Friday, December 9, 2011

12/7, 12/8, 12/9

The Durban climate talks look like they'll be a complete and utter failure, as the United States plays its typical obstructionist role. We're not against taking action, we falsely proclaim, we just don't want a legally binding agreement. Right, because a voluntary commitment to cuts has been so damn effective. At least there are those who speak truth to power:
Mr. Stern’s statement to delegates from more than 190 nations at the annual climate conference was disrupted by a 21-year-old Middlebury College junior, Abigail Borah, who told the assembly that she would speak for the United States because Mr. Stern had forfeited the right to do so.

“I am speaking on behalf of the United States of America because my negotiators cannot,” said Ms. Borah, who is attending the conference as a representative of the International Youth Climate Movement. “The obstructionist Congress has shackled justice and delayed ambition for far too long. I am scared for my future. 2020 is too late to wait. We need an urgent path to a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty.”

Ms. Borah, who is from Princeton, N.J., added: “We need leaders who will commit to real change, not empty rhetoric. Keep your promises. Keep our hope alive.”

Scores of delegates and observers gave her a sustained ovation. Then the South African authorities threw her out of the conference. “That’s O.K.,” Ms. Borah said later by telephone. “I think I got my point across.” Mr. Stern smiled as if the applause were for him and then continued with his prepared remarks.

And your second climate hero of the day: Anjali Appadurai.
Anjali Appadurai, a student at the College of the Atlantic in Maine, addressed the conference on behalf of youth delegates. Just after her speech, she led a mic check from the stage — a move inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests. "It always seems impossible until it’s done," Appadurai said. "So, distinguished delegates and governments around the world, governments of the developed world: Deep [emissions] cuts now. Get it done."
Video below:

As the talks in Durban look doomed to sentence the world to more than the two-degrees of warming nations had agreed years ago was advisable, NASA's Jim Hansen is now saying that two-degrees is disaster in and of itself:
New, extensive study of the paleoclimate record going back 50 million years by Hansen and others now shows that the two-degree target for global temperature rise “is a prescription for disaster,” Hansen said here at a news conference during the American Geophysical Union meeting.

Hansen came to that conclusion after reviewing average and extreme perturbations in the paleoclimate record that have been more thoroughly documented in the past few years. The record shows that 50 million years ago, Earth was free of ice, and sea level was 70 meters higher on average than it is today. Both phenomena resulted from natural variations in mean temperatures due to slight changes in the sun’s output and Earth’s orbit over geological time scales. Rising temperatures today, over far shorter time scales in which neither the sun nor the orbit are factors, are caused primarily by higher levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels before the industrial revolution were about 280 parts per million on average. They have been rising ever since, and today are about 397 ppm. A level of 450 ppm has generally been associated with an average global temperature rise of two degrees C. However, the latest analysis shows that a level of 450 ppm is enough to melt a significant portion of the world’s ice, because feedback mechanisms kick in; melting ice hastens the melting of even more ice, for example, and thawing permafrost emits methane that accelerates warming, prompting permafrost to thaw even more.
I'll be interested to see the reaction to this once it winds its way through review and gets published.

In an interesting profile of Greenpeace's head, the New York Times reminds us that some environmentalists are still stuck in the 1960s/70s population bomb-type blame-the-victim approach to environmental politics, and apparently have no time for thinking about sustainability. While I admire the work that Paul Watson does in confronting whalers head-on, this retrograde environmental thinking does no one any favors:
“But when he makes statements about protecting the planet by alleviating world poverty, that just doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Watson continued. “There aren’t enough resources to do that. The group should do what it was created to do, confronting environmental issues.”

Mr. Naidoo sighs; he has heard it all before.

“Paul Watson is entitled to his opinions,” he said, “but it’s such a last-century view.


“Ever since I came into this job, I’ve been accused of selling out,” Mr. Naidoo said. “But I genuinely, passionately feel that the struggle to end global poverty and the struggle to avoid catastrophic climate change are two sides of the same coin.”

“Traditional Western-led environmentalism has failed to make the right connections between environmental, social and economic justice,” he said. “I came to the environmental movement because the poor are paying the first and most brutal impacts of climate change.”
This inability to link development and environmental issues among some enviros is indicative of a larger problem of an environmental movement that doesn't take seriously the notions of justice and equity. More than two decades after the start of the environmental justice movement, it's very unfortunate that communities of color, for instance, often don't feel a part of the environmental movement, as this op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun gets at:
I can no longer ignore that a color-blind, class-blind environmental movement is also too often blind to the needs of those with the least access to clean air, water and land.

By ignoring the obvious social divisions in society, a relatively non-inclusive green movement has emerged. The largest environmental movements, with the most resources, have evolved into cliques of upwardly mobile Caucasians. These groups do not intentionally discriminate; I would never argue that the environmental causes intentionally exclude. Surely everyone is free to join. But typically these groups fail to talk about or work on problems that capture the hearts and minds of anyone but those who adhere to their "groupthink."
There's something a bit off about the fact that the term "environmental justice" never even shows up in this piece. It's as if people like Van Jones, Majora Carter, and Sheila Watt-Cloutier — all of whom have gotten plenty of coverage for their work in marginalized communities of color — just don't exist. Nevertheless, it seems that the EJ movement hasn't been fully embraced by mainstream environmentalists enough; otherwise, we wouldn't be seeing pieces like this written by folks sympathetic to the environmental movement.

There is little in this world I find as offensive as the sheer ignorance and staunch denial of reality, all in defense of polluters and other environmental criminals, repeatedly shown by elected clowns like James Inhofe:
The EPA’s findings immediately triggered what is sure to become a heated political debate as members of Congress consider afresh proposals to regulate fracking. After a phone call with EPA chief Lisa Jackson this morning, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told a Senate panel that he found the agency’s report on the Pavillion-area contamination “offensive.” Inhofe’s office had challenged the EPA’s investigation in Wyoming last year, accusing the agency of bias.
Yes, Inhofe doesn't seem to care that fracking has serious environmental consequences and has now been shown to contaminate water. No, instead he's more offended that the EPA would have the gall to investigate such a thing. As has now become standard operating procedure for those on the right who will defend any and any environmentally destructive processes, the immediate response is to question the science:
“What we have here is not a conclusion, but a probability — and based on the facts, not a good probability,” said Doug Hock, the company’s spokesman. He said that enhanced migration of gas as a result of drilling was unlikely in the Pavillion field, since drilling had reduced pressure in the underlying rock, thus reducing forces that can lead to gas seepage. And finding methane and benzene in two deep test wells drilled for the study, he said, is what you would expect in a gas-rich zone.

“Encana didn’t put those there, nature did,” he said.

The governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, also said in a statement that the E.P.A.’s conclusions were “scientifically questionable” and not based on enough data. Mr. Mead, a Republican, called for more testing by the E.P.A., in conjunction with a state group of residents, state and federal agencies, and Indian tribes already at work looking into questions about Pavillion’s water supply.
Nature is pretty crafty, no? Putting synthetic chemicals (i.e., not just benzene and methane, but “glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids”) into the ground that leech into groundwater is some pretty clever stuff.

While it seems that questioning the science when it doesn't conform to one's political beliefs has been a trend mainly proliferating on the right (and has sadly become GOP orthodoxy as it relates to climate change), the Dems can do it, too. Case in point, the truly abhorrent decision made by HHS director Kathleen Sebelius to restrict over-the-counter access to Plan B to those 17 and older and refuse to allow adolescents access. Politics trumps all:
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has just rejected all available scientific evidence, her traditional pro-choice politics, the advice of all the relevant medical academies, and basic common sense to tell the FDA that they cannot make Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter to anyone who wishes to buy it.
What's especially aggravating is that Sebelius claimed to base her decision on the unsettled nature of the science — a characterization of the science that the actual scientific experts sure as hell don't agree with:
For [F.D.A. commissioner] Dr. Hamburg, the studies and experts all agreed that young women would benefit from having easy access to the pill and did not need the intervention of a health care provider. The agency’s scientists, she wrote, “determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted disease.

In her own statement, Ms. Sebelius said, “After careful consideration of the F.D.A. summary review, I have concluded that the data submitted by Teva do not conclusively establish that Plan B One-Step should be made available over the counter for all girls of reproductive age.” She was referring to Teva Pharmaceuticals, the pill’s maker. She noted that 10 percent of 11-year-old girls can bear children, so they needed to be studied as well.

Dr. Susan Wood, a former F.D.A. assistant commissioner who resigned in 2005 to protest the Bush administration’s handling of Plan B, said that there were many drugs available over the counter that had not been studied in pre-adolescents and that were far more dangerous to them.

“Acetaminophen can be fatal, but it’s available to everyone,” Dr. Wood noted. “So why are contraceptives singled out every single time when they’re actually far safer than what’s already out there?”
It quickly became clear that science had nothing to do with it. Obama himself made it quite obvious:
“And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect. And I think most parents would probably feel the same way.”

Asked if he fully supported Ms. Sebelius, Mr. Obama said, “I do.” The president’s remarks suggested social and cultural concerns even as he said Ms. Sebelius had acted out of scientific concerns; in particular, she cited the manufacturer’s failure to study whether girls as young as 11 could safely use the drug.
And what makes it so much worse is the illogic and rank paternalism of Obama's argument:
Obama pooh-poohed the findings of the FDA, which had concluded that Plan B pills posed no medical hazard and supported Sebelius’ official argument, citing a lack of confidence that “a 10-year-old or 11-year-old going to a drugstore would be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteries, be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly can have an adverse effect.” The logic expressed today by the president, and yesterday by Sebelius, is ludicrous: Medicines like Tylenol – which have been proven to have adverse effects in high doses – are available by the truckload on drugstore shelves, at prices far cheaper than the $30 to $50 it would cost a preteen to purchase just one dose of Plan B, let alone go wild with it.


[P]art of what was most disturbing about Obama’s statement was his reliance on language that reveals his paternalistic approach to women and their health.

“As the father of two daughters,” Obama told reporters, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

First of all, the president was not talking about “various rules.” He was supporting a very specific rule, one that prevents young women from easily obtaining a drug that can help them control their reproductive lives, at an age when their economic, educational, familial and professional futures are perhaps most at risk of being derailed by an unplanned pregnancy. “As the father of two daughters,” Obama might want to reconsider his position on preventing young women from being able to exercise this form of responsibility over their own bodies and lives.

But as an American, I think it is important for my president not to turn to paternalistic claptrap and enfeebling references to the imagined ineptitude and irresponsibility of his daughters – and young women around the country – to justify a curtailment of access to medically safe contraceptives. The notion that in aggressively conscribing women’s abilities to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancy Obama is just laying down some Olde Fashioned Dad Sense diminishes an issue of gender equality, sexual health and medical access.


When he says that he wants to “apply common sense” to questions of young women’s access to emergency contraception, he is telegraphing his discomfort with the idea of young women’s sexual agency, or more simply, with the idea of them having sex lives at all.
The list of reasons as to why this was a terrible decision goes on:
Having the 17-and-older restriction on Plan B is awful for two major reasons. The first and most obvious is that it keeps younger women in need from accessing it without a prescription. Since you need to take the pills within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, the clock will run out on young women who have to work up the courage to tell a parent, then go to a doctor for a prescription, and then go to the pharmacy. For those who’ve been sexually assaulted, it could be even worse, because a fairly standard response, especially amongst minors, to rape is to bunch up in denial and refuse to talk to anyone about it for a long time. The only reason to keep these restrictions in place is to force pregnancy on unwilling minors as punishment for having sex, and just accept the impregnated rape victims as collateral damage.

The other reason that it’s just a terrible idea to have these restrictions on Plan B is that doing so means that all women, not just minors, have to go through a pharmacist to get the drug. In order to comply with restrictions, pharmacies have to put Plan B behind the counter with the cough medicine and cigarettes, instead of out in the aisle next to the condoms and aspirin where it would go in a saner country. While some of us can endure having to ask for Plan B out loud and stoutly exclaim, “Hey, the condom broke!” if anyone gives us the stink eye, being afraid to do so isn’t a crime and shouldn’t be punished with unintended pregnancy. In a better world, discussing your personal business with a pharmacist would be easy and shame-free all the time, but in our world, not every woman is so lucky. Putting Plan B on the shelf helps women avoid uncomfortable conversations that may discourage them from buying it.
Amanda Marcotte continues her argument in a post at Pandagon, where she explains the punish-them-for-having-sex mentality will continue until the constituency of the Democratic Party speaks in favor of an alternative view of sex:
Until liberals as a group are willing to be outspoken in our support of teenagers' right to grow into their sexuality at their own pace — and that we did so ourselves, and it was fine — we can expect Democrats to take a punitive approach to teenage sexuality instead of a sex-positive, health-centric view.
Until that happens, women's health issues will likely continue to be the first thing that Dems throw under the bus in an effort to show their bipartisan bona fides. Yay for selling women out for centrism!:
The administration has long tried to find common ground on issues related to abortion and birth control. The White House hosted meetings aimed at finding areas of agreement among activists, but the effort foundered. In 2010, the administration tried to appease both sides in the debate over sex education and abstinence, launching a campaign supporting programs of both types.
And trying to please both sides pleases who exactly? The radical right who believes birth control is the equivalent of abortion might applaud this decision, but they're still not voting for the scary fetus-hating black man in the White House. Meanwhile, you have managed to piss off your base. Good work, Obama!:
[N]o amount of proof it seems can make up for the fact that, despite all the evidence, even President Obama and Secretary Sebelius appear to think young women are too stupid to make their own decisions or that they are just chum to be thrown to the religious right in an election year.

As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs the far right?
Let's return for a moment to that point about politicized science. This is the incorrect response:
“We are outraged that this administration has let politics trump science,” said Kirsten Moore of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, a Washington-based advocacy group. “This administration is unwilling to stand up to any controversy and do the right thing for women’s health. That’s shameful.”
What's unacceptable is the decision itself, and especially the fact that Sebelius tried to hide behind the veil of science rather than admitting to the fact that the decision was driven by other considerations (as Obama later made quite clear). But the fact of the matter is that decisions on policy should not necessarily be driven by science alone. In fact, science is at best one input in a larger process. Science can tell us what is happening or what may happen, but not what we should do. Time's Bryan Walsh elaborates:
Ultimately, science can only tell us so much. It can tell us that there is little evidence that Plan B would pose any danger to women below the age of 18, but it can’t tell us whether it’s right that they should be able to have the drug without a prescription. Obviously, not every American feels that way—including, I suspect, President Obama, who has often leaned conservative on many social issues. I think they’re wrong—and maybe you do, too—but it’s my ethics and my values and my experience that inform that position, as much or more than any scientific study.

Cancer research is hard:
“In the last 20 years, the National Institutes of Health and private foundations have put a lot of money into trying to identify what are the risk factors for breast cancer,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, chairwoman of the expert committee and chief of environmental and occupational health at the University of California, Davis. “It’s a bit disappointing that so little has been learned with the amounts of money that have gone into it.”

Local, seasonal, and fresh have permeated the mainstream, and ethical, humanely raised meat is slowly getting there, too. But ethical eating should entail how workers are treated, too. Not just farm and meatpacking workers, but those in restaurants, too. So, what are working conditions like inside restaurants?

What are the big questions for conservation scientists heading into 2012?

Brett Favre doesn't want to get into hypotheticals.

What do you need to know about time?

Here's the truth: Saké Puppets is where to go for your DIY Crafty Christmas needs. Everyone knows it.

And finally, Heather's Happy Link of the Day™, Wu-Tang Edition, in which GZA gives us our quote of the day:
Most rappers don’t know diamonds are minerals, that they’re crystalline, and that’s what gives a diamond its shine. They talk about gold and they don’t even know it’s an element.

No comments:

Post a Comment