Life and debt, and suicide

_65377362_widow57398019In the grad seminar I’m currently teaching on postcolonial ecologies, we did one unit on the struggles rural people in India have faced over the last two decades, roughly since the beginning of neoliberalism in the country. Among the many problems faced by farmers, debt figures prominently. All too often, crippling debt leads farmers to take their own lives. Thousands of Indian farmers have done so over the last two decades.

As the work of Mahasweta Devi makes clear (we read Imaginary Maps), this problem of farmer debt also has a gendered dimension. Debt leads families to sell their children to unscrupulous loan sharks, who often force young girls into prostitution. Even in less dire cases, however, the problem of debt, gender, and farm labor is an onerous one. In the photo to the left, for example, we see a widow posing with a photograph of her dead husband. The assumption is that he was the farmer and that she was the farmer’s wife. Yet in many cases it is women who are the farmers, and it is often women who are committing suicide.

A recent documentary by Deepa Bhatia brings out some of these dimensions while giving a chilling overview of the silenced crisis of the countryside in India. The film is called Nero’s Guests.

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How climate pain is being spun into corporate gain

Originally posted on Climate Connections:

By Fred Pearce, March 31, 2014. Source: New Scientist

As the Arctic melts, the Russians are eyeing new shipping routes (Image: Jan Vermeer/ Foto Natura/Minden Pictures)

As the Arctic melts, the Russians are eyeing new shipping routes (Image: Jan Vermeer/ Foto Natura/Minden Pictures)

MY BOOKSHELVES contain several metres of books on climate change. This addition makes many of them seem redundant. It is also by a long way the most readable – and it made me laugh.

Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by journalist McKenzie Funk tells the story of the people and corporations trying to profit from climate change. Many of them don’t want to halt its progress, they want to bring it on.

Here we meet private fire-fighters in drought-hit Los Angeles, selling their services to insurance companies, Russian shipping lines eyeing new routes opened up by the melting Arctic, Dutchmen rebuilding flooded islands in the Maldives, and manufacturers of snow-making machines selling their products to distressed winter resorts.

They all have an…

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How the coal industry impoverishes West Virginia

Originally posted on Climate Connections:

By Omar Ghabra, January 24, 2014. Source: The Nation

A US flag flies at half-staff at a coal processing plant near the site of a disaster that killed twelve miners in Buckhannon, West Viriginia. Photo: Reuters/Jim Young

A US flag flies at half-staff at a coal processing plant near the site of a disaster that killed twelve miners in Buckhannon, West Viriginia. Photo: Reuters/Jim Young

There’s a joke circulating among Syrians who fled the brutal conflict devastating their country to the quiet mountains of West Virginia: “We escaped the lethal chemicals in Syria only for them to follow us here.” Of course, what’s happening in West Virginia right now is no laughing matter. But how could the refugees not be reminded of their decimated homeland after finding themselves, along with 300,000 other West Virginians, without access to potable water? Unfortunately, West Virginia is no stranger to having its living conditions compared to those in developing countries.

Fifty years ago, Michael Harrington authored his incisive depiction of poverty in the United States, aptly titled The Other America. The…

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One step forward, two steps back

Two recent articles in the New York Times suggest not just how far we are from where we should be on the environmental front, but how much we are backsliding.

In one, entitled “Industry Awakens to Threat of Climate Change,” details of how US multinational corporations like Coca-Cola and Nike are feeling the impact because of global shortages in, respectively, water and cotton. The article mentions a report that is currently being drafted, to be entitled Risky Business, which will discuss the financial risks associated with climate change (a sort of update of the Stern Review). According to the article, many business leaders are coming round to the necessity of imposing a carbon tax in order to mitigate emissions.

A few days before this article appeared, however, the Times ran a piece that detailed the European Union’s impending decision to back away from stringent climate controls. The article’s title explains the drift of the piece: “Europe, Facing Economic Pain, May Ease Climate Rules.” The shortsightedness is mind boggling, but illustrates the fundamental disconnect between the relatively brief temporality of the electoral cycle and the longer term vision necessary to address the climate crisis.

This temporal disconnect is one of the key problems which threatens global civilization.

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A Tale of Two Sandys

images-1My friends at the Superstorm Research Lab have just released an amazing white paper on the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Titled A Tale of Two Sandys, the report focuses on the uneven impact of the storm on NYC.

In the words of the report,

On one hand, the crisis was seen as an extreme weather event that created physical and economic damage, and temporarily moved New York City away from its status quo. On the other hand, Hurricane Sandy exacerbated crises which existed before the storm, including poverty, lack of affordable housing, precarious or low employment, and unequal access to resources generally. A Tale of Two Sandys describes these two understandings of disaster and discuss their implications for response, recovery, and justice in New York City.

The paper, along with many of the other resources gathered on the SRL site, is must reading. The SRL project is an incredible example of militant collaborative research.

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It’s Much Worse Than We Thought

sn-temperaturesA new report out in Nature reveals that the Earth is far more sensitive to greenhouse gases than scientists previously thought. The situation we find ourselves in, it turns out, is even more grave than we thought.

The report suggests that “because some climate models don’t accurately represent the formation of low-altitude clouds, Earth is likely to warm at the high end of the range estimated by 3 decades of research as carbon dioxide levels grow.”

Put in lay terms, what this means is that most of the estimates for global warming that have circulated in recent years have been far too conservative. The environmental crisis we face is actually far worse than we have been imagining, it turns out.

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Cloud mystery solved: Global temperatures to rise at least 4°C by 2100

Ashley Dawson:

The scientific picture on climate change only gets more terrifying as the science gets more accurate.

Originally posted on Climate Connections:

December 31, 2013. Source: Science Daily

Global average temperatures will rise at least 4°C by 2100 and potentially more than 8°C by 2200 if carbon dioxide emissions are not reduced according to new research published in Nature. Scientists found global climate is more sensitive to carbon dioxide than most previous estimates.

The research also appears to solve one of the great unknowns of climate sensitivity, the role of cloud formation and whether this will have a positive or negative effect on global warming.

“Our research has shown climate models indicating a low temperature response to a doubling of carbon dioxide from preindustrial times are not reproducing the correct processes that lead to cloud formation,” said lead author from the University of New South Wales’ Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science Prof Steven Sherwood.

“When the processes are correct in the climate models the level of climate sensitivity is…

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