The whitest climate conference ever
Our weekly Discontents 11/8/21
Hello there, Discontents. It’s a particularly important time for the climate right now as international climate talks continue in Glasgow, Scotland. But don’t worry: your designated Climate Person is here to fill you in.
If you’re looking for some audio about it, I had a podcast chat with journalist Molly Jong-Fast on Friday. We talked about how the three top-polluting countries (Brazil, China, and Russia) didn’t send their heads of state; how major Asian and African countries refused to stop financing fossil fuel development abroad; and general frustrations with mainstream media coverage and thinking.
I didn’t mention, however, what I now consider the biggest failure of COP26 so far. If there’s one thing I want you to know about these climate talks, it’s that white people are very overrepresented—and that’s going to make the news coming out of COP26 seem rosier than it is.
Don’t get me wrong: good things are happening at COP26. There have been landmark deals to ditch coal, reduce methane, and slow deforestation. Twenty-one countries agreed to stop financing new fossil fuel projects in other countries. And if all countries’ pledges play out the way they’re supposed to, a new analysis says we’d actually be fairly successful at preventing catastrophic climate outcomes.
But none of this is anywhere near enough for the poorest, most climate-vulnerable nations—those who did nothing to create the climate crisis, but now face literal extermination because of it.
For the millions of people living those nations, COP26 means nothing unless these polluting countries make real commitments—not only to reduce their own emissions, but to take financial responsibility for the catastrophic losses and damages they have already caused others. And at this year’s COP26, polluting companies are resisting taking any responsibility for vulnerable countries’ climate damages.
Meanwhile, the promises they already made to give climate aid have gone unfulfilled. At the same time, they’re making promises for themselves that, according to a new Washington Post investigation, are built on flawed emissions data. This is a nightmare for the people most affected.
If you don’t hear about that, it’s because climate vulnerable nations aren’t well-represented at this year’s COP. For example: only three out of 14 Pacific Island states were able to attend. “Civil society organizations and activists have also been excluded, no longer able to network or apply pressure to leaders,” Impakter reports. Indeed, because of prohibitive travel costs, lack of vaccine access, ever-changing quarantine requirements, and visa problems, COP26 is one of the whitest climate summits in years.
Climate talks are one place where representation really matters. “If you're not represented, your views are not being considered," said Colin Young, director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. If rich nations are not getting directly confronted by the people they’re hurting most, it’s less likely they’ll commit to truly transformative change at COP26—and more likely they’ll feel safe publicly patting themselves on the back.
So what can you do? As I’ve told you, anything. But mostly, keep yourself informed—and resist the desire to believe white people when they tell you they’ve got everything under control. The rest of our Discontents crew should be able to help with that.
Wars of Future Past
Kelsey D. Atherton
In the grand scheme of war robots, dog-shaped military machines are at best a footnote. They’re visually compelling, and in a field of worn science-fiction cliches, BigDog directly inspired the machines of Black Mirror’s “Metalhead” episode, making them one of the few modern techs that has scampered into the public consciousness. In a discourse that has recycled Terminator references until they’ve worn thin, dog robots offer a distinctly 21st century vision of autonomy and hubris.
In this week’s upcoming Wars of Future Past, I go deep on the history of robot dogs. From a proto-robot guard dog in the 1930s to a few decades of robot toys, it’s the arrival of BigDog in 2006 that sets the machines on their more menacing path, and it’s the October 2021 debut of a Ghost Robotics legged machine with back-mounted gun that really creates this modern moment of mechanical mutts. (Astute Discontents readers will remember I first promised this story October 18, but this time I can promise a draft not just conceived but written. It is, I think, worth the wait.)
Welcome to Hell World
Last week I looked back on the anniversary of Eugene Debs receiving nearly one million votes for the presidency in 1920 while in prison for speaking out against World War I and warmaking in general.
“They have always taught you that it is your patriotic duty to go to war and to have yourselves slaughtered at a command. But in all of the history of the world you, the people, never had a voice in declaring war,” he said in the famous 1918 speech he was sent to prison for.
In the same piece I wrote on the absurdly unjust imprisonment of Steven Donziger who reported to prison himself recently after a years long farcical persecution by a conflicted judge and Chevron the energy behemoth who he had the temerity to defeat in court. Read it here.
Later Bill Shaner reported a dispatch from Worcester, MA on the abrupt and cruel disposal of an unhoused encampment by the city, a process which has gotten much less attention than the similar high profile “cleansing” going on in Boston. I’ve been focusing on this type of story a lot lately but for good reason. There’s no better convergence of everything that makes Hell World what it is than the blatant indifference to suffering from our leaders, the use of the carceral system as a catchall solution to any problem, the lack of affordable housing and health services for all of us and especially the most vulnerable, and the ravages of addiction and substance misuse.
I also returned to the issue of woeful lack of access to public bathrooms around the country. Read it here.
A lot of stuff to do with being a human is a huge inconvenience, to me. Not talking about taxes and cleaning your humidifier and stuff—those are things about Living In A Society. I mean things like getting your period, your appendix maybe bursting and killing you, and having teeth. Stupid bone-like things that hurt a lot, fall out, grow in weird directions. Could I not simply be a fish, sucking down the ocean’s contents without worrying about whether I can chew what I’m shlorping down my slimy gullet? Could I please just be a nameless little trout that consumes an entire Yoplait pot thrown out by someone 4,000 miles away and dies, instead of having to get my teeth cleaned every six months even though I clean them twice a damn day already?
Anyway, that’s how I’m feeling after finding out my teeth are so fucked up that I might need to have my jaw broken in bits and stuck back together in a better shape. I talked about that a little bit last week, plus I interviewed Francis, a treatment coordinator at an orthodontic practice in Pennsylvania that mostly serves Medicaid patients. Treatment coordinators are the people who come in after the dentist or orthodontist tells you what you need and tells you how much it’ll cost, and that’s a tough job when you’re primarily serving the poor—even when Medicaid is supposed to cover all or most of what the doctors are recommending.
Sticking with bad Medicaid plans, we also heard from Laura Chapman, a law student with lymphedema, a condition that causes painful swelling of the limbs. She’s grateful to get Medicaid instead of an outrageously unaffordable exchange plan, since that means she can get her Epipens and so forth for her nut allergy, but her plan doesn’t cover the customized garments she needs to control the swelling in her ankle. (If it’s any comfort to her, many private plans don’t cover them either.) There’s been a bill in Congress for the last couple decades that would require Medicare to cover them; you can guess how that’s going.
If you want some three-to-five paragraph reviews of recent books, that’s what I did last week. I followed it up with a longer discussion of a great new book, Suzanne Schneider’s The Apocalypse and The End of History. And if this is your thing, I’m doing a Zoom panel discussion with Suzy and Asad Dandia for the Brooklyn Public Library tonight at 7pm ET. Plus, if you’re in Philadelphia, I’ll be live at the University of Pennsylvania on Thursday at 4pm ET talking about REIGN OF TERROR, which is a book you should purchase.
“What actually is the metaverse, or should I not even bother?”: A question many have asked, but only we were brave enough to answer last week:
Read Max is issuing a "don't worry about it" rating for the metaverse. With some exceptions, most normal readers do not need to know, care, or form opinions about "the metaverse." Be aware that we are still on thinkpiece advisory for "the metaverse," so it is possible you might encounter a newsletter or Medium piece about "the metaverse." In such an event, Read Max recommends readers avoid discourse concerning "the metaverse" and devote the brain power they might have spent thinking about the "the metaverse" to reading a good book, such as François X. Fauvelle's The Golden Rhinoceros, a recently translated history of medieval Africa told through the close examination of historical documents and archeological finds.
“But,” you ask, “what if my boss asks 'what is our metaverse strategy?’” That is also covered in the Read Max Normal People's Guide to the Metaverse.
Elsewhere on Read Max, I wrote about Roman liquified sardines, French castles, and English folk music. (Not all at once.) And, if you missed it last week, we have produced an updated power ranking for geometric solids. This one might surprise you! Unless you're a cylinder fanboy, in which case gtfoh nerd.
Jordan Uhl & Rob Rousseau
For this episode we were joined by fellow Discontent Luke O’Neil, and it was a pretty wild week: we talked about being a part of Good Substack, getting Dunepilled, the deranged liberal freakout to the stupid but harmless “Let’s Go Brandon” meme, Democrats arbitrarily tanking their own agenda yet again, dental horror stories, mean climate protesters daring to disturb Joe Manchin in his yacht and/or Maserati, the triumphant return of the JFK family in Dallas and how it says a lot about society, Salt Bae and a lot more.
By the way if you don’t listen to this one we’re going to start going on a non-stop online crusade about how we’re being targeted by the woke cancel culture mobs, so tread carefully.
All week, Foreign Exchanges has been carrying dispatches from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, courtesy of historian and attendee Michael Franczak of the University of Pennsylvania. His first piece looked at the United States’ checkered history when it comes to international climate talks, while his second dug into developed nations’ repeated failures to live up to their climate promises:
Monitoring a country’s carbon emissions is a monumental task, only recently made (somewhat) possible through satellite imaging. Naturally, countries will try to minimize, legally or illegally, their emissions visibility to meet their NDCs. Monitoring carbon exchange markets is challenging as well, since they are un- or self-regulated, and it’s not unreasonable to suspect shenanigans and short-term dealings there, either. But these are problems with practicable solutions, and I suspect all in the room agreed with [COP25 president Carolina] Schmidt and [COP26 president Alok] Sharma in principle.
The same is true for the “missing” $20 billion in aid, the difference between the $100 billion per year wealthy nations have agreed to provide to fund clean energy transitions in the developing world, and what those nations actually provided in 2020. The US came to Glasgow with a promise to contribute $11 billion per year toward the $100 billion goal, plus a surprise $3 billion adaptation fund announced on Tuesday (more on that in my next piece). But the US Department of Defense’s budget for FY 2021 is $705.4 billion, which puts its refusal to make up the $20 billion shortfall into stark relief. Abdulla Shahid, the Maldivian president of the UN General Assembly, stated: “We have the science, we have the resources, we agree on the urgency. So what’s holding us back? Us.”
But it’s not really “us,” is it? No, it is specific countries (the richest, most powerful, and most wasteful emitting countries) and specific people (the rich and powerful who stand to lose, or not gain as much) who are holding “the rest of us”—and especially the poorest peoples and nations in particular—hostage, by resisting the full enforcement of an agreement (Paris) they claim to support.
Michael’s third and final report dropped earlier today and focuses on the conference’s failure to address the immediate need to support developing nations’ adaptation to the very real and very ongoing effects of climate change. Please check it out.
Three stories in what was a busy week for The Flashpoint.
Bari Weiss and her crew of grifters try to start a fake school.
The “university” doesn’t really appear to be more than another right-wing scam. The physical address is the offices of RashChapman, an oil and gas law firm; the financial backer of the “school,” Cicero Research, is a non-profit with nothing to declare in its filings and is run by entrepreneur and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale; and the accreditation the “university” is seeking is from a regional accreditor that doesn’t operate in Texas, as Jacob Bacharach notes on Twitter.
The Guardian tried to bully me into retracting my article on transphobia in their newsroom, but I am not bound by their UK laws.
The Guardian’s Director of Editorial Legal Services Gill Phillips just contacted me this morning to demand a retraction. That’s not going to happen. I stand by my reporting.
Laws in the UK on defamation and libel are quite strict. It’s very easy to silence critical voices through the country’s legal system. But I’m based in the the US, so these veiled British threats mean nothing.
School materials in San Diego show the CRT panic is overblown—the right still controls the historical narrative we teach kids.
Matt Taibbi called CRT “both more interesting and more frightening, than the narrow race theory that has Republican politicians in maximum wig-out mode.” Writer Andrew Sullivan, whose personal history of bigotry is too long to detail here, jumped on board, warning his audience of CRT’s power to brainwash children.
Let’s see who threatens to sue me this week—sign up here and don’t miss a story.
All Cops Are Posters
No new ACAP last week because I just got back from an Extendo Vacation, but later this week I’m going to be dropping a post inspired by the sights and sounds of sunny Arizona’s roadways—specifically, fascist car decals, dog whistle vanity #s, and state-sponsored Back the Blue license plates (and I’m also looking for reader submissions of all the aforementioned). As of now, I’ve got a few snapshots I took last week of some particularly “expressive” vehicles, including one with the stunning combo of cop solidarity stickers, QAnon swag, and this call to action. Subscribe so you don’t miss it!
Family separation was inarguably the most notable of Trump’s immigration policies. It galvanized the #resistance, unifying normie Democrats who longed for a return to pre-Trump normalcy and longtime advocates who had opposed Obama’s immigration policies. On the campaign trail, Biden highlighted the barbarity of family separation, using it as shorthand for Trump’s general stance towards immigrants. Now that Biden is in office, his administration is responsible for cleaning up the legal and humanitarian mess Trump made—but he’s kind of bungling it.
The fact that families separated by the Trump administration may get monetary settlements of up to $450,000 per family member made headlines last week. Biden was asked about the settlements during a press conference and said it was “not going to happen.” The next day, a White House spokesperson said Biden is “perfectly comfortable” with settling with the families separated under the Trump administration, just maybe not for such a high figure, and that negotiations were still ongoing.
Last week’s edition of the newsletter focused on what’s actually happening with the family separation settlements. We dug into the details of the lawsuits, the work the Biden administration’s reunification task force and steering committee have done thus far, and the implications that settlements could have for not only the separated families, but also for migrants who are harmed by the federal government in other ways.
Busy week for me (Jack Crosbie) as I was editing the blog most of the week, so let me give you my highlights from that stretch.
First, Paul Blest’s wrap up of Biden’s climate commitments at COP 26 painted a pretty grim picture of what the Democratic establishment is willing to do -- continue to incentivize and cajole their way out of the climate mess by trying to play nice with the same industries that got us into it. That hasn’t worked yet, and I doubt it’ll work any time soon.
Next, Caitlin Scneider took a look at the labor conditions -- and underlying sentiment -- in a section of the media industry that gets overlooked constantly. Social media editors, she writes, have long been an over-worked and under-valued workforce, exposed to all of the public-facing risk that a company or publication garners with almost no support.
Finally, I wrote a piece about the Democrats’ electoral losses on Tuesday, and why it looks like they’re stubbornly refusing to learn the lessons that those defeats could teach them. In short -- it means bad, bad news for the upcoming midterms next year.
As always, those blogs and many more are on the site. See you next week!