A Flag Day That Will Live In…We’re Not Quite Sure What

Scrolling through our Twitter feed on Tuesday, June 14th—our No. 1 choice of distractions while avoiding productive work—we encountered a tweet from @newtgingrich. “Did you know in 1949 National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress?” it asked. “Find out more at http://flagpoleoffreedom.com.”

Unable to resist, we clicked and were astonished. In the midst of a broad vista of low, forested hills, fringed off in the distance by blue ocean waters, rose a flagpole of such gigantic proportions that, in comparison, the treetops below might as well have been some grassy greensward—or, considering the oversized golden finial atop the pole, a golf course branded with the name of a certain former would-be despot.

Flagpole of Freedom

This colossal preposterosity [see photo at right] will, according to its promoters, stand 1,461 feet high, and be “the tallest flagpole in the world, waving the largest American flag ever flown….At 74,048 square feet—the equivalent area of almost 1-1/2 football fields.”

Since the chosen site is atop a hill that stands 315 feet above sea level, the maximum elevation of the whole shebang will be exactly 1,776 feet. Sadly, that patriotic feature will be gradually eroded by sea level rise, but a myriad of other features should compensate for that: The Village of Old Glory, six Halls of History….

What lucky locale will be graced by this immense symbol of America’s overwhelming and unstoppable…American-ness? Columbia Falls, Maine, pop. 476. It’s just a brief four-hour trek up Route 1 from Portsmouth—on a good day.

One might wonder how such an obscure spot got picked for this high honor. Apparently for convenience, by and large. The promoters are the Worcester family, proprietors of the Worcester Wreath Company in nearby Harrison, Maine.

For a couple of decades, Worcester Wreath’s primary business had been to supply seasonal greenery to L.L. Bean. That arrangement ended in 2008, when the U.S. economy briefly stood revealed for the sham that it was.

As it happens, Worcester Wreath had been laying its unsold wreaths on veterans’ graves at Arlington National Cemetery since 1992. In 2005, a Pentagon photographer happened to take a wide shot of hundreds of snow-covered graves decorated by wreathes. Appearing during the Christmas season, in the midst of the Global War on Terror, the photo brought global attention to the gesture.

That increased interest seems to have prompted the formation of a 501(c)3 non-profit called Wreathes Across America. The organization, run by members of the Worcester family, solicits donations to purchase wreathes from Worcester Wreath which are then placed on veterans’ graves across the country.

The Portland Press Herald reported in 2018 that Wreathes Across America’s annual revenues had risen from $227,000 in 2011 to $14.6 million in 2017. “Wreaths Across America paid $10.3 million—70 percent of its revenue—last year to Worcester Wreath for about 1 million circles of balsam…. In five years the company has nearly tripled its business from the nonprofit.”

The total cost of the Flagpole of Freedom Park is estimated at $1 billion, give or take. No word on how much of that will go to greenery.


Tens of thousands of visitors strolled through the streets of Portsmouth on Saturday, June 11th, as Market Square Day resumed its traditional place in the city’s annual roster of events. According to our Wandering Photographer, the percentage of them wearing masks was statistically insignificant. Based on the official seven-day average, approximately 277 residents across New Hampshire contracted Covid that same day.


“Unknown Territory”: Antarctic Glaciers Melting at Rate Unprecedented in 5,500 Years: Study

by Julia Conley

The human-caused climate crisis is pushing crucial glaciers in Antarctica to lose ice at a rate not seen in more than 5,000 years, according to a new study published Thursday.

Researchers at the University of Maine, the British Antarctic Survey, and Imperial College London found that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could cause global sea level rise of up to 3.4 meters, or over 11 feet, in the next several centuries due to their accelerated rate of ice loss.

The glaciers—one of which, the Thwaites, has been called the “doomsday glacier” by climate scientists because of its potential to raise sea levels—are positioned in a way that allows increasingly warm ocean water to flow beneath them and erode the ice sheet from the base, causing “runaway ice loss,” the University of Maine team said in a statement.

The researchers examined penguin bones and seashells on ancient Antarctic beaches in order to analyze changes in local sea levels since the mid-Holocene period, 5,500 years ago.

Sea levels were higher and glaciers were smaller during the mid-Holocene, as the climate of the planet was warmer than it is today.

Since then, according to the study published in Nature Geoscience, relative sea levels have fallen steadily and the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers have stayed relatively stable—until recent decades.

Ice loss was likely accelerated just prior to the mid-Holocene, and since then, the rate of relative decrease in sea levels over the past 5,500 years was almost five times smaller than it is in present day, due to “recent rapid ice mass loss,” according to the scientists.

“That the present-day rate of glacier retreat has doubled over the past 30 years is, indeed, unprecedented,” wrote Caroline Brogan, a science reporter at Imperial College.

With the Thwaites spanning an area of more than 74,000 square miles and the Pine Island glacier spanning more than 62,600 square miles, the rapid ice loss of the two glaciers could cause major rises in sea levels around the globe.

Dylan Rood of Imperial College’s Department of Earth Science and Engineering, a co-author of the study, likened the two glaciers to arteries that have burst.

“These currently elevated rates of ice melting may signal that those vital arteries from the heart of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet have been ruptured, leading to accelerating flow into the ocean that is potentially disastrous for future global sea level in a warming world,” said Rood. “Is it too late to stop the bleeding?”

The study follows increasingly urgent calls from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency, and climate scientists around the world for an end to fossil fuel extraction, which is needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and limit the average global temperature from rising more than 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.

Scientists have warned that the accelerated melting of the Thwaites glacier is likely irreversible.

“We’re going into unknown territory,” Scott Braddock, a researcher at University of Maine, told Science News. “We don’t have an analog to compare what’s going on today with what happened in the past.”

This work appeared originally at CommonDreams.org. It is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.


“Deny, Deceive, Delay”: How “Evolving” Disinformation Tactics Stymie Climate Action

by Jessica Corbett

Leading up to the next global climate summit in November, a report released last Thursday uses climate mis- and disinformation related to last year’s conference to spotlight emerging strategies that impede action and to offer Big Tech and government clear solutions.

“Far from helping to mitigate this issue, tech platform systems appear to be amplifying or exacerbating the spread of such content.”

The report—entitled “Deny, Deceive, Delay: Documenting and Responding to Climate Disinformation at COP26 and Beyond”—was published by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the coalition Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD).

ISD and CAAD point out that institutions worldwide recognize misinformation as a barrier to action, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did in a February report underscoring the need for governments—particularly those of rich nations—to improve their responses to the planetary emergency.

“Rhetoric and misinformation on climate change and the deliberate undermining of science have contributed to misperceptions of the scientific consensus, uncertainty, disregarded risk and urgency, and dissent,” the IPCC report states. “Additionally, strong party affiliation and partisan opinion polarization contribute to delayed mitigation and adaptation action, most notably in the U.S.… but with similar patterns in Canada.”

As the new publication’s executive summary explains, “Drawing on research compiled over the past 18 months, and especially in the margins and aftermath of COP 26, we have clear evidence of the challenge at hand: The failure to stem mis- and disinformation online has allowed junk science, climate delayism, and attacks on climate figures to become mainstreamed.”

“Our analysis has shown how a small but dedicated community of actors boast disproportionate reach and engagement across social media, reaching millions of people worldwide and bolstered by legacy print, broadcast, and radio outlets,” the report continues. Such actors include right-wing figures Dinesh D’Souza and Sebastian Gorka, self-described “Greenpeace dropout” Patrick Moore, University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, the Canadian group Friends of Science, and the media company PragerU.

“Far from helping to mitigate this issue, tech platform systems appear to be amplifying or exacerbating the spread of such content,” the document adds. “Moreover, the taxonomy of harm relating to climate mis- and disinformation has been poorly defined to date, providing an inadequate basis for response.”

Jennie King, head of climate disinformation at ISD, said in a statement Thursday that “our analysis has shown that climate disinformation has become more complex, evolving from outright denial into identifiable ‘discourses of delay’ to exploit the gap between buy-in and action.”

The report warns that “even with broad consensus on the issue of climate, there is a long road ahead to achieving meaningful policy change in line with IPCC warnings and the goals of the Paris agreement,” and those opposed to bold moves scientists say are necessary—such as phasing out fossil fuels—focus on that gap to “maintain the status quo.”

As the document details:

“Arguments framed as ‘pro-green’ can still advocate for inertia or inactivism, often using the veneer of fiscal pragmatism, free market logic, and concerns about individual liberty. In this way, environmentalism has followed policy issues like migration and public health as a new front in the culture wars, becoming ever-more enmeshed in broader identity and grievance politics. Whether through conspiracies like ‘climate lockdown,’ or by conflating climate with divisive issues like critical race theory, LGBTQ+ rights, and abortion access, the goal of much climate change mis- and/or disinformation is now to distract and delay. Yet, with the window to act deemed ‘brief and rapidly closing,’ such an approach may prove fatal.”

Social media monitoring by CAAD during and after COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland revealed four key discourses of delay—hypocrisy and elitism, absolutionism, unreliability of renewables, and ineffective electric vehicles—though the report acknowledges that “such narratives are not always clear-cut and in some cases overlap.”

King said that “governments and social media platforms must learn the new strategies at play and understand that disinformation in the climate realm has increasing crossover with other harms, including electoral integrity, public health, hate speech, and conspiracy theories.”

“We’ve proposed seven concrete measures they can take to thwart the prominence and impact of this content, in order to build public mandates based on credible science and good-faith debate,” she noted.

Those seven “policy asks” are:

• Implement a unified definition of climate mis- and disinformation within key institutions (e.g. IPCC, UNFCCC) and reflect these criteria in tech company community standards or terms of service;

• Enforce platform policies against “repeat offender” accounts;

• Limit media exemption loopholes within legislation;

• Improve transparency on climate disinformation trends and the role played by algorithmic amplification;

• Strengthen platform labeling on “missing context” and the re-posting of old or recycled content;

• Restrict paid advertising and sponsored content from fossil fuel companies, known front groups, and/or actors repeatedly found to spread disinformation around climate; and

• Enable API image-based searches to support research on viral disinformation.

“While climate misinformation continues to evolve and undermine the work of well-meaning companies, NGOs, and government bodies, those same institutions are often fighting against it like we are still in the 1990s,” declared Stop Funding Heat campaign manager Sean Buchan. “We need to catch up fast. We hope this report will help kickstart a step change in how we come together and fight this incredibly dangerous problem.”

Michael Khoo, co-chair of the Climate Disinformation Coalition at Friends of the Earth U.S., emphasized that “governments must require social media companies to be transparent and accountable about the harms their products create, as they do with every other industry from airlines to cars to food processing.”

As Khoo put it: “We should not continue this endless game of climate denial whack-a-mole.”

This work appeared originally at CommonDreams.org. It is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

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