Patti Smith, Thom Yorke and Flea Rock Out at Pathway to Paris Concert
Is it possible to have a music concert in Paris after Nov. 13? And, if so, can the music give voice to the emergency of climate change and the desperate hope for a meaningful climate treaty, which is now being drafted in this very same city?
The answer is a grief-filled, joy-filled, resounding yes!
Great video from #PathwaytoParis w Patti Smith, Flea and others. https://t.co/4MCRU6DFHm #COP21— NextGen Climate (@NextGen Climate)1449510133.0
Under tight security on Friday, Dec. 4 and Saturday, Dec. 5 musicians and activist-organizers Jesse Paris Smith and Rebecca Foon brought the Pathway to Paris concert to the Le Trianon music hall in the bustling Parisian district of Montmarte.
On both nights, every seat in the house and in both tiers of balconies was filled to overflowing. As were eyes of everyone who sat in those seats, listening to voices of the musicians and speakers on stage who, all together, delivered a cathartic message that somehow variously soothed the audience, brought us to tears and called us to the streets in the fight for climate justice.
In remembrance of #JohnLennon #Imagine #Peace with the #EARTH @PathwaytoParis #COP21 https://t.co/tWJZe8u9vy— Dr. Vandana Shiva (@Dr. Vandana Shiva)1449583854.0
On all counts—as balm for a terrorized city, as a cry for political engagement with the most urgent of planetary crises and as a fundraiser for 350.org, which is helping to lead that charge—Pathway to Paris delivered.
In sum, the concert felt like a blood transfusion. It was quite possibly the most amazing public event I've ever attended.
The musical genius of Pathway to Paris was to showcase the human voice, from the sweet, keening cries of Radiohead's Thom Yorke to the defiant, prophetic refrains of poet and singer-songwriter Patti Smith, who, together, bookended the concert and served as its headliners.
Backed by her daughter, Jesse Paris Smith, on piano and Rebecca Foon on cello, Smith opened the evening with an unaffected spoken word piece, “Nature Is…" that catalogued the living world in elegiac, Shakespearian rhythms (“The fox. Eclipse. The bumblebee.")
Congelese singer-songwriter Fally Ipupa and Tibetan exile and musical legend, Tenzin Choegyal, brought more poetry to the stage. Quietly translated by Jesse Smith, Choegyal's soaring, prayerful composition named the planetary elements and called them into harmony. (“May the element of water not rise up against you.")
So the tone was set: We will mourn the dead. We will take stock of the living. In the face of those who seek to terrorize us and destroy “this blue planet, our only home," we will go forth with purpose and joy.
And in the hands of Flea (Red Hot Chile Peppers) and Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), that message was taken up, virtuosically, by bass guitar, violin and flute.
So, there's this guy named Flea at the @pathwaytoparis concert tonight and he's kind of good. Like, insanely https://t.co/NRelLptVSF— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1449346473.0
It was as if musical instruments themselves were transformed into human voices—soothing, cathartic, urgent celebrational, grieving, bold—delivering a redemptive message at this historic moment of multiple emergencies.
And this was exactly the intent of this event, according to 350.org's founder Bill McKibben, who served as master of ceremonies. “In addition to entertaining you," said McKibben, “the job of these musicians is to turn you into warriors for the fight ahead. We have to fight and fight hard."
The scope of that fight was explicated in detail by concert's various all-star speakers, who addressed the crowd between the musical numbers.
McKibben said the fight for climate justice is two-fold. First, we need to send a message to those who are now negotiating a climate treaty “on the other side of town" and who are “doing nowhere near enough" to come up with something meaningful.
"We have to fight.We have to beat the most powerful industry in the world" #ExxonKnew @pathwaytoparis @billmckibben https://t.co/aCCbw3AGUp— 350 dot org (@350 dot org)1449257522.0
The chances of a durable, binding treaty are nevertheless higher than they were six years ago at Copenhagen, said McKibben. There is now less squabbling among nations and a greater sense of shared purpose. That change in tone, said McKibben, is precisely because we have already built a people's movement powerful enough to halt the all-but-assured Keystone XL pipeline, shut down coal mines in Australia and ban fracking in France. [Author's note: we also achieved a fracking ban in New York State!].
So far, the climate change movement has been powerful enough, he reminded us, to deprive the fossil fuel industry of $3.4 trillion dollars via divestment.
But, to win more victories like these, the climate justice movement must grow, said McKibben. And the necessary work will necessarily involve civil disobedience. “We need a lot more people going to jail."
That was an applause line.
Second, said McKibben, we must direct confront the source of the problem itself: “The real power rests with the fossil fuel industry, so that's where we take the fight." Chief among them: ExxonMobil, who McKibben accused—as he donned a shirt emblazoned with the trending hashtag #ExxonKnew—of “building a network of denial and confusion" as part of coordinated disinformation campaign about our unfolding planetary catastrophe.
Feminist and ecologist Vandana Shiva, who was welcomed to the stage with joyous ovations, urged her audience to understand that climate action necessarily also means confronting “the Exxons of agriculture." Ushered in by World War II, fossil fuel-dependent farming means that the food on our plate is grown by fertilizers made from natural gas and brought to market on a river of petroleum.
“We are all eating oil," Shiva said. Calling “climate smart agriculture," which relies on genetically modified seeds, a false promise based on a “fictitious creation myth," Shiva spoke to the need to look at carbon-sequestering powers of soil, seed saving and the empowerment of small-scale farmers as fundamental parts of the solution to the climate change problem. Fully half of all greenhouse gases derive from systems of agriculture, she said.
In her own talk, author and social critic Naomi Klein explored the nature of the word “emergency." When the declaration of a state of emergency on terrorism is used as a tactic to distract attention away from the emergency of climate change, the effective message, she said, is to say to those, for example, drowning in India from catastrophic and unprecedented storms that their lives do not matter. For many of the world's poorest and most politically marginalized people, there is “nothing far off or abstract about climate change."
Further, when political leaders claim climate change as an emergency but do not take appropriate actions—as is done with security emergencies or economic emergencies—they reveal the meaninglessness of their words.
The climate change talks began 21 years ago and have produced no coordinated plan to tackle the problem. A decades-long debate among nations is not an emergency response system, Klein asserted. “Which crises get action and which do not depends on who stands to gain."
Happily, she continued, “regular people can declare an emergency. They can declare a crisis from below." And regular people can identify and demand solutions that solve multiple and overlapping emergencies all at once and all together.
For example, renewable energy provides six to eight times more jobs than oil and gas. Thus could an emergency response to the climate crisis also relieve the employment crisis. But such solutions are held hostage by “the irrational logic of austerity."
Putting climate negotiators on notice that those on the front lines of climate change will not settle for “self-congratulatory photo ops" if the treaty now under negotiation fails to deliver a strong, binding agreement, Klein called her audience into the streets of Paris at high Noon on Saturday, Dec. 12 for some “climate disobedience."
All on their own, the words of the Pathway to Paris speakers were powerful. Here was the unexpected strength of oratory in the context of Pathway to Paris: The words that were spoken redirected the words that were sung.
“I was a wing in heaven blue" (Patti's Smith, “Wing") was no longer a metaphorical celebration of personal freedom. In the context of a climate change concert, it became a statement about our relationship to the physical atmosphere.
A call for a return to “the peaceable kingdom" became a cry against species extinction.
The mine into which the singer falls and the world that comes “crashing down" in Yorke's “Present Tense" became, for us during this concert, an actual mineshaft on a dying planet.
Thom Yorke debuts two new songs, "Silent Spring" and "Desert Island Disk," at Pathway to Paris concert https://t.co/cgvMP8SwK9— Rolling Stone (@Rolling Stone)1449333005.0
In the alchemy of Pathway to Paris, all songs about lost love seemed intended for the Earth itself.
Then, when our hearts were entirely broken open, it was time for Patti Smith to remind us in her encore, which called all the musicians and speakers to the stage, “The people have the power / to redeem the work of fools."
And knowing now exactly who these fools are, we poured forth, past the security guards, into the streets of Paris. And it was beautiful. It was beautiful.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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