Rights Can’t Wait
Anthony D. Romero, a former public-interest attorney, is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He is the ACLU's sixth executive director, and the first Latino and openly gay man to serve in that capacity. In 2007, Romero and co-author Dina Temple-Raston published In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror.
Question: How has the gay rights movement progressed since Stonewall?
Anthony Romero: We’ve progressed in the gay rights movement, but we haven’t progressed as a result of government polices, and certainly not as a result of leadership on the federal level. I think what’s remarkable is that we’ve made progress despite opposition from the federal government and some of the state governments. I’m 44 years old two weeks ago; when I was growing up I would have thought it impossible for gay people to marry. Now, we have it in many states, and in some of the most remarkable states you can actually be pronounced husband and husband and wife and wife. You can get married in Dubuque, but you can’t get married in Chelsea, or in San Francisco. Frankly, the fact that we made progress in places like that and Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire—I think that speaks volumes about the power and the dynamism of gay rights community. But we see still that federal government officials mumble when it comes to questions about gay rights, that these are not equal rights of ordinary American citizens, and so the Obama administration submits this brief to defend the Defense of Marriage act, an indefensible piece of law that was signed by president Clinton.
This shows you that Democrats can sometimes not be any better than Republicans in some of the key civil rights and the liberties issues, and here you have the Obama administration that filed this brief, defending the law in some of the most disgusting rhetoric in language. I understand the fact that this department has to defend the laws enacted by Congress, but the way that its on that brief is really offensive to many gay and lesbian people across this country, and the fact that they had such a tin ear—they couldn’t realize that the way they were going to defend this law was going to be in a way that would really infuriate gay and lesbian people across the country. We thought that they had embarked upon a very different time in our Nation’s history.
I do think it’s great that President Obama actually says the words gay and lesbian. I think that it was notable that at the NWICP convention Obama talked about gay people still not having their civil rights, and I think it’s great that he had this ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of Stonewall at the White House. But frankly, talk is cheap and there’s only so long that a very eloquent, and very thoughtful, and very charismatic president will be able to get away on talk alone. The policies, outcomes, and decisions of that government have to measure up to the talk that both led him into the White House and still allows him to lead the public in various significant ways.
At a point, we all tune up when people’s actions don’t measure up to their works.
Question: Is there any rationale for, “Don’t ask, don’t tell”?
Anthony Romero: No. I don’t think anyone legitimately can say that “don’t ask, don’t tell” has worked. Even the wife of the author of that terrible policy ran on the campaign saying it was a mistake to do “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in the first place. You created a witch hunt in the military: that you can be gay—you just can’t ask about it, you can’t tell anyone about it. But if you tell someone or someone asks about it then you could still be pushed out of the military. It’s ridiculous: they promised to undo “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, the Obama administration. But they’re saying now that they’ll get to it in their pseudo time.
It’s really quite different if you’re an openly gay or lesbian person serving in the military, putting your life down on the line for our country, and yet your government can discriminate against you. If you lose your job even as you lay down your life for your country, you could still be kicked out from that post or that position.
Frankly, there’s no reason why we ought to wait. It’s not as if we’re going to be able to fix the economy or healthcare, or the environment, or even these wars in the near future. But social change is not a sequential piece, it is not like your college pre-requisites where you take Economics 101 before you go to Economics, you know, 201. These issues all have to be dealt with aggressively, and the idea that we will wait to deal with them just shows that they’re not a huge priority for this administration the way we had hoped and the way that many have voted for them to bring about that change.
I find it remarkable that quite increasingly, the Obama administration is sustaining and weathering attacks not just from civil libertarians about human rights and civil liberties, but from the gay community, the women’s community, young people, and antiwar activists. Those were the base that created the seabed that got him elected, and yet some of the major issues that I think propelled some of the young people to vote for this president are now the ones that we find on the back burner. It’s actually not a very good political agenda. It doesn’t take a lot for a 25-year-old to become disenchanted once again with the political process, and when folks turned out in record numbers and gave record amounts of money it’s because they want to see swift, decisive change—and that has yet not come about.
Question: What can this administration do specifically to advance gay rights?
Anthony Romero: Well certainly by giving the full protection of health benefits to federal government employees, which is not what he’s done, would be an important first step. President Obama is like a CEO of a major corporation, it’s just like as if he were the CEO of Walt Disney or Apple, and if you’re concerned about the health and well-being of your employees, you want to protect them and their families. I think it is remarkable that this president has said that even though as CEO of the government workers of the United States of America, that he won’t provide healthcare benefits for same sex partners if we worked with the federal government. That’s something he can do, that’s something he ought to do. Frankly, if Apple can get around to it or Nike can get around to it, and Walt Disney can get around to it, I think the CEO of the United States of America can get around to that too. He doesn’t need Congress, he could just implement that. That is also another misstep on the gay rights front. You have DOLMA, you have the mumbling on “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”, you have the lack of providing full healthcare benefits for federal government employees. People begin to scratch their heads and wondering why we’re not going to see the type of change that were hoping for, and that’s the type of change that the president can bring about. He can also use the bully pulpit to be very clear around marriage; in fact, the president has said in his books and his public speaking that he struggles with the idea around marriage for lesbian and gay people.
We don’t have the same protection that straight people have. The President is protected by the law—he has two beautiful daughters and a wonderful first lady as his wife—and the law protects the family from discrimination. It protects them in case anything were to go wrong with either one of the parents. Gay people across this country don’t have the benefit of those legal protections, and no matter how much they say that they want to treat us like equal citizens and give us our full rights, the fact is, unless you move, either you implement on those rights, its just rhetoric, it’s just auditory language, and frankly the time has come for bold, decisive leadership—we’ve seen it in states all across this country.
Massachusetts has married gay people now for over a year and some months, and I don’t think marriage is any weaker in Massachusetts that it was three years ago. You’ve seen it in Connecticut. Decisive, clear action from the federal government is essential and necessary, and it is still not there.
Recorded on: July 20, 2009
ACLU Director Anthony Romero is growing impatient about Obama’s lack of decisive action on gay rights.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
The world's getting hotter, and it's getting more volatile. We need to start thinking about how climate change encourages conflict.
- Climate change is usually discussed in terms of how it impacts the weather, but this fails to emphasize how climate change is a "threat multiplier."
- As a threat multiplier, climate change makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse.
- Not only do we have to work to minimize the impact of climate change on our environment, but we also have to deal with how it affects human issues today.
Human beings are great at responding to imminent and visible threats. Climate change, while dire, is almost entirely the opposite: it's slow, it's pervasive, it's vague, and it's invisible. Researchers and policymakers have been trying to package climate change in a way that conveys its severity. Usually, they do so by talking about its immediate effects: rising temperature, rising sea levels, and increasingly dangerous weather.
These things are bad, make no mistake about it. But the thing that makes climate change truly dire isn't that Cape Cod will be underwater next century, that polar bears will go extinct, or that we'll have to invent new categories for future hurricanes. It's the thousands of ancillary effects — the indirect pressure that climate change puts on every person on the planet.
How a drought in the Middle East contributed to extremism in Europe
(DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.
Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.
One of these other factors was drought. In fact, the drought in that region — it started in 2006 — has been described as the "worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilization began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Because of this drought, many rural Syrians could no longer support themselves. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians — many of them agricultural workers and farmers — moved into the country's major cities. With this sudden mixing of different social groups in a country where classes and religious sects were already at odds with one another, tensions rose, and the increased economic instability encouraged chaos. Again, the drought didn't cause the civil war — but it sure as hell helped it along.
The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.
Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"
This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.
Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.
Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.
What the future may hold
(NASA via Getty Images)
Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.
Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.
But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.
Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.
Climate change and its sociopolitical effects, such as refugee migration, aren't some poorer country's problem. It's everyone's problem. Whether it's our food, our homes, or our rights, climate change will exact a toll on every nation on Earth. Stopping climate change, or at least reducing its impact, is vitally important. Equally important is contending with the multifaceted threats its going to throw our way.
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