The Environment Politics The World Policy

Joe Manchin’s decision to block Biden’s climate bill is shortsighted and dangerous

Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, has made headlines over the past week for objecting to a key part of President Biden’s climate bill. According to NPR, the portion of the bill Manchin opposes would “financially reward utilities that transition to renewable energy and penalize those which do not.” This is a key aspect of the bill that would apparently cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, which trap heat in the planet and warm it. 

Manchin, on the surface, is looking out for his constituents and saving the country money — in 2019, nearly 20,000 West Virginians were employed by the coal industry, and the state was surpassed only by Wyoming in coal production. In addition, Manchin has reportedly indicated he is trying to keep the country from spending money unnecessarily. The Guardian reported that “Manchin has called the bill’s spending ‘reckless’ and said it ‘makes no sense’ to pay utilities to increase their share of renewable energy when they are doing so already.”

But his decision to stand in the way of climate change reduction efforts, and the gradual retirement of coal production, is ultimately shortsighted as the detrimental impact of coal on the environment far outweighs any potential benefits in the short-term. Biden’s bill originally intended to slowly retire the coal industry, which impacts the environment in two major ways. In some states, including W.Va, mining involves detonating the tops of mountains, changing the landscape and often sending pollutants into streams and other waterways. In addition, burning coal results in emissions of harmful gases, including carbon dioxide. Some of the effects of these emissions include acid rain, a warming globe, and neurological or developmental damage brought about by the release of mercury and similar heavy metals.

Manchin’s refusal to get on board with the climate plan means that Biden doesn’t have all 50 Democratic senators on his side. The Senate is currently split evenly down the middle, with 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats or Independents who vote (caucus) with the Democratic agenda. The tie will then broken by Vice President Kamala Harris. If just one member of the Democratic caucus breaks ranks, the Democratic agenda is without sufficient votes, because it’s highly unlikely that in today’s Trump-driven Republican atmosphere any member of the GOP would vote with Democrats.

Manchin’s steadfast refusal to bend has far-reaching consequences, meaning that the bill’s climate agenda will need to be significantly altered or even watered down. The thing is, every decision we make (or don’t make) today impacts the world of the future. I’m not a scientist, and I can’t bend my imagination to understand just what the world will look like if we don’t make any changes. But others have used their science and imagination to figure this out for me, and the picture they paint isn’t just ugly, it’s downright terrifying. Scientists are warning that much of what the world experienced this summer — from raging wildfires and droughts to floods and hurricanes — could continue and even get worse if we don’t change the way we treat the world.

While Manchin’s spokespeople have said they are trying to save the U.S. government money, indicating many companies are already moving in the direction the bill intends and thus do not need to be incentivized, nearly every article on the subject points out W.Va’s reliance on the coal industry as well as Manchin’s own ties to it. The truth of the matter is, whether Manchin’s reasons are the ones stated (a desire to not spend money on companies allegedly already taking their own steps) or whether the rationale is more nefarious (the senator has made millions from a coal company and raised astronomical amounts of funds from members of the fossil fuel industry), it is ultimately foolish.

The research has all been done to prove that we need to change our actions in order to keep the planet from warming even more than it already has. Manchin’s refusal to think innovatively and problem-solve is in no one’s best interests but his own, and only for a short period. If the planet continues in its current direction, with climate disaster upon disaster, all the saved money and jobs in the world will be worth very little during a climate apocalypse. 


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Latin America The World

Devastating fires in Chile go unnoticed

A wildfire that is believed to have been started deliberately turned Chile’s skies red and forced citizens to flee their homes.

The Valpraiso region was engulfed by flames for hours. According to authorities, the fires have blazed through 400 hectares of forest. At least ten houses have been caught by the flames, and some 25 000 residents and hundreds of firefighters were deployed to battle the flames.

According to various sources including a local government official, the fires are believed to have been started deliberately. Local rumors suggest that the fires were started deliberately by a construction company after being denied access to encroach land property.

[Image Description: Residents look up at the orange sky as the wildfires burn nearby (Picture: AP)] Via AP
[Image Description: Residents look up at the orange sky as the wildfires burn nearby (Picture: AP)] Via AP
A Chinook helicopter that was carrying tonnes of water was used to extinguish the fire from above. The destroyed property includes four houses, six cabins at a recreational center, and two warehouses. 

People who were evacuated were placed temporarily in a school building while a ‘safe zone’ was set up in the municipal stadium. Citizens that had been self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with coronavirus were instructed to go to local schools that were designated quarantine zones. 

This is not, however, the first time the area has been destructed by the wildfires. In January 2017, Chile witnessed one of the worst wildfires which caused major devastation throughout the country, killing at least 11 people. In 2019, 200 homes in the port city of Valparaiso were destroyed by wildfires on Christmas Day

Despite the devastation caused by the fires, they have received little to no coverage in international news and media. Citizens and Diaspora Chileans have expressed contempt over the blatant ignorance of the fires.

Instead of spreading the word about the fires and calling for aid, people on social media believed the pictures to be aesthetic and used them to promote songs. The insensitivity towards the matter speaks volumes.

Forest fires such as the one in Chile have both short-term as well as long-term impacts. Dozens of citizens been displaced from their houses as fires blaze through the inhabited parts of the country. Acres of forests have been destroyed and countless animals are caught in the flames.

Research has proven that the smoke from fires can choke nearby cities months after the fires. Fires can release more pollution into the air. Air quality is significantly poor and creates hazes in cities farther away. Reduced air quality can have longer-term health effects such as penetration of lung membranes and damaged respiratory system. Short-term effects include coughing, shortness of breath, and exacerbation of asthma attacks.

A bigger cause of concern is that the toxicity of these smoke particles appears to increase the further they get from the site of a fire. The particle undergoes chemical reactions as they are carried in the wind. This causes them to “age” in a process known as oxidation. It converts the particles into highly reactive compounds that have an even greater capacity to damage cells and tissue than when they were first produced.

The aforementioned effects are not even a quarter of the devastation that is caused by wildfires. The insensitive and rather ignorant response to the Chilean fires is worrying because the world is already struggling with wildfires that are causing catastrophic effects and aiding environmental damage. In addition to stealing hundreds of people’s livelihoods. It is necessary to draw attention to the fires in Chile so that the real culprits face the punishment. More importantly, though, governments need to be more pro-active to prevent such catastrophes from re-occurring.

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The Environment 2020 Elections Inequality

President Trump’s four year long war on science needs to come to an end

The past four years have been irreversibly affected by efforts from the Trump administration to limit the use of science in policy making. During this administration’s tenure all of the progressive climate reforms made by its predecessors have been reversed – the United States removed itself from The Paris Agreement and the wildfires raging across the West Coast have doubled in size causing the forced evacuations of more than 90,000 residents. To make matters worse, these fires show no sign of slowing down as increased emissions from heat-trapping gases have led to warmer and drier conditions in the area. The flames which have torn across the West Coast thus far in 2020 indicate the most active fire season on record. As the climate warms, the wildfires will continue to grow larger and more frequent. Still, President Trump denies the enormity of the threat presented by climate change. Our nation cannot afford another four years of his environmental inaction.

Both presidential debates last month included questions regarding climate change, prompting the candidates to speak on their plans to rectify the situation. But here’s the thing—there is no rectifying it. Global warming has worsened with every passing year since at least 1950. The only viable option left—apart from laying in the grave which has been dug for all living beings—is to try to slow down the progress of global warming and not allow the earth to become entirely unlivable for the future generations. Perhaps this is a classic case of too little, too late.

Since taking office President Trump has invalidated the well-known fact that carbon dioxide emissions are caused by human activities, labeling it “alarmist.” Instead, he has held onto the American coal industry as well as domestic oil production for dear life, therefore accelerating fossil fuel development. On the debate stage a few Thursday’s ago, the president proudly stuck up his faux green thumb and proclaimed that his fervent solution to save the environment is to plant more trees.

On the other hand, Joe Biden’s plan is only a little less ashy. His campaign promises a strict reduction of net carbon emissions through the creation of new energy-efficient homes and electric vehicle charging stations—but there is a big discrepancy. The former vice president cites support of the promotion of clean energy while simultaneously assuring voters that the jobs associated with natural gas production will remain secure. So, he must be lying to someone. A real transition from fossil fuels toward renewable energy will inevitably result in the elimination of the oil and coal industries. At the rate in which the world is warming, this elimination might need to come sooner than we’d expect, leaving millions of working class Americans out of work. But, at least it’s a step away from immediate and total destruction of the earth.

The hottest year ever recorded was in 2016, with 2019 coming in a close second place by less than one-tenth of a degree Fahrenheit. Right now, there is an increased urgency to implement real change because doom is impending. Whoever winds up in the Oval Office next must plan for the economic pitfalls that will come along with such a change—but nonetheless ensure that the change happens, and fast. That is why it is imperative that all U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote do so today. In more ways than one, we hold the fate of the world in the palms of our hands. 


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USA The Environment Race The World Policy

California’s using modern-day slavery to fight wildfires – and it’s totally legal

The Mendocino Complex fire (made up of the Ranch and River fires) has already devastated over 400,000 acres of northern California since July 27. The wildfires have taken the lives of 42 people and destroyed 5,000 homes so far – and among the professional firefighters combating the roaring flames are inmates from California prisons. They’re paid $2 a day and $1 an hour for their dangerous work, as opposed to the minimum wage of $11 that Cal Fire firefighters make.

Private prisons have always prioritized economic benefits over the humanity of inmates – this is the prison industrial complex (PIC). The PIC is nothing new, nor is the practice of inmates fighting fires and assisting in other conservation efforts. Inmates have historically been used to fight fires and conserve land when a program in the 1900s was created to have inmates build highways.

In 1946, the first permanent adult conservation camp, also known as a fire camp, was born.

During World War II, inmates were called into action as firefighters to replace the men who left for the war. Today, there are 43 fire camps for the 3,900 men and women who volunteer for the program. While the program seems like a great opportunity for inmates, in reality, it exploits inmates for cheap labor while putting their lives directly in danger.

Fire camps, like many antiquated programs, should be reexamined. Essential reform would be an increase in pay. The minimum wage for Cal Fire firefighters is $11.

So, why do inmates only make a dollar an hour?

It’s not in the interest of private prisons to pay their inmates more quite simply because they don’t have to and they don’t want to. Corporations own private prisons that are only concerned with profiting, not rehabilitating their inmates. When these corporations see dollar signs, they stop seeing inmates as human beings. They profit from keeping them behind bars, and even more so by having them do work for a wage so low, they’re essentially indentured servants. Plus, the state benefits from the extra help in fighting the ravaging flames.

Sure, the program seems like a great opportunity for inmates.

It’s presented as a nice package: inmates are able to leave their prison cells behind for a rural, minimum-security place to call home. Firefighters in the program receive 2 days off their sentence for every day of good behavior.  Only low-level inmates qualify to volunteer. Inmates serving life sentences or who have been convicted of arson or sex crimes are not eligible. State corrections spokesperson Bill Sessa talks about teamwork being an essential tenet of the program. He boasts the “life skills” inmates will have acquired through the program. It seems like fighting fires might be the best option for some prisoners, because of its aspirational marketing as a reward for good behavior and an opportunity to learn a trade.

It’s important, however, to look at this program through a different lens.

The PIC is about profit, and that profit comes at the price of the humanity of inmates. Paying inmates $1 an hour is completely unethical. That dollar is a sad attempt to distance the work from what it actually is – slavery.

Even though the inmates “volunteer”, it’s important to consider the dynamic of a prison.  

David Fathi, director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said, “you have to understand the uniquely coercive prison environment, where few things are clearly voluntary. In light of the vast power inequality between prisoners and those who employ them, there is a real potential for exploitation and abuse.”

There really is no “volunteering” in a prison. The power dynamic doesn’t lend itself to volunteer work, but to creating the illusion of choice.

When it comes to discussing the PIC and exploitation of inmates, one must consider race, too.

If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary 13th by Ava Duvernay, I’d suggest getting on that immediately. It delves into the prison industrial complex, mass incarceration, and racial inequality in the criminal justice system. 

According to California DOJ’s crime data report from 2017, more than 70% of those arrested on marijuana charges were nonwhite. Though black people account for only 6.5% of California’s population, they make up 20% of the state’s felony marijuana arrests.

This is an example of low-level offenders that are able to “volunteer” for the fire program.

The statistics point to the most dangerous job of fighting fires being disproportionately assigned to black people. The PIC doesn’t just exploit inmates, but specifically nonwhite inmates who consistently lack justice in the system.

The program specifically holds itself in high regard for the life skills it rewards inmates, but the cruel reality is that once the inmates have completed their sentences, they have limited opportunities to use these skills. Almost all California counties requite firefighters be licensed EMTs. 

Anyone with a criminal record, however, cannot become an EMT. 

Despite receiving the proper training and working in the field, inmates are unable to become firefighters. It’s not the only job those with a criminal record are denied. Nearly 1,800 jobs require occupational licensing that are denied to those with criminal records.

If the program was truly about preparing inmates for the workforce, inmates would be eligible for licenses so they could actually find employment after their sentences.

It’s clear that rehabilitation isn’t the priority of the state, but having enough cheap manpower to fight the fires is.

If rehabilitation were important, then all inmates should be able to earn 2 days off their sentence for good behavior, not just those in the frontlines of the fires.  While headlines might lead you to believe the fire program is unquestionably good for inmates, it’s not as it seems. Inmates cannot truly rehabilitate until the PIC is abolished.

World News The Environment Science The World Now + Beyond Inequality

Hey, South Africa, stop lying about climate change

Did you know Cape Town in South Africa almost ran out of water?

Three years of poor rain and an ever increasing population brought the metropolis down to its knees. Capetonians were (and are still) being urged to limit their water usage as much as possible in ways such as two-minute showers and flushing the toilet only when extremely necessary. Government officials are citing Climate change but are more eager to pin the problem down to corruption and inefficiencies in management.

Not convinced? That’s ok.

Do you remember the heat wave in California last year? It was said to have been part of the hottest summer on record for California. LA Times reported that six people died from heat-related illnesses and in downtown San Francisco records reached 106 degrees F (41.1 degrees C). It was also reported that the heat put a strain on the State’s power grid which intermittently left thousands without electricity.

Hurricane –

Do you remember Hurricane Irma that devastated the Caribbean and put Florida in a state of emergency? Well, scientific analysis has shown at no point in history dating up to the 1800s has seen the emergence of two category five hurricanes in the region. Last year we had Irma and Maria fit the bill.

And what about the 80 or so wildfires burning across nine western U.S. states causing $1.75 billion being spent on fire suppression?


Did you know all of these catastrophes (and many others) have been due to climate change? Do you even know what I am talking about?

The President of the United States seems to think Climate change isn’t real even though most of the effects are happening in his own backyard. But if we don’t start educating ourselves and making serious alternations to our lifestyles – things are only going to get worse.

ASK A SCIENTIST: What really is climate change?

I know most people think the changes that we will need to bring about will reverse the lifestyle we are accustomed to. But no, nobody is asking you to not drive your car to work and back, we are just asking you to consider purchasing a more fuel-efficient vehicle, or consider carpooling with your colleagues.

Consider using less heat and air conditioning. Nope, not asking you to die of a heat stroke or contract hypothermia. Just wear more layers or less as the occasion calls for it. I personally liked to crank up the air conditioning in the summer and then sleep with a duvet and I know I am not alone in this. Now, after reading about the effects of climate change, I don’t think I can justify my habit. At home, instead of having the heating on all the time, I wear more layers and move around a lot more then I used to.

Fact: did you know setting your thermostat two degrees lower in winter or higher in summer could potentially save up to 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide each year?

Consider saving electricity and water. Not only will you teach your kids to be less wasteful but you will also save a few bucks. Do you really need that 45-minute long shower? Does the water need to be running while you brush your teeth? I am sure you can switch the light off when you leave the room.

Human beings are parasites. There I said it. We will live through the climate change and we will survive. But the ride is not going to be easy and it is not going to be remotely pleasant. Lives are already being lost due to the damage we are doing to Mother Earth, people are already suffering. It may be unpleasant in the developing world, it is truly catastrophic in developing countries. There we don’t have resources to tackle the effects of climate change as well we do here.

If you take anything from this article let it be this: climate change is real. It is disastrous and you can do your part by making small changes to your lifestyle.

Science Now + Beyond

This is what you need to know about Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson was recently confirmed as Secretary of State. Other news sources have been frantically discussing what he means for international relations, but few are wondering what this former oilman could mean for the future of the environment.

Before his nomination, Tillerson was complicit in actively undermining environmentalist efforts. The company he formerly headed, ExxonMobil, has an ongoing interest in disproving climate change. ExxonMobil is probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Big Oil: the international company is one the biggest and most profitable in the world. And to protect its main product, it has a record of funding climate change denial groups and deceiving investors about the real impact of climate change.

The latter infraction gave birth to the hashtag #Exxonknew, and dug up evidence that the company knew about climate change since the 60’s, yet still claimed uncertainty and sowed doubt. And these are only some of the shady things the company has done (i.e. TORTURE.)

Yet, Tillerson has voiced some seemingly responsible opinions as far as climate change denial goes. He doesn’t outright deny climate change, and seems to acknowledge its threats in some ways. As a result, some journalists have praised him as a good “moderate” as opposed to the other folks in Trump’s cabinet.

Don’t be fooled, Tillerson might be the worst pick in this entire administration. His ties to Big Oil underline a terrifying trend in US Politics: putting powerful business interests above the safety and wellbeing of the American people.

Climate change has the potential to destroy major cities with rising tides, exacerbate the existing drought & wildfire problems, and make life much more difficult for Americans. The HUMAN-caused warming of the planet should be treated like national security threat that it is, yet Tillerson is running in circles around the issue.

Although he may not seem as brazen as Trump in regards to climate change, none of what he is saying about climate change is even remotely true. He claims that “Our ability to predict [climate change] is very limited”, yet this is a falsehood. Scientists are in fact able to predict the warming impact down to the degree. He claims that climate change is something that we can adapt to, instead of trying to directly prevent. Yet there are threatened communities around the world that are already unable to adapt to a rise in wildfires, deforestation, drought, and other adverse environmental impacts.

No, The Washington Post, this doesn’t mean that he “sees climate change primarily through the eyes of an engineer, as something that must be solved largely through innovation and ingenuity.” Tillerson is trying to downplay the imminent threat of climate change to protect the business interests he is directly linked to.

While Tillerson was CEO, he did little to back up his so-called moderate position on climate change. He expanded Exxon’s funding of climate denial groups. Under his leadership, Exxon has harassed nonprofits and contributed to the re-election of climate denier Lamar Smith. While in office, Tillerson will have a vested interest in rejecting the Paris Climate Agreement, as Exxon’s finances have no plans for it.

His lack of outright climate change denial seems less threatening, but in fact, in makes him all the more dangerous. If we were to take a good, equitable look at the people around the world (and even just in this country) who are already suffering, we would see that global warming and environmental destruction are among the biggest threats we face. His promise to downplay these effects will only keep us complacent as the tide continues to rise.