Here’s the scoop: When it comes to climate change, there is no “story,” not in the normal news sense anyway.
The fact that 97 percent of scientists who have weighed in on the issue believe that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon is not a story. That only one of 9,137 peer-reviewed papers on climate change published between November 2012 and December 2013 rejected human causation is not a story either, nor is the fact that only 24 out of 13,950 such articles did so over 21 years. That the anything-but-extreme Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offers an at least 95 percent guarantee of human causation for global warming is not a story, nor is the recent revelation that IPCC experts believe we only have 15 years left to rein in carbon emissions or we’ll need new technologies not yet in existence which may never be effective. Nor is the recent poll showing that only 47 percent of Americans believe climate change is human-caused (a drop of 7 percent since 2012) or that the percentage who believe climate change is occurring for any reason has also declined since 2012 from 70 percent to 63 percent. Nor is the fact that, as the effects of climate change came ever closer to home, media coverage of the subject dropped between 2010 and 2012 and, though rising in 2013, was still well below coverage levels for 2007 to 2009. Nor is it a story that European nations, already light years ahead of the U.S. on phasing out fossil fuels, recently began considering cutbacks on some of their climate change goals, nor that U.S. carbon emissions actually rose in 2013, nor that the southern part of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to bring particularly carbon-dirty tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the U.S. Gulf Coast, is now in operation, nor that 2013 will have been either the fourth or seventh hottest year on record, depending on how you do the numbers.
Don't misunderstand me. Each of the above was reported somewhere and climate change itself is an enormous story, if what you mean is Story with a capital S. It could even be considered the story of all stories. It’s just that climate change and its component parts are unlike every other story from the Syrian slaughter and the problems of Obamacare to Bridgegate and Justin Bieber’s arrest. The future of all other stories, of the news and storytelling itself, rests on just how climate change manifests itself over the coming decades or even century. What happens in the 2014 midterms or the 2016 presidential elections, in our wars, politics and culture, who is celebrated and who ignored—none of it will matter if climate change devastates the planet.
Climate change isn’t the news and it isn’t a set of news stories. It’s the prospective end of all news. Think of it as the anti-news.
All the rest is part of the annals of human history: the rise and fall of empires, of movements, of dictatorships and democracies, of just about anything you want to mention. The most crucial stories, like the most faddish ones, are—every one of them—passing phenomena, which is of course what makes them the news.
Climate change isn’t. New as that human-caused phenomenon may be—having its origins in the industrial revolution—it’s nonetheless on a different scale from everything else, which is why journalists and environmentalists often have so much trouble figuring out how to write about it in a way that leaves it continually in the news. While no one who, for instance, lived through “Frankenstorm” Sandy on the East Coast in 2012 could call the experience “boring”—winds roaring through urban canyons like freight trains, lights going out across lower Manhattan, subway tunnels flooding, a great financial capital brought to its proverbial knees—in news terms, much of global warming is boring and repetitive. I mean, drip, drip, drip. How many times can you write about the melting Arctic sea ice or shrinking glaciers and call it news? How often are you likely to put that in your headlines?
We’re so used to the phrase “the news” that we often forget its essence: what’s “new” multiplied by that “s.” It’s true that the “new” can be repetitively so. How many times have you seen essentially the same story about Republicans and Democrats fighting on Capitol Hill? But the momentousness of climate change, which isn’t hard to discern, is difficult to regularly turn into meaningful “new” headlines (“Humanity Doomed If...”), to repeatedly and successfully translate into a form oriented to the present and the passing moment, to what happened yesterday, today, and possibly tomorrow.
If the carbon emissions from fossil fuels are allowed to continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, the science of what will happen sooner or later is relatively clear, even if its exact timetable remains in question: this world will be destabilized as will humanity (along with countless other species). We could, at the worst, essentially burn ourselves off Planet Earth. This would prove a passing event for the planet itself, but not for us, nor for any fragment of humanity that managed to survive in some degraded form, nor for the civilizations we’ve developed over thousands of years.
In other words, unlike “the news,” climate change and its potential devastations exist on a time scale not congenial either to media time or to the individual lifetimes of our short-lived species. Great devastations and die-offs have happened before. Give the planet a few million years and life of many sorts will regenerate and undoubtedly thrive. But possibly not us.
Nuclear Dress Rehearsal
Here’s the strange thing: we went through a dress rehearsal for this in the twentieth century when dealing (or not dealing) with nuclear weapons, aka the Bomb -- often capitalized in my youth as a sign of how nuclear disaster was felt to be looming over life itself. With the dropping of that “victory weapon” on two Japanese cities in 1945, a new era opened. For the first time, we humans—initially in Washington, then in Moscow, then in other national capitals—took the power to end all life on this planet out of God’s hands. You could think of it as the single greatest, if also grimmest, act of secularization in history. From 1945 on, at least prospectively, we could do what only God had previously been imagined capable of: create an End Time on this planet.
In itself, that was a remarkable development. And there was nothing figurative about it. The U.S. military was involved in what, in retrospect, can only be considered operational planning for world’s end. In its first “Single Integrated Operational Plan,” or SIOP, in 1960, for instance, it prepared to deliver more than 3,200 nuclear weapons to 1,060 targets in the Communist world, including at least 130 cities which would then, if all went well, cease to exist. Official estimates of casualties ran to 285 million dead and 40 million injured. (Those figures undoubtedly underestimated radiation and other effects, and today we also know that the exploding of so many nuclear weapons would have ended life as we know it on this planet.) In those years, in the most secret councils of government, American officials also began to prepare for the possibility that 100 Russian missiles might someday land on U.S. targets, killing or injuring 22 million Americans. Not so many years later, the weaponry of either of the superpowers had the capability of destroying the planet many times over.
The U.S. and the USSR were by then locked in a struggle that gained a remarkably appropriate acronym: MAD (for “mutually assured destruction”). During the Cold War, the U.S. built an estimated 70,000 nuclear warheads and bombs of every size and shape, the Soviet Union 55,000, and with them went a complex semi-secret nuclear geography of missile silos, plutonium plants, and the like that shadowed the everyday landscape we knew.
In 1980, scientists discovered a layer of particularly iridium-rich clay in sediments 65 million years old, evidence that a vast asteroid impact had put such a cloud of particulates into the atmosphere as to deprive the planet of sunshine, turning it into a wintry vista, and in the process contributing to the demise of the dinosaurs. In the years that followed, it became ever clearer that nuclear weapons, dispatched in the quantities both the U.S. and USSR had been planning for, would have a similar effect. This prospective phenomenon was dubbed “nuclear winter.”
In this way, nuclear extermination would also prove to be an apocalyptic weather event, giving it an affinity with what, in the decades to come, would be called “global warming” and then “climate change.” The nuclear story, the first (and at the time the only imaginable) tale of our extinction by our own hands, rose into the news periodically and even into front-page headlines, as during the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as into the movies and popular culture. Unlike climate change, it was a global catastrophe that could happen at any moment and be carried to its disastrous conclusion in a relatively short period of time, bringing it closer to the today and tomorrow of the news.
Nonetheless, nuclear arsenals, too, were potential life-enders and so news-enders. As a result, most of the time their existence and development managed to translate poorly into daily headlines. For so many of those years in that now long-gone world of the Cold War stand-off, the nuclear issue was somehow everywhere, a kind of exterminationist grid over life itself, and yet, like climate change, nowhere at all. Except for a few brief stretches in those decades, antinuclear activists struggled desperately to bring the nuclear issue out of the shadows.
The main arsenals on the planet, still enormous, are now in a kind of nuclear hibernation and are only “news” when, for instance, their very backwater status becomes an issue. This was the case recently with a spate of headlines about test cheating and drug use scandals involving U.S. Air Force “missileers” who feel that in their present posts they are career losers. Most of the major national arsenals are almost never mentioned in the news. They are essentially no-news zones. These would include the gigantic Russian one, the perhaps 200 weapons in the Israeli arsenal, and those of the British, French, Indians and Pakistanis (except when it comes to stories about fears of future loose nukes from that country’s stock of weapons).
The only exceptions in the twenty-first century have been Iran, a country in the spotlight for a decade, even though its nuclear program lies somewhere between prospective and imaginary, and North Korea, which continues to develop a modest (but dangerous) arsenal. On the other hand, even though a full-scale nuclear war between Pakistan and India, each of which may now have about 100 weapons in their expanding arsenals, would be a global catastrophe with nuclear-winter effects that would engulf the planet causing widespread famine, most of the time you simply wouldn’t know it. These days, it turns out we have other problems.
The End of History?
If the end of the world doesn’t fit well with “the news,” neither does denial. The idea of a futureless humanity is difficult to take in and that has undoubtedly played a role in suppressing the newsiness of both the nuclear situation and climate change. Each is now woven into our lives in essential, if little acknowledged, ways and yet both remain remarkably recessive. Add to that a fatalistic feeling among many that these are issues beyond our capacity to deal with, and you have a potent brew not just for the repression of news but also for the failure to weave what news we do get into a larger picture that we could keep before us as we live our lives. Who, after all, wants to live life like that?
And yet nuclear weapons and climate change are human creations, which means that the problems they represent have human solutions. They are quite literally in our hands. In the case of climate change, we can even point to an example of what can be done about a human-caused global environmental disaster-in-the-making: the “hole” in the ozone layer over Antarctica. Discovered in 1985, it continued to grow for years threatening a prospective health catastrophe. It was found to be due to the effects of CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) compounds used in air-conditioning units, refrigerators, and aerosol propellants, and then released into the atmosphere. In fact, the nations of the world did come together around CFCs, most of which have now been replaced, while that hole has been reduced, though it isn’t expected to heal entirely until much later this century.
Of course, compared with the burning of fossil fuels, the economic and political interests involved in CFCs were minor. Still, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is evidence that solutions can be reached, however imperfectly, on a global scale when it comes to human-caused environmental problems.
What makes climate change so challenging is that the carbon dioxide (and methane) being generated by the extraction, production and burning of fossil fuels supports the most profitable corporations in history, as well as energy states like Saudi Arabia and Russia that are, in essence, national versions of such corporations. The drive for profits has so far proven unstoppable. Those who run the big oil companies, like the tobacco companies before them, undoubtedly know what potential harm they are doing to us. They know what it will mean for humanity if resources (and profits) aren't poured into alternative energy research and development. And like those cigarette companies, they go right on. They are indeed intent, for instance, on turning North America into “Saudi America,” and hunting down and extracting the last major reserves of fossil fuel in the most difficult spots on the planet. Their response to climate change has, in fact, been to put some of their vast profits into the funding of a campaign of climate-change denialism (and obfuscation) and into the coffers of chosen politicians and think tanks willing to lend a hand.
In fact, one of the grim wonders of climate change has been the ability of Big Energy and its lobbyists to politicize an issue that wouldn't normally have a “left” or “right,” and to make bad science into an ongoing news story. In other words, an achievement that couldn’t be more criminal in nature has also been their great coup de théâtre.
In a world heading toward the brink, here’s the strange thing: most of the time that brink is nowhere in sight. And how can you get people together to solve a human-caused problem when it’s so seldom meaningfully in the news (and so regularly challenged by energy interests when it is)?
This is the road to hell and it has not been paved with good intentions. If we stay on it, we won’t even be able to say that future historians considered us both a wonder (for our ability to create world-ending scenarios and put them into effect) and a disgrace (for our inability to face what we had done). By then, humanity might have arrived at the end of history, and so of historians.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
- 10 Organizations Honoring Native People on Thanksgiving ... ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.