When #newsyoumayhavemissed (December 9) writers make our rounds of reliable sources, we are amazed at what’s quietly behind the headlines: The news that universe may be made of dark liquid. Carefully wrought stories about climate change, Greenland’s ice caps, resource extraction, the undermining of the Department of the Interior. A piece from the Center for Public Integrity that weaves together the political history of Latin America and the consequences for individuals now at our borders. Keep the lights burning, y’all, and miracles may follow.
- The Americans of Conscience checklist is always worth checking out—but especially this week for the heartening list of good news.
- Want to comment on the record? Martha’s list has a wide variety of issues calling for public comment, among them the proposal to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska as well as plans to sell oil leases on public land, divert water in environmentally damaging ways, and re-evaluate the issue of rodenticide that is toxic to wildlife.
- For a comprehensive summary of the Trump administration’s rapacious approach to oil, gas and coal resources, see Antonia Juhasz’s excellent op ed in the LA Times.
- Sarah-Hope has another excellent list of people to write on various topics, notably immigration, energy, education, ethics, and the environment.
1. No protection for LGBTQ workers in the new NAFTA
The newly signed United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaces NAFTA, initially included protections for LQBTQ individuals to be enforced by all three nations. In the version signed last week, those protections were watered down significantly after congressional Republicans signed a letter saying they would refuse to ratify the treaty with the original language in place. A footnote further clarified that the United States, where there is no federal protection for LGBTQ people against workplace discrimination, would not have to change existing laws. [Global News]
2. National Park Service appointees put public lands at risk
NYMHM previously reported that three-quarters of the members of the National Park System Advisory Board (which designates historical and cultural sites and advises the NPS Director and Interior Secretary on running NPS programs and existing parks) resigned in frustration back on January 23rd after Interior Department Secretary Zinke hadn’t bothered to meet with them for a year.
They’ve been replaced with a minimally-qualified group of 9 men and 2 women, all appearing to be white, and including three donors of more than half a million dollars to Republicans since 2008 (beer distributor John L. Nau III and two bona fide real estate tycoons, John C. Cushman III and Boyd C. Smith) as well as the Republican Mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi, of whom WaPo notes, “Hewes once served as the national chairman of the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council. The group, while nonpartisan, is best known for writing model bills for state legislatures that advance conservative policy goals such as cutting environmental regulations.” None of the new members have academic backgrounds, in contrast to the members who resigned, among them professors from Harvard, University of Kentucky, University of Maryland, and Yale.
The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report, “Science Under Siege at the Department of the Interior” (with title headings like, “Meet Ryan Zinke and His Oil and Gas Connections,” “Refusing to Acknowledge Reality,” and “Silencing Scientists and Other Agency Staff.”) which states that in the first ten months of 2018, 25% of Interior Department science advisory committees failed to meet as often as their charters require (an improvement over 2017, when it was 67%). The report notes a widespread pattern of environmentally-destructive actions (see their page 5 for a timeline), including making it easier for oil and gas companies to pollute and dramatically increasing the amount of public land used for oil and gas and coal extraction, all of which is likely to worsen the climate crisis. Scientific American states:
It is a desecration of the concept of public service for Zinke to ignore science aimed to protect the public’s best interest, and an insult to the taxpayers who pay his salary and those of his political colleagues. Zinke won’t be around forever, but he has filled the ranks of political appointees at DOI with like-minded industry lobbyists and climate deniers, so things are not likely to change at Interior anytime soon unless Congress, with a vocal public behind it, insists on transparency, scientific integrity and immediate climate action.
[WaPo, Scientific American, UCS (pdf)]
3. Some updates on Puerto Rico
Hero chef José Andrés (who flew to Puerto Rico post-Hurricane-Maria to serve four million meals, started World Central Kitchen, and wrote We Fed An Island) has been nominated for a Nobel peace prize. [NBC/WaPo]
The Washington Post reports in their Travel section that Puerto Rico is booming from a tourism perspective, though their News section reporting still refers to the island as “struggling to rebuild.” Four Democratic Senators are calling for “the Department of Homeland Security to broaden an ongoing investigation into contracting and hurricane relief problems in Puerto Rico.” [WaPo] The U.S. territory’s planning board assesses Maria’s economic impact at $43 billion, while consulting firm H. Calero estimates $139 to $159 billion [USA Today].
4. More Environment & politics stories:
Responding to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, Patagonia is donating $10 million to fight climate change, using their entire tax cut from last year, according to CEO Rose Marcario’s open letter at Linked In.
B. Paris Agreement
Meanwhile, the U.S. has responded to the Fourth National Climate Assessment by reaffirming “its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement” while 19 other countries reaffirmed “that the Paris Agreement is irreversible and commit[ted] to its full implementation.” [Mother Jones]
In just one step that will undermine any effort to limit climate change, coal-fired plants will no longer be required to install technology that lowers their carbon emissions, the Trump administration announced last week.
And in a United Nations working group this past weekend, the U.S. declined to “welcome” the report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but instead to join a proposal by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Russia simply to “note” it. The U.S. government refuses to endorse the report, as Trump variously believes it is overblown, hysterical, or a “hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” [Washington Post]
C. Energy & Natural Resources
In a tweet, Vox author David Roberts notes that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) “may become the ranking member of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee. If that happens, he would become chair of the committee when/if Dems take the Senate in 2020. That would be a DISASTER for climate policy.” Manchin is “the single worst Senate Dem on this issue.” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) would be the ranking member but her planned move to Commerce leaves Manchin as the most senior Democrat. Washington Governor Jay Inslee is petitioning Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer to block Manchin [Guardian]. If you want to comment on this issue, see Sarah-Hope’s list for details.
5. What launched the caravan? Facts and Fake News
In addition to US interference in Latin American politics, cocaine produced for United States consumers is at the center of the violence and corruption that has made life untenable for Hondurans, according to Vice. Individuals at the highest levels are involved in drug trafficking, and drug cartels lead to social breakdown. [Vice]
Departing chief of staff John Kelly at one point understood this; as the Center for Public Integrity reported, telling the Navy Times in 2015 that “In many ways [parents] are trying to save their children” from the violence in their own countries.”
An imposter account on Facebook was used to increase the numbers in the so-called migrant caravan, according to Buzzfeed. A well-known Honduran activist and journalist, Bartolo Fuentes, said that his account was used to spread messages that the caravan had been organized by established migrant support groups–which would have led more people to join. The account has since been closed and Facebook will not reveal who was using it. [Buzzfeed]
For an overview of U.S. involvement in Latin America, the current political situation, the legal status of asylum seekers and the individual stories of migrants and those who try to assist them, see The Center for Public Integrity’s excellent piece.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
6. Universe may be mostly a “dark fluid” with negative mass
Scientists have known for years that the observable universe is missing something, quite a lot of something in fact. What we can see only makes up about 5% of the mass that should be in the universe. Based on observation, there isn’t enough “stuff” out there to keep everything together and moving, if we only take into account its own gravity. Hence, something is out there pushing and pulling things that we cannot see. Astrophysicists have used the terms “dark matter” and “dark energy” as descriptors for these phenomenon and have thought of them as separate things: dark matter to pull things together and some form of dark energy to explain the fact that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate.
A paper published in “Astronomy and Astrophysics” makes the case that both dark matter and dark energy can be explained using only one theoretical model and source; the key is something called “negative mass.” Negative mass is difficult to explain; however, it has been postulated and modeled before and physicists are very comfortable with the closely aligned concept of “negative energy,” which can be created and measured in labs. Negative mass would repel objects instead of attract them as “normal” matter does–a marble made of negative mass/energy would not roll away from you if you nudged it. Instead, it would nudge back with equal force.
One way of conceptualizing how a universe made mostly of negative matter would work would be to imagine a pot of bubbling syrup. The top of the surface is a foaming mass of bubbles growing, colliding, shoving each other out of the way and popping. Those bubbles can be thought of as negative mass while the syrup being pushed around and flowing together into larger droplets would be “normal” mass. Syrup wants to stick together but the bubbles want to push it apart and sometimes shove it out of the way faster than it might otherwise flow. If the theory is correct, this is why our galaxies hold together and don’t fly apart despite the speeds at which they rotate, despite not having enough mass to hold them together. We might have the means to prove this is the case when the largest telescope ever built, the Square Kilometer Array, is complete. It will survey and map the distribution of galaxies throughout the universe. [Phys.org]
7. Greenland’s ice cap is melting at historically unprecedented rates
Greenland is covered by an enormous sheet of ice, one of the largest repositories of fresh water in the world. So much water, in fact, that were it all to melt, world oceans would rise by 20 feet which would put cities like Miami, New Orleans, Charleston and most of New York and Boston completely underwater, displacing millions. Unfortunately, that seems to be the direction we’re headed, according to a comprehensive study of ice cores conducted by Rowan University. Ice cores can show when surface snow melted, sank down into deeper snow and refroze to eventually be compacted into glacial ice. Because the ice builds year by year in layers, we can date these melt/re-freeze events with precision; the data show that the number of such events has increased dramatically over the past thirty years.
2012 alone saw the *entire* surface of Greenland in a melt event, and compared to the 20th century we’re running 33% above average with the 2012 event standing out as the largest melting ever recorded, going back seven thousand years. Dramatic steps will have to be taken in order to slow the rate of melting and buy time to manage the safeguarding and or evacuation of coastal areas due to be lost to rising oceans. [Ars Technica]
8. But they seem so trustworthy… US Carriers may have lied about coverage areas.
The FCC has announced an investigation into whether or not US cell carriers misrepresented their coverage maps to profit from a federal program to boost high speed broadband coverage in rural areas. The 4.5 billion dollar program needed accurate coverage maps to best target which areas needed additional funding incentives to build up a network notoriously slow and lacking by global standards. While the announcement didn’t mention any carrier by name, the Rural Wireless Association has publicly accused Verizon of lying to the FCC about its 4G LTE coverage in rural communities. The Rural Wireless Association represents small rural carriers that operate in areas that larger companies have abandoned as not profitable enough, and so would stand to benefit from a larger share of the 4.5 billion dollars being given out. Verizon claiming to have robust, fast coverage in areas where they actually do not deprives the rural carriers in those areas from reaping any benefits. Considering the extremely cozy relationship between the current FCC and telecom companies, the lying must have been truly egregious to provoke an actual investigation. [Gizmodo]