Undistracted #5 / October 28, 2019
by Yutaka Yokoyama

On September 23, 2019, Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA and Sivan Kartha of the Stockholm Environment Institute posted a video to YouTube entitled “Climate Action and the Responsibility of the Rich.” The video, along with a September 17 article by EcoEquity’s Tom Athanasiou, marked the first unification of a large part of the American left – via the policy platform of Bernie Sanders – with the position of the rest of the world as articulated in twenty-seven years of international agreements. It was a long overdue development, opening up the possibility of a shared framework for implementation of massive global emissions reductions for the first time – if severe cultural obstacles in America could be overcome. In particular, Bernie Sanders’ acceptance of EcoEquity’s CBDR approach was crucial. The acronym CBDR stood for Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, itself a shorthand acknowledgment of primary American historical responsibility for the climate problem. As of October 20, 2019, the incomparably good news about Sanders and EcoEquity had not been denounced by the right as a concession to Chinese trickery. Nor was it celebrated by the left as the last minute reprieve that it was. It flattered no audible constituency and was therefore ignored.

In 2019, reflecting the general truancy of the American editorial class, the CBDR acronym and principle were unknown to the American population, although rejection of CBDR’s moral basis had always been central to the U.S.’s international negotiating position – Obama’s climate envoy Todd Stern, for example, telling international counterparts, “If equity is in, we’re out” (Google: “Todd Stern” “Special Briefing” “December 13, 2011”). By contrast, It would have been very instructive for Americans to skim through the relevant international documents to see how consistently and frequently the CBDR principle was invoked by the nonwhite world, over decades, since the establishment of the principle by the UNFCCC in 1992. That foundational document noted that “the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries,” and acknowledged that “an effective and appropriate international response” would be “in accordance with … common but differentiated responsibilities [CBDR] and respective capabilities.”

Unaltered by 27 years of American obstruction, evasion, and unawareness, the CBDR principle remained central in the official statements of China and India following 2019’s UN Climate Action Summit. On September 17, 2019, China reaffirmed that “all parties should earnestly implement the principles and spirit of the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, including the principles of equitable, common but differentiated responsibilities [CBDR] and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances,” and India demanded “adequate provision of climate finance from developed countries to developing countries as mandated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities [CBDR] and equity.” Likewise, on October 26, the Joint Statement issued at the conclusion of the 29th BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change put CBDR front and center: “Ministers underscored that all parties should jointly defend the international system underpinned by the United Nations, in accordance with the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC), in the light of different national circumstances.”

In summary, the existence of the CBDR acronym and principle for 27 years coincided with popular American unawareness of its existence, which in turn coincided with official U.S. opposition to its implementation, which coincided with global nonwhite commitment to its centrality, all of which most importantly coincided with the emission of “more than half of all the carbon emissions ever produced in the entire history of humanity” (David Wallace-Wells). Given the extent of American unawareness on the issue, it was perhaps natural that alarm bells rang loudly in 2019 and grave concerns were expressed on topics like “environmental racism” and “eco-fascism” without a sense of either the source of the problem or the applicable scale.

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– Sep 16 – NOAA-NCEI: “August global sea surface temperature … warmest on record for the month at 1.51°F above average.” Record rain in Mumbai.
– Sep 17 – “Unusually large amounts” dead seabirds in Nome, Alaska (for 5th yr).
– Sep 18 – Nature (journal): wilderness loss since 1990s amounted to area the size of India. Remaining wilderness amounted to less than 20% of planet.
– Sep 19 – 250 news outlets covered story of “largest naval base on earth by population” – U.S. Naval Station Norfolk – submerging beneath rising sea levels. Tropical Storm Imelda/record rain on Houston. NYTimes: “number of birds in the United States and Canada has declined by 3 billion, or 29 percent, over the past half-century.” Northern Greece: “Tens of thousands of dead fish [by one lake] …. ‘There used to be ten fish restaurants in the village … so many fish have died and our wealth was destroyed.'” Center for Public Integrity in Washington DC: “mosquitoes are winning, and everything else is losing.”
– Sep 20 – Several million protested in support of student climate strikes. CBS, meanwhile: “Hotter, more extreme climate can mean more profits in cooling homes, managing scarce water, building seawalls against rising water levels, and coaxing food crops to grow in drier, less fertile soil … record-breaking heat waves across the U.S., Europe and Asia this summer have been a boon for makers of air conditioning, and Wall Street has poured more money into this industry. Share prices of the largest AC manufacturers — Johnson Controls, United Technologies and Ingersoll-Rand — have risen 25% this year, outpacing the S&P 500 stock index. … one effect of warming air is a wider habitat for pests and the infectious diseases they often carry [which] means more money to be made treating or preventing those diseases.”
– Sep 22 – AFP: Average global temperatures between 2015 and 2019 were “on track to be the hottest of any five-year period on record,” and “rather than falling, carbon dioxide grew two percent in 2018, reaching a record high.”
– Sep 23 – Deutsche Welle: Local livestock in Somali Region of Ethiopia started to die on account of “chronic drought linked to climate change” as rainy season “once again failed to provide much-anticipated ground water.” Washington D.C.: bad people “loosely associated with the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and Black Lives Matter D.C.” blocked intersections during UN climate summit trying “to pressure U.S. lawmakers and other world leaders to create legislation that will address climate change,” CBS News reported. After 32 of the bad people were cuffed and taken away, “about 50 schools in Baltimore that lack air conditioning dismissed students early … for the third time this month as temperatures hit a stifling 90 degrees,” NBC reported. Later in the afternoon, more bad people in Hollywood CA shut down intersection in front of CNN building, demanding, “TELL THE TRUTH NOW.” And Alaska Public Media, together with the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey team, recruited “birders and beachcombers [and] anyone who enjoys spending time outside and on a beach” for a “fun, hands-on training,” to learn how to identify and collect data on dead birds amidst increasingly frequent avian mass mortality events.
– Sep 24 – Remnants of Hurricane Humberto lashed UK. Disastrous droughts in Zimbabwe and water service was shut off in capital Harare. Australia: “huge numbers of bats” and “pelicans and other waterbirds” dying. IPCC released “Ocean and Cryosphere” report.
– Sep 25 – Saltwater intrusion was “a leading-edge effect of climate change” vs farmers in Maryland. Tail end of Hurricane Humberto flooded parts of London w/ month’s worth of rain in 6 hrs. Chile: most severe drought in 50 years. Worst droughts in history in Australia. “Italian authorities … closed roads and evacuated mountain huts after experts warned that part of a glacier on Mont Blanc [highest mount in the Alps] could collapse … due to climate factors.”
– Sep 26 – Drought continued in Chile (host of upcoming COP25 Dec 2-13): “[M]ore than 30,000 head of livestock have died of hunger or thirst,” according to Chilean agriculture ministry.
– Sep 27 – International Union for Conservation of Nature: 58% of tree species unique to Europe threatened with extinction. 15% (66 tree species) critically endangered. And “entire hillsides of hardy eucalyptuses dying” in Australia as drought “going to another level – it’s almost unimaginable.”
– Sep 29 – “Saltwater bubbling up from Biscayne Bay onto Miami’s streets. Not a drop of rain for the past several days” (TropicMotion). Red Fish Grill parking lot in Matheson Hammock (Miami) was looking kind of gorgeous (XavierLSuarez1). IMF published working paper finding “growing agreement between economists and scientists [about] … potentially infinite costs of unmitigated climate change, including, in the extreme, human extinction.” And women’s marathon in Doha started at midnight to avoid heat but 28 of 68 starters nonetheless failed to finish, many requiring medical attention.
– Oct 1 – U.S. National Weather Service: “RECORD heat again today across a large portion of the country [USA].” Spiegel in Zambia: “Most horrible drought in memory.”
– Oct 2 – San Francisco Estuary Institute report found “humans on average consume a credit card’s worth of microplastic each week.” University of Erlangen–Nuremberg on Peru glaciers: “29 percent [loss] during the period of investigation.” 170 glaciers in Peru
“disappeared completely … rate of retreat … almost four times higher than in the years before.” Meanwhile, Guardian (UK): “global heating melts the myriad glaciers across the Swiss Alps and thaws its soil” and “millions of cubic tons of rock have crumbled off mountains and crushed tourists.” Also record heat in Baltimore and Washington D.C. (both 98F).
– Oct 3 – WCNC-TV North Carolina: “The heat over the Southeast has set new records in Charlotte for 7 of the past 8 days”
– Oct 4 – Bangor Daily News reported “record-breaking number of cases of a tick-borne disease this year” in Maine. And EU Copernicus Climate Change Service determined September was hottest September ever recorded globally. And Science published “Decline of the North American avifauna,” reporting a “staggering decline of bird populations … not restricted to rare and threatened species.” Journalist Ed Yong remarked, “It’s as if all birds are canaries, and the entire world their coal mine.”
– Oct 5 – Weather.com: “From Oct. 1 through Oct. 4, 80 locations from the Gulf Coast to New York state either tied or set a new all-time October record high.”
– Oct 8 – International Arctic Research Center at University of Alaska tweeted highest average Alaska temperature on record for previous 12 months: 32.7F. NOAA: “January through September 2019 … was wettest such period on record for U.S.” while September was also “record dry for six states.” Newsweek reported Siberian sea “boiling with methane … no one has ever recorded anything like this before.” Also, in Mexico, water rationing in 12 of 31 states after prolonged droughts in 66% of the country.
– Oct 9 – 2019 PG&E California Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) started. BBC: “Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere over the summer.” The Guardian’s Greg Jericho pointed out that people under the age of 34 “have not even experienced a month of below-average global temperatures – because the last such month was February 1985.”
– Oct 10 – American Audubon Society published “Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink” finding “two-thirds of North American birds … at increasing risk of extinction from global temperature rise.” Meanwhile, The Guardian reported: Shell oil will “increase output by 38% by 2030 [interesting related document: Shell 1988 “HSE 88-001″] … Shell is not alone among international companies planning to pump much more oil and gas, according to the research. The US firm ExxonMobil is expected to increase its fossil fuel production by 35% by 2030, BP by 20% and France’s Total by 12%. … None of the top 20 companies disputed the projections. … In absolute terms, the international oil companies will still be dwarfed by the output of state-run national firms in the future. The biggest, Saudi Aramco, will continue to suck the most fossil fuels out of the ground … [and] into the atmosphere.”
– Oct 11 – Science: By 2050, “up to 5 billion people may be at risk from diminishing ecosystem services, particularly in Africa and South Asia,” due to “higher water pollution and insufficient pollination for nutrition under future scenarios of land use and climate change.” Lead author Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer: “I hope no one is shocked.” Also: DC Historic Preservation Review Board refused to allow front-facing solar panels on “historic” homes because it looks too ugly. “I applaud your greenness and your desire to save the planet … and I realize that we are in crisis politically as well as sustainably. But I just have this vision of a row of houses with solar panels on the front of them and it just — it upsets me.”

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In the early fall of 2019, none of this was associated with inadequacies in American progressive politics (the hard boundaries of which required exclusion of potentially generative insights from people like Tommy Curry, Sara Farris, and others). Progressive lifestyles, after all, were improving by leaps and bounds. The greatest proponent of whole food plant-based nutrition, Dr. Michael Greger, posted a video of “Highlights from the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Hearing” of the USDA and HHS, who ignored it. The good doctor also began rolling out his long awaited series of non-diet YouTube videos ahead of his upcoming book release. Electric automotive news website Electrek reported that “Daimler stops developing internal combustion engines to focus on electric cars.” And of course, The Game Changers documentary finally made impact. “Released on iTunes earlier this month, The Game Changers became its top selling documentary of all time in under a week,” Jonathan White reported for the South China Morning Post. The increasingly musclebound YouTuber known as Vegan Gains posted a well-reasoned, funny, and creative video exposing Joe Rogan’s very weak criticisms of the documentary. The closing credits of the movie included special thanks to the U.S. Department of Defense. The penultimate, weakest, section of the film served only to flatter a fat white Australian ex-sniper – Damien Mander – for his conversion into a vegan paramilitary conservationist in Africa. Insofar as the movie was about athletic prowess, lionization of this overweight non-athlete made little sense. But of course the movie wasn’t just about athletic prowess. Considered within the green imperial pattern (exposed and explained by Mark Dowie in 2009, John Mbaria in 2016, and Elizabeth Lunstrum in 2017), the elevation of a paramilitary anti-poaching expat made perfect sense and echoed, in tight conformity, the disturbing personal background of America’s top 2019 novelist, Delia Owens.

While the consequences of American fantasies were still ignored, problems with the material basis for sustaining them were somewhat easier to face. September 16 saw the beginning of the biggest U.S. strike in more than a decade as 48,000 automotive workers walked out of their General Motors workplaces. On October 28, workers returned to their workplaces with what journalist and retired Detroit UAW worker Dianne Feeley described as “a bad deal.” On September 25, the Joint Industry Board of the Electrical Industry (JIBEI) posted their interview of Noam Chomsky (from March), in which he mentioned that the “U.S. Steel Workers Union is now setting up some connections with Mondragon [the world’s largest worker cooperative]. … It’s a way out of the de-industrialization crisis. So there are options, but you’re going to have to struggle for them. They’re not going to be easy to attain.” On September 26, the Atlantic Council lamented that, “Over the last twenty years, trade between China and Latin America has multiplied eighteen times, from $12 billion in 2000 to $224 billion in 2016. Today, China is the largest trading partner for Chile, Peru, and Brazil.” And on October 3, Forbes likewise reported that “China is now Africa’s biggest trade partner”; “Africa has … eclipsed Asia as the largest market for China’s overseas construction contracts”; China’s share of “Africa’s infrastructure boom” is 40%, while Europe’s share declined from 44% to 34%, and the U.S. share fell from 24% to 6.7%; “Africa has roughly half of the world’s stock of manganese, an essential ingredient for steel production, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on its own possesses half of the planet’s cobalt. Africa also has significant amounts of coltan, which is needed for electronics.”

“On the morning of 14 September, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles – all cheap and unsophisticated compared to modern military aircraft – disabled half of Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production and raised the world price of oil by 20 per cent. … US forces in the Gulf did not know what was happening until it was all over,” reported Patrick Cockburn, who also called attention to Anthony Cordesman’s September 16 analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), that “the strikes on Saudi Arabia provide a clear strategic warning that the US era of air supremacy in the Gulf, and the near U.S. monopoly on precision strike capability, is rapidly fading.” And from September 24 to 28, a very long, translated Hassan Nasrallah interview was posted to YouTube (“Interview with Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah”), the second half of which included detailed geopolitical analysis of current regional issues. Its publication was notable because Nasrallah’s geopolitical commentary had been almost completely suppressed in the West.

A good long Aviva Chomsky interview contextualizing current immigration was posted on a podcast called Free Man Beyond the Wall, on October 14. A shorter Aviva Chomsky interview was posted on TheRealNews YouTube channel on October 4 with the title, “Trump’s Anti-Immigration Policies Are a Deepening of Previous Admin Policies.” The NBA/Morey/China drama started on the same day. Journalist Ajit Singh pointed out: “I know self-important white guys want to feel persecuted and think the Chinese government is after them, but political signs haven’t been allowed in sports arenas in North America for a long time now. You’re being censored by your own country’s corporations.”

Was any of this necessary? Brian Ferguson, the anthropologist credited with debunking the central claims in Steven Pinker’s celebrated 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, was interviewed by Nancy McClernan in September and audio was posted to the internet. Topics discussed included: Pinker’s errors, a turning point in the debate about violence and human nature, Ferguson’s critique of a 2006 paper entitled “Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence,” and Ferguson’s forthcoming work (a project on the origins of NY gangsters, and a book – Chimpanzees, ‘War,’ and History: Are Men Born to Kill?). “This book,” Ferguson said, “is going to be the biggest argument that I’ve ever been in. So right now that’s the one I’m preparing for.”

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John Mollusk – G. Thunberg sings Swedish Death Metal (2019)
Ishmael Reed – The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda (2019/Nuyorican)
NW Univ Saxophone Ensemble – Hymn (Agocs/2019)
Over Everything – The Tragedy Show (2019)
Nightfall – No Surrender (2017/Ryvvolte)
mannyfidel – Is the whole show this bad (2019 vid clip)
Tom Rush – Urge for Going (Joni/2019/WGBH)
Dronez – In Ashes (2017)
DJ Felix Hurtado Contreras – Salsas … Vol 20 (2019 playlist)
bono – waltzfor (2019)
Gnyonpix – Color of Ripples (2019)
Cardi B/Richard Quinn – niqab for Paris (2019 fashion)
Locate_S1 – Owe it 2 the Girls (2019 music vid)
Daisuke Tanabe – ppt600loop (2019)

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Yutaka Yokoyama is based in La Paz, Bolivia.
Corrections/leads/collabs email: yokoyama10[at]gmail[dot]com