Sunday, October 31, 2021

What if Everything You Learned About Human History Is Wrong?

In “The Dawn of Everything,” the anthropologist David Graeber and the archaeologist David Wengrow aim to rewrite the story of our shared past — and future

The anthropologist David Graeber at a 2012 debate about the Occupy movement. His new book with David Wengrow, “The Dawn of Everything,” takes on the standard narrative of the origins of human societies.
Credit...Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

By Jennifer Schuessler
Oct. 31, 2021

One August night in 2020, David Graeber — the anthropologist and anarchist activist who became famous as an early organizer of Occupy Wall Street — took to Twitter to make a modest announcement.

My brain feels bruised with numb surprise,” he wrote, riffing on a Doors lyric. “It’s finished?”

He was referring to the book he’d been working on for nearly a decade with the archaeologist David Wengrow, which took as its immodest goal nothing less than upending everything we think we know about the origins and evolution of human societies.

Even before the Occupy movement made him famous, Graeber had been hailed as one of the most brilliant minds in his field. But his most ambitious book also turned out to be his last. A month after his Twitter announcement, Graeber, 59, died suddenly of necrotizing pancreatitis, prompting a shocked outpouring of tributes from scholars, activists and friends around the world.

“The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity,” out Nov. 9 from Farrar Straus and Giroux, may or may not dislodge the standard narrative popularized in mega-sellers like Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” and Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel.” But it has already gathered a string of superlative-studded (if not entirely uncritical) reviews. Three weeks before publication, after it suddenly shot to #2 on Amazon, the publisher ordered another 75,000 copies on top of the 50,000 first printing.

“The Dawn of Everything,” which began as an email exchange between the authors, aims to upend the narrative of social evolution undergirding best-sellers like “Sapiens” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.” Credit... Farrar, Straus and Giroux

In a video interview last month, Wengrow, a professor at University College London, slipped into a mock-grandiose tone to recite one of Graeber’s favorite catchphrases: “We are going to change the course of human history — starting with the past.”

More seriously, Wengrow said, “The Dawn of Everything” — which weighs in at a whopping 704 pages, including a 63-page bibliography — aims to synthesize new archaeological discoveries of recent decades that haven’t made it out of specialist journals and into public consciousness.

“There’s a whole new picture of the human past and human possibility that seems to be coming into view,” he said. “And it really doesn’t resemble in the slightest these very entrenched stories going around and around.”

Wengrow in his office in London in Oct. 2021. “There’s a whole new picture of the human past and human possibility that seems to be coming into view,” he said.Credit...Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

The Big History best-sellers by Harari, Diamond and others have their differences. But they rest, Graeber and Wengrow argue, on a similar narrative of linear progress (or, depending on your point of view, decline).

According to this story, for the first 300,000 years or so after Homo sapiens appeared, pretty much nothing happened. People everywhere lived in small, egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups, until the sudden invention of agriculture around 9,000 B.C. gave rise to sedentary societies and states based on inequality, hierarchy and bureaucracy.

But all of this, Graeber and Wengrow argue, is wrong. Recent archaeological discoveries, they write, show that early humans, far from being automatons blindly moving in evolutionary lock step in response to material pressures, self-consciously experimented with “a carnival parade of political forms.”

It’s a more accurate story, they argue, but also “a more hopeful and more interesting” one.

“We are all projects of collective self-creation,” they write. “What if, instead of telling the story about how our society fell from some idyllic state of equality, we ask how we came to be trapped in such tight conceptual shackles that we can no longer even imagine the possibility of reinventing ourselves?

“He just had that ability to look at your work and sprinkle magic dust over the whole thing,” Wengrow said of Graeber, who died in Sept. 2020, several weeks after they finished the book.
Credit...Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

The book’s own origins go back to around 2011, when Wengrow, whose archaeological fieldwork has focused on Africa and the Middle East, was working at New York University. The two had met several years earlier, when Graeber was in Britain looking for a job after Yale declined to renew his contract, for unstated reasons that he and others saw as related to his anarchist politics.

In New York, the two men sometimes met for expansive conversation over dinner. After Wengrow went back to London, Graeber “started sending me notes on things I’d written,” Wengrow recalled. “The exchanges ballooned, until we realized we were almost writing a book over email.”

At first, they thought it might be a short book on the origins of social inequality. But soon they started to feel like that question — a chestnut going back to the Enlightenment — was all wrong.

“The more we thought, we wondered why should you frame human history in terms of that question?” Wengrow said. “It presupposes that once upon a time, there was something else.”

Wengrow, 49, an Oxford-educated scholar whose manner is more standard-issue professorial than the generally rumpled Graeber, said the relationship was a true partnership. He, like many, spoke with awe of Graeber’s brilliance (as a teenager, a much-repeated story goes, his hobby of deciphering Mayan hieroglyphics caught the eye of professional archaeologists), as well as what he described as his extraordinary generosity.

“David was like one of those Amazonian village chiefs who were always the poorest guy in the village, since their whole function was to give things away,” Wengrow said. “He just had that ability to look at your work and sprinkle magic dust over the whole thing.”

Most recent big histories are by geographers, economists, psychologists and political scientists, many writing under the guiding framework of biological evolution. (In a cheeky footnote assessing rival Big Historians’ expertise, they describe Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, as the holder of “a Ph.D on the physiology of the gall bladder.”)

Graeber and Wengrow, by contrast, write in the grand tradition of social theory descended from Weber, Durkheim and Levi-Strauss. In a 2011 blog post, Graeber recalled how a friend, after reading his similarly sweeping “Debt: The First 5,000 Years” said he wasn’t sure anyone had written a book like that in 100 years. “I’m still not sure it was a compliment,” Graeber quipped.

“The Dawn of Everything” includes discussions of princely burials in Europe during the ice age, contrasting attitudes toward slavery among the Indigenous societies of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, the political implications of dry-land versus riverbed farming, and the complexity of preagricultural settlements in Japan, among many, many other subjects.

But the dazzling range of references raises a question: Who is qualified to judge whether it’s true?

Occupy Wall Street protestors in lower Manhattan in Sept. 2011. Graeber was often credited with the slogan “We Are the 99 Percent,” though he insisted it was a collective effort.Credit...Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

Protestors in Zucotti Park in Nov. 2011. Graeber liked to say the goal of his book with Wengrow was “to change the course of human history — starting with the past.”Credit...Robert Stolarik for The New York Times

Reviewing the book in The Nation, the historian Daniel Immerwahr called Graeber “a wildly creative thinker” who was “better known for being interesting than right” and asked if the book’s confident leaps and hypotheses “can be trusted.”

And Immerwahr deemed at least one claim — that colonial American settlers captured by Indigenous people “almost invariably” chose to stay with them — “ballistically false,” claiming that the authors’ single cited source (a 1977 dissertation) “actually argues the opposite.”

Wengrow countered that it was Immerwahr who was reading the source wrong. And he noted that he and Graeber had taken care to publish the book’s core arguments in leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals or deliver them as some of the most prestigious invited lectures in the field.

“I remember thinking at the time, why do we have to put ourselves through this?” Wengrow said of the process. “We’re reasonably established in our fields. But it was David who was adamant that it was terribly important.”

James C. Scott, an eminent political scientist at Yale whose 2017 book “Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States” also ranged across fields to challenge the standard narrative, said some of Graeber and Wengrow’s arguments, like his own, would inevitably be “thrown out” as other scholars engaged with them.

But he said the two men had delivered a “fatal blow” to the already-weakened idea that settling down in agricultural states was what humans “had been waiting to do all along.”

But the most striking part of “The Dawn of Everything,” Scott said, is an early chapter on what the authors call the “Indigenous critique.” The European Enlightenment, they argue, rather than being a gift of wisdom bestowed on the rest of the world, grew out of a dialogue with Indigenous people of the New World, whose trenchant assessments of the shortcomings of European society influenced emerging ideas of freedom.

“I’ll bet it has a huge significance in our understanding of the relationship between the West and the rest,” Scott said.

“The Dawn of Everything” sees pervasive evidence for large complex societies that thrived without the existence of the state, and defines freedom chiefly as “freedom to disobey.” It’s easy to see how such arguments dovetail with Graeber’s anarchist beliefs, but Wengrow pushed back against a question about the book’s politics.

“I’m not particularly interested in debates that begin with slapping a label on a piece of research,” he said. “It almost never happens with scholars who lean right.”

But if the book helps convince people, in the words of the Occupy slogan, that “another world is possible,” that’s not unintentional.

“We’ve reached the stage of history where we have scientists and activists agreeing our prevailing system is putting us and our planet on a course of real catastrophe,” Wengrow said. “To find yourself paralyzed, with your horizons closed off by false perspectives on human possibilities, based on a mythological conception of history, is not a great place to be.”

Activism and the Academy
Read more about the work of the anthropologist David Graeber

Still No Flying Cars? Debating Technology’s Future
Sept. 21, 2014

Jennifer Schuessler is a culture reporter covering intellectual life and the world of ideas. She is based in New York. @jennyschuessler

Neuroscientist recounts his long strange trip to plumb the depths of consciousness

BY ALAN BOYLE on October 31, 2021
In a scene from a new documentary titled “Aware: Glimpses of Consciousness,” Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch gazes out on Puget Sound while riding a Washington state ferry. (Umbrella Films)

Could magic mushrooms hold the key that unlocks the secrets of consciousness?

Well, maybe not the only key. But Allen Institute neuroscientist Christof Koch says that hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin, the active ingredient found in special types of mushrooms, can contribute to clinical research into the roots of depression, ecstasy and what lies beneath our sense of self.

“What they can teach us about consciousness is that the self is just one aspect of consciousness,” Koch says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast. “You’re still highly conscious, and very often this is associated with states of ecstasy, or states of fear or terror, or a combination of ecstasy and terror. … What’s remarkable is that in all of these states, the self is gone, and very often the external world is gone, yet you’re highly conscious.”

The quest to understand consciousness through detailed analysis of the brain’s structure and function, scientific studies of religious and traditional practices — and yes, research into the effects of psychedelic drugs — is the focus of a 102-minute documentary film titled “Aware: Glimpses of Consciousness.”

“Aware” has been on the film-festival circuit for weeks, and an online showing will be the centerpiece of a live-streaming event set for Nov. 10. The documentary will also air on PBS stations next April as part of public TV’s Independent Lens series.

Koch, who’s the chief scientist of the Seattle-based Allen Institute’s MindScope brain-mapping program, is one of the stars of the show.

Koch says he agreed to participate in the project because filmmakers Frauke Sandig and Eric Black were asking “interesting questions” about consciousness.

Among those questions: Do animals and plants possess levels of consciousness? What do Tibetan Buddhist monks, meditators and traditional Maya healers experience when they go into altered states? Are there clinical applications for psilocybin and other hallucinogens?

Koch himself has explored more than one path leading into the secret garden of consciousness: In addition to mapping the brain at the nanoscale, he has worked with other neuroscientists to develop a “conscious-meter” that could be used to measure the awareness of patients who are non-responsive to treatment.

“We’re developing this procedure where you essentially knock on the brain with a magnetic pulse, and you measure the reverberation, and you can look at the complexity of the EEG [brain wave pattern],” Koch said. “If it’s complex, the patient is likely conscious although he might not respond. If it’s low-complex, the patient fully isn’t there. … This shows progress on this very old mind-body problem, so we are not forever condemned to walk around in an epistemic fog.”

Another, more personal path has to do with psilocybin. In the film, Koch recounts his experience taking magic mushrooms under expert guidance.

“They totally are magic in the sense that you lose somewhat your sense of self — you know, that constant nagging voice in your head that reminds you of your inadequacy and the things that you still haven’t done, et cetera,” he told me. “And you can be out there in the world. So it’s sort of an enhanced mindfulness.”

Neuroscientist Christof Koch in his Allen Institute lab. (Umbrella Films)

Koch isn’t the only one with a professional interest in psychedelics. “There are 55 different clinical trials right now for various psychiatric conditions in which psilocybin is used — one or two trials of psilocybin for, let’s say, treatment of major depression disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer-related anxieties, alcoholism, etc., etc.,” he said. “It’s always in combination with a therapist, so it’s never alone.”

This month, Seattle’s city council unanimously passed a resolution that called for deprioritizing the enforcement of laws banning the use of psilocybin and other natural hallucinogens. Koch said such steps, coupled with further clinical research, could eventually bring hallucinogenic drugs into the medical mainstream.

“What might happen, once some of these drugs get approved and pass clinical phase 3 trials and get approved by the FDA, always together with a therapist, then you can go to your doctor and he can prescribe it off-label,” Koch said. “So you can tell your doctor, ‘I feel slightly depressed,’ whatever. And then the doctor can say, yeah, so we’ll give you two doses of this.”

The psilocybin connection comes out even more strongly during the film’s interviews with Roland Griffiths, director of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research. Griffiths and his colleagues have conducted more than 600 experimental sessions in which psilocybin was administered to patients — including patients dealing with life-threatening cases of cancer.

“The measures of depression go markedly down,” Griffiths says in the documentary.

Another researcher featured in “Aware,” Monica Gagliano, is conducting experiments at the University of Sydney and other research institutions to determine the level of awareness that plants have about their surroundings.

“We know that trees and plants are not only able to detect sounds from their environment, but would also produce their own sounds,” she says in the film. “The incredible amount of data that is emerging in the field of plant behavior and communication is obviously pointing at more uncomfortable questions, of whether plants are actually sentient, intelligent, conscious.”

Koch wouldn’t go that far. But he does suspect that animals (including his dog) have differing levels of consciousness. That would be predicted by a conceptual framework known as integrated information theory, or IIT — a theory espoused by Koch. One of the ideas behind IIT is that the level of consciousness is determined by the amount of irreducible integration built into an information system.

The theory has drawn plenty of debate in neurological circles, and at least one experimental campaign has been organized to determine whether IIT or a competing model called global neuronal workspace theory does a better job of explaining the nature of consciousness.

If IIT is correct, Koch says that would rule out the science-fiction scenario of computers becoming conscious.

He acknowledges that artificial intelligence could one day become capable of mimicking every feature of human intelligence, “including writing books and painting and doing all the other things that we believe are unique to us.”

“So the question is, if they can be as intelligent as us, don’t they also share our consciousness? And this is where IIT differs,” Koch said. “You can simulate the behavior … but that doesn’t mean you have the same causal power. It’s just like you can simulate the gravity associated with a black hole, but funny enough, you don’t have to be concerned that you’re going to be sucked into the cavitation.”

The answer to the question might be different if inventors managed to build a neuromorphic computer that duplicated the structure and function of the human brain, rather than merely simulating human-level intelligence. But that could be decades or even centuries away.

Koch, who’ll turn 65 in November, is fully aware that he’s not likely to see all the mysteries of consciousness revealed during his lifetime.

“We are making progress on things like the conscious-meter, but it’s slow,” he said. “If you’re a scientist, you know you stand on the shoulders of giants, and it’s a generational project to illuminate the darkness in the world and try to understand, in a rational way, the place that we humans in particular occupy in the universe. It’s something very humbling … but that is the mission that I’ve chosen for my own life.”

So is there one mystery that Koch would like to see revealed? Even he was surprised by the answer he came up with: “Are there other intelligences out there?” he said. “I mean humanlike, not just bugs.”

For example, is there a chance that aliens will broadcast unmistakable signals picked up by the search for extraterrestrial intelligence? Could they send an interstellar asteroid like Oumuamua through our solar system as a calling card?

“It would be nice to have some certainty,” Koch said, “because that would dramatically change the discussion on planet Earth.”

This report was originally published on Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log. Check out the original posting for bonus links to Koch’s favorite movie about consciousness, the book that tops his reading list and other recommendations from the Cosmic Log Used Book Club.

GeekWire contributing editor Alan Boyle is an award-winning science writer and veteran space reporter. Formerly of, he is the author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference." Follow him via, on Twitter @b0yle, and on Facebook and MeWe. Reach him via email at
Amazon-funded wind farm now operational in Scotland
BY LEXI LONAS - 10/29/21 

© Getty Images

An Amazon-funded wind farm is now operational in Scotland, ScottishPower announced Thursday.

The company said this will be its largest wind farm without a government support scheme. It entered into a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with Amazon for the farm, meaning ScottishPower will sell Amazon energy power for a certain period of time at a certain price.

In this case, Amazon will purchase all of the power output from the wind farm. The energy will power Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centers, corporate offices, and fulfillment centers.

According to announcements, this is Amazon’s first operational renewable energy deal in the United Kingdom.

“Amazon is on a path to powering our operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025, five years ahead of schedule. We are excited that our first Scottish windfarm is now contributing to that goal, and we have three more large-scale renewable projects in development across the UK,” John Boumphrey, Amazon’s UK Country Manager, said.

“Investing in clean energy and working across all of our operations to become more efficient is just one of the many actions we are taking to reach our commitment as part of The Climate Pledge to be net-zero carbon by 2040,” he added.

The Beinn an Tuirc 3 wind farm has 14 turbines on the Kintyre peninsula. It produces enough clean energy to power almost 46,000 homes.

“It’s really exciting to mark the completion of Beinn an Tuirc 3 and the start of our PPA with Amazon during UK Wind Week and with just a few days to go until the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference gets underway,” Lindsay McQuade, CEO of ScottishPower Renewables, said
Determined to suck all joy out of the cosmos, Jeff Bezos announces his space business park

Orbital Reef wants to turn our journey to the stars into a rush hour commute

Andrew Paul
Thursday 1:30PM

Jeff Bezos’ private spacefaring company, Blue Origin, announced its Orbital Reef space station earlier this week via a 4-minute promotional video with all the CGI “wow” factor of a Blockbuster direct-to-DVD sci-fi knockoff rental circa 2003.

Presumably, this offers a means for the burgeoning space tourism industry to siphon even more excess wealth from the pockets of the world’s richest people—which is depressing enough in its own right. What we see and read of the plan somehow makes the whole thing even more soul-suckingly bland. Check out the Avenue 5 outtake below:

Yawn...Yawn! About a new chapter set against the backdrop of the miracles of space, for God’s sake!

“Orbital Reef will be operated as a ‘mixed use business park’ in space,” the actual, very real press release reads, as if that sells the project to anyone other than Boeing—who are, incidentally, also a partner in Bezos’ new venture that’s due to float inanely above humanity’s heads by the end of the decade. “The Orbital Reef business model makes it easy for customers and is strategically designed to support a diverse portfolio of uses,” that same, real (we swear) PR statement sells us a few paragraphs later.

“Now, anyone can establish an address in space,” Blue Origin claims at one point in its sales pitch video. But we’re gonna go ahead and remind everyone reading this that, no, you cannot “establish an address in space.” Wealthy tycoons and the occasional token civilian can.

Orbital Reef changes nothing about humanity’s access to the cosmos, it just makes it easier for the people who ruined Earth in the first place to get a head-start on ruining what’s next for our species.

Oh, and by the way—Orbital Reef? Really? Jeff Bezos already named one company after an ecosystem his businesses helped to destroy. Does he truly need to do that all over again?
Court docs: University of Florida attempting to block professors from testifying in voting rights lawsuit

Broward County voters drive up to drop off their mail-in ballots for the 2020 Presidential election at the Broward County Supervisor of Elections office in Lauderhill, Fla. A lawsuit challenging a new Florida voting law passed since then has raised concerns about academic freedom. File photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 30 (UPI) -- The University of Florida instructed three political science professors to not assist civil rights groups challenging the state's restrictive new voting law, court filings show.

According to court documents filed in federal Friday, university officials advised professor Dan Smith against serving as an expert witness in the case, saying that "outside activities that may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida create a conflict for the University of Florida.

Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin, two other election experts in the university's political science department, were given similar warnings, according to the filing.

The revelation has sparked concerns over academic freedom and First Amendment rights.

The Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education issued a statement calling on the University of Florida to "reverse course immediately."

"The profound civic importance of fair trials requires the ability of fact and expert witnesses to come forward to testify truthfully without fear that their government employer might retaliate against them," the foundation said. "Public university faculty are no exception."

The foundation pointed out that it brought a lawsuit against New Hampshire's Plymouth State University in 2018 for punishing faculty who testified in a trial. The university lost the lawsuit and cost the state $350,000.

RELATEDTexas governor signs voting restrictions into law

Paul Donnelly, a lawyer for the professors, told the Miami Herald that the university's decision had a chilling effect that "strikes at the very heart of academic freedom." He said he hopes that the federal judge in the case would address the concern and the university would allow the professors to testify. If not, he said a lawsuit could be coming.

Steve Orlando, the University of Florida's vice president for communications, issued a statement to the paper that the school was committed to academic freedom and denied infringing on the professors' free speech rights.

"It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom of professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin," Orlando said. "Rather, the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university's interests as a state of Florida institution."
RELATEDGov. Ron DeSantis signs restrictive new voting law in Florida

Over the spring, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation adding new requirements for voters to receive a mail ballot and limiting the ballot drop boxes.

A coalition of civil rights groups challenged the new law in federal court, arguing that it was an attempt to suppress votes of Black and Latino voters.
Paid leave's demise tough on backers in Manchin's home state

West Virginia Sarah Clemente snuggles with daughter Penelope Clemente, 6, at their home in Charleston, W.Va., on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. Clemente supported a paid family medical leave proposal that was removed from President Joe Biden's social spending plan because of opposition from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Brittanie Hairston, right, hands out candy at a Halloween festival in Charleston, W.Va., on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. Hairston supported a paid family medical leave proposal that was removed from President Joe Biden's social spending plan because of opposition from West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Hairston said paid leave would ease worries about what would happen in one of her sons got sick. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

Sun, October 31, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Jessi Garman, the mother of 3-year-old twin girls, has been searching for a job while also trying to have a third child with her husband, who's in the military. Optimistic that Congress finally would approve paid family medical leave, she thought the time seemed right.

But that was before opposition by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia torpedoed the proposal. Both having another baby and getting full-time work doesn't seem feasible now, and Garman's hopefulness has turned into anger.

“It almost feels personal because Joe Manchin is my senator,” said Garman, of Milton.

Supporters of a decades-old proposal to let workers take time off for medical needs including childbirth, surgeries and end-of-life care are dealing with another disappointment in Manchin's home of West Virginia, a poor state with one of the nation's oldest populations.

State activists are still working on Manchin — a pro-leave group planned to rent an airplane and fly a banner over one of his political fundraisers at a resort this weekend, said Kayla Young, a member of the state House of Delegates who also is helping with an advocacy group, Paid Leave Works for West Virginia. They hope some version of paid leave may still be included in President Joe Biden's social spending package.

“It’s disheartening, but I don’t think it’s over yet,” said Young.

Sarah Clemente hopes Young is right, since paid leave would have made things easier with all three of her children. Instead, she said, she had to take off a total of two years and return to work just a week after the birth of her youngest — Penelope, now 6 — whom she and husband Ryan adopted from a relative who couldn't care for her.

“We followed the textbook on what you’re supposed to do to be responsible, successful adults. And while we are there now, there was a lot of suffering and heartbreak,” said Clemente, a 40-year-old health care manager. “And it's still hard.”

Biden initially proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents, people caring for loved ones or people recovering from an illness, but it wasn’t included in a $1.7 trillion framework released by the White House on Thursday after Manchin’s opposition became clear. Manchin, whose support is crucial because of the slim Democratic edge in the Senate, said he wanted to avoid turning the United States into “an entitlement society.”

Democrats continue lobbying the senator, but he hasn't shown signs of budging despite proposals to trim leave from 12 weeks to four or to restrict it to just new parents. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said she has spoken extensively with Manchin and he asked good questions, but he wasn’t focused on specifics of the proposal and had concerns about its cost.

In Manchin’s home county in northern West Virginia, Amber Gabor allowed that some time off would have come in handy when one of her kids — ages 2, 7 and 9, with another one expected in a couple of weeks — had to stay home for two weeks after a coronavirus case at his school. But 12 weeks of paid leave sounded excessive to her.

“I don’t see why you would need all that at one time, unless it was a maternity type of leave. But most (work) places offer that anyway,” said Gabor, who works from home doing customer service for a power company.

In the rural town of Spencer, dental receptionist Samantha Camp is one of those who say they will continue to get by without a paid leave option just as they always have — with difficulty.

Camp will keep paying about $50 monthly for the disability insurance she buys as a hedge against having to miss work because of a bone problem that resulted in hip replacement surgery last year. After the operation, she felt she had no choice but to return earlier than doctors recommended to her job at a small law firm where she worked at the time.

“It was very worrisome being with no income,” said Camp, 34. “The doctors wanted to put me off for about six weeks. I just knew I couldn’t do that financially. I was actually off only two and a half weeks.”

Chris Hedges, a partner in the law firm, said it gave Camp all the vacation time it could scrape together and having government-funded leave would have made things so much better.

“For small businesses to be able to afford paid leave is just about impossible," Hedges said. “The paid leave that would have come about through Biden’s bill would have helped. It would have helped us retain employees.”

On Charleston's west side, which is home to many working class and poor people, Brittanie Hairston said paid leave would have eased her worries about what would happen if one of her sons, ages 6 and 10, were to get sick with COVID-19 or something else.

“I can't go back to work until they're clear,” she said.

And Mildred Tompkins, who works with a health and education nonprofit in the state capital, said her own two daughters, who are in their 20s and working in relatively low-paid health care jobs, would have benefited from paid leave.

“For people that are just regular, right at the poverty line and working," she said, “it would make a difference.”


Associated Press writers John Raby in Fairmont, W.Va., and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report.

Manchin said paid-leave programs could entice fraud, inquired about work requirements: report

John L. Dorman
Sun, October 31, 2021

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Manchin pointed to potential fraud as one of his concerns about paid leave, per The Washington Post.

Manchin's opposition to federal paid leave has caused consternation among many of his colleagues.

Sen. Patty Murray said last week that she objected to "one man" denying US women paid leave.

For months, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has served as a moderate Democratic bulwark against the most ambitious elements of the "Build Back Better agenda" championed by President Joe Biden, which ranged from two years of tuition-free community college to a broad expansion of Medicare to cover dental and vision benefits, among other proposals.

However, one of the most sought-after proposals among Democrats was the implementation of paid family and medical leave for the millions of Americans who currently aren't able to access such benefits.

The White House earlier this year sought to subsidize 12 weeks of paid sick and parental leave, costing $500 billion over a decade, in what would have been a larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill - which had already come down from the $6 trillion figure that Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders of Vermont had envisioned.

With the reconciliation bill being pared down from $3.5 trillion to roughly $1.75 trillion, the proposal for paid leave, which had been at 12 weeks, was reduced to 4 weeks - but by week's end, the entire paid-leave plan was seemingly cut from the framework being crafted by Biden and congressional Democratic leaders.

Manchin has stood firm against paid leave, citing its cost and potential strain on the federal budget.

However, according to a Washington Post report that detailed the push by Democratic women to save the family leave last week, Manchin has a series of "evolving concerns" about the benefit program, based on the statements of five individuals who spoke anonymously.

Manchin was reportedly concerned that a paid-leave program could generate fraud, comparing such malfeasance to people who were able to illegally obtain unemployment benefits, per The Post.

The Mountain State senator also reportedly brought up work requirements, despite employment already being a key tenet of eligibility for paid-leave, according to several of the sources who spoke with The Post.

In stating his opposition, Manchin has also emphasized the logistical burden that small businesses might face due to federal paid-leave legislation and expressed concerns about the "solvency" of a new social spending program.

"To expand social programs when you have trust funds that aren't solvent, that are going insolvent - I can't explain that, it doesn't make sense to me," the senator said earlier this month. "I want to work with everyone as long as we can start paying for things. That's all. I can't put this burden on my grandchildren."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has lobbied Manchin to support paid leave. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

According to Pew Research, the US is a notable outlier when it comes to paid parental leave. Across 41 countries, America is the only that does not mandate paid leave. The US similarly lags behind peers in paid sick leave, with no federal sick leave mandates.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a fellow moderate who has also stymied Democratic leadership over the size of the reconciliation bill, introduced bipartisan family leave legislation in 2019 that would have given the families the option of advancing up to $5,000 of child tax credits to parents in the first year of a child's life or the first year of adopting a child. However, the bill stalled in Congress.

The senator was reportedly one of several female Democratic senators who called Manchin to lobby his support for paid leave, according to a source who spoke to The Post.

Numerous studies have found that paid leave has a positive effect on the economy and workers. Paid leave may lead to higher earnings for women, healthier children, and stronger economic growth, according to a study by the think tank, New America. An analysis from the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that paid leave would increase Americans' incomes by $28.5 billion every year.

Among the Democratic caucus, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Patty Murray of Washington have been extremely vocal about the need for paid leave.

Gillibrand, who has championed the issue for years, worked the phones on Friday in an attempt to move Manchin on the issue, telling him she'd "meet him in DC or anywhere in the country" to discuss the issue, as she described to The Post in an interview.

However, the senior senator from West Virginia was not phased by her personal appeal to him.

Murray, who has served in the Senate since 1993 and has also long sought a paid-leave program, was unrelenting in continuing her fight.

"We're not going to let one man tell all the women in this country that they can't have paid leave," she said on Capitol Hill last week.

Revolving Door Provides Window Into Big Oil’s Dirty Secret

Originally published on Transport & Environment

Fossil fuel companies are using their privileged access to EU lawmakers to lobby against the decarbonisation of transport.

Six oil companies and their lobby groups stand accused of dirty tactics designed to slow down, or even block, climate action and the move to a zero-emission transport fleet in the EU. Shell, BP, Repsol and Eni are among the companies caught red handed in 72 revolving door cases.

No one should be surprised that oil and gas majors are hiring former lawmakers and public servants with the express intention of influencing the political process in favour of their own, fossil fuel interests. These are businesses that have used every dirty trick in the book to prop up their profits. But we should be alarmed that the systemic capture of our political system by vested interests is a major obstacle to tackling the climate crisis.

Over the coming months, Transport & Environment will be taking a deeper look at Big Oil’s “dirty” tactics to continue business as usual, publicly declaring their green credentials while working to pump out more polluting oil to fuel our cars. We will also expose how they greenwash and promote false solutions, in order to carve out a space for themselves in a decarbonised future. This first article, which is based on research compiled by Corporate Europe Observatory, Friends of the Earth Europe and Food & Water Action Europe, takes a closer look at the revolving door phenomenon.

Revolving doors are when public servants and elected representatives start working for fossil fuel companies, or when fossil fuel company operatives move to the public sphere. The problem here is that if a former oil company director starts working for a political party or as a public servant at an EU-level, how can we trust that Big Oil is not influencing the outcomes of their political decisions? Revolving door rules are inadequate and regulators turn a blind eye to possible conflicts of interest whereby Big Oil benefits from the know-how and contacts book of insiders.

Lobbying is an important part of the democratic process. It allows lawmakers to hear the views of a broad range of constituencies, but when one industry uses its power and resources to gain undue influence, it can corrupt democratic processes and result in bad laws. Revolving door is one way of gaining undue influence for a specific set of interests that care more for their profits than for people and the planet.

The number of cases is shocking. Since 2015, the year of COP21, TotalEnergies had 15 revolving door cases, 31 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives and spent close to €13 million lobbying the EU. ENI had 10 revolving door cases, 48 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives and spent close to €7 million lobbying the EU. Shell had 10 revolving door cases, 85 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives, and a budget of close to €28 million for lobbying the EU; and BP was linked to 5 revolving door cases, had 47 meetings with the EU Commission’s representatives, and allocated close to €18 million for lobbying the EU.

In one revolving-door case, a long-serving diplomat was seconded from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Shell in 2012, as its Government Relations Advisor. After this secondment, he was hired as a senior project advisor on government relations and is now leading advocacy for Shell’s hydrogen business and is a prominent member of Hydrogen Europe, Eurogas, IOGP and others. This makes you wonder how much this has influenced the Dutch Government’s approach to blue hydrogen and natural gas as alternative fuels for the transport sector.

In another case, a former Dutch minister who is now a Total board member, seemed sure of his company’s influence when he claimed at a webinar co-organised by oil and gas company Petronas: “There is no doubt the world is heading towards net zero 2050, and fossils will be part of that.”

For decades Big Oil has lobbied against effective climate action at national, EU, and international levels, blocking or derailing policies aimed at reducing emissions and moving towards a decarbonised transport sector. Through their dirty lobbying tactics, which includes privileged access, huge lobby spending, and revolving doors, Big Oil has maintained its power and can influence key political decisions at an EU and national levels, especially linked to the transport sector and action on climate change.

Big Oil has merely pledged “net zero” climate plans, to conveniently continue business-as-usual, and promote false solutions which involve a variety of risky technologies and deeply flawed schemes, from biofuels and natural gas, to hydrogen with carbon capture and storage (CCS), so-called blue hydrogen. This smokescreen allows for continued emissions, and, deployed at scale, will have significant negative social and environmental impacts. As late as last week, a report showed that Total knew – for 50 years – that their core business would cause catastrophic climate change. They covered up the truth, funded misinformation, and lied to their shareholders and the public.

It derails climate action where it’s most needed, to replace dirty fuels for our cars, trucks, planes, and ships, and to move to a zero emissions transport fleet. The sad truth is that the majority of political institutions embrace the false solutions promoted by Big Oil. This needs to change. We need a functioning firewall between public officials and those companies responsible for driving climate change.


Climate change: What are the big polluters doing to cut carbon emissions?

By Reality Check team
BBC News

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Just four countries plus the European Union are responsible for most of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the most common greenhouse gas responsible for global warming.

All five signed up to the Paris agreement in 2015 to cut emissions to limit global temperature rises.

What steps have they taken since?

China: The world's biggest emitter

  • Says carbon emissions will peak in 2030
  • Aiming for 25% of energy from non-fossil fuels by 2030
  • Promises to be carbon neutral by 2060

Carbon neutrality refers to the balancing of overall carbon emissions with measures to absorb it from the atmosphere such as the planting of trees.

China is the largest producer of CO2, responsible for quarter of all global emissions. And its carbon emissions are still rising, largely because of a reliance on coal.

Last month, President Xi Jinping announced it would stop funding new coal-fired projects overseas.

But at home, coal mines have been ordered to ramp up production to meet surging energy demand, although Beijing has promised to cut back on coal use from 2026.

China has made progress on renewable energy - it now accounts for more than a third of all global solar power and is the world's biggest producer of wind energy.

But the country needs to cut demand for coal by more than 80% by 2060 to meet its climate goals, according to the International Energy Agency.

Climate Action Tracker, meanwhile, says China's policies and actions are "insufficient" - and if every country followed the same path it would lead to a global temperature rise of 3C.

US: The most emissions per person

  • Will cut CO2 by at least 50% of 2005 level by 2030
  • Wants half of new vehicles to be electric by 2030
  • Promises to be carbon neutral by 2050

More than 80% of US energy comes from fossil fuels, although renewable energy sources are on the increase.

President Joe Biden's environmental plan looks to expand green energy further, with a $150bn (£100bn) clean-electricity programme to reward utility companies switching from fossil fuels.

But it has faced opposition from some US lawmakers concerned about the impact on the coal and fracking industry.

CO2 emissions have been dropping over the past decade.

But Climate Action Tracker says US actions and policies are "insufficient", needing "substantial improvement" to meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping to a 1.5C increase in global warming.

The European Union: Emissions falling

  • Promises a 55% emissions cut from the 1990 level by 2030
  • Aiming for 40% of energy from renewables by 2030
  • Will be carbon neutral by 2050

The top CO2 emitters in the EU are Germany, Italy and Poland.

And while it has overall emissions targets, EU states have differing financial and technical capabilities.

But all member countries need to agree how they reach the bloc's targets, as the EU negotiates as a single entity when it comes to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop26).

Climate Action Tracker says its policies and actions are "almost sufficient" to keep the global temperature rise to less than 2C, noting emissions have been falling since 2018.

India: Reliant on coal

  • Aiming for a 33-35% reduction in 'emissions intensity' by 2030
  • Promises 40% of electricity capacity from non-fossil fuels by 2030
  • Has not set a date for carbon neutrality

India's annual CO2 emissions have risen steadily in the past two decades - but it produces the lowest emissions per person among the top five.

India has argued the wealthier, more industrialised nations should bear more of the burden, as they have contributed far more to global warming over time.

And it has a target for "emissions intensity" - CO2 per unit of economic growth - saying this is a fairer way to compare with other countries.

India has also promised a significant increase in energy production from non-fossil fuel sources such as wind, solar and hydro power - and in 2019, this had reached 23%.

And Climate Action Tracker says the country needs to phase out coal power generation before 2040 and boost its target for energy derived from non-fossil fuels.

Russia: Economy driven by oil and gas

  • Will cut emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2030
  • Promises to be carbon neutral by 2060

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, Russia's economy - and its carbon emissions - shrank anyway.

But Russia is still relying on its extensive forests and swamps to absorb carbon.

Wind, solar and hydro power and other non-fossil fuels make up a small proportion of its total energy mix.

And fossil fuels contribute more than 20% of gross domestic product (GDP), the total value of goods and services produced in Russia.

Climate Action Tracker says the country's policies and actions are "highly insufficient" to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Reporting and research by Jake Horton, Shruti Menon, Daniele Palumbo and Kai Wang