Trying to find the silver linings of some very dark clouds this week, as Harvey leaves an entire region devastated while toxins from Houston’s two dozen Superfund sites leach out to sea. Perhaps rising gas prices from the loss of one third of US oil refining capacity will spur more people to ditch their cars, or at least ditch their gas guzzlers for something more efficient?

Meanwhile, although 44 of the 74 remaining species of herbivorous megafauna are threatened with extinction in their native territories, several of these species have been naturalized as introduced species in other parts of the world, and scientist are finding that this may actually have positive impacts on both the species themselves and the ecosystems to which they have become accustomed.

And finally, although the Paris Agreement in its current form is nowhere near strong enough or ambitious enough to stop hurricanes like Harvey from becoming the new normal, the 1989 Montreal Protocol to stop CFCs from destroying the ozone layer has been a spectacular success, not only in saving the ozone layer, but, it turns out, also in limiting greenhouse gas pollution. Maybe instead of re-inventing the wheel we should just expand the Montreal Protocol to include other greenhouse gases?


More mind-blowing evidence against transparency in government: when Congressional decision-making was closed to the public, it was also closed to lobbyists, who literally had to wait in the lobby. They were basically powerless and earned hardly any money. Opening the doors of the legislature to the public also let lobbyists out of the lobby and into the decision-making, making them suddenly extremely powerful. Companies poured money into lobbying, reaping even more money in return, cutting the top tax rate almost 50% in just 3 years. The so-called Sunshine Law represents an inflection point in American tax law and CEO pay as well as incarceration rates and health care costs.

To me “racism” seems to mean personal prejudice against people of a certain race, or the personal belief that people of one race are superior to those of a different race. Similarly, “White Supremacy” seems to mean a personal belief that whites are superior to people of other races and therefore should have the power. The marchers in Charlottsville were White Supremacists because they personally, explicitly, believe whites are different and better and deserve more. In contrast, “systemic racism” seems to me to mean a systemic problem that is woven into every institution and story in society, shaping everyone’s beliefs and behaviors even when they don’t consciously hold personal prejudice. I appreciated this article which explains that “White Supremacy” means a systemic problem, a “historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression . . . for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.” And this one that explains the point of talking about systemic racism and white privilege is not to make white people feel guilty, and indeed, when white people respond by feeling guilty, it defeats the purpose of raising awareness. Its advice harkens back to the article I posted last week showing that white nationalists de-humanize others.

“What can those who identify as humanists, or even those who simply consider themselves decent people do to combat systemic racism? Make a concerted effort to humanize and identify with all individuals.

. . . If you’re carrying guilt for being privileged, quit wasting your time. Devote your mental energy towards something worthwhile, like transmitting heightened awareness within your sphere of influence (however marginal) and seeking to destabilize the inequitable power structure that allows and excuses the bias and cruelty involved with cases like Eric Harris. Focus less on your guilt and more on being a catalyst for change.”


Analysis of before and after attitudes about climate change held by evangelical college students who attend talks by evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe validates the “trusted sources” approach—the idea that trusting the messenger and seeing them as a member of your in-group makes you more likely to accept the message. See the Guardian write up here.

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  • My thoughts are with the people of the Gulf Coast and Houston, Texas. It’s hard to fathom that parts of that area experienced as much as 50 inches of rain in a week—rainfall equivalent to all of the precipitation from the past 14 months in Seattle. (See also: Chris Mooney in the Washington Post on the science that connects extreme weather events like Harvey to climate change impacts and our guide for talking with authority and accuracy about climate and weather connections.)


    For the record, responsibility for these suggestions lies with myself alone, and not Sightline:

    Democracy Now! has been providing coverage all week for the greenhouse gas-exacerbated disaster named Hurricane Harvey. Readers can check all their broadcasts, but particularly informative was the August 30 show, at Democracy Now!. It included Naomi Klein’s message to the corporate media that it needs to make the connection between global warming and more frequent intense storms, and former NASA scientist James Hansen explaining how global warming makes storms more extreme.

    If I am allowed an editorial comment, IMHO, this is a signal from The Deity, in whatever form She may take, telling science deniers that the fossil fuel/petrochemical industry is dangerous to human civilization and other living things. Carbon Tax as Reparations, anyone?

    John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts.