Policymakers on Capitol Hill got a dire warning that climate change threatens food production, safety and affordability.
That stark message came in a briefing by the American Meteorological Society to congressional staff members, climate scientists and federal regulators that linked climate change to a host of troubling scenarios involving worldwide food availability.
Wednesday's briefing drew on a peer-reviewed study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture released during the Paris Climate Conference last month. That report, "Climate Change, Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System," concluded that the effects of climate change on food will strike urban and rural populations in wealthy and poor nations alike.
While the threat depends on many factors, its impact will increase by mid-century, according to the report. Under the least-optimistic scenario––based on high carbon emissions and low international cooperation to combat climate change––agricultural yields could fall by as much as 15 percent, and food prices could rise more than 30 percent by 2050.
"Climate change puts the world's food security at risk through both direct and indirect factors," said Margaret Walsh, an ecologist in USDA's Climate Change Program Office and one of the authors the report.
Widespread drought caused by climate change could decrease crop production, Walsh told InsideClimate News. At the same time, sea level rise could impact cargo ships' access to docks for importing and exporting food.
"There are many, complex factors that have to be considered when assessing the threat to food security," Walsh said.
David H. Koch, a philanthropist who has given millions of dollars to the American Museum of Natural History in New York but whose businesses in energy and other industries have drawn criticism from climate scientists and environmental groups, has left the museum’s board after serving on it for 23 years.
A museum spokeswoman, Anne Canty, said Mr. Koch’s last day on the board of trustees was Dec. 9 and that his departure was not related to the criticism, but simply because his term was ending.
Mr. Koch, who served on the board since 1992, has donated some $23 million to the museum and his name adorns its dinosaur wing.
More than nine months ago, dozens of members of the scientific community signed a letter that called for museums of science and natural history to “cut all ties” with fossil fuel companies and philanthropists like Mr. Koch, who also sits on the advisory board of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. A separate petition by environmental activists urged the museums to remove him from their respective boards.
The letter expressed deep concern about “the links between museums of science and natural history with those who profit from fossil fuels or fund lobby groups that misrepresent climate science.” The letter was the project of the Natural History Museum, a mobile museum “that highlights the socio-political forces that shape nature,” according to its co-founder and director, Beka Economopoulos.
But Cristyne Nicholas, a spokeswoman in New York for Mr. Koch, said that the letter and petition had nothing to do with Mr. Koch’s departure. “He was not swayed by that at all and it absolutely did not factor into his decision,” Ms. Nicholas said.
She noted that Mr. Koch is on about 20 different boards around the country and that he is cutting that number back while he focuses more time on cancer research. Last year, Mr. Koch, 75, who was once diagnosed with prostate cancer, donated $100 million to New York-Presbyterian Hospital and $150 million to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help researchers develop a cure for prostate cancer.
Ms. Nicholas said that Mr. Koch had missed board meetings at the natural history museum and other institutions because of scheduling conflicts. “He remains supportive of the museum,” she said. “It is just that he does not have time to attend the board meetings.”
Ms. Canty said that Mr. Koch had served as an at-large trustee. These types of board members are up for re-election every year, she said.
"A new, data-filled study by the Harvard scholars Theda Skocpol and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez reports that the Kochs have established centralized command of a “nationally-federated, full-service, ideologically focused” machine that “operates on the scale of a national U.S. political party.” The Koch network, they conclude, acts like a “force field,” pulling Republican candidates and office-holders further to the right. Last week, the Times reported that funds from the Koch network are fuelling both ongoing rebellions against government control of Western land and the legal challenge to labor unions that is before the Supreme Court."
For the last several months, social scientists have been debating the striking findings of a study by the economists Susan Case and Angus Deaton. Between 1998 and 2013, Case and Deaton argue, white Americans across multiple age groups experienced large spikes in suicide and fatalities related to alcohol and drug abuse—spikes that were so large that, for whites aged 45 to 54, they overwhelmed the dependable modern trend of steadily improving life expectancy. While critics have challenged the magnitude and timing of the rise in middle-age deaths (particularly for men), they and the study’s authors alike seem to agree on some basic points: Problems of mental health and addiction have taken a terrible toll on whites in America—though seemingly not in other wealthy nations—and the least educated among them have fared the worst.
Meanwhile, other recent research has piled on the bad news for those without college degrees. A Pew study released last month found that the size of the middle class—defined by a consistent income range across generations—has shrunk over the last several decades. In part, this is because high-paying jobs for the less educated are vanishing. The study builds on other recent research that finds that almost all the good jobs created since the recession have gone to college graduates.
As organized labor in this country has withered, an extreme individualism has stepped in as the alternative—a go-it-alone perspective narrowly focused on getting an education and becoming successful on one’s own merit. This works well for some, but for others—especially the two-thirds of Americans over the age of 25 who don’t have a bachelor’s degree—it often means getting mired in an economy of contract work, low pay, and few, if any, benefits. These prospects suggest that this is an age of diminished expectations for the working class.
Yet there is clearly more to the despair of the working class than empty wallets and purses. Patches of the social fabric that once supported them, in good times and bad, have frayed. When asked in national surveys about the people with whom they discussed “important matters” in the past six months, those with just a high-school education or less are likelier to say no one (this percentage has risen over the years for college graduates, too). This trend is troubling, given that social isolation is linked to depression and, in turn, suicide and substance abuse.
The religiously unaffiliated are not necessarily secular in their outlook. Many of them are spiritually inclined but skeptical of organized religion—especially its intrusion into politics. However, in the absence of any other source of social support and collective meaning (say, unions), there’s less in the way of psychological protection from the slings and arrows of American society.
This sort of isolation was common among the people I talked to. Many said their faith was helping them get through their ongoing troubles, yet they rarely or never went to church. Some felt ashamed to be around people because they were out of work. For others, their religious belief was somewhat a source of self-help, rather than a source of community. For example, one of the workers I interviewed said that being out of work for so long had filled him with a constant rage. To calm his mind, every night he would pick up his Bible and read a dozen verses. He had given up on the church and what he described as its superficial ways. “I want to go to hear the Word—I don’t want to go to see what you’re wearing,” says the man, 53 and from Flint, Michigan. The other way he copes is going outside for a smoke.
For this man and many like him, there is no one to talk to, no one to rely on. “Nowadays, you got people you really can’t trust, man,” he says. “You can’t call everybody your friend.” As the ties that bind them to others have unraveled, the working class has become an ever lonelier crowd.
The larger context of this isolation and alienation is America’s culture of individualism. It, too, can worsen the despair. Taken to an extreme, self-reliance becomes a cudgel: Those who falter and fail have only themselves to blame. They should have gotten more education. They should have been more prepared. On this score, too, the U.S. deviates from other wealthy nations. America’s frontier spirit of rugged individualism is strong, and it manifests itself differently by race and education level, too. White Americans, for instance, are more likely to see success as the result of individual effort than African Americans are (though not Hispanics). The less educated, particularly less-educated whites, also share this view to a disproportionate degree.
In Stayin’ Alive, his powerful history of the “last days” of the working class, the historian Jefferson Cowie describes how the proud blue-collar identity of previous generations disintegrated during the ’70s. “Liberty has largely been reduced to an ideology that promises economic and cultural refuge from the long arm of the state,” he writes, “while seemingly lost to history is the logic that culminated under the New Deal: that genuine freedom could only happen within a context of economic security.” As working-class solidarity receded, an identity built on racial tribalism often swept in.
The World Trade Organization recently issued a final ruling saying, unless we ixnay that law, we were going to face billions in trade sanctions. And the history of this is, the U.S. meatpacking industry, plus their Canadian and Mexican counterparts, didn’t want this law. And they tried in federal court. They tried to fight us in Congress. It only took 50 years, we finally won. The law becomes the law of the land. And the polling shows 90 percent of Americans love that law. Well, when they couldn’t win in the democratic process of our courts, of our Congress, these interests went to a trade tribunal. Mexico and Canada challenged the law at the WTO in one of the trade tribunals, saying this violates the U.S. obligations at the WTO. And the tribunal, one tribunal after another after an appellate one, they said yes. The U.S. government even changed the law to address the technical errors that the WTO tribunal pointed out. And again, we lost the appeal. So, basically, Canada and Mexico, at the end, were in a position, because this is how it works, to say to the U.S., "Either kill the law or pay $2 billion in trade sanctions every year"—every year—for the right of knowing where our meat comes from. And the Congress said, "Oh, oh, my god, trade war. Let’s avoid the sanctions." And they gutted the law. So, if you go to the grocery store now, you’re going to notice that’s gone.
That is a real, live example of our day-to-day lives—not about jobs, but our day-to-day food, the environment—being undermined by these agreements. And if TPP is allowed to go through, imagine that on steroids. We have the ability to stop TPP by getting our representatives now, in this election year coming up, when they’re most sensitive, to commit to voting no. But it’s on us, because in our country is where it can be stopped. And we can do this. It’s already—there are a lot of members of Congress who don’t like the agreement. But using this TransCanada case, using the meat example, those are real ways we can help educate our neighbors, our friends, about what the risk is. Everyone knows TPP means more job offshoring and lower wages, but it’s more than that. That’s terrible, and it’s all these other things, too. And if we educate people and aim them at our members of the House of Representatives to get commitments to vote no, we can avoid doubling down on this disaster.
Socialist feminism assumes that redistribution is the best way to begin improving life for the vast majority of women, both materially and socially. To take a none-too-radical example, in countries like Denmark and Sweden—which offer a broad range of social benefits provided through the state rather than acquired in desperation, as they so often are here, through marriage or a job—women can live more comfortably; raise healthier, more secure children; and sleep with whomever they please. Throughout her long career, Clinton has demonstrated contempt for turning this project into policy.
As first lady of Arkansas, she led the efforts by her husband’s administration to weaken teachers’ unions and scapegoat teachers—most of them women, large numbers of them black—for problems in the education system, implementing performance measures and firings that set a punitive tone for education reform nationwide. Rather than trying to walk this back, Clinton recently said that as president, she would close any public school “that wasn’t doing a better than average job.” Fuzzy math aside, this suggests a regime of pressure on America’s mostly female teaching force—81 percent of elementary- and middle-school teachers are women—that would make her predecessors look like presidents of a giant homeschooling hippie collective. Hillary’s socialist-feminist boosters might want to ask themselves: What kind of socialist feminism supports undermining black women on the job while imposing austerity on the public sector? And lest you think Clinton’s financial hawkishness is reserved for K–12, she also opposes free college tuition, though the United States is the only country where students—57 percent of them women—are saddled with decades of debt as the price of attaining higher education. Defending this position, Clinton recently said that it was important for people seeking a college degree to have “skin in this game.”
In a normal election season, all of this would be reason to agitate, but not necessarily to work or vote against the candidate—after all, what’s the alternative? This year, however, there is an inspiring reason to vote against Hillary: an actually existing socialist-feminist candidate in the Democratic primary. I’m talking, of course, about Bernie Sanders. He’s no Marxist revolutionary—if you’re waiting for someone who will expropriate the expropriators, you’ll have to wait a little longer—but he has spent his life fighting, consistently and without apology, for social-democratic policies that would improve the lives of a majority of American women. In contrast to Clinton’s devotion to imposing shame and austerity on poor women and their kids, Sanders helped lead the Senate opposition to Republican efforts to cut the WIC program, which provides nutrition assistance for mothers, babies, and pregnant women—and he has said that, as president, he would expand it. Other prominent planks in his platform that should be of interest to feminists include free college tuition, single-payer healthcare, high-quality childcare for all Americans, and a $15 minimum wage. In contrast to Clinton’s waffling on Planned Parenthood, Sanders has said that he would increase federal funding to the organization; and as part of his single-payer plan, he would expand support for women’s reproductive-health services.