White House climate change panel does not inspire optimism


The slate of committee members for the White House climate change panel includes a skeptic. What does that mean for the U.S. and the rest of the world?

White House will establish a climate panel that includes a skeptic

Climate change is happening. That much is clear. Scientists have repeatedly shown that human activity is at the root of extraordinary shifts in our planet’s biosphere. Moreover, the data pretty clearly indicates that climate change is happening at increasingly faster rates, creating dramatic effects that, if left unchecked, are bound to get worse. There is no exaggeration, really, when we say that humanity is facing a pivotal moment, a do-or-die choice that could forever change the course of our species.

So, who could deny all of that? Who could stand to keep their head buried in the sand when everyone else – that is, everyone else who is actually qualified to collect and analyze the data, like climate scientists – says that we’re at a crossroads?

That would be Dr. William Happer, a Princeton physics professor who wants us to believe that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually good for the planet. Happer is set to be part of a 12-person climate panel. The panel is ostensibly there to examine whether or not climate change affects U.S. national security.

While reports from both scientific sources and the U.S. military repeatedly indicate that climate change will become a major security problem, the inclusion of Happer has raised serious concerns. It’s not just that Happer has gone against vast scientific consensus in his writings. It’s also that Happer has proven himself to engage in some morally-gray ethics. In 2015, he agreed to write a scientific paper in support of a Middle Eastern oil company. Except that unnamed oil company turned out to be a group of undercover Greenpeace employees, who brought the matter to Congress.

Currently, Happer is the only named individual who will be part of the panel. All other potential members remain unnamed and un-nominated. Would Happer at least be balanced by just a few of the majority of scientists who argue in favor or climate change? Or, will he be joined by fellow climate change deniers?

Socialism on the rise – maybe

Can you blame any politician for keeping 2020 on their minds? Well, yes, you certainly could if you think dreams of re-election are so overwhelming that they can’t complete their current duties. But, with the nature of American politics as it is, and with so many politicians facing dramatic fights in next year’s election, it’s hard not to think ahead.

The intense nature of the political world right now has also lent hectic energy to the whole affair. It’s hard to deny that the business of governing has become increasingly partisan, both in the United States and worldwide. People seem more and more apt to take sides, and to defend their respective views with teeth-bared ferocity.

From our perspective, however, there is some doubt when politicians stand their ground. Are they taking a principled stand, or are they setting themselves up for success in 2020?

Take the recent rhetoric issuing from the White House, specifically that focused on socialism. The President has denounced the struggling socialist regime in Venezuela, going so far as to support current President Nicolás Maduro’s opponent Juan Guaidó. In the U.S., there is plenty of talk about socialism in politics, especially with the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives. Ocasio-Cortez, who has proven to be very upfront about her political views and affiliations, is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, who just announced his 2020 presidential campaign, became as popular as he is in part because of his socialist ideals. Then again, Sanders might not identify himself as a full-blown socialist, bringing light to the complexity of the ideas in play here.

Why all the talk about socialism? Much of it has to do with that 2020 election, growing ever larger in the public mind. For lawmakers, this means they must make a serious decision. Do they embrace socialist-style programs (though not necessarily outright socialism) in an effort to jive with the future of politics? Socialist-style policies, like collecting tax money for infrastructure and public education, are arguably already a part of U.S. government.

Besides, it appears that socialism is bound to be a growing force in American politics for the foreseeable future. For Democrats especially, going against these ideals could make for an unstable, tricky career ahead.

Or, should they push back against a potentially disastrous political movement that could seriously damage not just social programs, but the U.S. economy? And, perhaps at the forefront of every politician’s mind: how many votes will their particular stance gain for their reelection? The President certainly looks to be going this way. He’s been at the forefront of an unpopular government shutdown and is tied to collusion investigations and resistance from within the Department of Justice. The much-discussed border wall, which remains generally unpopular, will likely be tied up in legal challenges for months or even years to come.

For a President, that seems especially set on fulfilling campaign promises in the hope of maintaining a vocal if highly specific base, that’s a big loss. Bringing up socialist bogeymen may be an attempt to bolster his chances for a 2020 reelection campaign.

Venezuela facing serious upheaval

Speaking of socialism, Venezuela, one of the world’s most prominent socialist states, is in the midst of a period of growing unrest. President Nicolás Maduro is already facing challenges in the form of opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself the actual President in January. Over 50 governments, including the United States, Australia, Japan, and a majority of European nations, recognize Guaidó as the rightful leader of Venezuela. Yet, Maduro remains in power, and he’s got plenty to say.

Right now, Maduro is in opposition to foreign aid for his nation’s people. Venezuelans have been struggling with a weak economy and dwindling resources for years now. Hyperinflation, irritated by a previous boom in oil prices, has led to scarce food and medical supplies. An estimated three million Venezuelan people have left their country as a result.

Yet, Venezuelan military forces have blocked U.S. aid from arriving across the Colombian border. This week, Maduro announced that Venezuela was closing the border with Brazil “completely and absolutely.” He also stated that he was considering closing the border with Colombia as well. Both Colombia and Brazil officially recognize Guaidó as President.

Though Maduro has consistently denied the presence of any crisis in his country, he is accepting foreign aid from Russia. After Guaidó’s announcement, Russia recognized Maduro as the rightful leader.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

After the news of this week, maybe you want to chill out and listen to some music. At least it can distract for the while being, especially if you’re listening to a singular musician who’s so good that you feel like adding a checkmark to the “in favor of humanity” column.

This time around, may we suggest Hazel Scott? She was a Trinidadian-American musician and actor who was active for much of the 20th century. Scott started things off as a child prodigy, studying as an eight-year-old at the renowned Juilliard School. Scott got onto the radio at age sixteen and worked from there, even going so far as to play two pianos at the same time like a complete master.

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Scott ran afoul of the political mood of her time when she testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1950. Though she testified that she was never a Communist, her activism and, arguably, the fact that she was an outspoken black woman, did not help. Scott’s television variety show was canceled shortly after her testimony and, by the late 1950s, she had moved to Paris. Scott wouldn’t return to the United States until 1967.

Frankly, there isn’t enough room here to do justice to Scott and her long, fascinating career. Read about her in The New York Times and Narratively, to start. If you want to see her film performances, 1945’s Rhapsody in Blue features Scott performing Gershwin tunes. And that two-piano amazement takes place in 1943’s The Heat’s On.