“Bizarre Spikes” Becomes a Standard Feature of Climate Change — not just in the Arctic

Check it out — an opinion piece from E&E in February of 2018.

from Medium <https://medium.com/@Michael_Spencer/arctic-alarms-climate-scientists-with-bizarre-temperature-spike-ac1354427b97>

Michael K. Spencer 

Arctic Alarms Climate Scientists with Bizarre Temperature Spike



In a world of misinformation, fake news perpetuated by algorithms, walled gardens and digital immersion, people sometimes lose touch with the real world. We read the news as a kind infotainment, but what if we’re missing the news that really matters?

Cape Town is struggling with a water shortage that could end in disaster this year, and recently, record warmth in the Arctic this month is sending experts into new rants on the start of an unprecedented warming event.

In late February 2018, the North pole was warmer than parts of Europe. There are Twitter accounts (@Zlabe) of climate scientists worth following in the story of arctic warming. Why does this matter? Because it influences all of us, all the people alive on Earth. Arctic warming, water shortages, they will go hand in hand in the coming decades. There’s reason to believe, global warming could accelerate faster than many of our simulations.

An extraordinary heat wave pushed temperatures at the northernmost tip of Greenland was as high as 6.1 C this weekend. And the sun won’t rise for weeks. (The Star)

Flooded by extremely mild air on all sides, those southern winds are wrecking havoc on what’s supposed to happen at this time of the year. Something very strange is occurring, it can be summarized as the following: The #Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. 

The cold weather in Europe led in early 2018 to extremely high arctic temperatures. The likes of which we have not seen before. Put another way:

It’s the Middle of Winter and the Temperature at the North Pole Is Above Freezing

About one week ago, the Arctic was so massively unusual, it was stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. The Arctic sea ice around Svalbard is at a record low for the date. It has been well below average all winter.

The sun won’t rise at the North Pole until March 20, and it’s therefore supposed to be close to the coldest time of year, however the hot spike was intense. Droughts leading to water shortage crisis like Cape Town, and in late February, mean temperatures of+3.9°C in the arctic signal sweeping changes have perhaps come sooner than expected. This where the climate average for the date is -16.3°C. These aren’t normal variations!

The northernmost weather station in Greenland saw temperatures soar above freezing on 9 days this month so far. Sea ice near there disappeared. Unheard of for February.

How do you have the arctic perpetual night, but still above freezing? Certainly as the Arctic ice melts more significantly the light reflected will accelerate global warming. We now know this ice will disappear, within our lifetime. Perhaps as soon as 2035 or 2040.

Sea ice fell to its lowest level since human civilization began more than 12,000 years ago.

Human beings left Africa in waves, one of the primary ones being around 55,000 years ago, yet man-made climate change that we’ll witness could trigger changes that might threaten the very way we live.

Residents in Cape Town are awaiting “Day Zero,” when water supplies in the city’s reservoirs drop below 13.5%. Mayor Patricia de Lille estimated recently that the day will likely be April 21, now revised to June or July of 2018.

If you think these events are not related, you would be probably mistaken. Just as humanity is closing in on a technological singularity when technology and our ability to self-engineer ourselves could threaten our survival, we may also be entering an ecological environmental press that could push us to rapid progress, or actually a humanity extinction event. Let’s not even talk about the debt-bubble our global economy is in.

As a futurist, I think about all of these forces and their relationship upon our psyche. Yet in an era of Netflix, mobile immersion and video game zombieism, one has to wonder if we’ve lost touch with the very aspects of what made us most human for the last few thousands of years? The majority of humanity, won’t even be aware of arctic warming or the issues in Cape Town. Most people will still be living locally, without a deep concern for the state of the species. Without a recognition of what colonizing Mars actually means.

The Arctic could be a sauna and it wouldn’t even make the news.

The Arctic does not usually look like this, warning this image may not be understood by most viewers.

It was in in Utqiaġvik, previously known as Barrow, where a paradox occured, temperatures soared to a record high of 31 degrees, 40 degrees above normal. What does it mean?

So it goes — yet another anomalous winter in the #Arctic. Will Twitter care, human beings already impossibly irresponsible, emphatically lacking in sustainable agility — already we hardly can even formulate what’s to come for our children and grandchildren. The shift, almost beyond our imagination. Climate change skeptics, raging on.

Warm intrusions in February, in the Arctic! Par for the course now each year for Zack Labe, a climate scientist working on his PhD at the University of California at Irvine.

Even the most battle hardened cynic would find it hard to dispute the disappearance of arctic ice.

Hmmm, well I’m not a climate scientists. But this is kind of clear.

Temperatures over the entire Arctic north of 80 degrees latitude have averaged about 10 degrees above normal since the beginning of the calendar year of 2018.

There’s no viral meme to entertain us of what this actually means for the planet Earth. There’s no clear understanding of the consequences, or what comes next. It’s not the end of the world, but The Arctic Ocean once froze reliably every year. Those days are over. Perhaps for the first time in 1,500 years.

We’ve been measuring arctic sea ice extent by satellites since the 1970s. Fifty years later, we’re witnessing an event. It could have feedback loops which transform the way we live. Closest to the North Pole (>80°N latitude), #Arctic temperatures are the highest on record for the month of February in this data set. This is not News, as humans who follow their apps know it, this is the Earth we are talking about, the very ball of life that has sustained even our ability to destroy such massive amounts of biodiversity and forests in a few thousands years that aliens from other planets must be debating our danger to the cosmos. We’re clearly, not a normal species.

Humans might be on top of the food-chain on this enduring planet, but we are not without our fragility. The top of the world is turning from white to blue in summer as the ice that has long covered the north polar seas melts away, and we did it! We brought this upon ourselves. How many more Cape Towns will there be, and how soon? How many climate change migrants will be forced to leave their homes? How many more frequent weird storms shall appear?


We’ve witnessed a lot of species go extinct on our watch, probably more than most of us even realize. The biodiversity that existed before we colonized areas, before we probably made Neanderthals and Denisovans go extinct after some splendid and isolated origies, well — we deserve some credit. Our crisp cities are growing into mega-complexes while the natural world dies; as forests retreat and all the usual things we rarely think about.

We rarely do acknowledge the feedback loops or how we would cope if global warming triggered a mini ice-age. We plan for nuclear war from Russia or North Korea, but not that. A day may come when the Earth’s livability may make colonizing Mars seem like a really good idea.

Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent on record this past January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This February of 2018, we witnessed another arctic warming anomaly that will probably seem very weird, perhaps that is, until 2019.


Posted in Climate Change, Futures

Book about Providencia or New Providence, or ¿Santa Catalina?

from the New York Times Book Review section for Sunday, 13 May 2018 —


Pirates, Runaways, Smugglers and the Occasional Aristocrat


Review By Michael Pye                                                  May 11, 2018


The Lost History of the Mayflower’s Sister Ship and Its Rival Puritan Colony

By Tom Feiling
402 pp. Melville House. $28.99.


Providence lies off the coast of Nicaragua.    Credit    Simonetta Giori

The island of Providence is still on the map, but you just might not notice. It’s a speck of land in the Caribbean, off the coast of Nicaragua, with lovely blue waters and good lobster, a fueling stop for the speedboats rushing cocaine to the mainland. It was once a holy settlement founded by English Puritans, then it was Spanish for centuries and since 1928, as Providencia, part of far-off Colombia. It’s a place that’s now out of almost everybody’s way.

Naturally, being obscure, Providence has a raucous history that mostly isn’t officially documented. In the early years, its founding preachers could be “angry” and “vile,” but then the settlement was reorganized by rather jollier Puritans, one of whom liked Irish whiskey and Welsh conjurors. Later there were pirates, runaways, smugglers and the occasional aristocrat. Also a man who blamed himself for a crown prince’s suicide, an Englishman who may have been the first in the Americas to raise a quiet voice against slavery and, it was rumored, a fugitive Pablo Escobar.

All this is in Tom Feiling’s lively, baggy “The Island That Disappeared,” which belongs to the higher class of clever scrapbook, bolstered with the best sources and very fluent storytelling. If the narrative can seem ramshackle, that’s the nature of its subject: Why try to hold history together with map references when the really interesting events tend to happen in the margins? Feiling further muddles things by bringing in other islands when it suits him, which doesn’t help. But he has one huge advantage: the rich 17th-century records of the original Providence Island Company, which tried to found a Promised Land South to rival the famous one in Massachusetts. Although its settlers arrived on the sister ship to the Mayflower, relations between the two settlements were rather fraught.


God’s favor wasn’t obvious. Woodworm got into the tobacco, which was the colonists’ lone hope of a cash crop. On one occasion, the outnumbered English defenders were reduced to cutting up organ pipes from a ruined church and throwing them at the Spanish. The island’s settlers quickly realized there was money in being pirates — or, if you prefer, special forces in the godly war against Spain. And so the place began to divide disastrously between the holy and the military. At home, meanwhile, the company’s members were involved in the English Civil War, which interrupts Feiling’s story to no great purpose and helped to wreck Providence.

The island was taken by the Spanish and became Santa Catalina, [? bp] was then lost by them and taken back again; but now Feiling’s story changes. It’s no longer about the Promised Land. Providence has become just one more island where people wash ashore. Feiling tracks some of those extraordinary individuals and makes them live, but now his facts don’t fit his larger aim, to show in microcosm “how the Western world came into being.”

He may want to talk about the big picture, but the story of Providence wasn’t about the making of “a mighty empire.” It was about God, food and money. When the British of that time talked about empire, they meant Ireland and nothing much beyond the British Isles. It was only later that a British citizen would have the opportunity to feel guilty about such things. And the guest appearance by David Cameron at the end of the book seems bizarrely out of place. Providence’s past would be odder, wilder and more intriguing without being seen through such modern spectacles.

Michael Pye’s most recent book is “The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe.”

Follow New York Times Books on Facebook and Twitter, sign up for our newsletter or our literary calendar. And listen to us on the Book Review podcast.

A version of this article appears in print on May 13, 2018, on Page 16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Puritans of the Caribbean. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Related Coverage

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‘A Tale of Two Plantations,’ by Richard S. Dunn         Jan. 2, 2015            ‘A Tale of Two Plantations,’ by Richard S. Dunn

‘Empire’s Crossroads,’ by Carrie Gibson                  Dec. 31, 2014            ‘Empire’s Crossroads,’ by Carrie Gibson

Posted in Small Island

Tools for Change — Donor Advised Funds

from Slate

[personal note — Kincey and I have a couple of donor advised funds, funded through local Community Foundations. Commercial fund managers like Fidelity are not the only tools that can be used by individuals to set up a Donor Advised Fund. Funds can be quite small: this article says over $5,000.

There’s an IRS information sheet (“DONOR-ADVISED FUNDS GUIDE SHEET EXPLANATION,” July 31, 2008, so this isn’t exactly new news). Neither this Slate article nor the IRS Sheet is as clear as could be about how a Donor Advised Fund works.

1) Find a non-profit donor advised fund manager, like those discussed in this Slate article, and including community Foundations, such as the Anne Arundel Community Foundation, or the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. Pay attention to the costs and fees of the fund managers;
2) When you have a $5,000 or more contribution to charity that you want to make (sometimes driven by considering a year when you will have big income, and want to get a tax credit for a charitable contribution, but you’re not sure about exactly how it should be disbursed). donate it to your personal Donor Advised Fund;
3) When you know exactly how and how much you want to donate, advise the organization managing your Donor Advised Fund to give the money to the appropriate organization. That’s it — you’re the donor, and you or your designees are the advisor. bp]
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The Disrupter

How Fidelity and its donor-advised fund are shaking up charitable giving for the better.

By FELIX SALMON                             MAY 11, 2018    9:00 AM

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock and Spoon Graphics.

This piece is part of the Slate 90, a series that examines the multibillion-dollar nonprofit sector. Read all stories from the Slate 90 here, and view the Slate 90 nonprofit rankings here.

There’s not a lot of churn in the Slate 90. Places like the Smithsonian (No. 1 in the Arts, Culture, and Humanities sector) and the American Bible Society (No. 2 in the Religion sector) have been around for hundreds of years and don’t move a huge amount from year-to-year. Hypergrowth is rare—except in the case of donor-advised funds.

DAFs are vehicles to provide tax advantages for people who GAF. They’re a kind of democratized foundation, available to anybody with $5,000 to give. In recent years, the sector has boomed. And no DAF has grown faster than Fidelity Charitable, the DAF administered by asset management titan Fidelity Investments.

Fidelity Charitable, which was founded in 1991, had an absolutely astonishing $5.4 billion of revenue in 2015, the vast majority of which came from its $4.6 billion in fresh contributions. That is twice the size of the Red Cross, and more than 14 times as much as the Museum of Modern Art. More impressively, revenues rose 23 percent, or more than $1 billion, from the $4.4 billion in 2014 revenues. Go back to 2011, and the amount was just $1.9 billion; in 2005, Fidelity Charitable’s revenues were below $1 billion. In terms of sheer growth, no other institution comes close. Fidelity Charitable, along with the other big DAFs (Schwab Charitable, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Vanguard Charitable), is revolutionizing the philanthropic league tables.


Figures are 2015 revenue. Rankings by Slate and GuideStar.

What are DAFs? They’re a place to park your money, often the proceeds from some significant windfall—$2 million from the sale of your stake in a family business, $12 million in vested stock options at your venture-backed startup—while you’re trying to work out which charitable causes it should go to. You get the frisson of a big tax deduction up front, thus reducing your tax burden today. And you get the satisfaction of spreading out charitable giving over many years. Bonus: If the markets rise, your giving potential can grow accordingly.[]

As a matter of public policy, there’s a case to be made that DAFs shouldn’t exist, partly because they need to place a valuation on illiquid assets before they’re sold, which is not easy to do, and partly because they allow people to simply park charitable funds without giving them away at all. Hell, there’s a pretty strong case to be made that the entire charitable deduction shouldn’t exist. But DAFs in general, and Fidelity Charitable in particular, cause a lot more good than harm. They encourage people to give to charity when their windfall is fresh and before they’ve really had time to get used to it as part of their personal wealth. (Once you’ve donated the money to a DAF, you can move it to a different DAF, but you can’t take it back.) DAFs also make it very easy to take illiquid appreciated assets, like real estate or private companies or CryptoKitties, and turn them into charitable funds without worrying about negative tax consequences. And it makes sense that they would be growing rapidly in an era in which investment returns and capital are outpacing overall economic growth.

To be sure, Fidelity’s interest in Fidelity Charitable is not wholly charitable. While your funds sit in a DAF waiting to be disbursed, they’re invested in the market. And if they’re in Fidelity’s DAF, they’ll be invested in Fidelity’s funds. Fidelity makes its money by investing other people’s money, and it similarly made money by investing the $15.3 billion it had in its DAF in 2015. That’s nothing to sneeze at, even if it is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the $2.5 trillion that Fidelity had under management that year.

But the incentive structure is good. Fidelity makes money by encouraging people to donate money to Fidelity Charitable. And the data suggest that DAFs are not aiming to mimic established foundations, either in longevity or cost structure. DAFs, in fact, generally give that money away pretty quickly: 38 percent of the original dollars donated are gone within a year, and 74 percent is doled out within five years. That’s a hell of a lot better than you see at most foundations, which tend to be set up as perpetuities that give out the bare minimum of 5 percent of their assets each year.

There’s a pretty strong case to be made that the entire charitable deduction shouldn’t exist. But DAFs in general cause a lot more good than harm.

The secret to Fidelity Charitable’s growth is simple: It went to where the money is. It approached financial advisers, many of whose clients’ accounts are already at Fidelity. According to U.S. Trust, some 91 percent of high net worth individuals (those with a net worth of $1 million or more) give money to charity, but only 9 percent of them consulted with a financial adviser about their charitable giving and how best to structure it. So Fidelity founded Fidelity Charitable University, a place where financial advisers can learn about an aspect of wealth management that they often know almost nothing about (and gain continuing education credit in the process). Self-serving? Surely. Good for the total amount of money flowing into charitable causes? Absolutely. In general, the more conversations you have about your personal philanthropy, the more you’re likely to end up giving.

That’s why the growth of DAFs is far from over. Fidelity is the biggest of the lot, and it still only has about 100,000 giving accounts, representing only a tiny fraction of its 26.1 million brokerage accounts. Most Americans still haven’t even heard of DAFs, which means that there’s a long way to go before the DAF joins the 401(k) and the 529 plan as part of most rich families’ financial portfolios.

The DAFs do mean that that there’s a certain amount of double counting in the Slate 90: If a dollar flows into Fidelity Charitable and then into the Red Cross, say, then it’s going to get counted twice. Don’t think of Fidelity Charitable as displacing the other charities on the list, then. Instead, think of it as helping to change the way that Americans give, especially now that President Donald Trump’s tax reform means that there are real tax benefits to what financial advisers refer to as “bunching.”

America’s giving may be becoming a little less passionate, a little more technocratic and bloodless; people are starting to ask more pointed questions about how effectively their monies are spent, and at the same time are willing to give away significantly more money (and quickly) if they are comfortable with where it’s going. DAFs are a central part of this development, which means that for as long as the charitable tax deduction exists, they’re going to continue to grow much faster than the sector as a whole.

Read more about the Slate 90’s methodology.

Posted in Civil Society

One Way to Stop Killing Our Reefs . . . .

from Slate <https://slate.com/technology/2018/05/hawaii-bans-coral-killing-chemicals-because-sunscreen-producers-wont.html>


Get Sunburned, or Contribute to the Death of Coral Reefs

Sunscreen producers are putting tourists in a no-win situation.

MAY 07, 20185:55 AM

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

For years, we were told to apply sunscreen, and apply it liberally. Whether lying on the sand or snorkeling among the waves, slathering up seemed almost a moral obligation—the slimy, shiny price of enjoying the sun. The risks of skin cancer were absorbed into our psyches as deeply as we once absorbed UV rays—SPF 50 or go home. With the invention of waterproof sunscreen in 1977 and the rise of sun-safety awareness, the chemical-y smell of sunscreen became an unmissable feature of the beach vacation.

But since research now suggests that oxybenzone and octinoxate, which show up in almost all major sunscreens, are harmful to the marine ecosystem, we seem to have a moral dilemma on our sunscreen-coated hands: ruin your skin, or ruin the environment. In a 2015 study, oxybenzone and octinoxate were found to contribute to coral bleaching (the scourge that has more or less destroyed the Great Barrier Reef), slow new coral growth, and disrupt marine life. The study found the chemicals in especially high concentrations in popular tourist waters, especially in Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In response, some resorts and tour companies have chosen to ban or educate against nonbiodegradable sunscreens, while the National Park Service recommends being “reef friendly” by choosing sunscreens made with natural mineral ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide.

Now Hawaii, seemingly unwilling to go down the same path as the Great Barrier Reef, has become the first state to ban the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-killing chemicals. The legislation, which still awaits the governor’s signature, won’t come into effect until 2021, giving sunscreen producers plenty of time to switch over to a safer formula. Hawaii’s ban leaves producers with two options: continue offering chemical sunscreens without oxybenzone and octinoxate or switch over to natural, mineral-based sunblocks.

It shouldn’t be on vacationers to choose between skin cancer and feeling responsible for the destruction of our natural wonders.

Producers, however, have seemed unwilling to adapt thus far—in fact, they opposed Hawaii’s legislative efforts. Trade groups representing the cosmetics and over-the-counter-medicines industries—the Personal Care Products Council and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association—have pointed to the other, “real” causes of coral bleaching, scapegoating “global warming, agricultural runoff, sewage and overfishing” for the decline of coral. (One researcher behind the 2015 study, meanwhile, told the New York Times that the effect of the chemicals on coral is “bigger than climate change.”) The Personal Care Products Council has continued to insist that oxybenzone is key to preventing skin cancer; the Consumer Healthcare Products Council went as far as to say that Hawaii’s ban of it compromises “health, safety and welfare” of residents and tourists. In other words, they’re pouring money into lobbying and campaigning rather than developing safer products.

In refusing to tackle this ecological issue head-on, major sunscreen brands have put the onus on environmentally conscious consumers (and resorts) to seek out atypical reef-friendly options. Some companies do offer one or two oxybenzone-free options among their range, but these products still make up the minority of those on the market: The Consumer Healthcare Products Council, in attempting to criticize the new bill, puts this number at less than 30 percent, accusing the new Hawaiian law of banning “at least 70 percent of the sunscreens on the market today.” (Research is mixed on whether mineral-based sunscreens—known as “physical blockers” because they sit on top of the skin—are as effective as chemical-based ones. Some claim they are more effective, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays by deflecting rather than absorbing sun.)

But if we’re going to take environmental preservation seriously, the onus must be on producers, not consumers, to recognize and prevent the damage their products can do. It shouldn’t be on vacationers to choose between skin cancer and feeling responsible for the destruction of our natural wonders—and in any case, too many are unaware of the choice they are making. Hawaii is a start. Hopefully the ban will drive sunscreen producers to finally address this problem—that or stop selling in the Aloha State, which seems unlikely. In developing new products for the Hawaiian market, major brands like Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat, and Coppertone can and should apply their efforts to their global markets.

If producers won’t budge on their own, it will be up to legislatures to continue to force their hand with similar laws. My home country of Australia, with its global warming–deadened reef and unfortunate title of skin-cancer capital of the world, ought to introduce such a ban—with a sunscreen market supposedly worth an annual $289 million in U.S. currency, this too will force producers to change their ways. The destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, meanwhile, should be a lesson to other countries with marine-tourism industries. The skin care industry may have a financial incentive to continue using oxybenzone in its products until stopped, but countries have a financial disincentive to allow it: The Australian government has recently launched a $500 million package to try to save the reef, though it may not even work.

Just as governments are starting to place .” Or in this case, slip on a ban, slop on regulations, slap with fines.

Posted in Fun

Samuelson on Health

Some adult talk about solving the heath care standoff from the Sunday, April 30th, Washington Post OpEd pages, by economic guru Robert J. Samuelson:

There’s a genuine solution to our health-care problem

                                                         Columnist April 29

No doubt about it: Health care is a vexing political problem.

There’s a contradiction at the core of our thinking. We want the best care when we or our loved ones get sick. It’s a moral issue. There should be no limits on treatment. But the resulting uncontrolled health spending harms the country. It undermines other priorities — higher wages (more labor income gets channeled into health-insurance premiums) and competent government (defense and other programs may be underfunded).

By and large, Americans ignore the contradiction. Presidents and Congresses have wrestled with it for decades without subduing it. The stakes are huge. Collectively, major federal health programs now constitute the budget’s largest spending item, more than $1 trillion in 2017, or 26 percent of outlays. In 1990, the comparable figures were $137 billion and 11 percent of outlays. Meanwhile, insurance premiums — often paid by employers — have jumped, as have deductibles.

What can be done?

Based on experience, it’s tempting to say “not much.” This may ultimately be the case. But a growing number of studies suggest some cause for optimism; health costs can be contained.

The relevant studies compare Medicare reimbursement rates with private insurance payments for the same medical conditions. The finding: Medicare pays less — much less. A 2017 Congressional Budget Office study found that Medicare’s average payment for a standardized hospital admission was $11,354 — 47 percent lower than insurers’ $21,433.

This research has two interpretations. One is that Medicare rates have been cut to artificially low levels. To replace lost revenue, doctors and hospitals must raise their charges on privately insured patients. The increases are passed along in higher premiums. There’s massive cross-subsidization of Medicare recipients by the working-age population.

Not surprisingly, the rival explanation denies Medicare’s role in boosting premiums. Instead, providers — mainly doctors and hospitals — get the blame. Their market power has increased. Hospitals have merged. Doctors’ group practices have grown larger or been sold to hospitals. Providers and insurance companies typically renegotiate premiums once a year. The fewer providers there are, the harder it is for insurance companies to dictate terms to the survivors.

Probably both theories contain some truth. But scholarly opinion seems to favor the market-power explanation. Significantly, the congressionally created Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has endorsed that view.

Many health-care experts believe that high prices — hospital and doctors’ charges — as opposed to more utilization of medical services are the main reason that U.S. health spending outstrips costs in other advanced societies, says Miriam J. Laugesen of Columbia University’s School of Public Health and author of “Fixing Medical Prices: How Physicians Are Paid.”

You can see where this is going. If higher American health spending reflects the growing market power of providers, then why not curb that power with some form of price controls? This is what most affluent societies do, notes Laugesen.

Writing in the liberal Washington Monthly magazine, Paul Hewitt and Phillip Longman recommend just that. Under their proposal, Congress would adopt the Medicare fee and reimbursement system for the entire country. If this were done, employer-paid premiums would drop sharply, and some savings — maybe all — would be passed along to workers. (Hewitt and Longman call their proposal the “single-price system,” as opposed to the “single-payer system,” which is universal coverage.)

We ought to be grappling with these issues. We aren’t, for understandable if not commendable reasons. The relentless controversy over the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) reminds us how incendiary health-care debates become, raising — as they do — issues of life and death.

There’s also the reality that the self-interest of medical providers is mixed inexorably with their professional opinions. If price controls were proposed, doctors might well lose. They would surely raise legitimate questions about quality of care. Controls would also be denounced as inflexible and un-American, despite the fact that Medicare already has controls: the roughly 750 Diagnosis-Related Groups through which payments are made for various ailments and injuries.

There are few genuine solutions to our health-care problems — only changes that are less bad than the alternatives. We need to slow medical spending and relax the pressures on wages and other government programs. The recognition of the huge gap between Medicare and private reimbursement rates creates the opportunity to do that. We should take it.

Read more from Robert Samuelson’s archive.

Posted in Fun, Governance, Health, politics

Ronan Farrow, Pulitzer Laureate

[I first saw Ronan Farrow when he was a noontime CNN News host (or whatever those talking faces are called) two or three years ago. At the time I thought he was a smarmy pretty-boy airhead. Apparently I was wrong, or maybe it’s just “smarmy pretty-boy airhead prodigy.” Joking aside, he’s a voice worth following. Below is the text preface to the recorded The New Yorker interview by David Remnick, editor.]

On April 16th, the Pulitzer Prize committee awarded the gold medal for public service to The New Yorker and the New York Times, for contributing to “a worldwide reckoning about sexual abuse of women” through their work investigating allegations of assault and harassment against the powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The stories on Weinstein that appeared in The New Yorker—which detailed not only the abuse but also the system of suppression and intimidation used to cover it up—were penned by Ronan Farrow. The day after the Pulitzer announcement, Farrow sat down with The New Yorker’s editor, David Remnick, to talk about the path that brought him to investigative journalism and about how his reporting connects with his lifelong interest in public service.

Farrow grew up with a number of adopted siblings, who came from “every corner of the Earth,” and he would travel with his mother, the movie star Mia Farrow, on humanitarian trips to refugee camps abroad. Such experiences caused him to develop an early interest in international advocacy. He remembers thinking, “I want to do something useful.”

Farrow had what he calls “a Doogie Howser thing”: he started college at the age of eleven, and was admitted to law school at fifteen, but he deferred admission for a few more years, while working at the U.N. By the time he was twenty, Farrow was working closely with Richard Holbrooke, a giant of American diplomacy, in Afghanistan.

Farrow has recently published his first book, “War on Peace,” about the state of U.S. foreign relations, which he sees as entering a particularly troubled moment. “We have been chipping away at diplomacy,” Farrow says, “and, when we do this, it is a disaster.” Under the Trump Administration, the diplomatic apparatus that allows the U.S. to communicate with its allies and its enemies alike has been taking “a nosedive.” In his conversation with David Remnick, which you can watch [at the link] above, Farrow details his journey into the world of international relations, his candid interview with Rex Tillerson, and his prescription for salvaging the diplomatic profession.

Posted in Governance, Media, politics

ISLANDS ADRIFT – Post Irma/Maria State-of-Preparedness of the Eastern Caribbean Islands

This report by BVI Beacon Editor Freeman Rogers and a team of reporters from the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in Puerto Rico. Check the article at the link above for some excellent photography not shown in this text copy (Captions marked [Caption]below.)

This story is part of the ISLANDS ADRIFT series, resulting from the work of a
dozen Caribbean journalists (including Freeman Rogers of the BVI Beacon) led by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) in Puerto Rico. The investigations were possible in part with the support of the Ford Foundation, Para la Naturaleza, Miranda Foundation, Angel Ramos Foundation,and Open Society Foundations.

To continue and extend this important work, make a contribution to the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo at <http://periodismoinvestigativo.com>. Your donation will be processed through the reputable “Network for Good” non-profit, which I have been using for support of several groups or projects since 2007. On the Network for Good site, you can designate if you want your funds to support a specific project or program. I suggest you cite ISLANDS ADRIFT.

Climate Change Series > Islands Adrift: As climate warms, Caribbean ill-prepared

by Freeman Rogers, Omaya Sosa Pascual and Emmanuel Estrada López
April 20, 2018

[Caption] Dinelle Henley fears for her native Cane Garden Bay, one of the most iconic and pristine beaches of the Caribbean. Like much of the Virgin Islands, the village was devastated by winds, waves and flooding when the centre of Hurricane Irma passed directly over the territory on Sept. 6, 2017.]

Eighty nautical miles to the west, Alexis Correa feels the same way. Although
they do not know each other, they speak different languages and their
governments are unrelated, he has also seen firsthand what the fury of a
Category Four hurricane is capable of doing to a small, vulnerable island. When
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico with its 155-mile-per-hour winds on
Sept. 20 it swept away roofs, structures, bridges and roads all over the island.

But Mr. Correa has been watching a prelude to this destruction in his community
for more than a decade. The ocean first claimed the social and cultural centre of
his Parcelas SuaÅLrez neighborhood in the municipality of Loiza. Then Hurricane
Maria swept away the basketball court and the park. The places were an integral
part of this community, one stricken by poverty, criminality, discrimination and
limited social mobility, and its destruction has left residents with practically no

“Here the community board and residents used to meet, but we also used to
celebrate weddings and quinceaneros,” Mr. Correa said as he looked at the ruins
of the building, which also served as a childcare center before it was closed in
2002 because of the damage caused by erosion. “We moved to the court and
the park, but Maria destroyed them. Now we donʼt have a place to meet.”

In St. Croix, organic farmer Luca Gasperi is similarly distraught, but not
surprised: He believes the back-to-back September storms that hit his native
United States VI were consistent with other weather patterns that he had been
noticing for years.

“Everything is more intense,” he said as his wife Christina sold produce on a
Saturday afternoon at the 40-acre farm they operate on his parentsʼ land.
Then he ticked off a list of evidence: A lengthy drought struck in 2015,
rainstorms have been heavier, and for the first time in more than a decade of
farming he suddenly is unable to grow broccoli. Another hurricane, he added,
could be the last straw.

“For us, if it happens again…,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Thatʼs the thing:
The way these storms this year got so strong so quick — thatʼs nerve-racking.”
Ms. Henley, Mr. Correa and Mr. Gasperi blame rapid climate change due to
global warming and government inaction for greatly exacerbating their islandsʼ
losses, and they worry that the ocean and extreme weather events like Irma and
Maria will continue to expose the fragility of their islandsʼ infrastructure and
flawed construction practices.

[Caption]A solar farm near Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas was largely destroyed by the September storms. (Photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

Destruction in plain sight

Their stories are a snapshot of how climate change is not only eroding the
coasts of these territories and other Caribbean islands, but actively destroying
community life and economic activity in plain sight with little to no governmental
action to protect citizens, according to a regional investigation by the Puerto
Rico Center for Investigative Journalism (known as CPI for its Spanish initials)
and half a dozen Caribbean media outlets.

Experts agree. Ramon Bueno, coauthor of one of the few existing studies on
climate change in the Caribbean, said the scientific community agrees that the
hotter air in the atmosphere caused by global warming carries more humidity
that elevates the sea level and provokes stronger storms, with more rain and
higher surges. These were among the conclusions of the most recent report
from the United Nationsʼ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), its
Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), published in November 2014. The IPCC, where
more than 2,000 scientists from 195 member countries collaborate, is the
worldʼs primary source of scientific information on climate change and its

“While the number of hurricanes may not change much, or may even decrease
somewhat, what is most probable with global warming is that we will see a
greater amount of high category hurricanes,” Mr. Bueno said. The scientist
worked at Tufts University Global Development and Environmental Institute
(GDEI) and was a staff scientist at the Stockholm Environmental Institute, and
since 2013 he has been an independent consultant specialising in climate

“The problem is that, as 2017 made quite clear, only a few Category Four
or Five hurricanes represent a very high threat to the sustainability of
communities in the islands of the Caribbean. It is worse when a same place is hit
by more that one [hurricane]. After Maria, even a mere tropical storm or
Category One hurricane would be devastating,” he added.

Dr. Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, who is currently working on two studies about the impact of
hurricanes in the Caribbean, said that there is consensus on two issues about
the effects of climate change: The sea-level is rising and the amount of rainfall
is increasing. And both are set to cause serious hurricane flood damage in the

In the coastal town of Rincon, in the north of Puerto Rico, Julian Rodriguez knew
that in ten years many things could happen, but he didnʼt see that the two family
beach apartments — an investment of over $400,000 — could be destroyed
overnight. During Hurricane Maria the sea undermined the foundations of
Rincon Ocean Club II, a three-story condominium next to the beach, and his
dream became salt and water, literally.

“If I am honest, I imagined that this would happen. I had seen that this had
happened three times already, with tropical storms that passed through the
south of Puerto Rico — even if they did not hit the island. And even if Rincon
didnʼt get a drop of rain, the waves came and the fence of the condominium was
washed to sea. When they told me that a Category Four hurricane was coming, I
knew that was it. The shock of seeing it is different. But I knew it was coming,”
he recalled.

When his family bought the two apartments, Julian remembers seeing — and
playing on — a sandy beach of about 30 feet wide. It never occurred to him that
the ocean would end up swallowing the building, which is just under 15 years

“And many of those who have, or had, an apartment here, they still owe a
mortgage. You buy this thinking that 30 or 40 years from now you will still have
it,” he said.

Ten years ago Ramon Bueno and his colleagues at Tufts GDEI — Cornelia
Herzfeld, Elizabeth A. Stanton and Frank Ackerman — saw this coming. In their
2008 study The Caribbean and Climate Change: The Costs of Inaction, they
warned that the two dozen island nations and territories of the Caribbean with
their 40 million inhabitants were especially vulnerable to the effects of global
warming though they have contributed little to the release of the greenhouse
gases that drive the phenomenon.

The researchers looked at optimistic and pessimistic scenarios based on a
study developed by IPCC, analysing average hurricane damages, tourism losses
and infrastructure damages due to sea-level rises from hurricanes, and
projected $22 billion in losses to the Caribbeanʼs economy by year 2050 — or
10 percent of the regionʼs gross domestic product. Nonetheless, individual
projections of losses vary much from island to island, with some in the range of
40 percent and Haiti at the top with 61 percent.

“As ocean levels rise, the smallest, low-lying islands may disappear under the
waves. As temperatures rise and storms become more severe, tourism — the
life-blood of many Caribbean economies — will shrink and with it both private
incomes and the public tax revenues that support education, social services and
infrastructure,” the scientists said.

Now, concrete impact of rising sea levels and temperatures and extreme
weather events is not a future projection, but a tough reality. In places like
Puerto Rico, the VI, the USVI, Dominica, Panama, Dominican Republic and Haiti,
CPIʼs regional investigation documented ongoing floods, population
displacement, significant loss of the shoreline, and impacts on tourism
businesses that are already happening.

Palominito island, a popular tourism destination for boaters off the eastern coast
of Puerto Rico, has almost disappeared.

Recent hurricanes have dramatically exacerbated coastal erosion and exposed
the fragility of infrastructure and the potentially deadly impact on populations of
the worst hit islands: Puerto Rico, the VI, the USVI, Dominica, Barbuda and St.

“We as a region now have to look particularly at the events of last year and the
projections of the future that this is the new reality for the Caribbean, and we
have to protect ourselves,” said Dr. Ulric Trotz, the deputy director and science
advisor for the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize.

[Caption]A salt pond breached the beach at Cane Garden Bay, pictured above in December, which is steadily rebuilding but still has a long way to go. (Photo: CHRISTINA KISSOON)

VI flooding

Amid the catastrophic devastation that Irma wrought in the VI, it is easy to
forget that another natural disaster struck the territory about three weeks
As residents prepared for the annual August Emancipation Festival parade, the
sky darkened and rain began to fall. Soon the parade was called off, although a
handful of troupes performed anyway, dancing through Road Town as thunder
crashed and water poured down in sheets.

Over the next 24 hours, some 16 inches fell in parts of the territory, and the
capital city and other areas flooded to a level that was unprecedented in recent

Leaders have since dubbed the disaster a “100-year flood,” but Department of
Disaster Management Director Sharleen Dabreo pointed out that catastrophic
floods have struck the territory on a seven-year cycle since 2003.

“Itʼs not just Irma and Maria: Itʼs that you have these flooding events triggered
by these [weather] troughs, which is something that you didnʼt have in the
past,” Ms. DaBreo said, adding, “There needs to be a better relationship
between the scientific community and the development planning elements of

University of Puerto Rico geology professor and geographer Dr. Maritza Barreto
Orta, who has conducted numerous studies on beach erosion in Puerto Rico
and the Dominican Republic, agrees. In Puerto Rico, she found that between
1970 and 2010 the most severely eroded point had a net loss of 70 metres of
shoreline, in the municipality of LoiÅLza. Since 2011 the average annual loss rate of
two metres has gone up to more than four metres in some areas.

A week after Maria, Dr. Barreto and her team visited 75 percent of Puerto Ricoʼs
1,225 beaches and visually documented significant erosion and flattening. The
most striking case found was in La Boca sector in the municipality of
Barceloneta, where the beach was reduced from its 60 metres to only four. She
is currently looking for state and federal funding to update the full study.

“I feel there is a lack of trust towards academia, and that is a serious problem
because the government has to trust the data experts and scientists generate,”
she said. “At the same time, academia should go to public hearings and make
itself heard, because the knowledge we generate is important to public policy.”

The political and colonial dilemma

According to Dr. Trotz, Mr. Bueno, Dr. Barreto and other scientists, the recent
weather events clearly illustrate the effects of global warming in the region,
which is highly dependent on tourism and suffers from a low level of agricultural
activity and food sustainability.

Nonetheless, many of the countries and territories in the Caribbean are being
overlooked by their governments and international organisations. CPIʼs
investigation found that only three – the VI, Cuba and Mexico — out of 13
countries and territories surveyed have climate change legislation in place and
even in these places, building codes, environmental rules, and other regulations
often are not followed.

It also found that there is not even reliable, standardised and up-to-date data on
what is happening in about a dozen islands in the region in the databases of
international organisations dedicated to studying climate change impact, such
as the IPCC and the University of Notre Dameʼs Global Adaptation Initiative,
among others.

These islands — some of the most vulnerable in the world — have a crucial
thing in common: They are so-called territories or colonies in the 21st century.
They have no individual participation in the IPCC and other international
organisations devoted to monitoring the impact of climate change around the
world and proposing solutions.

They are forgotten islands like about a dozen more in the Caribbean, and many
of them belong to but are not part of the US, England, Holland and France.
There is little to no information about their indicators in IPCC, UN and ND-Gain
Index databases. In some cases there is not even a slot with their names. That is
the case with the ND-Gain Index, which uses UN data and shows US information

in the case of Puerto Rico — misleadingly portraying that the island is doing
great — and no information at all in the case of VI, the USVI and the rest of the
Caribbean territories.

Currently 86 experts from 39 countries are working on IPCCʼs next world
climate change assessment report (AR6), which will be published in September
2018. Only two of these experts are from the Caribbean, both from Cuba.
“Itʼs just terrible. The neglect of that whole part of the world is shocking,” Dr.
Emanuel from MIT said.

Dangerous consequences

Puerto Rico, the USVI and the BVI all offer striking examples of the problems
associated with climate change and the dangerous consequences for their
people and their economies. The islandsʼ policymakers, legislators and
governors, and their imperial owners, have known for decades about the
vulnerability of their infrastructure and the increased dangers that climate
change pose to these islands and populations. And for decades they have
debated, legislated and talked about it. But words have not translated into

For instance, the Puerto Rican Legislature has seen more than 45 measures
between 2005 and 2018 directed at putting into place mitigation and adaptation
measures and dealing with the urgency of coastal erosion. Only one has passed:
Climate Change Law 246, which was signed by Governor AniÅLbal Acevedo VilaÅL in
2008. It did not last eight months. It was officially repealed less than two years
later by his opposing party successor Luis Fortuno Burset, and its provisions
were never enacted before that.

In 2007 the Puerto Rico House of Representatives discussed PC 3414, the first
bill related to climate change that was presented in that body. It was not
approved in the Special Commission on Global Warming and Security, but just
the possibility of the proposal being considered at a legislative level was enough
for gasoline distributors in Puerto Rico — the Gasoline Retailers Association
(ADG), Peerless Oil & Chemicals and Caribbean Petroleum Refining — to
oppose the government preparation of a Plan for the Reduction of Gas
Emissions and Control of Global Warming and to question Puerto Ricoʼs
adherence to the Kyoto Agreement of 1997.

In the USVI, similar stalled measures include a climate change strategy that was
required by a 2015 executive order but never materialised.

The VI, on the other hand, now appears on paper to be a poster child for
preparedness, thanks mostly to steps taken in the past decade. In 2012, the
territoryʼs Cabinet adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Policy, setting dozens
of specific deadlines for mitigation measures that in many cases had been
promised for decades. Then in 2015, the BVI became the first in the region to
adopt a legal framework for a trust fund designed to raise money to prepare for
global warming.

However, at least two thirds of the deadlines listed in the 2012 policy have
already been missed, and the trust fund is not yet operational, the CPI found.
And although VI leaders say that the promised reforms are in the works,
scientists and policymakers who recall the repeated failure of such efforts over
the past quarter century worry that the territoryʼs elected officials — who are
responsible for passing laws and managing the territoryʼs internal affairs — will
be unable to muster the political will to see them through.

Such concerns are echoed throughout the region, even though experts say that
comprehensive measures are essential for protecting islands from climate
change and for helping them access badly needed international funding.

“We only start to talk about resilience when we have a big event,” Dr. Trotz said.
“Post-disaster, thereʼs a lot of rhetoric, a lot of activity and whatnot, and then it
fades. So thereʼs a big challenge: We canʼt move ahead significantly without the
political direction, without the political will.”

[Caption]Even as a team worked to repair the extensive hurricane damage at Quitoʼs Gazebo in Cane Garden Bay, Tortola, the business was pounded by a heavy swell in early March. (Photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

The experience of the VI, the USVI and Puerto Rico shows why failure to take
decisive action could be catastrophic. Policymakers and scientists say that the
2017 hurricanes and other recent weather events have exposed decades-old
shortcomings in the territoriesʼ development frameworks, building rules,
environmental laws, energy practices and other areas that have left them
increasingly vulnerable to global warming.

In Puerto Rico, Maria put at risk the lives of the territoryʼs 3.5 million citizens,
caused a death toll than could exceed 1,000 deaths, caused the displacement of
183,000 citizens who left the island, and directly impacted the tourism industry,
one of the governmentʼs few bets to relaunch the badly damaged economy. The
whole electrical grid of the island collapsed, more than 472,000 houses were
severely damaged, and more than 90,000 families were left without a roof. Most
of the population was left in the dark and without communications for four
months and was exposed to serious health hazards like contaminated water and
deficient hospital services. More than six months after the storm there are still
50,000 households and businesses without electricity, and power outages and
water problems are common all over the island.

The USVI got a one-two punch. Irma devastated much of St. Thomas and St.
John, and about two weeks later Maria pounded the southernmost island of St.
Croix. Both of the territoryʼs main hospitals were mostly destroyed, and more
than 400 patients were evacuated to the mainland US. Thirteen schools were
closed, more than 100,000 of the territoryʼs 103,000 residents lost power, and
most major resorts were severely damaged.

Irma wrought similar havoc in the VI, where about 22 percent of the 28,000
population was displaced and an estimated 70 percent of buildings suffered
damage, with many of those — including some that housed government offices
— totally destroyed.

Since the storm, no major resort has fully reopened — a serious blow in a
territory where tourism generates more than 30 percent of the gross domestic
product and directly employs one in three people. As of March 1, the total
number of hotel rooms available in BVI was 336, compared to 2,700 before Irma.
The yacht charter industry was hit hard too: Available berths at sea as of March
1 were 1,584, compared to 3,800 before the storm.

Other islands in the stormsʼ path suffered similar losses, including Dominica, St.
Martin and Barbuda, which was hit so hard that all of its approximately 1,800
residents evacuated.

All these islands are far from recovering from Irma and Maria, and the new
hurricane season is than two months away.

“Our natural resource infrastructure — things like mangroves, wetlands, ghuts;
the key things that are really there to help storm protection, flooding — weʼve
basically destroyed it all before this happened,” said Dr. Shannon Gore, a VI
biologist who serves on the board of the territoryʼs recently appointed Climate
Change Trust Fund. “And this basically exposed the fact that we shouldnʼt have
done that. And if this isnʼt a wakeup call, nothing else is really.”

Cane Garden Bay, for instance, still appeared pristine before the storm, but for
decades it had faced mounting pressures that werenʼt obvious to the tens of
thousands of tourists who annually flocked to its sandy, palm-tree-lined shore.
Mangroves and other wetlands around the village have been damaged or
destroyed by patchwork development, exacerbating flooding and runoff from
poorly protected road and construction sites, Dr. Gore explained. That runoff, in
turn, has damaged reefs that might have better protected the shoreline from the
waves during Irma.

In the same way, iconic beach bars — many of which were built in contravention
of a planning guideline that prohibits construction within 50 feet of the high
water mark — have contributed to erosion, and the villageʼs sewage system has
been overworked and under-functioning for years.

Irma served as a stark reminder of the dangerous exposure exacerbated by
such issues. All the beach bars there were severely damaged — if not totally
obliterated — and the government had to temporarily ban swimming because of
high levels of bacteria in the water caused in part by the faulty sewage system.

Although some bars have since reopened and others are rebuilding, the
shoreline often remains empty and tourists are typically taken instead to an
undeveloped beach that is not lined with damaged buildings and other debris.
Puerto Rico faced a similar situation. Many beaches were closed because of the
high levels of bacteria, and cement structures on the shoreline crumbled in
some areas.

Thereʼs a lesson to be learned from Cane Garden Bayʼs plight, according to VI
ecologist Clive Petrovic.

“If people want to protect what they build there now, then clean the water so
that the corals can grow and rebuild the coral reef outside,” Mr. Petrovic said,
adding that coral is a primary source for the sand on many VI beaches. “You
look at nature and you look at how does nature solve a problem. And the way
nature protects shorelines is with reefs.”

[Caption]This church near Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, still stands open to the elements. (Photo: FREEMAN ROGERS)

Promising reform

In spite of its challenges, the VI has recently committed to comprehensive
reform in the midst of a much broader global push.

In 2009, the worldʼs richest nations met in Copenhagen, Denmark, and pledged
to provide $100 billion in funding annually to help developing countries prepare
for global warming by 2020. That commitment was reaffirmed under the Paris
Agreement in 2015.

But donor countries want to ensure that those funds are well spent.

“The donors are really looking for the countries to get their house in order,” said
George de Berdt Romilly, a Canada-based environmental lawyer who has
consulted extensively on climate change initiatives throughout the Caribbean
and South Pacific. “This is not a blank cheque: They want to see … national
strategies and policies approved at a very high level which really articulate the
vision or the roadmap for going forward.”

The BVI has stayed ahead of the curve. A 2010 green paper was followed in 2011
by a tourism impact assessment. And in 2012, the territoryʼs Cabinet adopted a
comprehensive Climate Change Adaptation Policy, which included deadlines in
four years for about 140 goals ranging from environmental legislation to
development guidelines to energy policy to agricultural and fishing reforms.
But by 2018, no more than a third of the goals has been met, found the CPI.
Leaders argue that such measures take time and point to a variety of resilience
projects being implemented by the government and other stakeholders,
including a recent shoreline revetment in Cane Garden Bay, efforts to make
schools and health facilities more eco-friendly and resilient, and flood mapping
studies. But conservationists and technocrats say that history shows a tendency
for VI legislators to brush aside the difficult comprehensive reforms that are
necessary to fundamentally change the way the territory does business on a
day-to-day level.

Indeed, the unfulfilled goals listed in the climate change policy include dozens of
measures that have been promised for more than a decade, such as a national
development plan that has been in the works since the 1990s; environmental
legislation and planning regulations that politicians have pledged to pass nearly
every year since the mid 2000s; and long overdue updates to the 18-year-old
building ordinance, among others.

Premier Dr. Orlando Smith and Deputy Premier Dr. Kedrick Pickering, who is the
minister of natural resources and labor, did not respond to interview requests,
but Governor Gus Jaspert said that he and the UK are pushing for the elected
leaders of the territory to act quickly.

“It needs to be the government here making those changes,” Mr. Jaspert said.

“To be honest, I find it disappointing that a territory that is so naturally blessed
in terms of its environment doesnʼt have much in the way of alternative energy;
… doesnʼt have good recycling or energy efficiency, so I 100-percent support
the governmentʼs drive to do more on that.”

But Mr. Romilly said that the UK isnʼt necessarily putting its money where its
mouth is.

“When they introduced this announcement that the international community is
going to finance climate change programming with this $100 billion
commitment, the British government put in place a carbon levy on airline travel,”
he said, adding that half of that tax initially was promised for destination
countries, including ones in the Caribbean. “The money has been collected for
some years, but [the British government] have not made good on that
commitment to make the 50 percent available directly to the countries where
the travellers are going.”

But even when international funding is available, he added, donor countries and
other contributors also want in place a mechanism to effectively administer it,
such as the BVIʼs trust fund, which is to be operated by an independent board.
Thanks in large part to a regional push by the Caribbean Community Climate
Change Centre, 10 of 15 of Caricomʼs full members — and the five British
overseas territories that are associate members — have drafted a climate
change policy or strategy, according to the CCCCC. But they have seen varying
levels of success officially adopting them at the Cabinet level of government,
and so far only the BVI and Antigua and Barbuda have passed legislation to
establish the sort of independent fund that many donors want, Mr. Romilly said.
When there has been progress, it often has been patchy. Dominica, for instance,
first adopted a climate change adaptation strategy in 2002, but many of its
goals werenʼt met, according to Mr. Romilly.

“The government had very limited resources, so where there was action it was
because there was funding provided, … but there was slippage where funding
could not be mobilised,” he said.

And although the countryʼs government adopted a Low-Carbon Climate-
Resilient Development Strategy in 2012, he said, it still hasnʼt passed a bill
drafted in 2014 that would establish a trust fund — in spite of Dominica Prime
Minister Roosevelt Skerritʼs repeated promises to take decisive action after
Hurricane Maria devastated the country.

“Even though the prime minister has committed himself to being the first
climate resilient country in the region, and it has been made clear to the
government of Dominica that they need to have this legislation passed to do
this, they have not got round to passing this legislation,” said Mr. Romilly, who
helped draft the strategies and the bill.

He added that governments often donʼt pass such measures until they are
required to do so in order to obtain international funding.

“Unless thereʼs funding thereʼs invariably very little action,” he said, adding that
Dominica likely will pass the bill soon in order to access funding for a resilience
project that is in the works.

In spite of such hitches, however, the Caricom member countries in general are
ahead of many of their neighbours, thanks in part to their collaborative efforts,
Mr. Romilly said.

“The rest of the region is really trying to play catch-up, and of course that was
fairly successful [on US territories] under the Obama administration because
there was a recognition of climate change as an issue,” he said. “However, in the
current administration thereʼs been obviously a complete turnaround on that

In the case of Puerto Rico, there is not even a climate change plan in place and
Governor Ricardo Rossello appears completely aloof. He did not accept multiple
requests for interview for this story and since Hurricane Mariaʼs devastation he
has devoted only two public sentences to the issue, during his yearly State of
the Commonwealth Address to Puerto Ricoʼs Legislature March 5.

“The time has come to work on a holistic vision of the environment and the
impact climate change has in Puerto Rico. I will support the measures you
produce in this body to address this problem,” he said.

At the same time, he promoted new housing construction through economic
incentives in an island that is bedridden by debt, abandoned properties and

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