“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Trump Administration Admits Climate Change is Real
But plan to enact environmentally destructive policies anyway.
Amid the media frenzy surrounding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, you may have missed another recent development in the world of politics: the Trump administration's admission that climate change is real.
According to the Washington Post, "In public, President Trump and his deputies have downplayed or outright dismissed rising sea levels, more frequent droughts, and other effects of man-made global warming." Contrastingly, in a 500-page environmental impact statement released last week, the Trump administration projected that on its current course, the planet will warm seven degrees by 2100. According to scientists, that kind of increase in temperature would be disastrous; resulting in extreme heat waves, acidic oceans, and high sea levels.
But, shockingly, the report was not intended as evidence to support funding to combat climate change, but instead meant to defend President Trump's decision to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards for light trucks and cars built after 2020. The report asserts that though this policy would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the fate of the planet is already sealed and fuel efficiency standards make too small of an impact to be consequential.
Michael MacCracken, who was the senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002, said, "The amazing thing they're saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they're saying they're not going to do anything about it."
The report states that the world would have to make massive cuts in carbon emissions to avoid this warming and that, "would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today's levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible."
A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, would exceed the goal set in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, from which Trump is withdrawing the United States. According to the Washington Post, "At those temperatures, scientists describe nothing short of catastrophe." The Guardian sums up the administration's argument well with, "You might as well argue that because you're going to die eventually, there's no reason not to smoke a carton of cigarettes a day."
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