The Reason Review — May 2018
May was a month defined by both big decisions and indecisiveness. The people of the Republic of Ireland turned out to vote on the fate of the eighth amendment (which stood as an effective ban on abortion); the Trump Whitehouse — an almost perennial feature of recent Reason Reviews — couldn’t seem to make its mind up about a summit with North Korea; and the decision to hold seven days of commemorative hearings in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry showed that the emotions of victims and residents are a vital part in any search for justice and closure. And last but certainly not least, it appears that our dietary choices — particularly our insatiable appetite for avocados — is causing some serious problems in South America… Bon appetit!
“If Mr. Trump’s remarks on Friday are a blueprint for how he plans to negotiate with Mr. Kim, they foreshadow a process that would resemble — rather than reinvent — those undertaken by Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush.”
Widely hoped-for and anticipated talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the US are now scheduled to take place in Singapore on 12 June. At least we, hope they are; by the time you read this story, the situation may well have changed again.
Across the course of May, the build-up to this (potentially) historic summit came perilously close to resembling a political hokey cokey: The DPRK put one foot in, inviting journalists to the destruction of a former nuclear test site, but then swiftly threatened to pull it out, citing the one-sided nature of US demands ahead of the meet. Shortly after that, the White House revealed a somewhat premature commemorative coin to celebrate the summit — a dubious PR exercise immediately undermined by an even more dubious one, as Trump pulled out of the meet via an open letter to Kim Jong-Un, blindsiding even his own administration.
Bewildering theatrics aside, the move seems to have had its desired effect — if Trump’s motivations can ever be accurately guessed. The end of the month saw the DPRK scrambling to regain a US commitment to the meet, and more recently Kim has fired three of his top military officials; the White House believes the latter was an attempt to silence dissenters ahead of the meet. For now the summit stands, but the New York Times warns that when it comes to solving the Korean crisis, Trump may yet repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.
“The dignity of the bereaved has been humbling, and trust in the inquiry has strengthened. As Sir Martin [chair of the inquiry] told the victims, their stories are integral to the inquiry’s purpose. They underline why it is so important to lay bare the truth…”
The Grenfell Tower Inquiry officially opened back in September, 2017, with further procedural hearings held in December and then in March of 2018. The latest phase of the inquiry has had a markedly different tone to that which came before. Seven days of heartfelt commemorative hearings took place this month, each one striving to put the residents’ stories at the very heart of proceedings.
Naturally, much of the news coverage has concentrated on compassionately reporting the stories and accounts shared by the individuals and families affected by the Grenfell tragedy. This particular Guardian article takes a different angle, in that it both assesses the power and importance of these human-centred hearings, and also contrasts this approach to that of previous inquiries: namely, Hillsborough.
It would appear that lessons are being learned, slowly but surely, about how vital it is for bureaucratic bodies to embrace the profound emotions that these tragedies incite.
“It’s… a day when we say no more. No more to doctors telling their patients there’s nothing can be done for them in their own country, no more lonely journeys across the Irish Sea, no more stigma as the veil of secrecy is lifted and no more isolation as the burden of shame is gone.”
On Friday May 25, the Republic of Ireland went to the polls for a referendum on whether to overturn or maintain the Eighth Amendment. Put into the constitution in 1983, The Eighth Amendment granted an equal right to life to a pregnant mother and her unborn child. This effectively outlawed abortion, except when a woman’s life was at risk, except in cases of rape, incest or fatal foetal abnormality. A closely-fought campaign in the majority Roman Catholic country resulted in a landslide win for the repeal side with voters overwhelmingly voting to overturn the abortion ban by 66.4% to 33.6%.
Having campaigned in favour of liberalisation, the taoiseach (prime minister), Leo Varadkar said that it was “a historic day for Ireland,” and that a “quiet revolution” had taken place. Speaking to crowds at Dublin Castle as the results were revealed, he said that the result showed the Irish public “trust and respect women to make their own decision and choices.”
The vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment will have repercussions for women north of the border and the current UK Government. Northern Ireland now has the strictest abortion laws in the UK, where cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality are not considered grounds for a legal termination. Theresa May is being urged to act on NI’s strict laws as they reportedly breach human rights conventions, but her hands are tied by her union with the staunchly pro-life DUP.
“British supermarkets are selling thousands of tonnes of avocados produced in a Chilean region where villagers claim vast amounts of water are being diverted, resulting in a drought.”
The UK’s insatiable appetite for avocados marches on relentlessly. In 2016 more than 17,000 tonnes were imported from Chile, and in 2017 alone demand in the UK increased by 27%. Approximately 67% of these avocados come from Petorca in the Valparaiso region.
Tasty, nutritious and a good source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, it’s easy to see why demand for avocados is skyrocketing. But there’s a serious downside to our appetite for the fruit that should’ve gone extinct with the dinosaurs. Villagers in Petorca claim that vast amounts of water are being diverted illegally by avocado plantations, resulting in a regional drought. Many avocado plantations install illegal pipes and wells in order to divert water from rivers to irrigate their crops, causing rivers to dry up and groundwater levels to fall, condemning residents to drinking often contaminated water delivered by truck.
It takes two thousand litres of water to produce just one kilo of avocados. According to the Water Footprint Network, this is four times the amount of water needed to produce a kilo of oranges, and 10 times what is needed to produce a kilo of tomatoes.
Sadly this is yet another example of the unsustainability of our current food production and consumption habits and it’s unlikely to change unless we radically rethink what goes on our plates.
“Since 2000, the world has doubled its coal-fired power capacity to 2,000 gigawatts (GW) after explosive growth in China and India. Another 200GW is being built and 450GW is planned.”
The talented team at Carbon Brief have spent hundreds of hours compiling an extraordinary data visualisation of the worrying growth of coal-fired power station in the world’s largest developing economies. Sobering viewing for those of us that had hoped fossil fuels were finally on the wane.
“Break your identification with the dominant culture, remember your loyalty to the planet that gave you life.” — Derrick Jensen
The new issue of Weapons of Reason is so close we can almost taste it — the files went off to the printers at the beginning of last week and now we’re just sitting back waiting for the magazines to arrive. While we all wait, why not catch up with all our past issues over on Medium, where you can read the Arctic, Megacities, Ageing and Power issues for free. You can find the above nugget of wisdom from Derrick Jensen in our Power issue.
“The single biggest pollution problem facing our ocean is microfiber: trillions of pieces of tiny fibers flowing into the ocean — every time we use our washing machines.”
Big problem, simple solution. The Cora Ball is an easy-to-use laundry ball that is thrown in the washer and dryer to catch microplastic particles before they enter our waterways. The fish are going to thank you!
The Reason Review aims to go beyond the headlines and find the stories and angles the newspapers have missed. We give you the extra context behind the bigger stories, explain to you why some seemingly smaller events matter and offer you something more interesting and informative than the simple facts.