“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Back in January, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) made a promise. His state, he said, would pursue a new package of climate goals that are the most ambitious in the nation (and among the most ambitious in the world). California was already a leader in efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions and promote clean energy. Brown pledged to go further. By 2030, he declared, California would double the energy efficiency of state buildings; get half its electricity from renewables; and halve consumption of gasoline by cars and trucks.
At the time, all those nice-sounding goals were just words in a speech. But they could very soon become the law of the land. The state legislature is currently considering several bills (SB 350 is the most important) that would codify Brown’s climate agenda. The legislation is widely expected to pass before the end of the legislative session next Friday, but not without a fight from the state’s powerful oil lobby.
Before we get into the bills themselves, let’s talk about California. Believe it or not, the state where America fell in love with cars and highways is now leading the nation, and the world, when it comes to climate action. And that matters, because California, the world’s seventh-largest economy, is a world-class emitter of greenhouse gases. It ranks second for state emissions, behind Texas, and if it were its own nation, it would rank 20th globally, right between Italy and Spain. Still, it’s remarkably clean for its size: On a per-capita basis, it ranks 45th among US states and 38th when compared with countries around the world. (Below, the bars represent total emissions and the dots represent per-capita emissions.)
Rev. Ambrose Carroll explains why black churches are moving to the forefront of the environmental justice movement
Low-income and communities of color are on the front lines of climate change. They have, for that matter, been disproportionately shouldering the burden of our reliance on dirty energy since the beginning: nearly 40 percent of the people living and breathing in the vicinity of coal-fired power plants are people of color; not unrelatedly, asthma rates for African Americans are 35 percent higher than they are for Caucasians.
Fighting climate change, and the energy revolution that doing so requires, is for many such communities a question of environmental justice. It’s also, Rev. Abrose Carroll tells Salon, an incredible opportunity.
Carroll is the founder of Green the Church, a movement that’s “tapping into the power and purpose of the black church” as a moral and social leader on climate issues. It’s a project of Green for All, the organization founded by Van Jones to promote a renewable energy economy while simultaneously lifting people out of poverty, by empowering them to become a part of that charge.
This past week, African American faith leaders from around the country gathered for a three-day summit in Chicago. In the lead-up to the gathering, Salon spoke with Ambrose about why the climate movement needs the black church — and how the black community is poised to benefit from the changes our planet so desperately requires. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
1. The top 1% no longer includes most doctors and head teachers
To be in the top 1% of earners in Britain today, a couple with no children would need a minimum income of £160,000. A single person can enter the 1% with a little less, while a couple with children would need more.
Hardly any GPs are paid enough to take their place in the top 1% any longer, despite the last decade’s huge hike in their pay; their incomes have been far outstripped by those of the financiers above them. The best-paid head teachers, too, used to be within the top paid 1% in society. They have seen pay rises higher than most teachers, but, again, they have been overtaken in the rankings by financiers, managers, accountants and lawyers. The 1% can pay their children’s university fees upfront. For the rest of us, it is debt. And, in recent years, the top doctors and teachers have become increasingly like the rest of us. There has always been a top 1%, but in the past it contained a wider range of people, including many who were respected more for the jobs they did. And the 1% is taking more and more. When I was a child, the 1% took a third of the share of national income they do today. Nowhere in Europe do they take as much as in the UK.
2. London is the home of the 1%
Per head, there are more so-called ultra-high net-worth individuals (UHNWI)in London than anywhere else on the planet. These are defined as people with $30m (£21m) or more in assets apart from their main home. The estate agents Frank Knight recently reported that 4,224 “Ultra” families were living in London, with the number expected to reach 5,000 by 2024. The attraction is not just London’s history, nightlife or its convenient time zone; it is Britain’s lax tax regime. As Pippa Malmgren, one-time economic adviser to George Bush, put it: “The crackdown on tax havens in Switzerland has removed these old options for new capital. As a result, there has been a huge influx of global capital into the UK.”
London’s wealthy elite also includes the largest concentration of Russian millionaires found outside of Moscow – at least 2,000, many of whom are also “Ultras”. It is impossible to accurately assess their wealth because so much of it is hidden. But the donations from many of them to the Conservative party suggest that they have a direct interest in maintaining the low tax – especially wealth tax – policies of that party. It is not just property that the Russians are buying.
3. The super rich can view the lower classes as subhuman
It is very hard to justify your huge wealth unless you see people beneath you as less deserving. Once the wealth gaps become very large, it is easier to get through the day if you see them as less able, less special. When earlier this month the civil society minister Brooks Newmark told people involved in charities that they should “stick to their knitting” rather than concern themselves with what might be causing the problems they were trying to remedy, he was exhibiting just such a “don’t worry your pretty little head” attitude.
At the extreme, the less fortunate may not be seen as people at all. That was the finding of a study from Princeton University in which MRI scans were taken of several university students’ active brains while they viewed images of different people. Researchers saw that photographs of homeless people and drug addicts failed to stimulate areas of the brain that usually activate whenever people think about other people, or themselves. Instead, the (mostly affluent) students reacted to the images as if they “had stumbled on a pile of trash”.
The more economic inequality there is in a country, the more people are prone to instantly size up each others’ status upon meeting. Some quickly cast their eyes down; others look over the shoulders of those they don’t think they need to respect. Social psychologists from Berkeley and Amsterdam have studied strangers in situations where one told the other of a difficult personal experience, such as a death in the family. The larger the social gap, the less compassion was shown. Such behaviour, and the acceptance of it as normal, becomes much more prevalent in those places where the 1% have taken the most.
4. In the last 15 years, inequality has spiralled
If the national minimum wage had kept pace with FTSE 100 CEO salaries since 1999, it would now be £18.89 per hour instead of £6.50. However, for some reason broadcasters rarely ask CEOs about the gulf between their pay and that of the poorest staff in their organisations. The unstated implication is that the lowest-paid staff are lucky to have any job at all, and only have what they have thanks to the benevolence of the 1%, with their superior leadership skills.
If the top 1% actually created more jobs as they became wealthier, then ordinary people would be surrounded by employment opportunities in both the US and the UK. Instead, it is in Germany, where the wealthiest 1% receives in pay and bonuses half as much as their counterparts in the US, that unemployment is at a 20-year low. In countries that keep their top 1% in check, the highest earners work more effectively for the good of all, or at the very least create a little less misery.
President Obama is laying out his strategy to counter the Islamic State, whose rampages across Iraq and Syria have riveted Americans’ attention on a zone of conflict that many had hoped to forget. Many are urging him to step up military action. But if Obama wants to defeat the jihadis, he will need more than airstrikes—he should follow the money.
For all that ideology, religious belief and perhaps a lust for violence and power might motivate those who fight for the Islamic State (known variously by the acronyms ISIS and ISIL), money is what keeps the group going. As with any state, ISIL has bills to pay and mouths to feed. Even for the world’s richest terrorist organization—which, by all available accounts, ISIL is—money doesn’t grow on trees, and nothing in the world comes for free.
So where does ISIL’s money come from? As part of my research at the RAND Corporation, since late 2006 I have been studying the finances, management and organization of the precursors to the Islamic State—Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq—using their own documents, manuals and ledgers. More recently, Rand has teamed up with scholars from Princeton and Emory universities, as well as analysts from other organizations, to study more than 150 documents produced between 2005 and 2010. Although our work is still not yet done, we can draw a number of conclusions.
The most important thing for U.S. policymakers to remember is that ISIL now possesses the financial means to support a long-term fight—some $2 billion, according to a recent report in the Guardian, citing a British intelligence official. At the same time, ISIL’s preferred fundraising methods and many financial commitments create vulnerabilities. The organization was badly damaged by late 2009, thanks to a combination of coalition and Iraqi forces, as well as intervention by the Iraqi government, and it can be badly damaged again. But without the establishment of a widely accepted, legitimate political order in Iraq, ISIL cannot be eradicated—and will continue to seek out and mete out cash.
ISIL raises most of its money domestically in Iraq and Syria. Its income streams include oil smuggled to other countries in the region, extortion, taxes—especially on non-Muslim minorities—and other essentially criminal activities.
Indeed, it has landed in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan, thanks to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which has become a cheerleader for quinoa. The FAO, recognizing this crop’s nutritional quality and its ability to grow in dry and salty environments, has sponsored tests of quinoa in various nations of Asia and Africa.
According to an FAO press release, quinoa plants at one farm in Tajikistan are more than six-feet-tall and appear to be thriving.
Cataldo Pulvento, a researcher at the Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean in Italy, helped with the quinoa trials in Tajikistan and Kyrgystan. In an email, Pulvento tells The Salt that the FAO is not promoting quinoa as an export crop; the agency hopes that it could become a source of nutritious food for the local population.
Kyrgystan and Tajikistan both import much of their food. They don’t get much rainfall, and much of their land isn’t well-suited for growing crops.
Quinoa, though, is used to harsh conditions. It tolerates the arid highlands of Bolivia and Peru. So, why not the arid highlands of Central Asia?
For similar reasons, the FAO is also sponsoring trials of quinoa in the United Arab Emirates, where farmers struggle with salty soil. Quinoa, as it happens, can also grow in highly saline conditions.
So far, these trials are simply to try and figure out whether quinoa will grow in these areas. No one knows whether the people will want to grow it, or eat it.
“The [Central Asians] I met can be divided in two categories: the skeptics and the enthusiasts,” Pulvento says. The skeptics believe “it will never be sold on the domestic market because no one knows quinoa.” Some fear that it could become a weed.
The enthusiasts, he wrote, hope to grow several acres of quinoa starting next year and offer it for sale at the market.
Our energy future depends on nuclear fusion, says Michel Laberge. The plasma physicist runs a small company with a big idea for a new type of nuclear reactor that could produce clean, cheap energy. His secret recipe? High speeds, scorching temperatures and crushing pressure. In this hopeful talk, he explains how nuclear fusion might be just around the corner.
pinThis talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.
WASHINGTON — Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.
A $500,000 study paid for by the federal government and published Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7% more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.
Biofuels are better in the long run, but the study says they won’t meet a standard set in a 2007 energy law to qualify as renewable fuel.
The conclusions deal a blow to what are known as cellulosic biofuels, which have received more than a billion dollars in federal support but have struggled to meet volume targets mandated by law. About half of the initial market in cellulosics is expected to be derived from corn residue.
The biofuel industry and administration officials called the research flawed. They said that it was too simplistic in its analysis of carbon loss from soil, which can vary over a single field, and that it vastly overestimated how much residue farmers would remove once the market gets underway.
The research is among the first to attempt to quantify, over 12 Corn Belt states, how much carbon is lost to the atmosphere when the stalks, leaves and cobs that make up residue are used to make biofuel instead of being left to naturally replenish the soil with carbon. The study found that regardless of how much corn residue is taken off the field, the process contributes to global warming.
Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to the environment. But things aren’t as simple as opting for the paper bag, says sustainability strategist Leyla Acaroglu. A bold call for us to let go of tightly-held green myths and think bigger in order to create systems and products that ease strain on the planet.
Leyla Acaroglu uses innovative design and systems thinking to create positive change.