We Need Political Strategists Leading on Climate Change - Not Scientists

Pushing this beyond debate on the merits of the science and into real action on how we save ourselves

an #ecoWURD feature | G.S. Potter

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In a March 2019 Philadelphia Inquirer piece unpacking the dangerous health effects of climate change, Rutgers University professor Janet Golden and Drexel’s Michael Yudell posed a pivotal question:How do you make people pay attention and demand action?

When considering the limited response, so far, the question is a good one. But, if Golden and Yudell can’t understand why no effective action has been taken to stop climate change, they don’t have to look much further than their profession, academia, and their colleagues within it.

“As we know from the past, it takes an all-out effort with input from popular culture and news footage as well as expert assessments like those found in the report. During the Cold War, as the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists brought us the doomsday clock, with the minute hand just seconds away from midnight,” Golden and Yudell write. “Hollywood did its part too, with horror films about atomic radiation, such as The Incredible Shrinking Man, and calls to prevent a nuclear Armageddon such as The Day the Earth Stood Still. The brilliant film, Dr. Strangelove or; How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Bomb made us laugh and yet confront the brutal truth about possible nuclear annihilation.”

For a second, let’s just pretend that pop-scientist Bill Nye and pop-star Cardi B agreed to produce a track about climate change, a spectacular beat-laden warning about how it’s killing all of us. While doing that, Bill and Cardi aren’t going to stop and say “OK, but first, we need to go find us a historian and a public health guy so the video goes viral.”  

What they would want to do is, at the very least, talk to experts in marketing, communications, social media, or other related fields. And they’d prefer talking to folks in the know about music, science and spaces where they intersect. They’d also be smart enough to stay away from someone referencing black and white movies that most folks never even heard of in the first place.

The same thing goes for political strategy. And we’ll need a winning one to reverse the apocalyptic mess unfolding right before our eyes.  

People know that climate change is a problem. Recent polls show that. More than 80 percent of parents, 4 out of 5, want schools to teach their kids about it. A Harvard Public Opinion Project poll shows that a focus on environmental issues, especially climate crisis, will turn out more young voters.  A recent study published by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reported that 70% of Americans believe that climate change is real. Another  50% of Americans believe that they will personally be harmed by climate change.  

More importantly, the world’s most powerful organizations know that climate change is real, it is caused by humans, and it is having catastrophic effects on the health of humans across the globe. Even the U.S. military, as conservative an institution as that is, has adapted its overall global response strategies to the reality of climate change.

The most devastating aspect of climate change, in fact, is the impact it’s having on human health.

The World Bank, for example, acknowledges that “climate change can result in complete crop failure” and as a result “undernutrition has been identified as the largest health impact of climate change in the 21st century.” They report an estimated 7.5 million children are expected to experience nutritionally stunted growth by 2030.  Four million of these children will experience “severe stunting.” Weather related disasters have resulted in over 60,000 deaths per year.  Climate change also has a severe impact on mental health. Air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, and increases in the rates of suicide – especially among farmers – are being traced back to the consequences of climate change. According to the Centers for Disease Control, farmer suicide rates are double that of veterans, and a Berkley researcher has made a link between the deaths of 59,000 Indian farmers over 30 years and the rapid escalation of climate change.

The World Health Organization has also produced research highlighting the global health crisis being driven by climate change. “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress. Extreme high air temperatures contribute directly to deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, particularly among elderly people. In the heat wave of summer 2003 in Europe for example, more than 70 000 excess deaths were recorded. Increasingly variable rainfall patterns are likely to affect the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increase the risk of diarrhoeal disease, which kills over 500 000 children aged under 5 years, every year. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine.”

And there’s more. In addition to these global threats, wildfires, hurricanes, cold snaps, heat waves, and more can all cause illness and injury like what we’ve seen from the damage done by weather related events such as Hurricane Maria in 2018, Hurricane Dorian in 2019 and the recent polar vortex.  

If that wasn’t enough, in 2016 unexpectedly high temperatures thawed out the permafrost in Russia causing an outbreak of Anthrax in a remote village in Siberia.  As the ice thawed, so did the carcasses of reindeer that were scattered across the region. The anthrax that had killed the animals remained frozen in their bodies until they were released by increased temperatures caused by climate change – 75 years later. There are a number of species threatening viruses and diseases being carried in an untold number of frozen carcasses worldwide. As the temperature of the earth rises and their bodies begin to thaw, it is feared that diseases known and unknown my enter the groundwater and find their way back into the human population.  

So, for three years now, it has been common knowledge that climate change may literally cause the zombie apocalypse. Yet, nothing has changed.  And that is largely because the people that are in control of the political efforts to change it believe that all it takes is a few researchers and a couple of movies to create global reform.  

Just Netflix and chill folks, because we are just an Avatar and a Fern Gully away from Global Green Success. If only we could just find one more professor to team up with one more team of movie studio producers!  

Sounds ridiculous, right? Because it is.

The first problem with the type of political reform proposed by many academics is that it ignores the main driver for political change: a competitive environment. Like many idealistic reformers before them, they fail to incorporate the fact that there are well funded and often armed networks of organizations fighting climate change reform. A number of them are currently operating through the White House. Without a defensive strategy to counter their efforts, there is little that sound logic and a trending hashtag can do to stop climate change or the “climate hoaxing” keeping us from doing anything about it.

Those types of “solutions” also fail to recognize the shape of the political playing field. Research and public opinion can’t go anywhere without a parallel effort of legislation, governmental interaction, direct action, and support from key organizations and people in positions of power and leverage – just to name a few. The technology and diversification of communications, especially considering social media platforms, are drastically different than when Dr. Strangelove was produced.  

We rely on the academic field to guide populations toward a solution on climate change, and to offer us a wealth of expertise that can reverse these conditions overnight.  But, part of the problem is that they are actually not experts in political strategy and reform, the real means to force societies there. As problematic is the tendency for scientists and researchers to create false dilemmas preventing them from acting as spirited advocates for immediate climate change response. Scientists, as a 2017 Journal of Environmental Communication study found, are more worried about maintaining their credibility and tenure track positions than they are about saving human beings from imminent disaster.

Academics just don’t understand since they’re not experts in political reform. They are, like Golden and Yudell, occupying spaces in the media that actual experts on political strategy should be occupying. They risk misdirecting the public and people in positions of power to focus on solutions that won’t get them anywhere other than making Hollywood and batches of campus activists feel good that they did their part. But, is that enough? 

Not really: academics are needed for the research. Yet, there is great risk when using their knowledge in one field to assert expertise in an area they have no business being in – while not understanding or giving a nod to the work of actual experts in the field as they do it.

If you want to know why there isn’t more movement on climate change given the dramatic effects it will have on the human species, look to your local political strategists. Partner with them. Climate change, now a crisis, is a scientifically proven threat to humanity’s very existence. We definitely need the continued academic research and data to bolster that case. But, leave the fight to the professionals. A strong response against climate disaster and slow government response must be the result of shrewd political movements locally and nationally.  It’s the only way we can push this beyond debate on the merits of the science and into real action on how we save ourselves, our children and our planet.

Is the Black Press Reporting on Environmental Issues?

Much of the Black media does not or won’t cover the environment

an #ecoWURD Feature | by David Love

presented by Reality Check on WURD, airs Monday - Thursday, 4-7pm ET, streamed live at WURDradio.com, in Philly on 96.1 FM / 900 AM | #RealityCheck@ellisonreport

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Climate change and environmental issues are impacting the Black community in a disproportionate fashion, a reality which gave birth to the environmental justice movement. Despite the increased importance of environmental issues in Black America — with a heightened level of consciousness on climate issues and African Americans taking a central role in that movement — much of the Black media does not or won’t cover the environment.

In Philadelphia, WURD radio – the only Black talk radio station in the large state of Pennsylvania, and one of a few independently-owned Black talk stations in the nation – launched the ambitious ‘ecoWURD’ project covering the intersection of the environment, race and income. That’s culminated into a series of high-profile public events and heightened conversation on WURD that’s unlike any other Black radio station anywhere. Hence, ecoWURD is one of the more robust Black media efforts known covering environmental justice, climate and pollution issues from an entirely Black perspective.  “I don’t know any other outlet like this, no other Black outlet, putting in this much effort and dedicated resources on environmental issues,” longtime environmental advocate and founder of eco-Diversity Noemi Lujan Perez tells ecoWURD. 

But, even as Philly faces an onslaught of severe air quality, water quality and related public health issues disproportionately hitting Black Philadelphians, it’s still hit or miss. When reaching out to the Philadelphia Tribune, the largest and oldest daily Black newspaper in the country, there was no response to requests for comment. A search online found that over the years, however, the near-daily has had 23 articles on environmental racism, 80 on environmental justice, over 200 on Flint and the Flint water crisis and 758 on climate change. 

Elsewhere, in places like Minneapolis-St. Paul, where there are large Black populations dealing with environmental challenges, the record can be spotty. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder once devoted more space to environmental matters, but for the state’s leading voice among the Black Press for 85 years, it all comes down to limited resources. 

Black communities nationally are not only very aware of issues related to the environment and climate change (a term that is gradually evolving into “climate crisis”), they are also very concerned.  While a solid half of the American public says they have “personally felt the effects of climate change,” according to an August Economist/YouGov poll, about 56 percent of African American voters claim they have – the highest rate of affirmative response on that question from all demographic groups surveyed.  Nearly 75 percent of Black respondents surveyed expressed that they were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about climate change, compared to 66 percent of Whites and a similar number of Latinos. And African Americans – at 62 percent response – were the most likely demographic to believe that the “severity” of hotter summers (this past July being the hottest ever recorded) is the direct result of climate change. 

In that same poll, environment (11 percent) also ranks as a top five issue for Black respondents – along with the economy (14 percent), education (11 percent), health care (18 percent) and Social Security (17 percent). 

Still, for a variety of reasons attributed to lack of resources and internal decision-making processes, Black media outlets by-and-large are not covering the environment or related issues in any concerted way. “We do not report much on environmental issues and climate change,” Patreice A. Massey, Managing Editor of the Michigan Chronicle told ecoWURD. “The environmental stories that we have covered have been things like the Flint water crisis. Environmental and climate change issues tend to be complex and we don’t have the resources to cover such issues in a way that would do it justice. Also, our readership engages more with community centered stories with a face.”

Read more …

Representative Democracy Has Failed Black People in America

Black voters in particular are interested in optimal physical safety

Alton Drew | Guest Contributor | @altondrew

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Representation means nothing if the spoils of society are not being delivered for each vote provided by citizens.  Black voters in particular are interested in optimal physical safety, a need stemming rom violence perpetrated on them during the Jim Crow era. Optimal access to capital, without which economic security is near impossible or very difficult. And the right to exist as a unique and thriving culture.

What I see being exchanged for each vote delivered by Black citizens is the acquisition of a title by one or two elected representatives. Representative democracy has created political capitalism, where owners of the political factors of political output are not creating political outcomes that address protection for Black society, optimal Black economic security, or optimal protection from violence.  Government, rather, is a feeding trough for Black political representatives, with the number of voters they can persuade to vote for their party serving as the tickets for admission to the political feeding spots.

Government as a club you swing, not a club you join …

Blacks should not look at government as a club to send their smoothest talking salesman to.  Rather, Blacks should look at government as a club that can be swung in order to generate capital access, physical security, and economic empowerment.  The outcomes should be a result of pressure politics.  This means that Black political leadership should not be found embedded in the political machinery.  Black political leadership should be manipulating the political machinery from the outside.

Blacks in America need only go back to 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, vacated the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, holding that segregated educational facilities were unconstitutional.  This major landmark civil rights action did not flow from the efforts of Black members of Congress.  There were hardly any.  This ruling was the result of Blacks taking alternative action in the courts, an approach that was focused and targeted on, in my opinion, the most important branch of government. It is here where the social and public policy goals of law are interpreted and in some cases, where current social policy is brought to light and used to overturn precedent.

Creative chaos versus status quo ….

When Black representatives allow themselves to be embedded in the current electoral structure, their priorities shift to satisfying congressional leadership and mining votes for their national parties.  These activities serve the interests of a majority White congressional leadership versus the Black constituents Black representatives are supposed to be advocating for. 

Take for example Rep. Al Green’s (D-TX) attempt to bring forward articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump.  The articles were blocked by the House with Mr. Green, Democrat of Texas, not being able to bring the majority of his own party on board with the proposal.

Mr. Green’s actions were in keeping with the status quo of congressional politics.  But did his actions result in any benefits for Black constituents?  Did they lead to an increase in physical or economic security?  Did they lead to increased influence of Blacks in the national Democratic Party?

What is likely is that Mr. Green lost political capital and as a political capitalist he must realize that a decreased ability to bring voters with him to the trough means lessened prestige in the Congress.  The other issue he has to face is how his constituents will deal with the knowledge that their congressman has wasted scarce political capital on a go-nowhere initiative all because being embedded in the machinery creates the obligation of delivering outcomes that don’t serve them.

Conclusion: Representative democracy is failing Black people

Representative democracy has failed Black people in America.  The representatives from the Black community in Washington - convening this week at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference or “CBC Week” - have been converted into agents for their respective party’s leadership, securing the votes needed so that they can pull up a chair at the trough.  Just like social media has turned subscribers to social networks into resource and product for advertisers, the electoral system has turned Black voters into lumps of coal with Black Members of Congress acting as the conveyor belt carrying the coal to the primaries and the national elections.

What then is the alternative approach?

Perceptions on Why Black Students Are Falling Behind

A deep look into the views on the causes of the education achievement gap

a Trendency Insider feature

Perceptions Differ on Why Black Students are Falling Behind

Earlier this year College Board (which administers the SAT) unveiled their new “adversity score.” - and the national conversation around what factors are responsible for lower levels of academic achievement and lower lifetime earnings intensified. This score, which measures the level of economic and social adversity test takers face, weighs factors such as the median family income and percentage of households in poverty within the neighborhood the test taker lives. Almost immediately, the College Board faced criticism for this approach and earlier this month they announced that they would not be reporting out the score as planned.

No matter what eventually happens with these scores, at the heart of this discussion is the role these factors play in determining the likelihood of academic success. It seems absurd to deny that these factors are strongly correlated to success. However, there is much more room for disagreement around how to use this information.

Regardless of where you fall on the support spectrum for the College Board’s recent efforts — and their subsequent decision to pull the scores — there is plenty of data on this topic to look at and draw conclusions from. Much of this data focuses on what is happening in the classroom, but there is also research on how societal effects have a profound influence on students. One of our partner organizations, Lincoln Park Strategies, did some of this research with America’s Promise to look at why kids tend to drop out of school. Further, there is now a growing school of thought, captured in an article by Nick Hanauer, arguing that we need to focus more on economics and less on education to improve societal outcomes.

We are positive there will be plenty of debate over the role of education and how best to improve outcomes (and what outcomes are important) for years to come. Since we always want to inject some new data points into the discussion, we thought it would be interesting to find out what Americans felt were the drivers of some of the problems our education system faces. Specifically, we looked at the views on the causes of the achievement gap that exists between White and Asian students compared to African American students. To do this, we asked our national panels to allocate the cause between four options: lack of motivation, low levels of funding, varying levels of support from their community, and racist attitudes.

As always, Trendency allows us to get a more nuanced view of how Americans view different issues, and in this specific case, what factors contribute to the existence of the academic achievement gap. As you can see in the chart below, we generally found that individuals attributed varying levels among the listed options with no single issue being viewed as the main reason. However, while our topline results see a somewhat even distribution among the four factors, the intensity of those beliefs varied vastly along racial and political lines — something we will delve into shortly. 

The average allocation says that on average, respondents allocated 33% of the achievement gap is attributed to “lack of motivation from students.” This should not be interpreted to read that 33% of respondents selected ‘lack of motivation.’

If we look at the order of allocation for the attributes that are responsible for the achievement gap between students of color and white students, we see the leading cause is perceived to be a ‘lack of motivation,’ a phrase that has been linked to prejudiced stereotypes about Black students for generations. ‘Lower levels of funding’ and ‘varying levels of support’ rank almost evenly coming at second and third respectively, with ‘racist attitudes and treatment’ coming in fourth out of our four options. 

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In the chart above we see the racial divide we alluded to earlier.

While the average allocation among White Americans is heavily weighted to ‘a lack of motivation,’ the lowest factor, on average, is systemic racism. ‘Lower levels of funding’ and ‘varying levels of support from the community’ were viewed as roughly equal overall among White Americans.

We see a different view among Americans of color. Among this cohort, the four choices are viewed much closer to being equal factors with a ‘lack of motivation’ and ‘lower levels of funding’ receiving the highest allocation (27% each) followed by a ‘lack of community support’ and systemic racism. These increases may seem subtle, but they are significant when we take a deeper look at the strength of response. 

As we peel back the layers, we see a significant gap between how strongly respondents’ beliefs were rooted in the ‘lack of motivation’ statement—with a nearly five-times larger strength of response compared to other categories. This indicates that there is a significant segment of the population that attributes almost everything to ‘lack of motivation.’ While on average Americans allocated 33 percent to a ‘lack of motivation,’ what we are seeing here is that 18 percent of Americans are attributing almost 100 percent to this factor, which is significantly different than other factors.

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So who primarily makes up this “almost everything has to do with lack of motivation group”?

As we saw previously, there was a difference among racial lines, but it was subtle.  When we break down this data along political lines however, this is where we start to understand the divide better.

The chart below breaks down the average amount of weight self-described Republicans, Democrats, and Independents gave to each option. Although no party was precluded from assigning value to the claim that ‘lack of motivation’ plays at least some role in the problem, those who identify as Republican overwhelmingly assigned responsibility to the laziness of students. This fits into a broader theme we see in the data — that Democrats (and many Independents) see many social and economic factors, including the absence of funding and racist sentiments, at the core of the issue while many Republicans see the responsibility for the achievement gap as falling on the individual.

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Furthermore, when we look at the strength of support for these positions the numbers are even more stark …

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As shown earlier, the average allocation given to laziness as a factor in the achievement gap is a third (33%) of American adults. Meanwhile a third of Republicans indicate that laziness has almost everything to do with why we have an achievement gap.

Given these views, it is less surprising to see a lack of support for additional funding for public schools, or efforts designed to contract the achievement gap coming from Republican voters and Republican legislators. It also points to why there was such outcry about the College Board’s adversity scoring plan. If you view the problem as the “aziness of Black students, there is little motivation to make changes to funding levels or approaches since those who hold these views see the problem as an individual one.  

Currently 52 percent of state legislative seats are held by Republican officials and 61 of the 99 state legislative chambers are controlled by the GOP. And while the belief that a lack of motivation is the only cause of educational outcomes is not universal within the GOP, the data points to why increased funding and/or changes in the education system is not viewed as an imperative to many of the legislators within the party. The data also show yet another example of our continued inability to even agree on what the problems are, let alone agree on what the solution should be.

College Tuition as the Ultimate Racial Barrier

A refusal to explore (and acknowledge) the racist origins of crushing higher education costs

#BlackEdChat

presented by Reality Check on WURD, airs Monday - Thursday, 4-7pm ET, streamed live at WURDradio.com, in Philly on 96.1 FM / 900 AM | #RealityCheck@ellisonreport

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As the House Financial Services Committee earlier today labored and sighed heavily over what’s assessed as a $1.5 trillion student loan debt crisis, there’s always an invisible elephant in the room on the question of how it arrived at this point in the first place. Meaning: have we ever wondered if rising college tuition was itself a deliberate sinister plot to just, simply, keep certain groups of people out of the success space … while making them, literally, pay - out of pocket - for that exclusion?

In a recent interview by The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker, profiled anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom gives this answer on how higher education costs rose so quickly:

College used to be a lot cheaper for families, because there was more funding from the government. If you think about the biggest educational systems, like the University of California system or the City University of New York system, these universities were free or practically free for decades. That was in part because of a belief that higher education was essential for the national project of upward mobility, and for having an educated citizenry.

So middle-class families didn’t always have to pay for college with debt. The shift began in the 1980s, in terms of a changing political philosophy. President Ronald Reagan’s budget director, David Stockman, said in 1981, “If people want to go to college bad enough, then there is opportunity and responsibility on their part to finance their way through the best way they can.” When those who argued that college is a private benefit framed it like that, it became logical to say that education should be paid for by the people that it benefits. And so in the 1990s, the vast expansion of loans for higher education began.

And, so, yes, it is very fascinating and peculiar how Zaloom casually - rather unwittingly - leaves race and racism out of this answer. True: “college [did] used to be a lot cheaper for families,” now how about that … but, during a conveniently Leave it to Beaver era when Jim Crow did not apply to a certain persuasion of people who were permitted go to college on a mass scale without barriers or prohibitions. Few know that, for example, the often lauded and famed “G.I. Bill,” which is credited with building the American middle-class with unemployment, housing and higher education benefits during the post-World War II boom, was in fact racist in its implementation and application: Black WW II veterans were actively denied those benefits. Nothing more basic than History.com to illustrate this:

Black veterans in search of the education they had been guaranteed fared no better. Many black men returning home from the war didn’t even try to take advantage of the bill’s educational benefits—they could not afford to spend time in school instead of working. But those who did were at a considerable disadvantage compared to their white counterparts. Public education provided poor preparation for black students, and many lacked much educational attainment at all due to poverty and social pressures.

As veteran applications flooded universities, black students often found themselves left out. Northern universities dragged their feet when it came to admitting black students, and Southern colleges barred black students entirely. And the VA itself encouraged black veterans to apply for vocational training instead of university admission and arbitrarily denied educational benefits to some students.

So, if you’re an anthropologist or education expert, you can’t leave this glaring detail out.

You also can’t leave out that the Reagan administration was channeling neo-Confederate resentment against Civil Rights Movement gains when engaging in wholesale cutbacks to national education priorities. Which brings us to a correlation between two trend lines that we rarely see examined, at least in a vivid way.

Camilo Maldonado on rising tuition costs over the years in Forbes:

The average for all four-year institutions comes out to $26,120 per year. This brings the total cost of attendance to an astronomical total of $104,480 over four years. The comparable cost for the same four-year degree in 1989 was $26,902 ($52,892 adjusted for inflation). This means that between the academic years ending in 1989 and 2016, the cost for a four year degree doubled, even after inflation. Over that period, the average annual growth rate for the cost to attend a four-year university was 2.6% per year. At face value, 2.6% growth doesn’t seem too awful.

Here’s a graph of how bad that’s been:

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That trend line conveniently matches the trend line of Black college enrollment and degree attainment rates illustrated below. Black degree attainment is still dramatically lower than White degree attainment, but it shows some steady rise since 1970 …

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Racial gaps in degree attainment persist, but it’s still interesting to see how the struggle towards Black degree attainment is matched by a war against rising college tuition. Notice how that markedly flattens during much of the 1980s and into the 1990s, but shows increases by the very late 1990s and into early 2000s …

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We see how, at the same time, tuition not only increased, it soared. Funny how it worked out like that.

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