Undistracted #4 / September 9, 2019
By Yutaka Yokoyama

On July 28, 2019, Quartz Africa reported “Air traffic between China and Africa … jumped 630% in the last decade.”

On August 11, Argentina’s right-wing incumbent Mauricio Macri lost by a margin of 15% to left-wing Alberto Fernandez in primary elections – general election scheduled for October 27.

On August 15, 2019, a rift opened up between Australian PM Scott Morrison and regional leaders during the Pacific Islands Forum. Fiji PM Frank Bainimarama was the most outspoken, calling Morrison “very insulting, very condescending, not good for the relationship … They [the Australians] keep saying the Chinese are going to take over. Guess why? … You don’t have to be a high-school graduate to know ….” A regional shift from Australian to Chinese power was also presaged, less dramatically, by Papua New Guinea’s new PM James Marape in the following weeks.

On August 30, Jean-Jacques Muyembe-Tamfum received the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize (around a million dollars) for more than forty years of work studying and fighting against the Ebola virus, work that in August finally produced tremendously hopeful results (REGN-EB3 and mAb114) in bad circumstances.

On September 2, Iran’s English language PressTV presenter, American citizen Marzieh Hashemi, who in January had been arrested by the FBI at St. Louis airport and held for ten days without charge, did an excellent job summing up Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s analysis on the exchange of military attacks between Israel and Hezbollah in preceding days.

On August 2, the Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s JFK School, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans under President Bill Clinton, Graham Allison, pulled the winning round of laughter from his audience (which included Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice) during the closing statements of an “Intelligence Squared” debate, with the following short story:

The American brand has fallen faster under this administration than ever before in the history of polls. The Pew poll finds seventy percent of the international community now expresses no confidence in Trump’s global leadership. And as Gallup found for the first time ever, more of the world supports China than America’s leadership in Asia, which seems to me just incredible. … I can’t help but think of a medical analogy from America’s first president: George Washington was sick, he had a fever, called the doctors, they came to Mount Vernon, they put leeches on him, it got better for a couple of days, and then he died.

Whoever was to blame, it wasn’t the Trillbilly Worker’s Party or their target audience. A few months earlier in April of 2019, Stanford University’s Tanner Lectures were given by Anne Case and Angus Deaton who added important new information to their influential 2015 work, “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century,” detailing the decade by decade destruction of non-college educated America. The videos of the excellent lectures were easy to find but barely viewed, much less mentioned. Meanwhile, the Labor Network for Sustainability reported a YouGov poll finding “Sixty-two percent of union members support the Green New Deal. Only 22 percent oppose it.”

In late August, Medea Benjamin and Nicolas Davies published an article, “Are Sanders and Warren throwing a lifeline to the military-industrial complex?,” staking out a position to the left of Bernie Sanders whose Green New Deal promotion invoked the Manhattan Project as inspiration – unmentioned in the article. But apart from Pentagon spending, the authors didn’t explain what military goals Sanders’ and Warren’s anti-Chinese and anti-Russian rhetoric were at risk of serving. Instead they approvingly quoted Elizabeth Warren’s description of “mistaken or uncertain objectives.” Also worth checking out, in July someone posted the entirety of John Pilger’s 2016 documentary, “The Coming War on China” on YouTube. And in August, Mick Hume republished his excellent 1995 essay, “Hiroshima: remembering ‘the White Man’s Bomb,'” recalling Sanders’ inspiration.

UMass professor Richard Wolff was on the Primo Nutmeg show attributing the mass disorganization of the American Left to Noam Chomsky. Law professor and Yale/Oxford/Harvard/Columbia alumna Amy Wax earned herself a Chomsky coinage – “the Wax principle” – for her statement that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.” Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State Michael Mann exposed a “new form of climate denial” by pretending that everything was fine before Trump, as if Obama hadn’t hobbled progress toward mandatory GHG reductions as soon as he took office with a majority in both houses. And dreaded “ecofascists” Greg Johnson and John Morgan’s Counter-Currents podcast, which according to Alexandra Minna Stern “impels white men to take ecofascist action,” sounded as snooty and effete as 1990s-era Robert Siegel or Noah Adams on NPR swept into a sad little corner by 2019.

Economist Dean Baker pointed out: 1) the importance of raising awareness that a falling stock market could coincide with an improving/growing economy; 2) that fears about budget deficits were an irrelevant matter of taste (in the U.S.) in the absence of high interest rates and inflation; 3) that getting “tough on trade” with China was a lie obscuring how Boeing, GE, Pfizer, Merck, Walmart, etc., benefited from U.S. trade deficits, at the expense of the American population; 4) that the U.S. economy was no longer the world’s largest economy, and hadn’t been since 2014; 5) the enormous potential positive impact of China’s reducing penalties on imports of generic Indian drugs; 6) that Washington Post opinion columnists (in this case libertarian Megan McArdle) were predictably ignorant (in this case about pensions); and 7) that Brazil was not responsible for the climate crisis. “Rich countries have engaged in large-scale deforestation of their own lands …. Placing all of the blame on Brazil is fundamentally misrepresenting the history of the problem. Brazil must act to preserve the Amazon, but it should be paid for this choice by the rich countries. … This is both a question of fairness and realism,” Baker wrote.

Robin Hahnel had made the same point five years earlier (Dec 4, 2014), to the Royal Society of Arts, unheeded:

It is not … going to prove to be possible to respond to the climate change challenge by simply telling the four to five billion people on the planet who have never experienced economic development, ‘Forget it, you just can’t do it. It can’t happen because saving the climate doesn’t allow it to happen.’ That’s both a lie and they’re not going to agree. … North-South gridlock has got to be stopped … this problem has got to be solved fairly, or else people aren’t going to contribute. And the South knows what’s fair, and it’s our job in the North to make sure that people in the North understand what’s fair too. … Reductions [in GHG emissions] must be according to differential responsibility and capability. Every agreement going back to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, at every international meeting this principle has once again been ratified by everybody participating. … If burdens are not perceived as fair, countries will not honor them. If you want the Third World to do what we need them to do, you have to offer them a fair deal. Otherwise whatever is negotiated will essentially not happen.

“Essentially not happen” turned out to be a good description of both “our job in the North” from 2014-2019, and of the GHG reductions.

By 2019, activist commentary looked more like Extinction Rebellion’s Roger Hallam in Penzance, Cornwall, saying, “I don’t know if you’ve heard about this COP thing, but it’s where all these important people around the world that are supposed to sort out climate change get together every year and decide to do nothing about climate change,” and David Wallace-Wells all over the place observing that humans had emitted more carbon since the establishment of the IPCC than in all previous history, that by 2019 “we’ve done more damage knowingly than we ever managed in ignorance.” Except that “we” wasn’t the right word. Most humans had practically nothing to do with it.

On August 16, 2019, at the conclusion of the 28th BASIC Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India, and China, “reaffirmed their commitment to the successful implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) … based on the recognition of the needs and special circumstances of developing countries and in accordance with the principles of Equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC), in the light of different national circumstances. … They also urged developed countries to undertake ambitious actions to reduce emissions and fulfill their finance commitments, including in the pre-2020 period, in light of their historical responsibilities.” On this point, the August 2019 statement echoed (as predicted by Hahnel) the UNFCCC’s founding statement 27 years earlier on May 9, 1992, “noting that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries” and “acknowledging … common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities [CBDR-RC].”

The fruits of “essentially not happen” included:
– July 16 – Hottest day ever on record in northernmost permanently inhabited place on the planet: Alert, Nunavut.
– July 16 – Talking to scientists gathered in Kathmandu for IPCC meeting, Nepal PM KP Sharma Oli pointed out his nation’s negligible responsibility for the looming catastrophe.
– July 18 – American tourists in a helicopter above west coast of Iceland video recorded “at least 50” dead pilot whales lying around on a remote beach.
– July 18 – Cambridge, England, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) issued annual “Red List” of species threatened with extinction, including 25% of mammal species, 40% of amphibian species, and 34% of conifer plant species; said nature itself was “declining at rates unprecedented in human history.”
– July 21 – Fox News: Baltimore, Maryland, heat index 122F.
– July 21 – Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service: Arctic wildfires at “unprecedented levels” (Mark Parrington). Fires continued across northern parts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Siberia, smoke covering an area larger than the European Union.
– July 25 – Heat records broken in Paris (42.6C), Germany (42.6C), Netherlands (40.7C), Belgium (40.6C), and UK (38.7C).
– July 25 – Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: “More than 25 million people have been affected by flooding due to the torrential monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Myanmar ….”
– July 26, Science (journal) published a study by D. A. Sutherland on underwater melting of glaciers, “melt rates up to a hundred times larger than those predicted by theory.”
– Aug 1 – Flooding in Ajmer, India (see YouTube).
– Aug 5 – C3S acknowledged July hottest month ever globally.
– Aug 8 – Fengzhi He in Nature (journal): “Freshwater megafish … declined by more than 94% between 1970 and 2012,” megafauna down 88%. See also Caleb P. Roberts in Nature on migration patterns of birds in North American Great Plains, shifted 590 km (366 miles) north. And Phoebe Weston in The Independent (UK) on tropical fish in Nova Scotia.
– Aug 19 – Alexander G. Little in Nature: “tropical cyclones … select for more aggressive colony phenotypes in the group-living spider Anelosimus studiosus.” See also Aug 5 WSJ: climate change among reasons for steady rise in venomous snake bites in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas.
– Aug 19 – Naomi Oreskes in Scientific American: “Scientists Have Been Underestimating the Pace of Climate Change.”
– Aug 26 – Prensa Latina: “Chile suffers its worst drought in years.”
– Aug 26 – Arganda del Rey, Madrid (see YouTube).
– Aug 27 – Siberian Times: “World’s largest permafrost river dries to a record low … abnormal heat causes 2.5 metre water level drop.”
– Aug 27 – International Business Times: “state of emergency has been declared by Russian President Vladimir Putin in two Russian regions as the fires raged into an unprecedented third month.”
– Aug 27 – Straits Times: “900,000 evacuated” as “[m]ore than twice the usual rainfall for the whole of August has fallen over parts of the southern island of Kyushu over the past 48 hours.”
– Aug 28 – Washington Post: Trump lifted twenty year old logging restrictions that “barred the construction of roads in 58.5 million acres” of Alaskan rainforest, “opening it up to potential logging, energy, and mining projects.”
– Aug 28 – AfricaNews: “Half of Kenya’s 47 counties are currently battling with drought which has led to rising food insecurity and the need for government intervention.”
– Aug 29 – Independent (UK): AFP said it saw draft UN report warning “damage caused by catastrophic ‘superstorms’ combined with rising sea levels could increase by a hundred-fold or more.” [Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate]
– Aug 29 – Kassie Siegel, Climate Law Institute: “The EPA is now so determined to actually increase greenhouse pollution that it’s even shrugging off concerns from oil and gas companies about gutting these protections.”
– Aug 29 – Moscow Times: “a month’s worth of rainfall has descended on [Vladivostok] in two days.”
– Aug 29 – CBC: “More than 10 rural municipalities have declared a state of agricultural disaster in Manitoba.”
– Aug 30 – MercoPress/Reuters: “Central America is grappling with its worst outbreak of dengue fever in decades – and scientists say the disease is likely to spread and become more frequent in the future due to climate change.”
– Aug 30 – Bloomberg: “Giant Vultures Circle [melted] Slopes in ‘Truly Depressing’ Ski Season” in Chile.
– Sep 1 – Gulf Today: “Rising seas threaten Egypt’s fabled port city of Alexandria”; authorities began positioning concrete barriers to protect archaeological sites from rising sea levels.
– Sep 2 – Brisbane Times: “Murray-Darling Basin, Australia’s food bowl … less than half its typical rain.”
– Sep 2 – Hurricane Dorian in Freeport, Grand Bahama, and Abaco (Google: Shavonia Cunningham, Michael Pintard, drpavito1)

In the summer of 2019, none of this was associated with a specifically American environmentalism (typified by top 2019 fiction author Delia Owens, herself associated with murder in Zambia). The reputation of American environmentalism was instead buoyed by changes on the lifestyle front: fake meat everywhere; a new 1500+ page IPCC report on “Climate Change and Land” finally authorizing the argument popularized by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn in their Cowspiracy documentary five years earlier, that animal agriculture was responsible for a significant part of the greenhouse effect and that widespread adoption of a plant based diet would therefore play a significant role in reductions; sleep researcher Matthew Walker continuing to publicize the scale of America’s sleep loss epidemic; impending release of the big macho vegan documentary “The Game Changers,” produced by Titanic’s James Cameron and featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger, prefiguring the green military interventions to come.
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Over Everything – Hard Feelings (2018 album)
Mach-Hommy – Floorseats (2018 music vid)
Rich Brian – Kids (2019 music vid)
Willow Smith – Like a Bird (2019)
Juan Tho – I Guess So (2018)
Wiki – Mayor (2017 music vid)
Carlos Guitarlos (version) – A Lover’s Question (2019)
Blanche Blanche Blanche – Only for Men (2019 music vid)
Blanche Blanche Blanche – Return of the Simple Child (2019 music vid)
Tipsy Tullivan – Your Questions for the Academic Job Market (2018)
Tipsy Tullvian – Ishmael Reed vs. Hamilton (2019 vid)
Kaimandante – Kamala (2019 pic)
Kurt Vile – Peeping Tomboy (2019 Indie88 live music vid)
Rajna Swaminathan – Peregrination (2019)
G. Calvin Weston – Dust and Ash (2019)
Frances Stonor Saunders – Hidden Hands, ep. 1 (1995 doc)
(Kathy Acker? singing w/) Blue Gene Tyranny – God’s a Man (1976)
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Yutaka Yokoyama is a fact-checker based in La Paz, Bolivia. Corrections/leads/collabs email: yokoyama10[at]gmail[dot]com