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The storm called Harvey broke US records for rainfall and duration. Some environmentalists think it is a “moral duty” to talk about the role global warming played in making Harvey so intense. But the Trump administration, which days before Harvey disbanded a federal advisory panel on climate change and revoked an important flood-proofing rule, has tried to deflect talk of climate change, claiming it’s tasteless while rescuers are still searching for the missing.
Some flood-trapped Houstonians agree. One told us the media should be doing less finger-wagging about the causes of Harvey and more reporting on people’s immediate needs. But we think it’s nonetheless important to bring up climate change as early as possible.
Unlike with other disasters, such as a war, a financial crisis, or a disease outbreak, there is no simple narrative about the causes of any given hurricane. Nobody would claim global warming created Harvey; scientists can only say with some confidence that Harvey’s impact was stronger than it would otherwise have been and that storms on average are getting more intense. (Meteorologists are predicting Hurricane Irma, which may hit the US east coast in the coming days, could be worse.)
Global warming is a slow-motion catastrophe, yet research in social anthropology has shown that what motivates humans is short-term concerns. It’s harder to get people to care about and act on an abstract trend than specific disasters.
That is why we should talk about the issue while the water is still waist-high. In the years after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the proportion of Americans concerned about climate change rose, then slumped again. Since then it’s risen once more—and even so they’ve chosen a climate skeptic as their president. The more Americans see global warming as a direct threat, the better the chances for the whole world of doing something about it.—Akshat Rathi
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Five things on Quartz we especially liked
What gig economy workers could learn from Hollywood. The movie industry has been a gig economy for a long time, and today’s Uber drivers and TaskRabbit workers could learn from it about the possibilities of unionizing. W. Harry Fortuna offers his own experience of joining a union and the feelings of resilience that come with collectively bargaining for workers’ rights.
Sheryl Sandberg flips the narrative. On LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman’s podcast, Sandberg sends a clear and cutting message about fighting sexism in the workplace: Men need to step up in challenging gender biases. Leah Fessler explains how they can do so.
Diving into the conversation pit. The conversation pit, a sunken square section of a living room lined on all sides with couches, is now as attractive to millennials as it was to 1960’s interior designers. Anne Quito highlights suggests that in an age when we have to remind ourselves to sit down to converse, it might not be so ridiculous to dig a crater in the middle of the house.
The experiment that shows men have it better at work. Two female entrepreneurs decided to create a fake male co-founder named “Keith” to be taken seriously while launching their website. That they succeeded isn’t surprising, Lila MacLellan writes; even now, children absorb beliefs about male superiority at an early age. Now that the website is up, Keith is taking some time off, but they are interviewing “Ted,” just in case.
Why wetlands are crucial in a hurricane. The flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey was made much worse because lax environmental policies led to the widespread destruction of wetlands, which play a crucial role in draining flood waters. Ana Campoy and David Yanofsky show the very real human and economic consequences of disregarding science and commonsense.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
666 Fifth Avenue is crushing the Kushners. The debt-ridden Manhattan tower threatens to sink Trump’s son-in-law’s family business, write David Kocieniewski and Caleb Melby at Bloomberg. Since the Kushners bought it in 2006 it has rarely made enough to even cover the debt payments, and has pushed Jared Kushner to search around the globe for investors, including in Russia.
Your doctor is Googling you. When you visit your doctor you might choose not to tell her about the enormous margarita you posted on Instagram last night. But doctors are starting to learn more about patients outside of the exam room. “If the doctor-patient relationship was a meticulously crafted house of cards…then the Internet is the toddler that toppled the house and bent the cards,” writes Erene Stergiopoulos for Nautilus.
The sneaky way cheap fashion avoids liability. Many of the Los Angeles workers stitching clothes for fast-fashion brands can earn poverty wages well below the legal minimum, but the brands themselves are rarely held to account. For the Los Angeles Times, Natalie Kitroeff and Victoria Kim detail how they game the system, benefiting from underpaid workers while dodging any legal consequences.
Death as a way of public life. Last year an 18-year-old French woman became the first person to live-stream her own suicide. What drove her to do it? Rana Dasgupta peels back the layers—deadening Parisian suburb life, the desire for celebrity, and the anomie of a world in which social media is replacing socializing—and suggests that her pointless death will be only the first of many.
Why we have religious freedom. The common narrative is that religious wars inspired thinkers like Locke, Voltaire, and Spinoza to lay down the principles of religious tolerance in modern Western societies. Mark Koyama in Aeon argues that the truth was more utilitarian, and had to do with the growth of empires: “For the rising fiscal-military state, religious uniformity and persecution simply became too expensive and inefficient.”
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