Fires, floods, and fossil fuels

Our weekly Discontents, 8/30/2021

Main image: A fire chief walks through Hurricane Ida rains in Louisiana on August 29, 2021. Bottom image: A screenshot from Politico’s energy newsletter. Credit: Getty Images/Politico.

Last night, at around midnight, I made a terrible personal decision. I decided to type the word “LaPlace” in Twitter’s search bar and hit enter.

What returned on my screen was a stream of desperation from residents of the Louisiana town and their loved ones. As storm surge from fossil-fueled Hurricane Ida quickly filled people’s homes, trapped victims shouted into the virtual heavens for help that would likely not come for hours.

Sitting in the comfort of my D.C. living room, I scrolled through these calls for about an hour. I retweeted whatever I could find, but fuck. I’ve been a climate reporter for nearly 8 years now; I know what happens on nights like these. I wish I could say everyone I retweeted were alive. But it’s now been more than twelve hours since I hit enter, and crews are still attempting to rescue families in LaPlace.

This is not a boo-hoo story about me. It’s a story of how it feels when you don’t look away. Today, millions of Americans are still deluding themselves into pretending they are not living through a climate catastrophe. They are pretending this is happening in some faraway place. That what’s happening in Louisiana, Mississippi, and California will never happen to them.

But it is happening, and it will come for you, and it’s all because of fossil fuels. If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that. When any reporter or politician or scientist tells you that a disaster was made worse by climate change, what they’re actually saying is that the disaster was made worse by fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change—they’re responsible for 86 percent of carbon emission growth over the last 10 years, according to the IPCC. This is not my opinion. This is science. I’m tired of people acting like it’s not.

Until powerful people and institutions start making this basic connection between climate change and fossil fuels, we’ll keep wasting time on solutions that don’t work, and disasters like Hurricane Ida will continue to get worse. That’s why, this week, I wrote about a powerful institution that purports to care about the climate crisis, but still aids in the selling of fossil fuels to the American public: the paper of record, the New York Times.

The truth is, most mainstream media outlets that cover the climate crisis are still creating and profiting from fossil fuel propaganda. At my newsletter, HEATED, we document that propaganda over at the Fossil Fuel Ad Anthology page on Instagram.

The reason we do this is because climate change is not just caused by the biggest emitters. It’s caused by powerful people and institutions who would rather promote those emitters for profit than take a stand on behalf of people like the residents of LaPlace, Louisiana.

This short-sighted and irresponsible thinking from people who purport to be on the right side of history pisses me off more than any climate denier ever has. If it pisses you off too, then I’ve come to the right place. (This is my first time authoring the Discontents newsletter. Hi! I’m pretty fun, right??)

But I understand this stuff is a lot, and you probably need a little break now. Just one more thing before I hand things off: Don’t forget that paid subscribers to any of our newsletters get access to the Discontents collective Discord. Ask one of us about how to get involved. And if you’re not already subscribed to Discontents, why not sign up today?

Now here’s what the gang has been working on this week.

Welcome to Hell World

Luke O’Neil

Last week I took a look at the disgusting warmongering that passes for neutrality in the mainstream press and handed out the coveted Hell World This Fucking Guy of the week award to CNN’s Jim Sciutto. In that same one readers responded to this recent piece about removing the profit motive from funerals with stories of outrageous costs they had to spend on their own loved ones and we also followed up on the lack of sick leave for most American workers. “When my uncle died and I had to serve as his pallbearer then skip the actual burial and rush back to work,” one reader told me, his boss said “your dad died last year, you can’t keep doing this.” Read it here.

After that I wrote about the Fuck Them Kids style of leadership going on in schools in GA and TN and WI in particular, where the school board in Waukesha is worried children will become “spoiled by” and “addicted to” free lunch programs. We also heard from Casey Taylor of CivicScience on his Do We Live In Hell? polling numbers.

“To be frank just so nobody thinks me (or my company) are kooks, I don't actually think that all of these people believe we're in Hell. The allegory I used in the work I did on it that I keep coming back to in general in analysis of American culture and why everything feels so shitty is the Sisyphean version of Hell. Endless false progress. Always ending up back in the same dogshit spot no matter what you do. That’s Hell, and that’s what the poor experience in America every day. The research bears all that out. So now we're up 10 points. Can't be good!”

Read it here.

The Insurgents

Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau

After going over the story of Infowars host (and official Rob Enemy) Owen Shroyer’s unfortunate run in with the law and Fortnite’s somewhat ill-advised MLK crossover, we welcome back friend of the show Arash Azizzada of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow. We spoke about the tumultuous events in Afghanistan over the last few weeks, the deranged, one-sided media reaction to the withdrawal, the Western warhawks using the chaos to call for for an endless occupation, and how we can actually help Afghans right now.

We also unanimously agree that conservative commentator Todd Starnes should be catapulted into the Hindu Kush to resolve the crisis himself.

Foreign Exchanges

Derek Davison

I published new Foreign Exchanges contributor Alex Aviña’s first piece last week, on the US-Mexico border’s role in the formation of American imperialism. Check it out:

At the core of US empire—in practice and imagination—are the enduring legacies of settler colonialism. From the firstAuthorization for the Use of Military Force during the Northwest Indian War of 1790-95 to the legal justifications for the military prosecution of alleged transnational terrorists that cite nineteenth century “Indian Wars” as “closely analogous” to the 9/11 attacks, these settler wars have provided both the form and content of US empire. They are the original “War on Terror,” with a civilization-versus-barbarism frontier framing that legitimates horrific indiscriminate violence in “lawless,” “stateless” regions populated by rebellious racialized Others. It’s not an accident that unrepentant imperialists like Max Boot still talk about the US occupation of Afghanistan as yet another chapter of the “Indian Wars” in which soldiers police “the frontiers of Pax Americana.” Or that in the 2011 military operation that killed him, Osama bin Laden was codenamed “Geronimo”—the Apache resistance leader who refused to respect the international boundary created after the 1846-48 US-Mexico War.

Simply put, the US learned how to be an empire in the nineteenth century by waging genocidal war on indigenous polities and invading and occupying Latin American nations. In this history, the US-Mexico border represents a generative site where both settler colonialism and imperialist aggression converged as mutually constituting projects. As the result of the first instance of violent US expansion into Latin America—the US-Mexico War of 1846-1848—the “line in the sand'' that eventually became what we recognize as the US-Mexico border required decades of violent, bi-national settler colonial warfare to conquer the powerful indigenous polities (particularly the Apaches and Comanches) that controlled the borderlands for much of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the American surveyors sent to map the border in the early 1850s were constantly forced to seek protection and safe passage from different indigenous groups. To transform the “line in the sand” from aspirational state claim to (unstable) material reality on the ground required war. And in this war, capital, railroads, and barbed wire proved just as decisive as US and Mexican military/paramilitary units.

The Flashpoint

Eoin Higgins

Last week at The Flashpoint, another team-up with the Daily Poster as I looked at predatory real estate speculators and the housing crunch in South Central.

Resident displacement from gentrification in Los Angeles in particular has come with a host of other factors including air quality, access to transit, and challenges from climate change. And with rent projected to rise another 2 percent this year in the area, the crunch is on.

Ads and flyers are everywhere in the neighborhood, and have been for quite some time, Martha Sanchez, secretary of the South Central Neighborhood Council, told me.

“For the last five years, I’ve seen a lot of companies posting on every single [telephone] poll in our community: ‘we can give you cash for your home regardless of conditions,’” Sanchez said. “Those sharks are buying every single piece of property in our community.” 

This week, school reopenings and Covid. 

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Wars of Future Past

Kelsey D. Atherton

When the military wants to tell a story, it brings along photographers. These works are public domain, almost always, which makes it easy for the military-produced photos to suddenly proliferate in news, especially since the government stood up a free and searchable hub for video and image distribution in 2004.

In my upcoming Wars of Future Past, out later this week, I do a deep dive into the “Defense Visual Information Distribution Service,” prompted in part by the military’s abrupt August turn into publicizing images from Afghanistan. This is a pivot driven by news, but it’s also one driven by the desire to shape how the rest of the world understands the US military in the midst of news. This was sparked by the realization that photos produced roughly track to public awareness of US wars, and it explains in part why the military shared three times as many photos from Afghanistan in the past few weeks as in the entire year prior.


During Trump’s time in office, immigration advocates figured out that the best place to fight his policies was the courts. Federal lawsuits prevented some of the most egregious—or poorly planned out—Trump policies from going into effect, like the attempt to end DACA. But during Trump’s four years in office, he appointed more federal judges than any of his predecessors. Now that Biden is president, conservatives have discovered that the best way to prevent the Biden administration from reversing Trump’s restrictive policies—or implementing new ones—is in the federal courts. 

Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Texas ordered the Biden administration to resume the Migrant Protection Protocols, a policy requiring some asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases were decided in U.S. immigration courts. The administration asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay, which would have meant it doesn’t need to resume MPP—but the court denied to grant the stay, meaning the administration now has to take the steps to restart the program. In last week’s edition of BORDER/LINES, we looked at what paths the Biden administration has going forward, and analyzed the degree to which Mexico has been forced to help implement the U.S.’s restrictive immigration policies.

Thanks for staying up to date, y’all. See you next Monday.