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22 May

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

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Climate change

UK workers must move to nine-hour week if carbon levels do not change, says thinktank

Commuters on Waterloo Bridge during London’s Extinction Rebellion protest.

Commuters on Waterloo Bridge during Extinction Rebellion climate protests in London. Shorter working hours are needed across Europe, the study found. Photograph: Amer Ghazzal/Rex/Shutterstock

People across Europe will need to work drastically fewer hours to avoid disastrous climate heating unless there is a radical decarbonising of the economy, according to a study.

The research, from thinktank Autonomy, shows workers in the UK would need to move to nine-hour weeks to keep the country on track to avoid more than 2C of heating at current carbon intensity levels. Similar reductions were found to be necessary in Sweden and Germany.

The findings are based on OECD and UN data on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in the three countries. It found that at current carbon levels, all three would require a drastic reduction in working hours as well as urgent measures to decarbonise the economy to prevent climate breakdown.

Will Stronge, the director of Autonomy, said the research highlighted the need to include reductions in working hours as part of the efforts to address the climate emergency.

“Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them,” he said. “This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like”

The paper focuses on the emissions produced per industry in each economy but does not take into account other environmental advantages of reducing working hours, from less commuting to fewer goods produced and resources used.

There is growing support in the US and Europe for a so-called Green New Deal, which aims for a rapid decarbonisation of the economy, creating secure, well-paid sustainable jobs. Accelerating automation has also led to increasing calls for a reduction in the working week.

Emma Williams, a spokeswoman for the 4 Day Week campaign, said Wednesday’s report highlighted the link between automation, reduced working hours and the climate emergency.

“We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet,” she said.

“In addition to improved wellbeing, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less.”

Stronge said technological advances and the climate emergency meant a shorter working week was now not only viable but essential.

“The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly,” he said. “However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary.”

In the war, the purpose of journalism was to awaken the world to the catastrophe looming ahead of it. We must approach our climate crisis the same way

 

MURROW<br>**FILE**This file photo orginally from CBS shows CBS News correspondent Edward R. Murrow broadcasting national election returns on CBS Television Network in New York on election night, November 7, 1956. In the new film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” Murrow is portrayed as he publicly came out against Sen. Joe McCarthy, who was on an anti-communist crusade. What is in film is essentially accurate, experts say. They note that the movie leaves out such aspects as the mention of journalists who had already stood up to McCarthy to signs that the senator was already on his way down. (AP Photo/CBS )

‘In the war, what was journalism for, except to awaken the world to the catastrophe looming ahead of it?’ Photograph: AP

Today marks the official launch of Covering Climate Now, a project co-sponsored by The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation. Joined by The Guardian and others partners to be announced, Covering Climate Now will bring journalists and news outlets together to dramatically improve how the media as a whole covers the climate crisis and its solutions.

The following is an abridged version of the conference keynote speech by iconic TV newsman Bill Moyers, as prepared for delivery. A video version of the speech is available here. See here for more about the Covering Climate Now project.

I have been asked to bring this gathering to a close by summing up how we can do better at covering the possible “collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world,” to quote the noted environmentalist David Attenborough, speaking at the recent United Nations climate summit in Poland.

I don’t come with a silver bullet. And I’m no expert on the topic. Like you, I am just a journalist whose craft calls for us to explain things we don’t understand. There’s so much I don’t understand that journalism became my continuing course in adult education. The subjects were so fascinating, and the work so fulfilling, that I kept at it “full speed ahead” for half a century, until two years ago, at the age of 83, I yielded finally to the side effects of a long life and retired (more or less). This is the first opportunity I have had since then to be with so many kindred spirits of journalism, and the camaraderie reminds me how much I have missed your company.

Many of us have recognized that our coverage of global warming has fallen short. There’s been some excellent reporting by independent journalists and by enterprising reporters and photographers from legacy newspapers and other news outlets. But the Goliaths of the US news media, those with the biggest amplifiers—the corporate broadcast networks—have been shamelessly AWOL, despite their extraordinary profits. The combined coverage of climate change by the three major networks and Fox fell from just 260 minutes in 2017 to a mere 142 minutes in 20l8—a drop of 45%, reported the watchdog group Media Matters.

Meanwhile, about 1,300 communities across the United States have totally lost news coverage, many from newspaper mergers and closures, according to the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. Hundreds of others are still standing only as “ghost newspapers.” They no longer have resources for even local reporting, much less for climate change. “Online news sites, as well as some TV newsrooms, are working hard to keep local reporting alive, but these are taking root far more slowly than newspapers are dying,” observes Tom Stites of Poynter in a report about the study. And, alas, many of the news outlets that are still around have ignored or misreported the climate story and failed to counter the tsunami of deceptive propaganda unleashed by fossil-fuel companies and the mercenaries, ideologues, and politicians who do their bidding.

But events educate, experience instructs, and so much destructive behavior has been caused by climate disruption that more Americans today than ever seem hungry to know what’s causing it, what’s coming and what can be done about it. We journalists have perhaps our last chance to help people grasp the magnitude of the threat. My friend and journalist-turned-citizen-activist Bill McKibben told me last week that because of the looming possibility of extinction, and in response to it from the emerging leadership among young people, we have reached a ‘climate moment’ with real momentum, and our challenge as we go forward is to dramatically change the zeitgeist—“to lock in and consolidate public opinion that’s finally beginning to come into focus.”

So, while I did not come with a silver bullet—there’s no such thing—I do want to share a couple of stories that might help us respond to this daunting task.

I’ll begin with how I first heard of global warming—before many of you in this room were born. It was 54 years ago, early in 1965, at the White House. Before I became President Lyndon Johnson’s press secretary (“over my dead body,” I might add,) I was his special assistant coordinating domestic policy. One day, two members of the president’s science-advisory committee came by the office. One of them was the famous oceanographer, Roger Revelle. Famous because only a few years earlier he had shaken up the prevailing consensus that the oceans were massive enough to soak up any amount of excess of carbon released on earth. Not so, Revelle discovered; the peculiar chemistry of sea water actually prevents this from happening.

Now, he said, humans have begun a “vast geophysical experiment.” We were about to burn, within a few generations, the fossil fuels that had slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years. Burning so much oil, gas, and coal would release massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it would trap heat that otherwise would escape into space. Earth’s temperature could rise, causing polar ice to melt and sea levels to rise, flooding the earth’s coastal regions.

President Johnson took scientists seriously; as vice president, he had been chosen by President Kennedy to chair the intergovernmental committee overseeing NASA’s charge to put a man on the moon. So Revelle and his colleagues got the green light, and by the fall of 1965 they produced the first official report to any government anywhere on the possible threat to humanity from rising CO2 levels. On November 6, Lyndon Johnson became the first president to mention the threat in a message to Congress.

President Johnson urged us to circulate the report widely throughout the government and to the public, despite its controversial emphasis on the need for “economic incentives” to discourage pollution, including—shudder!—taxes levied against polluters. (You can go online to Restoring the Quality of Our Environment—1965 and read the entire 23-page section, headlined Appendix Y4—Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.)

This was in 1965! Nearly six decades ago! The future in plain sight.

But we failed the moment. One year later, largely preoccupied with the war in Vietnam, the president grew distracted, budgets for other priorities were squeezed, and the nation was fast polarizing. We flunked that first chance to confront global warming. Our failure to act—and the failure of administrations that followed us—metastasized into the crisis of today, the crisis journalists must figure out how to cover as if life on earth depends on it, which it does.

Which brings me to the second story I hope will be helpful in confronting this daunting challenge.

It’s about the Murrow Boys: Edward R. Murrow and the young men, none of them yet famous, Murrow hired to staff CBS Radio in Europe on the eve of the Second World War.

I was a kid of about six in Marshall, Texas, when my parents bought a used console radio so they could listen to Franklin Roosevelt’s speeches and I could follow the Saturday serials—especially “The Green Hornet,” my favorite masked vigilante. That’s how we discovered the Murrow Boys, by listening to the news every evening on CBS. Although I didn’t yet know what to make of the events being reported, I showed up faithfully to sit on the floor between my parents in their chairs, all of us listening together.

I can still hear the voices coming from that stained brown console in the corner of our living room; still see the pictures their words painted in my mind’s eye. Their names, hardly known when they started, became hallowed in the annals of journalism. Murrow of course, Eric Sevareid, William L Shirer, Larry LeSeuer, Charles Collingwood, Howard K Smith, William Randall Downs, Richard C. Hottelet, Winston Burdett, Cecil Brown, Thomas Grandin, and the one woman among them, Mary Marvin Breckinridge. You can read about them in The Murrow Boys: Pioneers on the Front Lines of Broadcast Journalism, a superb book by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson.

These reporters spread across Europe as the “phony war” of 1939–40 played out, much like the slow-motion catastrophe of global warming plays out in our time. They saw the threat posed by the Nazis, and they struggled to get the attention of an American public back home exhausted and drained by the Great Depression.

In September of 1939, with Europe hours away from going up in flames, the powers at CBS in New York ordered Murrow and Shirer to feature an entertainment broadcast spotlighting dance music from nightspots in London, Paris, and Hamburg. Here’s the account from Cloud and Olson:

“‘They say there’s so much bad news out of Europe, they want some good news,’ Murrow [in London] snapped to Shirer [in Berlin] over the phone. The show, scheduled to be broadcast just as Germany was about to rape Poland, would be called ‘Europe Dances’ … Finally, Murrow decreed, ‘The hell with those bastards in New York. It may cost us our jobs, but we’re just not going to do it’.”

And they didn’t. They defied the bosses—and gave CBS one of the biggest stories of the 20th century, the invasion of Poland.

And still the powers in New York resisted. Through the rest of 1939 and into the spring of 1940, Hitler hunched on the borders of France and the Low Countries, his Panzers idling, poised to strike. Shirer fumed, “My God! Here was the old continent on the brink of war…and the network was most reluctant to provide five minutes a day from here to report it.” Just as the networks and cable channels provide practically no coverage today of global warming.

In time I would meet Ed Murrow and follow him as senior correspondent for the documentary series he created after the war with Fred Friendly. Eric Sevareid became a mentor, before and after I succeeded him as commentator on The CBS Evening News. Howard K. Smith and I frequently corresponded and traded books. And I had casual conversations with Charles Collingwood at the little French café he frequented near our office on West 57th street. These men rarely talked details of the past. But I will never forget my debt as a journalist to their work, or what they did for our country.

Never in my own long career have I been as tested as they were. Or as you will be. Our own global warming “phony war” is over. The hot war is here.

My colleague and co-writer, Glenn Scherer, compares global disruption to a repeat hit-and-run driver: anonymous, deadly, and requiring tireless investigation to identify the perpetrator. There are long stretches of nothing, then suddenly Houston is inundated and Paradise burns. San Juan blows away and salt water creeps into the subways of New York. The networks put their reporters out in raincoats or standing behind police barriers as flames consume far hills. Yet we rarely hear the words “global warming” or “climate disruption” in their reports. The big backstory of rising CO2 levels, escalating drought, collateral damage, cause and effect, and politicians on the take from fossil-fuel companies? Forget all that. Not good for ratings, say network executives.

But last October, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientifically conservative body, gave us 12 years to make massive changes to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels and to net zero by 2050. On his indispensable site, TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt writes that humanity is now on a suicide watch.

Soon, some of you will be traveling to the ends of the earth to report on this Great Disruption. To Indonesia, where oil-palm growers and commodities companies are stripping away forests vital to carbon storage. To the Amazon, where President Bolsonaro’s government plans to open indigenous reserves to industrial exploitation, threatening the lungs of the Earth. To India, where President Modi pretends to be an environmentalist even as he embraces destructive development. To China, where President Xi’s Belt and Road initiative, the biggest transportation-infrastructure program in the history of the world, threatens disaster for earth systems. You will go to the Arctic and the Antarctic to report on melting ice, and to the shores of African cities, Pacific atolls, and poor Miami neighborhoods being swallowed by rising oceans. And to Nebraska, and Iowa, and Kansas, and Missouri, where this spring’s crop is despair as farmers and their families grieve their losses.

And some of you will go to Washington, to report on the madness—yes, I said madness—of a US government that scorns reality as fake news, denies the truths of nature, and embraces a theocratic theology that welcomes catastrophe as a sign of the returning Messiah.

Madness! Superstition! Destruction and death.

Can we get this story right? Can we tell it whole? Can we connect the dots and inspire people with the possibility of change?

What’s journalism for? Really, in the war, what was journalism for, except to awaken the world to the catastrophe looming ahead of it?

Here’s the good news: While describing David Wallace-Wells’s stunning new book The Uninhabitable Earth as a remorseless, near-unbearable account of what we are doing to our planet, The New York Times reports it also offers hope. Wallace-Wells says that “We have all the tools we need…to aggressively phase out dirty energy…”; [cut] global emissions…[and] scrub carbon from the atmosphere…. [There are] ‘obvious’ and ‘available,’ [if costly,] solutions.”

What we need, he adds, is the “acceptance of responsibility.”

Our responsibility as journalists is to tell the story so people get it.

I wish I could go there with you to tell it. This is a very exciting time for journalism, despite our beleaguered newsrooms, our diminished ranks, and the power arrayed against truth. And I really do think this project – Covering Climate Now – could be the beginning of our redemption.

Over my long life I’ve seen things change quickly. After the Birmingham bombing. After Selma. Vietnam. Nixon and Watergate. The Berlin Wall. The pendulum can swing suddenly. The public can change its mind.

Which brings us back to the Murrow Boys. Late 1940. The start of the Blitz, with bombs blasting London to bits. A Gallup poll that September found that a mere 16% of Americans supported sending US aid to beleaguered Britain. Olson and Cloud tell us that, “One month later, as bombs fell on London, and Murrow and the Boys brought the reality of it into American living rooms, 52% thought more aid should be sent.”

Americans had taken one step toward defeating fascism, and the Murrow Boys helped us take it. Of course, the journalists were only part of the cast, and I don’t want to overrate their importance. But they were there. On the right side. At the right time. In the right way—reporting on the biggest story of all, the fight for freedom. For life itself.

Reporting the truth is always the basis for any moral authority we can claim as journalists. Reporting the truth about climate disruption, and its solutions, could be contagious. Our gathering today could be a turning point for American journalism.

With no silver bullet, what do we do? We cooperate as kindred spirits on a mission of public service. We create partnerships to share resources. We challenge media owners and investors to act in the public interest. We keep the whole picture in our heads—how melting ice sheets in the Arctic can create devastation in the Midwest—and connect the dots for our readers, viewers, and listeners. We look every day at photographs of our children and grandchildren, to be reminded of the stakes. And we tell the liars, deniers, and do-nothings to shove off: There’s no future in naysaying.

As some of you know, I am president of the Schumann Media Center, a small nonprofit devoted to the support of independent journalism. The Center is the progeny of the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, founded in Montclair, NJ, in l961 by a civic-minded couple whose offspring were brought up with a strong commitment to democratic values. Their support of my journalism on public television led us to join forces, which is how I became president of the foundation and now of the center. The family resolved to give away their wealth in their lifetime, and we are just about there; our resources are modest now, and we’re almost done.

One of our last major gifts will be a million dollars to launch the Covering Climate Now project of The Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation and to get the project through the first year. Other foundations and individual philanthropists will then have to step up to the challenge, and I believe they will.

This has been a good day of talking and thinking—now must come action. My colleagues at the Schumann Media Center wish all of you and all of those you represent—in newspapers, radio stations, local news, and major corporations—we wish all of you, because it will take all of you, every success.

I am grateful to the veteran environmental journalist Glenn Scherer for the research and ideas he contributed to this speech. His own impressive work can be found at MongaBay.org.

World Politics

Europe

Avaaz uncovers 500 accounts using fake news to spread white supremacy message

People already barred from Facebook include the far-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos (L) and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

People already barred from Facebook include the far-right activist Milo Yiannopoulos (L) and the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Photograph: Mark Graham/AFP/Getty Images

A web of far-right Facebook accounts spreading fake news and hate speech to millions of people across Europe has been uncovered by the campaign group Avaaz.

Facebook, which is struggling to clean up the platform and salvage its reputation, has already taken down accounts with about 6 million followers before voting in the European elections begins on Thursday. It was still investigating hundreds of other accounts with an additional 26 million followers, Avaaz said.

In total, the group reported more than 500 suspect groups and Facebook pages operating across France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Poland and Spain. Most were either spreading fake news or using false pages and profiles to artificially boost the content of parties or sites they supported, in violation of Facebook’s rules.

The networks were far more popular than the official pages of far-right and anti-EU populist groups in those countries. The pages taken down by Facebook so far had been viewed half a billion times, Avaaz estimated.

“The pages [uncovered by Avaaz] have high levels of interactions. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have if there are no interactions,” said Christoph Schott, the groups’s campaign director. “They have over 500 million views just on the pages taken down, that’s more than the number of voters in the EU.”

However, while some had been taken down, including a large network in Spain also uncovered by Avaaz, many had not.

Activity ranged from French accounts sharing white supremacist content, to posts in Germany supporting Holocaust denial, and false pages promoting the Alternative für Deutschland party (AfD) party.

In Italy, tactics included setting up general interest pages for beauty, football, health or other interests, then after followers signed up, transforming them into political tools.

The researchers traced how a page, ostensibly set up for an association of agricultural breeders, slowly morphed into one supporting the far-right League, sharing a video that purported to show migrants smashing up a police car. It is actually a scene from a film and has been repeatedly debunked.

The pages were not just targeted at upcoming elections, Schott said, but aimed to change politics by giving a false impression of grassroots support for their content.

“We feel [these networks] have a significant impact, they run disinformation campaigns that go on for years, for example, making a specific issue seem more important.”

The investigation was carried out by independent investigators and journalists hired by Avaaz after an online funding drive. More than 47,000 people donated small sums, making the project financially independent.

Facebook had followed up on the investigation, but at no point did the Avaaz team work with the social media firm, it said. Instead, it handed over its findings for Facebook to verify and take action, and investigations were still under way.

“We think Facebook did a good job so far of acting, but should have done a better job of detecting these pages,” Schott said. “They should do this themselves. We are around 30 people, they have over 30,000 in their safety and security team.”

United States

Lawyers for House committees and two banks also to appear amid president’s battle against congressional oversight

Donald Trump departs the White House in Washington DC, on 20 May.

Donald Trump departs the White House in Washington DC, on 20 May. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Lawyers for Donald Trump, House committees and two banks are scheduled to appear in court Wednesday afternoon for arguments involving congressional subpoenas of his financial records.

The proceeding comes amid the president’s ongoing battle against congressional oversight, in which he has reportedly vowed to fight “all of the subpoenas”.

The House intelligence and financial services committees in April ramped up their investigation of Trump’s business dealings, issuing subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and Capital One. Several weeks later, Trump hit back with a lawsuit that seemed to profess a sense of victimhood.

“The subpoenas were issued to harass President Donald J Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the president and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage,” lawyers for Trump wrote in a Manhattan federal court lawsuit filed on 29 April.

This lawsuit – which counts Trump’s children Ivanka, Eric and Donald Jr, as well as several of his companies, among the plaintiffs – also said Deutsche Bank and Capital One “have long provided business and personal banking services to plaintiffs”.

Deutsche Bank said in an email that “we remain committed to providing appropriate information to all authorized investigations and will abide by a court order regarding such investigations”. Capital One did not respond to a request for comment.

The resistance from Trump officials has been fierce.

Former White House counsel Don McGahn on Tuesday flouted a subpoena to appear before Congress, as Trump blocked him from testifying on Robert Mueller’s report about Russian election meddling. On 8 May, House Democrats voted to hold the US attorney general, William Barr, in contempt for refusing to disclose an unredacted copy of Mueller’s report.

Trump, meanwhile, suffered a legal defeat in his fight against oversight on Monday, when a Washington DC federal judge refused to stop one of his accounting firms from complying with a House subpoena.

Move in Golan Heights follows naming of Jerusalem roundabout in US president’s honour last year

President Trump meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyah (right), will press his next government to approve the naming of the new community in Golan Heights after Trump (left). Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

Israel plans to name a new settlement after Donald Trump on land it captured from Syria, as a token of gratitude to the US president for recognising its contested claim to the occupied territory.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said he would press his next government, which he is still in the process of forming, to approve the naming of the new community in Golan Heights.

Israeli and US officials are expected to hold a cornerstone-laying ceremony next month at the site where the village is due to be built, next to the location of the existing village of Kela Alon, according to a spokeswoman for the area’s regional council.

“It will be soon,” said Batya Gottlieb, adding that the final decision rests with the prime minister’s office and will need formal approval from a governmental naming committee.

However, she said local councils backed Netanyahu. “Yes, we proudly agree on having the US president’s name at the new place,” she said.

Israeli forces took control of the volcanic plateau from Syria in the six-day war in 1967 and later annexed it, moves that were condemned by the UN security council and never internationally recognised.

Local rights groups estimate up to 130,000 Syrians fled or were forced from their homes during the war and have not been allowed to return. Many of their farms and villages have since been demolished. Israel has offered the few thousand Syrians, mostly Druze Arabs, who remain the option of citizenship, but most reject it.

Trump’s recognition of Israel’s claim, announced in a tweet in March, ended half a century of US foreign policy and broke from post-second world war international consensus that forbids territorial conquest during war.

The US president later said he made the decision after getting a “quick” history lesson from his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his pro-settlement ambassador to Israel and former bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman.

Friedman was thrilled, Trump said, and reacted like a “wonderful, beautiful baby” getting what he wanted.

The Golan move followed Trump’s decision in December 2017 to recognise Jerusalem, part of which is claimed by the Palestinians, as the Israeli capital. In gratitude, the city’s mayor named a roundabout in Trump’s honour.

 

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