No, Print Isn’t Dead. It’s Even Growing.

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There’s a lot to despair, it would seem, for people in the newspaper industry. Classifieds, obituaries, the reporting of news itself, all once solidly in the newspaper publisher’s wheelhouse, have gone digital. Articles about the death of newspapers are far from new or original anymore, and from the perspective of newspaper reporters and contributors the fears expressed in those articles are well warranted. Investors have been pulling money out of newspapers for years, and even though the industry is stabilizing as newspapers make new revenue putting their digital content behind paywalls and the like, the print format of those papers is slowly going under, at least according to conventional wisdom. And of course it is. As a news media consumer, I now have two options for purchasing a subscription to a local or national paper. I can do it the old-fashioned way, wait for a truck to cruise by my house at five in the morning and wake me up by slapping a paper against my front door, walk out to get that paper at six to read a small portion of it before either taking it with me on the train or leaving it behind and driving to work, or I can just have the same paper delivered to my inbox every morning at the same time and read it whenever I get to my desk in the morning, minimizing the tab with my news on it when another task comes up. Put that way there’s really no contest.

But print as a media format isn’t limited to news. And outside of the news world, it’s still thriving. Even digital companies are pushing print and more traditional media distribution centers today. Amazon just opened its first brick and mortar store (follow the link to see what the store looks like inside) in Seattle. The store carries thousands of print books sold at the same prices as on the website. This follows a trend Amazon has been on for a while of incorporating print into its media empire rather than trying to extinguish it. Authors who publish their novels or nonfiction books as ebooks on the website have for years had on-demand print options available to them and their customers through Amazon. Now those authors have a shot at getting their books in Amazon stores (hopefully without having to sacrifice royalties to do so).

And it was very prescient of Amazon to recognize the strength of print media and incorporate it into their brand. Print is still a place to put your money if you’re the kind of person to invest in these things. Between 2009 and 2014, despite the Great Recession’s drag on the economy, the number of small, independent book stores in the states has jumped at least twenty percent. This, too, could be because of companies like Amazon; the idea of independent book stores thriving as a counter to giant retailers in the same way craft breweries exploded as a counter to domestic super-brewers is not at all implausible.

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But other reasons could be behind the continued survival and growth of print. Maryanne Wolf suggests that the distraction-free nature of print media in a modern world full of nothing but distractions can’t be underestimated. “The basic message of working on screen is you are on call,” Wolf says of digital media. “It’s not that you can’t do deep reading on a screen, we’re talking about the ease of how you get into it. The emphases are different. Amid all the interruptions on a screen, we are actually diminishing the amount of words we really take in when we read.”

It may not be easy to prove the reason why, but the fact is print continues to do well, somehow. In addition to Amazon’s investment, there are examples of public support for print books even through Kickstarter campaigns like this one. This is as true in business it seems as with literature. Ironically, the prevalence of digital design tools and formats seems to be contributing to a four billion dollar growth of the inkjet market in four years. The ability to print technology onto things like paper and textiles seems to be contributing as well.

This of course could be an overly optimistic assessment. There are hundreds of articles to refute the hundreds of articles out there arguing that print is surviving and even thriving well into the digital age. But in many ways the fates of digital and print media seem inexorably linked; digital formats exist increasingly not only as independent media of their own but as a way to make something look and feel as pretty as possible on a piece of paper. Access to literature and news in both formats has never been easier for humanity in general, and maybe print is simply being propped up by overflow consumers in an age of digital enlightenment. But my hunch is it’s managed to market itself as a real alternative, and until a Kindle can feel as good in the hand as a book, print will be around for a while.

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No, Print Isn’t Dead. It’s Even Growing.

Newsflash to Democrats: Winning is Important

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By a lot of accounts, the Democratic Party has become increasingly divided over the last year or two. This has been highlighted, underscored and circled in red pen by the way the presidential primary is going for Democrats so far, but there’s at least some evidence to suggest this has been going on for a while. The Atlantic pointed two years ago to economic inequality and what to do about it as the central point at which the Democratic party is divided. They backed this up with the now familiar bullet points of millenials moving the electorate to the left and the electoral victories of Democrats like Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Bill de Blasio in New York as signalling a return to liberalism. In doing so, they identify millenials as really, really young New Deal liberals and older more “establishment” Democrats as centrists who are centrists specifically because they want to win elections.

More then just in the general sense, the Democrats have allowed themselves to become divided on specific issues as well. They’re divided on the Syrian refugee issue. They’re divided on the historic nuclear deal the president made with Iran (for the record it astounds me how anyone could oppose that deal, but that’s a matter for a different post). They were divided over whether Joe Biden should run for president (as if a candidate needed the electorate’s permission to enter a race). They’re deeply divided over whether to take an interventionist or isolationist approach to fighting terror in the Middle East.

There’s an argument out there that division among a political party is a good thing, that it allows for open and honest discussion about the direction a political party should take, the ideology it should embrace and the degree to which it should embrace that ideology, etc. And there’s an argument out there that this is a good time (relatively speaking) for the Democrats to be divided because the Republicans are divided, too. I mean come on. Just look at all the Republicans running for president, right?

But the huge and telling difference that can’t be repeated enough is that Republicans aren’t actually divided on being Republicans. They might disagree on who they want to lead the party, but they don’t disagree that they’re a part of the party and that it’s a good thing for them if the party wins elections. That is why no matter how much Republicans may denounce Donald Trump, they have publicly gone on record stating they will support the nominee whoever it happens to be. That might be a level of cognitive dissonance that’s hard for most people to understand, but the logic behind it is incredibly simple. Political parties exist to win elections. Standing behind your party’s candidate during an election is the best way to ensure that candidate wins. If enough candidates win, the political party has a major seat at the table when it comes to running the actual country. The GOP has drifted way to the right recently, and it will likely eventually drift back towards the center, but regardless its major figures will continue to fully support the candidates the party nominates for office.

It is simply not that way for Democrats, or for the left in general, especially in recent history. The infamous PUMAs of 2008 were ready to bring down the Democratic Party because Barack Obama became the eventual nominee for president and the Hillary camp for whatever reason simply would not concede. Many of them accused party leadership of rigging the nomination process in favor of Obama. At the time of this writing there’s an active Bernie or Bust pledge where Sanders supports swear they won’t vote for anyone but the Vermont Senator under any circumstances, even if that means employing a write-in vote. Many of them have accused party leadership of rigging the nomination process in favor of Mrs. Clinton.

You may notice a pattern there, but it doesn’t just exist in the US. In the UK, the Labour party went through a similar, albeit at the time much more pronounced, divide over ideology between left, center-left and centrist factions. It became so bad some of them splintered off and formed their own political party (which has since vanished) and Labour was crushed in 1983 when it remained divided right through the election itself. The same thing happened in 2015; Labour’s focus on ideology and ambivalence about actually winning cost it an election it should have won.

Returning to the US, what’s surprising is that there isn’t much structurally speaking within the political parties themselves to explain the different ways Republicans and Democrats view the roles of their parties. Republicans see the Republican Party as an organization dedicated to winning elections so they can control the political agenda and the levers of power needed to execute that agenda. Democrats view their party as a standing representative of the collective principles of those members, and elections as constant tests of those principles. Going by that definition, no wonder Democrats don’t care as much about their party; it’s because they don’t care as much about winning elections. They care about abstract stances on political issues instead.

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Well my opinion is, and there’s no nice way to say this, that’s a really fucking stupid way of looking at politics, and it’s going to lead to nothing except the prolonged suffering and oppression of the disenfranchised and marginalized groups most Democrats claim to represent. This isn’t just a flippant accusation; there are progressive Democrats actually saying letting Republicans win and Americans suffer is some necessary cathartic moment that will “wake up” the country. These are progressives, claiming to fight for the oppressed of this country, wanting those oppressed people to suffer at the hands of a right-wing administration because they apparently need to learn some kind of lesson.

Let me be crystal clear: that’s straight-up deluded, and proof positive that calling yourself a progressive and adopting radical positions simply for the sake of being radical doesn’t make you any smarter, any more prescient, any more “awake” then anyone else in this country. And if you’re willing to throw an election because you think doing so will lead to mass suffering, and that mass suffering is required in order for the country to adopt your positions, it’s your positions that are wrong, not the country’s.

It’s fine to be divided, but you should be divided on tactics and strategy, not on whether or not winning is necessary. Newsflash to Democrats: Winning is important. Your collective belief it isn’t is one of the primary reasons you are where you are right now and why the US is being mismanaged by the league of drunken uncles that calls itself the Republican party. The people you claim to represent are counting on you not just to speak for them but to actually win. Maybe try focusing more energy there, and less on whether your constituents need to suffer to understand your increasingly deluded mentality.

 

Newsflash to Democrats: Winning is Important

Let’s Break Down this Data Breach “Scandal”

 

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Let’s take a moment and look a little closer at the data breach scandal that has clumsily thrown the Democratic party into some kind of Mexican standoff between supporters of its two front-running presidential candidates. It’s hard to find anything like an unbiased article to link to, but in case you haven’t heard the DNC’s voter file has been compromised.   Several (what could only be senior level) staffers from the Sanders campaign may have been able to view voter data from the rival Clinton campaign for anywhere from a few moments to a couple of hours on Friday. According to USA Today this is because “a vendor’s firewall failed”, which made Clinton voter data available to rival campaigns for the brief window. The crux of all this is this isn’t free data. The firm that collects, stores, and sells this data to campaigns is called NGP/VAN, and is the single most essential modern organizing tool for political organizers and operatives on the Democratic side of the aisle. So when data is made available to those who didn’t pay for it or other wise request access to it, it’s a major issue. It’s a major issue not only because the Democratic party has a contract with the vendor and therefore needs the company to be able to trust them with sensitive data about millions of voters, but also because the company has a reputation to uphold as well. Both are put at risk when this sort of thing happens.

The details around the actual data breach are hazy at best. Depending on what sources one goes to, the Sanders campaign either maliciously tried to gain access to their rival’s files or was set up by the DNC in order to bring their campaign down. What we do know is the Sanders campaign fired Josh Uretsky, its national data director over the incident. Shortly after that, Sander’s campaign manager Robby Mook held a press conference specifically to lay into the DNC and present the campaign’s version of events. “We are particularly disturbed right now that they [the DNC/Clinton campaign, presumably] are using the fact that they stole data as a reason to raise money for their campaign,” Mook told reporters. Jeff Weaver, also identified by the Associated Press as a/the Sanders campaign manager, said  “Clearly, in thise case, they [the DNC] are trying to help the Clinton campaign.”

The judgment and collective outrage of the progressive community was swift. The collective decision has already been made that the DNC is a shill for the establishment candidate and the system is rigged against the progressive candidate. Popular progressive blog Crooks and Liars veered dangerously close to Gamergate territory with an article entitled The DNC Data Breach-It’s the Cover Up! In it they alleged “the DNC was out there employing the great smoke and mirrors of politics.” Their opinion is that Sanders is just the fall guy in a DNC attempt to cover up a massive security breach that would have undermined the relationship between them and the vendor that maintains their database. And that was just the most benevolent critique of the DNC from the progressive blogosphere. Reverbpress argues the data breach is just an excuse to punish an insurgent campaign. Because the breach was described as “inadvertent” (the actual quote, misrepresented by the article, is that all users were “inadvertently able to access some data belonging to other campaigns for a brief window”) by the DNC communications director, according to Reverb, the Sanders campaign was unfairly punished when it was temporarily suspended from accessing voter files with NGP/VAN. Consistently outraged Russia Today apparently agrees, going so far as to call it “our data.”

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But the evidence suggests that this breach wasn’t just something Uretsky happened to stumble upon alone one night while going over campaign data. Multiple sources with presumably some level of inside knowledge of the incident have apparently told reporters that four NGP/VAN user accounts tied to the Sanders campaign had run searches of the data at the time it was compromised. And yesterday the Sanders campaign suspended two more staffers who were likely involved in the incident. So far, it seems like no one’s telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth about what happened here.

And that’s probably because no one knows what happened here for sure. That is what annoys me most about progressives’ reactions to this. Usually it’s bloggers and internet trolls on the right that react prematurely to events and spin conspiracy theories like yarn at will. Usually it’s the Brietbarts and Limbaughs of the world that see cover-ups at every turn. But this is the first nationally significant news story in quite a while where virtually the entire American progressive left has thrown itself into the deep end without knowing virtually anything about the data breach incident. Even Snopes doesn’t know what happened. But despite that, and despite the story being unresolved and barely 72 hours old, the verdict is in. The DNC chair, Hillary, etc. must hang. They have been lying to and instilling fear in “movement progressives” (are there non-movement progressives?) for too long and must hang for it.

As for me, before I don the black hood and walk Hillary up the creaky wooden ramp to the gallows, I want to at least take a look at other possible explanations, particularly ones that don’t contain the accusation of malice on the part of one of the two leading campaigns in the primary. Because if we look at the facts, there’s no evidence of malice; incompetence, maybe, but no malice. After sifting through the countless articles on the breach, I find this take from the always thorough David Phillips to be the most compelling (the key portion of his article quoted below):

“So here we have a situation where people now behave like fans instead of citizens and supporters. More than one thing can be true at a time. You can think Hillary Clinton is a less than savory candidate (no argument from me). You can think Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is shitty at her job and favors Clinton (I certainly believe both of those things), you can believe the DNC is a hot mess and I won’t argue with that either.

What I will say is when you are faced with good liberal reporting that tells you this breach not only occurred, but involved multiple staffers and the collection of data, AND there is empirical digital data that proves that, AND the guy who did it flat-out confessed that all these things are true, AND you still want to defend the behavior of the campaign or even worse, deny that it happened at all, well, now you’ve become something akin to a republican denying that climate change is man-made, or even is a thing.”

That’s about it, folks. Facts are stubborn things. And the facts simply do not support a grand anti-Sanders conspiracy surrounding a data breach that several of his staffers may (or may not) have behaved less then ethically during. Not all the facts have come out yet, but so far the conspiracy theory just doesn’t look plausible. What’s more likely is simply the result of an insurgent campaign hiring staffers driven by ideology more then experience. In other words, some of Sanders’s staffers may never have experienced a high-pressure situation where one must tread incredibly lightly to remain ethical, and a few of them choked. As of this time, that’s about it.

Let’s Break Down this Data Breach “Scandal”

“Big Brother’s Kinder Hand”

One of history’s greatest writers said that “the abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power.” With this, I can not agree more. I take greatness to be both the result of power and the cause of power; and the act of disjoining that dual cause and effect from the empathy (remorse) needed to wield it properly causes it to spiral out of control. There is no worse an abuse of power as when a government uses its greatness, its power, without care.

A recent episode of Extra Credits described and analyzed (as well as the writers understand it) a new social network developed in partnership with the Chinese government to act in a similar way as credit scores in America.

This social network measures how much you agree with the government; and as many people seem to think, agreeing with the Chinese government is a generally bad thing. I’m not saying it is or is not, but I am pointing out the generally accepted view of China – this idea that they are somehow inherently different.

My credit is pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. I’ve jumped through hoops to maintain it as well as I can because without credit, I’m unlikely to ever be able to get a loan for a house or a car, a small business or have any access to borrowing money. Credit in America is a frightening thing because we live on credit; from buying that swank jacket you just have to have to borrowing $50000 for school, we can’t help but live on other people’s money.

Imagine if your government put such a system in place that figured out how much you agree with the government stance on subjects and published that score for all to see. How horrified would you be? Would you cry injustice and demand your rights? What if for all your bluster, all it did was make you unable to borrow more than $50 dollars against your Visa or MasterCard.

Now realize that’s exactly what it seems China is doing, and realize that the Chinese are not the foreign bumpkins you might imagine, but modern people living on credit just as much as you are. I find the thought humbling and eye-opening.

Is this system as terrible as I imagine it to be on this one piece of information? I can’t say for sure. Could it be a useful tool for the government to determine who is of the most use to them? Maybe, cold as that thought is. Is it a good idea? I’ll leave that up to you; I am only an egg, to keep with my litany of references to Robert Heinlein, and not qualified to judge; only ask.

Until next time,

-M

“Big Brother’s Kinder Hand”

Hatred And Fear From the Right

In 2012 the American people elected a fundamentalist preacher from the excessively conservative American South to the Office of the Presidency.

There was not an election in 2016.

The American people, a majority of whom had been seduced by radicalism from within Christianity, allowed Nehemiah Scudder, from a small cult-like church in the South, to overthrow democracy and ascend to the station of the First Prophet.

The century that followed was, perhaps, the long death of America as we knew it. Not at the hands of overt tyranny such as that of Stalin or Hitler, but at the foot of fundamentalism and radicalism – something that, more and more, I am seeing Americans embrace.

This is, of course, fiction; taken from the short story “If this goes on–” by Robert Heinlein. But what if, like Heinlein’s other works, there was a kernel of foresight in the prose? Heinlein, responsible for the invention of the waterbed (Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961), the World as Myth concept (the Number of the Beast, 1980) and the word Grok (Stranger, 61), was prolific in his understanding of the human animal and in its ability to repeat the same mistakes again and again.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of radicalism all over the world. In America, we see this most reflected in the Muslim world and through the lens of terrorism and global violence (but let’s be honest, it’s fear that Fox News and the right all-but invented).

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From a much more global perspective, something I learned partly in the classroom of a very opinionated but brilliant professor, radicalism is present and growing in every field.

In America, radical Christians have attacked medical clinics that perform abortions; act as sounding boards for the worst their faith has to offer. In Iraq, radical Muslims calling themselves an Islamic State have taken over large amounts of land, executed many people and filled a power vacuum left after the beginning of the “War on Terror.” In Israel, radical conservative Jews in the government insist that the country is for Jews and Israelis alone and seem to be closed to a peaceful resolution with their Palestinian neighbors.

It’s everywhere – this idea that sounding and acting, or being, certifiably insane to push a political agenda works. And they might be right.

ISIL is about as strong as any authoritarian military state ever has been (although not if the Saudis have their say). Israel is about as far from peace as she can get without actually being in a classic, formalized war. America is seriously considering letting a racist, fear mongering, fool succeed one of our finest and most accomplished Presidents since FDR.

Radicalism seems to work so far; and it’s horrifying. To quote Owen Harper of the BBC’s Torchwood, “Are you scared enough yet? Because fuck knows I am!”

But fear can’t stop me from trying my hardest to get it into the skulls of anyone who’ll listen: the world doesn’t have to be this way!

Treat your countrymen better regardless of their race or faith; do not fear the foreigner because of what you might not yet understand about him. If you’re a person of the three aforementioned, major faiths, then you know that all three demand the best of behavior from the faithful; and that behavior starts with loving other people unconditionally, not treating them like subhumans because they’re a little different.

Myself? My family is Jewish, I’m an atheist, my best friend and his wife are two of the finest examples of good Christians I know, my Muslim neighbors are great (and their command of spices in cooking is amazing) and the world doesn’t seem like a hostile place so long as I keep myself surrounded by a vast variety of people and culture.

What is xenophobia? The dictionary says it’s an unfounded fear of the unknown. And what is fear? It’s an emotional lack of understanding of a given subject. How do you defeat fear? Learning. To learn is to not know fear, for fear is only of the unknown.

I understand, therefore I do not fear. I do not fear terrorism, radicalism or the fools of the world because I know them. I know that in the long run, their anti-humanitarian viewpoint cannot win out. We might face decades of depression, fear and loss; subjugation and separation, but I know we can never fully surrender to fear.

Until next time,

-M

Hatred And Fear From the Right

Then and Now: Technology

 

There are some major differences between my generation and my father’s, just as there are between him and his father’s. I could go on and on about economic inequality or the value of the US Dollar on a global scale, but I’m more interested in technology today.

These are just come observations I’ve made and some conclusions I’ve drawn about the nature of how I see technology and how that differs from older generations. Frankly, I want to hear your opinions more than pontificate on my own, so please join the conversation below in the comments.

The Alphabet: I don’t know much about the rest of my generation, but I can run through the QWERTY keyboard’s order of letters with more accuracy than I can go through the ABC’s. Like this: I know where a given letter is on the keyboard without thinking about it, but I don’t know if S comes before or after T unless I go through the whole A-B-C-D-E-F-G song and get to that part. Sad to admit, but the QWERTY keyboard is much more useful than the Alphabet ever was to me.

Telephones: When I was a kid in the 90s and early 00s, it was a privilege to get half an hour on the phone at night. It tied up the line in case someone wanted to call in and we had dial-up Internet that didn’t work without a free line. Now, I hardly leave my bedroom to get a Dew from the fridge without my iPhone, a device free of tethers and cords, able to search any of billions of facts in moments; not to mention its novel use as a portable phone.

Television: When I was a teenager, we had a DVR set-up in the house and I supplemented the digital recording system with my old, trusted VCR to record shows from times I couldn’t sit in front of the Idiot Box (or as Jubal might say, shut off that “God-damn noisy box!”). I hardly watch TV anymore – only if someone has one on and, laughably, I’m more interested in conversation with that person than the TV. If I watch anything, it’s on YouTube, NetFlix, CrunchyRoll or some other video site, but never on cable (or whatever it is that’s the most common today).

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Car Stereo: My mother would drive us to school and would play 102.7, the oldies station, while we went. I have a love of the music of the 60s that will probably never leave me, but most of what I listen to now isn’t on my local radio station. The most advanced thing I ever saw in a car radio before 2007 was my sister’s external CD changer, a device that held 6 CDs and was plugged directly into the player. It was the coolest thing ever to have in excess of 60 songs at your disposal at the flick of a switch.

Now, I can hardly stand not having, at least, a 3.5mm jack to plug my iPod in so I can listen to Muse, Voltaire, Fightstar, Utada Hikaru, Skeeter Davis and the Scissor Sisters all in one playlist.

That’s the easy stuff. I didn’t even get to my old off-brand tape recorder/player (that I used to record songs off the computer and TV to a two-side cassette tape). I didn’t even touch on my first IBM computer (that damn thing couldn’t even play Streets of SimCity). I didn’t even say one word about my collection of VHS tapes outside of mentioning I had (still have) an RCA brand VCR.

What are your thoughts on how we’re changed our views on technology?

Hope to hear from you~

-M

Then and Now: Technology

Agreement Reached in COP 21 Summit

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The COP 21 climate conference has wrapped up in Paris, and will likely go down in history as a historic moment for the international community and climate change; the question is what kind of turning point COP 21 will be. Barack Obama has said as much about the agreement, calling it a turning point for the world. China and India praised the deal, which is a major milestone in and of itself as they are set to become the world’s biggest polluters if trends continue in their economies. CNN even attempted to praise the agreement calling it “hailed as a milestone in the battle to keep Earth hospitable to human life.”

But there is plenty of skepticism over whether the agreement reached in Paris is going to truly be a step forward in “the battle to keep Earth hospitable to human life,” a battle too many are still mind-bogglingly against fighting. The big sticking point for most is that the agreement, while mandating bottom-up a system cutting of greenhouse gas emissions across the world over time, doesn’t contain any strong provisions for punishing member states who fail to abide by those emissions cuts. That may or may not be a fair criticism; there is no supranational legal body responsible for forcing sovereign nations to agree to the terms of treaties and if there was it would be less progressive and more Orwellian.

The rest of the media’s and various politicians’ opining on the agreement boils down to differing degrees of optimism on a single number. The Paris agreement is designed to curb global warming and keep it under 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. In short some think that is possible and some think it is not. Combined with the constantly evolving politics over climate aid to developing nations it’s a recipe for the kind of relatively information-free disagreement that the internet and mass-media were made for. For example Nick Dearden, director of what could be called for better or worse an international eco-socialist activist group called Global Justice Now, has said of the agreement, “It’s outrageous that the deal that’s on the table is being spun as a success when it undermines the rights of the world’s most vulnerable communities and has almost nothing binding to ensure a safe and liveable climate for future generations,” arguing that the agreement is simply not going to be held up by developed nations.

But even business groups in those developed nations are treating this agreement as something different. WBCSD, a sustainable business advocacy group, tweeted that “the transition to a low carbon economy is unstoppable.” If global warming to some degree is unstoppable, one can only hope so are its proposed solutions.

DSW staff are analyzing the details of the agreement reached and will continue to comment on this, the most significant development to date in our lifetimes in the battle to keep earth habitable.

 

Agreement Reached in COP 21 Summit