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New July 2013

Where Is the Humanities' Neil DeGrasse Tyson?

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Cosmos is a hit, again. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a pop science star. Thanks to him, kids dream about expanding human knowledge of the phenomenal universe. Now: Where’s a liberal arts rockstar to make people care about human culture that much?Read more…

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Rich countries: Sure, climate change will screw poor countries, but what about us?

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The new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights that we are already feeling the pain of global warming across the planet. Heat waves and drought are increasingly in rhythm in every major continent, including our own, while severe flooding is more frequently becoming the business in Africa. If you don’t want to read the IPCC’s 2,500-plus page report, here’s the shorter version: Climate fuckery is not futuristic; we have been fucking up the atmosphere; it is fucking us back. But, as I wrote recently, there are certain people — particularly those with large concentrations of melanin in their skin, and smaller concentrations of money in the bank — who are suffering more of that fuckery than their less-melanated, more-resourced counterparts. The IPCC’s latest makes note of this. Disturbingly, the report’s authors wanted to keep this critical information out of the much-shorter IPCC executive summary — the part that’s supposed to be the most accessible to the public and lawmakers. From New York Times reporter Justin Gillis: The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries. The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a days long editing session in Yokohama. The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private. The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases. Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption. Those bolds are all mine. And before I elaborate, I have to add that it’s equally disturbing to me that this information came two-thirds of the way into Gillis’s article. Talk about burying the lede — this erasure is the story, but it was relegated to the story’s third act, meaning many people probably won’t read it. Back to the bolds, starting with the last one: Rich countries argue that $100 billion a year to shield poor countries from climate impacts is an “unrealistic demand.” I do not believe that if the World Bank said that Europe and U.S. will be destroyed without $100 billion in aid each year, that this would have been deleted from the IPCC summary. Arguing that they cannot afford to deal with the poor in the way that the world’s lead economists say they need to means rich countries do not truly understand what they’re up against. It means that they believe they will somehow be immunized from the kinds of violent uprisings over food, land, energy, and water that result when the poor — mostly people of color — are left out of the picture. It means they do not get what is already happening in Syria, the Ukraine, Taiwan, Mexico, and the Sudan, where forced massive migration and civil wars have already started over limited resources, arguably the result of climate change’s impacts. When rich countries can edit the poor out of the most important document on the gravest danger facing Earth, it means that they are not serious about addressing climate change. It means that climate mitigation funds will help protect millionaire beachfront condo owners in South Beach, but have yet to address how it will protect what’s left of Geechee families in South Carolina. Perhaps it even means that rich countries think their money is better spent on technology and “innovation” to shield themselves from climate catastrophe. And those tricks very well might shield some people from flooding, but it doesn’t shield the “poorest” from the kind of reckless capitalism that traps them in a perpetual state of vulnerability. This is an insult to nations who even with meager resources have already started making the difficult investments that their wealthier counterparts don’t have the courage to make. “Bangladesh has invested $10 billion of its own money to adapt to extreme climatic events,” said Dr. Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development in a statement on the IPCC report. “Nepal is the first country to develop adaptation plans at the community level. It is time for the richer countries to pull their weight and do the right thing, by investing at home and abroad in actions that can reduce emissions and protect people and property from danger.” There is little today that says whiteness is supreme more than arguing that it is an “unrealistic demand” for nations with predominantly, if not exclusive, white leadership to pay what is necessary to protect the people of Africa, India, and South America from climate calamity they did not cause. The oppression, the bigotry, and the fuckery of that argument is that it allows rich countries to continue perpetuating unrealistic demands on the world’s “poorest” — those who “virtually have had nothing to do with” climate change. Chattel slavery was an unrealistic demand. Putting Latin American workers in the most dangerous farm and factory jobs, exposing them to pesticides, carcinogens, and other toxic elements so that Walmart can have “roll back” prices — these are unrealistic demands. Asking the poorest of communities to fend for themselves against unprecedented waves of heat, drought, and rising sea levels is an unrealistic demand. In my estimation, there are two things that will destroy us eventually if not resolved soon: white supremacy and climate change. These happen to both be things that the wealthy believe they can afford to ignore. It’s for this reason that the IPCC’s summary just may be their infamous last words.Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Senior party officials at start of trial of ‘mafia’ tycoon Liu Han in Xianning, Hubei

<!– google_ad_section_start –> More than 150 top Communist Party officials arrived in Xianning, Hubei province, yesterday to oversee the highly anticipated trial of Sichuan mining tycoon Liu Han for alleged mafia-style crimes. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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How did Vancouver get so green?

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Vancouver is supremely green, in both senses of the word. Set between ocean and mountains and lined with verdant trees, Vancouver also has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major city in North America. In 2007, the most recent year for which comparisons are available, Vancouver had annual emissions of 4.9 tons of CO2 equivalent per capita. By 2012, according to Vancouver’s city government, it had dropped to 4.4 tons per person. “Vancouver has done really well at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and showing leadership on climate change,” says Ian Bruce, science and policy manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental research organization. “Vancouver is bucking the trend of a lot of North American cities when it comes to how quickly the city is growing in population — it’s increasing quite dramatically, its economy and jobs have increased — while greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 9 percent in the last decade.” How did Vancouver achieve that? It’s an outlier in even the green-friendly Pacific Northwest: While Seattle and Portland look and feel a lot like Vancouver, their per capita emissions are roughly three times as high. The U.S.’s closest competitor to Vancouver is New York, followed by San Francisco, then Philadelphia. All of those cities are older, with many dense, walkable rowhouse neighborhoods developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before the car rose to dominate the landscape and city planning. Like its Pacific Northwest peers, Vancouver was built later, with more detached houses and parking garages. In part, Vancouver is just lucky. British Columbia is rich in hydroelectric power, so keeping the lights on in all those coffee bars pumps a lot less CO2 into the atmosphere than in cities where power comes from fossil fuels. It also helps that Vancouver has a relatively mild West Coast climate. Inland cities like Minneapolis and Denver, with more weather extremes, need more fuel for heat in the winter and electricity for air conditioning in summer. But Vancouver has also made a lot of smart public policy choices. Even as the Canadian national government backslides on environmental protection, Canada’s more liberal localities are making progress. Ontario banned coal-fired electricity this year. Vancouver has been committed to sustainability, and creating policies to advance that goal, for several decades. Mayor Gregor Robertson keeps raising the bar on his predecessor’s successes. He developed the comprehensive “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan,” which lays down benchmarks that each sector of the city’s government must achieve. According to environmental advocates, the city has pursued three main agendas that account for its success: 1. Offering transportation alternatives. Vancouverites are eager to ditch their cars, and the city is trying to help them do so. In 2010 Vancouver started building separated bicycle lanes and it is launching a bikeshare system this year. “Continuing to shift people out of cars to walking, biking, and transit is crucial,” said Mayor Robertson in a phone interview with Grist. Robertson boasts that Vancouver has reached 44 percent of its trips being made without a car. That’s the third-highest percentage in North America, after New York City and Washington, D.C. His administration has also encouraged carsharing, which helps reduce car ownership and total driving, with free dedicated parking spaces for the Car2Go car-sharing service. Winston WongVancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson, IRL.Even as the city grows, its number of car trips decreases. That means its drops are even more impressive when adjusted for population. “In the past decade, the population in Vancouver has increased 18 percent, the number of jobs has gone up 16 percent, while vehicles entering downtown have decreased by 20 percent,” notes Bruce. The proportion of all trips taken into and within Vancouver by car have each dropped around 5 percent during the same timeframe. “It’s not based on breakthrough technology,” Bruce explains, “just planning decisions to invest in transit, bike, and walking infrastructure.” “Vancouverites have chosen to shift out of cars for 20 years in a row now,” says Robertson. The city’s average decline in car mode share is 1 percent per year. In addition to pedestrian and bike safety, Robertson is trying to expand mass transit. But without sufficient investment at the provincial and federal level, the biggest projects may not be completed. Right now, Roberston is lobbying Ottawa for help building a $3 billion subway line that would go to the University of British Columbia (UBC) and unclog traffic on Broadway, a major road through the city. 2. Density, building codes, and transit-oriented development. Walk around downtown Vancouver and you’ll see a lot of skyscrapers. But unlike the downtowns of many big cities, these aren’t all just office buildings. Vancouver has encouraged building housing upwards in its downtown and along transit corridors. This manages the population growth so that most new residents are living in dense, walkable, transit-accessible environments. Denser buildings also tend to be more energy-efficient. “Vancouver has been designed around the notion of building complete communities,” says Bruce. Shopping, housing, office space, parks, and public amenities are all found in the same neighborhoods, especially downtown. “A lot of downtown cores are ghost towns after businesses close at 5 p.m.,” adds Bruce. “Vancouver has tried to redesign the downtown and build enjoyable places. That has made public transit more efficient and a better investment — with more people living in the downtown core it made more sense to invest in things like mass transit.” Or, as Robertson concisely puts it: “We’ve battled hard against suburban sprawl.” All that development has its environmental challenges. “A lot of the new development is in high-rise condos. Their actual energy performance does not look like it’s as good as anticipated,” notes Ellen Pond, senior policy advisor at the Pembina Institute, a Canadian environmental think tank. Buildings are the largest source of Vancouver’s emissions. And while density is preferable to sprawl, luxury high-rises encased in glass are not necessarily more efficient than, say, compact low-rise brick apartment buildings or townhomes. “The modeled energy performance and actual performance can be quite different,” Pond explains. “For example, sometimes there is no thermal barrier between an apartment’s concrete balconies and the floor inside. So, basically you’re building a building with fans that transmit energy in or out.” That can make it colder in winter and hotter and summer, and thus less energy-efficient. The city is working on these issues. Last fall the city council adopted amendments to the city’s building code requiring all new large buildings to be designed to meet strict energy standards and use 20 percent less energy – below 2007 benchmarks – by 2020. Pond says she expects these new regulations to help make future high-rises more efficient. 3. Clean, productive waste management. Trucking garbage to landfills uses energy. Burning garbage may be even worse. Vancouver also tries to make efficient use of its waste. “Our waste goal of diverting waste away from landfills and incinerators is crucial,” says Robertson. The city has introduced compost pick-up for single family homes and is now working on doing the same for multi-unit buildings. “Vancouver has a really aggressive waste management strategy to divert organics from the waste stream,” says Pond. Food waste and yard waste go to a large composting facility. The city’s compost materials are then sold to gardeners. Vancouver even makes use out of leaky gas (although not the kind that comes out when you’ve eaten a burrito). The city captures methane at the landfill and use it to heat greenhouses. They even take the warmth that naturally accumulates in sewers and use it to heat homes. The biggest problem with Vancouver is that this high quality of life attracts too many people. Last year, The Economist ranked Vancouver the most expensive city in North America [sub req]. Robertson argues that his environmental initiatives also make it less expensive. “Greening a city makes it more affordable,” says Robertson. “You have more affordable transportation, with walking, biking, and transit. Healthier buildings burn less fuel. You get more success by investing in a green city — both [in] quality of life and affordability.” Certainly, Vancouver’s high cost of living is a byproduct of its success. If local governments elsewhere were smart — never a safe assumption — they will seek to emulate it. Robertson is also working on climate adaption, as any responsible mayor must these days. Vancouver, like so many coastal cities, is experiencing adverse effects from climate change and CO2 emissions, and could face much worse problems if CO2 pollution continues unchecked. The city’s harbor has become increasingly acidic due to CO2 pollution, and that may be why its shellfish are dying in droves. Vancouver has adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which is leading to policies such as flood-proof building regulations and developing plans to deal with extreme heat. And that illustrates the most daunting fact of all: While Vancouver is doing great comparatively, it still needs to do more if it is to meet the generally accepted goal of an 80-percent reduction in greenhouse emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. While environmentalists have almost nothing but praise for Vancouver’s existing policies, they want to see the city go farther, faster. “The greenhouse gas emission targets need to be more ambitious than they are today,” says Stephanie Goodwin, Greenpeace’s director for British Columbia. Vancouver may not even meet its own goals. “We’re less than halfway to our emissions targets,” says Goodwin. “They want to reduce emissions by 33 percent from 2007 by 2020. They’ve made less than a 10 percent reduction so far. How far will the city really get over the next 6 years? I have hope but whether they’ll get from single digit reductions up to 33 percent? I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for that.” Goodwin notes that while the city is following its roadmap to make its buildings carbon neutral by 2020, it is not yet on pace to get there. And so Vancouver’s status as a global warming mitigation leader is both encouraging and discouraging, depending on how you look at it. It shows how much can be done with the strongest political will and the boldest leadership – but is also uncovers a concerted strategy’s limits. At the end of the day, even most liberal Vancouverites don’t want to stop heating their homes or using electricity, and all that energy has to come from somewhere. Says Goodwin of the Vancouver government, “They’ve achieved what’s politically feasible, not what’s ecologically necessary.”Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy

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Do Lu Ping’s comments reveal Beijing’s hidden bottom line?

<!– google_ad_section_start –> The “carrot and stick” approach is common in negotiating and bargaining. It would not be exceptional for Beijing to use this tactic in its talks with Hong Kong’s pan-democrats on who may be eligible to run as the city’s leader in 2017, hopefully through universal suffrage. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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FOX&#39;s Maria Bartiromo Debuts New Sunday Talk Show, Unfortunately

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Maria Bartiromo, CNBC’s disgruntled “Money Honey” pioneer, jumped ship from CNBC in November, ending her twenty-year reign at the business news network. Lucky for her, she landed an anchor job just across the street at FOX Business, where she’s the weekday host of “Opening Bell.” Read more…

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Warmer temperatures can lead to warmer tempers, UN report to say

Top scientists are saying that climate change will complicate and worsen existing global security problems

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Republican governors Chris Christie and Scott Walker court Jewish donors

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Big hitters stress Israel backing to Republican Jewish Coalition Billionaire Sheldon Adelson donated more than $90m in 2012 Two of the highest-profile Republican state governors on Saturday called for more aggressive leadership on America’s challenges abroad, emphasising their support for Israel as they courted powerful Jewish donors.New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker also stoked speculation about their own presidential ambitions as they discussed how to reclaim the White House in 2016.

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Ukraine’s ‘Chocolate King’ could edge new-look Yulia for president

Petro Poroshenko, a 48-year-old billionaire, emerges as leadership favourite

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Egypt presidential election set for May 26, 27

Country’s powerful former military chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is widely expected to win

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Russia clarifies Ukraine stance as Sergei Lavrov meets John Kerry in Paris

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Russia’s foreign minister said Moscow was seeking a federal solution with greater autonomy for southern and eastern UkraineRussia’s radical terms for agreeing a diplomatic solution to the crisis over its annexation of Crimea are becoming clearer after Sergei Lavrov, the country’s foreign minister, said Moscow wanted greater autonomy for southern and eastern parts of Ukraine where many ethnic Russians live.Speaking on Russian state television ahead of emergency talks in Paris on Sunday with John Kerry, his US counterpart, Lavrov said Moscow wanted a federal solution for Ukraine as part of “deep constitutional reform”.

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Far right National Front party poised for electoral breakthrough in France

<!– google_ad_section_start –> France on Sunday held a second round of voting in local elections that are set to result in a breakthrough by the far right and trigger a reshuffle of the beleaguered Socialist government. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Fedor Burlatsky obituary

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Political scientist who sought reform from within the Soviet Communist party and was an early advocate of perestroikaBehind its facade of unity, the post-Stalin Soviet Communist party was nothing like as single-minded as its leaders pretended and as many in the outside world believed. It contained radically different undercurrents: among the reformers essential to Mikhail Gorbachev’s eventual programme of perestroika was Fedor Burlatsky, who has died aged 87.A vivid personality and at times an influential figure in intellectual and political life, he observed enough of the rules of the game to maintain a comfortable, although far from lavish, lifestyle. His political writings often pushed to the limits of the permissible: he was an eloquent representative of those party insiders who were critical both of the influence of the military-industrial complex and of Russian nationalist currents within the party.

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China seizes US$14.5b assets from family, associates of ex-security chief Zhou Yongkang

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Chinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan (HK$112.5 billion) from family members and associates of retired domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China’s biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, two sources sa <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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China seizes $US14.5bn assets linked to ex-spy chief Zhou Yongkang – report

Gold, paintings and property confiscated, and 300 relatives and allies held or questioned in huge investigation into corruptionChinese authorities have seized assets worth at least 90bn yuan ($US14.5bn) from family members and associates of retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who is at the centre of China’s biggest corruption scandal in more than six decades, two sources said. More than 300 of Zhou’s relatives, political allies, proteges and staff have also been taken into custody or questioned in the past four months, the sources told Reuters.

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China seizes $14.5bn of ex-official assets

Illegal assets were seized from family members and associates of retired domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang.

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