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As the planet becomes a smaller, hotter, and more crowded place, unless we change our practices, we will all become more imperiled. Jeffrey D. Sachs is one of the foremost minds in the fields of global economics and international development. His understanding of the combined ramifications of climate change, the growing population, and our increasingly entangled economies is virtually unrivaled.

And as the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a long-time senior advisor to the United Nations, Sachs is uniquely placed to address the challenges facing our world. He brings to bear his savvy analysis as well as knowledge of international economic, environmental, and political issues in The Age Of Sustainable Development.

In his latest book, Sachs addresses the systemic problems of environmental degradation, extreme poverty, and economic injustice, and points the way for policymakers and corporate leaders to begin a new era of sustainable development. But the book is necessary reading not only for politicians and executives, but for all citizens of our troubled little world.

You can purchase the book here.

Global Environmental Threats Caused by Economic Development

One of the most important messages of the field of sustainable development is that humanity has become a serious threat to its own future well-being, and perhaps even its survival, as the result of unprecedented human-caused harm to the natural environment. Gross world product per person, now at $12,000 per person, combined with a global population of 7.2 billion people, means that the annual world output is at least 100 times larger than at the start of the Industrial Revolution. That 240-fold increase in world output (or even a thousandfold increase on particular dimensions of economic activity) results in multiple kinds of damage to the planet. Large-scale economic activity is changing the Earth’s climate, water cycle, nitrogen cycle, and even its ocean chemistry. Humanity is using so much land that it is literally crowding other species off the planet, driving them to extinction.

This crisis is felt by rich and poor alike. In late October 2012, police cars floated down the street in Manhattan during Superstorm Sandy, one of the strongest storms to hit the Eastern Seaboard in modern times. Even if scientists can’t determine whether the storm’s remarkable ferocity was due in part to human-induced climate change, they can determine that human-induced climate change greatly amplified the impact of the storm. As of 2012, the ocean level off the Eastern Seaboard of the United States was roughly one-third of a meter higher than a century earlier, the result of global warming causing a rise in ocean levels around the world. This higher sea level greatly exacerbated the flooding associated with the superstorm.

Superstorm Sandy wasn’t the only climate-related shock to the United States that year. Earlier in the year, U.S. crops suffered major losses as the result of a megadrought and heat wave in the Midwest and western grain-growing regions. Drought conditions have continued to burden some parts of the U.S. West since then, with California in an extreme drought as of 2014.

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Halfway around the world from New York City, also during 2012, Beijing experienced massive flooding that followed especially heavy rains. Bangkok experienced astounding floods in October 2011. Indonesia experienced heavy flooding in early 2014, while Australia suffered another devastating heat wave. All of these events were huge setbacks for both the local and global economy, with loss of life, massive loss of property, billions or even tens of billions of dollars of damage, and disruptions to the global economy. The floods in Bangkok, for example, flooded automobile parts suppliers, shutting down assembly lines in other parts of the world when the parts failed to arrive.

The particular disasters are varied, but it is clear that one broad category — climate-related catastrophes — is rising in number and severity. One major class of climate shocks is known as “hydrometeorological disasters.” These are water- and weather-related disasters, including heavy precipitation, extreme storms, high-intensity hurricanes and typhoons, and storm-related flood surges such as those that swept over Manhattan, Beijing, and Bangkok. Massive droughts cause deadly famines in Africa, crop failures in the United States, and a dramatic increase in forest fires in the United States, Europe, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, and other parts of the world. Other climate-related catastrophes include the spread of diseases and pests that threaten food supplies and the survival of other species.

The frequency and severity of these threats have risen dramatically and are likely to increase still further. Indeed, the reshaping of the Earth’s physical systems — including climate, chemistry, and biology — is so dramatic that scientists have given our age a new scientific name: the Anthropocene. This is a new word that comes from its Greek roots: anthropos, meaning humankind, and cene, meaning epoch or period of Earth’s history. The Anthropocene is the era — our era — in which humanity, through the massive impacts of the world economy, is creating major disruptions of Earth’s physical and biological systems.

From The Age of Sustainable Development by Jeffrey D. Sachs. Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey D. Sachs. Published by Columbia University Press, on March 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

If you enjoyed this excerpt, purchase the full book here.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

Targeting Battleground States

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Former president Donald Trump

By Rami Ayyub and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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