Extreme global weather is ‘the face of climate change’ says leading scientist

Extreme weather has struck across Europe, from the Arctic Circle to Greece, and across the world, from North America to Japan. “This is the face of climate change,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, and one the world’s most eminent climate scientists. “We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change.”

Climate change has long been predicted to increase extreme weather incidents, and scientists are now confident these predictions are coming true. Mann said, “As a scientist [seeing our predictions come true] is reassuring, but as a citizen of planet Earth, it is very distressing to see that as it means we have not taken the necessary action.”

Prof Mann said that asking if climate change “causes” specific events is the wrong question: “The relevant question is: ‘Is climate change impacting these events and making them more extreme?’, and we can say with great confidence that it is.”

Mann points out that the link between smoking tobacco and lung cancer is a statistical one, which does not prove every cancer was caused by smoking, but epidemiologists know that smoking greatly increases the risk. “For all practical purposes, there is a causal connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, and it is the same with climate change,” Mann said.

Other senior scientists agree the link is clear. Serious climate change is “unfolding before our eyes”, said Prof Rowan Sutton, at the University of Reading. “No one should be in the slightest surprised that we are seeing very serious heatwaves and associated impacts in many parts of the world.”

[The Guardian]

Biggest regret is failures of kindness

One useful thing you can do with an old person is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc.?

There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really.  Read full commencement speech

Greek government facing criticism over handling of wildfires

This weekend, Greece will begin burying the victims of a devastating wildfire near Athens which killed at least 88 people, and has prompted criticism of the government’s handling of the disaster.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday took political responsibility for the tragedy as opposition leaders said the government had failed to adequately safeguard lives. Tsipras’ government has been criticized for failing to have an adequate evacuation plan in place for such a disaster. The government has announced a long list of relief measures and promised to tackle decades-old problems, including haphazard and unlicensed residential building, to minimize the risk of a repeat disaster and to cool public anger.

A deputy mayor in Marathon, which administers some of the affected area, on Saturday became the first official to resign over the wildfire.

Heavy downpours hit the region on Saturday, prompting fears that the work of rescue crews and efforts by locals to salvage what they can from the fire could be made more difficult.

[Reuters]

Why there isn’t enough money to address poverty

To provide basic education for every student in the world would require 6 Billion dollars

To provide water and sanitation for everyone in the world would require 9 Billion dollars

To provide reproductive health for all women worldwide would require 12 Billion dollars

To provide basic health and nutrition for the world would require          13 Billion dollars

Read more on the subject

Worsening crisis in Gaza following new Israeli import and export restrictions

On 16 July, Israeli authorities announced that they would restrict the entry into the Gaza Strip of fuel and cooking gas through Kerem Shalom crossing, the only operational commercial crossing between Gaza and the outside world. The restrictions follow the imposition of a new set of severe restrictions by the Israeli authorities on 9 July, wherein only food, medical supplies, animal fodder, livestock and fuels would be allowed into Gaza. The entry of all other items, including building materials, furniture, wood, electronics and fabric, was halted, as was the exit of all goods.

Also on 16 July, the Government of Israel announced a reduction in the permissible fishing zone from six to three nautical miles, preventing fishermen from accessing 85 per cent of the fishing areas agreed for Gaza under the Oslo Agreements, with direct impact on some 50,000 Palestinians who rely on fishing for their livelihood. This followed the 9 July termination of a previous extension of the fishing area along the southern coast of Gaza, from six to nine nautical miles.

Today, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Mr. Jamie McGoldrick, visited the Gaza Strip and called for urgent measures to prevent further deterioration in the humanitarian situation there, following intensified movement restrictions.

“I am deeply concerned about the imposition of further restrictions at Kerem Shalom, which is the lifeline for Gaza’s population. Should they continue, these additional restrictions risk triggering a dramatic deterioration in an already fragile situation and desperate humanitarian conditions, particularly for the health sector,” McGoldrick said.

Of particular concern is the impact that shortfalls in fuel will have on the provision of critical health, water and sanitation services in Gaza, especially with electricity cuts up to 20 hours per day. These developments come against the backdrop of a worrying escalation in hostilities in recent days; some 15,000 Palestinian injuries since 30 March in the context of demonstrations; launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza towards Israel; a health system on the verge of collapse; and an 11-year humanitarian crisis created by an Israeli blockade that has raised concerns over collective punishment and an internal Palestinian political divide. Simultaneously, historically low levels of funding, along with the unprecedented financial crisis facing UNRWA, leave humanitarian partners ill positioned to meet increasing needs or responding to any further deterioration.

[UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]

It doesn’t get worse than Afghanistan

The United States originally sent troops to Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, in order to capture Osama bin Laden and topple the Taliban government, which had refused to give bin Laden up. But bin Laden is now dead–that’s D-E-A-D, dead–as are most of his close associates. So, the original rationale that took the United States into the heart of Central Asia is now irrelevant.

Unfortunately, the United States and its allies also decided the time was ripe to turn Afghanistan into some sort of Western-style liberal democracy, despite its lack of democratic traditions, deep internal divisions, high levels of illiteracy, poverty, interfering neighbors, and other significant obstacles. And Washington has been pursuing that elusive grail ever since, with about as much success as you’d expect.

At last count, that war has cost the United States more than a trillion dollars, and it is still costing American taxpayers some $45 billion per year. More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers have been killed and thousands more wounded, along with hundreds of contractors and coalition partners and thousands of Afghan civilians, soldiers, and police.

Today, the Taliban control more territory than at any time since they were ousted from power. Opium production is at an all-time high as well, despite the billions of dollars the United States has spent on various eradication plans. The Afghan government remains irredeemably corrupt, internally divided, and ineffective. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction have documented the remarkably low payoff received for all the US investment. Numerous aid projects ended up over budget or unfinished, with vast sums disappearing into the black hole of Afghan corruption.

Wars like this continue in part because 1) no one wants to fess up and admit the United States is not omnipotent, 2) they are being fought by volunteers rather than draftees, 3) U.S. casualty rates are now quite low, and 4) because it is easy to get distracted by Trump’s latest outrage and forget about a distant war that is rarely mentioned on radio or TV and is mostly confined to the back pages of the newspaper. And so, the war drones on, no pun intended, with little hope of either victory or withdrawal.

 [Foreign Policy]

Open and shut case on Climate Change

The facts are pretty clear: our world is changing.

A few years ago, we worked with Bloomberg News to explain why we’re so sure humans are causing global warming. Using a sophisticated computer model of the Earth system, we calculated the effect of each individual factor in isolation. The graphic they made is wonderful, and whenever it starts trending on Twitter again it’s a good sign some prominent politician has said something silly about climate change. It’s the clearest explanation I’ve ever seen of who’s responsible for rising temperatures.

The data we used for this project extended only to 2005. But warming has continued through the 21st century. 2015 was the hottest year on record… until 2016. Last year was the hottest year ever measured to not have an added boost from a natural El Niño event. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, and they continue to be the prime suspect behind global warming.

We’ve seen human fingerprints all over the planet. The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, the atmosphere contains more water vapor, and heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense. The science of climate change detection and attribution—climate detective work—has advanced to the point that we can now confidently blame human activities for some individual extreme events.

It’s always possible scientists have made a serious mistake here. But if you don’t believe people have affected the climate, you need a coherent alternate explanation for the changes we’ve seen.

[Scientific American]

Logos on aid supplies: Helpful or demeaning?

When a humanitarian group hands out bags of food or sets up toilets for people who are poor or recovering from a crisis, the group puts its logo on the product. It’s a way of taking credit, which makes donors happy. It’s a way of letting the recipients know where to complain if there’s a problem. And if you’re sitting at home and catch the logo on a TV report, you might be inspired to contribute to that particular charity.

But now, some people are questioning the branding of aid goods. The first concern: How do the logos make aid recipients feel?

Ian Birrell, an international reporter and a contributing editor to Great Britain’s The Mail on Sunday, tweeted an image of a corrugated latrine door from a trip to the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda in May. Birrell wrote, “So demeaning for those who fled chaos and carnage to be endlessly reminded of their supplicant status.”

Sudhanshu S. Singh, CEO of an India-based emergency relief group called Humanitarian Aid International, agrees.Singh recalls a time when a major relief group provided plastic water buckets for aid recipients — with its logo emblazoned on each pail in huge letters. “I think it’s unfair as each time people take out the bucket to fetch water, others would immediately notice that it is part of the dole,” he says.

Many recipients don’t mind the logos. Cedric Habiyaremye, a Rwandan Ph.D. student at Washington State University, remembers when he was living in a refugee camp in Tanzania as an 8-year-old. Each day, he would see trucks labeled “WFP” — short for World Food Programme, the U.N. food agency — come into the camp.” We were full of joy, because we knew we were going to eat at that time,” he says. “It was a very reassuring time of day. … I feel that I am glad I got to know who served me at the refugee camp.”

Habiyaremye got a chance to visit World Food Programme in Washington, D.C., after he won a global agriculture award. He was so excited to meet some of the staff. “I’d been waiting for this moment for my entire life,” he says he told them. “I just wanted to tell them thank you.”

[NPR]                                                                                                        Read more

Logos on aid supplies: Helpful or dangerous?

Research has shown that there’s a relationship between the visability of a humanitarian aid brand — its public recognitionand donations, says Dmitry Chernobrov, a lecturer in journalism and politics at the University of Sheffield.

Such logos also help ensure that charities and donors get credit for their good deeds. According to USAID’s branding guide, their red, white and blue logo “was developed to ensure that the American people are visibly acknowledged for their contributions.”

Logos have become such a powerful tool that there have been incidents of ISIS stealing U.N. food aid, slapping their own logo on the boxes and redistributing it back to people.

Governments — especially those recovering from a humanitarian crisis — are anxious to get credit, too, says W. Gyude Moore, the former Liberian minister of public works. Except there’s one problem: They don’t often control the purse strings.

It’s the topic of a new paper he’s written for the think tank Center for Global Development, where he is now a visiting fellow. He argues that in fragile states, it’s in the best interests of aid groups and development agencies to let the home country get credit for big-ticket aid interventions and rebuilding efforts — even if their role was to negotiate the deal. After crises, governments and its citizens have a fractured relationship, says Moore. Citizens want to trust that their governments can handle a big shock. And governments want to ensure that they have the trust of the people.

“Public goods like roads, hospitals and schools are the most significant ways the state can make its benevolent presence felt,” he writes. Otherwise, it may lead to “nationwide consequences, ranging from protests to separatism.”

Meanwhile, concerns about safety have made some aid groups rethink the use of logos. In a conflict zone, when logos are emblazoned on products as well as T-shirts worn by staff, that could put staff at risk. Aid workers are increasingly under attack, especially in conflict zones like Syria and Yemen.

“[We used to think that] if we stick [a logo on], everyone will know we’re here to do good,” says Paul O’Brien, vice president of policy and advocacy at Oxfam America. “But there’s less and less of that notion that the branding will keep you safe. We need to get out of the branding game.”

 [NPR]

Supreme Court upholds Trump travel ban

The US Supreme Court upheld President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which restricts entry to the US from seven countries to varying degrees: Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela.

  • The ruling: It was 5-4 along partisan lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the conservative majority. “The Proclamation is squarely within the scope of Presidential authority,” Roberts wrote.
  • The dissenting opinion: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a blistering dissent, said the court was wrong to ignore Trump’s various comment on the ban. She also compared the court’s opinion to one that came down in 1944 in which the court blessed the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
  • An unusual step: Chief Justice John Roberts declare that the 1944 case, Korematsu v. United States, was no longer good law and was wrongly decided. It is the first time the Supreme Court has ever made this public determination.
  • The reaction: The American Civil Liberties Union and Democratic lawmakers strongly denounced the court’s ruling.
  • What Trump said: He called the ruling “a tremendous victory for the American People and the Constitution” and said he felt vindicated.

[CNN]