Global Disclaimer

“Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” If you’ve ever seen an ad from a brokerage firm, you know the disclaimer. That’s the story of the global environmental crisis and the approaching economic recession. Technological fixes for climate change, such as geo-engineering, are prescriptions for even greater disaster. And tried and tested, anti-recession formulas will in the future only make global warming and the economic crisis worse. What’s needed now is what’s so far been untried: real democracy, an economy based upon genuine human need, and an ethic of responsibility to the non-human world: in short, ecological democracy.

The Climate Crisis

Let’s start with global warming.  The climate record, found in ice cores, tree rings and written documents, is of little use in modeling the future. The current concentration of climate warming carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – about 420 parts per million – is higher than it has been in the last 800,000 years, and possibly the last 20 million. And the current rate of animal extinction is equally unprecedented, if you exclude the catastrophic Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago. Species are now disappearing at a rate 2,000 times faster than normal. That’s the difference between the speed of a tortoise and an F-15 fighter jet.

An unprecedented present means an uncertain future.  Nevertheless, scientists have made some powerful forecasts, and here’s the bad news:  Even if we immediately reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, global temperatures will continue to rise above already historic levels, triggering larger hurricanes, longer droughts, and more destructive fires. In other words, even if the current, climate-change denying White House occupant is defeated in 2020, the Democrats keep the House and sweep the Senate, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal becomes law, we’d still be screwed.  

That’s the current best-case scenario when it comes to climate change; here’s the more likely worst case – the one that follows if don’t quickly cut emissions, according to a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, authored by climate scientist Will Steffen and others: The equatorial and boreal forests will die, the oceans will continue to acidify, and the Arctic permafrost will thaw. That last will release a vast amount of stored CO2, heating up the planet still more, further melting the diminishing Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, ensuring a devastating sea-level rise of dozens, or even hundreds of feet. And if all this came to pass, human civilization

From: Will Steffen, et al, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” PNAS, August 2018

From: Will Steffen, et al, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” PNAS, August 2018

itself could disappear – probably within 100 years. While some may take solace at the prospect (there’s a growing Voluntary Human Extinction Movement), even non-human survivors – the wily cockroaches, rats, squirrels, and pigeons – will struggle to survive the onslaught of floods, droughts, and fires.

The Next Recession

Then there is looming a second crisis, the solution to which will need to be unprecedented, unless we want to make the climate crisis even worse. The global, capitalist powers are slouching toward recession. Current levels of U.S. corporate and household debt are sky high. Personal savings rates (as a percentage of income) are dangerously low: about 2.5% -- the same as they were at the start of the Great Recession in 2008. Combined with elevated debt, low savings tend to contract consumer spending. In addition to debt and saving rates, several other economic factors portend recession: salary levels, the employment rate (not as favorable as it seems), union membership, corporate profits, and rising inequality.  

From: John Cassidy, “Piketty’s Inequality Story in Six Graphs,” The New Yorker, March 26, 2014

From: John Cassidy, “Piketty’s Inequality Story in Six Graphs,” The New Yorker, March 26, 2014

Salaries for non-management workers have not increased in more than 40 years, while wages for the top tenth of earners have increased 15%. Since these income gains go mostly into savings, they don’t stimulate nearly as much economic activity as if they went to lower-income workers.  Though the official rate of unemployment is just 3.8%,  the “real rate,” including short-term discouraged workers and the under-employed is 7.6%. If you count long-term discouraged workers, the rate rises to 21.3%, meaning that there is little pressure on employers to raise salaries. In addition, union membership in down to about 10 % nationwide, and in the private sector just 7%, the lowest level since the Great Depression. The consequence of these numbers is a deeply disempowered working class, unable for the first time in modern history to demand wages increase even as their productivity rises. Inequality has thus grown to levels unseen since the time of the 18th C French Queen (“Let them eat cake!) Marie Antoinette.

Disempowered Workers

The consequence of this income and wealth inequality is an empowered capitalist class and a deeply disempowered working class. The overwhelming political and ideological dominance of  

Joseph Hirsch,  Lunchtime , (lithograph), 1942.

Joseph Hirsch, Lunchtime, (lithograph), 1942.

capital in the current class struggle enabled congressional Republicans and the president to pass a tax cut in 2017 which further enriched the wealthy, while reducing incomes for the poor. And whatever modest economic stimulus the tax cut may initially have had, it’s now clearly worn off, and the resulting budget deficit become a damper on the economy and a threat to the modest, social welfare net. To be sure, cuts to government social programs are driven most of all by neoliberal ideology not by deficit levels or interest rates, but the deficit numbers make the politics of investment more difficult.

When the next recession finally arrives, it will, like all previous ones, be caused by capital underutilization, meaning the generation of profits (surplus) alongside diminished opportunities for investment.  That repeated circumstance – from the U.S. depression of 1839 to the Great Recession of 2008 – has typically resulted in bank failures, evaporating credit, the tanking of equity markets, and high unemployment. In every historical case, the crisis was overcome by the creation or discovery of massive new investment opportunities such as railroads, electrification, automobilization, and the interstate highway system, or other means of capital absorption, such as war and militarism. In addition to that, as the economists Paul Sweezy and Paul Baran showed, the sales and marketing effort, financialization, and sheer waste have been fruitful ways to generate demand and absorb surplus capital.

The Escape Hatch is Blocked, so a New Way Out is Needed

But these very solutions to the chronic, capitalist problem of the absorption of surplus have in fact led us to the current, environmental impasse, or “ecological rift,” to cite the title of sociologists John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York’s influential book. The use and abuse of natural resources and the logic of capitalist growth, has broken the essential balance between Earth and human society, and brought about a planetary emergency. The continued extraction and use of fossil fuels, and the mass manufacture and sale of finished goods and high-value agricultural commodities (particularly meat) is hastening the coming catastrophe.  And any potential acceleration of that exploitation, for example by means of massive spending to increase growth to avert recession, will only bring the climate and environmental disaster closer.

Modest efficiencies won’t help. In 2018, U.S. carbon emissions surged by 3.4% despite a large reduction in coal use, due to strong growth in the manufacturing and transport sectors. Global emissions rose about 2.7%. Part of the reason for these increases, paradoxically, may be better

From: Corinne Le Quéré, “Global Carbon Budget,” Earth System Science Data, vol. 10, 2018

From: Corinne Le Quéré, “Global Carbon Budget,” Earth System Science Data, vol. 10, 2018

 fuel efficiency. As heating costs decline, people heat their homes and businesses to a higher temperature. And as the price per mile of transportation decreases, people drive more, negating any decrease in CO2 emissions due to fuel efficiency. The name for this phenomenon is Jevon’s Paradox, named for the mid 19th C. English economist who discovered that efficiencies in coal use actually led to increased consumption of the fuel. Better home insulation and higher fuel economy standards, along with taxes on carbon, could reduce carbon emissions somewhat, but these measures wouldn’t come close to averting climate disaster.

Nor will geo-engineering provide the fix that will allow us in the future to continue to use fossil fuels – and invest in the economy -- as we have in the past. Carbon capture (excepting the planting of trees!) has never been shown to work at the necessary scale. And solar, geo-engineering, using stratospheric sulfate aerosols, is equally fanciful despite recent hype. For example, at the December 2018 meeting of the AGU (American Geophysical Union),  a stellar panel of experts argued that the technology had arrived and implementation merely a matter of will. The uncertainties, one speaker argued, were no greater than those surrounding global warming itself.

The technology involves releasing from airplanes or balloons tens of millions of tons of aerosols in order to increase the earth’s reflectivity, thereby preventing sunlight from reaching the atmosphere. The aerosols would obviously need to be released at the correct altitudes and latitudes to ensure that the areas of the earth that most needed shade would receive it, while those that don’t, wouldn’t. For example, while Sub-Saharan Africa and the U.S. south and southwest would clearly benefit from the cooler temperature, parts of Canada, Russia, the northern U.S., England, Scandanavia and other northern or polar regions might welcome the higher temperatures and longer growing seasons.  

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From: Daisy Dunne, “Geoengineering,” Carbon Brief, October 1, 2018

The AGU presentations led one critical observer to pose a general question to the speakers: “Doesn’t this scheme demand a degree of political consensus presently unimaginable? Which nations would control the aerosols? Would the desire for profit – for example larger crop yields in some places -- outweigh the protection of habitat and endangered species, or for that matter at-risk communities?  Moreover, solar geo-engineering wouldn’t reduce the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, so the acidification of the seas would rapidly increase, leading to vast, oceanic dead zones. And finally, what about ‘the termination effect’? If the aerosol release were to stop suddenly – for example because of a political dispute – temperatures would suddenly spike to the levels that would have existed had there been no geoengineering. The consequence would be cataclysmic.”

The panel speakers looked at each other and hesitated. Finally, one said: “We work on the science of solar geo-engineering. You’d have to ask that question of our colleagues in the political and social sciences. Many of them are thinking hard about those issues.”  The questioner then added: “If global politics could manage a more or less eternal project of solar geo-engineering, surely it can handle a short-term transition from the use of fossil fuels to renewables!”

In fact, the necessary transition to ecologic and economic sustainability, or to a genuine “Green New Deal” more radical than the one promoted by the Sunrise Movement, will be difficult and

From: Lisa Freidman, “What is the green New Deal,”  NYTimes , Feb. 21, 2019. Photo: Pete Marovich.

From: Lisa Freidman, “What is the green New Deal,” NYTimes, Feb. 21, 2019. Photo: Pete Marovich.

require attention, once again, to the global disclaimer that “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” While there is currently no shortage of good ideas, all of them involve what Steffen and his colleagues describe as “a deep transformation based on a fundamental reorientation of human values, equity, behavior, institutions, economies, and technologies.”  What that means, is that there exists no reliable road map for the path to a livable and sustainable planet, and that everything most people formerly believed about capitalism, politics, power and the global economy is no longer operative.  If we wish to survive and thrive, we’ll have to enter uncharted territory.

Ecological Democracy

Survival entails the inauguration of ecological democracy. Our current democracy is a monopolist oligarchy: rule by a few, governing in collaboration with (and occasional minor roadblocks from) elected officials. A handful of large corporations run by some very rich men and a few women – including Amazon, Walmart, Berkshire Hathaway, Apple, and Exxon-Mobile – together determine what is made and sold in the U.S., and our relations with other nations. Unhindered by trade unions and facilitated by congress and government regulators, they determine conditions of employment (wages, workplace safety, health insurance, and retirement benefits), global trade relations, and environmental protection, or what passes for it. And because the purpose of these oligarchs is the immediate generation of profit and the continual increase of corporate share-price value, they pursue their ends with little regard for the long-term well-being of their customers or the planet itself. It must be remembered that the goal of capitalist production is not food, clothing, housing, health or entertainment – these are simply byproducts -- but the generation of profit. At the same time, the toxic leftovers from production – heavy metals, radioactive isotopes, agricultural and chemical runoff, poisonous gasses, and climate warming CO2 and Methane – are simply released into the environment with little regard for their impact on the health and safety of humans or animals.  The cost of cleaning up these “negative externalities” – if they are cleaned up at all – is born mostly by taxpayers, the same people who suffered from the pollution to begin with! (The least affluent taxpayers generally suffer the most; they are forced by economic necessity to live in greatest proximity to the worst sources of pollution.) 

Ecological democracy on the other hand, would take as its end the satisfaction of real human needs and the preservation of the non-human world for generations to come.  That means the achievement of substantive equality through democratic means: regular discussion and debate within and between communities; elimination of racial, gender and other forms of bias in education, housing and employment; widespread sharing of power and leadership; worker ownership and control of productive enterprises (factories, businesses, schools, and laboratories); and sound, environmental stewardship. The latter entails learning and practicing the best means to protect air, soil and water, in order to ensure that natural resources are always replenished, and that waste products are recycled and re-used.  

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 11.53.10 AM.png

There are no technological obstacles to prevent us achieving an ecological democracy. There are ample means to generate energy without recourse to fossil fuels: solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, fuel cell and more. And though there are some difficulties in the area of power distribution and storage, they are relatively few and will within a few years be overcome. In addition, though population growth has taxed the earth’s carrying capacity, the greater issue is the unequal distribution or wealth: population growth tends to stabilize (and even reverse course) when income rises. The main impediment to the achievement of ecological democracy is the power of the entrench oligopoly to control information, education and political discourse. When even so modest and pragmatic a document as the Green New Deal is treated in the media and Congress as pie-in-the-sky, utopia or even madness, then you know that the organs of monopoly oligarchy have taken hold of the debate.  In fact, some version of the GND is needed, but even more so. And eventually, an activated middle and working class, badly impacted by rising temperatures, flooding, climate refugees, food and housing shortages, and polluted air, water and soil, will come together in huge numbers to demand – and then achieve -- an end to monopolistic oligarchy and the start of ecological democracy. The question is, will the awakening come too late?

Flood Travelogue – Pensacola, Gulfport, and Biloxi

Harriet and I recently returned from a week-long road trip to Gulfport and Biloxi Mississippi.  I’d only been to Mississippi a handful of times before, on the way to somewhere else, and had few impressions of the state. What I knew of it was mostly limited to national politics – it’s overwhelmingly Republican – and a childhood memory concerning the notorious murders in 1964 of three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Philadelphia, MS.  The latter two were from New York City, as I was, and their deaths led to an outpouring of grief in Jewish families like mine. Terrible as they were in themselves, the murders somehow triggered thoughts of the Holocaust, a catastrophe still fresh in collective memory.

Harriet and I travelled without trepidation.  We’d been invited to attend a community meeting of flood survivors in Gulfport, so we knew we'd be welcomed. We also planned to go to nearby Biloxi and visit with Gordon Jackson, an environmental coordinator with the local NAACP. The weather was fine, the route was straightforward, and our dog came along with us. Her name is Echo, she’s 11 years old, and sometimes assists Harriet, who is partly deaf. I say sometimes, because though she’s very good at barking loudly to let Harriet know if the phone rings or someone is at the door, she also barks when nobody is at the door, as well as at friends, family members and really, almost everybody she meets. Travelling with her can be a challenge.

The trip from our home in Micanopy, Florida -- a sleepy, picturesque town south of Gainesville – to Gulfport is about 475 miles. The route takes you north and west through the Florida panhandle, and then into coastal Alabama and Mississippi. We mostly took the I-10 freeway. It isn’t fabled, like Route 66, but is epic in its own way. It travels almost 2,500 miles from Jacksonville to Santa Monica, and every driver who knows that fact, feels the freedom of the road and the lure of the coasts. We drove less than 1/5th that distance, and tried to get off the road, from time to time, to get a better look at the landscape than is possible from six lanes of asphalt divided by a grassy median strip.

Gulf coast roads are mostly flat, but the ecology changes pretty dramatically as you travel west, and you can see it from any road, including the interstate. There’s dry Sandhill near Gainesville, with Long Leaf Pines and wiregrass, and Moist Uplands further north and west, with Magnolias, Oaks, Maples and other hardwoods. The western Panhandle of Florida has more Longleaf Pine and Wiregrass, and is what’s called an “ecological hotspot” for all its floral and faunal diversity – there are 27 species of frogs and 42 of snakes in the region. You obviously can’t see much of that from the road, but when we crossed the Choctawhatchee River near DeFuniak Springs, I saw a Pileated Woodpecker swoop across the road, and briefly imagined it was an Ivory Bill. It was near here in 2006, I knew, that researchers from Auburn University and the University of Windsor claimed to see the bird -- long presumed extinct – and hear its distinct call. Most ornithologists now reject the sightings, but you never know.

Our first stop was Pensacola, Florida to meet up with Gloria Horning, who is Vice President of The Tanyard Association, named for the historic African American community in which they live. Gloria herself isn’t Black, but most of her neighbors are, and she heads the Environment Committee of the local NAACP. Gloria is a handsome, heavy set woman of about 60, round-faced, with a voice like a coffee grinder. She’s also funny, confident and brave. We met her at her gaily painted shotgun shack, which faces a vacant, partly flooded field where hundreds of homes are slated for development. If they are built – and Gloria is trying to stop it -- they’ll be raised up a few feet to protect them from storms and high tides, but at the same time increase the likelihood of flooding everywhere else in the Tanyard. “Beggar thy neighbor” is the prevailing development ethic in the age of climate change.

Gloria Horning in front of her home in Pensacola, Florida.

Gloria Horning in front of her home in Pensacola, Florida.

Harriet has been meeting with Gloria monthly for almost a year to discuss the persistent flooding in her neighborhood, and the equally devastating gentrification that’s driving away long-time residents. It’s a version of what Naomi Klein called “disaster capitalism”: A human-induced catastrophe (bad infrastructure plus global warming) pushes working-class folks from their homes, and allows developers to scoop up what’s left on favorable terms. The houses are then demolished and new ones built, to be sold at high prices to much wealthier people – usually white – from other neighborhoods or regions.

As with other community leaders, we've matched Gloria with a scientist to help her and the Tanyard Association challenge – through documentation and court papers -- greedy or corrupt politicians and developers, and save their cherished neighborhood. She has made decent progress organizing her neighbors and getting them to record what they see. And as we walked the streets, we could see the secret to her success. Gloria knew almost everybody by name, gave out (and received) lots of hugs, and when she saw anything that looked wrong, she intervened, as if she were the local cop on the beat.  At one point, Gloria spied from a block away a pair of burley men wearing work-belts and vests, and wielding power saws. They had begun cutting down a tree in an alley.  She walked over and demanded to see their permit. When they couldn’t produce one, Gloria insisted they stop. And they did! In the fight against flooding and global warming, chutzpah counts.

After Pensacola, we drove west on the I10 across the Florida border into Alabama, then crossed Mobile Bay, a vast but shallow estuary of the Gulf of Mexico. On August 28-29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina sent a 16-foot surge of water into Mobile Bay, flooding the city of Mobile and many surrounding communities. Gulfport, about 50 miles to the west, was also slammed. It hugs about 10 miles of Gulf coast, and suffered storm surges as high as 28 feet. The damage was extensive, and the evidence is still visible. There are numerous vacant lots along Rt. 90 across from pretty, white sand beaches. A little further inland, the houses are smaller but the pattern is the same: empty lots in the urban fabric, like gaps in a mouthful of teeth.

In Gulfport we first attended a public meeting convened by Katherine Egland, who chairs the NAACP National Environment and Climate Justice Committee. She’s trying to protect from flooding two, historic African American communities, which we later visited: Turkey Creek, which dates to 1866, and Forest Heights, which was established exactly 100 years later. Both are remarkable in different ways. The first was settled by emancipated slaves, and contains numerous houses dating to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, including shotgun-shacks and Craftsman Bungalows. It's a small community, beautifully nested among Live Oak, Wax Myrtle, Sparkleberry and other native trees and shrubs, and bordered on two sides by meandering Turkey Creek and the larger, tidal Bayou Bernard.  The area is naturally prone to flooding, but more so now that it’s hemmed in on its two other sides by industrial, commercial and transportation development. An airport and a shopping mall are terrible at absorbing heavy rain, but excellent at feeding runoff into adjacent rivers and creeks, and into the basements and first floors of nearby homes. The planned expansion of Route 49 which leads directly to Gulfport Harbor, would make future flooding even worse.

Meeting residents in Forest Heights, Mississippi.

Meeting residents in Forest Heights, Mississippi.

Forest Heights, located north of Turkey Creek (the waterway), is a housing subdivision created in 1966 by the National Council of Negro Women, with support from HUD and the Ford Foundation. It was a Great Society initiative, intended to showcase the virtues of both racial integration and private home ownership. About 200 hundred houses were built on 100 acres of land, and only married couples with children could purchase the mortgage-subsidized homes. Buyers were required to take a class in home economics and pledge to follow strict rules about behavior and upkeep.  Watching a promotional film for the subdivision today is painful, but in its day, the subdivision must have seemed a godsend to Black residents. The state was governed in 1966 by Paul B. Johnson Jr., a segregationist who in June 1964 dismissed even the possibility that Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner had been murdered, saying: “Maybe they went to Cuba?” (Their bodies were discovered in August.) By 1966, Johnson began to moderate his views as a result of Mississippi’s bad, national image and deteriorating business climate.

Today, Forest Height too is threatened by flooding due to development of wetlands, global warming, (more intense rainstorms) and poor maintenance of the Turkey Creek levee. At the meeting in Gulfport, residents, many of them elderly, asked politicians and local representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers what they proposed to do to save both Turkey Creek and Forest Heights from increased flooding due to irresponsible building and global warming. The answer was basically: “We have a plan, but we need congress and the president to fund it.” Anthropocene Alliance has just begun a campaign called The United Flooded States of America, (complete with flag – see below) intended to put pressure on local, state and federal elected officials to make flood mitigation – including action on climate change – a top priority.

Banner for the United Flooded States of America campaign.

Banner for the United Flooded States of America campaign.

The final stop on our Southern tour was Biloxi, a fine old southern town, also located on the Gulf, and also badly damaged by Katrina in 2005, as well as Hurricanes Isaac in 2012 and Nate in 2017.  The city is graced with an internationally significant art museum designed by Frank Gehry, and dedicated to the early 20th Century artist George Ohr, known as the “mad potter of Biloxi.” He was, hands down, the greatest ceramic artist of his age, and the museum is a fitting tribute. We were relaxing and enjoying the exhibits when the museum announced it would close early in anticipation of a coming storm.  This wasn’t a hurricane, just a new-normal band of thunderstorms with 50 mph gusts, dumping 3-4 inches of rain in as many hours.

The next day, Gordon Jackson took us on a driving tour of the old sections of African American Biloxi. There again we saw the telltale vacant lots amid the urban fabric, and houses in poor states of repair, the result of former flooding events as well as poverty.  We’ll try to help Gordon as he organizes residents in his community, but the challenges are many and resources few.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, King Claudius complains to his wife Gertrude, “When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.” The line came to mind as we drove back to Micanopy from our visits to four flood-survivor communities in Mississippi and Florida. It wasn’t just frequent flooding that was hurting the folks in these historic, mostly Black areas, it was also poverty (little accumulated wealth), poor health, discrimination, and disenfranchisement.  It isn’t “a single spy” that wrecks a family, or a community, it’s a “battalion.”  To understand this better, let’s return for a moment to the case of Gulfport. There, the poverty rate of whites is about 15%, while that of Blacks, Native Americans and Latiinx is about 26%.  42% of children in the city grow up in poverty, a disproportionate number of them non-white. Unemployment is more than twice as high for non-whites as whites. And health care disparities are equally great. Four times as many white as Black Medicare enrollees are treated for their diabetes, and more than five times as many elderly white women than Black women receive preventative health services. These differences exist despite the fact that Whites and Blacks in Gulfport graduate from local colleges in numbers proportionate to their population.

In fact, economic inequality in Gulfport, Biloxi, and elsewhere in Mississippi and Florida, continue to grow among all ethnicities, but especially between Black and White, despite the narrowing of the educational divide and rising worker productivity. Racism in Mississippi may not be as virulent as it once was, but it is still powerful and can even be deadly, when you consider the health-access disparities and the impacts of flooding. Voter disenfranchisement and gerrymandering are two reasons why non-white communities there and in Florida are politically and economically disadvantaged, why they are more likely to get flooded, and why they are less likely to get local, state or federal help. 

So, it turns out that the flood survivor communities we are working with are not victims of natural disasters. They have actually been specifically targeted by politicians and developers because they have few economic and political resources with which to resist. The struggle against environmental abuse and climate change must therefore occur at multiple levels. That’s why we partner with experts in the fields of engineering and hydrology, housing and urban planning, law, insurance, health and social services. And it’s why we are always looking for new alliances with environmental justice organizations wherever we work. We now have 45 Higher Ground, flood-survivor communities in 20 states, and have become the largest flood survivor network in the country. That means we’ll soon need to hit the road again, to talk to front line communities who are trying to save themselves – and the rest of us – from flooding, environmental abuse and the growing impact of climate change. 


What Today's Headline Should Be

Fueled by Global Warming, Hurricane Florence Menaces the Carolinas

As expected, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season is a whopper. Coastal communities in North and South Carolina face the prospect of severe damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure, especially to the electric power grid. Inland agriculture, much of it given over to concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms), may also be damaged, and neighboring communities along with them. The state has nearly 7,000 hog and chicken farms, the greatest share of them just north of Wilmington, near where the hurricane is expected to make landfall.  Animal excrement ponds are likely be overwhelmed by the volume of rainfall and spread waste across a wide area.

Six years ago, Republican legislators in North Carolina passed a law, barring state officials from using climate change forecasts for any coastal or other development decisions. The action was taken despite research indicating that sea level rise was speeding up in the Southest U.S.  Indeed, climate scientists have for years warned the public and politicians that rising seas, increased ocean temperatures, and changes to higher atmospheric humidity are a recipe for larger, stronger and wetter hurricanes. 

In addition, decreased atmospheric steering winds, the result of higher temperatures at the poles, means that hurricanes and other big storms linger longer over given areas, dropping more rain.  Last year’s deluge of 60 inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey (recorded near Port Arthur, Texas) was a clear example of the phenomenon. It may have been the single greatest rain event in human history. But, scientists warn, it’s a phenomenon likely to be repeated.

With luck, Hurricane Florence may weaken or its rains turn out to be less than anticipated. But depending upon luck to save coastal and nearby inland regions from disaster is not sound public policy. What is needed instead is disaster mitigation, including the restoration of coastal wetlands, and concerted action to stop the further release of global warming gasses, chiefly CO2 and Methane. Without those steps, we face a century of Florences and worse.


Anthropocene Alliance helps communities harmed by climate change and environmental abuse. We do it by helping grass roots, flood survivor groups get better organized and heard. We also do it by encouraging vegan groups to become more vocal and activist. Animal agriculture is one of the leading emitters of global greenhouse gases, and a source of immense suffering for billions of animals.

Vegan Ethics Now

Vegan Ethics Now

Illustrations by Sue Coe.

The remarkable thing about current conversations concerning the ethics of veganism is that they so often turn into discussions about the necessity of veganism.[i] At a time of environmental crisis, human civilization itself may depend upon our willingness to protect animals and stop eating meat.  Ethics in this case isn’t so much branch of philosophy as a means of survival.[ii] 

The Meat Apologists Strike Back

The Meat Apologists Strike Back

A recent article in Quartz, an online magazine owned by corporate-apologist Atlantic Media, is an example of the growing backlash against the surging vegan movement, of which VGNPWR is one expression.  The author, Chase Purdy, titled his piece “If the Entire Nation Went Vegan, it Would be a Public Health Disaster:”

Taking on a Critic of the Anthropocene Concept

Taking on a Critic of the Anthropocene Concept

In a recent issue of the journal Earth (September 2017), published by the American Geosciences Union, the philosopher Christine Cuomo cast doubt on the validity of the Anthropocene as designation for the current epoch in geologic history:

The Anthropocene, as visitors to Anthropocene Alliance will know, is the name proposed by the Working Group of the Anthropocene (WGA), a committee established by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), to describe the moment in Earth’s history when humans came to dominate and even determine major earth systems.

Hurricane Harvey and its Aftermath

Hurricane Harvey and its Aftermath

Since our founding in April, Anthropocene Alliance established a powerful tool for helping individuals and communities hurt by flooding, Flood Forum USA, along with a Facebook platform called SPOUT!  FFUSA has engaged over 100 community Flood Groups across 30 states in the US, representing 200,000 people, and initiated mitigation programs in 10 of them, assisted by the Thriving Earth Exchange of the American Geophysical Union.  SPOUT! has become a go-to, speak-out forum for up to date information about mitigation and flood relief efforts across the country. This recent article in The Huffington Post illustrates the bravery and resilience of our SPOUT! friends.

And then came Harvey.

No Road Sign for Climate Change

No Road Sign for Climate Change

The unfolding disaster in Houston and along the Texas and Louisiana coasts is a sign of things to come. Rain events are certain to get worse and more people are sure to be inconvenienced, displaced and even killed by flooding. Climate science proves it.

But there will never be a road sign that reads: “Yield to global warming.” Instead, climate change disasters will happen without warning, just as they do now. Seasonally occurring storms will form as they have in the past. A few will grow into hurricanes, as usual. But in a handful of cases – and increasingly over time – the hurricanes that form will be 100 year, 500 year or 800 year events. They will drop an astonishing amount of water and cause immense damage over a geographically large region.

Anthropocene Alliance is launched at a propitious moment.

Anthropocene Alliance is launched at a propitious moment.

Never before has the human role in environmental degradation been more widely acknowledged and understood. From great cities in the U.S. to small hamlets in rural China, people are discussing air and water pollution, the degradation of soils and aquifers, and especially, the looming crisis of global warming. People are poised to act.

And yet at precisely the moment when the majority of the global population has the greatest capacity to come together to face the environmental crisis, the world’s largest military and economic power has shrunk or shut down federal programs to research and limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.