Analyses of the Roman climate show government action to address climate change works

The Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Currents had my latest “Left is right” article that uses the latest research to show that the left position on environmental issues is the correct one: that the government has a role in addressing climate change and that the best way to do so is with regulation and not market solutions.

There are no current plans to post the article on the Jewish Currents website, so I thought I would give you a taste of it in hopes that you will buy the issue to read the whole piece, and maybe even start a subscription. Jewish Currents is a leading left-wing journal of politics and the arts.

Here’s the excerpt:

There are two conceptual differences between the left and the right when it comes to the environment and environmental policy. The first difference is fundamental: The left believes it is appropriate for the government to coordinate or dictate action to respond to environmental degradation and climate change, whereas the right questions the effectiveness of any governmental solution that impedes the freedom of individuals or corporations. The second difference is tactical: Once a nation or a group of nations has decided that government intervention is necessary, leftists prefer simple regulation, whereas right-wingers insist on complicated, market-based solutions like carbon trading. Readers may immediately think that I’m leaving out the fundamental issue of whether global warming is actually occurring and, if so, whether humans have caused it. In fact, that question has been decided by science.

Recent research gives us a fresh perspective on the impact of climate change on past societies, and the ways that past governments reacted to sudden modifications of weather patterns. Historians are poring over statistics from carbon dating, tree rings, ice bores, human records of harvests, food prices and plagues, population estimates and fossils to understand how weather has affected humans in the past. Although the discipline of history has only recently begun investigating the impact of climate on past civilizations, a fair amount of research already suggests that government intervention works better than denying the realities of weather.

Before the industrial revolution and the development of vaccines and advanced agricultural techniques and sanitation systems, sudden environmental change typically led to famines and epidemics. A decade of droughts or cold summers could ruin enough harvests to create widespread hunger. As classicist Kyle Harper (University of Oklahoma) details in The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, a change in temperature could also force a carrier of disease such as rodents or mosquitos to move to a new region and infect human populations already weakened by famine.

Harper finds that weather change is implicated in the entire history of the Empire. From circa 200 [BCE] to 150 [CE], the Roman world had such good weather that climatologists call the period the “Roman Climate Optimum—warm, wet, and stable across much of the territory the Romans conquered. In an agricultural economy, these conditions were a major boost. The population swelled yet there was still enough food to feed everyone. But from the middle of the 2nd century, the climate became less reliable. The all-important annual Nile flood became erratic. Droughts and severe cold spells became more common. The Climate Optimum became much less optimal.

According to The Fate of Rome, the unrest throughout the Empire in the second half of the 2nd century is tied to cooling weather at the end of the Climate Optimum and the epidemic, probably of smallpox, that it helped to cause. Two hundred years later, a large and significant drought in the Asian steppes turned the Huns into “armed climate refugees on horseback.” In the 530s and 540s, a series of violent volcanoes, highlighted by the “year without summer” in 536, ushered in the Late Antique Little Ice Age, which saw the greatest decline in the energy the Earth receives from the sun over the past 2,000 years. This Late Antique Ice Age likely led to the first known outbreak of bubonic plague in 541. Over the next century or so, the Eastern Roman Empire’s population fell by as much as 50 percent, as the plague recurred about every ten years.

How did the Roman Empire react to these weather crises? Harper documents that the Roman governments took aggressive action to ameliorate the damaging impact of climate change on the economy and society. Because the emperors and their advisors perceived the menace of climate change as epidemics, their actions primarily related to population management: From Augustus onward, the Roman state penalized childlessness and rewarded fecundity in its policies. About 30 years after the Antonine plague of 165 to 180 CE, Caracalla took the unprecedented step of granting citizenship to all non-slave residents of the Empire, leading to an infusion of talent, growth of the imperial bureaucracy, and the dissemination of Roman laws and customs throughout imperial territory. Diocletian and Constantine’s answer to the Cyprian Plague in the 250s—which devastated the population and led to severe food shortages—was more government control of the economy and the military, producing the economic good times of the 4th century

Justinian, however, ruling from 527 to 565, could not add new peoples into the imperial system in his response to the disasters of the Late Antique Little Ice Age because there was no additional population left to integrate. Instead, writes Harper, Justinian built cisterns, aqueducts, granaries, and transport depots, reclaimed floodplains, and moved riverbeds, trying to “control the flux of nature.” But in the end, the Eastern Empire could not do enough to overcome the depopulation caused by a severe cooling of the Earth that lasted about two hundred years.

Before assuming women disgusted with GOP over handling of Kavanaugh sex allegations will vote blue in November, remember: a majority of white women voted Trump in 2016

Given the way the Republican Senators and Donald Trump are treating the accusations of serious sexual misconduct by three women against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, can there be any American woman in her right mind voting for a Republican this November?

Before you answer that question, consider that a majority of white women voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election after 19 accusations of harassment or assault, plus countless tweets that denigrated women for their looks or sex.

Does that mean racism trumps sexism in the United States? Or that a large number of women buy into the idea of male privilege, the “boys will be boys” morality that forgives men but not women their transgressions—youthful or mature? Or perhaps many are so beaten down by their significant others that, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome, they have taken on the belief system of their oppressors.

The contrast between the claims of Anita Hill and the three—so far—women who have accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct sheds a light on just how serious the charges are against Trump’s choice to fill the open position on the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas was accused of making suggestive and degrading remarks to Anita Hill and several other female employees (who were not called to testify). Illegal because it constituted workplace harassment, but far less serious than what Kavanaugh’s accusers are saying: Attempted rape. Exposing oneself and thrusting one’s penis towards the victim’s face. Getting a girl drunk and participating in a gangbang of her.

We could theoretically explain away Thomas’ actions in certain circumstances—if it happened only during a short period of time when he was under pressure, if it were his first job and he were under 25 years of age, if it happened in high school or college, if he had issued a sincere apology that showed he had evolved.

But under no circumstances can we explain away, forgive or rationalize what Kavanaugh probably did. It is never right to force yourself on a woman or to whip it out in front of a woman without her permission. And multiple men having sex with a woman incapacitated by alcohol, drugs or mental illness—there are so many levels of immorality and sociopathy about that scenario that is hard to contain my anger and sense of shame thinking about it.

What unifies the probable actions of Thomas and Kavanaugh with those of Weinstein, Trump, Moonves, Cosby, Franken, et. al., is that it is never about sex. In Franken’s case, I’m convinced it was the sheer stupidity of a professional clown who thinks everything is funny. I still think Franken was right to resign because the fact he went over the line from horseplay to harassment several times in inexcusable, especially in a workplace setting. I’m still shocked that running in left-wing circles, Franken never encountered a woman who told him his cracks and horseplay were inappropriate, as happened to me when I told a few risqué puns in the very first college class I taught at the age of 22.

In every other case, it was an unalloyed power play. The men and teenaged boy wanted to exercise power over women or show how powerful they were by making a woman do something she didn’t really want to do. In many cases, as with a gangbang—or perhaps gang rape is more accurate—the men must have wanted to humiliate the women the way a powerful warrior often likes to humiliate his opponent. What could be more humiliating than having an unwanted penis thrust in your face or waking from an alcoholic stupor to find you have been violated by several men?

What still confuses me, even after being schooled by my life partner, daughter-in-law and others, is why these men feel the need to assert their power over women? By definition, all these men are powerful to begin with. You don’t see front-page headlines in the major media for days on end about John Schmuck in accounting.

Yet power is an aphrodisiac that many women find irresistible. None of these men should have had any problem attracting women of all ages, shapes and sizes for whatever sexual antics they had in mind (except the gang rape). Those with a large appetite for new conquests should have had little difficulty satisfying their needs. I was a single guy for many years, so the insistence of these men on harassing or assaulting women was at first truly befuddling to me. I never used those exact words, but I followed “no means no” and “yes means yes” practices with women all my life. If a woman didn’t want to go out with me or give me her phone number, I moved on. Yet I rarely lacked for consensual female companionship. My experience and that of my friends has always been that women like sex as much as men do, but only with men who attract them and respect them as equals.

When I gave my own experience to express my confusion over the actions of a Cosby or a Weinstein to the several women with whom I feel comfortable having such a conversation, they all said the same thing. “It’s not about the sex, it’s about the power.”

But these men already have power. Think about how truly depraved that makes them, whatever the underlying cause. Men so insecure about their self-worth even with the enormous power they possess. Men so drunk with power they must always exercise it. Men who feel sexually inadequate for any of the usual reasons—size or stamina. Men so drunk that they lose control over the inhibitions that prevent social chaos. Men brainwashed into believing they really do have special rights over women. Men so narcissistically self-centered that they don’t care what the other person wants. It doesn’t matter what’s happening in their mind’s deep recesses. They are all sick fucks whose sickness nonetheless doesn’t excuse their actions. They all deserve to lose their power and position.

And the elected officials who condone, forgive or justify their actions don’t deserve our vote. They are fellow travelers to an unofficial subversive party that seeks to undermine and oppress women. As it turns out, these fellow travelers are all Republicans, and an overwhelming number of them want to limit severely or end a woman’s right to have an abortion and many would also limit women’s access to birth control.

That should make the choice this November particularly easy for women, especially in those states electing U.S. Senators. The pink wave of women should lead to a blue wave that takes both the House and the Senate. We have reason to be hopeful until we remember that the pink wave among white women broke Trump’s way two years ago.