2021
October
12
Tuesday

Monitor Daily Podcast

October 12, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Two views from the Arctic

My colleague Fred Weir and I take you to a changing Arctic this week – the Northwest Passage of Canada and the Northern Sea Route of Russia. Fred visited Murmansk, a city of 300,000, and was struck by how much “Arctic Russia is like the rest of the country – urbanized, populated by Russians who have the same sorts of jobs, watch the same TV channels, and live in the same huge apartment blocs.”

His flight was an easy two hours from Moscow, and he is eager to return in wintertime to see the northern lights. I was farther north in Resolute Bay – too far north to see the northern lights, in fact – and I got there with the help of a U.S. Coast Guard C-130.

When I’m in a new place, the first thing I do is lace up and run to get my bearings. But the first thing we were told was not to leave our lodgings because of polar bears. Instead, we drove through. And I was struck by how much this Arctic town is nothing like the rest of Canada.

Resolute Bay was quiet on a recent dusk. Gorgeous chunks of ice decorated the coastline. There’s a skating rink – kids were playing shinny – and a post office, co-op for groceries (which only arrive in an annual resupply shipment), a wildlife bureau, and a nursing station. In front yards were snowmobiles and dog sleds. A polar bear skin hung outside one home; an Arctic fox scurried across the landscape. It has an edge-of-world feel.

This is Canada’s second-most northern community. It only exists because the government relocated Inuit families in 1953 to exert Arctic sovereignty – for which Canada apologized in 2010. Leaving town, a powerful statue by the late carver Simeonie Amagoalik stands as a monument to the “High Arctic exiles” of ResoluteSeventy years ago this community was forced into an unforgiving landscape. Now they stand at the frontlines of climate change. While a warming Arctic shifts geopolitical and commercial calculations – the subject of the Monitor’s two-parter – it will have the greatest bearing on the people who call the Arctic home.

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A deeper look

The Northwest Passage is thawing. Will US, Canada sail its waters together?

With the melting Arctic opening up new opportunities and stirring old rivalries, the U.S. and Canada are trying a cooperative approach to tapping the thawing resources and trade routes. Part one of two.

Sara
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally/U.S. Coast Guard/File
The 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy breaks ice in the Bering Sea to assist the tanker Renda, approximately 165 miles from Nome, Alaska, Jan. 8, 2012.

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The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and some scientists warn that within the next two decades the region’s waterways could be ice-free in summertime.

That has generated new tensions over Russian militarization of the Arctic, a hungry China vying for its resources, and increased competitions for sea lanes. Even the Northwest Passage, which runs through the Arctic ice north of Canada, is contested.

The United States is looking to shore up its partnership with its Arctic allies, as well as expand its understanding of what’s happening in the region, with a trip of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy through the Northwest Passage. Passengers include military counterparts from Canada, Denmark, and Britain carrying out joint exercises, while a plethora of scientists conduct international research crucial to understanding the implications of climate change.

“We’re demonstrating the U.S. ability to increase our reach in the Arctic,” says Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. “It’s building our organic knowledge in the area. It’s projecting our interests. It’s demonstrating to the other nations of the world that like-minded partners are collaborating and working in this important space.”

The Northwest Passage is thawing. Will US, Canada sail its waters together?

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Steering the ship from her perch 93 feet above the Arctic waterline, U.S. Coast Guard Ensign Valerie Hines guides the vessel through ice cover laid out like a vast white puzzle starting to tear apart.

She nudges the 420-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy forward – ramming, then backing up and ramming again, the ice that is several feet thick. The noise is deafening as cleaved chunks scrape the side of the hull. Below deck, the constant vibration caused by the severing sheet can feel like an earthquake.

Yet the bulldozing task here has its moments of beauty, too: Some of the ice chunks peeling away from the bow glow with an iridescent blue, as if being lit by a flashlight from underneath the sea.

The ship’s journey is part of a rare transit through the fabled Northwest Passage that is helping the U.S. project influence in what is one of the most geostrategic – and quickly changing – places on Earth.

With a warming Arctic and polar ice cap in retreat, the rooftop of the world is more navigable than at any time in modern history. And that is opening up the potential for new commercial lanes and the need for better search and rescue expertise, enhanced environmental protection, and cooperation with local populations in the high latitudes. It has also set off a global race to lay claim to routes and resources in the austere but all-important region.

Chief Petty Officer Matt Masaschi/U.S. Coast Guard
Ensign Valerie Hines pilots the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy through the ice during its Northwest Passage transit, Sept. 2, 2021. “One of the things I’ve learned is just how much patience icebreaking requires,” says Ensign Hines.

“They are pretty crazy pieces of ice,” says Ensign Hines. “They would roll down the side of the hull and you would see them flip over on their side, back behind us. It’s definitely a multisensory experience.”

But, first, Ensign Hines has to actually get the Healy through the entombed tundra. It’s the ship’s third journey across the Northwest Passage. Ensign Hines says piloting the bull-nosed boat through the ice field takes composure and problem-solving: deciding when and how far to veer off a particular path, sometimes weaving and sometimes turning sharply through a multiyear ice field. Other times the best option is simply to batter ahead.

“One of the things I’ve learned is just how much patience icebreaking requires,” says Ensign Hines.

No ice to stand on

That knowledge is one of the main points of this voyage through the Northwest Passage, which was first traversed by a Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, in 1906. Since Mr. Amundsen’s first voyage, only 318 vessels, as of 2020, have successfully crossed it.

More than two-thirds of those crossings have happened in the past 15 years, amid changes the Healy has witnessed. When the ship took its maiden voyage through the Northwest Passage in 2000, the Arctic had about a quarter more ice cover. Looking over time, the trend lines are clear. It’s declining by 13% per decade.

This decline is part of every consideration and conversation that happens in this part of Canada, from the most profound to the most mundane. Here in Resolute Bay, one of the most northerly communities in the world, where Inuit were forcefully relocated by the Canadian government beginning in 1953 to exert sovereignty in the High Arctic, unstable ice has upended everything from hunting patterns and the availability of food to hockey tournaments normally reached by snowmobile over frozen ice.

At sea, the changes are felt not just by ice pilots and scientists. U.S. Coast Guard electrician’s mate Master Chief Petty Officer Mark Hulen, whose job it is to power the Healy, was on the ship’s maiden voyage, and made a handful of Arctic journeys since. This latest trip is the first time the crew hasn’t been able to get “ice liberty”: That’s when they’ll put out a lookout for polar bears and let the crew climb out and stretch their sea legs on a berg of ice, usually about a half mile or longer. There’s always a few who start an impromptu football game. “We really did struggle with finding a good enough piece of ice to stand on,” he says.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Janessa Warschkow/U.S. Coast Guard
Healy crew launch an unmanned underwater vehicle under the sea ice in the Chukchi Sea, Aug. 5, 2021.

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and some scientists warn that within the next two decades the waterways could be ice-free in summertime. That has generated new tensions over Russian militarization of the Arctic, a hungry China vying for its resources, and increased competitions for sea lanes.

Even this passageway is contested: Canada views the Northwest Passage as an internal waterway, while the U.S. claims it’s an international seaway. The dispute remains, managed under a 1988 accord that requires the U.S. to seek prior consent from Canada before passage, but tensions flared under the Trump administration. The Americans floated what’s called a “freedom of navigation operation” and called Canada’s claim to the Northwest Passage “illegitimate.”

The Healy passage, which sought prior consent and contains a strong science focus, is about shoring up the U.S. partnership with its Arctic allies, as well as expanding its understanding of what’s happening in the region. Passengers include military counterparts from Canada, Denmark, and Britain carrying out joint exercises, while a plethora of scientists conduct international research crucial to understanding the implications of climate change. The vessel is expected to arrive in Boston Oct. 14, its first U.S. port since leaving Alaska in August.

“We’re demonstrating the U.S. ability to increase our reach in the Arctic,” says Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. “It’s building our organic knowledge in the area. It’s projecting our interests. It’s demonstrating to the other nations of the world that like-minded partners are collaborating and working in this important space.”

Sara Miller Llana/The Christian Science Monitor
Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, is in the Northwest Passage in Resolute Bay, Nunavut, to watch the Healy make a rare transit.

Both the U.S. and Canadian coast guards have sought to expand their Arctic capabilities in recent years. The U.S. Coast Guard only has two operable icebreakers, a heavy breaker that is aging and requiring expensive upgrades, and the medium breaker Healy. Its Polar Security Cutter program foresees three new heavy polar icebreakers, two of which are fully funded. The first is currently under contract. 

Amid the talk of warming, Admiral Schultz says he regularly fields the question: Why then the need for more icebreakers? “I think right now, because presence equals influence and we have very little presence, that’s not a hard conversation for me,” he says, adding that a warming Arctic means a more unpredictable one, because of ice that is rougher and behaves differently.

It also means a more open Arctic, which will mean more cruise liners, recreational boaters, and adventurists, which the Canadian Coast Guard must rescue.

Canada’s Coast Guard, which is not part of the Canadian military but in charge of search and rescue and environmental protection, expanded its presence here three years ago, creating a permanent outpost in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. It is doing so in cooperation with allies, but a main mission is to support and cooperate with the Inuit population at the frontlines of climate change, says Neil O’Rourke, the assistant commissioner, Arctic region at Canadian Coast Guard.

“It’s going to clobber us over and over”

All of this can feel far away from the reality of most Canadian and American lives.

Despite the Arctic comprising more than 40% of Canadian landmass, two-thirds of Canadians live within 100 kilometers of the U.S. border. The U.S. Arctic region is much smaller and farther away from most Americans.

Larry Mayer, founding director of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping at the University of New Hampshire, is the lead scientist on the Healy. An oceanographer from the Bronx who was inspired by the book “Boy Beneath the Sea,” today he is essentially a modern-day charter, mapping the seafloor for a project called Seabed 2030.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Connor Dahl/U.S. Coast Guard
Senior Chief Petty Officer Donald Selby participates in a dive beneath the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Healy in the Chukchi Sea, between Russia and Alaska, Aug. 5, 2021.

Only about 14% of the Arctic has been mapped – and he has just completed a corridor of the Northwest Passage. While knowing the contours of the seafloor is crucial for vessel safety, everything done here has implications felt well beyond this sea lane. Open waters affect the nature of wind patterns and the transfer of heat – which are felt well beyond the Arctic circle.

“The Arctic is having a severe impact on storminess in North America and a lot of the anomalous weather patterns that we’ve seen are really a direct result of that,” he says. “It’s just such a complex system of interconnectivity.”

As he wraps up a talk on his work aboard Healy, and the U.S. and Canadian coast guards await a helicopter transfer back to Resolute Bay, the discussion quickly turns to the fatal flooding of basement apartments in New York City in the wake of Hurricane Ida and the rest of the weather events grabbing global headlines.

“Something is different,” Dr. Mayer says. “And if we don’t own up to it, it’s going to clobber us over and over.”

Admiral Schultz calls himself “agnostic” on the climate debate. But he wants Americans to understand what they are doing up here is not an “esoteric, long-way-from-home kind of topic,” he says. “There’s more water, and there’s water where there didn’t used to be water. The practical reality is, there is a crescendo of knowledge that things are changing.”

Next: In Murmansk, icebreakers are also the center of attention as the Kremlin looks to turn the Northeast Passage into a major shipping route and the Russian port city into an economic powerhouse.

Nonpartisan redistricting stalls as reform efforts meet reality

New commissions, some made up of average citizens, are struggling to overcome partisanship as they redraw congressional and state legislative lines. Some say reformers need to rethink the whole process.

Sara

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In the 10 years since the nation’s congressional and state legislative maps were last redrawn, a record-breaking number of states passed ballot measures intended to make the process more bipartisan and transparent.

But with map-drawing now underway, the rubber of those reforms is meeting a very bumpy road. 

In Virginia, the first attempt to create “fair” maps collapsed last week and appears headed for the state Supreme Court. A similar process is playing out in New York, where Democrats and Republicans on a new redistricting commission have come up with separate maps. Ohio’s new commission failed to gain bipartisan approval for its state legislative maps, which will now only be in place for four years rather than 10.  

At stake is control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats hold an eight-seat majority. And as redistricting commissions are undermined by the same partisan forces they’re meant to alleviate, it’s raising questions about whether it’s even possible to draw lines that both sides perceive as fair.

“[The process] feels really existential to people,” says Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center. “In our very partisan age, they are having a hard time taking off their partisan hats.”

Nonpartisan redistricting stalls as reform efforts meet reality

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Julie Carr Smyth/AP
Areeqe Hammad testifies at the first public hearing of the Ohio Redistricting Commission at Cleveland State University Aug. 23, 2021. A new voter-approved commission that was supposed to reduce partisanship in the process of political map-drawing has devolved into partisan finger-pointing.

Redistricting was supposed to look different this year. 

In the 10 years since the nation’s congressional and state legislative maps were last redrawn, a record-breaking number of states passed ballot measures intended to make the process more bipartisan and transparent. The citizen-led efforts were cheered by reform advocates as a win for American democracy, a sign that voters from both parties wanted to end partisan gerrymandering, or the drawing of lines for political advantage. 

But with map-drawing now underway, the rubber of those reforms is meeting a very bumpy road. 

In Virginia, the first attempt to draw a “fair” legislative map collapsed in acrimony last week and now appears headed for the state Supreme Court. The state’s new bipartisan redistricting commission – which was created in 2020 with support from two-thirds of Virginia voters – has been dogged by partisanship from the outset, with Democrats and Republicans working with separate consultants to produce separate maps and so far failing to merge them.

A similar process is playing out in New York, where 58% of voters approved a measure in 2014 to create a bipartisan redistricting commission, and the commission’s Democrats and the Republicans have also come up with separate maps, not yet agreeing on a compromise.

And in Ohio, where nearly three-quarters of voters approved a 2018 ballot measure to end partisan gerrymandering, a new redistricting commission failed to gain the required bipartisan approval for its state legislative maps. As a result, those maps will now only be in place for four years, including national elections in 2022 and 2024, rather than 10.

While the process remains ongoing, the fact that so many states are struggling to enact reforms that drew broad support from voters underscores the stakes involved. With Democrats holding an eight-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, even subtle tweaking of lines in key states could determine control in 2022 and beyond. That independent redistricting commissions are being undermined by the same partisan forces they’re supposed to be alleviating raises a troubling question: Is it even possible to redraw districts in a way that would be perceived by both sides as fair?

“[The process] feels really existential to people,” says Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “In our very partisan age, they are having a hard time taking off their partisan hats.”

SOURCE: The Brennan Center, All About Redistricting, and The National Conference of State Legislature
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Karen Norris/Staff

Under a microscope

According to a 2017 Brennan Center study, extreme gerrymandering in a handful of states during the 2010 redistricting process likely netted Republicans 16 to 17 additional seats in the U.S. House.

In many ways, this is nothing new: district-drawing has been abused for partisan gain since the early days of the republic. In fact, the term for it – gerrymandering – is named after one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

One difference today, say experts, is that more Americans are paying attention.

“Ten years ago, the process just occurred in more of a black box. The maps were produced, passed, and then you were like, ‘Oh I guess this is my new district,’” says Adam Podowitz-Thomas, senior legal adviser at the Princeton Gerrymander Project. “These entities are under a microscope like they haven’t been before.”

According to one recent poll, more than two-thirds of Americans are at least familiar with the term gerrymandering. And majorities in both parties say they would prefer congressional districts be drawn with “no partisan bias,” even if that meant their own party would not win as many seats. 

That explains the flurry of citizen-led reforms in recent years, with seven states passing ballot measures to address the problem. In fact, the number of states implementing reforms could have been as high as 12, but a measure passed in Missouri in 2018 was overturned in 2020, and four states – Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Oregon – had their required signature gathering hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pandemic also delayed the U.S. census, which in turn has drastically delayed the redistricting process. So far, only four states have finalized new maps, with many states fast coming up on constitutional or primary election deadlines. 

For this reason, some experts say it’s too early to evaluate the success of the new redistricting commissions. 

“The jury’s still out,” says David Wasserman, a redistricting expert and senior editor of the Cook Political Report, at a conference at Duke University in late September. “There is a steep learning curve for citizen commissioners. It sounds easy, maybe, to draw a map, but the technical requirements actually are quite strenuous.”

“What if we made every line less important?”

Mr. Wasserman is referring to four states that are using, for the first time, commissions made up of nonpoliticians to draw and implement new congressional and legislative maps – Arizona, California, Colorado, and Michigan. 

Both Michigan and Colorado put their redistricting in the hands of 12- to 13-person citizens’ commissions made up of Republican, Democratic, and independent voters.

In Michigan, the new commission of randomly selected novices approved 10 draft maps on Monday to take to the public for hearings beginning next week. The new maps, which will likely undergo revisions, may not make either side particularly happy – they undo gerrymandering put in place by the GOP legislature 10 years ago, and also eliminate some majority-Black districts – but reform advocates remain hopeful.

“Michigan’s redistricting hasn’t been without its hiccups, but it’s going remarkably well,” says Connie Cook, a retired political science professor and volunteer with Voters Not Politicians, an organization that spearheaded the ballot initiative to reform redistricting in 2018. She notes that the commissioners have not taken a single vote along party lines in the 13 months they’ve been meeting.

Still, that “steep learning curve” that Mr. Wasserman mentioned, along with the census delay, has in some ways already hampered both the Michigan and Colorado commissions’ ability to live up to voters’ expectations. Michigan’s commission had to cancel several public hearings to allow more time to create its maps, and Colorado’s plan for five months of deliberation was condensed into two. Colorado’s maps, which are completed and awaiting verification by the state Supreme Court, would largely protect the state’s seven incumbent representatives, while creating a new, competitive district. 

To some experts, even the most successful efforts at redistricting reform will inevitably still fall short. 

Voters approved these reforms in pursuit of fairness and better representation, says David Daley, author of the book “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.” He argues there are better ways to achieve that – such as multimember districts. 

In such a system, the U.S. House would still have 435 members, and seats would still be apportioned to states based on population. But how states allocated their representatives would change.

Instead of nine congressional districts, for example, Mr. Daley’s home state of Massachusetts could have nine lawmakers representing just three big districts, and use ranked-choice voting to select officials. Fewer districts would limit the opportunities to gerrymander, while ranked-choice voting would allow representation for voters of a minority party. There are almost half a million registered Republicans in Massachusetts, for example, but all nine members of Congress are Democrats.

“As long as each [district] line is so important, politicians are going to find a way to exploit every possible loophole,” says Mr. Daley. “So, what if we made every line less important?”

As citizens watch their independent commissions fall short, they should be inspired to think bigger, he argues. “Reformers have to learn the valuable lessons of this cycle,” he says, “which is that commissions as a reform need reforming.”

SOURCE: The Brennan Center, All About Redistricting, and The National Conference of State Legislature
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Karen Norris/Staff

Data privacy is a big public concern. Will Congress answer with a law?

Ohio resident Amy Krebs knows firsthand about the damage that invasions of privacy can bring. Concerns from people like her are one reason there’s momentum in Congress for a possible federal law.

Sara

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Eight years ago, soon after the Obama administration passed a privacy “bill of rights,” a set of voluntary guidelines for companies to follow, Ohio resident Amy Krebs received a distressing phone call. Her credit card company said her name and financial information had been stolen.

“I couldn’t believe that this could happen,” she says. The culprit used Ms. Krebs’ information at banks, for credit card purchases – even for a subscription to the local newspaper.

Consumer challenges with data privacy have only grown since then, and polling finds strong public support for Congress to pass a federal law on the issue. A bipartisan push for action has gained momentum, although some partisan differences remain to be addressed.

Privacy experts say a federal law could establish broad new protections and reconfigure the power dynamic between consumers and companies, which historically have used people’s information as corporate property. Three states – California, Virginia, and Colorado – have now passed data privacy laws that, in effect, say otherwise.

“The key Democratic and Republican bills are within shouting distance of each other,” says Cameron Kerry, a privacy expert at The Brookings Institution. “Congress should act.”

Data privacy is a big public concern. Will Congress answer with a law?

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Jeff Chiu/AP/File
A computer with Facebook ad preferences pages in San Francisco on March 26, 2018. California passed a consumer data privacy law in 2018 that went into effect last year. Now, other states and Congress are considering legislation.

Your “friends” online? Check. Your shopping habits? Check. Your credit card or other online payment information? Check. Some of America’s biggest, richest companies are custodians of that data.

American consumers display plenty of ambivalence about this – showing little reluctance to sign up for no-fee apps and web tools that earn money by using their data for targeting ads.  

At the same time, the public is worried – enough so to heavily support legislation to safeguard online privacy. And a tide of data hacks adds to the urgency. T-Mobile and retailer Neiman Marcus are two of the most recent data-breach targets involving millions of customers. 

Amy Krebs is an Ohio resident who has seen up close how personal data can be compromised. Eight years ago, soon after the Obama administration passed a privacy “bill of rights,” a set of voluntary guidelines for companies to follow in order to protect consumers’ privacy, she received a phone call from her credit card company. Her name and financial information had been stolen. 

“I couldn’t believe that this could happen,” she says. The culprit used Ms. Krebs’ information at banks, for credit card purchases – even for a subscription to the local newspaper.

Now, despite the difficulty of legislating in a highly polarized Congress, the push for a nationwide consumer data privacy law has gained momentum. Privacy experts say a federal law could establish broad new protections for the American people and reconfigure the power dynamic between consumers and companies, which historically have used people’s information as if it belonged to them. Three states – California, Virginia, and Colorado – have now passed data privacy laws that, in effect, say otherwise. 

SOURCE: The International Association of Privacy Professionals
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“We’ve always operated in the U.S. as if the data did not belong to the individual,” says James E. Lee, chief operating officer at the Identity Theft Resource Center. “So this is a huge shift that’s underway.”

Multiple data privacy bills have been proposed in Congress over the past couple of years to clean up the mess, and at least 30 states have considered their own legislation. 

Support is bipartisan. “Americans deserve to have their data protected,” said Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, at a hearing on data privacy Sept. 29

“I do think the moment is here,” Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington said on Oct. 6.

Rising pressure on Big Tech 

The push for a law comes as technology companies face criticism on multiple fronts – the latest example being a whistleblower who appeared on Capitol Hill on Oct. 5, testifying that Facebook has ignored​ internal evidence that its content-sharing business models are having harmful effects on users.

A privacy law would address just one of the concerns about Big Tech – but an important one. Mr. Wicker, the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, introduced a federal data privacy bill earlier this year. Ms. Cantwell, who now chairs the committee, introduced a bill of her own in 2019.  

Tom Williams/Reuters
Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington speaks with Roger Wicker of Mississippi, then-chairman of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Jan. 26, 2021. Ms. Cantwell is now chairing the committee, and Mr. Wicker is the ranking Republican. Both want a federal data privacy bill.

“The conversation has become much more sophisticated over the last couple of years, which is helpful,” says Stacey Gray, senior counsel at the Future of Privacy Forum. “There’s room for compromise.”

One point of contention is whether a federal law should preempt, or override, state laws. Many Democrats prefer letting states pass tougher laws if they want. Another sticking point is whether the bill should include a private right of action for individuals to sue companies that violate the law. Mr. Wicker is wary of this unless the scope is limited. 

But the bills, including those at the state level, “come down to the same basic principles,” says Mr. Lee, of the Identity Theft Resource Center. 

“You have the right to know who is collecting information about you, what information is collected, and then depending upon the purpose of that information, you can then request that it be deleted or you can request that it be corrected if it was wrong,” he says. 

Those steps could be a big help for people like Ms. Krebs, who works for a nonprofit community foundation and now runs a blog to help others who face identity theft. 

She emphasizes, also, the importance of corporations maintaining records that are correct. 

“Before we can go and talk about privacy laws, either at the federal or the state level,” she says, “we need to talk about accuracy.” 

In her case, fictitious identity-verification data from the criminal denied her access to her own credit reports. She estimates that the criminal used her information at about 80 places. 

When Ms. Krebs got the call about her information being stolen, she didn’t know what to do. After researching online, she found that very few people had spoken out publicly about identity theft. 

“One of the natural responses you have is to be even more hidden because you feel a swell of different emotions,” Ms. Krebs says. She decided to call local police in North Canton, Ohio, and file a report. 

Accessing her credit reports was a next step, but the thief had already changed the reports’ confirmation questions with incorrect information. 

“There needs to be ability for the consumer to challenge information if they find it to be inaccurate,” she says. 

The number of identity theft reports went from about 650,000 in 2019 to over 1.3 million a year later, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s privacy enforcer. 

That may help explain widespread popular support for a federal privacy law, spanning party lines. 

More than 8 in 10 voters said Congress should prioritize privacy legislation, according to an April Morning Consult poll. That included 86% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans who said Congress should make privacy a “top” or “important but lower” priority in 2021.

Some companies including Facebook, which had over 500 million users’ information posted in a hacking forum, are calling for a federal law instead of a patchwork of state statutes. 

The president, apart from a couple of lines in a July executive order, has been largely silent on the data privacy issue since taking office, but he did nominate a privacy advocate to a seat on the FTC last month.   

“Within shouting distance of each other”

Cameron Kerry, who served as acting secretary of the Commerce Department during the Obama administration, says the United States is an outlier as a major economy without a data privacy law. 

“The key Democratic and Republican bills are within shouting distance of each other,” says Mr. Kerry, now a visiting fellow at The Brookings Institution. “Congress should act.”

On Sept. 29, Senator Wicker called for the president to appoint a specific senior staff person in the administration to work with Congress to pass a law this year. And last month, nine Senate Democrats urged FTC Chair Lina Khan to begin a rule-making process to protect consumer privacy “in parallel to congressional efforts to create federal privacy laws.”

Ms. Gray, of the Future of Privacy Forum, says federal legislation could have both visible and invisible benefits. Consumers could see what data of theirs a company holds. And the “invisible” help: The law would call on companies to better secure customer data. 

Data minimization and limitation requirements, similarly, would reduce the amount of data being saved on corporate servers or sold for uses beyond the original reason for collection. 

“The success of [a new] law, no matter how it comes about, is also going to require individuals to actually utilize the rights that they’re getting,” says Mr. Lee, “because if they don’t, then it’s as if we have no law at all.”

Even eight years later, Ms. Krebs is still dealing with the effects of the theft, despite the culprit being tracked down and charged with a felony through the work of local detectives.

“It’s insane the amount of hours that go into this,” she says.

SOURCE: The International Association of Privacy Professionals
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Books

How does this scientist approach climate conversations? She acts ‘from love.’

Talking about climate change can be done out of a sense of respect, rather than judgment, says this climate scientist and author. Meeting others where they are can open closed channels of thought. 

Sara
Artie Limmer/Texas Tech University
Katharine Hayhoe is the author of "Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World."

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Katharine Hayhoe has her feet planted in two worlds, that of atmospheric science and evangelical Christianity. The author of the new book “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World” is often asked how to change the mind of someone who rejects the idea of climate change. She calls her approach “acting from love.” 

Dr. Hayhoe has been targeted on social media by people across the political spectrum who claim she is not doing enough personally to combat climate change. She says of the shaming campaign, “I started noticing this obsession with personal performance ... this obsession with judging.”

“I am seeing it growing exponentially, in a way that’s detrimental and changes very few minds,” she continues. “And I think it’s counteracted by something that is much more powerful.

“One of the most powerful things that has ever changed people’s minds is love. When you have a conversation with somebody, and when you can feel that something they have to say is because they love you, or because they love something else and are sharing that love with you, that is the opposite of judgment,” she says.

How does this scientist approach climate conversations? She acts ‘from love.’

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Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe stresses the need for finding shared values, rather than trying to change someone’s mind, as a basis for productive conversations. As an evangelical Christian, she regularly speaks to churches about climate change – often facing initially hostile audiences.

For a talk at one conservative Christian college, Dr. Hayhoe – an atmospheric scientist, professor of political science at Texas Tech University, and the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy – decided to emphasize how caring about climate change is in line with Christian values and, ultimately, is “pro-life” in the fullest sense of that word. Afterward, she says, people “were able to listen, acknowledge it, and think about approaching [climate change] a little differently.”

She spoke with the Monitor about her new book “Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.” The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You begin and end your book with the importance of talking about climate change. Why is this so critical? 

We aren’t doing it. A recent survey found that only 14% of people they surveyed in the United States talk about climate change. A previous Yale study found that 35% either discuss it occasionally or hear somebody else talk about it. Those are low for something that over 70% of people are worried about.

If we’re not talking about it, how could we understand it’s about us here and now? And it’s an issue that we know what the solutions are. [In her book, Dr. Hayhoe cites a range of solutions, including a large-scale transition to clean energy, carbon pricing, natural climate solutions like regenerative agriculture and reforestation, and energy efficiency.]

We know also that climate action is not a giant boulder that won’t budge sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep cliff with only a few hands on it. When we practice active hope, when we look at what people are doing, and we share those stories with others and talk about what we can do together, then we realize that the boulder is already at the top of the hill and is rolling down in the right direction, and has millions of hands on it. It’s just not going fast enough.

Why are facts sometimes not enough when it comes to convincing someone that climate change matters?

Of course facts are useful. They explain how the world works. You reject them at your peril. We can say climate change isn’t real, but we will be stepping off the cliff and taking a lot of people with us. But if an issue is very connected to our identity, and if it is highly politically polarized, then we don’t go out and look for facts and make up our mind about it. We look to what our tribe thinks about it, and we look for the information that shows we’re right.

The biggest problem we have is not the gap between the people who say climate change is real and the people who say it isn’t. The biggest gap is between those who say it is real and those who understand it affects them here and now. That gap is psychological distance, and that’s why closing it is so important. 

I was speaking in Iowa, and I was asked, “How do you talk to people in Iowa about polar bears?” I said, “You don’t; you talk to them about corn.” If we begin a conversation with someone with something we already agree on, then the subtext is: “You care about this, and I care too. We have this in common.”

You talk about “acting from love” when you approach climate conversations. What do you mean by that?

As someone who frequently speaks about climate change and is active on social media, I am frequently shamed for not doing enough. Some of that comes from the right side of the [political] spectrum, but increasingly a larger share of that shaming comes from people at the opposite end of the spectrum, who are so worried and anxious about climate impacts that their response is to find anyone who isn’t doing precisely what they think they should be doing and shame them.

I started noticing this obsession with personal performance, this obsession with personal guilt, this obsession with judging. I am seeing it growing exponentially, in a way that’s incredibly detrimental and changes very few minds. I think it’s counteracted by something that is much more powerful. One of the most powerful things that has ever changed people’s minds is love. When you have a conversation with somebody, and when you can feel that something they have to say is because they love you, or because they love something else and are sharing that love with you, that is the opposite of judgment. 

You write that fossil fuel companies – 100 of which have been responsible for emitting 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases since 1988 – are the biggest culprits, not individuals. But you have still changed some of your own behaviors. Why? 

Every year I adopt two new habits, not because I think they’re going to change the course of climate change as I know it, but because it enables me to be consistent with my values and it gives me joy. Last year I decided to tackle the issue of plastic in the bathroom. I tried out new shampoo bars and permanently switched to bar-based face wash. I introduced more plant-based recipes into our diet, and I switched to an induction stove.

What are the biggest barriers to action – for countries or communities or individuals – on climate change? And how do we get past those?

It’s psychological distance and solution aversion. We don’t think it matters to us. We think it’s a problem distant in space or time or relevance. And we don’t think there’s anything viable or practical we can do at the scale required.

Why would we want to fix a problem if we don’t think we’re personally affected and we think the solutions will harm us?

That’s why it’s important to bring both the solutions and the impact down to the scale at which we operate. It’s not about saving the planet, it’s about saving us, and each of us has a crucial role to play. It’s the only way the world has ever changed – not when big, rich, powerful, influential people decide it has to, but when individual people decide that the world could and should be different.  

What gives you hope?

The fact that there is the possibility – not guaranteed – for a better future. That gives me hope. Ultimately, I find hope in recognizing that there are millions of hands on that boulder. We’re not placing our hope in a single thing; we’re placing it in the idea that a better future is possible. 

Amanda Paulson, a former Monitor staff writer, is the special projects officer for Bobolink, a conservation advocacy organization.

Points of Progress

What's going right

Clean air, world’s largest carbon capture plant, and the end of leaded gas

Our progress roundup highlights a century of energy consumption. While it took decades for the harm done by leaded gas to be widely recognized, today many people are eager for the possibilities of power without fossil fuels.

Sara

Clean air, world’s largest carbon capture plant, and the end of leaded gas

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Staff

Clean air figures into three of our briefs this week. One development in Iceland reflects the thinking that a range of solutions is necessary to address climate change.

1. United States

A superconducting magnet developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology brings scientists closer to commercial fusion energy. The fusion of abundant hydrogen atoms releases huge amounts of energy, and experts say a reliable carbon-free technology like this will be essential to slowing climate change. However, the resulting 100 million degree plasma can only be contained by a powerful magnetic field, usually using conventional copper electromagnets configured in a doughnut-shaped structure called a tokamak. The challenge is that fusion technology currently consumes more power than it generates. But MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center has worked with Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS) to create a magnet made with 16 layered plates of high-temperature, superconducting ribbonlike tape that may revolutionize the field.

In a September test, the team’s device achieved the necessary magnetic field with only 30 watts of energy, whereas a similarly sized copper magnet would have required 200 million watts. Researchers say the successful experiment proved the feasibility of their fusion reactor called SPARC, which is still in development. Bob Mumgaard, CEO of CFS, predicts the superconductor technology will allow for a commercial fusion plant to be built by 2030.
MIT, WBUR

2. Brazil

Eraldo Peres/AP/File
The capital of Brazil was built in the Cerrado, the savanna eco-region southeast of the Amazon that covers about a fifth of Brazil. Rapid agricultural expansion threatens the area and its people.

Thousands of families in Brazil have used a new digital mapping platform to outline territories previously unrecognized by the government. Traditional communities have a unique understanding of local ecology, and are often credited with helping to keep deforestation and large-scale agriculture at bay in the Cerrado, Brazil’s second largest biome. Savannas like the Cerrado are often overlooked by sustainability programs. Despite the rights guaranteed by the 2007 National Policy on Sustainable Development of Peoples and Traditional Communities and their stewardship of the land, many self-identified groups don’t appear on official maps and lack access to legal services that would help them claim rights. There are currently 3.5 times as many traditional communities in the northern Cerrado than are recognized, according to the Institute for Society, Population, and Nature (ISPN) and the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM).

The Tô No Mapa app – “I Am on the Map” in Portuguese – was created with input from traditional communities, the ISPN, IPAM, and several other Brazilian nongovernmental organizations in order to remedy these oversights and help smaller communities fight back against agricultural encroachment. According to a September report, the app has helped map more than 5,000 families in 76 communities across 23 Brazilian states since its launch in October 2020.
Mongabay

3. Iceland

The world’s largest carbon removal plant went online in Iceland. Built by Swiss company Climeworks and powered by geothermal energy, the Orca plant features high-tech fan and filter systems that can pull about 4,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, roughly the equivalent of taking 870 cars off the road. Technology by Carbfix mixes the CO2 with water and pumps it into deep basalt caverns, where it eventually cools into stone.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
A carbon injection site well near the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant, photographed in 2017, was a precursor to the Orca carbon capture and storage facility that became operational Sept. 8.

Carbon removal is essential to achieving global carbon neutrality, say experts, but the direct air capture technology is still too expensive for widespread adoption without government subsidies. It costs $600 to $800 to remove 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide at Orca, where Iceland’s combination of renewable geothermal energy and underground geology helps enable the process. However, engineer and Climeworks co-founder Christoph Gebald expects costs to decrease to the more competitive $100-$150 range by the late 2030s as installations become more efficient. “This plant that we have here is really the blueprint to further scale up and really industrialize,” he said. (Here’s a 2017 story by reporters Peter Ford and Sara Miller Llana when they previewed these developments.)
The Washington Post, Interesting Engineering

4. Algeria

The last nation to use leaded gasoline in cars and trucks has officially exhausted its supply, concluding a decadeslong push to end use of the toxic auto fuel globally. Leaded gasoline was used in most vehicles from 1922 until the 1970s, when mounting evidence linked emissions to severe health issues and environmental degradation. Over the next 40 years, most countries phased out tetraethyllead for standard cars and trucks. Sustained lobbying by the United Nations Environment Program and a public-private partnership begun in 2002 has pushed governments still allowing leaded fuel to acknowledge the risks of leaded gas, ban its importation, and change tax systems to promote clean fuel consumption.

The UNEP recently announced that Algeria, where refineries stopped producing leaded gasoline in early 2021, depleted its supply of the fuel this July. “The end of leaded petrol is more than a celebration of the end of one toxic era,” said Thandile Chinyavanhu, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner in South Africa. “The phase-out of leaded petrol in Algeria ... is a testament to the world’s ability to achieve a common goal – together.”
Quartz, Euronews

5. Sri Lanka

An innovative tagging program in Sri Lanka is helping scientists fill gaps in migratory bird research. The island nation is the southernmost landmass on the Central Asian Flyway, a loosely defined corridor traveled by more than 200 bird species every year. Scientists say most of what we know about the CAF is based on anecdotal evidence, but a satellite tagging system initiated last year is now offering real-time information on bird movements throughout the corridor.

The project is a collaboration between the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka at the University of Colombo, Wetlands International, local sponsors, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which provided the costly tracking equipment. With most avian tagging systems, researchers need to physically retrieve the tracking devices in order to view the data. During the most recent migration season, the project attached 35 GPS transponders to several species, including the Eurasian wigeon, Caspian tern, and the Heuglin’s gull. The efforts are yielding interesting results. The gulls, for example, are born in the Arctic tundra and overwinter in Sri Lanka; satellite data shows that the birds fly day and night to complete the 4,350-mile journey back to Siberia in 60 days. The research team has received an additional 35 tracking devices to attach to birds next season.
Mongabay

Staff

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Due vigilance for global corporations

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A ruling last month by France’s Supreme Court has sent a signal to international corporations about a need to be more vigilant in their foreign operations. For the first time, the high court said a company could be charged with complicity in crimes against humanity. The decision marks a wider awakening in Europe to holding firms accountable for their global impact, from supporting terrorists to the worsening of climate change.

The decision was a blow to French cement maker Lafarge, which faces charges it indirectly gave millions of dollars to armed groups to keep open a subsidiary’s factory in Syria between 2012 and 2015. The court held that the company can be tried for charges of knowingly backing a terrorist group. The judgment reflects an effort by the European Union and its member states to use new laws and regulations to influence the global struggle on human rights and environmental issues.

“Ten years ago, corporate criminal liability was routinely questioned and criticized,” writes Richard Cassin, founder of a blog on corruption. “Today, corporate accountability is breaking out all over. Let’s celebrate the sudden and encouraging acceptance of the idea that corporations can be guilty too.”

Due vigilance for global corporations

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Reuters
Workers walk by what is officially known as a vocational skills education center in China's Xinjiang region but what critics say is a factory relying on forced labor by the Uighur minority to make export goods.

A ruling last month by France’s Supreme Court has sent a strong signal to international corporations about a need to be more vigilant in their foreign operations. For the first time, the high court said a company could be charged with complicity in crimes against humanity. The decision marks a wider awakening in Europe to holding firms accountable for their global impact, from supporting terrorists to the worsening of climate change.

The decision was a blow to French cement maker Lafarge, which faces charges it indirectly gave millions of dollars to armed groups, including Islamic State, to keep open a subsidiary’s factory in Syria between 2012 and 2015. The court held that the company can be tried for charges of knowingly backing a terrorist group responsible for the killing of innocent people. The case has been returned to an investigative court for a final determination.

The judgment reflects an effort by the European Union and its member states to use new laws and regulations to influence the global struggle on human rights and environmental issues. France passed a Duty of Vigilance Law in 2017 while Germany is considering a Corporate Sanctions Act. This year, Germany adopted the Supply Chain Due Diligence Act, which will require large companies to prevent such dangers as child labor and environmental destruction at any point in a firm’s supply chain. The EU is studying whether to require member states to pass similar laws by 2022.

“Ten years ago, corporate criminal liability was routinely questioned and criticized,” writes Richard Cassin, founder of a blog on corruption. “Today, corporate accountability is breaking out all over. Let’s celebrate the sudden and encouraging acceptance of the idea that corporations can be guilty too.”

One reason corporations – and not individuals in a corporation – are being held responsible on human rights and climate damage is that often reparations are needed. If found guilty, for example, Lafarge might be required to make amends to Syrian families whose loved ones were killed by the financing of terrorists. When crimes are committed across borders, justice must be seen as universal. And so too must be making the victims of injustice whole again.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Figuring out who we are

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What really defines us? Looking beyond our physical attributes or circumstances and considering our nature as God’s children offer healing, empowering answers.

Figuring out who we are

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

People today are certainly trying to figure out who they are. We see evidence of this in many forms. For some, this might mean deciding to redo their social media page because the earlier version doesn’t feel right anymore. For others, it may lead to job changes – in April 2021 alone, four million Americans quit their jobs, looking to do something else with their lives. Discussions of identity as it relates to gender have become prevalent. Then there’s the question college students face about what to study or do with their lives. And those are just a few examples.

So, how can we feel settled about who we are and move forward securely?

The question has existed from ancient times. And I’ve found that the Bible offers insights and answers.

Take the story of Job, for example. It tells of a good guy, content with his life, but then some calamities happen. So he starts a conversation about what his life is really about. He’s talking with himself, his friends, and God. A guiding principle for his life seems unclear.

However, God sets him up really well when he finds the right response. As the New King James Version puts it: “The Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).

There’s a remarkable idea here. Instead of focusing on physical attributes or circumstances, we can begin with understanding more of what God, divine Spirit, brings forth in everyone. God, the infinite Mind, is the very source of life, strength, and goodness, which are expressed in all of us as God’s children.

Recognizing this, we are secure. As we prayerfully let more of God’s activity into our thoughts and lives, we find more of what we’re really about – our fundamental nature as God’s spiritual offspring, or reflection. Who we are, our real identity, isn’t a personality that the world encourages us to take on. It’s not confined to a particular physicality with a short lifespan during which to get attention from others, attain a specific job title, or be classified in a certain way. Our true, spiritual purpose is hard to convey on social media. But we all have a good and special God-given identity.

Knowing this is so helpful in dealing with life and making decisions. It’s hard to go along untouched by a troubled world. To counter the pull of dissatisfaction, confusion, or frustration, we can instead zero in on seeing more of the solid good God has for us to express – qualities such as intelligence, love, and purpose. The key is looking for more of what we are in God, the very basis of our identity and life.

“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, explains, “The divine Mind is the Soul of man, and gives man dominion over all things” (p. 307). The prayerful search for how to more fully express God in our daily lives results in more evidence in our lives that our unity with God is what truly defines us. It empowers us to make decisions and moves that position us well and lead to good things for others, too. We’re playing a part in helping the world go in a good direction.

What we really are is the qualities of good, of love, of strength, of intelligence that God expresses through us. And as we devote ourselves to seeing such qualities in ourselves and others, nurturing them and sharing them, other elements in our experience settle into place. We’re more alert to God’s activity in us instead of caught up in circles of questions about ourselves. And we experience the peace and joy of doing something productive for everyone: bringing something of God to our jobs and relationships.

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Jumping for joy

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Badia Eskandar celebrates as she crosses the finish line of the 125th Boston Marathon on Oct. 11, 2021. The iconic race returned Monday after being canceled in 2020 for the first time in its history.

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our changing Arctic series, when Fred Weir takes us to Russia’s Northern Sea Route.

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