When Steve Jobs met with President Obama in 2010, Jobs told the president that he would only get one term:
You’re headed for a one-term presidency,” he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. As an example, Jobs described the ease with which companies can build factories in China compared to the United States, where “regulations and unnecessary costs” make it difficult for them.
Jobs also criticized America’s education system, saying it was “crippled by union work rules,” noted Isaacson. “Until the teachers’ unions were broken, there was almost no hope for education reform.” Jobs proposed allowing principals to hire and fire teachers based on merit, that schools stay open until 6 p.m. and that they be open 11 months a year.
If China is our model, is this how Steve Jobs saw America’s future? “We found that across the four Chinese-owned copper mines in Zambia, there were persistent labor abuses, particularly in regards to health and safety, long hours of work and anti-union activities,” said Matt Wells, with Human Rights Watch in Lusaka, summarizing the more than 100-page report.”
Or what about this? “Dozens of miners have been trapped in a coal mine in China after a “rock burst”, officials say.
Four miners were killed and 50 more are missing after the accident, which happened late on Thursday in the city of Sanmenxia in Henan province.”
Or should I be saying anything negative about National Hero and Demigod Steve Jobs at all? After all, with him not around to give our lives of ennui meaning through gadgets, what’s the point of living? Clearly, worker death and pollution is a worthy model so long as I can download a new app every day!
A Wisconsin-based mining company is using the Central American Free Trade Agreement to sue the government of El Salvador for closing down a mine because of pollution. The Commerce Group is suing El Salvador for $100 million in damages for violating CAFTA.
This is the race to the bottom. This is why companies go overseas. With free trade agreements, we recreate Gilded Age labor and environmental conditions in the developing world. We have simply exported all the negatives of the Industrial Revolution. We were promised cheap goods and information economy. They were promised jobs. Instead, we are mired in an economic slump without a foreseeable end and a failed information economy while they live in endemic poverty and suffer environmental poisoning. And the last several presidents, regardless of political party, have supported the continuation of this trend.
Following up on the brilliance of states passing anti-Sharia laws, Congressional Republicans has decided to respond to farcical threats as well. A Republican talking point this year has been that the Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate dust levels in the wind, arguing this proposal shows what a ridiculous agency the EPA is and that it should be eliminated.
Of course, no such regulation was ever proposed. Republicans created it out of thin air.
But that doesn’t mean Congress isn’t going to vote on a bill to ban the EPA from implementing such a rule!
In the hipster world, California’s Coachella Valley is known for strange creatures such as Animal Collective and Deer Tick that appear once a year to gigantic crowds of bearded men, women with bangs, and asymmetrical hair on both. But for the rest of the year, the defining characteristics of the region are widespread poverty, racial inequality, environmental pollution, sickness, and death.
Joshua Frank has a superb story at Alternet (I think it originally appeared in the Seattle Weekly) on the incompetent and dangerous nuclear clean-up procedures at Hanford, in southeastern Washington. In many ways, it’s a story that we’ve heard before in recent years: the government contracts to a major corporation (Bechtel) to conduct major operations, but slashed federal budgets mean a weak regulatory process that allows the corporation to do whatever it wants. In the case of Bechtel and Hanford, this means cutting corners, seeking profit over the long-term safety of nuclear waste, management overrriding employees safety concerns, dismissing inconvenient science that would imperil profits, etc.
While this depressing story is part and parcel of early 21st century America, it’s all the more important here because of the potential for radiation poisoning if this stuff is not dealt with properly.
This is also a object lesson in why outsourcing government operations isn’t a good idea. I worked at Los Alamos for several years, doing historic preservation. But I knew people in various parts of the laboratory structure and the story was more or less the same–you’d have various corporations each seeking a piece of the lucrative environmental monitoring/cleanup/project pie. The incentive for everyone–the companies, employees, laboratory management–was to cut costs wherever possible and that often meant skirting the edge of the law.
As the world’s population reaches 7 billion sometime today, it’s worth remembering that while overpopulation is an important environmental issue that needs addressing, it is a vastly lesser problem that the consumption of the planet’s resources by the wealthy. I don’t know if there’s any kind of conversion mechanism on the internet, but the purchase of an SUV, the heated backyard swimming pool, and the transatlantic flight each cause tremendously more damage to the climate and to resource depletion than that family of 12 in Chad or Bangladesh. Westerners bemoaning population growth are usually shifting blame from their own responsibilities and blaming poor and brown people for our environmental crisis.
Cara Pike at Climate Access has a good run-down of the reasons, outside of the broken legislative process which I think is a relatively small problem in dealing with climate change, why the United States is such a laggard nation in fighting global warming. In brief:
1. Unprecedented risk–we don’t see it every day but it’s scary and we don’t know hot to deal with it and there aren’t a lot of models of this kind of problem to work from.
2. Public is overwhelmed–many voices, they don’t all work together, public is easily confused and don’t know who to listen to.
3. Fatalism–what are you going to do, at least we can play golf in January
4. Opposition–ExxonMobil sucks
5. Scientific Certainty–Scientists never say anything is certain and that opens the door to naysayers
6. Values–these conversations haven’t challenged people’s values of patriotism and duty to save the nation and planet. A moral imperative is needed.
7. The long term–there’s not a long term strategy to deal with this problem over the decades.
I place different emphasis on these things. The opposition is huge. The unwillingness of scientists to just say that global warming is happening and forget about the .000001% chance that maybe it isn’t is a major problem. If scientists aren’t willing to engage the public and media in terms they understand, by which I mean strong statements of certainty, the opposition has already won. The values issues is interesting because my first thought is that it’s a disastrous strategy to focus on it except that in the past environmental reform has been driven by such concerns. Sadly, we think our patriotic duty is to kill brown people and buy another SUV.
Again, I think it’s significant that the opposition is only one of the seven identified problems and that this opposition isn’t split between politicians and corporations. That is a problem, but it’s hardly the only one and we focus on it exclusively at our peril.
I look forward to the upcoming discussions on all 7 of these issues at Climate Access.
In an incredibly great piece of public health news, researchers are getting very close to developing a vaccination against malaria. The first study showed the risk of malaria cut in half across seven African nations. Malaria is an enormous killer across the developing world. The continued plague has led many to call for the widespread spraying of DDT to kill the mosquitoes, even though it would also kill most other animals as well.
Of course, no doubt Huffington Post will run several articles condemning it for the inevitable autism epidemic to follow in Africa…. And yes, I will break the HuffPo boycott if I can make fun of the site’s terrible medical “journalism.” Let it hang itself.
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A deadly salmon virus is likely to decimate wild stocks in coming decades. This highly contagious virus, which developed in the salmon farms of Norway, has infected British Columbia wild salmon that have had contact with farm-raised fish.
When we turn animals into industrialized products, very bad things happen. Sometime those consequences can be managed to the extent that it only causes animals great pain and suffering but doesn’t directly affect humans, such as the effects of a grain-based diet on cows. With more wild species, the problems are much harder to manage, such as with the decline of honeybees and now, likely salmon:
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infectious salmon anemia virus morphed from a benign form in nature into a “novel virulent strain” when salmon stocks entered Norway’s densely packed salmon farms. Rather than getting picked off by a predator, a sick fish would undergo a slow death in a crowded pen, shedding virus particles.
Fish farming is an unsustainable industry that we don’t worry too much about because we never see it. But human history of eating fish is about to come to an end. Many animals are being fished to near extinction, others that have proven farmable in the past are showing that this is hard to sustain over a long period of time.
Elisabeth Rosenthal’s good piece in the Times on why climate change has fallen off the radar screen has received a couple of interesting follow-up posts, including from Plumer. He points to the Senate and the recession as the core reasons for our indifference, but I’m a bit skeptical. Senate rules as currently configured make it impossible to pass meaningful climate change, but I don’t think that’s a core reason for a lack of discussion on the topic in society at large. I don’t particularly buy the recession as being overly important either. It’s true that our major environmental legislation passed at a time of economic success, but while we’ve had ups and downs economically since 1973, public support of not only environmental but most progressive legislation has declined since then. Plumer does point to some interesting evidence on the correlation between economic decline and belief in global warming. But as a historian, I’d argue we have to see these issues in the larger context of national and international happenings over a period of time. Data like this has limited explanatory power in a historical vacuum.
Rather, I tend to agree with some of the people Rosenthal interviewed. We have a culture built upon conspicuous consumption combined with a predilection for that consumption to be things that are very large and climate damaging–SUVs, giant houses in exurban developments, private jets, etc. As we have democratized conspicuous consumption through credit, it has made people awfully touchy about criticizing the 21st century American dream. Combine that with the problems scientists have in making statements of certainty, the wicked media campaign by corporations opposed to climate change legislation, and the problems Plumer mentions and we have a perfect storm of climate change denial.
As if the mass slaughter of pelicans last week wasn’t bad enough, there have been a disturbing number of whooping crane shooting this year.
Again, destructive human behavior is why I have very little hope for the future viability of most species, especially birds.