OpenDemocracy is taking legal action over the Cabinet Office’s ‘Orwellian’ Clearing House that vets FOI requests and could breach data protection law
openDemocracy is going to court to force the British government to release full details about its controversial ‘Clearing House’– a secretive unit inside Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office, which is accused of blocking sensitive Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.
In November, openDemocracy revealed that the ‘Orwellian’ unit in the Cabinet Office was vetting FOI requests and sharing personal information about journalists across Whitehall in ways that experts believe could be in breach of the law.
The Cabinet Office has refused to disclose full details about the Clearing House operation under the Freedom of Information Act – despite the FOI watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, ordering it to do so in July 2020.
Now openDemocracy is going to an information tribunal in a bid to force transparency on the Clearing House.
On Thursday 29 April, a first-tier tribunal will hear the case. openDemocracy has instructed Leigh Day, a firm of public law specialists, to argue its case and has received support from across the British media.
The Swedish campaigner says insufficient goals and empty rhetoric represent the “biggest elephant there’s even been in any room.” by Common Dreams staff
Climate campaigner Greta Thunberg in a video released shortly before the Biden administration kicked off a two-day virtual summit of international leaders to address the climate crisis. “The gap between what needs to be done and what we are actually doing is widening by the minute,” says Thunberg. “The gap between the urgency needed and the current level of awareness and attention is becoming more and more absurd.” (Photo: Screenshot/NowThis News)
Just before U.S. President Joe Biden’s two-day virtual summit on the climate crisis got underway, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg on Thursday shared a video message calling out the “bullshit” of world leaders who she says are failing to take the steps necessary to confront the planetary emergency.
“While we can fool others and even ourselves, we cannot fool nature and physics.” —Greta Thunberg
Posted online by NowThis News, the video featuring Thunberg comes as a warning from the well-known global climate campaigner that the people of the world should not be fooled by the lofty rhetoric they will hear at the summit.
“At the Leaders’ Climate Summit, countries will present their new climate commitments, like net-zero emissions by 2050,” Thunberg says in the video. “They will call these hypothetical targets ‘ambitious.’ But when you compare our insufficient targets with the overall current best available science, you clearly see that there’s a gap. There are decades missing.”
Watch the video:
The 18-year-old founder of “Fridays for Future” and inspiration for the global climate strike movement also penned an open letter first published in Vogue on Thursday, making much the same argument.
“You may call us naïve for believing change is possible, and that’s fine,” Thunberg wrote. “But at least we’re not so naïve that we believe that things will be solved by countries and companies making vague, distant, insufficient targets without any real pressure from the media and the general public.”
Of course, we welcome all efforts to safeguard future and present living conditions. And these targets could be a great start if it wasn’t for the tiny fact that they are full of gaps and loopholes. Such as leaving out emissions from imported goods, international aviation and shipping, as well as the burning of biomass, manipulating baseline data, excluding most feedback loops and tipping points, ignoring the crucial global aspect of equity and historic emissions, and making these targets completely reliant on fantasy or barely existing carbon-capturing technologies. But I don’t have time to go into all that now.
The point is that we can keep using creative carbon accounting and cheat in order to pretend that these targets are in line with what is needed. But we must not forget that while we can fool others and even ourselves, we cannot fool nature and physics. The emissions are still there, whether we choose to count them or not.
“The gap between what needs to be done and what we are actually doing is widening by the minute,” she added. “The gap between the urgency needed and the current level of awareness and attention is becoming more and more absurd. And the gap between our so-called climate targets and the overall, current best-available science should no longer be possible to ignore.”
Speaking of world leaders in the Thursday video and the shortcomings of their climate proposals thus far, Thunberg said, “Let’s call out their bullshit,” because the gap between what their rhetoric and what’s actually needed is “the biggest elephant there’s even been in any room.”
Along with other witnesses, Thunberg is testifying before congressional lawmakers on Thursday during a hearing convened by the House Subcommittee on the Environment.
( Middle East Monitor ) – The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines a pogrom as “a mob attack, either approved or condoned by authorities, against the persons and property of a religious, racial, or national minority”.That is exactly what is happening today against the Palestinian people in Jerusalem.
Palestinians are not a minority in Palestine – the country that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But due to Israel’s apartheid regime that has ruled the country since 1948, the majority of Palestinians were expelled from the areas that today form so-called “Israel proper”, and which many Palestinians term “1948 Palestine”.
Due to a slow process of Israeli ethnic cleansing since then, Palestinians are no longer the majority in Jerusalem. But in recent weeks that process has sped up in that city, the historic capital of Palestine.
Some truly terrifying clips have been circulated online – including by credible journalists – showing rampaging mobs of mostly young Israeli men attacking Palestinians in Jerusalem and chanting “Death to the Arabs” (while being incited and led by mainstream Israeli political and religious leaders).
This is not a new phenomenon, but it has increased in recent weeks, partly due to a ruling by an Israeli court demanding new expulsions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The families have been until the start of May to leave their homes and hand them over to Israeli settlers.
These actions by the apartheid state of Israel have only encouraged the “Death to the Arabs” hate mobs. And therein lies the key to understating the essence of a pogrom.
A pogrom is carried out by violent mobs, who are deemed in the discourse of the government and of the corporate media to be “extremists”. There is no doubt that these mobs are far-right Jewish-supremacist extremists by any objective definition.
But they are not extremists in terms of the mainstream of Israeli political discourse and – crucially – of the actions of the racist state itself.
You can see this very clearly in a viral video clip that was circulated by the American anti-Zionist group, Jewish Voice for Peace.
The clip was from a 2009 film about Sheikh Jarrah. But as JVP notes, it could easily have been filmed today. Expulsions of Palestinians by mobs of highly ideological religious Zionist fanatics are still frequently carried out, in the same way seen in the clip.
But the most telling part of the video is perhaps not so much the actions of the mob itself, but how they are endorsed and backed by the racist state.
You see the thugs of Israel’s highly-armed military “Border Police” force standing by and watching the takeover, making sure that the Palestinians are not able to defend themselves or their homes.
This is the very definition of a pogrom.
In the clip posted by JVP, Israeli settler leader Jonathan Yosef is shamelessly explicit about all this, saying: “We take house after house. All this area will be a Jewish neighbourhood … We are going to the next neighbourhood and after that we’ll go [to] more. Our dream [is] that all East Jerusalem will be like West Jerusalem. [A] Jewish capital of Israel.”
He then gives a far clearer, far more honest – and frankly more accurate – definition of Zionism than the lying dissimulators of liberal and “left-wing” Zionism ever could (with their nonsense about “Jewish self-determination” in a country which has never been exclusively Jewish):
“I see this as a continuation of the Zionist project. The return to Zion. Is it at the Arabs’ expense? Yes. But our government institutions were also built at the expense of Arabs who lived here. And so was the state itself,” he says.”
Everything Yosef said in this definition of Zionism is objectively true. The difference though, is that he thinks that such violent, racist extremism is good and praiseworthy, while I (and the vast majority of people around the world) reject it as a horrifying injustice.
Yosef is no marginal figure or merely some obscure wild-eyed extremist. As my colleague David Sheen reports, he sits on Jerusalem’s city council for Shas – a religious extremist party which also happens to have won the third highest number of seats in Israel’s parliament in the election last month.
But the Palestinians show no sign of backing down, lying down, giving up, or, – in the words of Zionism’s racist founder Theodor Herzl – allowing Israel to “spirit the penniless population across the border” of Palestine.
But how did we get this system in the first place? Our ongoing historical research project investigates the relationship between the press and convict labor. While that story is still unfolding, we have learned what few Americans, especially white Americans, know: the dark history that produced our current criminal justice system.
If anything is to change – if we are ever to “end this racial nightmare, and achieve our country,” as James Baldwin put it – we must confront this system and the blighted history that created it.
During Reconstruction, the 12 years following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, former slaves made meaningful political, social and economic gains. Black men voted and even held public office across the South. Biracial experiments in governance flowered. Black literacy surged, surpassing those of whites in some cities. Black schools, churches and social institutions thrived.
As the prominent historian Eric Foner writes in his masterwork on Reconstruction, “Black participation in Southern public life after 1867 was the most radical development of the Reconstruction years, a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent in the history of this or any other country that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century.”
But this moment was short-lived.
As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, the “slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.”
History is made by human actors and the choices they make.
According to Douglas Blackmon, author of “Slavery by Another Name,” the choices made by Southern white supremacists after abolition, and the rest of the country’s accommodation, “explain more about the current state of American life, black and white, than the antebellum slavery that preceded.”
Designed to reverse black advances, Redemption was an organized effort by white merchants, planters, businessmen and politicians that followed Reconstruction. “Redeemers” employed vicious racial violence and state legislation as tools to prevent black citizenship and equality promised under the 14th and 15th amendments.
By the early 1900s, nearly every southern state had barred black citizens not only from voting but also from serving in public office, on juries and in the administration of the justice system.
The South’s new racial caste system was not merely political and social. It was thoroughly economic. Slavery had made the South’s agriculture-based economy the most powerful force in the global cotton market, but the Civil War devastated this economy.
How to build a new one?
Ironically, white leaders found a solution in the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States in 1865. By exploiting the provision allowing “slavery” and “involuntary servitude” to continue as “a punishment for crime,” they took advantage of a penal system predating the Civil War and used even during Reconstruction.
A new form of control
With the help of profiteering industrialists they found yet a new way to build wealth on the bound labor of black Americans: the convict lease system.
Here’s how it worked. Black men – and sometimes women and children – were arrested and convicted for crimes enumerated in the Black Codes, state laws criminalizing petty offenses and aimed at keeping freed people tied to their former owners’ plantations and farms. The most sinister crime was vagrancy – the “crime” of being unemployed – which brought a large fine that few blacks could afford to pay.
Black convicts were leased to private companies, typically industries profiteering from the region’s untapped natural resources. As many as 200,000 black Americans were forced into back-breaking labor in coal mines, turpentine factories and lumber camps. They lived in squalid conditions, chained, starved, beaten, flogged and sexually violated. They died by the thousands from injury, disease and torture.
For both the state and private corporations, the opportunities for profit were enormous. For the state, convict lease generated revenue and provided a powerful tool to subjugate African-Americans and intimidate them into behaving in accordance with the new social order. It also greatly reduced state expenses in housing and caring for convicts. For the corporations, convict lease provided droves of cheap, disposable laborers who could be worked to the extremes of human cruelty.
Every southern state leased convicts, and at least nine-tenths of all leased convicts were black. In reports of the period, the terms “convicts” and “negroes” are used interchangeably.
Of those black Americans caught in the convict lease system, a few were men like Henry Nisbet, who murdered nine other black men in Georgia. But the vast majority were like Green Cottenham, the central figure in Blackmon’s book, who was snatched into the system after being charged with vagrancy.
A principal difference between antebellum slavery and convict leasing was that, in the latter, the laborers were only the temporary property of their “masters.” On one hand, this meant that after their fines had been paid off, they would potentially be let free. On the other, it meant the companies leasing convicts often absolved themselves of concerns about workers’ longevity. Such convicts were viewed as disposable and frequently worked beyond human endurance.
The living conditions of leased convicts are documented in dozens of detailed, firsthand reports spanning decades and covering many states. In 1883, Blackmon writes, Alabama prison inspector Reginald Dawson described leased convicts in one mine being held on trivial charges, in “desperate,” “miserable” conditions, poorly fed, clothed, and “unnecessarily chained and shackled.” He described the “appalling number of deaths” and “appalling numbers of maimed and disabled men” held by various forced-labor entrepreneurs spanning the entire state.
Dawson’s reports had no perceptible impact on Alabama’s convict leasing system.
The exploitation of black convict labor by the penal system and industrialists was central to southern politics and economics of the era. It was a carefully crafted answer to black progress during Reconstruction – highly visible and widely known. The system benefited the national economy, too. The federal government passed up one opportunity after another to intervene.
Convict lease ended at different times across the early 20th century, only to be replaced in many states by another racialized and brutal method of convict labor: the chain gang.
Convict labor, debt peonage, lynching – and the white supremacist ideologies of Jim Crow that supported them all – produced a bleak social landscape across the South for African-Americans.
Black Americans developed multiple resistance strategies and gained major victories through the civil rights movement, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow fell, and America moved closer than ever to fulfilling its democratic promise of equality and opportunity for all.
But in the decades that followed, a “tough on crime” politics with racist undertones produced, among other things, harsh drug and mandatory minimum sentencing laws that were applied in racially disparate ways. The mass incarceration system exploded, with the rate of imprisonment quadrupling between the 1970s and today.
If you’ve ever been seasick, “stable” may be the last word you associate with the ocean. But as global temperatures rise, the world’s oceans are technically becoming more stable.
When scientists talk about ocean stability, they refer to how much the different layers of the sea mix with each other. A recent study analysed over a million samples and found that, over the past five decades, the stability of the ocean increased at a rate that was six times faster than scientists were anticipating.
Ocean stability is an important regulator of the global climate and the productivity of marine ecosystems which feed a substantial portion of the world’s people. It controls how heat, carbon, nutrients and dissolved gases are exchanged between the upper and lower layers of the ocean.
So while a more stable ocean might sound idyllic, the reality is less comforting. It could mean the upper layer trapping more heat, and containing less nutrients, with a big impact on ocean life and the climate.
How the oceans circulate heat
Sea surface temperatures get colder the further you travel from the equator towards the poles. It’s a simple point, but it has enormous implications. Because temperature, along with salinity and pressure, controls the density of seawater, this means that the ocean surface also becomes denser as you move away from the tropics.
Seawater density increases with depth too, because the sunlight that warms the ocean is absorbed at the surface, whereas the deep ocean is full of cold water. The change in density with depth is referred to by oceanographers as stability. The faster density increases with depth, the more stable the ocean is said to be.
Our series on the global ocean opened with five in-depth profiles. Look out for new articles on the state of our oceans in the lead up to the UN’s next climate conference, COP26. The series is brought to you by The Conversation’s international network.
It helps to think of the ocean as divided into two layers, each with different levels of stability.
The surface mixed layer occupies the upper (roughly) 100 metres of the ocean and is where heat, freshwater, carbon and dissolved gases are exchanged with the atmosphere. Turbulence whipped up by the wind and waves at the sea surface mixes all the water together.
The lowest layer is called the abyss, which extends from a few hundred metres depth to the seafloor. It’s cold and dark, with weak currents slowly circulating water around the planet that remains isolated from the surface for decades or even centuries.
Dividing the abyss and the surface mixed layer is something called the pycnocline. We can think of it like a layer of cling film (or Saran Wrap). It’s invisible and flexible, but it stops water moving through it. When the film is ripped into shreds, which happens in the ocean when turbulence effectively pulls the pycnocline apart, water can leak through in both directions. But as global temperatures rise and the ocean’s surface layer absorbs more heat, the pycnocline is becoming more stable, making it harder for water at the ocean’s surface and in the abyss to mix.
Why is that a problem? Well, there’s an invisible conveyor belt of seawater which moves warm water from the equator to the poles, where it’s cooled and becomes more dense and so sinks, returning back to the equator at depth. During this journey, the heat absorbed at the ocean’s surface is moved to the abyss, helping redistribute the ocean’s heat burden, accumulated from an atmosphere that’s rapidly warming due to our greenhouse gas emissions.
If a stabler pycnocline traps more heat in the surface of the ocean, it could disrupt how effectively the ocean absorbs excess heat and pile pressure on sensitive shallow-water ecosystems like coral reefs.
Increasing stability causes a nutrient drought
And just as the ocean surface contains heat that must be mixed downwards, the abyss contains an enormous reservoir of nutrients that need to be mixed upwards.
The building blocks of most marine ecosystems are phytoplankton: microscopic algae which use photosynthesis to make their own food and absorb vast quantities of CO₂ from the atmosphere, as well as produce most of the world’s oxygen.
Phytoplankton can only grow when there is enough light and nutrients. During spring, sunshine, longer days and lighter winds allow a seasonal pycnocline to form near the surface. Any available nutrients trapped above this pycnocline are quickly used up by the phytoplankton as they grow in what is called the spring bloom.
For phytoplankton at the surface to keep growing, the nutrients from the abyss must cross the pycnocline. And so another problem emerges. If phytoplankton are starved of nutrients thanks to a strengthened pycnocline then there’s less food for the vast majority of ocean life, starting with the tiny microscopic animals which eat the algae and the small fish which eat them, and moving all the way up the food chain to sharks and whales.
Just as a more stable ocean is less effective at shifting heat into the deep sea and regulating the climate, it’s also worse at sustaining the vibrant food webs at the sunlit surface which society depends on for nourishment.
Should we be worried?
Ocean circulation is constantly evolving with natural variations and human-induced changes. The increasing stability of the pycnocline is just one part of an extremely complex puzzle that oceanographers are striving to solve.
To predict future changes in our climate, we use numerical models of the ocean and atmosphere that must include all of the physical processes responsible for changing them. We simply don’t have computers powerful enough to include the effects of small-scale, turbulent processes within a model that simulates conditions over a global scale.
We do know that human activity is having a greater than expected impact on fundamental aspects of our planet’s systems though. And we may not like the consequences.
Imagine, for a moment, a different kind of Australia. One where bushfires on the catastrophic scale of Black Summer happen almost every year. One where 50℃ days in Sydney and Melbourne are common. Where storms and flooding have violently reshaped our coastlines, and unique ecosystems have been damaged beyond recognition – including the Great Barrier Reef, which no longer exists.
Frighteningly, this is not an imaginary future dystopia. It’s a scientific projection of Australia under 3℃ of global warming – a future we must both strenuously try to avoid, but also prepare for.
The sum of current commitments under the Paris climate accord puts Earth on track for 3℃ of warming this century. Research released today by the Australian Academy of Science explores this scenario in detail.
The report, which we co-authored with colleagues, lays out the potential damage to Australia. Unless the world changes course and dramatically curbs greenhouse gas emissions, this is how bad it could get.
A spotlight on the damage
Nations signed up to the Paris Agreement collectively aim to limit global warming to well below 2℃ this century and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5℃. But on current emissions-reduction pledges, global temperatures are expected to far exceed these goals, reaching 2.9℃ by 2100.
Australia is the driest inhabited continent, and already has a highly variable climate of “droughts and flooding rains”. This is why of all developed nations, Australia has been identified as one of the most vulnerable to climate change.
The damage is already evident. Since records began in 1910, Australia’s average surface temperature has warmed by 1.4℃, and its open ocean areas have warmed by 1℃. Extreme events – such as storms, droughts, bushfires, heatwaves and floods – are becoming more frequent and severe.
Today’s report brings together multiple lines of evidence such as computer modelling, observed changes and historical paleoclimate studies. It gives a picture of the damage that’s already occurred, and what Australia should expect next. It shines a spotlight on four sectors: ecosystems, food production, cities and towns, and health and well-being.
In all these areas, we found the impacts of climate change are profound and accelerating rapidly.
Australia’s natural resources are directly linked to our well-being, culture and economic prosperity. Warming and changes in climate have already eroded the services ecosystems provide, and affected thousands of species.
The problems extend to the ocean, which is steadily warming. Heat stress is bleaching and killing corals, and severely damaging crucial habitats such as kelp forests and seagrass meadows. As oceans absorb carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere, seawater is reaching record acidity levels, harming marine food webs, fisheries and aquaculture.
At 3℃ of global warming by 2100, oceans are projected to absorb five times more heat than the observed amount accumulated since 1970. Being far more acidic than today, ocean oxygen levels will decline at ever-shallower depths, affecting the distribution and abundance of marine life everywhere. At 1.5-2℃ warming, the complete loss of coral reefs is very likely.
Under 3℃ warming, global sea levels are projected to rise 40-80 centimetres, and by many more metres over coming centuries. Rising sea levels are already inundating low-lying coastal areas, and saltwater is intruding into freshwater wetlands. This leads to coastal erosion that amplifies storm impacts and affects both ecosystems and people.
Land and freshwater environments have been damaged by drought, fire, extreme heatwaves, invasive species and disease. An estimated 3 billion vertebrate animals were killed or displaced in the Black Summer bushfires. Some 24 million hectares burned, including 80% of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and 50% of Gondwana rainforests. At 3℃ of warming, the number of extreme fire days could double.
Some species are shifting to cooler latitudes or higher elevations. But most will struggle to keep up with the unprecedented rate of warming. Critical thresholds in many natural systems are likely to be exceeded as global warming reaches 1.5℃. At 2℃ and beyond, we’re likely to see the complete loss of coral reefs, and inundation of iconic ecosystems such as the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.
At 3℃ of global warming, Australia’s present-day ecological systems would be unrecognisable. The first documented climate-related global extinction of a mammal, the Bramble Cay melomys from the Torres Strait, is highly unlikely to be the last. Climate change is predicted to increase extinction rates by several orders of magnitude.
Degradation of Australia’s unique ecosystems will harm the tourism and recreation industries, as well as our food security, health and culture.
There are ways to reduce the climate risk for ecosystems – many of which also benefit humans. For example, preserving and restoring mangroves protects our coasts from storms, increases carbon storage and retains fisheries habitat.
Australian agriculture and food security already face significant risks from droughts, heatwaves, fires, floods and invasive species. At 2℃ or more of global warming, rainfall will decline and droughts in areas such as southeastern and southwestern Australia will intensify. This will reduce water availability for irrigated agriculture and increase water prices.
Heat stress affects livestock welfare, reproduction and production. Projected temperature and humidity changes suggest livestock will experience many more heat stress days each year. More frequent storms and heavy rainfall are likely to worsen erosion on grazing land and may lead to livestock loss from flooding.
Heat stress and reduced water availability will also make farms less profitable. A 3℃ global temperature increase would reduce yields of key crops by between 5% and 50%. Significant reductions are expected in oil seeds (35%), wheat (18%) and fruits and vegetables (14%).
Climate change also threatensforestry in hotter, drier regions such as southwestern Australia. There, the industry faces increased fire risks, changed rainfall patterns and growing pest populations. In cooler regions such as Tasmania and Gippsland, forestry production may increase as the climate warms. Existing plantations would change substantially under 3℃ warming.
As ocean waters warm, distributions and stock levels of commercial fish species are continuing to change. This will curb profitability. Many aquaculture fisheries may fundamentally change, relocate or cease to exist.
These changes may cause fisheries workers to suffer unemployment, mental health issues (potentially leading to suicides) and other problems. Strategic planning to create new business opportunities in these regions may reduce these risks.
Almost 90% of Australians live in cities and towns and will experience climate change in urban environments.
Under a sea level rise of 1 metre by the end of the century – a level considered plausible by federal officials – between 160,000 and 250,000 Australian properties and infrastructure are at risk of coastal flooding.
Strategies to manage the risk include less construction in high-risk areas, and protecting coastal land with sea walls, sand dunes and mangroves. But some coastal areas may have to be abandoned.
Extreme heat, bushfires and storms put strain on power stations and infrastructure. At the same time, more energy is needed for increased air conditioning use. Much of Australia’s electricity generation relies on ageing and unreliable coal-fired power stations. Extreme weather can also disrupt and damage the oil and gas industries. Diversifying energy sources and improving infrastructure will be important to ensure reliable energy supplies.
The insurance and financial sector is becoming increasingly aware of climate risk and exposure. Insurance firms face increased claims due to climate-related disasters including floods, cyclones and mega-fires. Under some scenarios, one in every 19 property owners face unaffordable insurance premiums by 2030. A 3℃ world would render many more properties and businesses uninsurable.
Cities and towns, however, can be part of the climate solution. High-density urban living leads to a lower per capita greenhouse gas emission “footprint”. Also, innovative solutions are easier to implement in urban environments.
Passive cooling techniques, such as incorporating more plants and street trees during planning, can reduce city temperatures. But these strategies may require changes to stormwater management and can take time to work.
A 3℃ world threatens human health, livelihoods and communities. The elderly, young, unwell, and those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are at most risk.
Heatwaves on land and sea are becoming longer, more frequent and severe. For example, at 3℃ of global warming, heatwaves in Queensland would happen as often as seven times a year, lasting 16 days on average. These cause physiological heat stress and worsen existing medical conditions.
Bushfire-related health impacts are increasing, causing deaths and exacerbating pre-existing conditions such as heart and lung disease. Tragically, we saw this unfold during Black Summer. These extreme conditions will increase at 2℃ and further at 3℃, causing direct and indirect physical and mental health issues.
Under 3℃ warming, climate damage to businesses will likely to lead to increased unemployment and possibly higher suicide rates, mental health issues and health issues relating to heat stress.
At 3°C global warming, many locations in Australia would be very difficult to inhabit due to projected water shortages.
As weather patterns change, transmission of some infectious diseases, such as Ross River virus, will become more intense. “Tropical” diseases may spread to more temperate areas across Australia.
Strategies exist to help mitigate these effects. They include improving early warning systems for extreme weather events and boosting the climate resilience of health services. Nature-based solutions, such as increasing green spaces in urban areas, will also help.
The report acknowledges that limiting global temperatures to 1.5℃ this century is now extremely difficult. Achieving net-zero global emissions by 2050 is the absolute minimum required to to avoid the worst climate impacts.
Australia is well positioned to contribute to this global challenge. We have a well-developed industrial base, skilled workforce and vast sources of renewable energy.
But Australia must also pursue far more substantial emissions reduction. Under the Paris deal, we’ve pledged to reduce emissions by 26-28% between 2005 and 2030. Given the multiple and accelerating climate threats Australia faces, we must scale up this pledge. We must also display the international leadership and collaboration required to set Earth on a safer climate trajectory.
Our report recommends Australia immediately do the following:
join global leaders in increasing actions to urgently tackle and solve climate change
develop strategies to meet the challenges of extreme events that are increasing in intensity, frequency and scale
improve our understanding of climate impacts, including tipping points and the compounding effects of multiple stressors at global warming of 2℃ or more
systematically explore how food production and supply systems should prepare for climate change
better understand the impacts and risks of climate change for the health of Australians
introduce policies to deliver deep and rapid cuts in emissions across the economy
scale up the development and implementation of low- to zero-emissions technologies
review Australia’s capacity and flexibility to take up innovations and technology breakthroughs for transitioning to a low-emissions future
develop a better understanding of climate solutions through dialogue with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – particularly strategies that helped people manage Australian ecosystems for tens of thousands of years
continue to build adaptation strategies and greater commitment for meeting the challenges of change already in the climate system.
We don’t have much time to avert catastrophe. This decade must be transformational, and one where we choose a safer future.
The report upon which this article is based, The Risks to Australia of a 3°C Warmer World, was authored and reviewed by 21 experts.
“If you paid $120 for a pair of Nike Air Force 1 shoes, you paid more to Nike than it paid in federal income taxes over the past 3 years,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders.
For millions of ordinary people in the U.S., 2020 was a painful year in which loved ones and jobs were lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating economic repercussions. But for many of the country’s major corporations, last year was a lucrative one—particularly if they were among the 55 companies that paid $0 in federal income taxes on a combined $40.5 billion in profits, as a new study shows.
“We should be asking bigger questions about a tax system so flawed that it asks next to nothing of profitable corporations that derive great benefit from our economy.” —Matthew Gardner, ITEP
Released Friday, the report is based on the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s (ITEP) analysis of 2020 financial reports filed by the country’s largest publicly traded corporations.
Instead of paying a collective $8.5 billion in federal income taxes on last year’s profits of $40.5 billion, as mandated by the statutory 21% rate, the 55 companies exploited preexisting loopholes and pandemic-related tax breaks to reduce their tax bills to zero.
Not only did these corporations secure a zero-tax liability, they received a collective $3.5 billion in rebates, bringing the total amount of lost federal revenue to $12 billion. And 26 of them haven’t paid a dime for the past three years, a time period in which the GOP’s “morally and economically obscene” tax cuts for corporations and wealthy Americans have been in effect.
“We should continue to call on policymakers to address the gaping corporate tax loopholes that make this kind of tax avoidance possible,” said Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at ITEP and an author of the report.
“But in a pandemic year when so many small businesses shuttered and millions of people lost their economic livelihoods,” he added, “we should be asking bigger questions about a tax system so flawed that it asks next to nothing of profitable corporations that derive great benefit from our economy—in good and bad economic times.”
In the report, Gardner characterized the latest example of tax dodging by profitable companies as part of “a decades-long trend of corporate tax avoidance by the biggest U.S. corporations [that] appears to be the product of long-standing tax breaks preserved or expanded by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) as well as the CARES Act tax breaks enacted in the spring of 2020.”
The report includes a table listing the profits and effective tax rates of all 55 companies.
Some publicly traded corporations that paid $0 in federal income taxes in the most recent fiscal year, such as Zoom, are not included because they are not yet part of the S&P 500 or Fortune 500. But many of the companies—which represent a variety of industries, including technology, utilities, manufacturing, banking, agriculture, and others—are household names.
Some of the most well-known brands, according to ITEP’s analysis, include the following:
Food conglomerate Archer Daniels Midland enjoyed $438 million of U.S. pretax income last year and received a federal tax rebate of $164 million.
The cable TV provider Dish Network paid no federal income taxes on $2.5 billion of U.S. income in 2020.
The delivery giant FedEx zeroed out its federal income tax on $1.2 billion of U.S. pretax income last year and received a rebate of $230 million.
The shoe manufacturer Nike didn’t pay a dime of federal income tax on almost $2.9 billion of U.S. pretax income in 2020, instead enjoying a $109 million tax rebate.
The software company Salesforce avoided all federal income taxes last year on $2.6 billion of U.S. income.
As Gardner wrote, “the biggest and most profitable U.S. corporations have found ways to shelter their profits from federal income taxation” for decades, which ITEP has documented “since the early years of the Reagan administration’s misguided tax-cutting experiment.”
“A widely cited ITEP analysis of an eight-year period (2008 through 2015) confirmed that federal tax avoidance remained rampant before the TCJA,” but now that “most corporations [are] reporting their third year of results under the new corporate tax laws pushed through by President Donald Trump in 2017, it is crystal clear that the TCJA failed to address loopholes that enable tax dodging—and may have made it worse,” he added.
According to ITEP, “the companies used a combination of old and new tax breaks to secure a zero-tax obligation.” Gardner documented the “familiar” tactics that corporations used to slash their effective federal tax rate on corporate profits:
More than a dozen used a tax break for executive stock options to sharply reduce their income taxes last year;
At least half a dozen companies used the federal research and experimentation credit to reduce their income taxes in 2020;
Tax breaks for renewable energy are part of the tax avoidance scheme for several utility companies and
A provision in the TCJA allowing companies to immediately write off capital investments—the most extreme version of accelerated depreciation—helped more than a dozen companies reduce their income tax substantially.
In addition, Gardner noted, there is “a new factor driving down corporate tax bills: the CARES Act, ostensibly designed to help people and businesses to stay afloat during the pandemic.”
While “tax law previously allowed companies to carry back losses to offset profits in two prior years,” Gardner wrote that “the TCJA bars companies from doing this (although it still allows companies to carry losses forward to offset profits in future years). However, the CARES Act temporarily restored companies’ ability to carry back losses and, incredibly, is more generous than the pre-TCJA rules.”
ITEP noted that “the provision’s generosity (the act retroactively loosens rules even for losses in years before the pandemic) provides a ripe breeding ground for corporate tax accounting gimmicks.” As Gardner pointed out, “some companies used a CARES Act provision to ‘carry back’ 2018 or 2019 losses to offset profits they reported in prior years, resulting in a rebate that reduced their 2020 taxes, in some cases to less than nothing.”
The heirs of the super-rich pay zero capital gains taxes on huge increases in the value of what they inherit because of a loophole called the stepped-up basis. At the time of death, the value of assets is “stepped up” to their current market value—so a stock that was originally valued at, say, one dollar when purchased but that’s worth $1,000 when heirs receive it, escapes $999 of capital gains taxes. This loophole enables huge and growing concentrations of wealth to be passed from generation to generation without ever being taxed. Eliminating this loophole would raise $105 billion over a decade.
Six: Close other loopholes for the super-rich.
For example, one way the managers of real estate, venture capital, private equity and hedge funds reduce their taxes is the carried interest loophole, which allows them to treat their income as capital gains rather than ordinary wage income. That means they get taxed at the lower capital gains rate rather than the higher tax rate on incomes. Closing this loophole is estimated to raise $14 billion over a decade.
Seven: Increase the IRS’s funding so it can audit rich taxpayers.
Because the IRS has been so underfunded, millionaires are far less likely to be audited than they used to be. As a result, the IRS fails to collect a huge amount of taxes from wealthy taxpayers. Collecting all unpaid federal income taxes from the richest 1 percent would generate at least $1.75 trillion over the decade. So fully fund the IRS.
Together, these 7 ways of taxing the rich would generate more than $6 trillion over 10 years—enough to tackle the great needs of the nation. As inequality has exploded, our unjust tax system has allowed the richest Americans to cheat their way out of paying their fair share.
It’s not radical to rein in this irresponsibility. It’s radical to let it continue.
Robert Reich, is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include: “Aftershock” (2011), “The Work of Nations” (1992), “Beyond Outrage” (2012) and, “Saving Capitalism” (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, “Inequality For All.” Reich’s newest book is “The Common Good” (2019). He’s co-creator of the Netflix original documentary “Saving Capitalism,” which is streaming now.