Facebook Is Testing a News Feed Without Posts From Publishers
Facebook is testing out a change to its news feed that would essentially require publishers to pay to promote their posts in order to be featured there.
Where Amazon Alexa Is Headed Next
Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa is everywhere. Or at least it seems like it.
This week, she made her debut with high-end wireless speaker-maker Sonos, in the $200 Sonos One. Through a partnership with Amazon and GPS navigation leader Garmin, you can also use Alexa in the car now, with the $150 Garmin Speak. (While you can use the device for any typical Alexa query, it’s especially designed for guiding you to your destination hands- and distraction-free.) And in a blog post today, Intel announced that it would help make it easier for third-party companies to integrate Alexa into their smart home products through its Intel Voice Enablement Developer Kit.
“A quality voice interaction means devices identify the speaker’s location, mitigate and suppress ambient noise, and understand spoken commands on the mics, even while playing music,” Miles Kingston, Intel’s smart home group general manager, wrote in the company’s blog post. “There’s a lot of engineering involved in getting speech recognition at high degrees of speed and accuracy.”
Until now, Alexa’s mostly been a homebody. Amazon started with the Echo, a cylindrical smart home speaker that debuted in 2015. While it doesn’t look like much, the LED-ringed device works with a companion smartphone app to bring you customized news, music, jokes, sports stats, and more. All you have to do is ask.
Since then, Amazon has expanded the Echo line. It’s now six devices strong: There’s the pint-sized puck, the Echo Dot; an updated $99 Amazon Echo; the larger, smart home-centric Echo Plus; the Echo Spot, a round device with a screen for video chatting; the Chumby-like Echo Show, which can show you videos and song lyrics on its seven-inch screen; and the camera-laden Echo Look, designed to help you find and document your fashion stylings. In the living room, bedroom, and perhaps the kitchen, Amazon’s got your Alexa bases covered.
With this Intel announcement, though, developers will much more easily be able to add Alexa to their products. And between this and other partnerships, we’re going to start hearing Alexa in a variety of new places and situations. For instance:
Let’s be real: I want some music during a shower. I also want to see the lyrics to the music I’m listening to (because you can’t expect me to remember the words to Tubthumping at 6 a.m.). So, the natural space for Alexa’s next home takeover is the bathroom. It will need to be waterproof, and it gives Amazon—or whatever third party ends up tackling this—a creative opportunity in designing a mount that positions the speaker where I won’t hit it with my arms or head, yet can also see my Chumbawumba lyrics.
Maybe speakers aren’t your thing, or maybe you’re just too mobile for Alexa’s current stylings to suit your needs. Like Siri being built into Apple’s AirPods and the Google Assistant-imbued Pixelbuds, Alexa will come to headphones and earbuds. And she actually is: headphone-maker Bragi is adding Alexa to its The Dash and The Dash Pro models with a software update this month. A company called ONvocal is also working on a pair of earphones with Alexa built-in. The world is turning into a scene from Her.
You can set an Echo in the kitchen—that’s where mine lives—but right now, it’s not truly optimized to be a culinary companion. Samsung, LG, and other kitchen appliance-makers have been adding screens, smart home connectivity, and app compatibility to their newest appliances for years, but the implementation has always felt awkward, or lacking in some way. With Alexa onboard, these “smart” appliances could finally integrate with the rest of your home gadgets in a way that makes sense. Imagine going to the grocery store and asking, “Alexa, do I need to buy more milk?” and she knows.
The House Itself
Is it listening? Yes, it’s always listening, because you built a home with an Alexa-based security system. (What were you thinking? This sounds like a security nightmare.) In truth, a variety of home security companies such as ADT already integrate with Alexa. You can use her to arm or disarm the system in your home, and control your lights, locks, and garage door. However, these security systems merely use Alexa (through the Alexa app and Echo products) as an additional means of control. It’s not built into the system itself. This still screams “nightmare” to me—imagine a thief breaking in, telling a virtual assistant to disarm, Alexa complying, and then proceeding to rob your home—but at least you can unplug an Echo.
Clearly, there’s room for Alexa's presence to expand, both in your home, and out into the world. And with more third-party product integrations on the horizon, be prepared: We haven’t hit peak Alexa just yet. She’s going to make her way into scenarios that could be incredibly useful—like the kitchen—as well as ones that are far less so.
But mostly, I’m excited for the shower speaker.
What to Make of the Leaked Audio From Facebook’s Security Chief
Leaked audio from an internal Facebook meeting in July caught Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief security officer, discussing his apparent qualms with the security of the social media giant’s corporate network.
Netizen Report: Will Egypt’s Jailed Bloggers Ever See Justice?
The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Mong Palatino, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
On Oct. 19, Egypt’s highest court of appeal postponed the trial of prominent activist and blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah to Nov. 8. The 36-year-old father and husband was a leading voice in the 2011 protests that helped to overthrow former president Hosni Mubarak.
Abd El Fattah is currently serving a five-year jail term for violating Egypt’s protest law, which prohibits public demonstrations without prior authorization by police. He has already served three and a half years of his sentence. In Thursday’s hearing on the newer charges, the judge withdrew from Alaa’s case and referred it to another circuit. As the reason, he cited “embarrassment,” without providing any further clarifications. Abd El Fattah is being prosecuted for taking part in a protest denouncing military trials of civilians on November 2013. Although several people were arrested for participating in the demonstration, all of them—apart from Abd El Fattah—have since been released or pardoned.
In yet another case, Abd El Fattah faces an additional jail term for “insulting” the judiciary over a tweet that criticized Egypt’s justice system for its lack of independence. This charge stems from comments he made during a controversial 2013 trial in which 43 nongovernmental organization workers were sentenced to prison after they were found guilty of defaming the Egyptian judiciary.
In 2016, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Alaa’s detention is “arbitrary” and identified several irregularities in his trial. “Mr. Abd El Fattah has not been guaranteed the international norms of due process and guarantees to a fair trial,” the group said.
Since Egypt’s 2013 military coup—which ended the rule of elected President Mohamed Morsi and brought to power general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—thousands of activists, journalists, and protesters have been imprisoned. Human rights groups say 60,000 political prisoners are languishing in jail under Egypt’s flawed justice system. Violations under the system include ill treatment, arrests without warrants, lengthy pretrial detentions, mass trials, military trials, and a disturbing rise in death sentences.
In another prominent case in Egypt, the trial of photographer Mahmoud Abu Zeid (known as Shawkan) was once again postponed. Shawkan, who has been in pretrial detention for five years, will appear before court again Oct. 24. He was arrested in August 2013 while photographing Egyptian security officers using undue force against protesters who were opposing the ousting of Morsi.
While the Egyptian government has taken a harsh approach toward public protest, its tactics for monitoring the activities of human rights and democracy activists extend deeply into the digital realm. Since the protests of 2011, there has been significant evidence that Egyptian state actors have used technical surveillance in order to target activists. The German government has reportedly canceled a security training for Egyptian police in monitoring cyber crimes and extremist content. According to the Associated Press, the German government decided to cancel the training for fear that the police would use acquired skills to monitor citizens who have no connection to organized crime.
New evidence of web censorship paints a bleak picture in Malaysia, India, Pakistan
According to the New Delhi-based Software Freedom Law Centre, more than 23,000 URLs are currently censored in India. The independent advocacy and research group obtained this information through a right to information request, which was fulfilled by the Cyber Laws and E-Security Group under Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology Group.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Commission reported at an open meeting last week that telecommunications operators have blocked 5,044 URLs since 2015 at the commission’s behest. The majority of those websites, according to the commission, were pornographic, obscene, or “seditious.”
And in Pakistan, a group of independent researchers from Islamabad NGO Bytes for All and the Open Observatory for Network Interference documented more than 200 censored URLs. Commenting on the findings, Digital Rights Foundation Executive Director and Global Voices member Nighat Dad said,
The filtration technology has been there for a while in Pakistan and I think back in 2011 or 2012 there was a report on Pakistan’s internet exchange gateway and they learnt about the filtration method and how to block websites—it has always been there. It doesn’t come as a surprise that 210 URLs were blocked. … I’m sure if you test all of those available in the country there must be several hundred URLs blocked.
No more Skyping in Qatar
The U.S.-based video and voice calling application Skype confirmed that it is blocked in Qatar. In a statement, the service, which is owned by Microsoft, said there is “very little Skype can do about this situation.” According to Doha News, users in Qatar started reporting issues when trying to use Voice Over IP services including WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, and FaceTime back in August. Neither regulators nor the country’s two telecom operators, Ooredoo and Vodafone, explained the reason for the suspension of services.
In other countries, regulators have blocked VoIP services in efforts to force customers to pay long-distance call fees to local telecom operators rather than use services like Skype or WhatsApp, which operate on internet infrastructure and typically come at no additional cost to the customer.
Japan’s “election hate speech” database
A Japanese group known as the Anti-Racism Information Center recently launched a website called the “2017 House of Representatives Election Hate Speech Politicians Database.” The site purports to contain information about dozens of hateful, discriminatory statements made by various active politicians running for re-election.
The importance of being verified
Iranian human rights defenders and journalists have reported challenges getting help from social media companies when they face harassment and hacking on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Obtaining verified status can provide users additional protections against false reporting and politically driven flagging of content, but Iranian users told Global Voices researcher Simin Kargar that they faced challenges obtaining verified status even after sending the required documentation. Additionally, there is no information available in Farsi on how to obtain verification or to guide users on reporting and documenting harassment on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
- “Internet Censorship in Pakistan”—Open Observatory of Network Interference
- “Building Trust: Towards a Legal Framework that Protects Personal Data in Lebanon”—Social Media Exchange
- “Big Data From the South”—Datactive
Google, Facebook, and Twitter Have No Excuse for Letting Russia Meddle in the 2016 Election
The ad opens with a woman with a heavy French accent welcoming viewers to visit the Islamic State of France, where French school children are trained to defend the caliphate and the Mona Lisa is redressed in a burka. This fictional tourism video, which was shown online to voters in key swing states leading up to the 2016 election, was part of an ad campaign by the group Secure America Now, an advocacy group dedicated to inspiring fear and bigotry against Muslims and defeating Hilary Clinton, according to a report published Wednesday by Bloomberg.
Secure America Now reportedly paid both Google and Facebook millions in ad dollars for the ad campaign. But the tech companies didn’t just passively accept the funds. Google’s elections team worked directly with Secure America Now and Harris Media, the media firm that produced the ads, to make sure they hit their targeted audiences. Facebook took its assistance a step further and used the Secure America Now ad campaign to test a brand new vertical video feature, even building a case study on the campaign to test the performance of the vertical format. That case study, as Bloomberg reported, measured response to 12 different versions of a video called “Are We Safe?”, which superimposes photos of Muslims who have committed terrorist attacks in the U.S. over scenes of bright and sunny small-town America.
Watch the fake-tourism video from Secure America Now:
All of which means Facebook and Google both knew that their ad tools were being used by hateful groups in an effort to deepen political divides and stoke dangerous xenophobic sentiments in the run-up to the election. And all the posturing over the past few weeks, from Facebook in particular—suggesting the Russian-bought ads and fake news that proliferated on the website in the run-up to the election was difficult to foresee, isn’t exactly true.
The ads run by Secure America Now were fake tourism videos, perhaps obviously parody to some, but to others who aren’t as familiar with the hallmarks of a Parisian vacation, maybe not. The ads appear directly intended to stoke fear and prejudice between non-Muslims and Muslims before one of the most politically polarizing elections in modern U.S. history. And that’s not much different from what many of the Russian ads were looking to accomplish: pitting Americans against one another before Election Day.
Meanwhile, it took Twitter 11 months to shut down a Russian troll account pretending to represent the Tennessee Republic Party after it was flagged by the state’s actual Republican Party, according to a report Thursday from BuzzFeed. During that 11-month period, the real state GOP reported the fake account three times. By the time it was shut down in August, it had amassed around 136,000 followers. That account peddled fake news and intentionally hurtful and corrosive messages. For instance, BuzzFeed describes a tweet that claimed that an unarmed black man who was killed by the police deserved to die.
As we learn more about the role that massive online platforms played in manipulating Americans before Election Day 2016, the executives at the helms of these companies are losing cover. Facebook and Google helped Secure America Now use their ad tools to promote hate, push deceitful news, and rile Americans, and they profited generously. Twitter ignored warnings. Now all three companies have confirmed they will participate in a public hearing before Congress on Nov. 1 about the role their platforms played in the alleged Russian campaign to tilt the election. And it’s hard to imagine what kind of public-relations-speak they’ll use to try to claw themselves out of this one, since the hole they’ve dug for themselves keeps getting deeper.
Native American Tribe Helping Supercomputer Company Sue Amazon and Microsoft
A Native American tribe has sued Amazon and Microsoft for patent infringement.
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe recently acquired supercomputer patents from SRC Labs, which is a co-plaintiff with the tribe in the suits. The deal is a part of a legal gambit that involves the tribe invoking its right to sovereign immunity, a U.S. doctrine dictating that sovereign bodies cannot have civil suits brought against them. Sovereign immunity may allow SRC and the tribe to prevent a counter-challenge from Microsoft and Amazon on the patents, or challenges from any other company that wants to sue.
The Mohawk Tribe, which governs the American side of a reservation that spans the U.S.-Canada border, has been making headlines over the last couple months for its novel involvement in patent disputes. On Sept. 8, the pharmaceutical company Allergan announced that it would be transferring its patents for Restasis, a dry-eye drug, to the tribe. The tribe would then invoke its right to sovereign immunity to swat away intellectual property challenges, and then lease the patents back to Allergan. In exchange, Allergan agreed to provide the tribe with an initial $13.75 million, along with an additional $15 million for every year the patents are viable.
The deal, however, received bipartisan skepticism from Congress, and a federal judge invalidated the patents on Monday. He further lambasted the company’s deal with the Mohawk Tribe as a ruse to “rent” sovereign immunity, though he did not rule on whether the deal itself was legal. Allergan plans to appeal.
The tribe itself has characterized its foray into the scrappy business of intellectual property as a way to diversify its revenue stream and become more self-reliant. In an FAQ on these patent endeavors, the tribe wrote, “the Tribal Council has indicated that it would allocate the money to benefit tribal members through enhancing government services (health, welfare, education, housing and other services).”
The tribe also noted that it will soon execute a third patent agreement with another company.
This Boulder City Council Candidate Wants People to Tell Him How to Vote—Using an App
Camilo Casas’ campaign for the Boulder City Council hinges on a single question: What if you could directly influence your representative’s vote with a few taps of your smartphone? Casas wants to offer voters that opportunity with Parti.vote, a “liquid democracy” platform of his own design that would allow residents of Colorado’s yuppiest city to directly influence Casas’ actions on the city council. As with most tech-meets-world solutions, it has aspirational potential but also serious pitfalls.
In Casas’ single campaign video, he explains his goal of “bringing to democratic participation into the digital era.” Here’s how the Parti.vote system would work, should Casas be elected. After his team had verified a user’s identity, Parti.vote would allow Boulderites to cast a ballot on any issue up for a vote before the council. Casas, regardless of his personal opinions, would vote in accordance with the majority of the app’s users. And Parti.vote would come with a delegate system, so constituents could entrust their votes to another user, as well as an auto-vote feature that would align them with a chosen council member.
Casas, a 32-year-old Oxford graduate, explains in the video that his platform addresses what he sees as a mismatch between voters’ dissatisfaction with local government and actual engagement with their representatives. While Casas is one of the first public officials in America to run on the promise of an app, the fundamental idea behind Parti.vote—the marriage of tech and liquid democracy—has cropped up in other countries, like Argentina (where Partido de la Red, or “the Net Party,” has created the DemocracyOS open-source website) or Australia (in 2016, the Flux Party backed 13 candidates but gained only a sliver of the vote). Hollie Russon-Gilman, a fellow in New America’s Open Technology and Political Reform Program, said in an email, “The Casas proposal is exciting, because the United States is in need of interventions and experiments in democracy.” (Disclosure: New America is a partner with Slate and Arizona State University in Future Tense.) Liquid democracy, in its ideal, presents a way to shake off the influence of big donors and political calculations on American politics.
In an interview with the Daily Camera, a local publication, Casas said that it’s a well-suited incubator for liquid democracy. “It’s here or Palo Alto or Berkeley, basically,” he says. And demographically, Boulder might be optimal (organic, of course) soil for tech-boosted liquid democracy to sprout. Thanks to the University of Colorado Boulder—nearly 25,700 of its students reside in the city proper—Boulder skews young (and by extension, tech-savvy); nearly one-third of its population are between 15 and 24. The wealthy mountainside city’s also the site of a $131 million new Google campus and ranks third in the U.S. in entrepreneurial density, so it’s not exactly technology-shy.
But while Parti.vote might find users in Boulder, it—like any attempt to completely change the way we hold elected officials accountable—faces some substantial challenges. Russon Gilman says it’s crucial “to ensure that traditionally marginalized viewpoints are empowered to use the app. This requires taking into account who has digital literacy and broadband connectivity.” According to 2016 data from the American Community Survey, 83.5 percent of residents have a smartphone—but that still leaves people behind. Additionally, since the liberal haven of Boulder is strikingly homogenous—88.1 percent identified themselves as white in a 2016 survey—a liquid democracy platform might not offer minority groups like Boulder’s people of color much of a say in issues that could disproportionately impact them. And as the ongoing fallout of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election shows, ensuring the security of any political app is critically important.
Casas himself admits the odds of him winning are slim. He’s one of 14 people running for five open seats and has a bare-bones online presence. (At the time of publication, Casas’ video had fewer than 800 views.) But a central goal in his campaign is simply to introduce the idea of liquid democracy as viable.
It might be catching on, thanks in part to an article from Motherboard, Vice’s tech site, that got some heat on Reddit. Boulder voter Cha Cha Spinrad wrote to the Daily Camera that she supported Casas because he “doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t. He doesn’t pretend to have opinions on things he doesn’t care about. I am drawn to politicians who aren't politicians, rather honest people who want to positively impact their community.” Her language recalls the fed-up-with-Washington-insiders frustration that helped sweep Trump into the White House, transposed to a Birkenstock-wearing, Sanders-sticker-toting city. Maybe she sees, in Casas’ vision of liquid democracy on your smartphone, a tech-utopian solution.
Google’s A.I. Has Made Some Pretty Huge Leaps This Week
When DeepMind’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence defeated Lee Sedol, the Korean Go champion, for the first time last year, it stunned the world. Many, including Sedol himself, didn’t expect an AI to have mastered the complicated board game, but it won four out of five matches—proving it could compete with the best human players. More than a year has passed, and today’s AlphaGo makes last year’s version seem positively quaint.
Google’s latest AI efforts push beyond the limitations of their human developers. Its artificial intelligence algorithms are teaching themselves how to code and how to play the intricate, yet easy-to-learn ancient board game Go.
This has been quite the week for the company. On Monday, researchers announced that Google’s project AutoML had successfully taught itself to program machine learning software on its own. While it’s limited to basic programming tasks, the code AutoML created was, in some cases, better than the code written by its human counterparts. In a program designed to identify objects in a picture, the AI-created algorithm achieved a 43 percent success rate at the task. The human-developed code, by comparison, only scored 39 percent on the task.
On Wednesday, in a paper published in the journal Nature, DeepMind researchers revealed another remarkable achievement. The newest version of its Go-playing algorithm, dubbed AlphaGo Zero, was not only better than the original AlphaGo, which defeated the world’s best human player in May. This version had taught itself how to play the game. All on its own, given only the basic rules of the game. (The original, by comparison, learned from a database of 100,000 Go games.) According to Google’s researchers, AlphaGo Zero has achieved superhuman-level performance: It won 100–0 against its champion predecessor, AlphaGo.
But DeepMind’s developments go beyond just playing a board game exceedingly well. There are important implications that could positively impact AI in the near future.
“By not using human data—by not using human expertise in any fashion—we’ve actually removed the constraints of human knowledge,” AlphaGo Zero’s lead programmer, David Silver, said at a press conference.
Until now, modern AIs have largely relied on learning from vast data sets. The bigger the data set, the better. What AlphaGo Zero and AutoML prove is that a successful AI doesn’t necessarily need those human-supplied data sets—it can teach itself.
This could be important in the face of our current consumer-facing AI mess. Written by human programmers and taught on human-supplied data, algorithms (such as the ones Google and Facebook use to suggest articles you should read) are subject to the same defects as their human overlords. Without that human interference and influence, future AI’s could be far superior to what we’re seeing employed in the wild today. A dataset can be flawed or skewed—for example, a facial recognition algorithm that has trouble with black faces because their white programmers didn’t feed it a diverse enough set of images. AI, teaching itself, wouldn’t inherently be sexist or racist, or suffer from those kinds of unconscious biases.
In the case of AlphaGo Zero, its reinforcement-based learning is also good news for the computational power of advanced AI networks. Early AlphaGo versions operated on 48 Google-built TPUs. AlphaGo Zero works on only four. It’s far more efficient and practical than its predecessors. Paired with AutoML’s ability to develop its own machine learning algorithms, this could seriously speed up the pace of DeepMind’s AI-related discoveries.
And while playing the game of Go may seem like a silly endeavor for an AI, it actually makes a lot of sense. AlphaGo Zero has to sort through a lot of complicated information to decide what moves to make in a game. (There are approximately 10170 positions you can make on a Go board.) As DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis told the Verge, AlphaGo Zero could be reprogrammed to sort through other kinds of data instead. This could include particle physics, quantum chemistry, or drug discovery. Like with playing Go, AlphaGo Zero could end up uncovering new techniques humans have overlooked or come to conclusions we hadn’t yet explored.
There’s a lot of reason to fear AI, but DeepMind’s AI’s aren’t programming themselves to destroy the human race. They’re programming themselves in a way that will shift some of the tedium off of human developers’ shoulders and look at problems and data sets in a fresh new light. It’s astonishing to think how far AI has come in just the past few years, but it’s clear from this week that progress is going to come even faster now.
Former Tesla Factory Workers Allege Racist Insults and Graffiti in Lawsuit
Three former Tesla employees filed a lawsuit Monday in a California state court alleging that the company’s Fremont factory was a “hotbed for racist behavior.”
Last Month’s Jobs Report Hints at Our Climate-Changed Economy’s Future
After seven years on the up, the U.S. economy took a big hit in September. Some 33,000 jobs were lost, according to the latest monthly report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While there are plenty of factors at play, from the man in the White House to the insistent specter of nuclear war, experts attribute part of the autumnal dip to extreme weather.
Because of natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the government reported, a whopping 1.5 million Americans were unable to work in September. Business owners in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere put new hiring on hold, and many industrial plants in storm-ravaged communities are still offline. But economists say the take-home message is clear: Things will return to normal. As the New York Times reported, economists are certain the U.S. labor market is fundamentally strong.
Some climate change researchers aren’t so certain, though. As “normal” grows nebulous and once-rare weather events become stronger and more frequent, it’s hard not to wonder if September’s inclement job numbers are not a fluke, but a preview.
Moustapha Kamal Gueye of the U.N.’s International Labour Organization says it’s looking like a bit of both. “The question is, ‘How frequent will [external shocks] be in the future?’” he said. “If these happen once in a year, then one could discount it… But if they happen twice, five times a year, in many places around the world?” Well, then they’re not aberrations, they’re a new reality.
Depending on where you live and what kind of work you do, Gueye says this brave new world could look rather different. People who depend heavily on natural resources will be the hardest hit. In fact, they already are. In the Caribbean, at least 2.3 million people work in the $35 billion tourism industry, which largely relies on, well, a natural resource of sorts. This hurricane season has totally upended this crucial sector of the economy, causing cancelled reservations and ravaging infrastructure. Senegal, a coastal African nation which similar relies on tourism dollars, is also seeing a decline in its tourism, due to the diminishment of its major tourist attraction—its beaches—thanks to sea level rise, erosion, and resource mismanagement, as Reuters reported.
Agriculture is also threatened by the both the slow creep and sudden debilitating outbursts of climate change. Many jobs were burned to a crisp in the recent California wine country wildfires, which are increasing in frequency as the West warms. And as overfishing, ocean acidification, and swelling dead zones destroy fish populations, the fishing industry is increasingly imperiled. Because neither the fisherman nor the farmer lives in a vacuum, the other people in their economic ecosystems are threatened. Gone are the bait and tackle salesman, the boat builder, and the shore-side restaurateur. Gone, too, could be a source of protein that 1 billion people rely on.
While nothing looks good, it doesn't actually look all bad. In areas that will be more regularly affected by natural disasters, we could see the rise of a rebuilding gig economy. After Hurricane Katrina, the Times reported, the job market took some time to rebound, but the task of putting New Orleans back together eventually stimulated employment:
Employment gains averaged 249,000 in the six months before the storm. After New Orleans found itself underwater, gains averaged 76,000 over the next couple of months before soaring to 341,000 in November 2005.
These aren’t as desirable as more permanent positions, but remaking damaged cities and disaster-proofing could become big business. As many people slowly trickle out of communities besieged by extreme weather, more resilient communities could see immense growth, stimulating their own climate-caused construction boom.
There’s also the question of the jobs “lost” to a greening economy. Trump campaigned in part on the premise the Paris Climate Accord were a “bad deal” for the country. This framing, that greening the economy is a job killer, is false: There are jobs lost in the fossil fuel industry, but the jobs gained in the renewable energy sector more than make up for that. As of September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, just 52,000 Americans made up the entire coal industry. By contrast, Slate’s Dan Gross reported in June, Tesla was seeking to fill almost 2,000 jobs—and that was just one company. (As of May 2017, more than 800,000 Americans were employed in the renewable energy sector.) Last month, PRI’s The World reported that West Virginia, where many young people thought they’d grow up to be coal miners, are actually finding work in the booming solar energy industry.
As the evidence and cost of climate change is piling up, our president may be willing to put his head in the sand, but ordinary Americans are starting to take notice: A recent poll suggested that 85 percent of Americans say they believe manmade climate change played some role in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Connecting the dots between climate change, natural disasters, and a depressed economy might take time, but as it becomes increasingly apparent, there will be an anxiety to follow. Trump ran on saving our economy—is he willing to acknowledge one of the major threats to it?