Climate Talks in Paris

Countries around the world are finally in agreement that change is now or never. Leaders from over 172 nations met in Paris, Monday, November 30, 2015 to begin the annual United Nations Conference of Parties on climate change. This two week long event takes place in Le Bourget, France, which also happens to be a suburb of Paris that was affected by the recent terrorist attacks. With heightened security in a devastated and mourning city, all of these heads of state are showing strong political signals to unite for the planet, and also against the terrorism struck down on Paris. Over 150 countries have submitted national plans for how they would aid the global fight against climate change. The long-term goal of an agreement between all of these nations is a net zero carbon emissions in the second half of this century. That means that by offsetting the carbons that we as humans release from our environments around the world with an equivalent amount of sequestered carbon, or by buying carbon credits to make up the difference, we will have a net zero carbon footprint.

Currently China and the U.S. are two of the top carbon emitters in the world, but both are taking a leadership role in this summit. President Obama admits that the U.S. is at least partly to blame for the detrimental environmental climate changes thus far. “I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter,” President Obama stated, “to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.” Pope Francis says it our moral duty to take action.

Leaders attending this monumental meeting now recognize the urgency of the problem and are at the table to come up with a plan for change. There is an overall sense of hope if we act here and now, but with a steep and long climb. Experts agree that the fact that everyone is coming to the table, it’s the beginning of a new starting point, but the fight is far from over. The science is becoming clearer and the evidence proving real. “Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years have occurred since 2000 and 2015 is on pace to be the warmest year of all.” President Obama. Global warming causes floods, droughts, extreme storms, and rising sea levels among other things. These disasters in turn effect clean water, agriculture, food supplies, and can even cause the spread of deadly diseases. Prediction models show entire islands that were countries submerged, cities along coastlines under water, and New York with a climate of Miami. The devastating probabilities are overwhelming.

The goal of the agreement is to limit global warming before it’s too late. Models forecast an increase of 2 degrees centigrade, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit max before causing disastrous consequences. So far the EU is cutting emissions by forty percent by 1990 levels, the U.S. is cutting by twenty-seven to twenty-eight percent, and China will peak their emissions by 2030. More than 180 countries have produced pledges, which count for ninety-five percent of the world’s emissions today. Unfortunately we won’t see or feel the results of whether this agreement is a success for 15 years, but we are showing signs of progress in a process that has been stagnant for decades.

Billionaire Bill Gates, leading twenty-seven other governments, philanthropists, and business leaders announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which has a combined total of $350 billion in private and government wealth. This money is double what was available previously, and will be used on research and development on clean energy innovation over the next 5 years. This is adding to the optimism in laying the right foundation moving forward.

There are still many hurdles to deal with like smaller countries that can’t afford to make the changes necessary, however the UN countries are dedicated to assisting these countries for the greater good. India is currently seeing an up rise in their economic growth and does not think their economy should have to suffer by them producing less coal to make up for the damage already caused by countries like the U.S. and China. Currently they are on the growth path of producing much more emissions. Obama has promised money to help poor nations transition their economics to use less fossil fuels.

“The developing countries like China and India have a legitimate gripe–the industrialized West did create the problem.  But what’s important now is not who created the problem, but what can be done about it.  The answer is neither to punish the industrialized nations nor to inhibit the industrial growth of developing countries, but to find a way for everyone to enjoy the benefits of industrial growth without causing more damage to the environment.  I just read an interesting statistic today.  The US spends $325 million dollars a year on researching alternate energy sources.  Meanwhile, the world is spending $5.3 trillion dollars a year on fossil fuel subsidies.  Yes, you read that right–millions to trillions.  Not just the industrialized West or the developing East, but everyone, has to change their ways.” Lawrence Lujan, World History, Professor NDNU.

Unfortunately some of this progress is also overshadowed in the U.S. as the Republicans in Congress are actively trying to make sure this project is an Obama failure by making it clear that they will make sure that the U.S. doesn’t live up to any of it’s commitments in the agreement. If the U.S. Senate opposes the agreement with the U.N., it will not be made a formal treaty. “The US has to take the lead on this, in cooperation with the UN.  But I doubt if the US will even agree to a serious commitment.  Obama is a very lame duck, and I don’t see anyone replacing him who has the will, or the leadership skills to do any better. Hope you’re a good swimmer–we may soon all be up to our necks in hot water.” States Professor Lujan, NDNU.

As hundreds of millions of dollars are being pledged in Paris for clean energy and steps to prevent climate change, thousands upon thousands of empty shoes were left in an area where people would’ve been in the streets protesting climate change and supporting a world saving agreement at these Climate Talks. But as the area is locked down by security due to the terrorist attacks, the shoes were laid down in peaceful protest. The next two weeks will determine the state of our climate affairs moving forward.


Paris Attacks

On Friday, November 13, 2015 around 9:20pm, terrorists began the first of several coordinated attacks across Paris. A group of armed men began shooting at a rock concert at Le Bataclan in the center of the city, killing 89 people. The attacks continued throughout the city, and included a soccer game at the Stade de France stadium in which the president of France was in attendance, as well as cafes, and restaurants.   In total, 129 people were killed, and 352 people were wounded in these deadly assaults- the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the bombings of commuter trains in Madrid in 2004, which killed 191 and wounded 1,800.

“Fortunately my family wasn’t affected. However, one of my best friends lost two friends in the attack on the concert hall. Unfortunately I am not exactly sure how he is coping because we didn’t have time to talk about it. But I am sure that like most French people I talked to, he is under deep shock and feels a mix of anger mixed and a desire to not give them what they want, which is to have French of Judeo-Christian descent start antagonizing French muslims.” Marc Birnkammer, French Professor, NDNU.

Seven of the attackers were killed either by police or through suicide bombings. While one, Salah Abdeslam, still remains at large. Currently there is a worldwide hunt on for Abdeslam who turned out to the be a Belgian born young man who was naturalized as a French citizen. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the massacres in a statement that France’s president, Francois Hollande, concurs with.

The police have made several arrests in Brussels in connection with the attacks. While the French have launched air strikes against ISIS at specific targets in their city of Raqqa. During this time France had a period of three days of mourning in which the citizens were advised to stay home, and the major monuments were shut down.

These attacks have occurred during a time while countries across the world are struggling with taking in tens of thousands and in some cases like Germany, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. One of the gunmen killed by police was found with a fake Syrian passport.

“Terrorists have always found a way to come into countries they wanted to target. Let’s not forget that the terrorists who have been identified so far are not even Syrian refugees. They are from Belgium and France!

“What happened doesn’t affect much my view on the fact that western countries can not morally turn their backs on people who get bombarded, shot at, tortured (just to name a few things) by their own government. We are not talking about pfile:///Users/eoakmon/Downloads/Paris%20Attacks.docxeople who just feel like they want a better material life and leave a country where they could remain. Their homes don’t exist anymore since they were bombed, and if they don’t leave they’re going to die. They’re escaping death, and shutting our door to them is totally wrong from an ethical perspective.” NDNU French Professor, Marc Birnkammer states when asked how these attacks have affected his views on whether or not countries should accept Syrian refugees.

U.S. President Obama pledged solidarity with France, saying, “We’ve seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.”

Around the world, cities have wrapped their monuments in blue, white, and red in solidarity with Paris. Country leaders are coordinating their alliances to thwart any further attacks, and to figure out a way to stop ISIS.

El Niño

After a long and taxing drought, El Nino forecasts are showing signs of much needed relief this winter, but what does it really mean for us in Northern California?


El Nino is a natural phenomenon characterized as prolonged warming of seawater in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Normally the trade winds regulate this warming, however during an El Nino the trade winds don’t come back and can in some cases reverse direction. This allows the warmer waters to spread eastward. As a result, weather patterns change across the world and in Western part of the US, that means an increase in temperatures as well as increases in precipitation that may average 40-50% wetter than normal. El Ninos occur every two to seven years. The last El Nino that caused severe changes in weather patterns across the world was in 1997.


“I don’t think people realize how disastrous the El Nino is going to be after the drought.” Leandra Steenkamp, Senior Psychology student at NDNU.


In 1997 California saw one of its most severe winters with continuous storms and record-breaking precipitation levels. For those of us who can remember that year, it very wet. So wet that thirty-five counties in California were declared disaster areas due to the damage caused by El Nino storms. Although the coastal and inland areas endured heavy rains, floods, and mudslides, the Sierra Mountains experienced record high snow levels. For those who enjoy their winter sports, this meant a phenomenal powder season.


Some people are skeptical about the El Nino predictions. “I fee that I personally don’t think that El Nino will be all that it has been built up to. Although there are changes in the environment during El Nino, there are changes in the environment all of the time. We focus on El Nino too much, instead of realizing that our environment and climate are changing constantly over periods of time.” Danieka Miramon, Junior Psychology student at NDNU.


When asked if EL Nino will be all its cracked up to be, another student states, “Hopefully yes, but no. Nature, I believe, will do its own thing and in the end will make itself ok again.” Cressy Tylavsky, Junior Graphic Design student at NDNU>


California is naturally a desert for the most part. It is only through man made irrigation that it has become an agriculture hub across the central valley, and in our wine growing regions. Throughout history California has seen many droughts, sometimes lasting for decades. When heavy rains occur after such long periods of very low levels of precipitation, floods and mudslides are inevitable. California’s water reserves are dependent upon the Sierra Mountains snow pack. As long as the air in the Sierras stays cold, there would be likely increased snow pack levels. El Nino this winter could help pull California back from the brink of this devastating drought. “Even though it will be disastrous, I’m hoping the snow will be good so I can spend every weekend at Dodge Ridge again.” States Steenkamp, Senior at NDNU.


Unfortunately, the current models are predicting otherwise. For now, the bulk of the storms and precipitation are aimed for the southern part of the US, with the heaviest being seen in South America. While the models are forecasting a warm wet winter into Spring for the North Western part of the United States and all of western Canada. This means that as of now, the snow season we’ve been hoping for may just have to keep up waiting. If you’re looking for deep powder days, you may have to plan your winter break in Japan since they had a record-breaking amount of winter snow last year.


IMAGE- El Nino, as of Aug, 31: The warmest areas are red. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Planned Parenthood

Texas is the latest state to withdraw Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood due to fetal tissue video scandal.


On Monday, October 19, 2015 Texas announced that it would no longer support Planned Parenthood clinics with state Medicaid funding. This, as Planned Parenthood continues to defend it’s position against the undercover videos released by Center for Medical Progress, which attempt to claim that they caught top Planned Parenthood doctors in the act of selling fetal tissue research donations for profit. Currently, it is prohibited to profit from the sale of fetal organs, limbs, or other tissue by federal law. The only fees permissible are in exchange for things like transportation, processing, storage and internal administrative of personnel; and the mothers’ permission is required. The Center for Medical Progress asserts that in Planned Parenthood partnering with Stem Express, the research center that receives the fetal tissue, that both organizations profit through this partnership. Therefore, of course they would defend each other’s positions in this scandal.


In the midst of the investigation by Congress into whether or not Planned Parenthood has violated any laws, now several states are conducting their own inquiries on the issue; attempting to strip Planned Parenthood of state funding of the non-profit organization. Texas is the most recent state to follow suit denying taxpayers’ money to fund the non-profit, which survives on private donations, state, and federal funding to sustain their services.


“Texas was always going to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood, just as several other Republican-controlled states already have. This was just a convenient excuse. The problem however is that millions of women rely on PP for basic health services, and now they have nowhere to go. Their action is stupid, regressive, politically motivated, and hurts the most vulnerable people in their state,”
comments NDNU Professor of Communications Studies, Richard Rossi. The other states that are attempting to withdraw funding are Alabama, Louisiana, Utah, and New Hampshire. Originally 13 states conducted investigations, some of which have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing.


“I don’t blame the other states for withdrawing funding because that doesn’t sound right, but hopefully there’s further investigation since this is recent.” Renae Roque, NDNU student.


Currently, congress gives more than $500 million a year in funding to the organization, which provides low-cost family planning, and various health services to low-income families across the nation.


When asking our local NDNU community to weigh in on this issue,“When it comes to Planned Parenthood, I really believe it’s a great resource for women and men. In a way, I guess the biggest thing I can say is it’s unfair. There’s a lot of people that need that help- they don’t have insurance and Planned Parenthood has a lot of resources available for them.”Senior Notre Dame de Namur student Danielle Rubin said.

She adds, “No one should have the right to judge someone and tell them they can’t use Planned Parenthood because of their beliefs.”


To many, this is a moral or ethical debate, especially since the videos depict doctors speaking on a very scientific and non-attached level about aborted fetal organs/tissue. This has proved disturbing to even those who are pro-abortion as the information is graphic and the tone, matter of fact. In defense, Planned Parenthood maintains it’s innocence and states that the videos released are heavily edited, and they have done nothing illegally.


“I think the videos were appalling and stupid. They were so poorly doctored that it was easy to prove they were fraudulent. CNN destroyed the producer of the films in a series of interviews. Turns out they weren’t showing aborted fetuses – they stole one of the images off some poor woman’s Facebook page – and they weren’t shot at PP clinics,” Richard Rossi, NDNU professor.


For now, the battle for funding continues. Planned Parenthood has moving forward, adopted the policy to not take any money in exchange for even administrative costs of donating fetal tissues for research.