-priceless luxury that only multi-millionaires and captains of industry can afford — until they’re murdered as part of a corporate coverup, in case the proles — i.e. us — find out what’s really going on and rebel against their masters.

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Soylent Green proved popular in its day, and has endured enough to be referenced even today— but as Greta Thunberg would point out, so what? What’s actually been done? 62 million American voters voted for Donald Trump to be their president, and this is a man who doesn’t even beliheve there’s a problem.

Xiuhytexcatl Martinez, the 19-year-old indigenous environmental activist and youth director of the self-explanatory Earth Guardians, is one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit, alongside climate scientist Dr. James Hansen. The suit — which many dismissed at the time, remember — argues that the US federal government has failed itd responsiblity to safeguard the health of future generations. The very air we breathe is at risk from rising carbon-dioxide emissions, which in turn affects global warming, a now-unfashionable phrase that most if not all legitimate climate scientists agree is the prime driver behind climate change. “What’s at stake right now,” then-15-year-old Martinez told the UN General Assembly in 2015, “is the existence of my generation.”

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Hyperbole? Perhaps. Possibly . . . probably, in fact. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Soylent Green went over this same ground in 1973, after all.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/03/youth-climate-change-lawsuit-grows-support/

https://www.vox.com/2019/2/21/18233206/greta-thunberg-student-school-strike-climate-change




Less than 15% of world’s oceans untouched by human imprint: Antarctica the last, best hope for future of our blue Planet.

Good news, bad news.

First the bad. The first systematic analysis of the world’s oceans shows that less than 15% of planet Earth’s sea reservoirs remain untouched by human hands. The study, by the University of Queensland, Australia in cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is an eye-opener, in part because even the researchers themselves were surprised by how little marine wilderness remains.

The ocean, after all, covers more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. So if just 15% of that remains untouched, it shows just how far-reaching — and  damaging — humanity’s effect on planet Earth really has been.

The good news is that some efforts are being made to protect what’s left.

Much of that 15% lies in Antarctica, where even some prominent, high-profile fishing companies have agreed to back a UN proposal to establish the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

The survey’s findings were published in the journal Current Biology. Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, run by UNESCO, noted the research focused on the ocean floor, and did not include effects on the water column above that.

Not surprisingly, the oceanographic commission is backing calls for a global ocean conservation treaty. Just 5% of the world’s remaining oceans lie within existing protected areas, a disparity former U.S. President Barack Obama tried to address before leaving office in January, 2017.

©Ward Appeltans/Twitter

©Ward Appeltans/Twitter

There are other bright spots, but they are tiny — and not without their own controversy.

Remote coral gardens around the equatorial atoll of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean are still healthy, though researchers note that in part this is because more than 500 islanders were forcibly removed from their island homes in 1971, as part of an international arrangement between the UK, US, Mauritius and Seychelles, to facilitate the building of an air base.

Pragmatists may also be forgiven for wondering about the potential environmental impact of a military airbase on pristine coral reefs and the surrounding sea, given the penchant for secrecy around anything to do with national, international and hemispheric security.

Antarctica is the key to any future decisions, though.

©©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Antarctica lies within an area loosely defined in marine terms as “the high seas,” those areas beyond protected areas that individual nations can establish as part of their territorial waters.

That is why an all-nations international agreement, such as that which can only be negotiated by the UN or a similar worldwide body, is so important.

Climate change and ocean acidification, coupled with more obvious manmade activities such as industrial fishing, global shipping, pollution in coastal areas and resource extraction, are having a profound effect, not just on marine ecosystems but on the world’s weather patterns.

As David Attenborough warned in his epic BBC series Blue Planet II last December, the world’s oceans are under threat as never before.

In January, marine scientists warned that the oceans are suffocating. So-called “dead zones” have multiplied four-fold since 1950.

In February, new surveys showed that more than half the world’s oceans are now industrially fished.

Is it too late?

Perhaps not, if more nations — and individuals — accept the old proviso, Not on my watch., whether that means scaling back some $4 billion in government fishing subsidies toward fishing on the high seas or deciding against Chilean sea bass the next time you go to a fancy seafood restaurant.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/26/just-13-of-global-oceans-undamaged-by-humanity-research-reveals

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/27/heatwave-made-more-than-twice-as-likely-by-climate-change-scientists-find


Anthony Bourdain on a life hard-lived: ‘Another thing you did . . . another place you’ve been.’

Is it possible to be both shaken and stirred at the same time?

I know that feeling today.

I never met Anthony Bourdain in person, but I feel like he was in the seat beside me while I was winging my way to Namibia, literally halfway around the world from where I live, a few years back.

I had loaded my iPad with Africa-centric episodes of Bourdain’s lively, live-and-let-live CNN series Parts Unknown, and I knew enough about Mozambique,  Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Ethiopia and Tanzania — all countries Bourdain passed through during his 11 seasons of making Parts Unknown — that, and there’s no delicate way to put this, he was no bullshit artist.

Whatever he was, and he was plenty, he did not take fools gladly. And he wasn’t about to sing the praises of a travel destination if there were no praises to sing.

He had a way of winning the hearts and minds of those he broke bread with, and he was both a lively TV host and, more importantly, a lively and entertaining dinner guest. He was incurably curious, even toward the end, and that’s rare in those who’ve succeeded beyond all expectations, and in the public eye at that. He had every right to be jaded, even at age 61, but as those who’ve watched his most recent  sojourns through Uruguay, Armenia and Hong Kong know — all episodes that aired earlier this season on CNN, with episodes based in Berlin, Bhutan and “Cajun Mardi Gras” yet to air — he still had the wide-eyed curiosity of a little boy flipping through a world atlas for the first time and wondering whether they serve fries with that, whether it’s in the French Alps or Southern Italy, on “the Heel of the Boot,” as he put it.

©CNN

©CNN

He could be loud, abrasive, outspoken and in-your-face — he famously banned a certain New York real-estate mogul, blowhard and leader of the free world from his restaurant in the nation’s capital — but he was a terrific listener.

Many TV hosts don’t bother with listening, but Bourdain not only listened; he genuinely cared. As I say, no bullshit artist. I frankly doubt he could have lied to spare someone’s feelings even if he wanted to.

Anyone who watched Parts Unknown — whether regularly, like a habitual pilgrimage to a favorite restaurant, or on-and-off, like an off-the-cuff, impromptu sampling of the dishes at an unfamiliar buffet — is likely to have come away with favorite moments.

As I try to come to grips with Friday’s news that Bourdain is no longer with us — he was only 61, for crying out loud — I’ve narrowed my choice memories down to two, that for me encapsulate everything I enjoyed about Bourdain, his travels, his personality, his countenance, and the way his mind worked. (Personal confession: I am arguably the world’s worst stay-at-home cook, an avid believer in takeout and an unapologetic junk-food junkie, and so whatever appeal Bourdain’s programs No Reservations and Parts Unknown held for me, pretending to be a worldly chef is not among them.)

©CNN

©CNN

First, Bourdain was a fine writer — another attribute not particularly common among either celebrity chefs or TV presenters — and he always tried to frame his programs around a singular narrative that reflected the place or culture of the place he was visiting. This wasn’t contrived or forced, either; an avid book reader and dedicated follower of pop-culture, he had a way of viewing even an unfamiliar place through a familiar lens, but without appearing to be patronizing or condescending. He reminded me most of the fine travel writer, essayist and novelist Paul Theroux, one of my favorite writers, and it was a thrill to see Bourdain swap tales with Theroux in person during a 2015 tete-a-tete over Hawaiian stew in Honolulu, near where Theroux now makes his home.

My two memories — yours will no doubt be different — are of Bourdain’s sixth-season return to Borneo, after a 10-year absence, and his eighth-season sit-down at a noodle shop in Hanoi, Vietnam (“one of these classic, funky, family-run noodle shops you find all over Hanoi, where dinner and a beer cost about six dollars”), when a fleet of black SUVs pulls up and he’s joined by that other leader of the free world — you know, the one who was born in Kenya — who complains, in a free-wheeling, free-ranging conversation, about uncouth eating habits, over a bowl of bun cha (pork patties and pork belly, served in a broth of vinegar, sugar and fermented fish sauce, with chillies and sticky cold noodles, “and get ready for the awesomeness”).

©CNN

©CNN

First, though, my fondest memory is of one of the very first Parts Unknown’s I happened to see, Bourdain’s return to Borneo, which first aired on Nov. 1, 2015. “When I first went up this river,” Bourdain opened his voice-over with, in an Apocalypse Now-inspired opening up a jungle river, “I was sick with love. The bad kind. The fist-around-your-heart kind. I ran far, but there was no escaping it. It followed me upriver, all the way. That was ten long years ago. A previous episode of a previous series, of a previous life. Yet here I am again. Heading up to that same longhouse in the jungle.”

That’s instructive to remember today, the day Bourdain’s sudden passing was announced, because while he was always clear about his drug taking and boozing in his misspent younger years, it was on that Colonel Kurtz-Marlon Brando inspired journey up a jungle river in Borneo that he exposed his heart of darkness to the world watching on CNN.

Far up the river, far removed from civilization, thunder rolls and a gray sky descends. Bourdain must kill a pig for the night’s feast — as the honored guest, it’s a village tradition — and Bourdain, shades of Apocalypse Now, has mixed emotions about it.

©CNN

©CNN

“I’d like to tell you that this is never easy, that I felt this time like I did the first time: sad, nauseated, complicit, aware that I’d crossed a line, been changed by the blood, the violence and the awful noise,” he told the camera. “But that would be a lie. This time, I plunged the spear in without hesitation or remorse.”

Cue dark, electronic music, and blood mixing in the river water.

“When the pig dies,” Bourdain continued, “finally gives it up, I feel only relief. I had been hardened by the last 10 years. I don’t know what that says about me, but there it is.”

Later in the hour, Bourdain is back at the booze, downing shots of homemade river hooch with his village companions. “At this point, I think, my body is like an old car. Another dent ain’t going to make a whole lot of difference. At best, it’s a reminder that you’re still alive and lucky as hell. Another tattoo, another thing you did. Another place you’ve been.”

©CNN

©CNN

Fast forward two years, and Bourdain was sitting at that noodle shop in Hanoi, across the table from the previous leader of the free world, over a bowl of bun cha.

Is ketchup on a hotdog ever acceptable, Bourdain asked.

“No,” was the reply. “And I mean that. That’s one of those things that . . . let me put it this way: It’s not acceptable beyond the age of eight. I’m sorry. It’s not acceptable.”

Bourdain’s daughter was eight, he told his lunch companion, and the other day she asked if she could put ketchup on her hotdog.

The then-leader of the free world laughed gently.

“That isn’t happening,” he said.

And this is where Bourdain, and Parts Unknown, soared; the conversation turned to weightier issues, including the fact that they were eating lunch together at a roadside noodle shop, unmolested by their fellow lunch companions, despite sitting in the middle of a tiny room on rickety chairs at a rickety table, the kind of place where working people eat on-the-fly and mind their own business.

“Seeing how other people in the world live seems useful at worst,” Bourdain said, “and pleasurable at best.”

©CNN

©CNN

His lunch companion concurred.

“It confirms the basic truth that people everywhere are pretty much the same. The same hopes and dreams. When you come to a place like Vietnam and you see former American Vietnam vets coming back, and you see somebody like a John Kerry and a John McCain, two very different people politically and temperamentally, but who were able to bond in their experience of meeting with their former adversaries. You don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies.”

As the father of a young girl, Bourdain wanted to know: “Is it all going to be okay? Is it all going to work out?

“Is my daughter going to be able to come here, five years, ten years from now, and have a bowl of bun cha and the world will be a better place?”

Bourdain’s daughter Ariane is, today, just 11-years-old.

“Sure,” the then-leader of the free world replied. “Progress is not a straight line. There are going to be moments in any given part of the world where things are terrible. But . . . having said all that, I think things are going to work out.”

“Thank you so much,” Bourdain said. “Cheers.”

And they clinked glasses.

No, Anthony Bourdain, thank you. It was good getting to know you. Even if it was from afar, on an iPad, somewhere over Africa, at 30,000 feet.

 

 

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Blinding ‘em with science: how the March for Science silenced its critics.

The day after is always a day for taking stock. The March for Science should never have had to happen in the first place, not in 2017.
Then again, there’s a march for everything these days, it seems. And Earth Day — April 22nd — made an ideal companion date.
Much of the world has forgotten, you see, what entire generations took for granted ever since 1543 when Copernicus published his heretical idea, from his deathbed no less, that the sun is a motionless body at the centre of the solar system. The planets revolve around the sun, not the other way around.
Oh, and the world is round, not flat. And, as a general rule, gravity exists — not a sure thing until 1664, when Isaac Newton signed off on his law of Newtonian physics — and penicillin does in fact kill bacteria, which wasn’t a sure thing until 1928, when Alexander Fleming got a little jiggy in his lab while playing with mold and fungi.

©Getty Images/New York City

©Getty Images/New York City

Twenty years later, Donald John Trump would be born. And, 20 years after that, Scott Pruitt.
The arc of human evolution is marked by a steady upward curve in human knowledge and evolution, with just the occasional dip. Now, though, thanks the war on science, many scientists — and everyday, regular thinking folks — think we may no longer be looking at a dip but rather the beginning of a slow, steady dive into oblivion. The concept “mass extinction” was unheard of just 10 years ago. Now, it looks like the probably path to the future.
One-off protest marches have their place — just look at the examples below of some of the clever, creative turns-of-phrase on display just yesterday — but whether they have any tangible effect is another matter. Cumulatively, perhaps, but even then, it takes time.
The only thing that counts, at least now, is that last November, 62 million voters in the U.S. decided that climate change is a hoax. And any objection to that idea is tantamount to fake news. Evidence-based policymaking is for losers. The Obama administration’s signature Clean Power Plan was a thinly disguised conspiracy by media elites and kale-chip eating tofu lovers to kill the fossil-fuel industry. Coal is clean; freak weather events are the inevitable result of loose social morals on the U.S. West Coast and effete enclaves in Europe; and if wild tigers, polar bears and elephants tigers don’t make it to the next century, well, they just lost the evolutionary lottery, that’s all.

©EPA/Washington DC

©EPA/Washington DC

Godless, liberal weenies: Charles Darwin taught you this, if you believe in natural selection and survival of the fittest. If you believe in evolution, you can’t have it both ways, right?
You want expert opinion? During last summer’s Brexit referendum in Britain, no less an expert than former UK cabinet minister Michael Gove said that the public “have had enough of experts.”
The March for Science was an effort by experts to fight back, and in one sense it was a miracle. “You know you’re in trouble when scientists take to the streets,” one of those experts declared in The Guardian two weeks ago. Scientists are not, by nature, rabble rousers. By training and temperamentthey prefer to avoid the limelight, happy to stay in their lab, playing with their mold and fungi, testing and retesting results.

©AP/Denver   

©AP/Denver

 

They tended to do well in math in school — another reason to hate them — but, generally speaking, when you think of your dedicated, died-in-the-wool protesters, scientists don’t exactly jump to mind.
Before the March on Science, there were worries that protests are counterproductive and can have unintended consequences. They can play into the hands of the power brokers, by showing the proverbial silent majority what a bunch of immature crybabies the protestors are, and how worthless their issue-of-the-moment is as a result. There’s also the fear that, by painting a bleak portrait of a steadily eroding environment and the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems, ordinary, everyday thinking folks may decide that it’s too late, and give up on doing anything.

©Twitter

©Twitter

Some argued that the March for Science risked making science political. It already is, though. And it wasn’t the scientists themselves who did that. It was always political. And not addressing that is a problem.
As Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor and former co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under Barack Obama John Holdren noted this past weekend in the Sunday Observer, science is evidence-based. Science is driven by our desire to learn more about ourselves, our world and our universe. Most if not all scientists want their discoveries and new understanding to be applied to advancing economic prosperity — more and bigger research grants, if you want to be cynical about it — public health, environmental sustainability, personal safety and security and good governance.
This is nothing to apologize for. It is something to be proud of. And that, in the end, was what the March for Science was really about. It wasn’t timed to coincide with Earth Day as much as it was a reminder that every day is earth day, if we want the planet to survive beyond next quarter’s profit statements.
Oh, and some of those signs were really clever.


©Getty Images/Paris

©Getty Images/Paris

©Getty Images/Amsterdam

©Getty Images/Amsterdam

©Getty Images/London

©Getty Images/London

©Getty Images/Washington DC

©Getty Images/Washington DC

©Reuters/New York City

©Reuters/New York City