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Environmental zap action in front of Gov. Baker’s Swampscott home gets lots of attention with little useful context due to shrinking local press corps
And the possibility of its return
Human unwillingness to surmount the pandemic means it’s unlikely we will stop global warming
Environmental organizations and individual activists invited to submit opinion articles for publication
[T]here was no mention of global warming or climate change anywhere in the article. An unconscionable omission by the Globe at the start of a new geological age experts are now calling the Anthropocene… whether it was the fault of the reporters or their editors.
What Mayor Walsh’s annual address didn’t say about global warming
If brilliant Boston and the supposedly clever state surrounding it can’t get their climate remediation and preparedness acts together, how are less wealthy parts of the country supposed to manage the job?
Recently, two scholars announced their plans to cut ties with the MIT Media Lab over its longstanding relationship with Jeffrey Epstein—the New York financier who had been arrested on federal charges for the alleged sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York and committed (a suspiciously convenient) suicide in custody on Aug 10. Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT (which is “a collaboration between the MIT Media Lab and Comparative Media Studies at MIT,” according to its website) and an associate professor of the practice at the MIT Media Lab, and J. Nathan Matias, a Cornell University professor and visiting scholar at the lab, are certainly to be commended for having the courage of their convictions. Particularly Zuckerman, who is literally leaving his job over the Epstein affair.
The lab’s direct connection to such a highly placed, dangerous, previously convicted sex offender is certainly more than enough reason for staffers, affiliates, and grad students to consider resigning their posts. However, it must be said to those who stay on that there have always been plenty of other reasons to resign from the MIT Media Lab from the moment it opened its doors. Because “capitalism’s advanced R&D lab”—as a colleague of mine close to the current fray calls it—has never been picky about which donors it will accept funding from. And that presents a major dilemma for other people of good conscience who happen to be working there.
So, I decided it would be worth a quick spin through some of the misdeeds of a few of the most well-known Media Lab corporate donors. In hopes that other people connected to the highly problematic institution might also decide to announce an abrupt career change in the name of social justice. Better still, they could organize themselves into a movement to either reform where the lab gets its money—and on whose behalf it works—or simply break it up. And maybe spread its projects around to other, less compromised, institutions.
BP and ExxonMobil. Every energy company engaged in extracting oil, natural gas, and coal, processing it, and/or distributing it to be burned in internal combustion engines or power plants is hastening the extinction of the human race by inducing ever-worsening global warming. With knowledge aforethought. As evinced by the organized campaign of disinformation they have all led against climate science, according to the noted book and documentary Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University and Erik M. Conway of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. There is no way to take this money and still have clean hands. Whether it’s a thousand dollars or a million. MIT Media Lab leadership knows this and does it anyway.
Ford Motor Company. A company as old and as large as Ford has inevitably done a lot of reprehensible things. Two of the worst: a) producing carbon-burning, greenhouse gas-emitting vehicles for over a century (almost 400 million since 1903) and b) working with energy companies like the ones that became ExxonMobil to form the Global Climate Coalition—a key international lobby group that spearheaded the fight by major corporations against climate science to prevent environmental regulation that would negatively affect their bottom line, according to Oreskes and Conway. It is the fifth-largest vehicle manufacturing company in the world.
Hyundai Motor Company. The third-largest vehicle manufacturing company in the world. And therefore another corporate scofflaw even without looking at its miserable record of union busting. Continuing to flood the planet with millions more carbon-spewing, global warming exacerbating machines every year. Oh, and the Korean conglomerate also got caught “overstating” its vehicles’ mileage a few years back, according to US News and World Report.
Honeywell SPS. While the Safety and Productivity Solutions “strategic business unit” of Honeywell International Inc. is the one giving money to the MIT Media Lab, its parent corporation is a major defense contractor. And a particularly dangerous strain of that breed of sociopathic capitalist entity. According to the Don’t Bank on the Bomb website produced by the interfaith Dutch antiwar group PAX, “Honeywell is involved in US nuclear weapon facilities as well as producing key components for the US Minuteman III ICBM and the Trident II (D5) system, currently in use by the US and UK.” Because what could possibly go wrong with continuing to produce more nukes?
Citigroup. One of the main American banks responsible for the 2008 global financial collapse thanks to heavy investment in derivatives based on subprime housing mortgages. Also, the recipient of one of the largest bailout packages from the federal government in US history. That was either as “little” as $45 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) money (which it paid back), or as much as $500 billion—when all government assistance it received is included (much of which it didn’t have to pay back)… according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by James Freeman, co-author of the critical Citigroup history Borrowed Time. Most of the tens of thousands of working families whose lives were ruined when their homes were seized for mortgage nonpayment by the banks which set them up to fail did not get a bailout.
GE. A company I have written a baker’s dozen pieces on, between the start of the GE Boston Deal in 2016 and this year (when said deal fell apart). Once a major employer in Massachusetts, GE not only destroyed the economies of several cities around the state by precipitously shutting down major plants—in part to cut costs by eliminating thousands of good unionized jobs—but also polluted the entire Housatonic River valley from northwest Mass to Long Island Sound, as I covered in parts one and seven of my GE Boston Deal: The Missing Manual series. Yet is still trying to avoid having to finish cleaning that toxic mess up. Furthermore, GE was heavily involved in causing the 2008 global financial collapse through its former “shadow bank” division GE Capital and was the recipient of a huge government bailout via $90 billion in cheap credit it definitely did not deserve, as I outlined in parts two and three of my series.
McKinsey & Company. A virtually unaccountable private consulting firm with its fingers in many multinational corporate pies—and a special emphasis on working with authoritarian governments. The New York Times has spent years exposing some of its more sordid activities, including running the $12.3 billion offshore hedge fund MIO Partners, identifying the social media accounts of three prominent online critics of the Saudi government (one of whom was subsequently arrested), and helping Boeing find some needed titanium by getting a Ukrainian oligarch to bribe eight Indian officials. Plus, it reported—close to home and perhaps worst of all—that the “[Commonwealth] of Massachusetts released new documents from 2013 that detailed McKinsey’s recommendations on how Purdue Pharma could ‘turbocharge’ sales of its widely abused opioid OxyContin. The state said McKinsey advised Purdue to sharply increase sales visits to targeted doctors and to consider mail orders as a way to bypass pharmacies that had been tightening oversight of opioid prescriptions.” The thousands of opiate deaths in the Bay State alone since that time are on the criminal consultancy’s head—along with Purdue, and other corrupt pharmaceutical companies.
GlaxoSmithKline, F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG (Roche), Novartis, and Takeda. And speaking of pharmas, here are four that donate to the Media Lab. All of which make huge profits by converting largely publicly funded basic science research into privately owned drug formulas protected by patents and other exclusive rights granted to them by governments. Then repurposing older medications for different uses—for which they receive new patents. According to a Washington Post op-ed by Robin Feldman, the author of Drugs, Money, & Secret Handshakes, “…78 percent of the drugs associated with new patents were not new drugs coming on the market but existing ones. The cycle of innovation, reward, then competition is being distorted into a system of innovation, reward, then more reward.” Ultimately, big pharmas extend their monopolies over the most profitable drugs by using their dominant positions to keep cheaper generic versions produced by smaller pharmas from gaining a foothold for years after they’re finally allowed to enter the market. The amount of unnecessary misery created by such companies in countries like the US that lack a comprehensive national healthcare system able to keep drug prices low is, therefore, immense. On top of the more specific misery caused when Takeda’s diabetes drug Actos was found to cause bladder cancer, according to the New York Times. Or when Roche made serious bank by convincing government to stockpile the influenza drug Tamiflu and was later found to have been withholding vital clinical trial data showing it wasn’t very effective, according to the Guardian. Or when GlaxoSmithKline “agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges and pay $3 billion in fines for promoting its best-selling antidepressants for unapproved uses and failing to report safety data about a top diabetes drug,” according to the New York Times. Or the ongoing scandal resulting from the FDA accusing Novartis of manipulating the “data used to support approval of the drug Zolgensma,” according to Stat. Which is supposed to be a treatment for the rare baby-killing genetic disorder spinal muscular atrophy and is the most expensive drug in the world at $2.1 million for a one-dose treatment, according to NPR.
Deloitte. Just a bunch of harmless accountants, right? Wrong. According to Canada’s National Observer, Deloitte is the largest of the “Big Four” audit firms that have “emerged as central players in the creation and abuse of offshore tax havens.” They also “become champions of the privatization of government services.” Giving a hearty assist to the consolidation of wealth by ever smaller numbers of corporations and individuals. Thus diminishing the governments that were once able to tax the rich and powerful and use the money to provide the very public services that have gradually been privatized—and concentrating more of the remaining public funds in those same private hands.
That’s just a sample of the dozens of MIT Media Lab “member companies.” Not all of them are as bad as the ones above. But few are above reproach. Check them out yourself at media.mit.edu/posts/member-companies/. And consider what kind of university would allow one of its major initiatives to run for decades with such little regard for social responsibility.
Full disclosure: Jason Pramas has interacted with Ethan Zuckerman professionally from time to time.
Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2019 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.
Last month, during the fearsome heat wave that saw Boston temperatures soar to 98 degrees Fahrenheit for two days in a row, 400 chickens died in New Hampshire.
According to the Boston Globe, they succumbed to “heatstroke at Vernon Family Farm in Newfields, N.H., around 5 p.m. Saturday when the temperature peaked and the farm could not save them…” The article went on to explain that temperatures got up to 90 degrees in Newfields that day. But chickens cannot take heat over 106 degrees. And, despite the best efforts of the farm staff to keep them cool, the birds expired.
A New Hampshire Union Leader article provided more detail. Farm owner Jeremiah Vernon said that the heat index (a measure of how hot it really feels when relative humidity is factored in with the actual air temperature) on his farm just after 5 p.m. on July 20 when the chickens died was over 110 degrees—and added that another southern NH farm lost 300 chickens the same day. He also mentioned that “the farm has spent about $2,000 to buy generators and circulation fans to help prevent illness in the event of another summer heat wave.” Something he had obviously never had to consider over the farm’s previous 10 years of operation. Several of which were each the hottest years on record in turn worldwide.
As 2018 was. And 2019 may be. June was the hottest month on record. And then July was, too. Global average temperatures are continuing to climb. Month by month. Year by year. There is some fluctuation. Some cooler months and years. But only cooler relative to the ever-hotter new normal. The general trend is upward. And the speed of that climb is accelerating.
Even so, the death of hundreds of chickens from overheating was an unusual enough occurrence to be worth reporting in major New England newspapers. But apparently not alarming enough to mention the role that global warming is playing in increasing the number and severity of hot days summer by summer. Despite happening in the same month that the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report, “Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days.” Which used the best available scientific data to make the following predictions for New Hampshire:
Historically, there have been three days per year on average with a heat index above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This would increase to 23 days per year on average by midcentury and 49 by the century’s end. Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit] above pre-industrial levels could reduce the frequency of such days to 17 per year on average.
By the end of the century, an estimated 970,000 people would be exposed to a heat index above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the equivalent of two months or more per year. By limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, all residents would avoid such days of extreme conditions.
Historically, there have been zero days per year on average with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This would increase to six days per year on average by midcentury and 19 by the century’s end. Of the cities with a population of 50,000 or more in the state, Dover and Nashua would experience the highest frequency of these days. Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would cap the frequency of such days at two per year on average.
Both the Globe and the Union Leader wrote articles highlighting the report’s findings, to their credit. But neither article echoed the Union of Concerned Scientists’ oft-repeated point that only limiting temperature rise 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels can prevent such calamitous outcomes. And neither publication mentioned global warming as a likely causal factor in the death of the chickens—given that the heat index got up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit the day the doomed birds perished—in their coverage of that story. Even though the UCS report states that the historic average number of days with a heat index over 100 in New Hampshire is “zero.”
This year there was at least one such day. So that isn’t normal. And although it’s difficult to peg particular weather events to global warming, it is thus definitely worth mentioning the strong possibility of a connection in this case. For a very good reason beyond the importance of keeping the societal discussion of global warming going hereabouts: The birds’ deaths add to a growing mountain of evidence that global warming is already beginning to threaten food production.
Like it or not, chickens are an important part of our food supply. But increasingly severe weather caused by a swiftly-heating planet is triggering major floods, major droughts, devastating wind storms, vast wildfires, and the spread of once-tropical insects and diseases—all of which harm crops and food animals, and put our future food security at risk. As sea level rise is starting to impinge on growing lands in low-lying areas. Making the NH chickens the equivalent of canaries in a coal mine when it comes to warning us of the looming danger to planetary food supplies—and highlighting a major problem with allowing average temperatures to continue spiraling skyward.
However, the planet is not getting hotter on its own. It is heating up because governments and major corporations are allowing the amount of carbon that human civilization is burning in the form of oil, gas, and coal to continue to increase. Putting more and more carbon dioxide—the main greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere every year. Despite those same governments and corporations paying lip service to the importance of decreasing the amount of carbon we burn. While the scientific consensus is now agreeing that the only way for our civilization—and perhaps humanity itself—to survive the rolling apocalypse that is human-induced global warming is to bring the net amount of carbon emissions (after somehow deploying carbon capture technologies on an industrial scale) to zero by 2030. A mere decade hence.
Yet in June, Bloomberg reported that “Global carbon emissions jumped the most in seven years in 2018 as energy demand surged, according to BP’s annual review of world energy…” So even huge climate criminal multinationals are aware that carbon emissions have continued to climb unabated—except for a short period after the 2008 financial collapse when manufacturing and transport slowed for a time across the globe.
All of which is to say that journalists need to do a much better job of covering global warming and its many dangerous effects. Too many stories like the sad premature death of the NH chickens do relate to climate change. But that critical angle too often goes unmentioned. And people then go about their daily lives thinking that global warming is something that will only affect humans in the far future or not at all.
WBUR just ran an interesting story on a network of major news outlets in Florida—a traditionally conservative state gradually coming to a political consensus that climate change is real—that have committed to collaborative coverage of the very obvious and constant effects of global warming in that low-lying subtropical farm state. Reporters and editors at those operations have decided that it’s their responsibility to work together to give this most dangerous of crises the constant attention it deserves.
And that’s clearly something that we need to do here in New England.
Especially in the Bay State, where the Union of Concerned Scientists projections are even more dire: “Historically, the heat index has topped 90 degrees in Massachusetts seven days a year, on average.” But if there is no global action to significantly lower carbon emissions, that number would increase to “an average of 33 days per year by mid-century and 62 by century’s end.” Furthermore, the Commonwealth “currently averages no days when the heat index tops 100 degrees,” but without changes to global emissions that figure would rise to “10 days by mid-century and 26 days by century’s end.”
So I’m writing to commit DigBoston to three things.
First, this publication is going on record in joining the environmental movement aimed at slowing human-induced global warming—stopping it no longer being possible. My colleagues and I accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is a terminal threat to Earth’s biosphere and to our species.
Second, we will strive to run more and better coverage of global warming in our own pages. And we will do everything we can to provide regular information on ways people can join together to build the movement to mitigate it.
Third, we are declaring our desire to help start a consortium of news outlets interested in working collectively to improve and expand coverage of global warming in New England. Alternatively, we will happily join an existing effort along those lines, should one we’re unaware of be underway.
Environmental journalists interested in writing for us—and environmental activists and organizations that wish to submit op-eds—are invited to email Chris Faraone and me with pitches at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And editors, publishers, and producers of news outlets interested in starting talks aimed at creating a reporting consortium on global warming in New England are strongly encouraged to contact us at the same email address.
We’re all overdue to take such steps. But journalists in the northeastern US can help change a lot more hearts and minds about the need to make slowing climate change a societal priority, if we work together.
Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston.