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Climate change is gonna be rough on farmers and eaters

Climate change is gonna be rough on farmers and eaters

By on 20 Nov 2015commentsShare

When the apocalypse comes, it’ll be every man and woman for themselves. If zombies attack, then your once friendly neighbor will try to kill you for your food supply. If an epidemic sweeps the nation, then everyone with a sniffle will start to look like satan incarnate. If — god forbid — the internet goes down, then billions of people around the world will suddenly devolve into complete lunatics incapable of functioning without GPS, emojis, and the morphine drip that is social media likes.

And now, according to economists at MIT and Stanford, if IPCC projections for climate change come true, then it’ll be every nation for itself — at least, when it comes to farming. Here’s the scoop from MIT News:

If one country suffers a decline in, say, wheat production but can still grow as much rice as ever, then — in theory — it might grow more rice and trade for its usual amount of wheat instead.

But a new study co-authored by an MIT economist suggests that international trade will do little to alleviate climate-induced farming problems. Instead, the report indicates that countries will have to alter their own patterns of crop production to lessen farming problems — and even then, there will be significant net losses in production under the basic scenarios projected by climate scientists.

“The key is the response within a country, in terms of what those farmers produce, rather than between countries,” says Arnaud Costinot, a professor in the Department of Economics at MIT and expert on international trade issues, who is one of the authors of a paper detailing the study’s results.

Constinot and his coauthors looked at the future farming and trade practices of 50 countries under 11 climate change scenarios proposed by the IPCC. They focused on 10 major crops, including wheat and rice, and in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of Political Economy, report that, all-in-all, damage to those crops could lower global GDP by about 0.26 percent. But that’s nothing compared to what happens when one accounts for the climate change impacts on all crops, Constinot told MIT News — in that frightening hypothetical, global GDP stands to decrease by about one-sixth.

And, of course, the burden on individual nations won’t be evenly distributed:

As with many aspects of climate change, the effects on agriculture could vary widely by region and country. In the study’s model — under the baseline IPCC scenario, and given farming and trade adjustments — agricultural productivity declined by over 10 percent in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Myanmar, and a whopping 49 percent in Malawi. In other countries, including Germany and the United States, the expected effects in the model were very modest.

Right — so as if we weren’t already huge dicks for causing this mess in the first place, it’s like we just accidentally released a deadly virus from a top secret research lab and then decided to hunker down in the fully equipped government facility to wait out the chaos while the rest of the world burns.


Grow Your Own Way

, MIT News.



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Climate change is gonna be rough on farmers and eaters

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Green Home Design on a Budget?


Green Home Design on a Budget?

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The US Military and the Unraveling of Africa

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

The Gulf of Guinea. He said it without a hint of irony or embarrassment. This was one of US Africa Command’s big success stories. The Gulf… of Guinea.

Never mind that most Americans couldn’t find it on a map and haven’t heard of the nations on its shores like Gabon, Benin, and Togo. Never mind that just five days before I talked with AFRICOM’s chief spokesman, the Economist had asked if the Gulf of Guinea was on the verge of becoming “another Somalia,” because piracy there had jumped 41% from 2011 to 2012 and was on track to be even worse in 2013.

The Gulf of Guinea was one of the primary areas in Africa where “stability,” the command spokesman assured me, had “improved significantly,” and the US military had played a major role in bringing it about. But what did that say about so many other areas of the continent that, since AFRICOM was set up, had been wracked by coups, insurgencies, violence, and volatility?

A careful examination of the security situation in Africa suggests that it is in the process of becoming Ground Zero for a veritable terror diaspora set in motion in the wake of 9/11 that has only accelerated in the Obama years. Recent history indicates that as US “stability” operations in Africa have increased, militancy has spread, insurgent groups have proliferated, allies have faltered or committed abuses, terrorism has increased, the number of failed states has risen, and the continent has become more unsettled.

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The US Military and the Unraveling of Africa

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Obama’s Drug Czar Cites Useless Stat to Dismiss Legalizing Pot

Mother Jones

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Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), dismissed calls for pot legalization on Thursday, citing a recent study by his agency to claim that marijuana is the drug most commonly linked to crime. During an Urban Institute panel discussion, while calling for a “21st century approach to drug policy reform,” Kerlikowske rejected legalization as a “bumper-sticker approach.” But the study (PDF) doesn’t actually show a causal relationship between pot and crime: Marijuana is far and away the most commonly used illegal drug, so it stands to reason that it would show up most often in drug tests.

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Obama’s Drug Czar Cites Useless Stat to Dismiss Legalizing Pot

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Who Will Own Our Future Robot Overlords?

Mother Jones

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Robots! That’s the topic of my latest piece in the current issue of the magazine. I’ve blogged on this subject a fair amount, but this is the first time I’ve tried to put everything together and explain what I really think robotics is likely to mean over the next few decades. Some of you are going to nod right along, some of you are going to think I’m crazy, and any economists in the audience are going to be rolling their eyes at my rather casual use of macroeconomic trend statistics to help make my point. But I’m pretty sure none of you will be bored.

So what is my point? First off, it’s the obvious one that I think computer hardware and software are progressing fast enough that we’re not very far away from true artificial intelligence. Along the way I break exciting new ground in describing Ray Kurzweil’s “back half of the chessboard” analogy, which illustrates how continuous growth can look insignificant for a long time and then suddenly explode. After immense amounts of research, I decided on Lake Michigan as the key to my explanation of the chessboard analogy, but you’ll have to click the link to see what this means. It even comes with a nifty little graphic that our art department created to illustrate how Lake Michigan is just like a digital computer.

Why spend so much time on all of this? Because whenever the subject of AI comes up, everyone wants examples but people like me can’t come up with any. That’s because AI doesn’t exist yet. So we haul out Watson and driverless cars and so forth, and it all seems like pretty weak tea. But Lake Michigan explains why it’s not. All these examples that seem pretty lame and not really very AI-like are exactly what you’d expect as mileposts along the road to AI. They aren’t demonstrations of how far away we are, but exactly the opposite. They’re demonstrations of how close we are. When this all finally happens, it’s going to happen fast.

That’s the first half of the piece. The second half is about what all this means. If AI is coming—and coming quickly—what does it mean for the economy? In the long run, it will be great, an era of both infinite leisure and material progress. But in the medium run I think the consequences will be fairly grim: more and more people will be put out of work, and no, there won’t be new jobs that open up for them along the way. This will very decidedly not be a replay of the Industrial Revolution. What’s worse, it will all happen so slowly that we’re going to spend a long time denying what’s unfolding before our eyes, and a whole lot of people are going to suffer because of it.

In fact, I think automation has been affecting our economy in nontraditional ways since about 2000 or so. Only by a tiny amount, though, which means it’s impossible to demonstrate its impact conclusively. Still, you can amass evidence, and that’s what I do. There may be other explanations for each of the trends I talk about, but when you put them all together I think the simplest collective explanation is that they point in the direction of automation already having a slight effect on employment and capital intensity. Slight but growing. Two or three decades from now, the Warren Buffetts of the world will own all the robots and a big chunk of the world will be permanently unemployed.

Do I prove this? Not by a mile. But in the end, I meant for this piece to be read as provocation more than anything else. So go ahead and be provoked, one way or the other. Click the link.

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Who Will Own Our Future Robot Overlords?

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Koch-Linked Women’s Group Takes Credit for Mark Sanford’s Win

Mother Jones

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Soon after Mark Sanford, the former governor of South Carolina who resigned in disgrace in 2009, pulled off an upset win in his congressional race on Tuesday, a conservative group called the Independent Women’s Voice boasted of its role in his victory. “Independent Women’s Voice was the only outside group supporting Sanford on a significant scale, by educating voters about the facts about the Democratic candidate,” IWV president Heather Higgins said in a statement. IWV spent $250,000 on TV and print ads in the last week of the election, helping to power Sanford to victory over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional district.

And if the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are encouraged by Sanford’s win, they, too, can claim a degree of credit, for IWV has plenty of ties to the Koch political network.

IWV, a nonprofit group that doesn’t have to name its funders (and can’t make politics the majority of what it does), is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Forum, another nonprofit focused more on policy issues. Higgins, who chairs IWF’s board, has staked out a position as a leading critic of Obamacare. She also argues that independent women voters are not destined to vote Democratic and, instead, these women are up for grabs on political and policy matters and can be won over by Republicans—if GOPers get their messaging right.

When IWV applied for tax-exempt status in September 2004, it listed Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, as its president. (She also had a leadership position at Independent Women’s Forum.) Pfotenhauer, who is currently a Koch spokeswoman, has filled a number of roles with Koch-linked groups. She was formerly the president of Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ flagship advocacy organization, and is now a director at AFP. She was a vice president for Citizens for a Sound Economy, the Koch-backed predecessor to AFP. She also advised John McCain’s during his 2008 presidential campaign.

IWV does not have to disclose its donors, but the group received $250,000 in 2009 from the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a money conduit for conservative nonprofits run by Koch operative Sean Noble. As the Center for Responsive Politics has reported, the Center to Protect Patient Rights handed out $44 million in 2010 and nearly $15 million in 2011 to an array of nonprofit groups including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the 60 Plus Association, which describes itself as the “conservative alternative” to the AARP. Noble spoke at a 2010 Koch donor retreat (PDF) in Aspen, Colorado. Pfotenhauer spoke at the same retreat, as did Higgins.

Higgins also briefly served on the board of the Center to Protect Patient Rights. There is no public information revealing whether IWV still receives financial support from Koch-linked sources.

There’s another curious wrinkle about IWV. In its 2004 application for tax-exempt status, the group said it would not spend “any money” on influencing elections. Yet in later tax filings, IWV changed its tune and told the IRS it spent $772,435 on elections in 2010. There are no tax filings available yet detailing IWV activity in 2012 or 2013.

IWV’s six-figure spending on Mark Sanford’s behalf was anything but a safe bet. But as it turns out, it was money very well spent.

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Koch-Linked Women’s Group Takes Credit for Mark Sanford’s Win

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One Upside to Drought: the Fewest Tornadoes in the U.S. in At Least 60 Years

A funnel cloud in Texas. Photo: Charleen Mullenweg

For two years the majority of the continental U.S. has been plagued by drought, a confluence of natural cycles that have worked together to drive up temperatures and dry up the land. But for all the damage that has been done by the long-running drought, there’s been an upside as well. The lack of water in the atmosphere has also sent the U.S. toward a record low for tornadoes, says Climate Central‘s Andrew Freedman.

The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., estimates that, between May 2012 and April 2013, there were just 197 tornadoes ranked EF-1 or stronger on the Enhanced Fujita scale. That beats the previous 12-month low, which was 247 tornadoes from June 1991 and May 1992.

That’s the lowest recorded tornado activity since 1954, when scientists first really started keeping track. The number of deaths connected to tornadoes went down, too:

The U.S. did set a record for the longest streak of days without a tornado-related fatality — at 220 days — between June 24, 2012 and Jan. 26, 2013. And July 2012, which was the hottest month on record in the U.S., saw the fewest tornadoes on record for any July.

But the tornadoes didn’t just up and disappear, says Freedman in an August story. Rather, some of them just moved to Canada.

More from

Don’t Blame the Awful U.S. Drought on Climate Change
Surviving Tornado Alley
Tornado Power: Green Energy of the Future?

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One Upside to Drought: the Fewest Tornadoes in the U.S. in At Least 60 Years

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Louisiana Senate kills a bill that tried to rein in dispersants

Louisiana Senate kills a bill that tried to rein in dispersants


Don’t worry about it, just spray some chemicals over the top.

Oil companies can keep on spraying toxic oil dispersants willy-nilly over toxic oil spills in Louisiana waters.

An effort to encourage — not to require, just to encourage — oil companies to use nontoxic alternatives to dispersants when cleaning up their spills was killed amid oil industry opposition in the Louisiana state Senate.

When BP sprayed dispersants over oil slicks from its 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, the company sickened residents and cleanup workers and added another layer of environmental catastrophe to the cataclysm in the Gulf. Yet dispersants like Corexit — which push spilled oil down from the water’s surface and into the water column, where fish and dolphins and other wildlife live – remain perfectly legal in the U.S. And they are being used here and elsewhere around the world by oil companies exhibiting utter indifference to human suffering and environmental damage.

They will continue to be used with reckless abandon in Louisiana, with state officials and oil companies not even needing to pretend they are considering other alternatives. That’s because members of a Senate environmental panel have voted down legislation that would have required Corexit and other dispersants to be used only as a last-resort measure. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

Senate Bill 145 by A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell, would have stipulated the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality must first consider the use of non-toxic solutions in the case of another disaster mirroring the 2010 BP oil spill.

Crowe told the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality the bill wouldn’t ban the use of dispersants, such as Corexit, in the event of an oil spill, but rather would codify a process state environmental officials already use when mitigating a disaster.

“We’re trying in a very fair and reasonable way to say, if there’s a catastrophic event, as huge as the one that we experienced here a few years ago, we don’t want to completely take off the table some drastic measure such as what we used then,” Crowe said. “But we simply want to … provide for a more reasonable, responsible, safe mediation process.”

But the three-person panel was apparently moved more by the testimony of oil industry official Mike Lyons. From the same article:

“I’m here as an industry that needs every tool it can get … to respond to emergency conditions. Dispersants are one of those tools,” Lyons said.

Lyons said while Crowe had “good intentions,” the bill gave preference to companies peddling nontoxic solutions. …

“I don’t think that’s the precedent that we want to set,” Lyons said.

Goodness, no. Why ban something that poisons the environment and hurts people, when allowing it to be used helps oil companies bury their spills at sea?

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


, posts articles to


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GOP Takes Another Shot at Derailing Obama’s Progressive Labor Nominee

Mother Jones

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Republicans have been trying for weeks to block President Barack Obama’s nomination of Thomas Perez, the chief of the civil rights division at the Justice Department, to run the Labor Department. They haven’t succeeded yet. But they’re still at it.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports that Democrats have delayed a vote on Perez nomination that was originally scheduled for Thursday. The Dems moved to postpone the vote after Republicans said they would use an unrelated Senate subcommittee hearing on workplace safety to feature a witness likely to be critical of Perez. Republicans wanted to call Frederick Newell, a St. Paul man whose $180 million lawsuit against the city over its failure to properly dispense federal grants meant for low-income residents was undercut by an agreement Perez helped arrange. The workplace safety hearing has now been postponed as well, with Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) accusing Republicans of trying to exploit the hearing to attack Perez and possibly derail his nomination.

As Mother Jones reported in March, in exchange for the Justice Department not joining Newell’s lawsuit, St. Paul agreed last year to withdraw a fair housing case before the Supreme Court. Liberals had feared that the conservative justices on the high court would have used the St. Paul case to significantly narrow the ability of the federal government to hold financial institutions accountable for discrimination against minorities.

Republicans were frustrated by the missed opportunity to weaken the Fair Housing Act, a key civil rights law. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) worked hard to convince GOP legislators on the Senate labor committee that Perez acted inappropriately when he helped broker that deal with St. Paul. The House oversight committee, which Issa chairs, released a report last week that accused Perez of shady behavior but failed to detail any specific legal or ethical violations. (Perez consulted with internal ethics monitors at Justice to ensure that the deal was appropriate). Republicans brought up the report during Perez’ confirmation hearing last week but there were no fireworks.

Newell is angry about the St. Paul deal for a very particular reason of his own. This St. Paul small business owner spent years putting together evidence that the city of St. Paul wasn’t meeting its federal grant obligations. The city entered into an agreement in 2010 with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure it would meet those obligations in the future, and HUD told Mother Jones in March that St. Paul has complied so far.

Though the underlying issue that Newell sued over seems to have been resolved, he didn’t get anything out of the deal. Had the lawsuit proceeded and he won, he would have pocketed between 15 and 30 percent of the sum the judge decided St. Paul owed. But it’s not clear Newell would have won his case if the Justice Department had joined. The US attorneys in Minnesota thought he had a good case, yet the experts in the civil division believed he did not. When the Justice Department declined to join Newell’s lawsuit, it meant that the case would most likely be dismissed, and it was.

So the problem was taken care of, but Newell lost his chance to collect a lot of money. Given all the hard work he put in, it’s understandable he’s ticked off at Perez. But the fact that Newell didn’t get his money doesn’t mean Perez did anything improper.

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GOP Takes Another Shot at Derailing Obama’s Progressive Labor Nominee

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Here Are the 8 Other Gun Bills About to Face a Vote in the Senate

Mother Jones

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On Wednesday morning, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) both publicly conceded that the background check compromise they forged—which would expand scrutiny of gun buyers online and at gun shows, but would also grant many concessions to the gun lobby—won’t receive 60 votes this afternoon to survive a Republican filibuster. But the gun debate isn’t over yet: The background checks bill is just the first of nine amendments proposed for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s gun control package that will get a vote beginning at 4 p.m. ET. Here’s a quick rundown of the others in the order in which they will come up:

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) mental health amendment: Grassley’s Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2013 (PDF), which is cosponsored by five other Republicans, is the conservative alternative to Reid’s gun package. Both include measures on improving background checks, school safety, and gun trafficking prosecutions. But Grassley’s bill would also “place limitations on Fast & Furious type operations,” according to a fact sheet his office put out.

Sens. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine)’s gun trafficking amendment: The Leahy-Collins amendment would make gun trafficking a federal felony and strengthen penalties against straw purchasers, including a measure subjecting a gun seller involved in a straw purchase to criminal charges. Convicted gun traffickers would face prison sentences of up to 25 years.

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Here Are the 8 Other Gun Bills About to Face a Vote in the Senate

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