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Street protesters understand climate change crisis more than politicians do

Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

COP26 has come and gone, but what emerges from the climate change summit will be with us today and tomorrow.

Finally, at least, there seems to be consensus that climate change is taking place, but my experiences at the summit last month in Glasgow, Scotland, suggest two starkly distinct perspectives on the severity of the social and economic impacts.

One camp, the naive optimists, believes that climate change impacts are overblown and will not prevent economic growth or improvements in human well-being. This view has been backed by the vested interests and financial support of the fossil fuel industry, which after first slowing the achievement of climate change consensus, has now engaged in a strategic pivot from climate change denial to minimizing the consequences.

The second group, the realist pessimists, comprised of many of the scientists and most of the street protesters, sees the impacts of climate change as far beyond a mere nuisance, a veritable “existential crisis” that will topple life as we know it and possibly cause the extinction of human life.

The optimists were most of the government people, venture capitalists and business people who saw growing concern about climate change as a business opportunity in a future that will be moderately affected. For example, President Joe Biden stated, “When I think of climate change, I think of — and the answers to it — I think of jobs.” In this scenario, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects that average life expectancy will continue to rise, poverty and hunger rates will continue to decline, and average incomes will go up simply because they always have. While climate change may drag down rates of improvement in human well-being, on average, the thinking goes, our futures will not be any worse than today.

My take is that while climate change is not likely to cause Homo sapiens to go extinct, it will make most of our lives and most of our descendants’ lives more nasty, brutish and short.

President Joe Biden arrives for the COP26 UN Climate Summit on November 1, 2021. (Photo by Adrian Dennis – Pool/Getty Images)

The sense I got at COP26 was that the protesters on the street had a more realistic understanding of the urgency of the climate crisis than the politicians and negotiators within the COP. They, and most scientists, are concerned not only about climate change but, moreover, many other human impacts on our environment that interact with the climate and one another in complex ways, many of which do not bode well. To wit, we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. Since 1950 we have caused the loss of half of the world’s coral reefs, and changes to Earth’s land surface (including the loss of roughly half of the world’s coastal wetlands) have resulted in annual losses of ecosystem services valued at over $22 trillion.

The many interactions I had with people inside the negotiations and at the protests lead to the conclusion that how we handle climate change is mostly, at this point, a political challenge. Governments, providing incentives for corporations and venture capitalists through strictly enforced policies and regulations, are the only institutions capable of bringing about the changes necessary to significantly mitigate the negative consequences of climate change. Going forward, voluntary individual efforts, such as not using plastic straws, driving an electric car, conserving water, putting solar panels on your house, or composting your food, will have minimal impact.

Unfortunately, the reality I witnessed at COP26 is that governments are not readily stepping up to the plate. They are not taking climate change seriously enough and they do not want to cough up money to help developing countries. India and China want to continue using coal, which does not bode well for staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Our best hope, then, may lie with pressure from the people on the street, who are driven by a love for humans rather than position. That was my biggest takeaway from COP26: an increasing sense that it will be the highly engaged, very informed, and inspiring people I met on the Glasgow streets, and others like them in Colorado cities and campuses and elsewhere, that will bring about the serious commitment necessary to enact more aggressive government policies addressing climate change.

May it be so.

Paul Sutton is a professor in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Denver. Sutton was a delegate for the American Association of Geographers at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland. This essay was first published by Colorado Newsline.

NC Health Secretary: Medicaid expansion, public investments key to state’s COVID recovery

DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen addresses legislators.

With less than a month left in her tenure, state Health and Human Service Secretary Mandy Cohen settled in Tuesday for more than two hours of legislative questions about how her department handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sec. Cohen said to fully appreciate where we are today, lawmakers need to look back to where the state and nation were pre-pandemic.

“We didn’t have PPE. We didn’t have testing. We didn’t have vaccines. We didn’t have treatment. We didn’t know a lot,” reflected Cohen.

“By the winter we were very lucky to have one of the greatest scientific achievements of getting vaccines out quickly to people, which is just incredible to think about.”

Cohen said at a time when the state was starting to feel positive, the next wave arrived in June.

“This virus was not done with us. It changed, it got more contagious. And then we had the summer surge with the delta variant and frankly came the closest in this pandemic to overwhelming our healthcare system.”

As the pandemic evolved, Sec. Cohen said the state responded by launching a public dashboard, optimizing data systems, and building a vaccine management system. Policies like the statewide masking requirement and the “dimmer switch” approach to re-opening helped control community spread.

“This was a whole-of-government response,” said Cohen in praising partnerships with hospitals and other state agencies.

Today, 62% of North Carolina’s total population has had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Senator Todd Johnson (R-Union) took aim at the StrongSchools Toolkit promoted by Sec. Cohen as a resource to help schools safely re-open.

Sen. Todd Johnson

“While there is no statutory authority for the toolkit, your office threatened Union County with legal action for not following the toolkit regarding contact tracing. For the record, is the toolkit a recommendation, a law or just a suggestion?”

Sec. Cohen said while it is critical to keep children in the classroom learning, it must be done in a safe way.

“And any kind of quarantine is an absolute last resort. If kids are vaccinated, they do not need to quarantine. If they are wearing masks, they don’t need to quarantine,” responded Dr. Cohen. “And the places that are using those tools have had to quarantine very few kids.”

Cohen said vaccines were first and foremost the best thing parents could do to keep children in the classroom learning safely.

Rep. Erin Paré (R-Wake) questioned why public health officials have a tendency to “overstate the reliability of data.”

Sec. Cohen said she has tried to be clear throughout the pandemic about what metrics the department was using to make its decisions.

“Just as I was answering that last question about omicron. We don’t know yet exactly what this will mean. It doesn’t mean our scientists aren’t smart or the data’s not good. Sometimes it just takes time.”

Sen. Kirk deViere

An hour later it was Sen. Kirk deViere’s (D-Cumberland) opportunity to question the outgoing DHHS Secretary.

“What would you say would play into the impact of the recovery if we do expand Medicaid?” he asked.

“We know we have more uninsured here, and we are not availing ourselves of federal support that exists. We know that we can bring coverage to half a million people every single year – these are working North Carolinians – if we do this,” she encouraged.

Cohen said Medicaid expansion is critical to ensuring rural residents have access to medical care when they need it.

“I do think that it is linked to our health and well-being, but also our economic recovery. I do think we should absolutely avail ourselves to the $4 billion annually that would come to North Carolina.

That’s money that not only goes to people to seek healthcare, make themselves healthier, but that’s economic generation there.”

Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have accepted federal funding to expand Medicaid.

Sen. Joyce Krawiec

Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) broke from her conservative colleagues in their questioning of Cohen’s handling of the pandemic.

“I just want a moment of personal privilege,” Krawiec opened.

“As Chair of Health, I just want to take a moment to thank you for your service to us here in North Carolina, particularly for your willingness to work with us, your accessibility at all times. You and your staff were always available to us anytime we needed you. I’m going to miss you. I really am.”

Cohen leaves the office at the end of this month. Stepping into the role will be Kody Kinsley, who currently serves as the Chief Deputy Secretary for Health at NCDHHS.

For more on how Secretary Cohen and NCDHHS approached the pandemic from Winter 2020 to today, see the graphic below:

Source: NCDHHS


Ohio GOP legislators hire Raleigh lawyers who defended NC’s racial gerrymanders

Thomas Farr during a hearing on Capitol Hill when he was nominated by Donald Trump for U.S. District Court. His nomination did not go through. Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

Defending themselves against accusations of gerrymandering, the Ohio House speaker and Senate president hired a team of lawyers with a history defending North Carolina against what a federal court called one of the “largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered.”

A spate of special interest and voter advocacy groups have filed four lawsuits alleging that Ohio officials produced maps that segment voters to give Republicans an unfair partisan advantage and cement in a veto-proof majority. House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, both Republicans from Lima, opted against retaining counsel through the attorney general and hired their attorneys from the Nelson Mullins law offices in North Carolina.

Two lawyers they chose, Thomas Farr and Phillip Strach, are well-known in legal circles for defending North Carolina’s 2011 redistricting proposal and the state’s sweeping voter restriction law passed in 2013. After years of litigation, both were overturned by the courts, which found they were designed to dilute and disenfranchise Black voting power.

“It’s not a mistake. I’m sure they looked at their resumes and said, ‘Wow, we need them,’” said Bob Hall, former director of voter rights advocacy group Democracy North Carolina, of the hiring. “They’re hard-nosed, win by whatever it takes for their Republican clients.”

After hearing arguments on the North Carolina redistricting plan drawn and enacted in 2011, a three-judge federal court panel in 2017 stated the maps were “among the largest racial gerrymanders ever encountered by a federal court” that amount to a “widespread, serious, and longstanding” constitutional violation. In a similar lawsuit regarding the composition of two majority-Black congressional districts, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the maps, deeming them unlawful racial gerrymanders.

Nelson Mullins was first hired as “special counsel” Aug. 17 to “provide the Ohio General Assembly with redistricting advice,” according to a letter sent to Strach from the Attorney General’s Office, obtained in a public records request. Roughly one week later, the Ohio Redistricting Commission held its first public hearing. Republicans unveiled their first redistricting proposal Sept. 9. The North Carolina lawyers are representing the Ohio lawmakers in four lawsuits filed to date. Lawmakers have not appointed counsel in the fifth, filed last week.

Both Farr and Strach also defended North Carolina against a challenge to a 2013 North Carolina law that required voters to present state-issued identification at the polls, limited early voting, rolled back “souls to the polls” Sunday voting, ended same-day voter registration and more. A panel on the 4th Circuit of Appeals overturned the law on constitutional grounds. The judges wrote that the law targeted Black voters “with almost surgical precision” and purports to solve voter fraud and other “problems that did not exist.” The U.S. Supreme Court declined to resurrect the law on an appeal.

A third lawyer representing Cupp and Huffman, John Branch, reportedly represented Republican Mark Harris in a state investigation after Harris’ campaign operative was criminally accused and later convicted of ballot fraud in a 2018 North Carolina congressional election.

Spokesmen for Cupp and Huffman did not respond to inquiries about the North Carolina lawyers’ role advising lawmakers on the maps or why or how they selected counsel. Strach did not respond to an email or voicemail. Farr declined to comment. Read more

Investigation urged of doctor who operated on immigrant women in detention

Signe Waller and Dr. Marty Nathan, both widowed in 1979 Greensboro Massacre, died last week

Two activists widowed in the 1979 Greensboro Massacre died last week after a lifetime of social justice work.

Signe Waller Foxworth and Dr. Marty Nathan both lost their husbands in the 1979 confrontation between Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and members of the Communist Workers Party. In their separate ways, both women continued to fight for their beliefs for the rest of their lives.

Waller died Friday at 84. Nathan, 70, was working as a doctor in Northampton, Massachussetts when she died November 30.

Their husbands — Dr. Jim Waller and Dr. Michael Nathan — were killed by white supremacists. The historical marker at the corner of Willow and McConnell Roads sums up the terrible day that shook both women in just 25 words.

“Greensboro Massacre — Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazi Party members, on Nov. 3, 1979, shot and killed five Communist Workers Party members one-tenth mile north.”

Even that brief acknowledgement of the tragedy and how it would be characterized — remained a hotly-debated political controversy when the marker was finally approved in 2015.

In 2017 the Greensboro City Council voted to issue an apology for the massacre. That apology was actually issued last year, more than 40 years after the tragedy.

The News & Record’s Nancy McLaughlin wrote about Nathan’s work after her husband’s killing.

From that story:

Widowed at age 28 with an infant daughter, she used the money from the lawsuit against the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and the Greensboro police for the wrongful death of Dr. Michael Nathan to start the Greensboro Justice Fund, which over the next 20 years gave away $500,000 as grants to small groups fighting for civil rights and social justice in the South.

In an interview before the 40th anniversary of what is now called the Greensboro Massacre, she said the travesty of that day lingers on. Five people died and 10 were injured during the shootings and no one was ever convicted of the deaths. She said the confrontation would fuel the white supremacist movement, notably Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally that took place in 2017.

“I wish that they had been put in prison because of all the young men that they have inspired over the years,” Nathan told the News & Record in 2019, “and I would include in that the Charlottesville Klan and other white supremacists.”

The paper’s Jennifer Fernandez spoke with community members, including Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen, about Waller and Nathan after Waller’s death on Friday.

“They did the work. Every. Single. Day,” Thigpen said.

He described Waller Foxworth as “always community-minded,” and someone who “sought to stand for meaningful things and on behalf of those who had little power.”

“She lived every day to try to create meaning,” Thigpen said.

Her work on social justice and equity for all inspired others, said Joyce Johnson, who is co-executive director of the Beloved Community Center with her husband, the Rev. Nelson Johnson.

They had long been friends with Waller Foxworth.

“She was a person of great purpose and commitment,” Joyce Johnson said

But she was more than just the persona portrayed in the media, the Johnsons said. Waller Foxworth was a loving wife and mother, a gracious host, an excellent teacher and an intellectual who loved to read and talk about books. She loved to cook and had a flair for the arts.

She also wrote a book, ”Love and Revolution,” about Nov. 3, 1979, and its aftermath.

She was a fighter up until the end, according to the Johnsons. Although she had been ill, Waller Foxworth stood through the annual memorial service on Nov. 3 instead of sitting. And she chose to have surgery, believing there was still work for her to do.

“She was tenacious in her commitment and beliefs of justice for all people,” Nelson Johnson said.

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