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When Mother Jones posts stories from the magazine to the Top Stories box, they like to have a post on the blogs drawing attention to the piece. This was my write-up of a long-but-interesting story I fact-checked for the November/December issue. Although the process was excruciating, the people it features and the author who wrote it were all pleasures to work with. Someday I’d like to venture up to Eagle–especially since I’ve already met most of the town members by phone! (I’m only slightly exaggerating.)

After the major emitting countries agreed to the hastily made Copenhagen Accord late Friday night, President Barack Obama rushed onto Air Force One and jetted back across the Atlantic. He was presumably eager to get to Washington, DC before the big winter storm that was due to arrive on Saturday. The president made it back just in time. But perhaps the US would have been better served had he hung around Copenhagen a bit longer.

As the UN climate conference wound down overseas, two corners of this country were buried by unusually heavy snowfalls. In addition to the foot and a half of snow that closed public schools, federal buildings, and many offices in the Capital (the DC bureau of Mother Jones excluded), Valdez, Alaska, experienced record snowstorms that dumped over 76.5 inches. The town located six hours from Anchorage along the state’s rugged southern coast managed the blizzard better than DC—amazingly, its 33-year streak without snow-day school cancellations lives on. But as the latest story from Mother Jones contributor Ted Genoways makes clear, the danger in Valdez isn’t passed until after the snow has melted.

Last May, a record-breaking heatwave caused the meltwater-swollen Yukon River to spill its banks. The resulting flood nearly wiped Eagle, Alaska, the oldest town in the interior of the state, off the map. Over the years, Eagle has captured the imaginations of explorers, writers, and romantics—among them, Jack London, John McPhee, and Genoways. In the “Last Breakup,” Genoways travels back to the historic town to tell the story of one heroic couple’s struggle for survival and to render a dramatic illustration of the danger climate change poses to even the most hearty and isolated Americans.

Skeptics are always keen to note that no single weather event can ever be directly linked to climate change. But the compelling body of anecdotal evidence from places like Eagle and Valdez only serves to bolster the rock-solid scientific and economic cases for taking immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If the Copenhagen Accord proves a misstep on the path to preventing catastrophic climate change, citizens of Alaska and elsewhere should brace themselves for more extreme weather.

Click here to see the original MoJo post or to make a comment.

Photo credit: l~~~{G}~~~l (via Flickr)

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In his post, reflecting on the fleeting chance of a global climate agreement, Nick writes, “there simply isn’t much precedent in human history for comprehensive global agreement on tough issues.” I disagree. As the Montreal Protocol to prevent the depletion of the ozone layer and the tattered Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have (thus far) proven, when the world has a profitable solution or nuclear-armed gun to its head, it can agree to do the right thing.

The effort to close the polar ozone holes is an imperfect but instructive global success story. The ozone hole was caused by one type of industrial chemical (chlorofluorocarbons) with limited commercial applications. A profitable replacement chemical made the shift to a planet with fewer CFCs comparatively easy. Climate change is vastly more complicated but there are still ample opportunities for profit from the reworking of the world economy, which is required to prevent widespread catastrophe.

The world succeed in avoiding a nuclear holocaust largely because of a military doctrine known as “mutually assured destruction” (the acronym of which was, appropriately enough, “MAD”). One problem with global warming is that while climate chaos is assured, it will be unevenly distributed across the globe. As African negotiators in Copenhagen have pointed out to little avail, countries in the global south will bear the brunt of the effects of global climate change—despite little historic responsibility for the greenhouse gas emissions that are slowly baking the globe. The disproportionately assured destruction climate change will produce weakens the negotiating positions of these already disadvantaged nations. Case in point: developed nations secretly negotiated for a politically acceptable agreement to only raise global temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius—a scenario that would turn southern Africa into a massive desert.

Indeed, avoiding nuclear war is easier than halting climate change…

Click here to read the rest of the MoJo blog post and to make a comment.

Photo credit: Steve Punter (via Flickr)

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tommy gThis is a fun little post about a movie I have yet to see.  I hope to change that soon.

 

Over Independence Day weekend Michael Mann, acclaimed director of such films as “Heat”, “The Insider” and “Collateral”, released another beautiful crime drama about an infamous Midwestern bank robber, John Dillinger. Over the course of a 14-month crime spree during the Great Depression, Dillinger came to be viewed by much of the press and public as a modern-day Robin Hood. “Public Enemies“, based on the book of the same name by Bryan Burrough, a Vanity Fair correspondent, is the seventh film to be made about the short-lived bandit turned folk hero. By many accounts, it is also the most elegant. Aided by Johnny Depp’s star power, the film has raked in over $66.5m thus far at the domestic box office.

While the film is not a diatribe against the banking excesses that lead to both the Great Depression and what is now being referred to (perhaps optimistically) as our “Great Recession”, banks and their guardians have not taken its release lightly.

Click here to read the rest of the blog post and make a comment.

 

Photo credit: Aaron Landry (via Flickr)

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UPDATE: This has been my most recommended (68) and commented on (29) article to date.  Granted, some of the responses were from delusional climate change skeptics, but at least it’s nice to know people are reading!

fire border

Climate change could ignite wars in volatile regions

THE Matterhorn, an iconic emblem of the Alps, has two peaks: one on its Swiss side and one on its Italian side. Between them, the boundary separating the two countries traces the mountain ridge until it reaches the glacier at its base. According to a convention agreed long ago between Switzerland and Italy, the ridge of the glacier marks the border between the two countries. But the glacier is now receding, so a draft agreement has been proposed to create a new border that coincides with the ridge of the underlying rock.

The proposed change to this particular international border is unlikely to result in war. As the world warms up, however, more and more countries will need to renegotiate their boundaries. Your correspondent is concerned that a peaceful outcome is by no means assured.

Indeed, two recent reports from the Centre for Naval Analysis, an American military-research institute, suggest that border-related conflicts are a growing threat. In its report on “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”, published in 2007, it warns that “Climate change can act as a threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.”

(more…)

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Although I left The Nation, I have continued my role as the Noted page’s unofficial international monitor of minor elections, this time reporting the results from Greenland. On a loosely related note, the new Greenlandic PM Kuupik Kleist is on Facebook.  My editor friended him.

flag 2On June 2 the incongruous forces of global warming and indigenous self-determination combined to bring the leftist Inuit Ataqatigiit Party (IA) to power in Greenland, forcing a social democratic/conservative coalition out of office on the eve of the nation’s transition to self-rule. Greenland, a semi-autonomous Arctic province of Denmark with a population of about 57,600, has been disproportionately affected by global warming, which has made large swaths of its permafrost-covered landmass increasingly accessible to oil and mineral exploration for the first time.

Emboldened by the prospect of resource-driven self-sufficiency, more than 75 percent of Greenland voters opted in November for increased devolution from Denmark, which has controlled the country since the early eighteenth century. Self-rule measures, including greater control over natural resources and a switch from Danish to Greenlandic as the national language, are due to come into effect on June 21 and will likely pave the way for a vote on full independence in the near future. In advance of Greenland’s empowerment, former Prime Minister Hans Enoksen of the social democratic Siumut Party, which had run the island since it was granted limited autonomy in 1979, called an early election because, “it seems fitting to ask the people who should lead them into that new epoch.”

Greenlanders chose to award a plurality–fourteen of thirty-one seats in the Parliament–to the pro-independence IA Party. Speaking in the capital, Nuuk, where close to a quarter of the island’s population lives, IA leader Kuupik Kleist told jubilant supporters, “Greenland deserves this.”

Click here to see the full contents of the issue in which this piece was published. (The Noted section is available to subscribers only.)

Picture credit: leszekwasilewski(via Flickr)

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I was tremendously lucky to get this interview and, as you’ll see below, it went very well.  Mr. Lapham’s wonderful assistant Ann Gollin allotted a half-hour of his time but he let the conversation go on for nearly two hours, putting off a call to Dave Eggers in the process.  I had a tremendous amount of material to work with (nearly 6,500 words) and had to edit it down to some 1,400 words for the MIL blog post.  There was a lot of great stuff that I had to leave out, but I was pretty happy with the result.

UPDATE:  The interview was picked up by Bookforum in their “Omnivore” section. 

 

lhl cropFew people in America today have as much experience in media as Lewis Lapham. From his start as a self-described “copy boy” at the San Francisco Chronicleon a summer break from Yale University, Lapham worked his way to the editor’s easy chair at Harper’s Magazine, a seat he held for nearly three decades. Since becoming editor emeritus in 2006 Lapham has, through his “The World in Time” radio show and  Lapham’s Quarterly magazine, revisited his passion for history, which had originally led him to undertake a doctorate in the subject at the University of Cambridge.

At a lecture on June 2nd at the National Arts Clubin New York, Lapham fused his background in publishing and knowledge of history to deliver a compelling look “at the ever-changing role of the media”. Here he elaborates on the future of news, partisanship in the press and the art of blogging.

More Intelligent Life:  Speaking to the
San Francisco Chronicle in 2002, you said “The media is hand in hand with the government.” That paper currently stands on the verge of bankruptcy.  Would you like to see the government formalise its embrace of the media and offer subsidies to newspapers?

Lewis H. Lapham:  No. We’ve never in this country had a really oppositional press.  We did have at the turn of the 19th century when you had a very strong political division. There the newspapers were operated by political factions—there was the Whig paper, there was the Federalist paper, there was the Republican paper and they were strong in their opinions and very raucous in the insults that they would heap on the opposition. There were still those kinds of papers to some extent after the Civil War, but by the time we get up to the 20th century the big papers tend to be on the side of the status quo—whatever the status quo is—because they’re dependent on advertising. The newspaper comes up in the morning and all the advertising space is already blocked out and you fit the news columns around the advertisements.

MIL:  Do you think the foundation model employed by Harper’s Magazine, Mother Jones and a handful of other niche magazines can work on a larger scale? Can it be expanded into the ailing newspaper industry?

LHL:  I don’t think it can. The political implication is that it will be hard to maintain the notion of a classical democracy. I don’t know where we’ll get our common ground. There are people that only listen to  Rush Limbaugh, there are people that read the Nation. I had a history teacher once at Yale who told me that the important thing about history is not what happened but what people believe happened. 266325431_cf87935801 I talked to Arthur Schlesinger about that once and said that if you try to write history based on what was being reported in the papers at the time, you would be seriously misled. As a newspaper reporter at the [New York] Herald Tribune, I would go to a press conference, the mayor would give a statement and we all knew that the mayor was lying. If he was good at his job he would manage to deflect any questions. You were forced to write what the mayor said yesterday. That was the story. Whether or not what the mayor said was true… wasn’t your problem. [laughter]

MIL:  I think back to that famous Thomas Jefferson quote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” As someone who’s worked in a newsroom, do you see the implosion of the newspaper industry as a problem?

Click here to read the rest of the interview or make a comment.

 

Picture credits: canada.2020, melisdramatic(via Flickr)

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