‘Hell on Earth’ scenario predicted if climate crisis doesn’t trigger immediate drastic action

Al Jazeera reports:

A climate change paper grabbed headlines this week with its terrifying prediction of what the world will be in 30 years’ time – absent drastic and immediate change to human societies.

“World of outright chaos,” “Climate apocalypse,” “We’re all gonna die,” the media banners blared.

The sobering headlines and equally disconcerting stories beneath described a “scenario analysis” by an Australian think-tank, Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration.

The paper portrayed what the year 2050 will look like if urgent action to build carbon-neutral energy systems around the world fails to come to fruition in the next 10 years.

It’s worse than any of the apocalyptic Hollywood horror films making the rounds.

One billion people displaced and fighting desperately for survival, with half the world’s population subjected to “lethal heat” conditions for more than 20 days a year – “beyond the threshold of human survivability”.

Drought, wildfires, and floods collapse entire ecosystems as two billion people struggle for potable water. Mega-cities such as Mumbai, Hong Kong, Lagos, and Manila are largely abandoned because of massive floods. [Continue reading…]

Doublethink is stronger than Orwell imagined

George Packer writes:

No novel of the past century has had more influence than George Orwell’s 1984. The title, the adjectival form of the author’s last name, the vocabulary of the all-powerful Party that rules the superstate Oceania with the ideology of Ingsoc—doublethink, memory hole, unperson, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Thought Police, Room 101, Big Brother—they’ve all entered the English language as instantly recognizable signs of a nightmare future. It’s almost impossible to talk about propaganda, surveillance, authoritarian politics, or perversions of truth without dropping a reference to 1984. Throughout the Cold War, the novel found avid underground readers behind the Iron Curtain who wondered, How did he know?

It was also assigned reading for several generations of American high-school students. I first encountered 1984 in 10th-grade English class. Orwell’s novel was paired with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose hedonistic and pharmaceutical dystopia seemed more relevant to a California teenager in the 1970s than did the bleak sadism of Oceania. I was too young and historically ignorant to understand where 1984 came from and exactly what it was warning against. Neither the book nor its author stuck with me. In my 20s, I discovered Orwell’s essays and nonfiction books and reread them so many times that my copies started to disintegrate, but I didn’t go back to 1984. Since high school, I’d lived through another decade of the 20th century, including the calendar year of the title, and I assumed I already “knew” the book. It was too familiar to revisit.

So when I recently read the novel again, I wasn’t prepared for its power. You have to clear away what you think you know, all the terminology and iconography and cultural spin-offs, to grasp the original genius and lasting greatness of 1984. It is both a profound political essay and a shocking, heartbreaking work of art. And in the Trump era, it’s a best seller. [Continue reading…]

A very moving symbol of modern Britain: Woking mosque

It’s not entirely up to school students to save the world

Bill McKibben writes:

In the past several months, people around the world have watched in awe as school students, led by the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, have taken their concerns about the climate crisis to a new level, with a series of one-day strikes. The latest took place on Friday, and drew what is estimated as more than a million participants in a hundred and twenty-five countries. The strikes have been the biggest boost yet for the global climate movement, galvanizing public attention by reminding people just who will have to deal with the mess that older generations have created. Thunberg has spoken to the Pope and to the British and European parliaments—and this week she and her fellow student leaders are speaking to everyone else who’s older than them. On Thursday, they issued an appeal to adults to take up the same tactic, and on Friday a number of them responded, with a letter pledging to organize the first of a series of all-ages, one-day climate strikes, on Friday, September 20th. (I was among them and helped draft the letter.) The initial list of signees is composed of a wide array of, well, adults, from around the world. Some have spent their lives trying to make change from within the system, such as Christiana Figueres, the United Nations diplomat who served as the lead negotiator of the Paris climate accords. Others are writers (Margaret Atwood, Barbara Kingsolver), scientists (Tim Flannery, of the University of Melbourne; Katharine Hayhoe, of Texas Tech), trade-union leaders (Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation), and indigenous leaders from Australia (Anne Poelina) to America (Tom B. K. Goldtooth) and the Arctic (Jenni Laiti).

What all of these people have in common is a strong sense that business as usual has become the problem, and that it needs to be interrupted, if only for a day. The climate crisis is a perplexing one because, mostly, we just get up each day and do what we did the day before, as if an enormous emergency weren’t unfolding around us. That hasn’t been true of past crises: during the Second World War, oceans may have separated American civilians from the fighting, but every day they were aware of the need to change their ways of life: to conserve resources, buy bonds, black out their windows at night if they lived on the coast.

The climate emergency, however, is deceptive. Unless it’s your town that day that’s being hit by wildfire or a flood, it’s easy to let the day’s more pressing news take precedence. It can be hard to remember that climate change underlies so many daily injustices, from the forced migration of refugees to the spread of disease. Indeed, the people who suffer the most are usually those on the periphery—the iron law of climate change is that the less you did to cause it the more you suffer from it. So we focus on the latest Presidential tweet or trade war instead of on the latest incremental rise in carbon dioxide, even though that, in the end, is the far more critical news. [Continue reading…]

Lending practices like those behind 2008 financial crash devastated a generation of taxi drivers

The New York Times reports:

The phone call that ruined Mohammed Hoque’s life came in April 2014 as he began another long day driving a New York City taxi, a job he had held since emigrating from Bangladesh nine years earlier.

The call came from a prominent businessman who was selling a medallion, the coveted city permit that allows a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else. If Mr. Hoque gave him $50,000 that day, he promised to arrange a loan for the purchase.

After years chafing under bosses he hated, Mr. Hoque thought his dreams of wealth and independence were coming true. He emptied his bank account, borrowed from friends and hurried to the man’s office in Astoria, Queens. Mr. Hoque handed over a check and received a stack of papers. He signed his name and left, eager to tell his wife.

Mr. Hoque made about $30,000 that year. He had no idea, he said later, that he had just signed a contract that required him to pay $1.7 million.

Over the past year, a spate of suicides by taxi drivers in New York City has highlighted in brutal terms the overwhelming debt and financial plight of medallion owners. All along, officials have blamed the crisis on competition from ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft.

But a New York Times investigation found much of the devastation can be traced to a handful of powerful industry leaders who steadily and artificially drove up the price of taxi medallions, creating a bubble that eventually burst. Over more than a decade, they channeled thousands of drivers into reckless loans and extracted hundreds of millions of dollars before the market collapsed.

These business practices generated huge profits for bankers, brokers, lawyers, investors, fleet owners and debt collectors. The leaders of nonprofit credit unions became multimillionaires. Medallion brokers grew rich enough to buy yachts and waterfront properties. One of the most successful bankers hired the rap star Nicki Minaj to perform at a family party.

But the methods stripped immigrant families of their life savings, crushed drivers under debt they could not repay and engulfed an industry that has long defined New York. More than 950 medallion owners have filed for bankruptcy, according to a Times analysis of court records. Thousands more are barely hanging on.

The practices were strikingly similar to those behind the housing market crash that led to the 2008 global economic meltdown: Banks and loosely regulated private lenders wrote risky loans and encouraged frequent refinancing; drivers took on debt they could not afford, under terms they often did not understand.

Some big banks even entered the taxi industry in the aftermath of the housing crash, seeking a new market, with new borrowers. [Continue reading…]

Nearly half white Republicans bothered by ‘foreign’ languages spoken in the land named after Amerigo Vespucci

The Washington Post reports:

A new survey finds white Republicans are far more likely to be put off by foreign language speakers than their Democratic counterparts.

According to Pew Research Center, 47 percent of such Republicans say it would bother them “some” or “a lot” to “hear people speak a language other than English in a public place.” Just 18 percent of white Democrats said they would be similarly bothered.

Aside from politics, age and education are the major predictors of linguistic discomfort. Just 18 percent of whites younger than 30 said they would be bothered by a foreign language being spoken, compared with 43 percent in the 50 to 64 age group, and 45 percent among those 65 and older.

Among all racial groups, whites (34 percent) are most likely to be bothered hearing foreign languages, followed by blacks (25 percent), Asians (24 percent) and Hispanics (13 percent). Among Americans overall, 70 percent put their level of unease at “not much” or “not at all.” [Continue reading…]

The coming generation war

Eyck Freymann and Niall Ferguson write:

As a liberal graduate student and a conservative professor, we rarely see eye to eye on politics. Yet we agree that the generation war is the best frame for understanding the ways that the Democratic and Republican parties are diverging. The Democrats are rapidly becoming the party of the young, specifically the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born after 1996). The Republicans are leaning ever more heavily on retirees, particularly the Silent Generation (born before 1945). In the middle are the Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), who are slowly inching leftward, and the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who are slowly inching to the right.

This generation-based party realignment has profound implications for the future of American politics. The generational transition will not dramatically change the median voter in the 2020 election—or even in 2024, if turnout among young voters stays close to the historical average. Yet both parties are already feeling its effects, as the dominant age cohort in each party recognizes its newfound power to choose candidates and set the policy agenda. Drawing on opinion polls and financial data, and extrapolating historical trends, we think that young voters’ rendezvous with destiny will come in the mid to late 2020s.

Today, the older generations have a lock on political power in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are members of the Silent Generation. So are Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, who lead in nearly every poll of the 2020 Democratic primary. President Donald Trump and the median senator and representative are Boomers. Of the nine justices on the Supreme Court, two are from the Silent Generation and six are Boomers. Yet the median American is 38—a Millennial. [Continue reading…]

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of the population

The Guardian reports:

Half of England is owned by less than 1% of its population, according to new data shared with the Guardian that seeks to penetrate the secrecy that has traditionally surrounded land ownership.

The findings, described as “astonishingly unequal”, suggest that about 25,000 landowners – typically members of the aristocracy and corporations – have control of half of the country.

The figures show that if the land were distributed evenly across the entire population, each person would have almost an acre – an area roughly the size of Parliament Square in central London.

Major owners include the Duke of Buccleuch, the Queen, several large grouse moor estates, and the entrepreneur James Dyson. [Continue reading…]

Migrants’ stories: Why they flee

File 20190408 2924 16ojp3p.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A man hugs his family before leaving for the U.S. border with a migrant caravan from San Salvador, El Salvador, Jan. 16, 2019.
AP/Salvador Melendez

By Anthony W. Fontes, American University School of International Service

Massive influxes of Central American families seeking asylum in the United States are overwhelming U.S. immigration facilities.

The crisis along the U.S. southern border led directly to the forced resignation on April 7 of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whom President Donald Trump believed ineffectively managed the situation.

As Trump promises to “shut down the border” and “punish” the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador for failing to stem the exodus from their countries, the question of why so many families are making the difficult and dangerous journey north appears more urgent than ever.

I have spent much of the last decade conducting on-the-ground fieldwork in this region, and along the migration paths through Mexico, seeking answers to this question.

The region’s extreme poverty and violent impunity are central factors driving this migration.

Yet every migrant’s story is unique. Some simply seek the chance to earn enough money to ensure a better future for themselves or their children. Others flee persecution at the hands of gangs, organized crime or corrupt state officials. For others, insecurity and poverty are so intertwined that drawing them apart becomes impossible.

[Read more…]

The forces driving migration from Guatemala: climate change

Jonathan Blitzer writes:

In the center of Climentoro, in the western highlands of Guatemala, a dozen large white houses rise above the village’s traditional wooden huts like giant monuments. The structures are made of concrete and fashioned with archways, colonnaded porches, and elaborate moldings. “Most of them are empty,” Feliciano Pérez, a local farmer, told me. Their owners, who live in the U.S., had sent money home to build American-inspired houses for when they returned, but they never did. Pérez gestured to a three-story house topped with a faux-brick chimney. “No one lives there,” he said. The family of twelve had migrated a few years ago, leaving the vacant construction behind. “Vecinos fantasmas,” Pérez called them—ghost neighbors.

Pérez, who is thirty-five, is short and lean, with dark, weathered skin and metal caps on his front teeth. He wore a baseball cap mottled in camouflage and emblazoned with the words “Proud Marine Dad.” “It was about six years ago that things started to change,” he said. Climentoro had always been poor. Residents depended on the few crops that could survive at an elevation of more than nine thousand feet, harvesting maize to feed their families and selling potatoes for a small profit. But, Pérez said, the changing climate was wiping out the region’s crops. “In the higher part of town, there have been more frosts than there used to be, and they kill an entire harvest in one fell swoop,” he said. “In the lower part of Climentoro, there’s been much less rain and new sorts of pests.” He added, “Farmers have been abandoning their land.”

In February, citing a “national-security crisis on our southern border,” Donald Trump declared a state of emergency, a measure that even members of Congress from his own party rejected. Three months earlier, with much less fanfare, thirteen federal agencies issued a landmark report about the damage wrought by climate change. In a sixteen-hundred-page analysis, government scientists described wildfires in California, the collapse of infrastructure in the South, crop shortages in the Midwest, and catastrophic flooding. The President publicly dismissed the findings. “As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it,” he said. There was a deeper layer of denial in this, since overlooking these effects meant turning a blind eye to one of the major forces driving migration to the border. “There are always a lot of reasons why people migrate,” Yarsinio Palacios, an expert on forestry in Guatemala, told me. “Maybe a family member is sick. Maybe they are trying to make up for losses from the previous year. But in every situation, it has something to do with climate change.” [Continue reading…]