Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
I blogged this article by Liza Mundi in the Atlantic, “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?” I highly recommend that you read it, and I looked at it from a meme’s-eye view. Roughly, Silicon Valley and high-tech companies in general have the meme of “disruptive change” because when there is such a shift, there is much money to be made. So they have more or less worked out a template that has worked for “disruptive change,” since they want to minimize risks. That is, spot the unexploited advantage, and exploit the hell out of it, bringing in all the tools of managing/unleashing disruptive change: e.g., transparency, regular statistical measures, definition of success, etc. Now they see the practical advantage of a diverse workforce (spelled out in “How to Break Up the Silicon Valley Boys’ Club“) that are measurable. (From that link: “And study after study has shown that greater diversity leads to better outcomes, more innovative solutions, less groupthink, better stock performance and G.D.P. growth.”)
So here they go with disruptive change toward greater diversity and inclusivity: because it’s profitable (always the acid test).
So they are driven by the disruptive change memeplex to (in effect) construct and new memeplex (meme-engineering, in fact) by systematically bringing about a cooperative diverse culture. The companies that succeed at that will (based on the measures mentioned in the article) succeed in the marketplace.
What’s interesting is that it’s happening so rapidly. The broad acceptance of gay marriage seemed to an outside observer to go quite quickly, though I can imagine many couples finding that it took way too long. But it’s pretty much here within, what? a decade?
Now while this new memeplexes are being created (and here I’m thinking about the cooperative and very diverse workplace, there are many who live in regions being left behind in meme evolution. They are not part of the process, so the new meme has little hold on them. These are the people who still won’t accept gay marriage, who don’t want trans people using restrooms appropriate to their gender (and for that there’s a well-tested solution that everyone accepts: gender-neutral restrooms, as on a plane), etc. These things are too new, it happened too quick, and they are not part of the meme.
It’s going to be worse with the effective diverse workplace (EDW): this impacts their employability. If they can’t accept diversity, tomorrow’s workplace is apt to be jarring, at least at the most successful companies. It’s another divide like access to digital technology and media.
Fivebooks.com interviews Louise Gray:
You’ve just published a book called The Ethical Carnivore. What does it mean to be an ‘unethical carnivore?’
Well, to me, being an unethical carnivore means just stuffing your face with meat without caring where it comes from. Being an ethical carnivore means trying only to eat meat that you understand comes from a good source. I tried to define it in my book by saying that ethics is the effort to live a good life. My question was how can we ensure the meat we eat does not harm the environment and comes from animals that have lived a good life?
I know to some people that can sound a little wishy-washy, but I was aiming the book at the majority of people in this country. I accept that people eat meat; I myself was a carnivore. Those who are vegetarian have already made their choice, so I wanted to talk to the carnivores about how they could be more ethical. And I wanted to make it realistic, so you have to leave room for trying your best and not always being perfect—the occasional drunken kebab. I believe that is the way to make a difference, by giving people an opportunity to try their best.
In the book, you spend some time discussing the capacity of different animals, with molluscs at one end of the spectrum, to feel pain. Is this the main moral or ethical issue that we need to consider?
No, I think it’s a lot more complex. For a start, how do we judge the pain of other animals? You mentioned molluscs—there is still ongoing research into whether these particular animals can even feel pain. I think you have to always consider that, but also look at the wider impacts, such as upon the environment.
In the book, for example, I write about scallop dredging on the west coast of Scotland. This is not just affecting the molluscs but the wider marine ecosystem as all the coral and other life on the seabed is ploughed up just for the scallops. So, I would argue in this case the question of the environmental impact is worth considering as well as the ability of the animal to feel pain.
The other question to ask is how does the processing of that animal affect the humans around them. For example, you might choose free-range organic chickens because the animals are better cared for, but if they’re being processed in a factory where people are being treated appallingly, then isn’t there a moral question about the labour that was used to get that meat to your table? Between the animal being born, or hatching, and getting to your plate, there are so many questions to consider in terms of ethics.
It can halt you in your tracks and make you think ‘I won’t bother’. But I think asking questions and trying to understand is a good start. There are a lot of grey areas, I don’t see how you can have black and white answers when it comes to something so complex.
Would a simpler answer be instead of us tearing our hair out over the ethics of meat-eating, to not eat any meat at all?
Yep, that’s the easiest answer. I have enormous respect for people who choose to be vegan. They are undeniably having a lighter impact on the planet because it generally takes less energy, and therefore fewer greenhouse gas emissions, to produce plant-based foods than meat. There are also fewer concerns about welfare, the wider environment and labour. I would say that one of the big discoveries from the book is people often expect vegans to be very extreme and to lecture everyone else, but actually I’ve had some really nice responses to the book from people who choose to eat no animal products. They want to encourage more people to think about what they eat and welcome any effort in that direction. They understand that a clear message in the book is that if you are desperately worried about the environment, then one of the simplest things you can do is eat less meat.
You mentioned one non-environmental impact as being to do with labour and the first book that you’ve chosen, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1906)—a novel that portrays the working conditions of those in the meat-packing industry at the turn of the twentieth century—deals with this labour question. It touches on immigration, and class, and many issues beyond that of eating meat. Why have you chosen to start here?
One interesting thing with this book is that while there are lots of animals in it—and they’re being tortured horribly, literally being skinned alive in the background of many, many scenes in the novel—it’s what’s happening to the humans that is so terrible, and that’s what you’re left with, especially reading it now. When it first came out, people were really shocked by what went into their meat, and I think people would read it now and think things are a bit better, and they probably are… but when you think about it we had the horsemeat scandal a few years ago, a lot of what happens in meat factories is still unknown to us.
I think sometimes when we discuss meat-eating, we talk about the suffering of the animals, we even talk about the environment, but we often forget to talk about the people and I think that’s really important: the people who do it on your behalf are worth considering.
When you were writing The Ethical Carnivore, you went into slaughterhouses and onto fishing boats and spent a lot of time with people who are at the coalface of producing meat, often on industrial scales. How do you think that affects the people who do it, and do you think they have to become blind to some of these issues to be able to work in that industry?
I think they have to process those issues, but they shouldn’t be blind to them. All of the places I went to were in the UK which meant they were really highly regulated. Also, I would say they were probably quite good abattoirs because they were allowing a journalist in—I wasn’t undercover, I was being quite open about what I was doing. So those people weren’t blind to the issues because they had to be very good at what they did in order to keep their job.
In one abattoir, the slaughter-men who were doing the killing had trained for seven years on all the floors, and so I don’t think they’re blind to it. They have to be trained in all of the welfare stuff and they have to care for the animals because they’re being filmed. They have CCTV in most abattoirs in the UK and there’s a big campaign to get CCTV in all abattoirs—I don’t know why the government will not legislate on this as it protects the abattoirs as well. If they are doing a good job it should not be a threat to them.
“They had to control their emotions, otherwise they couldn’t do the job”
When I interviewed slaughtermen and -women they were aware of what they were doing, that they were killing a beautiful animal. They admitted that they had to control their emotions, otherwise they couldn’t do the job, but also said they were keenly aware of ensuring the animal had a quick death. They were proud of doing a job well. I think it also becomes part of your lifestyle, often there are whole families working in these industries. It is normalised in the sense it is part of your life and that’s just how things are.
One of the most interesting interviews I did was with Temple Grandin, an animal behaviourist. She’s audited a lot of abattoirs, and she said that the majority really care about their jobs and do it well but yes, like anything, there are a few bad apples. She admits it and is trying to redesign the industry, so that those kind of people are weeded out.
Publication of The Jungle caused public outrage, and as a result new legislation was brought in in the United States, the Meat Inspection Act. Do you think that the public want to know about what happens in their slaughterhouses?
I guess a few people don’t because I’ve had quite violent reactions to my book by people who often eat meat and really don’t want to know. It’s almost like they feel it’s a personal affront, that they’re being attacked when I start telling them where meat comes from. I try to be delicate because I can sort of understand that it is quite upsetting for people. But the majority of people absolutely do want to know because they want to know it is being done right.
I think [most] people do want to know, but you have to contextualise it. The first time I went to an abattoir to write about it, I was traumatised. It is a death factory, there is no way of getting around that. But you have to put it in context if you really want to understand, so I think people should know about the whole picture—another reason I wrote the book. You need quite a lot of education because you have to think about how the animals are bred and how they’re treated as well as how they are killed. I think that should probably be part of school education. We should know where our food comes from, otherwise we’re susceptible to the kinds of things that happened in The Jungle, or the horsemeat scandal, because people are getting away with stuff where no one’s wanting to loo
Your second book, Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines (1964), revealed the indignities and the suffering of animals in industrialised agriculture. What impact did the book have?
It was like Upton Sinclair’s but in the UK. It led to the UK government changing the law—the 1968 Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act and also the European Convention for the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes. Ultimately it led to the ‘five freedoms’, which vets had been working on, being brought into law. These summarised animal welfare as freedom from hunger and thirst, from discomfort, from pain, injury or disease, from fear and distress and, most controversially, the freedom to express most normal behaviours.
What I liked about Ruth Harrison was that . . .
Kevin Drum points out a particularly boneheaded decision by the Trump administration:
Reuters tells us what to expect from President Trump’s budget:
Under the proposal, which was sent to the EPA this week, grants to states for lead cleanup would be cut 30 percent to $9.8 million, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.
What an idiot. This is hardly the biggest issue in his budget, and I’ll grant that the current allocation for lead cleanup is so pitiful that a 30 percent cut hardly matters. On principle, though, it’s obvious that Mick Mulvaney’s crew just saw a line item in their spreadsheet and slashed it without knowing anything about it. Nice work, folks. You get a gold star.
By coincidence, the Washington Post ran a piece yesterday that’s all about lead—though the reporter didn’t realize it:
In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids’ incarceration….[He] is one agent of a deeply entrenched social policy that took root across the country in the 1970s and ’80s. The guiding principle was simple: States, counties and cities believed that parents were shedding responsibility for their delinquent children and expecting the government to pick up the tab.
….“It was a very different time, when too many parents frequently wanted to essentially ‘dump’ their adolescent children on juvenile courts when they found them unruly, ungovernable, uncontrollable,” Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said of the era decades ago when the laws were implemented.
Regardless of what you think about this policy, there’s a reason it “took root” in the 70s and 80s: Kids of that era spent their early childhoods surrounded by lead fumes from automobiles, so they contracted lead poisoning in massive numbers. By the time they were teenagers they really were “unruly, ungovernable, uncontrollable,” and parents didn’t know what to do.
As it turns out, there was nothing they could do. The damage was done. But nobody knew that, so we put in place pointless laws based on the premise that if only they worked harder, parents could keep their kids under control. In reality, the only policy that ended up working came from Trump’s hated EPA, which banned leaded gasoline and put an end to our national epidemic of lead poisoning.
But the old laws are still around, even though they don’t work, while the EPA’s lead cleanup program is being slashed, even though it does work. Welcome to America.
The GOP, for whatever reason, was determined that Pruitt’s confirmation vote be held before his emails were released (which would have involved a wait of less than a week). Now we see why.
Coral Davenport and Eric Lipton report in the NY Times:
During his tenure as attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, closely coordinated with major oil and gas producers, electric utilities and political groups with ties to the libertarian billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch to roll back environmental regulations, according to over 6,000 pages of emails made public on Wednesday.
The publication of the correspondence comes just days after Mr. Pruitt was sworn in to run the E.P.A., which is charged with reining in pollution and regulating public health.
“Thank you to your respective bosses and all they are doing to push back against President Obama’s EPA and its axis with liberal environmental groups to increase energy costs for Oklahomans and American families across the states,” said one email sent to Mr. Pruitt and an Oklahoma congressman in August 2013 by Matt Ball, an executive at Americans for Prosperity. That nonprofit group is funded in part by the Kochs, the Kansas business executives who spent much of the last decade combating federal regulations, particularly in the energy sector. “You both work for true champions of freedom and liberty!” the note said.
Mr. Pruitt has been among the most contentious of President Trump’s cabinet nominees. Environmental groups, Democrats in Congress and even current E.P.A. employees have protested his ties to energy companies, his efforts to block and weaken major environmental rules, and his skepticism of the central mission of the federal agency he now leads.
An Oklahoma judge ordered the release of the emails in response to a lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group. Many of the emails are copies of documents previously provided in 2014 to The New York Times, which examined Mr. Pruitt’s interaction with energy industry players that his office also helps regulate.
The companies provided him draft letters to send to federal regulators in an attempt to block federal regulations intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas wells, ozone air pollution, and chemicals used in fracking, the email correspondence shows.
They held secret meetings to discuss more comprehensive ways to combat the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, and the companies and organizations they funded repeatedly praised Mr. Pruitt and his staff for the assistance he provided in their campaign.
The correspondence points to the tension emerging as Mr. Pruitt is now charged with regulating many of the same companies with which he coordinated closely in his previous position. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Mr. Pruitt took part in 14 lawsuits against major E.P.A. environmental rules, often in coordination with energy companies such as Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas producer, and American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility.
The emails show that his office corresponded with those companies in efforts to weaken federal environmental regulations — the same rules he will now oversee.
“Please find attached a short white paper with some talking points that you might find useful to cut and paste when encouraging States to file comments on the SSM rule,” wrote Roderick Hastie, a lobbyist at Hunton & Williams, a law firm that represents major utilities, including Southern Company, urging Mr. Pruitt’s office to file comments on a proposed E.P.A. rule related to so-called Startup, Shutdown and Malfunction Emissions.
The most frequent correspondence was with Devon Energy, which has aggressively challenged rules proposed by the E.P.A. and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, which controls drilling on federal lands — widespread in the west. In the 2014 election cycle, Devon was one of the top contributors to the Republican Attorneys General Association, which Mr. Pruitt led for two years during that period.
In a March 2013 letter to Mr. Pruitt’s office, William Whitsitt, then an executive vice president of Devon, referred to a letter his company had drafted for Mr. Pruitt to deliver, on Oklahoma state stationery, to Obama administration officials. Mr. Pruitt, meeting with White House officials, made the case that the rule, which would rein in planet-warming methane emissions, would be harmful to his state’s economy. His argument was taken directly from Mr. Whitsitt’s draft language.
“To follow up on my conversations with Attorney General Pruitt and you, I believe that a meeting — or perhaps more efficient, a conference call — with OIRA (the OMB Office of Information and Regulatory Analysis) on the BLM rule should be requested right away,” Mr. Whitsitt wrote. “The attached draft letter (or something like it that Scott is comfortable talking from and sending to the acting director to whom the letter is addressed) could be the basis for the meeting or call.”
The letter referred to . . .
As Kevin Drum has noted in various posts and articles, there is strong and (to me) compelling evidence that children raised in a lead-polluted environment grow up to be violent adults, and the most pervasive form of lead pollution has been leaded gasoline. The US discontinued leaded gasoline around 1980 (there was a phase-in period when both leaded and unleaded gasoline were sold), and 20 years later, violent crime began a remarkable decline. This phenomenon—discontinuing leaded gasoline followed 20 years later by a significant decline in violent crime—has now been seen in any countries.
This chronology of leaded gasoline history (PDF) is quite interesting as it marks significant dates from the introduction of leaded gasoline in 1923. The PDF notes that Tetra-ethyl lead (TEL or “ethyl”) was the invention of Thomas Midgley, who was posthumously declared to be “responsible for more damage to Earth’s atmosphere than any other single organism that has ever lived.” (Walker 2007) Some of that is because Midgley was also responsible for the adoption of fluorocarbons as propellants for aerosol cans, and fluorocarbons turned out to be vastly destructive of the ozone layer, so those too were phased out.
In a post this morning (mainly on the new Trump aide Sebastian Gorka) has this interesting chart:
Drum’s post is worth reading for the information on Gorka.
Kevin Drum has a very interesting post at Mother Jones:
I missed this when it was first written—probably because it was only a week after Donald Trump won the election—but Robert Waldmann decided to check out a few of his predictions:
In April 2008, I predicted that the UK violent crime rate would peak some time around 2008. I just googled and found that it peaked in around 2006 or 2007.
Here’s the chart, courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace:
Note two things here. First, Britain’s violent crime rate peaked about 15 years after it did in the US. Second, it dropped a lot faster than it did in the US. Why?
Because, first, Britain adopted unleaded gasoline about 13 years after the US (1988 vs. 1975). And second, because it phased out leaded gasoline a lot faster than the US. Within four years Britain had cut lead emissions by two-thirds, which means there was a very sharp break between infants born in high-lead and low-lead environments. Likewise, this means there was a sharp break between 18-year-olds with and without brain damage. In 2006, nearly all 18-year-olds had grown up with lead poisoned brains. By 2010, that had dropped substantially, which accounts for the stunning 40 percent drop in violent crime in such a short time.1
This is one of the reasons the lead-crime hypothesis is so persuasive. Not only does recorded crime fit the predictions of the theory—both in timing and slope—but it does so in . . .
Note this, later in his post:
Anyway, I might as well take this opportunity to repeat my prediction that terrorism in the Middle East will begin to decline between 2020-30. You heard it here first.
In the NY Times Michael Kimmelman has a grim report on the present and future of Mexico City as the climate continues changing:
On bad days, you can smell the stench from a mile away, drifting over a nowhere sprawl of highways and office parks.
When the Grand Canal was completed, at the end of the 1800s, it was Mexico City’s Brooklyn Bridge, a major feat of engineering and a symbol of civic pride: 29 miles long, with the ability to move tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater per second. It promised to solve the flooding and sewage problems that had plagued the city for centuries.
Only it didn’t, pretty much from the start. The canal was based on gravity. And Mexico City, a mile and a half above sea level, was sinking, collapsing in on itself.
It still is, faster and faster, and the canal is just one victim of what has become a vicious cycle. Always short of water, Mexico City keeps drilling deeper for more, weakening the ancient clay lake beds on which the Aztecs first built much of the city, causing it to crumble even further.
It is a cycle made worse by climate change. More heat and drought mean more evaporation and yet more demand for water, adding pressure to tap distant reservoirs at staggering costs or further drain underground aquifers and hasten the city’s collapse.
In the immense neighborhood of Iztapalapa — where nearly two million people live, many of them unable to count on water from their taps — a teenager was swallowed up where a crack in the brittle ground split open a street. Sidewalks resemble broken china, and 15 elementary schools have crumbled or caved in.
Much is being written about climate change and the impact of rising seas on waterfront populations. But coasts are not the only places affected. Mexico City — high in the mountains, in the center of the country — is a glaring example. The world has a lot invested in crowded capitals like this one, with vast numbers of people, huge economies and the stability of a hemisphere at risk.
One study predicts that 10 percent of Mexicans ages 15 to 65 could eventually try to emigrate north as a result of rising temperatures, drought and floods, potentially scattering millions of people and heightening already extreme political tensions over immigration.
The effects of climate change are varied and opportunistic, but one thing is consistent: They are like sparks in the tinder. They expose cities’ biggest vulnerabilities, inflaming troubles that politicians and city planners often ignore or try to paper over. And they spread outward, defying borders.
That’s what this series is about — how global cities tackle climate threats, or fail to. Around the world, extreme weather and water scarcity are accelerating repression, regional conflicts and violence. A Columbia University report found that where rainfall declines, “the risk of a low-level conflict escalating to a full-scale civil war approximately doubles the following year.” The Pentagon’s term for climate change is “threat multiplier.”
And nowhere does this apply more obviously than in cities. This is the first urban century in human history, the first time more people live in cities than don’t, with predictions that three-quarters of the global population will be urban by 2050. By that time, according to another study, there may be more than 700 million climate refugees on the move. . .
Read the whole thing: enlightening and frightening. As cities fail, where will their residents go?