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03 Feb

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

Recommended:

Irish Examiner>>

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Spiegel>>

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‘The devastation of human life is in view’: what a burning world tells us about climate change

A forest fire burns on a hill in Monchique, Portugal, August 2018. Photograph: Filipe Farinha/EPA

I was wilfully deluded until I began covering global warming, says David Wallace-Wells. But extreme heat could transform the planet by 2100

I have never been an environmentalist. I don’t even think of myself as a nature person. I’ve lived my whole life in cities, enjoying gadgets built by industrial supply chains I hardly think twice about. I’ve never gone camping, not willingly anyway, and while I always thought it was basically a good idea to keep streams clean and air clear, I also accepted the proposition that there was a trade-off between economic growth and cost to nature – and figured, well, in most cases I’d go for growth. I’m not about to personally slaughter a cow to eat a hamburger, but I’m also not about to go vegan. In these ways – many of them, at least – I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and wilfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced, but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of human life itself.

A few years ago, I began collecting stories of climate change, many of them terrifying, gripping, uncanny narratives, with even the most small-scale sagas playing like fables: a group of Arctic scientists trapped when melting ice isolated their research centre on an island also populated by a group of polar bears; a Russian boy killed by anthrax released from a thawing reindeer carcass that had been trapped in permafrost for many decades. At first, it seemed the news was inventing a new genre of allegory. But of course climate change is not an allegory. Beginning in 2011, about a million Syrian refugees were unleashed on Europe by a civil war inflamed by climate change and drought; in a very real sense, much of the “populist moment” the west is passing through now is the result of panic produced by the shock of those migrants. The likely flooding of Bangladesh threatens to create 10 times as many, or more, received by a world that will be even further destabilised by climate chaos – and, one suspects, less receptive the browner those in need. And then there will be the refugees from sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the rest of south Asia – 140 million by 2050, the World Bank estimates, more than 10 times the Syrian crisis.

My file of stories grew daily, but very few of the clips, even those drawn from new research published in the most pedigreed scientific journals, seemed to appear in the coverage about climate change we watched on television and read in newspapers. Climate change was reported, of course, and even with some tinge of alarm. But the discussion of possible effects was misleadingly narrow, limited almost invariably to the matter of sea level rise. Just as worrisome, the coverage was sanguine, all things considered.

One California fire burned so quickly, evacuees sprinting past exploding cars found their sneakers melting to the asphalt

As recently as the 1997 signing of the landmark Kyoto Protocol, 2C of global warming was considered the threshold of catastrophe: flooded cities, crippling droughts and heatwaves, a planet battered daily by hurricanes and monsoons we used to call “natural disasters” but will soon normalise as simply “bad weather”. More recently, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific offered another name for that level of warming: “genocide”.

There is almost no chance we will avoid that scenario. The Kyoto Protocol achieved, practically, nothing; in the 20 years since, despite all our climate advocacy and legislation and progress on green energy, we have produced more emissions than in the 20 years before.

In reading about warming, you will often come across analogies from the planetary record: the last time the planet was this much warmer, the logic runs, sea levels were here. These conditions are not coincidences. The geologic record is the best model we have for understanding the very complicated climate system, and gauging just how much damage will come from turning up the temperature. Which is why it is especially concerning that recent research into the deep history of the planet suggests that our current climate models may be underestimating the amount of warming we are due for in 2100 by as much as half. The authors of one recent paper suggested that slashing our emissions could still bring us to 4 or 5C, a scenario, they said, would pose severe risks to the habitability of the entire planet. “Hothouse Earth, they called it.

Because these numbers are so small, we tend to trivialise the differences between them – one, two, four, five. But, as with world wars or recurrences of cancer, you don’t want to see even one. At 2C, the ice sheets will begin their collapse, bringing, over centuries, 50 metres of sea-level rise. An additional 400 million people will suffer from water scarcity, major cities in the equatorial band of the planet will become unlivable, and even in the northern latitudes heatwaves will kill thousands each summer. There would be 32 times as many extreme heatwaves in India, and each would last five times as long, exposing 93 times more people. This is our best-case scenario. At 3C, southern Europe would be in permanent drought, and the average drought in Central America would last 19 months longer. In northern Africa, the figure is 60 months longer: five years. At 4C, there would be 8m more cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone and close to annual global food crises. Damages from river flooding would grow thirtyfold in Bangladesh, twentyfold in India, and as much as sixtyfold in the UK. Globally, damages from climate-driven natural disasters could pass $600tn – more than twice the wealth that exists in the world today. Conflict and warfare could double.

Global warming may seem like a distended morality tale playing out over several centuries and inflicting a kind of Old Testament retribution on the great-great-grandchildren of those responsible, since it was carbon burning in 18th-century England that lit the fuse of everything that has followed. But that is a fable about historical villainy that acquits those of us alive today – and unfairly. The majority of the burning has come in the last 25 years – since the premiere of Seinfeld. Since the end of the second world war, the figure is about 85%. The story of the industrial world’s kamikaze mission is the story of a single lifetime – the planet brought from seeming stability to the brink of catastrophe in the years between a baptism or barmitzvah and a funeral.

Between that scenario and the world we live in now lies only the question of human response. Some amount of further warming is already baked in, thanks to the protracted processes by which the planet adapts to greenhouse gas. But all of the paths projected from the present will be defined by what we choose to do now. If we do nothing about carbon emissions, if the next 30 years of industrial activity trace the same arc upward as the last 30 years, whole regions will become unlivable as soon as the end of this century. Of course, the assaults of climate change do not end at 2100 just because most modelling, by convention, sunsets at that point. In fact, they could accelerate, not just because there’d be more carbon in the atmosphere then, but because increased temperatures could trigger feedback loops that might send the climate system spiralling out of control. This is why some studying global warming call the hundred years to follow the “century of hell”.

It would take a spectacular coincidence of bad choices and bad luck to make a completely uninhabitable Earth possible within our lifetime. But the fact that we have brought that eventuality into play at all is perhaps the overwhelming cultural and historical fact of the modern era. Whatever we do to stop warming, and however aggressively we act to protect ourselves from its ravages, we will have pulled the devastation of human life on Earth into view – close enough that we can see clearly what it would look like, and know, with some degree of precision, how it will punish our children and grandchildren. Close enough, in fact, that we are already beginning to feel its effects ourselves, when we do not turn away………….What is coming? Much more fire, much more often, burning much more land. American wildfires now burn twice as much land as they did as recently as 1970. By 2050, destruction from wildfires is expected to double again. For every additional degree of global warming, it could quadruple. At three degrees of warming, our likely benchmark for the end of the century, the US might be dealing with 16 times as much devastation from fire as we are today, when in a single year 10m acres were burned. The California fire captain believes the term is already outdated: “We don’t even call it fire season any more,” he said in 2017. “Take the ‘season’ out – it’s year-round.”

But wildfires are not an American affliction; they are a global pandemic. Each year, between 260,000 and 600,000 people worldwide die from the smoke they produce. In icy Greenland, fires in 2017 appeared to burn 10 times more area than in 2014; and in Sweden, in 2018, forests in the Arctic Circle went up in flames. Fires that far north may seem innocuous, relatively speaking, since there are not so many people there. But they are increasing more rapidly than fires in lower latitudes, and they concern climate scientists greatly: the soot and ash they give off can blacken ice sheets, which then absorb more of the sun’s rays and melt more quickly. Another Arctic fire broke out on the Russia-Finland border in 2018, and smoke from Siberian fires that summer reached all the way to the mainland US. That same month, the 21st century’s second-deadliest wildfire swept through the Greek seaside, killing 100. At one resort, dozens of guests tried to escape the flames by descending a narrow stone staircase into the Aegean, only to be engulfed along the way, dying literally in each other’s arms. There were record-breaking fires in the UK, as well, including one on Saddleworth Moor that was thought to be defeated – until it emerged again from the forest’s peat floor, to become the largest British wildfire in living memory.

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More On The Environment:

World Politics

Great Britain

Cold war plans revived to move royals to safe locations away from London if unrest follows no deal

Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth and members of the royal family could be evacuated from London in the event of unrest following a no-deal Brexit. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

British officials have revived cold war emergency plans to relocate the royal family should there be riots in London if Britain suffers a disruptive departure from the European Union, two Sunday newspapers have reported.

“These emergency evacuation plans have been in existence since the cold war but have now been repurposed in the event of civil disorder following a no-deal Brexit,” the Sunday Times said, quoting an unnamed source from the government’s Cabinet Office, which handles sensitive administrative issues.

The Mail on Sunday also said it had learnt of plans to move the royal family, including Queen Elizabeth, to safe locations away from London.

In January an annual speech by the Queen, 92, to a women’s group was widely interpreted in Britain as a call for politicians to reach agreement over Brexit.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Conservative MP and keen supporter of Brexit, told the Mail on Sunday he believed the plans showed unnecessary panic by officials over a no-deal Brexit as senior royals had remained in London during bombing in the second world war.

But the Sunday Times said an ex-police officer formerly in charge of royal protection, Dai Davies, expected Queen Elizabeth would be moved out of London if there was unrest. “If there were problems in London, clearly you would remove the royal family away from those key sites,” Davies was quoted as saying.

United States

  • Press conference and Michael Jackson story add to controversy

  • Virginia lieutenant governor does not call for resignation

Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam, announces he will not resign.

Ralph Northam, accompanied by his wife Pamela Northam, announces he will not resign. Photograph: Jay Paul/Reuters

Senior Democratic and Republican figures continue to call for Ralph Northam to resign as governor of Virginia, over a racist photo which was released on Friday.

The picture is from Northam’s page in a 1984 yearbook from Eastern Virginia Medical School. It shows two men, one in blackface, one dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and it was released by Big League Politics, a website founded by former employees of the far-right Breitbart News.

On Friday, Northam said he was in the picture although he did not know which man was him. On Saturday, at a press conference in Richmond, he reversed course and said he was not in the picture and had never seen the yearbook before its release this week.

He did however voluntarily discuss an instance in the same time period in which, he said, he wore shoe polish on his face while winning a dance contest in San Antonio, Texas, dressed as Michael Jackson.

Northam also said he would not quit, and said: “I’m asking for the opportunity to earn your forgiveness.”

After that, both of Virginia’s Democratic US senators weighed in. And so did Donald Trump.

In a tweet, Trump said Northam’s statement that he was not in the picture came “24 hours after apologizing for appearing in the picture and after making the most horrible statement on ‘super’ late-term abortion. Unforgivable!”

Republicans have sought to tie the yearbook controversy to Northam’s support for a state bill that would loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions. The governor is a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Characteristically, the president also took a shot at the Republican who lost to Northam in November, Ed Gillespie, saying he “must now be thinking Malpractice and Dereliction of Duty with regard to his Opposition Research Staff. If they find that terrible picture before the election, he wins by 20 points!”

Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Photograph: AP

For Northam, the intervention of the influential senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, who at first refrained from calling for his resignation while 2020 presidential contenders and Virginia legislators demanded it, was potentially more chilling.

A statement issued with the US representative Bobby Scott said: ?“After we watched his press conference today, we called Governor Northam to tell him that we no longer believe he can effectively serve as Governor of Virginia and that he must resign.

“Governor Northam has served the people of the Commonwealth faithfully for many years, but the events of the past 24 hours have inflicted immense pain and irrevocably broken the trust Virginians must have in their leaders. He should step down and allow the Commonwealth to begin healing.”

As of Sunday morning, Northam had not followed their advice.

Justin Fairfax speaks in his office at the Capitol in Richmond on Saturday.

Justin Fairfax speaks in his office at the Capitol in Richmond on Saturday. Photograph: Steve Helber/AP

His lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, is only the second African American elected to statewide office in Virginia. Though he spent Friday night preparing to step up as governor, he did not call for Northam to go.

In a statement on Saturday, Fairfax said he was “shocked and saddened” by the picture but was glad Northam, whom he called a friend, had apologised and reached out to him personally for “actions from his past” that he could not condone.

Fairfax also told the Washington Post: “I’ve known Ralph for years … We can generally rely on what each other said to be accurate … I can’t speak to what happened to him 30 years ago in medical school.”

Describing the last 24 hours as “eventful”, Fairfax said Northam’s confession about his Michael Jackson costume “obviously was disturbing as well. I think blackface is always wrong. Whatever context it takes place in, it’s never OK.”

Governor Ralph Northam faces calls to resign over a yearbook photo. That’s good, but voter suppression and other racist policies deserve equal outrage

Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. Photograph: AP

Racism and bigotry are woven into the fabric of this nation. Dismissing this notion, or pretending that progress made with social inequality negates the point, is intellectually dishonest at best. Without question, racism is fully present in America.

Yet it appears the impetus to publicly demand accountability for racism is largely commenced by blatant examples, rather than practices and policies that directly harm people of color. The recent conversations around Virginia governor Ralph Northam fully illustrate this point.

A photo from a 1984 yearbook shows a man in blackface standing next to a person dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It was made public on Friday. In response, the governor seemingly declared that he was in the photo, though he did not say which man was him. The following day, he said he was not in the photo, but mentioned that he once wore a dark shoe polish on his face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.

Unsurprisingly, the backlash was swift, with Republicans and Democrats calling for his resignation. And with good cause. The blackface picture is not only transparently racist, it is another painful reminder of how normalized this behavior is. In 1984, this picture was included in a yearbook. Northam says he had never seen the yearbook before Friday. If he had, he presumably would never have imagined it would have political ramifications.

Bipartisan outrage and immediate public acknowledgment of racism must extend beyond images of blackface

This absolutely warrants the public outcry it is receiving, and demanding our leaders be held accountable for their actions is the mark of a healthy democracy. But if the litmus test for accountability is transparent racism, then this same vigor must be applied to policies and practices and the politicians who impose them.

Bipartisan outrage and immediate public acknowledgment of racism must extend beyond images of blackface. The same citizens and politicians who boldly acknowledge that Northam should be held accountable should join the group of people who are ignored when publicly addressing other aspects of our political landscape that are racist and detrimental.

Voter suppression not only meets this same standard, it threatens democracy itself. Yet it has reportedly occurred several times within recent elections, to less outrage from politicians and even some private citizens.

An investigation conducted by the Associated Press indicated that since 2012, in his position as Georgia secretary of state, Brian Kemp cancelled more than 1 million voter registrations. Kemp, the Republican opponent of Democrat Stacey Abrams in the 2018 gubernatorial election, also froze 53,000 registrations. A huge portion of those belonged to African American voters; many were unaware their registration was on hold.

In 2017, the AP said, Kemp cancelled 670,000 registrations. Asked about this, he called it “voter roll maintenance”. Given that many of those impacted by this “maintenance” were African Americans, this act can be viewed more as a form of voter suppression. After a tumultuous and historic election, Kemp became governor by a slim margin.

Voter suppression silences voices and systemically targets people of color in an attempt to strip them of power

In Republican states, voter suppression also appears to be done preemptively, when the population of communities of color begins to rise. According to census estimates, Texas has experienced a large growth in the Hispanic population. In 2010, the state had 9.7 million Hispanics. In 2017 it was 11.2 million, while the population of white Texans had only increased by approximately half a million people to 11.9 million. It is projected that by 2022, Texas will be majority Hispanic.

Perhaps this is a factor in the state’s recent announcement that it will cut 95,000 people from the voter rolls because “they don’t seem to be citizens”. The League of United Latin American Citizens has filed suit against Texas secretary of state David Whitley, claiming a violation of the Voting Rights Act and an attempt to deter Latinos from voting.

From Texas to Georgia, claims of voter suppression are not uncommon. Voter suppression impacts the ability of marginalized communities to fully participate in the democratic process upon which this nation prides itself. It silences voices and systemically targets people of color in an attempt to strip them of power. It makes them more susceptible to living with the ramifications of policy decisions that could disproportionately harm them. It is by all accounts racist and harmful.

Yet the public outcry and demand to hold those responsible accountable are not nearly as loud as the outrage about politicians apparently in blackface. Holding Governor Northam accountable and demanding his resignation is more than fair. In fact, a zero tolerance policy around racism should be the standard. I just hope this becomes more of a practice with politicians who were smart enough to avoid evidence of blackface, but still impose policies that harm black and brown bodies.

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