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Six Degrees – Mark Lynas


Six Degrees

Our Future on a Hotter Planet

Mark Lynas

Genre: Nature

Price: $5.99

Publish Date: April 3, 2009

Publisher: Fourth Estate


An eye-opening and vital account of the future of our earth and our civilisation if current rates of global warming persist, by the highly acclaimed author of ‘High Tide’. Picture yourself a few decades from now, in a world in which average temperatures are three degrees higher than they are now. On the edge of Greenland, rivers ten times the size of the Amazon are gushing off the ice sheet into the north Atlantic. Displaced victims of North Africa's drought establish a new colony on Greenland's southern tip, one of the few inhabitable areas not already crowded with environmental refugees. Vast pumping systems keep the water out of most of Holland, but the residents of Bangladesh and the Nile Delta enjoy no such protection. Meanwhile, in New York, a Category 5-plus superstorm pushes through the narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn, devastating waterside areas from Long Island to Manhattan. Pakistan, crippled by drought brought on by disappearing Himalayan glaciers, sees 27 million farmers flee to refugee camps in neighbouring India. Its desperate government prepares a last-ditch attempt to increase the flow of the Indus river by bombing half-constructed Indian dams in Kashmir. The Pakistani president authorises the use of nuclear weapons in the case of an Indian military counter-strike. But the biggest story of all comes from South America, where a conflagration of truly epic proportions has begun to consume the Amazon… Alien as it all sounds, Mark Lynas's incredible new book is not science-fiction; nor is it sensationalist. The six degrees of the title refer to the terrifying possibility that average temperatures will rise by up to six degrees within the next hundred years. This is the first time we have had a reliable picture of how the collapse of our civilisation will unfold unless urgent action is taken. Most vitally, Lynas's book serves to highlight the fact that the world of 2100 doesn't have to be one of horror and chaos. With a little foresight, some intelligent strategic planning, and a reasonable dose of good luck, we can at least halt the catastrophic trend into which we have fallen. But the time to act is now. Reviews ‘Scientists predict that global temperatures will rise by between one and six degrees over the course of this century and Mark Lynas paints a chilling, degree-by-degree picture of the devastation likely to ensue unless we act now…“Six Degrees” is a rousing and vivid plea to choose a different future.' Daily Mail 'Buy this book for everyone you know: if it makes them join the fight to stop the seemingly inexorable six degrees of warming and mass death, it might just save their lives.' New Statesman 'An apocalyptic primer of what to expect as the world heats up…it's sobering stuff and shaming too. Despite its sound scientific background, the book resembles one of those vivid medieval paintings depicting sinners getting their just desserts.' Financial Times 'The saga of how, in the world as imagined by thousands of computer-modelling studies, global warming kicks in degree by degree. “Six Degrees”, I tell you now, is terrifying.' The Sunday Times 'A chilling read.’ Socialist Review About the author Mark Lynas is an activist, journalist and traveller. He was editor of the website www.oneworld.net and has made many appearances in the press and TV as a commentator on environmental issues. He also throws custard pies at lunatics who pronounce global warming a fantasy. He is the author of ‘High Tide: News from a Warming World’. He lives in Oxford.


Six Degrees – Mark Lynas

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California’s Drought Is Over, but the Rest of the World’s Water Problems Are Just Beginning

Mother Jones

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After California’s wetter-than-normal winter—and the official end to its drought—you’re probably not thinking much about water scarcity and the food supply. But our food-and-water woes go well beyond the Sunshine State’s latest precipitation patterns, as this new Nature study from a global team of researchers—including two from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies—shows.

The paper notes that the globe’s stores of underground water, known as groundwater—the stuff that accumulates over millennia in aquifers—is vanishing at an “alarming” rate, driven mainly by demand for irrigation to grow crops. You can think of such reserves as “fossil” water, since it takes thousands of years to replenish once it’s pumped out. Once it’s gone, some of the globe’s key growing regions—the breadbaskets for much of Asia and the Middle East—will no longer be viable. Here in the United States, we rely heavily on California’s Central Valley for fruit, vegetables, and nuts—which in turn relies on some of the globe’s most stressed aquifers for irrigation. Tapped-out aquifers point to a future marked by high food prices and geopolitical strife.

The Nature researchers found that the most severe depletion is concentrated “in a few regions that rely significantly on overexploited aquifers to grow crops, mainly the USA, Mexico, the Middle East and North Africa, India, Pakistan and China, including almost all the major breadbaskets and population centres of the planet.”

The group mapped global food trade flows from these areas with the most-stressed aquifers—places like the California Central Valley, the Midwest’s High Plains (where farmers have for years been draining the Ogallala aquifer to grow corn and cotton), India’s breadbasket, the Punjab, and China’s main growing region, the North Plain. That these crucial resources are being rapidly used up is well established—for example, see the 2014 Nature paper, using satellite data by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti, which I discussed here.

What the new paper adds to that chilling assessment isn’t comforting to US eaters, or people who look at long-term geopolitical trends. They name the seven countries where farmers are drawing the most from overstressed aquifers: India, Iran, Pakistan, China, the United States, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Together, agriculture within these countries is responsible for more than 90 percent of the globe’s irrigation water taken from overdrawn aquifers

Such withdrawals rose by 22 percent between 2000 and 2010, they found. Three countries drove most of that gain: India, where unsustainable groundwater withdrawals for irrigation jumped 23 percent; China, where such water use doubled; and the United States, where it grew by nearly a third. These rates are higher than global population growth, which was about 13 percent between 2000 and 2010.

Note that the group was looking at data from a period just before the onset of California’s recent drought (2011-2016), which triggered a massive frenzy of water-pump drilling and an epic drawdown of aquifers. The new study underlines a point I’ve made before: Water reserves in California’s Central Valley are in a long-term state of decline—aquifer recharge during wet years never fully replaces all that was taken away during dry times.

The Nature team took withdrawal data and overlaid them with food-trade data. Of those seven countries that use massive amounts of water from dwindling aquifers to grow crops, just three are major exporters of those crops: the United States, Mexico, and Pakistan. Here in the United States, the two farming regions that lean heavily on unsustainable water, California and the Plains, are also major crop exporters. So it’s no surprise that 42.6 percent of US food grown with fossil water is sold abroad. China, a massive buyer of US soybeans and other crops, was the No. 1 destination of such US exports in 2010, the study found.

They also looked at countries that rely most on imported food grown with fossil water. The researchers found that a “vast majority of the world’s population lives in countries sourcing nearly all their staple crop imports from partners who deplete groundwater to produce these crops, highlighting risks for global food and water security.” The countries with the biggest fossil-water footprints for imported food were, in order, China, the United States, Mexico, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. The No. 1 source for US imports of aquifer-draining food, which nearly doubled between 2000 and 2010, was Mexico, a major supplier of our fruits and vegetables.

Along with Mexico, Iran, and China, the researchers placed the United States among a handful of countries that are “particularly exposed” to the risks of groundwater scarcity “because they both produce and import food irrigated from rapidly depleting aquifers.”

The paper isn’t trying to make the point that food trade is somehow bad. Rather, it’s that global food trade hinges increasingly on a vanishing resource, and that the water footprint of our food supply is largely invisible to both end consumers and policymakers. As NASA’s Famiglietti put it in his 2014 Nature paper, “groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.” As for regulation, a “veritable groundwater ‘free for all'” holds sway globally, and “property owners who can afford to drill wells generally have unlimited access to groundwater,” Famiglietti notes.

And trade means we’re all in this together. Food choices made by consumers in Qatar can have an outsize impact on aquifers in geopolitical hot spots like Pakistan, while decisions made by those who control China’s food system can tax aquifers under Kansas and Fresno County, California. Like climate change and antibiotic resistance, water scarcity is a global problem that requires global solutions.

Originally posted here:  

California’s Drought Is Over, but the Rest of the World’s Water Problems Are Just Beginning

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Love in the Time of Mass Migration

Mother Jones

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You can get through Mohsin Hamid’s latest in an afternoon. Not to suggest that Exit West, Hamid’s fourth novel, is frivolous reading. In just over 200 pages, he spans the globe as he tells the story of Nadia and Saeed, a young Muslim couple forced to flee an unnamed homeland—first to Greece and then to California. Falling in love as their city descends into conflict and chaos, the two eventually escape through magical portals, landing in refugee camps and squatters dens where they are confronted by nativist mobs. The crisis and the characters are fictional, but the circumstances feel almost journalistic. “It’s a love story,” Hamid assures me.

Exit West is, in fact, a classic boy-meets-girl tale, but like much of Hamid’s previous work it also tells a larger story of globalization and its discontents. With great compassion, he portrays the profound ruptures in a rapidly changing world. His characters are average people with average ambitions who bear the burdens of mobility—westward, upward, or forced. Given the anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and the United States, it feels both urgent and much needed.

Hamid knows a thing or two about culture shock. He was born in the Pakistani city of Lahore, where he now lives with his wife and two children, a short drive from the Indian border. But he spent some formative childhood years playing on the manicured lawns of Palo Alto. Since releasing his first novel, Moth Smoke, in 2000, Hamid has won a Man Booker Prize, has had his work adapted for film and translated into 35 languages, and has been named one of Foreign Policy magazine’s “Leading Global Thinkers.” His novels, which also include The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, enjoy international acclaim and bestseller status. But Exit West may be his most prescient to date—an antidote of sorts (one can only hope) in this moment of xenophobic fear and mistrust.

Mother Jones: What was it like growing up between Pakistan and the United States?

Mohsin Hamid: When I was three, my dad went to do his Ph.D. at Stanford, so my mom and I moved with him and we lived in California for six years. I moved back to Lahore when I was nine, in 1980, and went back to the US for college and law school. I worked in New York for a while, then London for the better part of a decade. I have been back in Lahore for about seven years now.

MJ: Was there a sense of culture shock moving back and forth?

MH: There was pretty huge culture shock when I was nine! I had no memories of Pakistan. We hadn’t been back to visit in the six and a half years we’d been in California, and phone calls were expensive so I never really spoke to anyone. There was no internet. I’d never seen Pakistani movies or television, and I’d forgotten how to speak Urdu. So basically I was a Californian kid. I arrived in Pakistan completely unfamiliar with where I was going—and then utterly lost connection with where I’d just been. When I moved back, in 2009, with my wife and our daughter, it was still very strange. Maybe at a certain point, if you’ve moved around enough, everywhere feels a little bit foreign.

MJ: Do you consider Urdu your first language?

MH: This is the weird thing. My second language has become my first, and Urdu has become my second or third language. I started speaking at a very young age, a lot, but in Urdu. So in America, I go play outside in front of the townhouse by the Stanford campus where we live. All those townhouses look identical and I start crying. Outside the townhouse next to ours, the neighbor looks down at this befuddled Pakistani kid, and I’m looking at him like, “This is not my house! These are not my parents!” I’m surrounded by a bunch of kids and they ask my mother, “What’s wrong with him? Why can’t he speak?” She says, “He speaks fine.” And they say, “Is he retarded?”

For a month after that I didn’t speak a word. They were quite worried. I just watched cartoons. A month later, when I next spoke, I spoke in English with an American accent. I guess I spent a month somehow transitioning. It must have been quite traumatic to have made me silent for so long. Perhaps it’s shaped who I am, and my nomadic and multinational, multicultural view of life.

MJ: Were you drawn to books as a kid?

MH: Very early on. I was really into fantasy worlds and I loved stories—comic books in particular. My dad had this outlook: It doesn’t matter what I want to read—reading was a good thing. So whatever I was curious about they’d get for me from the library. Books were a kind of a resistance to reality. I liked to imagine worlds that were different. I still do.

MJ: Were there books or shows you couldn’t get in Pakistan because they were too salacious?

MH: Books, nobody bothered to censor them. You could find everything from full-on porn to soft porn in the guise of fantasy and sci-fi, and books like Lolita that had controversial sexual themes. There was much more censorship of images, though in the ’80s the VCR became quite popular, and you could get all the films you get in the US on pirated videocassettes.

MJ: What are the biggest misunderstandings between American and Pakistani cultures?

MH: The monolithic view that many Americans have of Pakistani culture is as inaccurate as the monolithic view that many Pakistanis have of American culture. In America there are people advocating for trans rights and people like Vice President Pence, who is vehemently opposed. In Pakistan, too, you have all kinds of folks—from flamboyant gay fashion designers and female Air Force pilots to the Taliban. A cross-dressed man used to be the top TV talk show host. It was actually quite radical. So the diversity of these societies is often lost on people. If an American teenager were to come to Lahore, they’d have wildly different experiences depending on whom they met. They could party and get drunk and smoke hashish with some, while others would say, “Let’s get some religious instruction.”

MJ: There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the migrant crisis, but we seldom really get to know the refugees themselves. Did that factor into your reasons for writing Exit West?

MH: I’m not sufficient to act as their voice. But I thought it was important to imagine a narrative where a migrant was the hero, the protagonist, and enjoyed all of the narrative sympathies that come with that role. Because all over the world, the nativist perspective is being privileged over those who are more recent arrivals.

I also think massive migration is inevitable. As sea levels rise, as climate change happens, as fertile fields become arid, as wars are fought, people are going to move. They always have. I think we should be prepared, given environmental and political change for large-scale migration. If sea levels rise and 200 million people in Bangladesh and 300 million people in Indonesia need to move, and the entire Chinese seaboard, New York City—that’s going to be huge. So I thought it was important to imagine a future of immense migration and compress that into just a couple of years. And to imagine this future not as just a dystopian horror, but as something more complicated—that might even have elements of hope.

Partly, it’s our failure to imagine how change can be hopeful that empowers nostalgic narratives that try to take us back to the past in ways that are very dangerous.

MJ: People will inevitably call this a refugee story, but it almost seems like a love story first and foremost.

MH: In a way, all of my novels have been love stories. This one’s about young love, which two people as they grow and develop potentially leave behind. But also for the possibility of friendship to outlast the love. We’re not condemned to this titanic struggle of possession. This is about a different kind of relationship. I think all human stories are migration stories because everyone is a refugee from their own childhood. Even if you don’t move localities, time moves. The California of your childhood is over. So to say it’s a refugee story is true—and it’s also a love story. The notion of love as a potentially destructive and potentially redemptive human force is something that comes across in all my books.

MJ: So we should call you a romantic novelist?

MH: Laughs. In a weird way, yes! I’m not uncomfortable with the term. We think of the romance novel as a lesser form of literature, but I don’t think that’s true. Love is a very important aspect of human life and worth exploring. In Italian, the word for novel is romanzo, “the romance.” The English is “novel”—something new. Both of those elements, experimentation and love, are fundamental to the form.

MJ: Do you have any favorite love stories?

MH: I don’t have a single archetypal one, but for example, Charlotte’s Web is this beautiful story about love and death. Charlotte becomes kind of like a best friend for Wilbur, but also like a mother for him. That’s a novel about how love endures and how it makes weathering the experience of mortality more possible.

MJ: The discussion about migration right now seems to be dominated by fear. Is love the antidote?

MH: Also the need to empathize with, and insert oneself inside, experiences that are different than one has had. Literature and art and movies all play a very important role. They can help disarm this feeling. When we aren’t collectively imagining hopeful futures, then the way things are going almost invariably seems negative and frightening.

MJ: I understand you take walks to catalyze your writing. Your pace of publication has improved. Is walking to thank?

MH: It might be that I’m getting older. This novel felt quick to me—it took four years. But walking is very good for writers. There’s something fundamentally useful about not talking to anybody, not looking at a screen, and being in nature—even if that nature is an urban environment. It’s definitely helped me, especially when I’m completely stuck.

In that sense, the mobile phone is very dangerous. If you’re walking and looking at your phone, you’re not walking—you’re surfing the internet. If you keep your eyes open, walking is a meditative act. It’s so rare that we allow ourselves just to be. It’s a space in a day that we almost never carve out for ourselves. I think it’s very useful, like sleeping and dreaming, as something that’s important to my ability to write.

MJ: So you leave your phone at home?

MH: I keep it in my pocket. But I believe in digital detox. We’re all so terrified in the world right now partly because of the digital—that’s TV, radio, reading your favorite conspiracy theory blog. That stuff activates a sort of fight-or-flight response, and that’s not a state human beings feel good inhabiting. When I’m really plugged in I find it difficult to write. It’s like digging a well. If you make a void, something moves in to fill it. Writing books is like that. It’s mostly about freeing up time, doing nothing, and in that time some writing starts to happen. We need to figure out how to maintain those voids.

MJ: What’s it like to be in Pakistan living so close to India?

MH: Lahore is a very weird place in that sense. I can drive to the border in 30 minutes, walk across a line painted in the cement, and I’m in India. It’s bizarre. India to someone who lives in Lahore is like Queens to someone who lives in Lower Manhattan—it’s not far away, and yet it doesn’t exist. Lahore really is on a fault line. The animosity between India and Pakistan is deeply unfortunate and dangerous, and it’s something I’ve long campaigned to reduce. But right now, when there’s artillery being exchanged in Kashmir—which is not for from here, either—and there are 100-ish nuclear weapons on each side of the border, there’s never really been a case like this where two nuclear armed countries are happily shelling each other.

MJ: Was your family growing up very religious?

MH: There were differing degrees: Some people never did anything you would describe as outwardly religious, like praying or fasting. Others prayed five times a day. My mother has been to Mecca to perform her hajj; my dad hasn’t. I come from a very liberal family, so even the people who are outwardly religious tend to subscribe to gender equality, the importance of open-mindedness, all that stuff. My family is generally nonprescriptive.

MJ: Are you religious yourself?

MJ: It’s not something I like to talk about publicly. One reason is the politics, but also I think spirituality is deeply personal. My aunt used to say, “It’s between me and my god; it’s got nothing to do with you.” It was a good enough answer for me as a snot-nosed college kid angling for a religious debate, and I still think it’s a good way of putting it.

MJ: How do you feel about mandates on religious clothing?

MH: I’m not a fan. We should be very skeptical of people who want to place limits on how we express ourselves. If my daughter wanted to wear a headscarf and dress in a religiously conservative way, I would be heartbroken. But if she were to decide to do that and she were to live in a place where people said she couldn’t do that, I would be entirely committed to her right to do so. The ban on the burkini, which is basically a wetsuit, seems particularly ridiculous. We know nuns will wear something like that, and we know the bikini was only invented 50 or 60 years ago—people wore more clothing until recently. The ethnocultural connotations of the burkini ban are very strong. It’s as absurd as mandating that women have to go topless on the beach. If I were a woman, I definitely would not want to wear a burkini or a headscarf. But it’s not about what I want.

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Love in the Time of Mass Migration

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How I Came to Grips With My American Exceptionalism

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

The fluorescent circus of Election 2016—that spectacle of yellow comb-overs and orange skin and predatory pussy-grabbing and last-minute FBI interventions and blinking memes hewn by an underground army of self-important internet trolls—has finally come to its unnatural end. I had looked forward to this moment, only to find us all instantly embroiled in a new crisis. And unfortunately, it’s easy to foretell what, or rather who, will move into the bright lights of our collective gaze now: Americans are going to continue to focus on…well, ourselves.

We are obviously not, for instance, going to redeploy our energies toward examining the embarrassing war that we’re still waging in Afghanistan, now in its 16th year—something that went practically unmentioned during election season even as fighting heated up there. (You can be sure that Afghans have a somewhat different perspective on the newsworthiness of that war.) We are also not going to spend our time searching for the names of people like Momina Bibi, whom we’ve—oops—inadvertently annihilated while carrying out our nation’s drone program.

For his part, Donald Trump has pledged to “take out” the families of terrorists, a plan that sounds practically ordinary when compared to our actual drone assassination program, conceived by President George W. Bush and maintained and expanded by President Barack Obama. And while I don’t for a moment pretend that Trump’s electoral victory is anything less than an emergency for our republic—especially for the most vulnerable among us, and for every American who believes in justice, equity, or basic kindness—it’s also true that some things won’t change at all.

In fact, it’s prototypically American that an overlong and inward-looking election spectacle (which will, incidentally, have “big-league” international implications) will be supplanted by still more inward-looking. And this jogs my memory in a not-very-pleasant way. I can’t help but recall the moment, years ago and 8,000 miles away, when I was introduced to my own American-centered self. The experience left an ugly mark on my picture of who I am—and who, perhaps, so many of us are, as Americans.

Eight years before I heard about a guy in Yemen whose cousins were obliterated by an American drone strike in a procession following his wedding celebration, I gleefully clicked through the travel site Kayak and pressed “confirm purchase” on a one-way ticket to Kathmandu. This was 2008, shortly before Barack Obama was elected, and my boyfriend and I—a couple of twentysomethings jonesing to see the world—were about to depart on what we expected to be the adventure of our lives. Having worked temporary stints and squirreled away some cash, we stashed our belongings into my mom’s damp basement and prepared for a journey meant to last half a year and span South Asia and East Africa. What we didn’t know as we headed for New York City’s Kennedy Airport, passports zippered into our money belts, was that, whatever we’d left behind at my mom’s, we were unwittingly carrying something far heftier with us: our American-ness.

Adventures commenced as soon as we stepped off the plane. We glimpsed ice-capped peaks that rose majestically out of the clouds as we walked the lower Everest trail. And then—consider this our introduction to the presumptions we hadn’t shed—we ran into a little snafu. We hadn’t brought along enough cash for our multiweek mountain trek—apparently we’d expected Capital One ATMs to appear miraculously on a Himalayan footpath.

After we dealt with that issue through a service that worked by landline and carbon paper, we took a bumpy Jeep ride south to India and soon found ourselves walking the sloping fields of Darjeeling, the leaves of tea shrubs glinting in the afternoon light. Then we rode trains west and south, while through the frame of a moving window I looked out at fields and rice paddies where women in red or orange or turquoise saris worked the land, even as the sun set and the sky turned pink and reflected off the water where the rice grew.

Things would soon get significantly less picturesque—and in some strange and twisted way, the farther we traveled, the closer to home we seemed to get.

We arrived in Mombasa, Kenya, in January 2009, on a day when thousands of people had flooded into the streets to protest a recent and particularly bloody Israeli attack on Gaza. Hamas, firing rockets into southern Israel, had killed one Israeli and injured many others. Israel retaliated in an overwhelming fashion, filling the Gazan sky with aircraft and killing hundreds of Palestinians, including five girls from a single family, ages four to 17, who were unlucky enough to live in a refugee camp adjacent to a mosque that an Israeli plane had leveled.

As I hopped off the matatu, or passenger van, into the scorching Kenyan heat, I was aware that 50,000 angry protesters had gathered not so far away, and certain facts became clear to me. For one thing, the slaughter of hundreds of civilians, including several dozen children, in what was to me a faraway land, was a big effing deal here. That should probably go without saying just about anywhere—except I was suddenly aware that, were I home, the opposite would have been true. Those deaths in distant Gaza (unlike nearby Israel) would barely have caused a blip in the American news. What’s more, if I had been at home and the story had somehow caught my eye, I knew that I wouldn’t have paid it much mind. Another war in a foreign country is what I would’ve thought, and that would have been that.

At that moment, though, I didn’t dwell on the point because—let’s be serious—I was scared poopless. There was a huge, angry protest nearby and we’d just gotten word that the crowd was burning an American flag. Israel, it turned out, had used a new US-made missile in its assault. According to the Jerusalem Post, it was a weapon designed to minimize “collateral damage.” (Tell that to the families of the dead.) The enraged people who had taken to the streets in Mombasa were decrying my country’s role in the carnage—and I was a skinny American with a backpack who’d arrived in the wrong city on the wrong day.

We got the hell out of there as soon as we could. Early the next morning we climbed aboard a rusty old bus bound for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I felt a wave of relief once I’d settled into my seat. I was looking forward to a different country and a new vista.

That new vista, it turned out, materialized almost at once. Our bus was soon barreling along a rutted dirt road, the scenery whipping by the window in a distinctly less-than-picturesque fashion. In fact, it passed in such a blur that I realized we were going way too fast. We already knew that bus accidents were common here; we’d heard about a recent one in which all the passengers died.

When we hit what undoubtedly was a yawning pothole on that none-too-well kept road, the windows shook ominously and I thought: we could die. By then, my slick hands were gripping my shredded vinyl seat. I could practically feel the heat of the crash-induced flames and had no trouble picturing our charred bodies in the wreckage of the bus. And then that other thought came to me, the one I wouldn’t forget, the one, thousands of miles from home, that seemed to catch who I really was: No not us, we can’t die! was what I said to myself, pressing my eyes shut. I meant, of course, my boyfriend and I. I meant, that is, we Americans.

It was then that I felt an electric zap, as the events of the previous day had just melded with the present dangers and forced me to see what I would have preferred to ignore: that there was an unsavory likeness between my outlook and the American credo that thousands had been protesting in Mombasa. We can’t die, was my thought, as if we were somehow different—as if these Africans on the bus with us could die, but not us. Or, just as easily, those Palestinians could die—and thanks to US-supplied arms, no less—and I wouldn’t even tune in for the story. Clutching my torn bus seat, I was still afraid, but another sensation overwhelmed me. I felt like a colossal jerk.

Of course, as you know because you’re reading this, we made it safely to Dar es Salaam that night. But I was changed.

I’d like to say that my egocentricity about which lives matter most is uncommon among my countrymen and women. But if you spool through the seven-plus years since I rode that bus, you’ll notice how that very same mindset has meant that Americans go wild with panic over lone wolf terror killings on our soil, but show scant concern when it comes to the White House-directed, CIA-run drone assassination campaigns across the world, and all the civilian casualties that are the bloody result.

The dead innocents include members of a Yemeni family who were riding in a wedding procession when four missiles bore down on them, and Momina Bibi, that Pakistani grandmother who was tending to an okra patch as her grandchildren played nearby when a missile blasted her to smithereens. And don’t forget the 42 staff members, patients, and relatives at a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killed in an attack by a US AC-130 gunship. Depending on which tally you use, since 2009 we’ve killed an estimated 474 civilians, or perhaps 745, outside of official war zones—and far more civilians, like those dead in that hospital, within those zones. The horrifying truth is that the real numbers are likely much higher, but unknown and unknowable.

Meanwhile, duh, we would never fire a missile at a suspected terrorist if innocent US civilians were identified in the vicinity. We value American life far too highly for such wantonness. In 2015, when a drone struck an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan, it was later discovered that two hostages, one of them an American, were inside. In response, President Obama delivered grave remarks: “I offer our deepest apologies to the families…I directed that this operation be declassified and disclosed… because the families deserve to know the truth.”

But why so sorry that time and not with the other 474 or more deaths? Of course, the difference was that innocent American blood was spilt. We don’t even try to hide this dubious hierarchy; we celebrate it. In that same speech, President Obama reflected on why we Americans are so darn special. “One of the things that makes us exceptional,” he declared, “is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”

If you hailed from any other country, it might have seemed like an odd, not to say tasteless, time to wax poetic about American exceptionalism. The president was, after all, confessing that we’d accidentally fired missiles at two captive aid workers. But I can appreciate the sentiment. Inadequate though the apology was—”There are hundreds, potentially thousands of others who deserve the same apology,” said an investigator for Amnesty International—Obama was at least admitting that the United States had erred, and he was pointing out that such admissions are important. Indeed, they are. It’s just…what about the rest of the people on the planet?

The Trump administration will probably espouse a philosophy much like President Obama’s when it comes to valuing (or not) the lives of foreign innocents. And yet there’s part of me that must be as unworldly as that twenty-something who flew into Kathmandu, because I find myself dreaming about a new brand of American exceptionalism. Not one that gives you that icky feeling when you’re riding a speeding bus in another hemisphere, nor one at whose heart lies the idea that we Americans are different and special and better—which, history tells us, is actually a totally unexceptional notion among powerful nations. Instead, I imagine what would be truly exceptional: an America that values all human life in the same way.

Of course, I’m also a realist and I know that that’s not the world we live in, especially now—and that it won’t be, for, at best, a very long time.

Mattea Kramer is at work on a memoir called The Young Person’s Guide to Aging, which inspired this essay. Follow her on Twitter.

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How I Came to Grips With My American Exceptionalism

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Al Gore’s daughter arrested at climate protest

Al be back

Al Gore’s daughter arrested at climate protest

By on Jun 30, 2016Share

Karenna Gore, eldest daughter of Al Gore, was among 23 activists arrested in Boston on Wednesday while protesting construction of a natural gas pipeline. The nonviolent demonstration, organized by the group Resist the Pipeline, also included more than a dozen faith leaders and longtime activist Tim deChristopher.

“We were arrested because the laws and policies regarding climate change are so out of step with what is required to meet this challenge,” Karenna Gore, director of the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

The pipeline, being built by Spectra Energy, would move fracked gas through the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, prompting concern both about resident safety in the densely populated area and about the global impact of burning natural gas. Protesters laid down in and alongside the pipeline trench, saying they wanted to draw attention to the fact that Pakistan dug mass graves in May in anticipation of summer heat waves.

Nine years ago, Al Gore told New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.”

Now lots of young people are blocking fossil fuel projects — including his own daughter.

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3 Innovative Recycling Projects Used For Good Around the World

Programs around the world are constantly engineering new ways to recycle. Many of these initiatives are transforming the lives of millions through the power of recycling. For millions of folks around the world things such as household light, shoes and even soap are a luxury. Here are three exceptional examples of programs that are working to make the world a healthier and happier place.

Liter of Light

photo credit: Liter of Light Europe Facebook Page

Founded in 2013, this program aims to provide homes with a very simple light source that many impoverished households arent able to enjoy. A liter soda bottle is filled with bleach or chlorine, to prevent mold or algae growth, and is placed in a hole through the homes roof. Sunlight is refracted through the bottle and shines through the bottom. This gives the effect of about a 55 watt light bulb. The Liter of Light project is based in the Philippines, but has spread across the world to several other countries such as Pakistan, India and Vietnam, Switzerland, Kenya and more. On Jan 19 this year, the team was awarded the prestigious 2015 Energy Globe World Award for outstanding sustainable best practice projects from around the world.


photo credit: Indosole Facebook Page

Aptly named, this projects roots are planted in Indonesia. The team recognized quite a large problem, which is 1.5 billion tires being wasted around the world. Rubber does not decay over time. So, the fact that tires are thrown into landfill piles and water sources creates an additional danger for the growth of harmful bacteria and insects. Mosquitos and other similar bugs love to use old tires as a home. As such, less fortunate areas that arent able to dispose or recycle these tires have seen an increase in diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. In addition, many tires are being burned around the world which emits toxic fumes into the air and are harmful to breathe. Indosole hand crafts shoes with recycled tire soles that are comfortable, stylish and conscious about the environment.

Clean the World

photo credit: Clean the World Facebook Page

Diarrheal diseases kill approximately 1.8 million people per year. A majority of reported cases occur in Africa and South Asia. The only proven way to fight against germs is with proper body and handwashing, with soap. Unfortunately, the reason many of these diseases transpire is due to a lack of clean water and soap. One such program is fighting against the enormous waste of toiletries across the globe. Clean the World works with hotels and many other organizations to donate products that would have otherwise gone to waste. These products are donated directly to family homes as well as schools, community health providers, maternity health programs and nutrition programs. Whats more, the team works with communities to provide proper teaching about diseases, germs and proper handwashing techniques.

Its awe-inspiring to imagine all the possibilities for the millions of unused products thrown away in the United States alone. Be sure to check around your area for any local recycling initiatives. Keeping yourself informed about local and global recycling programs will truly reach communities around the globe.

Photo Credit: UNICEF Ethiopia

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


3 Innovative Recycling Projects Used For Good Around the World

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News Analysis: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad

Sunni extremists are being recruited and trained to fight in conflicts abroad. Taken from –  News Analysis: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad ; ; ;


News Analysis: Pakistan’s Hand in the Rise of International Jihad

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Most of the Suspects Accused of Attacking Malala Yousafzai Were Secretly Acquitted

Mother Jones

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Eight of the ten men accused of shooting of education rights activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai were secretly acquitted, according to reports released today by the Pakistani government. Following a trial at a military facility in April, news spread that the 10 Taliban gunmen who were accused of involvement in the 2012 attack on Yousafzai had confessed and were sentenced to 25 years in prison—the longest possible sentence in Pakistan.

But after reporters from the British newspaper the Daily Mirror were unable to locate the 10 in Pakistani prisons, the court published new findings that revealed only two had in fact been convicted and the rest had been quietly released due to “lack of evidence.”

The Pakistani officials who failed to correct the initial reporting now deny confirming the convictions, and the New York Times reports that the government will likely seek an appeal for the decision.

Yousafzai was 15 at the time of the attack and has since become a global voice for girls’ education rights. In 2013 she published a memoir, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, and the following year, at the age of 17 she became the youngest Nobel Peace Peace Prize winner. She is currently attending school in Britain, where she and her family have relocated.

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Most of the Suspects Accused of Attacking Malala Yousafzai Were Secretly Acquitted

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Your City Is Probably Not Going to Be Hit By A Terrorist Attack

Mother Jones

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Americans are understandably terrified of terror attacks. But good news! These fears have nothing to do with actual data. According to a new tool released last week, no US cities are among the world’s 50 most at risk of terror attacks.

The index, designed by UK based Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk assessment firm, calculates the risk of terror attacks in “1,300 of the world’s most important commercial hubs and urban centers” using historic trends. By logging and analyzing every reported attack or event per 100 square meters and calculating the frequency and severity of those incidents, Maplecroft’s tool establishes a baseline for the past five years. Then, it compares that data with the number, frequency, and severity of attacks for the most recent year. Depending on the most recent statistics, cities move up or down on the list of cities at risk for terror attacks.

What cities are in danger? Cities near ISIS. Baghdad is the most terror prone city, followed by five other places in Iraq—including Mosul, an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq, and Al Ramadi, ISIS’s most recent hostile takeover. In just one year, as of February, over 1,000 residents of Baghdad lost their lives in one of the almost 400 terror attacks the city endured.

A total of 27 of the 64 countries at “extreme risk” are located in the Middle East, and 19 are in Asia. Residents living in the capital cities of Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Tripoli face some of the strongest risks of terror attacks as well. Maplecroft points to the risk of terror incidents in high-ranking countries like Egypt, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan as major threats to US commercial interests.

And, recent events have triggered some cities to climb in the rankings. Prior to the Charlie Hebdo attack, Paris didn’t even make the top 200 most at risk cities. But according to the current index, the French capital jumped over 100 spots, now coming in at 97. Increasing violence purported by African militant groups, including Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al Shabaab in Somalia, have heightened the risk of terror incidents in African nations, landing 14 countries in the top 64.

So stop freaking out about terror attacks, America.

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Your City Is Probably Not Going to Be Hit By A Terrorist Attack

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Weird Tales and Trade Treaties

Mother Jones

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Watching the political fight over the TPP trade treaty has been kind of interesting. FWIW, two things strike me as a little odd:

Historically, it’s been Republicans who bitch and moan about how treaties are invasions of American sovereignty. And of course they are. If you sign a treaty with another country, there has to be some kind of neutral mediator that can decide if the treaty has been breached, and this is ipso facto an infringement of sovereignty for both countries. Democrats usually laugh this off, since it’s an obvious feature of any treaty (would you sign a treaty with Pakistan where Pakistan unilaterally gets to resolve all disputes?). This time, however, the worm has turned and it’s Democrats who are loudly objecting to something called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement, which sets up a special tribunal to adjudicate disputes brought by corporations against rules that they think violate the TPP. Republicans don’t care much.

I don’t have any big point to make here. It’s just kind of interesting to see the two sides switch.

I’m a little puzzled about why Republicans are so gung-ho to get TPP passed in the first place. Sure, they’re generally in favor of trade treaties, but it’s not exactly one of their hot button issues. And yet, they seem to be going out of their way to help President Obama get it passed. Given their recent track record, I’d expect them to yawn and tell Obama he’s on his own to whip the votes he needs. Is there some deeper strategy here that I’m not getting? Do they truly think this is going to rip the Democratic Party to shreds with months of vicious infighting? Or what?

Anyway, it looks to me like TPP is going to pass. These things nearly always do after a bit grandstanding followed by some face-saving compromises. It might be close, but it will pass.

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Weird Tales and Trade Treaties

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