Climate change and the US south for a year

I crisscrossed a region my own that is mired in a culture of denial and delay. The conversation on the climate crisis has not changed fast enough

atmosphere

Its 96 degrees in downtown Beaufort, North Carolina, a place where I spent much of my childhood. The sidewalk is too hot for dogs to walk on. The iconic wild horses, visible on Shackleford Banks, wade in the marsh, munching cordgrass. Ive been watching the horses since I was in elementary school, and now Im sharing them with my elementary school-aged daughters on summer vacation.

My girls love them, as I did. The legend is that the horses swam to safety from an old Spanish shipwreck. Its moving to watch the small, strong horses grazing on the dunes. For now, theyve survived the latest big hurricane, and theyre free.

The 100 or so wild horses have one square kilometer of high ground on which to weather hurricanes and sea level rise, and a shortage of fresh water endangered by encroaching salt water and storm surge. Some scientists recommend that the Shackleford horses be relocated, although they have been there for centuries.

The story is a familiar one that will be told in a thousand different ways as the atmosphere warms in the years to come: we must think creatively and quickly to save the things we love.

I wrote my Climate Changed column between hurricane seasons, in the wake of Hurricane Florence and before the start of Hurricane Barry. I close the column from Beaufort, a place where Florence brought a record storm surge; it caused $17bn in damage to the state. As my daughters and I drive over the bridge into Morehead City, I see bulldozers still clearing the last of the Channel Marker restaurant, a fixture of Atlantic Beach flooded during Florence.

I thought that Hurricane Florence might serve as a turning point in the conversation about the realities of climate change in a region still mired in a culture of denial and delay. After a year of research and reporting, I am not convinced that the conversation has changed fast enough, if much at all. Here in Beaufort, like Miami and Charleston, I encounter deniers, continued waterfront development, hurricane damage and blistering temperatures.

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A great blue heron is silhouetted by the reflection of the rising sun at Lake Johnson Park in Raleigh. Photograph: Alamy

 

If there is any part of the south where technology, tax dollars and public opinion are aligning to make changes, its Miami, even though new waterfront real estate is still being built. But for the most part, climate change discussions continue to fall along party lines in a divided nation. To many rural southerners, the bigger, well-funded environmental movements seem to be rooted in California and New England. The conversations appear to be taking place in the echo chamber of privileged believers.

I saw more of the south while reporting for this column than I ever saw in my 30 years of living there. My travel reinforced what I already knew: there is no one south. In 2019 it is multitudinous, diverse and still reckoning with its plantation economy and cruel social history. It has PhDs, evangelicals, Trump enthusiasts, environmentalists, artists and activists. Its this very tension that has often made the south the genesis of social movements; one hopes it might happen again, and soon.

Social and environmental racism, income inequality and poverty are as present as they have ever been, and are only weaponized by climate change, as I reported from Virginia and Natchez, Mississippi.

I found that in places like eastern North Carolina, the river parishes of Louisiana, Miami, and Mississippis Gulf coast, chronic exposure to natural disasters has resulted in psychological resilience, and created a desire in some to go down with the ship. In places like New Orleans, trauma strengthens the sense of community. As Tropical Storm Barry moved in to New Orleans, I emailed with former interviewees who shared forecasts and concerns. Im gritting my teeth, one wrote. But Im not evacuating. Home is sometimes more an emotional than a rational commitment.

In eastern North Carolina, where I grew up and write from, climate change was never a polite topic of conversation. I was told the same in a coffee shop in Mississippi, and by a minister in Georgia. Too many southerners are still dancing around the reality of climate change, and the cost of avoiding the conversation is going to be steep.

What does a better and more inclusive conversation look like? Non-traditional environmentalists can be critical allies in addressing the culture of climate change denial below the Mason-Dixon Line, like hunters in Arkansas and evangelical Christians in places like St Simons, Georgia. But too often, the perspectives and interests of frontline communities are ignored, further exacerbating the environmental racism so pervasive in the south.

When it comes to climate change preparedness in this region, part of the continued challenge is that the power structures of the old south remain in place. A Pew survey indicated that white evangelical protestants are the least likely to profess a belief in climate change. Power companies, developers and conservative politicians have a vested interest in deregulation and maintaining the environmental status quo, and many paint environmental concerns as nothing but liberal pagan ideas.

When I began this column, I felt more of a duty to listen to all sides, but frankly I do not believe that climate change is an issue of which one can pretend, or afford, to hear both sides. I believe that to deny climate change and delay productive action in 2019 is malicious and akin to governmental malpractice. A government that is not actively protecting its citizens from the future challenges of climate change (property loss, food system collapse, increased intensity of storms, flooded infrastructure, extreme heat, economic disruption) is not acting in the interests of its citizens. A politician who delays climate action is not acting in his or her constituents best interests, and may be going so far as to actually cause harm.

We do not need to hear another word from deniers, or cater to their anti-science position. Something the progressive south has always struggled to do: take the megaphone away from the people who want to live in the past.

Now that Ive seen more of the south, I cant help but feel losses and concerns in a specific way. As I began to write this final column, a fire raged through the Everglades, which I had driven through just months before. Storms threatened to challenge the already saturated Mississippi and its river control structures. I thought about the gators in the marsh, the last wild panthers darting to safety in the Everglades, the bartender who was kind to me in an ancient pub on Natchez-under-the-hill. The loss of life and landscape in climate change scenarios has always troubled me, but now it is real and urgent in a way it has never been before.

When the wild horses of Shackleford Banks weather storms, the dominant male gathers his harem on high ground or in the deep parts of the maritime forest, and they turn their backs to the wind and rain. A researcher observed that while wild herds are typically divided into harems, the divisions break down in extreme weather. The horses gave up their internal political dynamics, he said, staying together on the relatively highest ground of that site. That is how they survive.

To navigate the decades ahead, and save the places we love and call home, southerners will need to dismantle old political dynamics and build new, inclusive alliances.

 

 

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SoftBank

Fair, the vehicle subscription startup backed by SoftBank, is loading its executive team with veterans in the tech, venture and automotive industries as it seeks to build out its Uber leasing program and expand beyond North America.

Fair.com today announced three key hires to lead the development of its car subscription app, financing department and leasing program with Uber.

Jay Trinidad, a former Google and Discovery Networks executive, is now chief product officer. Trinidad will direct the company’s app development and technology efforts. Former chief accounting officer of TrueCar John Pierantoni has been hired as senior vice president of finance and risk.

Pat Wilkison, general partner of venture firm Exponential Partners — an early investor in Fair — will run the startup’s Uber program.

The three hires are critical additions for the three-year-old startup as it tries to convince consumers to try its car-as-a-service platform over buying or leasing a vehicle from a traditional dealership or other online sales upstarts. The advantage for Fair, aside from the $1.5 billion treasure chest it has amassed — is the platform itself.

The company was founded by automotive, retail and banking executives, including Scott Painter, former founder and CEO of TrueCar, on the premise that today’s consumers, including those in the gig economy, want flexibility.

Fair has tweaked the traditional lease to give consumers more options. Users can subscribe to the program and switch vehicles through the term of their “lease.”

It’s a capital-intensive business model that requires the kind of experience that Painter believes these three executives can deliver.

The hires will help drive Fair’s aggressive efforts around payment, infrastructure and financial planning as it scales its flexible car ownership model internationally and tries to make a name for itself on the global stage.

“A critical part of our transformation effort is deepening our bench of talented executives to set us up for success now and into the future,” Painter said.

The three hires come on the heels of rapid growth, a critical acquisition and huge Series B funding round of $385 million led by SoftBank, with participation from Exponential Ventures, Munich Re Venture’s ERGO Fund, G Squared and CreditEase.

“After closing $385M in our Series B, it’s time to put that capital to work for us to buy cars and propel growth—with this new executive team providing us with important insights and leadership.” Painter said in a statement. “Jay will eliminate execution risk and bring in operational and strategic expertise, Pat is an investor-turned-employee crusader, while John is a world-class financial and accounting expert around whom we can build a sound subscription business and strong auto insurance division.”

Fair acquired in January 2018 the active leasing portfolio of Xchange Leasing, a service Uber first established in 2015 to lease new and nearly new vehicles to drivers who did not come to the service with their own cars.

That acquisition laid the foundation for what has become a big piece of Fair’s business today. Some 45% of Fair’s cars are used by Uber drivers today.

Fair also has aspirations to expand beyond the U.S., Trinidad told TechCrunch in a recent interview. The company hasn’t publicly disclosed which countries it might go to first. Europe and Asia, particularly considering Trinidad’s long background in the region, would be the most likely markets for Fair.

In the next year, the company hopes to move into international markets and grow its workforce, which will likely mean moving into a bigger office, Trinidad said.

“I really think in a year’s time, at least in the markets we’re targeting such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, you’ll start to hear ‘Why not Fair a car instead of buying or leasing one?’ It will be a third option people consider.”

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Journalists Under Attack

In May 2019, WIRED joined the One Free Press Coalition, a united group of preeminent editors and publishers using their global reach and social platforms to spotlight journalists under attack worldwide. Today, the coalition is issuing its sixth monthly “10 Most Urgent” list of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases demand justice.

Paul Chouta, the Cameroon Web reporter who was arrested in May, denied bail, and charged with defamation and spreading false news. His case has been delayed until August 13 and he remains in a maximum-security prison. Aasif Sultan, a reporter for Kashmir Narrator, was arrested on “anti-state” charges and will have been imprisoned for one year on August 27. He has been repeatedly interrogated by police, demanding that he reveal his sources.

Here is the August list, ranked in order of urgency:

1. Jamal Khashoggi (Saudi Arabia): Stonewalling continues after new UN report implicates Saudi prince for journalist’s murder.

Months after his brazen killing, and despite findings from the UN and the CIA that point to the Saudi crown prince’s involvement, there has been no independent criminal investigation. Calls for the White House to release intelligence reports have gone unheeded, along with a deadline to reply to Congress as required under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Act.

2. Azory Gwanda (Tanzania): Tanzanian official claims missing journalist is dead—then backtracks.

Azory Gwanda, a freelance journalist investigating mysterious killings in rural Tanzania, has been missing since November 21, 2017, and the government has failed to conduct an investigation or disclose what it knows. On July 10, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi said in an interview that Gwanda had “disappeared and died,” but backtracked amid requests for clarification.

3. Juan Pardinas (Mexico): Mexican newspaper editor targeted with death threats for criticizing new president.

Mexican media organizations and journalists have recently reported a sharp increase in threats and online harassment over critical reporting of the López Obrador administration. Juan Pardinas, the editor-in-chief of Mexican newspaper Reforma, received a barrage of online harassment and threats after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador criticized the newspaper in April. López Obrador acknowledged the threats against Pardinas and said that his government had offered protective measures to the journalist.

4. Paul Chouta (Cameroon): Journalist in maximum security prison blocked from seeing family.

Cameroon Web reporter Paul Chouta was arrested in May, denied bail, and charged with defamation and spreading false news. Chouta’s editor said he suspects the case was in retaliation for critical reporting. His case has been delayed until August 13 and he remains in a maximum-security prison.

5. Azimjon Askarov (Kyrgyzstan): Kyrgyz court upholds life sentence for documenting human rights abuses.

Award-winning journalist Azimjon Askarov, who is an ethnic Uzbek, has spent nine years in prison on trumped-up charges for his reporting on human rights violations. Despite persistent international condemnation and calls for his release, a Kyrgyz court that had reviewed his case in light of new legislation ruled to uphold his life sentence on July 30.

6. Ayşe Nazlı Ilıcak (Turkey): Turkish journalist faces 30 years in solitary confinement.

A commentator for opposition newspaper Özgür Düşünce and Can Erzincan TV, Ayşe Nazlı Ilıcak was arrested in 2016 and sentenced in February 2018 to life without parole for trying to overturn the constitution through her journalism. In a separate trial in January, she was sentenced to an additional five years for revealing state secrets. In Turkey, which has been the top jailer of journalists three years in a row, life sentences without parole equate to 30 years in solitary confinement, with limited visits.

7. Marzieh Amiri (Iran): Imprisoned journalist denied healthcare after for covering May Day demonstrations.

Iranian authorities arrested Marzieh Amiri, an economics reporter at Tehran-based newspaper Shargh Daily, as she covered May Day demonstrations, and her family has had limited contact with her since. Authorities have accused Amiri of committing crimes against national security without giving further details.

8. Jones Abiri (Nigeria): Journalist re-arrested on terrorism and cybercrime charges.

Jones Abiri, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Weekly Source, is behind bars on charges under Nigeria’s cybercrimes act, anti-sabotage act, and terrorism prevention act for crimes allegedly carried out in 2016. The charges are the same ones that a court threw out after he was held without access to his family or a lawyer from 2016 to 2018.

9. Aasif Sultan (India): Journalist imprisoned one year without due process for covering conflict.

Aasif Sultan, a reporter for Kashmir Narrator, will have been imprisoned one year on August 27, arrested in 2018 and months later charged with “complicity” in “harboring known terrorists.” He has been repeatedly interrogated and asked to reveal his sources by police. Sultan continues to be denied due process, with ongoing delays in his hearings.

10. Truong Duy Nhat (Vietnam): Blogger who disappeared in Thailand imprisoned in Vietnam.

Truong Duy Nhat, a Vietnamese reporter with Radio Free Asia, went missing in January in Bangkok, Thailand, where he had applied for refugee status. In March, his daughter learned he was jailed without charge in a Hanoi detention center. Nhat was previously sentenced to two years in prison in 2013 in connection to his critical reporting on the government.

According to CPJ research, the killers go unpunished in nine out of every 10 journalists murdered.

The One Free Press Coalition contains 33 prominent international members including: AméricaEconomía; The Associated Press; Bloomberg News; The Boston Globe; BuzzFeed; CNN Money Switzerland; Corriere Della Sera; De Standaard; Deutsche Welle; Estadão; EURACTIV; The Financial Times; Forbes; Fortune; HuffPost; India Today; Insider Inc.; Le Temps; Middle East Broadcasting Networks; Office of Cuba Broadcasting; Quartz; Radio Free Asia; Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty; Republik; Reuters; The Straits Times; Süddeutsche Zeitung; TIME; TV Azteca; Voice of America; The Washington Post; WIRED; and Yahoo News.

One Free Press Coalition partners with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) to identify the most-urgent cases for the list, which is updated and published on the first day of every month. News organizations throughout the world can join the Coalition by emailing info@onefreepresscoalition.com.


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Climatic change and human impact on climate

Scientists say July at least equalled and may have beaten hottest month on record

climate change

The record-breaking heatwave that roasted Europe last month was a one-in-a-thousand-year event made up to 100 times more likely by human-driven climate change, scientists have calculated.

Around the globe, July at least equalled and may have surpassed the hottest month on record, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization. This followed the warmest June on record.

Temperature records were broken in many countries, wildfires continue to devastate vast areas of Siberia, the Greenland ice sheet is melting at a near record rate, and the risk of drought has grown more acute across wide areas of central and eastern Europe.

The extreme heat is particularly unusual because it is not an El Nio year the phenomenon usually associated with prolonged temperature surges. Instead, scientists say it is driven to a large extent by carbon emissions from car exhausts, power plant chimneys, burning forests and other human sources.

How much these factors loaded the dice in the two- to three-day heatwave during the last week of July was the subject of an attribution study by a consortium of meteorologists and climatologists at the UK Met Office, Oxford University and other prominent European institutions.

It found that the extreme heat in France and the Netherlands, where temperatures peaked above 40C, was made at least 10 times and possibly more than 100 times more likely by climate change. In the UK, which set a record of 38.7C on 25 July, the human impact on the climate made the high temperatures at least two to three times more probable.

There was considerable variation from place to place, but in all the studied locations the scientists said it would have been 1.5C to 3C cooler without climate change.

Satellite
A Nasa satellite image shows winds carrying plumes of smoke over Russia, centre right, as wildfires raged in Siberia. Photograph: Joshua Stevens/Nasa/AP

 

Although the recent heat has been described as historic, it is unlikely to remain that way for long, according to the authors of the study. It will not make history. These records will be broken in few years, said Friederike Otto, of the University of Oxford. What we see with European heatwaves is that all the climate models are underestimating the change that we see. She said further study would investigate how likely it was to have two intense heatwaves in the space of two months.

The paper says the extreme heat will have an impact on human wellbeing, though the data on this often lags, which can mean it fails to draw much public attention.

Heatwaves during the height of summer pose a substantial risk to human health and are potentially lethal, the paper says. The full impact is known only after a few weeks when the mortality figures have been analysed. Effective heat emergency plans, together with accurate weather forecasts such as those issued before this heatwave, reduce impacts and are becoming even more important in light of the rising risks.

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, who has called a special climate summit of world leaders in September, said the seasons were moving alarmingly far from their usual path. We have always lived through hot summers, but this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfathers summer, he said. Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives, and for our lives. It is a race that we can and must win.

The World Meteorological Organization expects 2015-19 to be the warmest five-year period ever recorded. July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at local, national and global level, said the organisations secretary general, Petteri Taalas. Unprecedented wildfires raged in the Arctic for the second consecutive month, devastating once pristine forests which used to absorb carbon dioxide and instead turning them into fiery sources of greenhouse gases. This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action.

 

 

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