July 4

Zion National Park, Utah. The Trump administration removed protections for 2 million acres of public domain in the West. The proclamation the president signed in December 2017 reversed 150 years of American land conservation precedence. Election Day 2018 will decide whether that continues, or not. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

BENZONIA, MI — On this disruptive, bittersweet July 4 let me draw you back 155 years. On this same day in 1863 the blood of the dead and the wounded seeped into the grassy fields of Gettysburg. Spawned by irreconcilable principles and values nearly as virulent as those that exist today, the Union army victory was the strategic turning point in the Civil War. It provided military and cultural momentum for the winning progressive view that free will was an American virtue guaranteed to all races. It also confirmed the views, and cemented the historic legacy of the gifted and courageous anti-slavery voices of the 19th century — Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, William Lloyd Garrison.

Fast forward to now, and further to November 6, election day. In my mind the 2018 mid-term election is tantamount to an American political Battle of Gettysburg. The outcome of that day, regardless of which side wins, will measure the American character and define our national direction for decades. I stand with progressives who support justice, human rights, job and economic opportunity, fairness, environmental protection, and peace. Make no mistake, the other side, supporters of a venal man and the fact-free politics of fear and grievance, bring to the battle equivalent reserves of energy and intensity.

The right wing of the United States has succeeded in building an ultra-conservative counter culture. Its supporters, and their brazen leader, understand the power of their movement and its capacity to impede, if not reverse, a half century of civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmental safeguards, and workplace advances.

Our generational Gettysburg fast approaches. On this day of Independence, I commit to voting for an American way of life that makes the national town square safe and welcome to everyone. I commit to bringing every eligible voter I know with me.

The November Election

President Trump during December 2017 appearance in Salt Lake City to announce his decision to remove protections for 2 million acres of public land in Utah. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

SOMERSET, KY — I’m not at all concerned by the talk about the “end of the American empire.” I saw that needless arrogance slipping by nine years ago in Beijing’s spotless and soaring international airport, fast subways, faster intercity high-speed rail lines, and well-dressed professionals building the Asian century on boulevards flanked by state-of-the art offices.

No, what keeps me up at night — quite literally, I’m not sleeping well these days — is my creeping conviction that President Trump has opened the door to the dungeon of American ugliness. Our most grotesque cultural behaviors are being turned loose. Innate violence. Racism. Hate. Ignorance. Intolerance.

The administration’s program of separating babies and older children from their parents along the Southwest border, and holding them in chainlink enclosures, is cruel. It’s also supported by nearly all the people who voted in 2016 for the president.

It’s starting to appear that the last half century of cultural advance — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, environmentalism, access to higher education — may be an aberration. A remarkable period when America really tried to live up the social contract framed by its founding documents. That half-century, though, may soon be regarded as a departure for a nation that enslaved and sold human beings, waged war on its indigenous people, subjected millions of its citizens in the South to decades of state-supported separation and terrorism, met its union organizers with machine guns and bullets, assassinated its prophets, and concocted lies to dispatch its young to die in losing wars of ideology.

Oh Lord. What will the November election tell us about the American character? It better be good.

— Keith Schneider

30 Years Later — James Hansen Was Right

Lake Powell, the second largest reservoir in the U.S., is steadily drying as long-term drought settles on the American Southwest. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

SOMERSET, KY — This was the week 30 years ago, third week of June 1988, that global warming rose to the top of the list of national priorities. I was a young correspondent for the New York Times that summer, dispatched to Montana and the northern Great Plains to report on an unfolding drought so deep that elderly farmers told me it reminded them of Dust Bowl conditions a half century before.

On June 23 that week, the day after I returned to my desk in Washington, James Hansen, one of NASA’s top scientists, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that Earth was warming. Hansen said he was “99 percent certain” it was the result of human activity. Hansen’s testimony received powerful validation from broad print and TV news coverage in the U.S. and in Europe.

Later that summer a mammoth wildfire raced across Yellowstone. It’s gotten steadily more dangerous since.

I was in the car two weeks ago listening to Rush Limbaugh aggressively make a religious case that, and I’m paraphrasing, mankind could not possibly be powerful enough to produce forces capable of altering the global atmosphere. Only God was capable of that. And, said Limbaugh, if there actually was any evidence of the meteorological disruption described by liberals, scientists, and the ridiculous mainstream media, God was responsible.

Limbaugh’s frustrating assessment reflects a popular theological doctrine that justifies a political construct. Half the country rejects irrefutable evidence of climate change. The back story, of course, is how impediments to climate action support the fossil fuel industry and its user group allies — utilities, railroads, airlines, vehicle manufacturers, elected officials. They are flat out scared breathless by the prospect that $20 trillion in black fuel reserves still in the ground will get stranded.

Climate change is battering Malaysia. A titanic storm last year brought down this retaining wall on Penang island, destroying residences about to open. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

If God is to be thanked, we all should express our gratitude to her/him that the U.S., despite the Trump administration’s market-buffeting interference, has maintained a good bit of its Obama-era momentum to shift the electric-generating sector from coal and gas to renewables. Other nations in Europe and Asia are going there too, and much faster than anybody anticipated. Continue reading “30 Years Later — James Hansen Was Right”

Singapore Knocked As A “Police State.” In This Era It’s A Virtue

A city of 5.5 million at night. Safe. Prosperous. Beautiful. If that’s the current definition of a police state, I’ll take it. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

SINGAPORE — Michael Fay was a 19-year-old American student in May 1994 when Singapore authorities delivered four strikes to his bare bottom with a rattan cane. Arrested nearly a year before for stealing road signs and vandalizing vehicles, Fay’s caning prompted an international debate about the fairness of Singapore’s justice system and an outcry about its “police state” tactics.

I knew two facts about Singapore before I arrived here. First was the debate about Michael Fay and Singapore’s strict rules of personal behavior and its global knock as a “police state.” Second is that Singapore has one of the world’s best freshwater supply systems, based on recycling, rainwater collection, and desalination.

Those two elements of life here are tied together by the island nation’s insistence on achieving order, providing a secure way of life, and demanding that residents play their part. In return government here has delivered a magnificent city, full of architectural gems, rising from a garden of flowers, shrubs and trees, remarkably safe, packed with public transit, and where the water is plentiful and clean. If this is the contemporary version of a “police state” America and much of the rest of the world should take notice.

City in a garden. Singapore’s clean, orderly streets. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

How Singapore achieved its prominence as one of the world’s greenest, cleanest, safest, and most prosperous cities is a story of consistently able leadership, clear goals, and cultural persistence.

The city was occupied by the Japanese during World War Two, a period of extreme violence and hardship, especially for Singapore’s Chinese residents. When the Japanese occupation ended the island endured various long sieges of violence and joblessness as a Malaysian state. In 1965, following wicked disagreements with Malaysia, Singapore became an independent nation that could finally focus on a national plan. The city’s development strategy, like almost every other nation’s, was designed to employ its people, end poverty, and improve the quality of life. Singapore just did it better and stuck to its goals.

The $5.5 billion (USD) Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino, opened in 2010 and is one of the city’s premier entertainment destinations. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Water security was one feature of the plan. Environmental sustainability was another. A good portion of the island is protected forest that safeguards surface water reservoirs. High-tech manufacturing, excellent transit, housing, and education are priorities. Singapore’s streets are shaded in a beautiful urban forest. From a troubled backwater at the tip of the Malay peninsula, Singapore has become a jewel of Asia, not much talked about in the West, but highly regarded from Seoul to Tokyo to Sydney. Continue reading “Singapore Knocked As A “Police State.” In This Era It’s A Virtue”

Malaysia. Where’s Malaysia?

A mammoth figure guards the entrance to one of the Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo/Keith Schneider

KUALA LUMPUR — I had no idea what to expect from Malaysia when I accepted an assignment from Mongabay to report on the consequences of a prodigious wave of infrastructure development that is remaking this country’s economy and geography. What I’ve found is a nation contending, like so many others, with political disruption, but fully competent to develop the new muscles and bones to support the contemporary needs of this century.

People here are suspicious of their leaders. But the questions about corruption and competence of Malaysia’s political leadership are infinitely easier to answer than those being asked in the United States about America’s ruling class. The notion that the U.S. is exceptional isn’t a ruse. It’s just changed radically in the last several decades. We’re such a rich nation. But we don’t deploy our wealth to enhance civic well-being. The U.S. is exceptional now for the miserable way our political system has crumbled, our public schools and infrastructure have deteriorated, our sense of confidence and purpose have weakened.

The American century likely ended on 9/11. The Asian century began soon after. It’s more than apparent in Malaysia.

For a journalist who’s spent a decade reporting on ecological and economic transformation around the world, I have one overriding observation about Malaysia. Malaysia is different than China, India, Mongolia, the Philippines and several more countries that are determined to achieve western-level measures of growth. Malaysia did not wreck its land, water, air, and marine environments getting there.

A rendering of the 70-acre Exchange development, with its 106-story centerpiece, which is under construction in Kuala Lumpur. The development is meant to be the country’s new finance center. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Clean rivers still flow here. Half of the country’s tropical forest cover is intact and will remain so under commitments Malaysian leaders made in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. Near shore marine environments have not been ruined by mining disasters, as they were in the Phillippines, or soiled in tides of fetid urban wastewater, as they have been in India and China.
Continue reading “Malaysia. Where’s Malaysia?”