Ugo Bardi, Doug Bolton, Lorraine Chow (2), Countercurrents, Laura Michele Diener, James Dyke, Earth Island Journal, Yessenia Funes,Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, Elizabeth Grossman, Dr. James Hansen, Dilip Hiro, Frank P. Incropera, BDahr Jamail, Adam Klasfeld, Sarah Lazare, Reynard Loki, Patricia Lombroso, Marga Mangione,
Bill McKibben, Jack Mirkinson, Laura Orland,Dr Gideon Polya, Robin Scher, Valerie Schloredt, Larry Schwartz, Ranjan Solomon,Gaither Stewart, Colin Todhunter (2), Sandrine Tranchard, U.S. Forest Service, Andre Vltchek, Eric Zuesse (2)
Ugo Bardi, Trench Warfare In The Climate Wars: No Victory In Sight
Doug Bolton, Honeybees Are Being Killed off in Europe by 57 Different Pesticides, Study Finds
Lorraine Chow, 5 Million Nigerians Oppose Monsanto's Plans to Introduce GMO Cotton and Corn
Lorraine Chow, Erin Brockovich on Oklahoma Earthquakes: ‘It’s Fracking, Let’s Just Be Honest’
Countercurrents, Chomsky And Others Put Forward 'Ideas For Going Forward' In This Crisis-Ridden World
Laura Michele Diener, Meet the Nature-Loving Nuns Who Helped Stop a Kentucky Pipeline (Video)
James Dyke, February Didn't Just Break Climate Change Records – It Totally Obliterated Them
Earth Island Journal, 'Epidemic' of Premature Births Increasingly Linked to Air Pollution
Yessenia Funes, A successful energy transition to renewables could not only rescue the planet but create a more just economy.
Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, Why Justice for Animals Is the Social Movement of Our Time (VIDEO)
Elizabeth Grossman, We've Changed a Life-Giving Nutrient Into a Deadly Pollutant—Can We Change It Back?
Dilip Hiro, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth: A Nuclear Armageddon in the Making in South Asia
Dr. James Hansen, What You Need to Know About the Irreparable Harm of Climate Change (VIDEO)
Frank P. Incropera, How Do Ethical Considerations Inform the Debate on Climate Change?
BDahr Jamail, Climate Disruption in Overdrive: Submerged Cities and Melting That 'Feeds on Itself'
Adam Klasfeld, Seismic Report Links Earthquakes to Fracking
Sarah Lazare, Stunned by February Temperature Spike, Scientists Declare Climate Emergency
Reynard Loki, Thinking About an Ethical Travel Destination Off the Beaten Path? Here Are the Top 10 Places to Visit Now.
Patricia Lombroso, Chomsky: Republicans Are a Danger to the Human Species
Marga Mangione, PAR LA PAIX The peace… Paz ... Мир ...
Bill McKibben, Global Warming's Terrifying New Chemistry
Jack Mirkinson, The Media’s Biggest 2016 Failure Isn’t Donald Trump: It’s Ignoring the ‘Profound Crisis’ of Climate Change
Laura Orland, Your Water Could Be Worse Than Flint’s: America's Shameful National Public Health Crisis
Dr Gideon Polya, Exposing And Thence Punishing Worst Polluter Nations Via Weighted
Robin Scher, The Future Could Be Pee-Powered: Researchers Design Revolutionary New Fuel Cell That Runs on Urine
Valerie Schloredt, 20 Years in the Making, Great Bear Agreement Protects World’s Largest Temperate Rainforest
Larry Schwartz, Toxic Traps: When These 7 Types of Plastic Are Dangerous
Ranjan Solomon, In The Aftermath Of Brussels - World Needs Peace And Global Justice; Not More Militarism
Gaither Stewart, Russia And America, One Hundred Years Face To Face
Colin Todhunter, The Globalisation Of Bad Food And Poor Health: Sustainable Development or Sustainable Profits?
Colin Todhunter, For Your Own Good! Embedding Transnational Agribusiness And GMOs Into African Agriculture Under The Veil Of Philanthropy
Sandrine Tranchard, How Global Water Standards Save Lives and Create Better Jobs
U.S. Forest Service, How Mountain Streams Could Become a Safe Haven for Many Species Seeking Refuge From Climate Change
Andre Vltchek, Events In Brussels Observed From A Spaceship
Eric Zuesse, Russian Documentary Shows ISIS Documents Of Turkey’s Assistance
Eric Zuesse, U.S. Still Demands Assad’s Removal In Syria.
|Day data received||Theme or issue||Read article or paper|
|March 19, 2016||
Exposing And Thence Punishing Worst Polluter Nations Via Weighted
by Dr Gideon Polya, Countercurrents
The latest shocking global temperature data indicate that it is now too late to avoid a catastrophic plus 2 degrees Centigrade temperature rise. Annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution per se is a flawed measure of national culpability for this because it ignores rich countries outsourcing industrial pollution to
Worsening climate emergency.
Meteorologists Dr Jeff Masters (co-founder of Weather Underground) and Bob Henson have recently commented on a shocking spike in global temperature in February 2016: On Saturday, NASA dropped a bombshell of a climate report. February 2016 has soared past all rivals as the warmest seasonally adjusted month in more than a century of global recordkeeping. NASA's analysis showed that February ran 1.35°C (2.43°F) above the 1951-1980 global average for the month if we add 0.2°C as a conservative estimate of the amount of human-produced warming that occurred between the late 1800s and 1951-1980, then the February result winds up at 1.55°C above average. If we use 0.4°C as a higher-end estimate, then February sits at 1.75°C above average even if we could somehow manage to slash emissions enough to stabilize concentrations of carbon dioxide at their current level, we are still committed to at least 0.5°C of additional atmospheric warming as heat stored in the ocean makes its way into the air. In short, we are now hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2.0°C warming over pre-industrial levels .
David Spratt (co-author with Phillip Sutton of Climate Code Red  and author of the Climate Code Red website) has commented: The 1.35°C figure from NASA is from the norm for February for 1950-1980. The instrumental temperature record goes back to 1880 and early instrumental data and model simulations allow a reasonable estimate for the northern hemisphere for warming since 1750, which is the "pre-industrial" starting point. The record shows 0.3°C warming from ~1900 to the NASA 1950-1980 baseline, and Prof Michael Mann told Climate Code Red that the proxy data shows around another 0.3°C from 1750 to the end of the nineteenth century for the northern hemisphere. "Adding the figures together, we can estimate February 2016 as being around 1.95°C warmer than the 1750 pre-industrial level for the northern hemisphere, and 1.65°C warmer than the beginning of the twentieth century for the planet as a whole", says Mann. "It emphasises the point I have made previously that we have no carbon budget left for the 1.5°C target and the opportunity for holding to 2°C is rapidly fading unless the world starts cutting emissions hard right now . Dr Stefan Rahmstorf, from
The current El Nino phenomenon has no doubt contributed to this temperature spike but major contributors are the remorseless increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) to the highest level and at the highest rate (3.05 ppm CO2 per year) observed since records began [4, 5] and the accelerating increase in atmospheric methane (CH4) . Atmospheric CO2 was increasing at about 0.9 ppm CO2 per year in 1959-1970 but the rate has steadily increased and reached 3.05 ppm per year in 2015 . Atmospheric CO2 (which fluctuates seasonally) reached 400 ppm in 2013 and the peak in 2015 was 400 ppm CO2. In February 2016 it reached 404 ppm CO2 . As determined from ice cores, the atmospheric CO2 concentration has been 180-280 parts per million (ppm) for the last 800,000 years (excluding the last century), during which time Homo sapiens finally evolved (glaciation at low CO2 and inter-glacial periods at high CO2) . Atmospheric CH4 increased in 1983-1998 by up to 13 ppb (parts per billion) per year, increased much more slowly in the period 1999-2006 (up to 3 ppb per year, the 2001-2005 average being 0.5 ppb/year), and has increased more rapidly from 2007 onwards, reaching 12.5 ppb per year in 2014 . Atmospheric CH4 increased to 1,843 ppb CH4 in December 2015 as compared to a pre-Industrial Revolution level of 700 ppb CH4 .
The Global Warming Potential of CH4 is 21 times that of CO2 on a 100 year time frame but is 105 times greater than that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame and taking atmospheric aerosol impacts into account . The IPCC ( the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has released a succession of 5 key reports, the latest being the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5 , 2013) which states that About 450 ppm CO2-eq [is] likely to limit warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels . However in 2013 atmospheric greenhouse gas expert Professor Ron Prinn of 85-Nobel-Laureate MIT stated that we had already reached 478 ppm CO2-equivalent . On a 20 year time frame and considering aerosol impacts, the present CH4 contribution to atmospheric CO2-equivalent (CO2-e) is 105 x 1.843 ppm = 194 ppm CO2-e. Accordingly, the current CO2-e (CH4 + CO2) on this 20 year basis = 404 + 194 = 598 ppm CO2-e.
Urgent international action by legal action, Green Tariffs and Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to constrain the worst polluters.
As outlined above, it is very unlikely that we will aoid a catastrophic plus 2 degrees Centigrade temperature rise, a position espoused by many scientists [11-13]. Indeed the national proposals to the Paris Climate Change Conference failed Humanity by collectively locking in a catastrophic temperature rise of about plus 2.7 degrees C . However we are obliged to urgently do everything we can to make the future for our children, grandchildren and future generations less bad. One major course of action by the international community is to identify the worst polluting countries and to constrain their behaviour through litigation via the International Court of Justice , prosecution of climate criminals via the International Criminal Court, Green tariffs and Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
A first step in identifying the worst national polluters (the worst climate criminal nations) is by determining the annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution for all countries. I have made such a detailed determination that takes the huge contribution of livestock and land use into account , noting that World Bank analysts carefully re-evaluated the contribution of livestock production to world annual greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution and found that the world's annual total rose from 41.76 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent (CO2-e) as estimated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to 63.80 billion tonnes CO2-e, with livestock production contributing over 51% of the higher figure .
However the approach of simply listing all countries in order annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution is flawed because:
(a) it does not fully take into account disproportionate use of limited global resources by rich countries in a present carbon economy;
(b) it ignores the outsourcing by rich countries of high polluting manufacturing to
(c) it is unfair to high GHG polluting but impoverished countries for which fossil fuels, cement, timber, deforestation and livestock are variously key components for basic economic subsistence.
A better way of assessing relative national climate criminality is to also take annual per capita income into account. As described below, I have done this by multiplying the annual per capita greenhouse gas pollution for each country  by a the ratio of the annual per capita GDP (nominal) for each country to the world average (US$10,744) (in nearly all cases UN data, 2014).
Below are listed revised annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution for all countries (tonnes CO2-e per person per year) , the world average being 63.80 billion tonnes CO2-e / 7.137 billion people in 2013 = 8.9 tonnes CO2-e per person per year. These revised estimates take the impact of methanogenic livestock and land use into account, and the data are grouped into (A) countries above the world average, and (B) countries below the world average .
(A) countries above the world average: Belize (366.9), Guyana (203.1), Malaysia (126.0), Papua New Guinea (114.7), Qatar (101.8), Zambia (97.5), Antigua & Barbuda (85.6), United Arab Emirates (82.4), Panama (68.0), Botswana (64.9), Liberia (55.0), Indonesia (53.6), New Zealand (53.2), Australia (52.9; 116 if including its huge GHG-generating exports), Nicaragua (51.2), Canada (50.1), Equatorial Guinea (47.5), Venezuela (45.2), Brazil (43.4), Myanmar (41.9), Ireland (41.4), United States (41.0), Cambodia (40.5), Kuwait (37.3), Paraguay (37.2), Central African Republic (35.7); Peru (34.8), Mongolia (32.2), Singapore (31.2), Bahrain (30.5), Trinidad & Tobago (29.8), Cameroon (29.5), Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire) (29.3), Côte d'Ivoire (29.1), Denmark (27.8), Brunei (27.4), Bolivia (27.3), Guatemala (26.9), Belgium (26.3), Ecuador (26.2), Estonia (25.4), Laos (25.3), Suriname (25.1), Netherlands (24.9), Libya (24.9), Nepal (24.6), Benin (24.5), Angola (23.8), Madagascar (23.7), Argentina (23.7), Uruguay (23.7)*, Luxembourg (23.6), Turkmenistan (23.5), Czech Republic (23.5), Zimbabwe (23.3), Gabon (23.1), Greece (21.9), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (21.5), Cyprus (21.4), Congo, Republic (21.0), Spain (20.9), Finland (20.6), Israel (20.2), Norway (20.1), Colombia (19.8), Namibia (19.8), Mauritania (19.7), South Africa (19.4), Ukraine (19.1), Germany (18.6); France (17.7), Italy (17.6), Uzbekistan (17.5), Costa Rica (17.1), Sudan (16.8), Saudi Arabia (16.6), Slovenia (16.5), Azerbaijan (16.4), Russia (16.2), Sierra Leone (16.2), Slovakia (15.9), Honduras (15.8), Hungary (15.5), Kazakhstan (15.4), Portugal (15.0), Sweden (15.0), Iran (14.5), Iceland (14.2), Mexico (13.9), Oman (13.8), Malta (13.3), Austria (13.0), Poland (12.9), Jamaica (12.8), Palau (12.8), South Korea (12.7), Guinea (12.5), North Korea (12.1), Bahamas (12.1), Nigeria (11.7), Nauru (11.7), Malawi (11.7), Mali (11.6), Chad (11.6), Taiwan (11.6), Latvia (11.4), Vanuatu (11.1), Switzerland (11.0), Romania (10.9), Togo (10.9), Japan (10.7), Serbia & Montenegro (10.4), Seychelles (10.2), Bulgaria (10.1), Lebanon (9.8), Syria (9.4), Tanzania (9.3), Turkey (9.2), Barbados (9.1), Jordan (9.1), Occupied State of Palestine (9.1)*, Philippines (9.0), Guinea-Bissau (9.0);
(B) countries below the world average: Ghana (8.9), Thailand (8.7), Chile (8.7), Fiji (8.7), Belarus (8.6), Sri Lanka (8.5), Macedonia (8.5), Tonga (7.4), Croatia (7.4), China (7.4), Burkina Faso (7.3), Bosnia & Herzegovina (7.2), Kenya (7.1), Dominican Republic (7.1), Senegal (7.0), Tunisia (7.0), Algeria (6.6), Grenada (6.4), Samoa (6.2), Rwanda (6.1), El Salvador (6.0), Lithuania (5.9), Mozambique (5.8), Lesotho (5.7), Burundi (5.5), Iraq (5.5), Eritrea (5.3), St Kitts & Nevis (5.1), Uganda (5.1), Haiti (5.0), Mauritius (5.0), Albania (4.3), Dominica (4.2), Bhutan (4.1), Niger (4.1), Ethiopia (4.1), Moldova (4.0), Georgia (4.0), Yemen (3.7), Tajikistan (3.7), Afghanistan (3.6), Swaziland (3.6), Cuba (3.5), Cape Verde (3.5), Kyrgyzstan (3.4), The Gambia (3.0), St Lucia (2.9), Bangladesh (2.7), Egypt (2.6), Niue (2.6), Pakistan (2.5), Morocco (2.5), Djibouti (2.4), St Vincent & Grenadines (2.4), Armenia (2.3), Maldives (2.1), India (2.1), Cook Islands (2.1), Vietnam (1.9), São Tomé and Príncipe (1.9), Comoros (1.6), Solomon Islands (1.4), Kiribati (1.2), Tuvalu (1.2)* (* estimated from that of a similar, contiguous country) .
Below are listed values for each country of weighted annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution taking per capita GDP (nominal) into account. The annual per capita GHG pollution for each country (see above) has been multiplied by the ratio of the annual per capita GDP (nominal) for each country to the world average (US$10,744). Thus, for example, relatively poor Belize has a world-leading annual per capita GHG pollution of 366.9 tonnes CO2-e per person per year which when multiplied by the ratio of the annual per capita GDP (nominal) for Belize (US$4,831) to that of the world (US$10,744) (i.e. US$4,831/US$10,744 = 0.450) yields a weighted annual per capita GHG pollution of 165.1 tonnes per person per year, with Belize now ranking 10th in the world on this basis.
(A) countries above the world average in annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution: Belize (366.9 x 0.450 = 165.1), Guyana (203.1 x 0.376 = 76.4), Malaysia (126.0 x 1.02 = 128.5), Papua New Guinea (114.7 x 0.207 = 23.7), Qatar (101.8 x 9.08 = 924.3), Zambia (97.5 x 0.160 = 15.6), Antigua & Barbuda (85.6 x 1.28 = 109.6), United Arab Emirates (82.4 x 4.09 = 337.0), Panama (68.0 x 1.18 = 80.2), Botswana (64.9 x 0.663 = 43.0), Liberia (55.0 x 0.045 = 2.5), Indonesia (53.6 x 0.325 = 17.4), New Zealand (53.2 x 4.11 = 218.7), Australia (52.9 x 5.80 = 306.8; if including its huge GHG-generating exports, 116 x 5.80 = 672.8), Nicaragua (51.2 x 0.183 = 9.4), Canada (50.1 x 4.67 = 234.0), Equatorial Guinea (47.5 x 1.90 = 90.3), Venezuela (45.2 x 1.55 = 70.1), Brazil (43.4 x 1.06 = 46.0), Myanmar (41.9 x 0.116 = 4.9), Ireland (41.4 x 4.99 = 206.6), United States (41.0 x 5.05 = 207.1), Cambodia (40.5 x 0.102 = 4.1), Kuwait (37.3 x 4.06 = 151.4), Paraguay (37.2 x 0.440 = 16.4), Central African Republic (35.7 x 0.036 = 1.3); Peru (34.8 x 0.606 = 21.1), Mongolia (32.2 x 0.386 = 12.4), Singapore (31.2 x 5.20 = 162.2), Bahrain (30.5 x 2.31 = 70.5), Trinidad & Tobago (29.8 x 1.93 = 57.5), Cameroon (29.5 x 0.131 = 3.9), Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire) (29.3 x 0.045 = 1.3), Côte d'Ivoire (29.1 x 0.144 = 4.2), Denmark (27.8 x 5.70 = 158.5), Brunei (27.4 x 3.81 = 104.4), Bolivia (27.3 x 0.291 = 7.9), Guatemala (26.9 x 0.342 = 9.2), Belgium (26.3 x 4.41 = 116.0), Ecuador (26.2 x 0.591 = 15.5), Estonia (25.4 x 1.87 = 47.5), Laos (25.3 x 0.163 = 4.1), Suriname (25.1 x 0.901 = 22.6), Netherlands (24.9 x 4.85 = 120.8), Libya (24.9 x 0.614 = 15.3), Nepal (24.6 x 0.064 = 1.6), Benin (24.5 x 0.084 = 2.1), Angola (23.8 x 0.563 = 13.4), Madagascar (23.7 x 0.042 = 1.0), Argentina (23.7 x 1.18 = 28.0), Uruguay (23.7 x 1.56 = 37.0)*, Luxembourg (23.6 x 10.85 = 256.1), Turkmenistan (23.5 x 0.841 = 19.8), Czech Republic (23.5 x 1.81 = 42.5), Zimbabwe (23.3 x 0.090 = 2.1), Gabon (23.1 x 0.96 = 22.2), Greece (21.9 x 1.99 = 43.6), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (21.5 x 4.32 = 92.9), Cyprus (21.4 x 2.43 = 52.0), Congo, Republic (21.0 x 0.291 = 6.1), Spain (20.9 x 2.78 = 58.1), Finland (20.6 x 4.62 = 95.2), Israel (20.2 x 3.56 = 71.9), Norway (20.1 x 9.05 = 181.9), Colombia (19.8 x 0.736 = 14.6), Namibia (19.8 x 0.520 = 10.3), Mauritania (19.7 x 0.119 = 2.3), South Africa (19.4 x 0.579 = 11.2), Ukraine (19.1 x 0.273 = 5.2), Germany (18.6 x 4.46 = 83.0); France (17.7 x 3.98 = 70.4), Italy (17.6 x 3.33 = 58.6), Uzbekistan (17.5 x 0.199 = 3.5), Costa Rica (17.1 x 0.97 = 16.6), Sudan (16.8 x 0.194 = 3.3), Saudi Arabia (16.6 x 2.27 = 37.7), Slovenia (16.5 x 2.23 = 36.8), Azerbaijan (16.4 x 0.727 = 11.9), Russia (16.2 x 1.21 = 19.6), Sierra Leone (16.2 x 0.072 = 1.2), Slovakia (15.9 x 1.72 = 27.3), Honduras (15.8 x 0.228 = 3.6), Hungary (15.5 x 1.30 = 20.2), Kazakhstan (15.4 x 1.16 = 17.9), Portugal (15.0 x 2.06 = 30.9), Sweden (15.0 x 5.48 = 82.2), Iran (14.5 x 0.507 = 7.4), Iceland (14.2 x 4.84 = 68.7), Mexico (13.9 x 0.96 = 13.3), Oman (13.8 x 1.80 = 24.8), Malta (13.3 x 2.35 = 31.3), Austria (13.0 x 4.77 = 62.0), Poland (12.9 x 1.31 = 16.9), Jamaica (12.8 x 0.466 = 6.0), Palau (12.8 x 1.03 = 13.2), South Korea (12.7 x 2.62 = 33.3), Guinea (12.5 x 0.050 = 0.63), North Korea (12.1 x 0.065 = 0.79), Bahamas (12.1 x 2.07 = 25.0), Nigeria (11.7 x 0.298 = 3.5), Nauru (11.7 x 1.66 = 19.4), Malawi (11.7 x 0.032 = 0.37), Mali (11.6 x 0.065 = 0.75), Chad (11.6 x 0.088 = 1.0), Taiwan (11.6 x 2.06 = 23.9), Latvia (11.4 x 1.46 = 16.6), Vanuatu (11.1 x 0.292 = 3.2), Switzerland (11.0 x 7.95 = 87.5), Romania (10.9 x 0.94 = 10.2), Togo (10.9 x 0.060 = 0.65), Japan (10.7 x 3.38 = 36.2), Serbia & Montenegro (10.4 x 0.569 = 5.9), Seychelles (10.2 x 1.47 = 15.0), Bulgaria (10.1 x 0.733 = 7.4), Lebanon (9.8 x 0.823 = 8.1), Syria (9.4 x 0.169 = 1.6), Tanzania (9.3 x 0.089 = 0.83), Turkey (9.2 x 0.96 = 8.8), Barbados (9.1 x 1.43 = 13.0), Jordan (9.1 x 0.450 = 4.1 ), Occupied State of Palestine (9.1 x 0.262 = 2.4)*, Philippines (9.0 x 0.267 = 2.4), Guinea-Bissau (9.0 x 0.063 = 0.57), Sweden (15.0 x 5.48 = 82.2);
(B) countries below the world average in annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution: Ghana (8.9 x 0.129 = 1.1), Thailand (8.7 x 0.556 = 4.8), Chile (8.7 x 1.35 = 11.7), Fiji (8.7 x 0.476 = 4.1), Belarus (8.6 x 0.746 = 6.4), Sri Lanka (8.5 x 0.338 = 2.9), Macedonia (8.5 x 0.508 = 4.3), Tonga (7.4 x 0.383 = 2.8), Croatia (7.4 x 1.25 = 9.3), China (7.4 x 0.709 = 5.2), Burkina Faso (7.3 x 0.067 = 0.49), Bosnia & Herzegovina (7.2 x 0.451 = 3.2), Kenya (7.1 x 0.126 = 0.89), Dominican Republic (7.1 x 0.572 = 4.1), Senegal (7.0 x 0.099 = 0.69), Tunisia (7.0 x 0.397 = 2.8), Algeria (6.6 x 0.510 = 3.4), Grenada (6.4 x 0.774 = 5.0), Samoa (6.2 x 0.400 = 2.5), Rwanda (6.1 x 0.065 = 0.40), El Salvador (6.0 x 0.383 = 2.3), Lithuania (5.9 x 1.54 = 9.1), Mozambique (5.8 x 0.058 = 0.34), Lesotho (5.7 x 0.092 = 0.52), Burundi (5.5 x 0.026 = 0.14), Iraq (5.5 x 0.595 = 3.3), Eritrea (5.3 x 0.070 = 0.37), St Kitts & Nevis (5.1 x 1.44 = 7.3), Uganda (5.1 x 0.068 = 0.35), Haiti (5.0 x 0.076 = 0.38), Mauritius (5.0 x 0.926 = 4.6), Albania (4.3 x 0.432 = 1.9), Dominica (4.2 x 0.685 = 2.9), Bhutan (4.1 x 0.239 = 0.98), Niger (4.1 x 0.040 = 0.16), Ethiopia (4.1 x 0.051 = 0.21), Moldova (4.0 x 0.182 = 0.73), Georgia (4.0 x 0.381 = 1.5), Yemen (3.7 x 0.132 = 0.49), Tajikistan (3.7 x 0.104 = 0.38), Afghanistan (3.6 x 0.062 = 0.22), Swaziland (3.6 x 0.329 = 1.2), Cuba (3.5 x 0.677 = 2.4), Cape Verde (3.5 x 0.336 = 1.2), Kyrgyzstan (3.4 x 0.118 = 0.40), The Gambia (3.0 x 0.041 = 0.12), St Lucia (2.9 x 0.712 = 2.1), Bangladesh (2.7 x 0.101 = 0.27), Egypt (2.6 x 0.293 = 0.76), Niue (2.6 x 0.540 = 1.4), Pakistan (2.5 x 0.126 = 0.32), Morocco (2.5 x 0.302 = 0.76), Djibouti (2.4 x 0.169 = 0.41), St Vincent & Grenadines (2.4 x 0.621 = 1.5), Armenia (2.3 x 0.337 = 0.78), Maldives (2.1 x 0.790 = 1.7), India (2.1 x 0.148 = 0.31), Cook Islands (2.1 x 1.40 = 2.9), Vietnam (1.9 x 0.188 = 0.36), São Tomé and Príncipe (1.9 x 0.169 = 0.32), Comoros (1.6 x 0.078 = 0.12), Solomon Islands (1.4 x 0.179 = 0.25), Kiribati (1.2 x 0.152 = 0.18), Tuvalu (1.2 x 0.353 = 0.42)* (* estimated from that of a similar, contiguous country).
To readily identify the worst climate criminal nations we can now list countries in descending order of weighted annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution score:
(a) Above 100: Qatar (101.8 x 9.08 = 924.3), United Arab Emirates (82.4 x 4.09 = 337.0), Australia (52.9 x 5.80 = 306.8; if including its huge GHG-generating exports, 116 x 5.80 = 672.8), Luxembourg (23.6 x 10.85 = 256.1), Canada (50.1 x 4.67 = 234.0), New Zealand (53.2 x 4.11 = 218.7), United States (41.0 x 5.05 = 207.1), Ireland (41.4 x 4.99 = 206.6), Norway (20.1 x 9.05 = 181.9), Belize (366.9 x 0.450 = 165.1), Singapore (31.2 x 5.20 = 162.2), Denmark (27.8 x 5.70 = 158.5), Kuwait (37.3 x 4.06 = 151.4), Malaysia (126.0 x 1.02 = 128.5), Netherlands (24.9 x 4.85 = 120.8), Belgium (26.3 x 4.41 = 116.0), Antigua & Barbuda (85.6 x 1.28 = 109.6), Brunei (27.4 x 3.81 = 104.4).
(b) 10-100: Finland (20.6 x 4.62 = 95.2), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (21.5 x 4.32 = 92.9), Equatorial Guinea (47.5 x 1.90 = 90.3), Switzerland (11.0 x 7.95 = 87.5), Germany (18.6 x 4.46 = 83.0); Sweden (15.0 x 5.48 = 82.2), Panama (68.0 x 1.18 = 80.2), Guyana (203.1 x 0.376 = 76.4), Israel (20.2 x 3.56 = 71.9), Bahrain (30.5 x 2.31 = 70.5), France (17.7 x 3.98 = 70.4), Venezuela (45.2 x 1.55 = 70.1), Iceland (14.2 x 4.84 = 68.7), Austria (13.0 x 4.77 = 62.0), Spain (20.9 x 2.78 = 58.1), Trinidad & Tobago (29.8 x 1.93 = 57.5), Italy (17.6 x 3.33 = 58.6), Cyprus (21.4 x 2.43 = 52.0), Estonia (25.4 x 1.87 = 47.5), Brazil (43.4 x 1.06 = 46.0), Greece (21.9 x 1.99 = 43.6), Botswana (64.9 x 0.663 = 43.0), Czech Republic (23.5 x 1.81 = 42.5), Saudi Arabia (16.6 x 2.27 = 37.7), Uruguay (23.7 x 1.56 = 37.0)*, Slovenia (16.5 x 2.23 = 36.8), Japan (10.7 x 3.38 = 36.2), South Korea (12.7 x 2.62 = 33.3), Malta (13.3 x 2.35 = 31.3), Portugal (15.0 x 2.06 = 30.9), Argentina (23.7 x 1.18 = 28.0), Slovakia (15.9 x 1.72 = 27.3), Bahamas (12.1 x 2.07 = 25.0), Oman (13.8 x 1.80 = 24.8), Taiwan (11.6 x 2.06 = 23.9), Papua New Guinea (114.7 x 0.207 = 23.7), Suriname (25.1 x 0.901 = 22.6), Gabon (23.1 x 0.96 = 22.2), Peru (34.8 x 0.606 = 21.1), Hungary (15.5 x 1.30 = 20.2), Turkmenistan (23.5 x 0.841 = 19.8), Russia (16.2 x 1.21 = 19.6), Nauru (11.7 x 1.66 = 19.4), Kazakhstan (15.4 x 1.16 = 17.9), Indonesia (53.6 x 0.325 = 17.4), Poland (12.9 x 1.31 = 16.9), Costa Rica (17.1 x 0.97 = 16.6), Latvia (11.4 x 1.46 = 16.6), Paraguay (37.2 x 0.440 = 16.4), Zambia (97.5 x 0.160 = 15.6), Ecuador (26.2 x 0.591 = 15.5), Libya (24.9 x 0.614 = 15.3), Seychelles (10.2 x 1.47 = 15.0), Colombia (19.8 x 0.736 = 14.6), Angola (23.8 x 0.563 = 13.4), Mexico (13.9 x 0.96 = 13.3), Palau (12.8 x 1.03 = 13.2), Barbados (9.1 x 1.43 = 13.0), Mongolia (32.2 x 0.386 = 12.4), Azerbaijan (16.4 x 0.727 = 11.9), Chile (8.7 x 1.35 = 11.7), South Africa (19.4 x 0.579 = 11.2), Namibia (19.8 x 0.520 = 10.3), Romania (10.9 x 0.94 = 10.2).
(c) 1-10: Nicaragua (51.2 x 0.183 = 9.4), Croatia (7.4 x 1.25 = 9.3), Guatemala (26.9 x 0.342 = 9.2), Lithuania (5.9 x 1.54 = 9.1), Turkey (9.2 x 0.96 = 8.8), Lebanon (9.8 x 0.823 = 8.1), Bolivia (27.3 x 0.291 = 7.9), Iran (14.5 x 0.507 = 7.4), Bulgaria (10.1 x 0.733 = 7.4), St Kitts & Nevis (5.1 x 1.44 = 7.3), Belarus (8.6 x 0.746 = 6.4), Congo, Republic (21.0 x 0.291 = 6.1), Jamaica (12.8 x 0.466 = 6.0), Serbia & Montenegro (10.4 x 0.569 = 5.9), China (7.4 x 0.709 = 5.2), Ukraine (19.1 x 0.273 = 5.2), Grenada (6.4 x 0.774 = 5.0), Myanmar (41.9 x 0.116 = 4.9), Thailand (8.7 x 0.556 = 4.8), Mauritius (5.0 x 0.926 = 4.6), Macedonia (8.5 x 0.508 = 4.3), Côte d'Ivoire (29.1 x 0.144 = 4.2), Dominican Republic (7.1 x 0.572 = 4.1), Cambodia (40.5 x 0.102 = 4.1), Fiji (8.7 x 0.476 = 4.1), Laos (25.3 x 0.163 = 4.1), Jordan (9.1 x 0.450 = 4.1 ), Cameroon (29.5 x 0.131 = 3.9), Honduras (15.8 x 0.228 = 3.6), Uzbekistan (17.5 x 0.199 = 3.5), Nigeria (11.7 x 0.298 = 3.5), Algeria (6.6 x 0.510 = 3.4), Iraq (5.5 x 0.595 = 3.3), Sudan (16.8 x 0.194 = 3.3), Bosnia & Herzegovina (7.2 x 0.451 = 3.2), Vanuatu (11.1 x 0.292 = 3.2), Sri Lanka (8.5 x 0.338 = 2.9), Cook Islands (2.1 x 1.40 = 2.9), Dominica (4.2 x 0.685 = 2.9), Tunisia (7.0 x 0.397 = 2.8), Tonga (7.4 x 0.383 = 2.8), Liberia (55.0 x 0.045 = 2.5), Samoa (6.2 x 0.400 = 2.5), Cuba (3.5 x 0.677 = 2.4), Occupied State of Palestine (9.1 x 0.262 = 2.4)*, Philippines (9.0 x 0.267 = 2.4), El Salvador (6.0 x 0.383 = 2.3), Mauritania (19.7 x 0.119 = 2.3), Benin (24.5 x 0.084 = 2.1), St Lucia (2.9 x 0.712 = 2.1), Zimbabwe (23.3 x 0.090 = 2.1), Albania (4.3 x 0.432 = 1.9), Maldives (2.1 x 0.790 = 1.7), Nepal (24.6 x 0.064 = 1.6), Syria (9.4 x 0.169 = 1.6), St Vincent & Grenadines (2.4 x 0.621 = 1.5), Georgia (4.0 x 0.381 = 1.5), Niue (2.6 x 0.540 = 1.4), Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire) (29.3 x 0.045 = 1.3), Central African Republic (35.7 x 0.036 = 1.3), Swaziland (3.6 x 0.329 = 1.2), Sierra Leone (16.2 x 0.072 = 1.2), Cape Verde (3.5 x 0.336 = 1.2), Ghana (8.9 x 0.129 = 1.1), Madagascar (23.7 x 0.042 = 1.0), Chad (11.6 x 0.088 = 1.0).
(d) Less than 1: Bhutan (4.1 x 0.239 = 0.98), Kenya (7.1 x 0.126 = 0.89), Tanzania (9.3 x 0.089 = 0.83), North Korea (12.1 x 0.065 = 0.79), Armenia (2.3 x 0.337 = 0.78), Morocco (2.5 x 0.302 = 0.76), Egypt (2.6 x 0.293 = 0.76), Mali (11.6 x 0.065 = 0.75), Moldova (4.0 x 0.182 = 0.73), Senegal (7.0 x 0.099 = 0.69), Togo (10.9 x 0.060 = 0.65), Guinea (12.5 x 0.050 = 0.63), Guinea-Bissau (9.0 x 0.063 = 0.57), Lesotho (5.7 x 0.092 = 0.52), Burkina Faso (7.3 x 0.067 = 0.49), Yemen (3.7 x 0.132 = 0.49), Tuvalu (1.2 x 0.353 = 0.42)* Djibouti (2.4 x 0.169 = 0.41), Kyrgyzstan (3.4 x 0.118 = 0.40), Rwanda (6.1 x 0.065 = 0.40), Haiti (5.0 x 0.076 = 0.38), Tajikistan (3.7 x 0.104 = 0.38), Malawi (11.7 x 0.032 = 0.37), Eritrea (5.3 x 0.070 = 0.37), Vietnam (1.9 x 0.188 = 0.36), Uganda (5.1 x 0.068 = 0.35), Mozambique (5.8 x 0.058 = 0.34), Pakistan (2.5 x 0.126 = 0.32), São Tomé and Príncipe (1.9 x 0.169 = 0.32), India (2.1 x 0.148 = 0.31), Bangladesh (2.7 x 0.101 = 0.27), Solomon Islands (1.4 x 0.179 = 0.25), Afghanistan (3.6 x 0.062 = 0.22), Ethiopia (4.1 x 0.051 = 0.21), Kiribati (1.2 x 0.152 = 0.18), Niger (4.1 x 0.040 = 0.16), Burundi (5.5 x 0.026 = 0.14), The Gambia (3.0 x 0.041 = 0.12), Comoros (1.6 x 0.078 = 0.12). (* Estimated from data for a similar, contiguous country. Data were not available for Timor L'este and the
The worst polluters on the basis of weighted annual capita GHG pollution scores greater than 100 include some major rich fossil fuel producers and users (Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Canada, US, Norway, Kuwait and Brunei) and countries with major deforestation (Malaysia and Belize).
Countries with weighted annual capita GHG pollution scores in the range of 10-100 include most other Western European countries, most Eastern European countries and some other First World countries (notably Japan and South Korea) plus many other countries from around the world variously heavily involved in high polluting industries such as fossil fuels (Angola, Bahrain, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Libya, Peru, Azerbaijan, South Africa, and Trinidad & Tobago, ), deforestation (Panama, Guyana, Brazil, Indonesia, Peru, Papua New Guinea , Suriname, Gabon, Ecuador, and Colombia), livestock (e.g. Botswana, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) and luxury tourism (e.g. Bahamas, Seychelles, and Barbados). Thus, for example,
Countries with weighted annual capita GHG pollution scores in the range of 1-10 include the poorest European countries, many Island states and many very poor countries with economies variously heavily involving fossil fuels (Bolivia, Iran, Nigeria, Algeria, Iraq) or significant ongoing deforestation (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Congo, Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Côte d'Ivoire, Cambodia, Fiji, Laos, Cameroon, Honduras, Nigeria, Vanuatu, Philippines, El Salvador, Benin, Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire), Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Ghana, and Madagascar).
At the good far end of the weighted annual capita GHG pollution spectrum are countries with scores of less than 1, this set including many African countries, some global warming-threatened Island Nations (Tuvalu, Haiti, São Tomé and Príncipe, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Comoros), some countries devastated by US invasion or US-backed wars (e.g. North Korea, Yemen, Haiti, Eritrea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Ethiopia) and some countries containing huge river deltas that are accordingly acutely threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming, namely Egypt, Senegal, Vietnam, Mozambique, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and the Gambia. Of these acutely threatened, mega-delta countries,
We are badly running out of time to deal with man-made climate change, and a plus 2C temperature rise appears locked in and inevitable. However atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is remorselessly increasing to record levels at a record rate. The atmospheric level of methane (CH4) (which has a global warming potential 105 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame and with aerosol impacts considered), is rising at a much faster rate now (in 2014 at 12.5 parts per billion per year i.e. 12.5 ppb/year) than the average rate of increase in the first decade of the 21st century (0.5 ppb/year). The time for tolerance of climate criminal casuistry and double talk is long gone. The world must adopt a zero tolerance approach, publicly expose the worst polluting countries, and urgently constrain their behaviour through litigation via the International Court of Justice, prosecution of climate criminals via the International Criminal Court, Green tariffs and Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Sensible, humane, science-informed people can (a) inform everyone they can about the global warming culprits identified here, and (b) urge and apply Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against all climate criminal people, politicians, parties, companies, corporations and countries disproportionately involved in the greenhouse gas pollution that so acutely threatens Humanity and the Biosphere.
|March 25, 2016||
Events In Brussels Observed From A Spaceship
by Andre Vltchek, Countercurrents
If some intelligent extraterrestrial beings were circling over our planet in their spaceship, monitoring for decades and centuries all that has been and is taking place on its surface, they would, most likely, be horrified by our brutality, and shocked by the countless contradictions, double standards and inconsistencies.
For instance, after registering the recent loss of lives in Brussels, visitors from outer space would immediately detect the enormous amount of activity all over the Belgian metropolis: police cars, the military, ambulances, and media vans. More than 30people were killed at the airport and at the metro station, while over 200 were injured. Needless to say, the blood of innocent people was spilled.
Our visitors - the extraterrestrials –(let’s really imagine that they were here) are most likely totally ‘color blind’; they cannot make any distinction between different skin colors, different races or genders. To them, one victim in asub-Saharan African villageor in the Middle East has exactly the same ‘value’ as a casualty in Paris or Houston. To them, a wound is a wound, a body is a body, a corpse is a corpse; anda victim belonging to any ethnic or social group or geographic location is only and exclusively that - a victim.
Therefore, they were wondering: why is it that when few hundreds orfew thousands of innocent people die in such places like war-torn Syria or Iraq, there are just a few ambulances detectable from above, and no cameras to record people’s suffering? Nobody seems to be shocked - why? And why are these countries ‘war-torn’ to begin with?
By then, our friends from the different galaxy would have a considerable amount of data at their disposal. Several mighty computers on board their spaceship would be analyzing and processing all the samples and information collected from our Planet.
Tens of thousands of books would be fed into the system.
What is it that one of the greatest writers of Latin America – Eduardo Galeano – wrote in his ‘Open Veins of Latin America’ several decades ago? Hepenned with passion and disgust about Western rule in South America:
“You could build a silver bridge from Potosí to Madrid from what was mined here – and one back with the bones of those that died taking it out...”
In the past, 8 million people vanished in the mines of Potosi alone, so that Europe could have its high life and ‘culture’.
And Jean-Paul Sartre writes in his book ‘Colonialism and Neocolonialism’:
“You know very well that we are exploiters. You know very well that we took the gold and the metals and then the oil of the ‘new continents’ and brought them back to the old mother countries. Not without excellent results: palaces, cathedrals, industrial capitals; and then whenever crisis threatened, the colonial markets were there to cushion or deflect it. Europe, stuffed with riches, granted de jure humanity to all its inhabitants: for us, a human being means ‘accomplice’, since we have all benefited from colonial exploitation... What empty chatter: liberty, equality, fraternity, love, honour, country and who knows what else?”
Our extraterrestrial friends would be thinking and thinking, scratching their heads, fondling their thick whiskers: obviously, throughout its history, the West slaughtered nearly one billion human beings in Africa, Central and South “America”, Asia, the Middle East and Oceania. And it is still murdering millions worldwide.
Those who are not butchered by the West directly are treated worse than animals by an inserted turbo-capitalist system and by countless right-wing dictatorships cynically called ‘democracies’. Billions of people on our Planet eat shit, literally. And they don’t really live; they just exist. Their only purpose is to work hard for nothing, supporting the ‘high life’of the Empire.
Finally, over some fluorescent power drink, at a big round conference table in the spaceship, the captain decides to address his crew: “This does not seem to me like a particularly good and honest arrangement for this or any other planet!”
All crew members raise their feelers in agreement. They have had exactly the same thoughts for several centuries (“our – human centuries” - translated to their perception of time – for several weeks).
“I would say that most of the people on their so-called Earth have absolutely legitimate reasons to feel endlessly pissed-off!” declared their chief analyst for Outer Space Political Affairs.
Others suggested that those countries that have been plundered, destroyed and terrorized by the West have the full right to defend themself, or at least to retaliate. But for some reason, they don’t.
But could blowing up a subway station or an international airport, could the killing of innocent civilians, be considered ‘legitimate retaliation’?
Everybody agrees that it cannot be, although the Empire itself has already slaughtered hundreds of millions of innocent men, women and children all over the world. But the Empire, and again, there is this absolute consensus on board the spaceship, could not be judged by any normal international or interplanetary standards, as it has been, already for centuries, behaving as a debauched genocidal maniac.
It could not be held to any standards, as it had exterminated entire nations, destroyed cultures, polluted entire Planet and imposed on almost everyone the most appalling and inhuman economic and social system imaginable. It ruined all enthusiasm, injected nihilism, indoctrinated people, and shackled everyone by fear and ignorance.
But killing the people, even those submissive, narcissist and ignorant citizens of the Empire, would still be totally wrong. There was no disagreement about that on board the spaceship.
But who actually killed those people in Brussels? Who killed Parisians just a few months earlier?
Was it some external enemies of the Empire that have been perpetrating these violent acts?
There was no exact data regarding this on board the flying saucer.
But the crew had collected enough information from almost all previous ‘events’ and so it began to believe that the Empire itself could have also easily done the killing.
In Europe concretely, who could overlook the terror campaign unleashed by the NATO countries during the so-called ‘Operation Gladio”? Who can forget how governments were kidnapping and murdering people, how they were blowing up entire train stations and trains, in order to point fingers at the Communists, discrediting them, blaming them for the attacks?
The Empire always felt spite, total and unconcealed, for non-white, non-Christian human beings. It never hesitated to gas, to bomb, and to burn millions, sometimes tens of millions of them, in just one go. But periodically, it also ‘sacrificed’ a few dozens or even hundreds of its own people. It was done for some ‘excellent and sacred cause’, naturally: in order for the white Christian race to maintain its control over the planet, for savage capitalism to flourish, and for dogmas about the ‘exceptionality’ of the European and North American civilization/culture to persevere.
Most of the ET’s who were now circling over our Planet were able to see clearly through the Western propaganda.They were enduring with twisted noses that entire unsavory stench coming from the Empire’s intellectual belches and farts, and they were laughing atthe numerous moral pirouettes and somersaults it was displaying.
But laughter would always freeze on their lips, whenever they realized that this was not a game, that human beings are being torn to pieces, that entire villages, neighborhoods and countries have been sacrificed and destroyed.
The spaceship crew counted among them some avid readers of Umberto Eco’s Numero Zero. Disgusted with the mainstream Western propaganda media, everyone from the captain to several janitors turned to alternative media sources that, recently have begun to flourish onthe Planet Earth. RT was blasted in the reading room, day and night. Others were watching TeleSUR and PressTV in their cabins.
Hardened by watching and reading opposition media, the question everyone on board was asking was: were Belgian people really sacrificed by one of those terrorist groups likeAl-Qaida, al-Nusra, or maybe by ISIS?
Then the Western media reported that ISIS/Daeshhad claimed responsibility for the attacks.
But in his essay published by Global Research, Michel Chossudovsky asked, “Is the ISIS Behind the Brussels Attacks? Who is Behind the ISIS?”
‘Very good question’, admitted the crew. To them, as to Professor Chossudovsky, it was clear that behind ISIS stood both Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and therefore, the West.
Then Peter Koenig, Swiss economist and thinker, published his essay, “The Brussels Attacks – Another False Flag”, where he argued, after describing the carnage in Belgium:
“...In the meantime, the Belgian government has ordered a clampdown on police and journalists reporting on the case. The public must be kept in the dark, ‘to facilitate the investigation;’ lest contradictory reports, as there usually are in false flag operations, may plant doubt in people’s minds. That must by all means be prevented....Fear is the name of the game. People blinded and in the midst of fear - under the shock, accept any doctrine - more police protection, ‘we give you our civil rights and remaining ‘freedom’, but please take care of us.’ Military regimes will be installed at the demand of the people.”
Most likely the future US President, Donald Trump, isalready enjoying swelling support from the North American public, after promising new and taller walls, more advanced spying/surveillance, more savage torture as well as advanced racial/religious profiling.
Christopher Black, a prominent international lawyer based in Toronto, added:
“A common factor in all these false flags is that no political demand is ever made by the alleged actors. A terrorist act is a political act, designed to instill fear in the public to pressure a state to do something the actors want. But in none of these recent attacks are any demands ever made nor any compelling reasons ever given for the attack. And what demands could there be since the EU has been supporting Daesh along with the US. And why would the ISIS make an attack on the EU to draw more attacks on them (supposedly)? It does not make sense from a political or military point of view. The media report that ISIS claims the attack was on Belgium for taking part in the coalition bombing but Belgium halted that months ago and as we know there were no real attacks on ISIS by the coalition.
So if not ISIS then who? Who benefits is always the question to ask. The answer may lie in the immediate response of everyone from Trump to Hollande to Cameron and the rest, that the war on ISIS must be intensified, which means a bigger war against Syria, and Iraq. So, one can see this attack as a reaction to the Syrian-Russian success in Syria against ISIS and an attempt to sabotage the Geneva Peace process. But, once again, the people are kept in the dark, huddled around their computers and TV screens waiting for the next set of lies."
And this is what was written by Koenig’s and Black’s comrade, Andre Vltchek:
“I mentioned this recently in one of my essays about North Korea, but I have to repeat it once again, “after Brussels”: We are living in a twisted, truly perverse world, where mass murderers act as judges, and actually get away with it. The objectivity lost its meaning. Terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are now determined by only one criterion: ‘good’ is all that serves the interests of the Western Empire, ‘bad’ is what challenges its global dictatorship.”
No matter how the information about what took place in Brussels was twisted or turned, one thing was hard to dispute: directly or indirectly, the West was right behind the attacks. And not to see it would take truly incredible discipline.
Of course it was not just the events that occurred in Brussels. Looking at the whole modern human history, with just a few exceptions, the West was always behind the most horrid atrocities and aggressions.
The crew of the spaceship held a meeting to assess the situation on Earth.
The conclusions of this gathering were pronounced and recorded, then sent to their capital city thousands of light-years away from the Planet Earth:
“There are many objective reasons to believe why it is that the Planet Earth entered an irreversible spiral of terminal decline. It is now ruled by only a handful of perverse nations obsessed with power and consumption. For decades and centuries, these countries terrorized, murdered, even exterminated people living in all the other corners of Earth. However, they were never stopped, reprimanded and restrained. As we see from above, there is very little chance that the situation will change in foreseeable future. Just a few countries, including China, Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Iran and the DPRK are still insisting on their own course. They are, however, constantly intimidated, antagonized and provoked.
Furthermore, the environment of the Planet Earth is irreversibly damaged, and if there is no immediate reversal of the trend, the entire globe may become uninhabitable in the foreseeable future.
Our recommendation to the citizens ofthe Planet Earth: immediately occupy and disarm both Europe and North America. Then disarm their ‘client’ states and the terrorist groups they have injected into the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Impose real (direct) democracy and implement strong detox educational programs in order to reverse the long decades and centuries of consistent indoctrination and supremacist theories. For at least three generations, reduce Europe and North America to strictly agricultural societies, with no military and no heavy industry. The flow of foreign students to all Western universities should be stopped immediately, as these are not really centers of knowledge, but extremely dangerous hubs of indoctrination. Propaganda messages engraved into the mass media disinformation campaigns should be detected, exposed, publicly analyzed and ridiculed systematically.”
According to the ET’s, these were only some of the emergency steps that would have to be taken immediately, in order for the Planet Earth to survive.
But all this was said and then put on the record just for the sake of the people who inhabited other galaxies. Earth appeared to be already lost. There was very little hope that human beings would rebel against their torturers.
“No hope”, was the general consensus on board the spaceship. “The rot is too deep, too widespread. Russia, China, Latin America and few other countries could create an alliance and forge a united front against the West. But with nukes, a propaganda apparatus and technology, the West cannot be defeated. It can only collapse from within. But the people of Europe and North America are the most obedient, indoctrinated and uniformed. And they enjoy many exclusive privileges. They will never defend the Planet, only their own interests.”
The captain downed yet another fluorescent drink, grimaced and pointed finger towards the transparent floor of his flying saucer: “They fucked up no end. It all appears to be hopeless. Time to go home!”
They voted, and decided to depart. Then the captain stepped on it, and the saucer accelerated to a neck breaking speed of several light-years per second, shooting straight towards home.
Would the crew try to stop the madness they had witnessed on Earth, would they approach the rulers in London, Brussels or Washington, chances were they would end up like their counterparts in that old great Soviet SCI-FI film “The Silence of Doctor Evans”. In that film, a spaceship sent by an advanced civilization made contact with several inhabitants on Earth. But the crew was hunted down by evil imperialists who were terrified by the possibility that an advanced (naturally Communist) society would be spreading extremely dangerous and subversive ideas, reminding people of some basic principles; morality, kindness, decency and humanism.
And so the madness will go on. For us who have no opportunity to escape to another galaxy, the prospects are bleak; especially for those of us who by some miracle have managed to escape indoctrination.
Those who are still capable of seeing what is happening around, those who understand the insanity and brutality of the Western ruling power, are condemned to living in constant agitation, stress and outrage.
The people who are ruling over this planet may still physically fit to human form, but in reality they are beasts, mass murderers, and brigands. In fact, there are no words derogatory enough to describe them.
So what should we expect now, when even ET’s have given up on our Planet? A little entrée in a form of a right-wing coup in Ecuador, perhaps? And then a main course, like nuking of North Korea? The assassination of President al Assad? Or something really fatal, like a provoked naval confrontation with China? Or maybe something local and ‘modest’, like the bombing of few city buses in Rome or trams in Amsterdam, so even tighter surveillance will be ‘demanded’ by and ‘given’ to the people of the West? Will Europe soon be sinking boats that are carrying thousands of refugees from the very countries destroyed by the Empire? What else, really? What can we expect later this year, in April, May, and June?
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His latest books are: Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism.Discussion with Noam Chomsky:On Western Terrorism. Point of No Return is his critically acclaimed political novel. Oceania - a book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about Indonesia: Indonesia The Archipelago of Fear. Andre is making films for teleSUR and Press TV. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and the Middle East. He can be reached through his website or hisTwitter.
|March 25, 2016||
Russian Documentary Shows ISIS Documents Of Turkey’s Assistance
by Eric Zuesse, Countercurrents
Russian Television is starting a series of documentaries showing captured ISIS documents, and Turkish-border-stamped passports of ISIS fighters. The initial news-report also refers to a ‘fatwa’ that allegedly allows infidels to be killed to supply fresh organs for transplantation into severely injured ISIS fighters.
Invoices are shown for records of Syrian oil trucked into Turkey for sale, which indicate "the name of the driver, the vehicle type driven, and the weight of the truck, both full and empty, as well as the agreed upon price and invoice number. One of the discovered invoices dated 11 January, 2016, says that IS had extracted some 1,925 barrels of oil from Kabibah oil field and sold it for $38,342.” Turkey then sells it for far more — the current market-price.
Also shown is "Islamist propaganda printed in Istanbul.”
The U.S. supplies ISIS through Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey is now a dictatorship, and its dictator, the fundamentalist-Sunni Tayyip Erdogan, is passionate to overthrow Syria’s leader, the secular Shiite Bashar al-Assad. ISIS is the main fighting force he works with to do that.
Allied with Turkey in this effort are: U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait.
Turkey and the U.S. are in NATO; the others are in the Saudi group, the Gulf Cooperation Council. (Turkey isn’t, because it’s not on the Persian Gulf. Turkey is instead the GCC’s representative in, or main link to, NATO. Turkey also is their link to the EU, but hasn’t yet entirely won membership in the EU.)
The royal Sauds are the main funders of Al Qaeda, known as Al Nusra in Syria; and, according to a cable from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the entire Gulf Cooperation Council are heavy financial backers of not only Al Qaeda but other jihadist groups.
Earlier I headlined: "Western Reporter in Syria Finds U.S.-Backed Fighters Are Jihadists.”
The foreign backers of the jihadist groups who have flocked into Syria to overthrow Assad are U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Kuwait, and that includes the nations whose leadership back jihadists, even while they need to make propagandistic statements and occasionally actions that kill some jihadists.
The central targets of that alliance are Russia and Iran. Assad, of course, is allied to both Russia and Iran.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
|March 26, 2016||
Trench Warfare In The Climate Wars: No Victory In Sight
by Ugo Bardi, Countercurrents
The latest data from Gallup about how much Americans worry about global warming are nothing less than amazing. Today, we are exactly where we were more than one-quarter of a century ago. And yet, climate science has progressed, temperatures have been rising, the ice has been melting, the sea level has been rising, and plenty more evidence of dangerous global warming has accumulated. But the curves go up and down while the average remains constant; no long-term trend is apparent. It looks like trench warfare during the first world war. Mighty battles, lots of casualties, but neither side is winning.
In a sense, it is not surprising. I have been following the climate debate for several years and I can say that it is not a debate - it is a war. And in a war, you don't debate using rational arguments, you take sides. It has to do with the extreme polarization that is taking hold in most Western societies (and it is increasing!). When it comes to discussing major issues, such as global warming, people are not debating; they are only making statements of identity. And it is normal that we are not going anywhere: neither scientific data nor anti-science spin campaigns (*) can move people who have chosen the side they belong to.
However, it is also true that trench warfare in the first world war didn't last forever. At some point, one of the two sides couldn't take it anymore and had to concede. Could something like that occur for the climate war? Possibly, yes. Indeed, many of us have been hoping for an event so major and so evident that the danger of global warming could not be denied anymore; the equivalent of a "decisive battle" in war. But even facing extreme events, reality can always be denied when ideological polarization takes hold. For the time being, we remain locked in trench warfare.
Ugo Bardi is a professor of Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry of the University of Firenze, Italy. He also has a more general interest in energy question and is the founder and president of ASPO Italia.
|March 27, 2016||
Russia And America, One Hundred Years Face To Face
by Gaither Stewart , Countercurrents
As Stephen Lendman recently wrote, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister and a unique political figure of today’s world, wrote in a March 3 essay in Global Affairs magazine that his country stands “at the crossroads of key trends” in the field of international relations and underlined that Russia, has “a special role in European and global history.”
Unfortunately, average citizens of the West, especially of the USA, know little and understand less of Russia’s history. To the great majority of Westerners, Russia is a mysterious and forbidding land somewhere in the East which poses a threat to the world which it aims at dominating. Therefore, I have summarized here some aspects of that long history in order to amplify and elucidate Russia’s possible role in the “difficult period of international relations”, of which Lavrov speaks so clearly and rationally.
The history of Russia has been marked, on the one hand, by constantly recurring patterns of fascination for and attraction to the West, and on the other hand abhorrence of and isolation from the same West to which Russia throughout its long history has often wanted to belong. To a certain degree Russia is different. Most Russians themselves are convinced of certain “particular Russian qualities” differentiating them from Western man—qualities not understood, and on the contrary, oftentimes misunderstood by the West. These characteristics can be described as components of a great messianic spirit: the Russian people have often believed themselves destined to be the salvation of the world.
While the few periods of wide contacts with the West have renewed the country, given it new vigor and skills and broken a chain of reaction tyranny, those purely Russian characteristics—tenacity, endurance, spiritualism, ethnic unity, love for mankind and popular traditions have given the country superhuman strength in periods of crisis. Russians never give up. Resistance is in the national DNA. Russians consider themselves invincible as a nation of which there are many examples: the battles of Moscow, Leningrad, Stalingrad.
Since early Muscovy, even after Ivan the Great in the 15th century who had defeated the Mongol occupiers of Russia, tripled Russia’s territory and making it a major European nation, and exchanged ambassadors and traders with the outside world, contact between Russians and foreigners was discouraged if not forbidden because they were considered contaminating even for the Tsar himself. And consequently secluded in special residential areas of Moscow.
While this great nation was being born, persecuted Europeans, adventurers and criminals were making their way to today’s USA, where they built log cabins and began the exterminations of the native peoples they encountered.
In comparison, sixteenth century Russia under Tsar Ivan the Terrible had become a formidable European power. It expanded its borders to the South but was defeated in its effort to conquer the Baltic States to the West. Those defeats in the West served to emphasize the necessity to modernize the Russian state. Ivan’s severe reforms and the methods employed to achieve them divided the country and sent many Russians in flight to the borderlands and beyond, joining the free-living Cossacks in the steppes.
Keep in mind that centuries were passing. And Russia was advancing, having liberated itself from the yoke of Tartar occupiers. Europeans and more and more Russians themselves understood that they were a great power to be reckoned with. The expanses, the realization of the great wealth their lands contain, the nation’s potential power, and importantly a unifying worldview (mirovozreniye) began welding the Russians together as a nation state.
It fell to Peter the Great (17th and early 18th centuries) to effect a “window on Europe”. Numerous Russians of all classes were sent abroad to learn necessary skills for Russia’s affirmation as a modern European nation, permitting Peter to build his new capital of Saint Petersburg on the Baltic Sea facing the West. Russians became cognizant of a new way of life and perceived new approaches to social living, shaking Russia out of its self-imposed isolation while the huge country also shook off any remaining inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West. By the end of Peter’s reign in 1725, the upper classes had indeed moved toward Europe, adopting European manners and dress and snobbishly preferring to speak French in the salons and the Court. The masses, the Russian people, a spiritual people, however, remained fixed and committed to old Russian traditions and the Orthodox religion.
As the 18th century progressed and while what became the USA was still a British colony, Catherine the Great imported ideas of French enlightenment—ideas however not yet compatible with traditional Russian views. She came to realize that the thinking of Voltaire and Rousseau were dangerous, a danger to herself … and a threat to Tsardom as well. This was long the great historical dilemma for the rulers of Russia: the nation’s need of Western knowhow in order to maintain its position as a world power and the concomitant threats these new influences posed to the system. In any case, by the end of the century the upper classes had learned a new way of life while they also came to recognize their own backwardness.
But the masses continued to toil and repeat generation after generation the old way of life. Such was the setting for the blossoming of Russian intellectual and social thought in the 19th century.
The French invasion of 1812 and Russia’s subsequent victory over Napoleon’s armies and the occupation of Paris changed Russian life.
For the first time in its history great numbers of ordinary Russians—as opposed to the privileged classes of the previous century—had close contact with one of the major centers of Western civilization. Young, educated military officers brought back from France new customs; but more important were the new ideas which fascinated and enraptured Russian intellectuals. In the face of the veritable explosion of these Western ideas, Alexander I was forced to renege on the promises of the liberalism of his youth. A new period of repression began. Nevertheless, the mild movement for a Constitution by some of the guards officers, the so-called, “Decembrists” of 1825, were crushed by the Tsar. Yet it was too late. Things had changed in Russia. The gentry and other educated classes were infected and began to resist the closed society.
The clash between autocracy in need of modernization but aware that those same ideas endangered its existence and the more enlightened educated classes no longer capable of living in darkness gave birth to the first Russian political emigration: intellectuals who left their homeland to fight for their ideals. The conservatives at home, horrified at how far they had moved away from old Russian traditions by becoming nearly Europeans began resisting European influences, thus articulating a struggle between themselves—the so-called Slavophiles—and the Westernizers. All the while the masses were silent.
In the 1830s and 40s, many liberal-minded men in Russia, suffocated by oppression because of their new ideas, by censorship and political backwardness, emigrated to Europe to study and struggle for fundamental freedoms for their people. The earliest émigrés went to France, England and Switzerland where they supported a program for a Constitution and reforms.
With the birth of Socialism in Europe, Russian socialists were soon born among these intellectuals. The departure of Alexander Herzen from Moscow to Europe in 1847 marked the beginning of a new era of Russian social-political thought which was to result in the overthrow of Tsardom and the Bolshevik victory over its more moderate opponents contesting for power in Russia.
The crushing of the Decembrists of 1825, the execution and exile of their leaders, and simultaneously the new ideas advanced by young liberals had made a great impression on Herzen who dedicated his life work to the cause of Russia democracy. Herzen symbolized the move of Russian émigrés from thought to action. Herzen and friends and later the anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin, initiated a movement centered around their political journal, The Bell, a movement democratic in nature, promoting a union between the governed and the governing in Russia and encouraging Russians in the homeland to overthrow autocracy. The Bell, published in London, circulated among intellectuals in the homeland, and allegedly read by the Tsar himself, was born on the wave of revolution raging across Europe and survived to introduce the revolutionary current of Lenin, Russian socialists and the later Bolsheviks.
During this period occurred the Mexican-American War (1846-47), in which Mexico lost half of its national territory to the Yankees, a war which became the model of American imperialistic wars, ultimately becoming world-wide, in Latin American, Asia, Europe and Africa. The war against Mexico was soon followed by the American Civil War, 1861-65, at the price of 600,000 dead in the name of US capitalism. Two new world powers, Russia in the East and the Unites States in the West were emerging, powers which that within a century would submerge the old European nation states.
Herzen, however, did not have the stuff that revolutionaries are made of. He had attacked Tsardom with the written word while in that period of crisis only extremes counted. Thus, Herzen inevitably fell from favor among younger, revolutionary émigrés. The struggles between the right and the left among Russian intellectuals left Herzen behind as an anachronism. Intellectuals meanwhile split over the concept of revolution—the moderates for whom some form of constitutional democracy was the goal moved toward the conservatives while the more liberal passed to the side of the revolutionaries. The next wave of Russian émigrés was to be dominated by the revolutionaries headed by Lenin.
Russia’s revolutionaries were a fiery bunch, as divided and factious as the Western left today. Russian revolutionaries disagreed, fought and split, and regrouped. But the movement was carried implacably forward by the organized hard core of the movement led by Vladimir Lenin. In essence, the various currents among Russian revolutionaries continued to reflect the old dispute between Westernizers and more traditional Slavophiles, a modern Western socio-political philosophy or the old Russian traditions, which are still the two deep souls of Russia. In this case, Russian Marxists, European in outlook, looked toward the new proletariat as their base. The Socialist Revolutionary wing counted instead on the peasants and, in a broad sense, the Russian people. The necessary support of both these currents was harnessed by Lenin and his successors after they won the revolution and the Civil War.
The Russian Civil War which erupted after the Bolsheviks took power in 1917 was marked by Western intervention (British, American, French and Japanese) on the side of the anti-revolutionary “Whites”. Since then Russian-American relations, despite alliances during European wars and various commercial agreements, have been based on American Capitalism’s unrelenting opposition to Socialism/Communism. Moreover, I believe there is also an underlying anti-Russian spirit present, perhaps because of American jealousy of Russia’s expanses and wealth, or ,even something more spiritual. The Cold War is most exemplary of America’s fundamental attitude, not only toward Russian Communism but also toward Russia itself.
It is paradoxical that the eyes of the two new nations among world powers, Russia and the USA, still antagonistic toward each other after a century of seeing each other’s reflection in Europe, today are both looking eastwards. Despite the US encirclement of Russia and its goal of regime change and dismemberment of its old enemy, despite the proxy wars in Syria, despite America’s return to Latin America and the expansion of its presence in Africa, nothing can be more threatening to the USA than the terrifying image of the Russian-Chinese alliance. Lavrov’s words of Russia and a crossroads should scare the Jesus out of Washington.
Gaither Stewart based in Rome is a veteran journalist and essayist on a broad palette of topics from culture to history and politics, he is also the author of the Europe Trilogy, celebrated spy thrillers whose latest volume, Time of Exile, was recently published by Punto Press.
|March 28, 2016||
In The Aftermath Of Brussels - World Needs Peace And Global Justice; Not More Militarism.
by Ranjan Solomon, Countercurrents
The first thing that hit my mind when news on the so-called terrorist attack in Belgium broke out was that there would be several countries who would now seek to squeeze maximum advantage from the horrific episode. The military-industrial-complex/counter-terrorism establishments must be cynically licking their lips and celebrating with glee!
As in the case of France and Ankara, not too long ago, it was to be expected that European powers would adopt a skewed black-and-white analysis (Muslim terror is the cause) while concealing the real political facts with insinuations and even false propaganda against the community. That has happened time and time out with western media outlets.
Having said this, the killings were an outrage and must be condemned; never mind the origins or reasons. Killing is inhumane and barbaric and whoever committed the act deserves to be handed tough penalization.
The fact, however, remains that investigations must seek the real truth and not merely point fingers at the ‘usual suspects’. Propagandists will surely want to heighten Islamafobia. That is a pathway filled with risk. After all, what else is Islamafobia but misguided racism with a strong dose of colonialism? Islamafobists have succeeded in developing the language of hate and prejudice only to hide the fault lines in the systems of injustice and corruption in their own countries. It is a subtle tool of domination that uses the media to instill fear in ‘the other’ while the real machines of hate are not the so-called Islamists; rather they are those who use dubious reasoning to create a slur about Muslims and Islam and project, what is otherwise a religion of peace, into a group who believe in the ideology of violence. These cynical manipulations have only succeeded in turning the world into two camps- the good guys and the bad guys. The good guys are usually Christian or Jewish while the bad guys are Muslim. Its Hollywood on the streets.
Seema Mustapha, writing in India’s first online newspaper, The Citizen, puts it succinctly when she analyzes the bombing in Belgium. She says: “It was the al Qaeda earlier. It is the Islamic State now, an amorphous yet vicious entity that has spread out into the world with sophisticated weaponry and a deadly reach that clearly now extends outside West Asia into Europe as the deadly attacks in Brussels have so tragically demonstrated. It was, as security experts across the world have been warning, just a matter of time before this amorphous, vicious, entity crossed international borders and hit vulnerable civilian targets to strike terror at a time and place of its choice.
This has happened with Brussels taking the toll for what the Americans and the NATO members have been doing in West Asia since 2001 when US planes pounded Iraq and its tanks and soldiers marched in for a war that might have shifted targets, but has shown no signs of ending. In the process Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen have all been virtually destroyed, with large tracts of territory now occupied by the Islamic State, an army of Salafists, smugglers, mercenaries, victims of the US war like members of the Baath party from Iraq, remnants of the al Qaeda, al Nusra, all woven into a vicious fighting machine. The weapons have come in large numbers, and sufficient quantity and quality, from the war supported by the US and its western allies on Syria, with Turkey and Saudi Arabia ensuring the supply line”.
These are times when staunch European loyalists will reject any questions raised as sheer counter-propaganda – the stuff from which conspiracy theories emanate. But, facts come out thick and fast in this day and age of social media. The truth cannot be permanently suppressed. Is it mere coincidence that the EU was about to meet with a Palestinian delegation the same day this happened? The question is asked: Was it a diversionary tactic that had the infamous touch of Mossad? Indeed it is time to dismiss any news or analysis from the mainstream media. It can be read out of curiosity but not in the search for facts and truth. The Israeli Minister of Science, Technology and Space, Ofir Akunis, said Europeans had lost sight of “terrorism of extremist Islam” by focusing on boycotting Israeli goods instead allowing the attacks to take place. So, was there a plot behind the attacks? Is this a copycat attack from 9/11, France, Ankara?
Patrick Cockburn writing in The Independent points to how “There has always been a disconnect in the minds of people in Europe between the wars in Iraq and Syria and terrorist attacks against Europeans. This is in part because Baghdad and Damascus are exotic and frightening places, and pictures of the aftermath of bombings have been the norm since the US invasion of 2003. But there is a more insidious reason why Europeans do not sufficiently take on board the connection between the wars in the Middle East and the threat to their own security. Separating the two is much in the interests of Western political leaders, because it means that the public does not see that their disastrous policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and beyond created the conditions for the rise of and for terrorist gangs such as that to which Salah Abdeslam (thought to be the sole surviving planner of the Paris massacre) belonged”.
Terror strikes such as the one in Brussels, or the carnage in Paris last year never led to questions about what France did in Syria and Libya. Europe has sat glibly thinking there would never be a price to pay for their egotistic, self-centered policies. Isis would not even be around had David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy kept out of their meddling ways and left Libya to itself under Gaddafi in 2011 or Sadaam Hussein in 2003. Al-Qaeda is expanding in Yemen, where Western leaders have given a free pass to Saudi Arabia to launch a bombing campaign that has wrecked the country. The Taliban was a creation of short-sighted American policies. Yes, it all comes back to haunt you. This is what one would term as ‘Karma’ – introduce an evil into society and it comes back to haunt you, sometimes with alacrity which surprises. These cruel attacks that kill innocent people are ones framed by rulers who have their loyalty to two main sources- the military-industrial complex and the Zionist lobbies. The rulers go unscathed but the people pay. And there is money- business, for example, from the Saudis for a free hand in Yemen and dabbling in Syria too. And, of course, the sell-out of Palestine to the Zionists!
Feredica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is said to have broken down in tears breaks down in tears during a speech alongside Jordan’s foreign minister Nasser Judeh after what happened in Brussels. She offered lip-service to Islam in an act of patronage: Islam is religion of peace and dialogue and co-operation. The world was not waiting for her to enlighten us all about this. Such barefaced show of angst makes good media coverage but does little to uncover the truth of western brutality and neo-colonial practices. One asks: Do those who feign sorrow at the killings in France or Brussels have any thought for the everyday massacres in Palestine, for the millions killed in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, and Yemen? It is they who are tormented; not the leaders who hold hands and put on sad faces for the media to report.
Feredica Mogherini can easily be accused of shedding crocodile tears – maybe she was really saddened. But whither those tears when it came to Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenese, Syrians, Palestinians, Afghans, and tens and thousand others who came into the cross fire in the killing fields; or in the way of the many miscalculations of the drones?
Peace is not on its way for as long as arrogant colonial/racist leaders drive the way the world is run. The UN is long reduced to impotence by the very powers that now engage in direct rule through cross border wars and intervene internally through civil wars.
Peace will come when nations are allowed to take sovereign decisions- regardless of whether those on the outside like the decisions or not. Citizens will turn things around when the time comes as history attests to. Political meddlers are added trouble and, more so, when their interests are self-directed.
Paris taught the world nothing. Brussels will be a repeat of Paris. Ankara is erased from media memory and, by extension, public recall. For peace to come neo-colonialism must be dismantled, and eradicated. Citizens of the self-proclaimed western democracies must stand tall, be better informed, stop believing in the fairy tales their media offers them, and seek alternative view points, engage in critical thinking and analysis. Its time, as Karl Marx called on us, to “question everything”.
A peace activist/political commentator remarked: “The fear factor is being ramped up across Europe and we’ll soon be clamoring for an armed presence on the streets of the Europe, a precursor for martial law, once that happens there will be little chance of going back”. Terror attacks are often false flag operations and security experts have claimed this with hard evidence. The mainstream gives such information a pass. But there is a terror and counter-terror industry which has cultivated a method of keeping itself alive. In the meantime, Muslims in Belgium are asserting to their loyalty to their state. They resent the terror tag attached to them and ask, instead, that their governments go after the real causes of terror in the world rather mystify attacks such as this as Islamic in origin. Already, a media report has suggested that one of the two bombers wrote a desperate suicide note which was found in a trash can! Now, we do need to sift out facts from myths before the seeds of hatred grow to abominable proportions.
If anything can change the world, it will not be the politicians - clean or dirty- too few are without self-interest. It will not be military analysts or defense strategists. Not more weapons. More dialogue. The world needs an alert and agile civil society that will persistently put the political class and lobbies under scrutiny. For which group of ordinary people are not peace loving? There are examples of people taking peaceful protest in large numbers to force a reversal of policies. Some five decades ago, it was the Vietnam War. Two decades ago, it was apartheid that came crumbling down. Dictatorships, always propped up by the US and western allies for mere commercial gain, have been brought down.
So, there is hope and that hope must be built around a vision for a peace rooted in justice. It’s also about claiming the right to say “NO” to war and injustice. It is about asserting: “Another world is possible… because this brave new world is in the womb of her mother waiting to be born”.
Ranjan Solomon has worked on International Affairs for many years beginning 1982 at the Asia Pacific level in 1982. Currently he serves as Consultant to the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches. The views in this article are his own and do not represent those of any organization.
|March 29, 2016||
U.S. Still Demands Assad’s Removal In Syria.
by Eric Zuesse, Countercurrents
U.S. Still Demands Assad’s Removal In Syria
By Eric Zuesse
29 March, 2016
A news report from Russia’s Interfax News Service quotes “the press-secretary of the US embassy in Moscow,” whom it identifies as “William Stevens,” as saying that during a meeting U.S. CIA Director William Brennan had in Moscow with “Russia officials” “in early March,” “Director Brennan” chose “to emphasize with Russian officials the importance of Russia and the Assad regime following through on their agreements to implement the cessation of hostilities in Syria” and that, “Director Brennan also reiterated the US government’s consistent support for a genuine political transition in Syria, and the need for Assad’s departure in order to facilitate a transition that reflects the will of the Syrian people.”
All of this is from Russia’s Sputnik News, that allegedly “William Stevens told RIA Novosti.”
Western news services are citing that Russian source as the sole source in their own reporting of the matter; and no denial has yet been issued by the U.S. government.
If the allegation is true, then the U.S., “in early March," was demanding “Assad’s departure,” despite there being no participation of the Syrian people in that decision — no new election in Syria, much less Assad’s losing any such election; and, yet, Mr. Brennan was demanding this, “in order to facilitate a transition that reflects the will of the Syrian people,” somehow (despite there being no democratic process whatsoever).
Even Western polling firms have been finding that Assad’s remaining as Syria’s leader is supported by 55% of Syrians, and that the U.S. is blamed by 82% of Syrians as being the source of Syria’s civil war: "82% agree 'IS [Islamic State] is US and foreign made group’.” In other words: Syrians, the most secular, the most anti-theocratic, people in the entire Middle East, blame people such as John Brennan as the source of their miseries. This same poll found that "79% agree 'Foreign fighters made war worse’.” It also found: "70% agree 'Oppose division of country’.”
The Obama Administration favors breaking Syria up into sectarian enclaves: Alawite-Shiite, versus Sunni, versus Druze, versus Kurd. This would be essential in order to permit Saudi Arabia to build an oil pipeline into Europe through the Sunni part of Syria, and Qatar also to build a gas pipeline through the Sunni part of Syria, both in order to get their (U.S.-corporate-backed) oil and gas into Europe, so as to replace Russia’s main market for its oil and gas, which is the EU.
The same poll also found that “65% agree ‘Syrians can live together again’.”
Clearly, American involvement in the political process in Syria is unwelcomed, if not loathed, by the Syrian people. They don’t want the U.S. to continue supporting the jihadists who are destroying their country; and they also don’t want the U.S. dictating that Bashar al-Assad will stop being their leader.
None of these facts are brought up by any of the moderators in the U.S. Presidential candidates’ debates. However, some of those moderators are on my email list for all of my news-reports (which have covered all of these matters), and therefore it would seem unlikely that the reason for the matter’s not being covered — at all — is that they are ignorant of the reality. The explanation must be something other than ignorance.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.
|April 3, 2016||
The Globalisation Of Bad Food And Poor Health: Sustainable Development or Sustainable Profits?
by Colin Todhunter, Countercurrents
The proportion of deaths due to cancer around the world increased from 12 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2013. Globally, cancer is already the second-leading cause of death after cardiovascular diseases.
In India, government data indicates that cancer showed a 5 percent increase in prevalence between 2012 and 2014 with the number of new cases doubling between 1990 and 2013. The incidence of cancer for some major organs in India is the highest in the world. Reports have also drawn attention to rising rates of breast cancer in urban areas, and, in 2009, there was a reported increase in cancer rates in Tamil Nadu's textile belt, possibly due to chemically contaminated water.
The increase in prevalence of diabetes is also worrying. By 2030, the number of diabetes patients in India is likely to rise to 101 million (World Health Organisation estimate). The number doubled to 63 million in 2013 from 32 million in 2000. Almost 8.2 percent of the adult male population in India has diabetes. The figure is 6.8 percent for women.
In India, almost 76,000 men and 52,000 women in the 30-69 age group died due to diabetes in 2015, according to the WHO. The organisation reports South-East Asia had a diabetic population of around 47 million, which is expected to reach 119 million by 2030.
A new study in The Lancet has found that India and China continue to have the largest number of underweight people in the world; however, both countries have broken into the top five in terms of obesity.
India leads the world in terms of underweight people. Some 102 million men and 101 million women are underweight, which makes the country home to over 40 percent of the global underweight population.
Contrast this with India’s surge in obesity. In 1975, the country had 0.4 million obese men or 1.3 percent of the global obese men’s population. In 2014, it was in fifth position globally with 9.8 million obese men or 3.7 percent of the global obese men's population. Among women, India is globally ranked third, with 20 million obese women or 5.3 percent of global population.
Although almost half the nation’s under-5s are underweight, the prevalence of underweight children in India is among the highest in the world; at the same time, the country is fast becoming the diabetes and heart disease capital of the world.
Many social and economic factors, including environmental pollution, poor working and living conditions, tobacco smoking, lack of income and economic distress, lack of access to healthcare and poverty, contribute to ill health and disease. However, conditions like cardiovascular disease and obesity have among other things been linked to sedentary lifestyles and/or certain types of diet, not least modern Western-style convenience food (discussed later).
Western junk food aside, it will be shown that even when we have access to sufficient calorific intake or seemingly nutritious and wholesome traditional diets, there is little doubt that due to the processes involved in growing and processing the food we eat, diet can be a (major) contributory factor in causing certain conditions and illnesses.
The junk food revolution, ‘free’ trade and poor health
The impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the subsequent flood of cheap US processed food into the country has adversely affected the health of ordinary people. Western ‘convenience’ (junk) food has displaced more traditional-based diets and is now readily available in every neighbourhood. Increasing rates of diabetes, obesity and other health issues have followed. This report by GRAIN describes how US agribusiness and retailers have captured the market south of the border and outlines the subsequent impact on the health of Mexican people.
In Europe, due to the ‘harmonisation’ of food regulatory standards, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could seriously impact the health of Europeans. Washington wants Europe to eliminate all restrictions on imports of food from the US and to adopt a US-style food supply regulatory regime, stripped of the precautionary principle. US corporations want to make it difficult for European consumers to identify whether what they're eating is food that was produced using health-damaging practices that EU consumers are against, like GMOs, chlorine-washed chicken and meat from animals treated with growth hormone.
These types of trade agreements represent little more than economic plunder by transnational corporations. They use their massive political clout to author the texts of these agreements with the aim of eradicating all restrictions and regulations that would impede greater profits.
Western agribusiness, food processing companies and retail concerns are gaining wider entry into India and through various strategic trade deals are looking to gain a more significant footprint within the country. The Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture and the ongoing India-EU free trade agreement (like TTIP, both are secretive and largely authored by powerful corporations above the heads of ordinary people) talks have raised serious concerns about the stranglehold that transnational corporations could have on the agriculture and food sectors, including the subsequent impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of millions and not least the health of the public.
Western style fast-food outlets have already been soaring in number throughout the country. Pizza Hut now operates in 46 Indian cities with 181 restaurants and 132 home delivery locations, a 67 percent increase in the last five years). KFC is now in 73 cities with 296 restaurants, a 770 percent increase. McDonalds is in 61 Indian cities with 242 restaurants as compared to 126 restaurants five years back, a 92 percent increase). According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Applied Research, the Indian fast food market is growing at the rate of 30-35 percent per annum (see this).
Heart disease, liver damage, stroke, obesity and diabetes are just some of the diseases linked to diets revolving around fast-food. Frequent consumption of fast food has been associated with increased body mass index as well as higher intakes of fat, sodium, added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages and lower intakes of fruits, vegetables, fibre and milk in children, adolescents and adults. Fast food also tends to have higher energy densities and poorer nutritional quality than foods prepared at home and in comparison with dietary recommendations (see this).
To further appreciate just how unhealthy even seemingly healthy food can be in well-stocked supermarkets, this report in The Guardian reveals the cocktails of additives, colourants and preservatives that the modern food industry adds to our food.
Moreover, in many regions across the globe industrialised factory farming has replaced traditional livestock agriculture. Animals are thrown together in cramped conditions to scale up production and maximise output at minimum cost. For example, just 40 years ago the Philippines’ entire population was fed on native eggs and chickens produced by family farmers. Now, most of those farmers are out of business. And because world trade rules encourage nations from imposing tariffs on subsidised imported products, they are forced to allow cheap, factory-farmed US meat into the country. These products are then sold at lower prices than domestic meat. There is therefore pressure for local producers to scale up and industrialise to compete.
Factory farms increase the risk of pathogens like E coli and salmonella that cause food-borne illness in people. Overuse of antibiotics can fuel the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the use of arsenic and growth hormones can increase the risk of cancer in people and crowded conditions can be a breeding ground for disease. And genetically modified animal feed is also a serious issue, leading to concerns about the impact on both animal and human health.
The green revolution, micronutrient deficient soil and human health
We often hear unsubstantiated claims about the green revolution having saved hundreds of millions of lives, but any short-term gains have been offset. This high-input petro-chemical paradigm helped the drive towards greater monocropping and has resulted in less diverse diets and less nutritious foods. Its long-term impact has led to soil degradation and mineral imbalances, which in turn have adversely affected human health (see this report on India by botanist Stuart Newton - p 9 onward).
Adding weight to this argument, the authors of this paper from the International Journal of Environmental and Rural Development state:
The authors imply that the link between micronutrient deficiency in soil and human nutrition is increasingly regarded as important:
Pesticides, the environment, food and health
Hand in hand with the practices outlined above has been the growth of the widespread intensive use of chemical pesticides. There are currently 34,000 pesticides registered for use in the US. Drinking water is often contaminated by pesticides and more babies are being born with preventable birth defects due to pesticide exposure. Illnesses are on the rise too, including asthma, autism and learning disabilities, birth defects and reproductive dysfunction, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases and several types of cancer. The association with pesticide exposure is becoming stronger with each new study.
In Punjab, pesticide run-offs into water sources have turned the state into a 'cancer epicentre', and Indian soils are being depleted as a result of the application of green revolution ideology and chemical inputs. India is losing 5,334 million tonnes of soil every year due to soil erosion because of the indiscreet and excessive use of fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research reports that soil is become deficient in nutrients and fertility.
India is one of the world’s largest users of pesticides and a profitable market for the corporations that manufacture them. Ladyfinger, cabbage, tomato and cauliflower in particular may contain dangerously high levels because farmers tend to harvest them almost immediately after spraying. Fruit and vegetables are sprayed and tampered with to make them more colourful, and harmful fungicides are sprayed on fruit to ripen them in order to rush them off to market.
Consider that if you live in India, the next time you serve up a good old ‘wholesome’ meal of rice and various vegetables, you could take in half a milligram of pesticide also. That would be much more than what an average North American person would consume.
Research by the School of Natural Sciences and Engineering (SNSE) at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore has indicated disturbing trends in the increased use of pesticide. In 2008, it reported that many crops for export had been rejected internationally due to high pesticide residues. Moreover, India is one of the largest users of World Health Organization (WHO) class 1A pesticides, including phorate, phosphorus, phosphamidon and fenthion that are extremely hazardous.
Kasargod in Kerala is notorious for the indiscriminate spraying of endosulfan. The government-owned Plantation Corporation of Kerala aerially sprayed the harmful pesticide on cashews for a period of over 20 years. Consequently, it got into rivers, streams and drinking water. Families and their children have been living with physical deformities, cancers and disorders of the central nervous system ever since.
Officials and the pesticide companies benefited from the spraying. At the time, cashew was grown without pesticides throughout Kerala, but the government-run plantation invested millions of rupees of public money in spraying the deadly pesticide. Endosulfen poisoning cases also emerged elsewhere, including Karnataka.
The SNSE notes that pesticide use across India has greatly increased over the years. This not only impacts the health of consumers but also the health of agricultural workers who are subject to pesticide drift and spaying, especially as they tend to wear little or no protection. Research by SNSE shows farmers use a cocktail of pesticides and often use three to four times the recommended amounts (see this).
Forced-fed development: who benefits?
If there are any beneficiaries in all of this, it is the pesticide manufacturers, the healthcare sector, especially private clinics and drug companies, and the transnational food and agribusiness companies, which now see their main growth markets in Asia, Africa and South America, where traditionally people have tended to eat food from their own farms or markets that sell locally-produced foods.
Of course, the commodification and privatisation of seeds by corporate entities, the manufacturing and selling of more and more chemicals to spray on them, the opening up fast food outlets and the selling of pharmaceuticals or the expansion of private hospitals to address the health impacts of the modern junk food system (in India, the healthcare sector is projected to grow by 16 percent a year) all amounts to the holy grail of neoliberal capitalism, GDP growth; which increasingly means a system defined by jobless growth, greater personal and public debt and massive profits for large corporations and banks.
While there are calls for taxes on unhealthy food and emphasis is placed on encouraging individual ‘lifestyle changes’ and ‘healthy eating’, it would be better to call to account the corporations that profit from the growing and production of health-damaging food in the first place and to get agriculture off the chemical treadmill.
Part of the solution entails restoring degraded soils. It also includes moving towards healthier and more nutritious organic agriculture, encouraging localised rural and urban food economies that are shielded from the effects of rigged trade and international markets and shying away from the need for unhealthy food-processing practices, unnatural preservatives and harmful additives.
In India, it also involves calling a halt to the programmed dismantling of local rural economies and indigenous agriculture under the guise of ‘globalisation’ for the benefit of transnational agribusiness and food retail corporations. And it entails placing less emphasis on a headlong rush towards urbanisation (and the subsequent distortion of agricultural production), while putting greater emphasis on localisation.
Colin Todhunter is an independent writer. His website is here
|April 4, 2016||
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth: A Nuclear Armageddon in the Making in South Asia
by Dilip Hiro, Countercurrents
Undoubtedly, for nearly two decades, the most dangerous place on Earth has been the Indian-Pakistani border in Kashmir. It's possible that a small spark from artillery and rocket exchanges across that border might -- given the known military doctrines of the two nuclear-armed neighbors -- lead inexorably to an all-out nuclear conflagration. In that case the result would be catastrophic. Besides causing the deaths of millions of Indians and Pakistanis, such a war might bring on nuclear winter on a planetary scale, leading to levels of suffering and death that would be beyond our comprehension.
Alarmingly, the nuclear competition between India and Pakistan has now entered a spine-chilling phase. That danger stems from Islamabad's decision to deploy low-yield tactical nuclear arms at its forward operating military bases along its entire frontier with India to deter possible aggression by tank-led invading forces. Most ominously, the decision to fire such a nuclear-armed missile with a range of 35 to 60 miles is to rest with local commanders. This is a perilous departure from the universal practice of investing such authority in the highest official of the nation. Such a situation has no parallel in the Washington-Moscow nuclear arms race of the Cold War era.
|April 5, 2016||
For Your Own Good! Embedding Transnational Agribusiness And GMOs Into African Agriculture Under The Veil Of Philanthropy.
by Colin Todhunter, Countercurrents
The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) has just released the report For your own good!, which outlines the GMO industry’s expansion across Africa. The report focusses on non-commercial traditional crops, such as cassava, sorghum, sweet potato, pigeon pea, cowpea, banana and rice, which corporations are attempting to genetically modify and roll out under the guise of philanthropy.
The report reveals that a great deal of research and development is currently underway into the genetic modification (GM) of these crops. Most of the on-going trials concentrate on drought and salt tolerance, nitrogen use efficiency, resistance to tropical pests and diseases and nutritional enhancement (biofortification). The key countries that have been targeted include Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi.
The genesis of GM research into these crops can be found in royalty-free donations of various patented GM traits by several transnational companies to experimental programmes undertaken by African scientists employed by government ministries. These companies include Monsanto, Dupont and Pioneer Hi-bred.
Mariam Mayet, Director of the ACB, says:
The main players involved include the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF), which is on the receiving end of many of the technological property rights donations, the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP) and the Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS). The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and USAID fund the latter organisations.
US-based research institutions such as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (DDPSC) (for cassava) and universities (notably Michigan State University and Kansas State University) play a major role in this ‘philanthropic’ research.
The ACB report notes there is a dearth of literature that critically addresses biosafety issues and socio-economic aspects relating to the biofortification of indigenous crops through GM. According to the authors, this is especially important given the need to move away from an over-emphasis on food fortification strategies towards a permanent solution: diet diversification through locally available foods, which was recognised as early as 1992 by the UN International Conference on Nutrition.
As is the case with the controversial Golden Rice research and development project, the report argues these GM projects are diverting financial and human resources and policies and practices away from implementing the real solutions that can be found within the diversity of natural foods and farming.
Zakiyya Ismail, Consumer Campaigner with the ACB argues:
ACB stresses that smallholder farmers must be given the right to choose their means of production and survival. It adds even if gene sequences and constructs are donated, the accompanying requisite GM inputs will be expensive for farmers. GM crops are highly likely to increase the costs of production for farmers and lead them into indebtedness and dependency.
The report by ACB follows a Global Justice Now report that outlines the role of BMFG in spearheading a drive into Africa on behalf of ‘corporate America’ to facilitate a GMO/green revolution.
With assets of $43.5 billion, BMGF is the largest charitable foundation in the world and distributes more aid for global health than any government. Its strategy is intended to deepen the role of multinational companies, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the Global South. The foundation’s programmes have a specific ideological strategy that promotes neo-liberal economic policies, corporate globalisation, GMOs and an outdated (colonialist) view of role of aid in ‘helping’ the poor.
Global Justice Now shows that the senior staff of BMGF’s programmes are overwhelmingly drawn from ‘corporate America’. As a result, the question is: whose interests are being promoted – those of corporate America or those of ordinary people who seek social and economic justice rather than charity?
Hardly a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist, Peter Buffet is the son of the billionaire investor Warren Buffet. He recently argued that philanthropy only serves to end up perpetuating systems of oppression.
Writing in the NewYork Times, Buffett criticised “philanthropic colonialism,” where rich people get involved with issues they understand very little about. In the meantime, the wealthy get to feel good for “solving” the problems that they or the system they benefitted from caused in the first place.
He went on to say that this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place:
Conscience laundering may be all well and good for individuals, but corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits for their shareholders, and ‘philanthropy’ can be regarded as part of a long-term strategy. Getting GMOs into Africa by any means makes hard-headed business sense.
And as if to underline this, according to ACB, it is highly likely that GM varieties will be subject to plant breeders’ rights and GM certified seed will be sold to farmers by local seed companies who will expect a profit or royalty payments from farmers. This scenario is of vital importance because the traditional crops in question are the common heritage of African farmers and often the last defence against hunger in poor communities.
Mariam Mayet concludes:
The ‘philanthropy’ currently being dished out in Africa does not empower local farmers but is aimed at getting GMOs (with all of the associated problems) into agriculture, sucking farmers into the prevailing power structures of US capitalism and marginalising credible,alternative approaches based on self-sufficiency, sustainability and sound ecological practices.
Colin Todhunter is an independent writer: colintodhunter.com
|April 7, 2016||
Chomsky And Others Put Forward 'Ideas For Going Forward' In This Crisis-Ridden World
The world is facing a Titanic moment. Either humanity comes together as one and save the Mother Ship Earth or we go down without a trace! The major crises we face are ecological crisis manifested in global warming/climate change, soil degradation, water crisis, over all environmental damage, war perpetrated by predatory capitalism which could eventually lead to a nuclear winter, resource crisis, health, education and economic crisis etc. Race/caste and gender/sexuality justice are other major issues that need urgent attention. A group of intellectuals including Noam Chomsky, academics and activists have come forward with a document called "Some Possible Ideas For Going Forward". The document states at the outset,
The document puts forward 'Economic Programmatic Ideas', 'Education Programmatic Ideas', 'Race Programmatic Ideas', 'Gender/Kinship Programmatic Ideas', 'International Relations Programmatic Ideas', 'Health Programmatic Ideas' and 'Ecology Programmatic Ideas'. The document calls for "energy innovations, and steps to reduce global warming and mitigate its impact, and, in general, policy to preserve the ecology."
The document calls for cessation of all arms shipments abroad, cessation of any aid abroad intended for the hands of police or other potentially repressive agencies, such as occupying armies, elimination of all U.S. or other nations' overseas military bases and an end to the use of military force as an instrument of national policy.
Michael Albert, Z Communications / U.S.
|March 17, 2016||
A successful energy transition to renewables could not only rescue the planet but create a more just economy.
by Yessenia Funes, YES! Magazine, AlterNet
TORONTO - JULY 5 : Two women carrying a installation asking to keep fossil fuels in the ground during the Jobs,Justice and Climate rally on July 5, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.
Our lifestyle is inextricably linked to fossil fuels. We pay the industry to heat our homes and power our cars. Though driving might be optional where public transit is available, heat is not during harsh winters. We know about the effects on the climate of burning oil, gas, and coal for energy, but we don’t know what turning our backs on them will do to our economy. Some worry that closing our oil refineries and shutting down our mines would throw the market into a dangerous vortex. That doesn’t need to be the case. A successful energy transition could actually benefit the economy and reduce inequality.
The economy relies on a number of things, including spending, manufacturing, trade, and personal income. The availability of fossil fuels has largely driven these for 150 years. “[Oil] is the world’s first trillion-dollar industry in terms of annual dollar sales,” environmental author Jack Doyle wrote in 1994. In North Dakota, a major oil- and gas-producing state, an oil boom created the $53.7 billion gross domestic product the state sees today.
But booms often have downsides. When the journal Energy Economics compared six states that produced the vast majority of the West’s crude oil and natural gas, it saw per capita income decrease by as much as $7,000 in counties whose incomes relied most on such development. Also, the crime rates and percentage of adults without a college education increased in those counties. The study offers possible explanations, including an increasing reliance on nonlocal workers and changing wage structures.
The oil and gas industries are the largest industrial sources of volatile organic compound emissions—2.2 million tons a year. These chemicals cause smog, which can increase the risks of asthma and premature death. The industry also produces cancer-causing pollutants: benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane, which are emitted during the refinement process.
Low-income communities of color disproportionately bear this health burden and are also least likely to have access to health care, including preventive medicine, checkups, and prescription drugs. The inequality of care only widens the income gap by adding more financial pressures to an already stressed group.
What about jobs? Extractive industries currently employ nearly 200,000 Americans and pay some employees as much as $42.90 an hour. These jobs are a valid concern. The U.S. unemployment rate is finally down to about 5 percent. Surely we don’t want all those people put out of work.
That won’t happen if we launch the renewable energy sector in sync. Economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) have studied this topic since the early 2000s. Their research shows how a transition to renewables can lead to a post-carbon world and a fairer economy.
Robert Pollin, PERI’s co-director, began researching green job opportunities about seven years ago. In 2014, he and a few of his colleagues released Green Growth: A U.S. Program for Controlling Climate Change and Expanding Job Opportunities, which looked at the economic potential of a renewable energy sector if the United States worked toward the emissions-reduction goal that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has proposed. This means reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent over the next 20 years. According to PERI, a renewable energy transition would be chock-full of jobs—about 2.7 million new ones. Pollin is quick to point out that these jobs wouldn’t require any more public or private investment dollars, as the model the report used looked at moving current fossil-fuel investments toward renewables.
This is just one part of the equation. A transition toward clean energy would also create more new jobs than dirty energy currently does. Comparing the two sectors, Green Growth shows that renewables create an average of 12.6 jobs per $1 million in investment. Oil, coal, and gas, on the other hand, average about 10.6.
The study highlights that a transition should include energy efficiency, too. The labor necessary to retrofit and improve infrastructure would add another 14.6 jobs per $1 million in investment. And coupling the transition with energy efficiency updates would address a concern we see with fossil fuels and renewables: that communities lacking these energy sources would miss out on jobs. Not all communities are rich in sun, wind, or oil, but every U.S. community is poor in efficient infrastructure.
The transition away from fossil fuels would offer a wide range of jobs, Pollin explained. There will be something for people with and without high school diplomas, those who have partial college educations or college degrees, and some with post-college credentials. This means more engineers, more construction workers, more lawyers, and more truck drivers. Building the green economy requires more people per dollar of expenditure than maintaining the fossil fuel economy, he said.
Labor-intensive employment sectors, like renewables, can decrease inequality by creating employment opportunities for the poor. The fossil fuel industry, on the other hand, invests more on machines and tools than hiring employees.
Robin Hahnel, a director of the Economics for Equity and the Environment Network, says the job market needs a huge transformation: a program similar to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of federal programs that created jobs and labor laws during the Great Depression.
As seen with the New Deal, economic success isn’t just about the jobs; it’s about the policies that accompany them, too. An energy transition would help our economy, but it wouldn’t necessarily reduce poverty or inequality. At least not by itself.
That’s where James Boyce, PERI’s director of its Program on Development, Peacebuilding, and the Environment, comes in. His economic research focuses on poverty reduction and environmental protection and has led him to support a cap-and-dividend program. Like cap and trade, this sets an annually decreasing limit to the amount of carbon companies that use carbon-based fuel can emit. It then requires those companies to purchase permits to match their emissions. But, unlike cap and trade, these permits can’t be exchanged if an emitter reaches its limit. The dividends—collected from the sales of the permits—are given back to the people as rebates. Every man, woman, and child.
Critics say that the policy isn’t aggressive enough, that we would still be emitting. They also say cap and dividend doesn’t provide incentives to move toward renewables. To that, Boyce responds: “Cap and dividend would raise the price of oil, coal, and natural gas. As prices go up, households and businesses consume less. The fact of higher prices, and the knowledge that prices will rise further as the cap tightens, is the key incentive that will spur investment in renewables and energy efficiency.”
These higher prices would be offset by the dividends, so people are more likely to accept the idea. These people include politicians. Bipartisan support is critical. “Climate policy is not something you can pass one fine day, and then the problem is solved,” Boyce explains. “We’re going to have to maintain the policy in place for three or four decades during the clean energy transition, and that means it has to be popular, right?”
The idea should be most popular among low-income households. Even though increased energy costs would take a larger portion of their income compared to high-earning households, Boyce’s research shows low-income households ultimately win. The poor consume much less energy than the rich, so once the dividends are distributed, they would see a nearly 15 percent increase in their net incomes. The net incomes of the rich would decrease by 2.4 percent because of their higher energy consumption. This is according to a model Boyce created, where the permits cost $200 per ton of emissions.
Ideas similar to cap and dividend are gaining traction in states like Oregon and on the federal level with bills like the Healthy Climate and Family Security Act of 2015 and the Managed Carbon Price Act of 2014. Alaska already has a dividend program, which pays residents yearly, based on oil extraction in the state.
So—about oil. This is where environmentalists and workers sometimes disagree. What will happen to people already employed by oil and gas? How would a renewable energy transition be more equal if it disproportionately affects the current energy sector?
Well, let’s make it a just transition.
Jeremy Brecher co-founded the Labor Network for Sustainability in 2009 with that transition in mind. He recognized that environmentalists and fossil fuel industry workers could solve climate change and inequality working together, but not if they treated one another as opposition. “Any job is important if it is your job,” Brecher emphasizes. If fossil fuel employees feel their livelihood is being threatened, they’ll likely “serve as poster children for people who oppose climate protection for other reasons.” They’ll support the renewable energy revolution’s millions of new jobs as long as they get first dibs.
President Barack Obama apparently sees that logic. He included a $55 million plan for declining coal communities in his 2016 budget. The POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) Plus Plan invests in workers, communities, and their health. Funding is devoted to increasing job opportunities through training and cleanup of hazardous sites for communities to redevelop.
This is the sort of policy Brecher approves of. However, he would like to see a program go as far as the GI Bill of Rights, with employees eligible for full wages and benefits for at least three years, education and training expenses (including tuition and living) for up to four years, and decent pensions with health care for those ready to retire.
“Those commitments need to be available to coal miners and others who have made incredible sacrifices to their health and well-being in order to produce energy that we have all had our lives based on,” Brecher says.
It’s debatable whether the public or industry should finance those programs, but Brecher still gives credit where it’s due. Justice made it into the national political agenda. That’s something.
Yessenia Funes is an assistant editor at YES! and a recent graduate of the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Follow her on Twitter @yessfun.
|March 14, 2016||
Stunned by February Temperature Spike, Scientists Declare Climate Emergency
by Sarah Lazare, AlterNet
New data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) shows that February temperatures shattered all previous warm weather records for this month.
However, this was no ordinary record-breaking month, which we’ve been seeing a lot of lately. The average global surface temperature was 1.35 degrees Celsius warmer than 1951 to 1980 average, meaning that February warmed by an unprecedented margin.
Compare this spike to the previous record-breaking Februaries: 0.88 degrees above average in 1998 and 0.87 degrees above in 2015.
The temperature leap for this February was so great it left climate scientists stunned.
The director of GISS and principal investigator for the GISS ModelE Earth System Model released the following Tweet.
"This is really quite stunning ... it's completely unprecedented," Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany's Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research, told Fairfax Media.
Meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson referred to February’s margin of warming “jaw-dropping” and an “ominous milestone in our march toward an ever-warmer planet.”
The increase raises temperatures for February above 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. While this increase could go back down in coming months, it is a bad sign, given that the international community agreed at the UN-brokered climate talks in December to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, following pressure from global civil society and social movement groups.
“It’s the first time humanity has hit 1.5 degrees Celsius above industrial temperatures,” Bill Snape, senior counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity, told AlterNet. “We are already at the target, and that’s scary. It reinforces the fact that we need to move fast at reducing greenhouse pollutants, and we need to do so radically.”
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.
|March 19, 2016||
Why Justice for Animals Is the Social Movement of Our Time (VIDEO)
by Dr. Hope Ferdowsian, Psychology Today, AlterNet
Earlier this week, SeaWorld finally caved to public criticism and ended its orca (killer whale) breeding program. This will be the last generation of orcas held captive by SeaWorld. The announcement follows international efforts to acknowledge the rights of whales and dolphins.
News from SeaWorld came almost exactly one year after Ringling Brothers first publicly conceded that it would stop using elephants in circuses.
Both advancements show how more and more people believe that (nonhuman) animals fit within a framework of social justice. Growing concern for animals is reflected in the large number of books, magazine articles, and films about the plight of animals. Worldwide enthusiastic responses to documentaries like Blackfish,The Cove, Parrot Confidential, Project Nim, and Cowspiracy illustrate the high level of public interest in animal issues.
These trends are supported by public opinion surveys. Of six causes tracked in a 2014 Humane Research Council survey of 1,000 American adults, animal protection was ranked most favorably in importance, followed by environmental protection and civil liberties. The number of strong supporters for animal protection approximately doubled between 2005 and 2014.
A 2015 Gallup poll even showed that at least one-third of Americans believe “animals deserve the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation.”
Take a minute to think about the gravity of that assertion — and its potential implications. I count myself among the one-third of Americans who agree with the Gallup poll statement about animals.
Orphaned elephant and caregiver at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (credit: Hope Ferdowsian)
As an internist, preventive medicine and public health physician who works in human rights, I have spent the last decade trying to prevent human diseases and disorders before they occur, treating difficult health conditions, evaluating asylum seekers for indications of torture, caring for sexual violence survivors, and trying to dismantle social determinants of health. Before that, I spent four years in college, four years in medical school, one year as an intern working more than 100 hours per week, and four years completing two residency programs. Today, all of my work as a doctor is driven by my quest for social justice.
You might be surprised that I believe that justice for animals is the social movement of our time. But, more than anything, I believe it. Here’s why. Like us, animals are deeply vulnerable beings. In fact, much of our own vulnerability stems from the fact that we are animals.There is no longer dispute among serious scientists that humans aren’t the only animals who have the capacity to suffer physically and mentally.
Elephants, great apes, orcas, dogs, cats, and many other animals can experience depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and compulsive disorders. In a study first published in 2011, my colleagues and I showed how chimpanzees used in the biomedical and entertainment industries suffered from PTSD and other mental disorders – much like the psychiatric conditions I’ve documented in human torture survivors (see "Psychological Disorders in Animals: A Review of What We Know").
Suffering among other animals is no less than ours. It’s possible they suffer even more than many of us do, simply because of their inability to understand what is happening to them, make sense of their plight, escape from it, or alter their conditions (for more on this please see "Do 'Smarter' Dogs Really Suffer More than 'Dumber' Mice?").
Currently, all of our legal, economic, and cultural paradigms render animals even more vulnerable than they already are. Like many of the patients I have cared for, animals have no political power. But they are also considered property. They can be bought and sold — not unlike many of the girls and women around the world whom my colleagues and I advocate on behalf of.
Historically, as early as the nineteenth century, cruelty against vulnerable people — such as children — and animals were treated as a united cause. Members of the public recognized that violence against people and animals shared common origins, requiring similar solutions. Abuses against animals were seen as a slippery slope toward human abuses. Respecting animals was viewed as a critical first step toward justice and progress.
A cage typically used to hold chimpanzees (credit: Hope Ferdowsian)
Today, however, the human and animal rights movements now miss an important opportunity by working in different silos. Fortunately, there is a growing modern movement that recognizes the link between violence against people and animals.
Some people worry about what would happen to humans if we were to take the lives of animals more seriously. But, fortunately, recognizing the needs of animals does not minimize who we are as people. On the contrary, future advancements for animals could help enlighten and benefit us, similar to how recognizing the rights of women and girls has also helped men and boys – as we have seen in the fight against sexual violence and in other areas of society.
While further progress needs to be made on behalf of vulnerable human populations, the rights of people and animals are not mutually exclusive. This is not a zero-sum game. On the contrary, there is common ground occupied by those working on behalf of people and animals — both because of the shared potential for suffering and because many solutions to successfully combat domination, violence, and abuse are universal.
At the heart of every human rights resolution is a conviction that we, as humans, should not be unjustly imprisoned or suffer torture and other trespasses. There is no sound reason this conviction shouldn’t also apply to animals like the orcas at SeaWorld or the Ringling Brothers elephants. Animals have qualities we find important to the legal rights of humans – like self-awareness, the need for sovereignty, and the capacity for suffering, love, and empathy. We will never fully dismantle the injustices humans suffer without deconstructing the same problems that lead to animal suffering.
Ultimately, we are left with the question of "How we will treat those who are most vulnerable to us — human and otherwise. How will we answer? And what if we don’t answer adequately or soon enough?
As we’ve seen with SeaWorld, an impassioned public response can make all the difference in the world. The time is now for accepting that justice for animals Is the social movement of our time and we all need to do something to make this a reality right now.
Editor's note: This article was reprinted with permission and was originally published on Psychology Today by Dr. Mark Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. I thank Lybi Ma for allowing me to share this essay with you."
Dr. Hope Ferdowsian is an adjunct associate professor at the Georgetown University Medical Center and an assistant clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University. She is a volunteer physician for HealthRight International and Physicians for Human Rights and serves as a consultant for the PHR Program on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zones. For more information, visit
|March 17, 2016||
February Didn't Just Break Climate Change Records – It Totally Obliterated Them
by James Dyke, The Conversation, AlterNet
And another one bites the dust. The year 2014 was the warmest ever recorded by humans. Then 2015 was warmer still. January 2016 broke the record for the largest monthly temperature anomaly. Then came last month.
February didn’t break climate change records – it obliterated them. Regions of the Arctic were were more than 16℃ warmer than normal – whatever constitutes normal now. But what is really making people stand up and notice is that the surface of the Earth north of the equator was 2℃ warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. This was meant to be a line that must not be crossed.
Two degrees was broadly interpreted as the temperature that could produce further, potentially runaway warming. You can think of it as a speed limit on our climate impact. But it’s not a target speed. If you are driving a car carrying a heavy load down a steep hill you’re often advised to change down from top gear and keep your speed low, as if you go too fast your brakes will fail and you will be unable to stop. Less braking means more speed which means less braking – a dangerous runaway feedback loop. Hopefully the hill flattens out and you have enough straight road ahead to recover. If you don’t then you will be stopping much more abruptly.February Smashes Earth's All-Time Global Heat Record by a Jaw-Dropping Margin — Stefan Rahmstorf (@rahmstorf) March 13, 2016
We are currently swamping the Earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases. 2015 saw the largest annual increase in carbon dioxide since records began – far higher than the Earth has experienced for hundreds of thousands of years.
More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means higher temperatures. There is already one positive feedback loop in operation; the extra warming from our emissions is increasing the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere, which further increases temperatures. Fortunately, this is not a very strong feedback loop.
Unfortunately, there seem to be other, much more powerful ones lurking in the event of further warming. Tipping points such as the thaw of permafrost and release of the very powerful greenhouse gas methane in large quantities would drive world temperatures well beyond the 2℃ threshold.
Even if we came to our collective senses and rapidly reduced carbon emissions at that point, we would still have to revert to drastic geoengineering to rein in further warming. There is no guarantee that such climate brakes will work. If they fail, our civilisation would be on a collision course with a much hotter planet.
Permafrost may contain a huge global warming time bomb. Galyna Andrushko / shutterstock
The safe–unsafe threshold of 2℃ recognises the significant amount of uncertainty there is over where dangerous warming really begins. It could be at more than 2℃. Hopefully it is. But it’s not impossible that it is less. We need to bear in mind that it was only the northern hemisphere that crossed the 2℃ line. Also, we need to factor in the monster El Niño that is having an effect on temperatures across the globe. In 2014, I predicted that 2015 would break record temperatures. This is not due to any psychic powers on my part, but the then very clear El Niño signal that was emerging.
So while temperature records may continue to be set for the rest of 2016, by the end of this year the situation should have cooled somewhat. Right? At times, it feels as if such statements are offered up as prayers in the hope that we are not in fact witnessing the beginning of abrupt and sustained climate change. But what’s even scarier is the political, economic and social reaction to these landmarks in climate change.
Have you heard any political speeches referring to these recent climate change records? Not one of the major Republican presidential candidates even “believes” in human-produced climate change, let alone that it is something to worry about.
How was the stock market this morning? It appears febrile enough to lurch from euphoric boom to catastrophic bust on the basis of bland statements from central bankers but proves remarkably deaf to evidence that the entire industrial and financial system is headed for disaster.
Know what’s trending on Twitter as I write? A photoshopped giant dog, the latest Game of Thrones trailer and Kim Kardashian’s naked body. Actually, it’s mainly Kim Kardashian’s naked body and people’s responses to it. Followed by people’s responses to the responses.
It would be churlish of me to deny people the pleasure of looking at pictures of a photograph of a cuddly dog adjusted in order to make it appear both cute and monstrous. But we appear disinterested, either through denial or desensitisation, to the environmental changes happening right in front of our eyes.
There are sure to be more climate records broken this year. But we treat them as we treat new fashions, phones or films. More novelty, newer features, more drama. We seem unable to understand that we are driving such changes. Record breaking changes that will ultimately break our civilisation, and so scatter all that we obsess and care about.
|April 6, 2016||
We've Changed a Life-Giving Nutrient Into a Deadly Pollutant—Can We Change It Back?
by Elizabeth Grossman, Ensia, AlterNet
Coastal dead zones, global warming, excess algae blooms, acid rain, ocean acidification, smog, impaired drinking water quality, an expanding ozone hole and biodiversity loss. Seemingly diverse problems, but a common thread connects them: human disruption of how a single chemical element, nitrogen, interacts with the environment.
Nitrogen is absolutely crucial to life — an indispensable ingredient of DNA, proteins and essentially all living tissue — yet it also can choke the life out of aquatic ecosystems, destroy trees and sicken people when it shows up in excess at the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong form. And over the past century, people have released so much of this type of nitrogen — known as reactive nitrogen — that scientists say we’ve passed the limit of what the planet can safely handle.
The result of releasing so much nitrogen to the environment — through excessive and inefficient fertilizer use, agriculture-related nitrogen emissions and nutrient-laden wastewater, along with fossil fuel and biomass burning — is this slew of adverse environmental impacts. These impacts are occurring worldwide and are exacerbated by warming temperatures. Though the nitrogen problem gets far less press, we’ve now upset the naturally occurring balance of nitrogen even more than that of carbon.
While many things contribute to the problem — including energy use, urban runoff and sewage — agriculture is the largest source of environmentally damaging nitrogen. According to scientists studying this problem, approximately 80 percent of the nitrogen currently used in agriculture (primarily synthetic and other fertilizers, like manure) is lost to the environment at some point in the food supply chain. These losses occur on farms and in food production, sales, distribution, preparation and consumption. Or, as University of Virginia professor of environmental sciences Jim Galloway puts it, losses occur “all along the way from the field and bare soil to the sewage plant.”
A big part of the problem, according to Jan Willem Erisman, University of Amsterdam professor of integrated nitrogen studies and CEO of the Louis Bolk Institute in the Netherlands, is that “people don’t connect it to food and food production.” In fact, in the U.S., European Union, Japan and likely China and elsewhere, food accounts for more than 75 percent of the average person’s nitrogen footprint (individual contribution to nitrogen pollution), according to University of New Hampshire natural resources and environmental studies Ph.D. candidate Allison Leach, who is among the scientists working on the Nitrogen Footprint, a project designed to raise awareness of the issue. And it turns out that meat and other top-of-the-food-chain animal products — those that consume the most resources before they themselves become food — are among the biggest culprits in contributing to excess nitrogen in a form that can be damaging to the environment.
Such nitrogen pollution is responsible for the harmful algae blooms plaguing Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico; for last year’s drinking water crisis in Toledo; and for “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal oxygen depletion disorder that harms infants around the world — among other effects. Part of the difficulty in making people aware of these connections is that they often show up as “disruptions in distant places,” Erisman explains. What happens on a farm field can show up as algae many miles downstream and offshore, for example, or show up in groundwater that supplies well water to residents without direct connections to the source of contamination. Connecting water pollution or air pollution with food choices is even more of a stretch.
But before unraveling why a cheeseburger will expand your nitrogen footprint more than rice and beans, it helps to understand how we got to where we are now — with excess nitrogen creating dangerous river-choking algae blooms, fish-killing dead zones, unsafe drinking water and unhealthy levels of smog in cities worldwide — and how nitrogen works in the environment.
First, it’s important to know that the type of nitrogen that makes up a large part of the Earth’s atmosphere is not reactive but inert. For that nitrogen to be used by plants and other organisms, it must be converted into what’s called a “fixed,” or reactive, form. The main way this happens in nature is through microbes that live in soil and plant roots and convert inert nitrogen to ammonia, a reactive form that can be used in — and is essential to — plant growth. While plants need this reactive nitrogen to thrive, if excessive amounts enter the environment, they contribute to a suite of adverse effects. And ammonia is not the only form of reactive nitrogen; others — nitrous oxide,nitrogen oxides, nitrate and nitrite — can also become serious air and water contaminants and prompt respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases. Key to understanding this problem — and its solutions — is that this overload didn’t happen on its own.
Without human intervention of some sort, the world’s naturally occurring supply of reactive nitrogen essential to plant growth is relatively limited. So by the beginning of the 20th century it became apparent that there wasn’t going to be enough of this form of nitrogen available to produce the volume of food needed to adequately feed a growing population. This problem was solved by the invention of synthetic fertilizers that supply plants with nitrogen in a “fixed” form they can use. Agricultural productivity soared. But the use of these fertilizers has not been very efficient, resulting in the release of large amounts of reactive nitrogen into the environment. According to Galloway, Leach and colleagues, so much anthropogenic reactive nitrogen has been produced that by 2010, human activity was creating at least five times as much as were natural systems.
These releases, scientists have discovered, can last for decades. Not only is the nitrous oxide that comes off fertilized fields a potent greenhouse gas, but a new study of fertilizer use in the U.S. Midwest shows that excess nitrogen can accumulate in soil and result in decades-long pollution of surface and groundwater — including drinking water wells —with unsafe levels of nitrates that can lead, for example, to blue-baby syndrome. Even if fertilizer use were stopped today, the nitrogen pollution would persist for years, writes study co-author Nandita Basu, University of Waterloo professor of earth and environmental sciences and civil and environmental engineering.
Meanwhile, as agricultural productivity soared in the early 20th century, ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels were being burned, releasing yet more reactive nitrogen into the atmosphere. Urbanization and growing populations have also added to this burden, but about three-quarters of this reactive nitrogen comes from agriculture. And given increasing demand for meat and dairy, an enormous amount of what we now grow — from about one-third of the world’s arable land, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations — ends up as livestock feed.
Meat’s Big Nitrogen Footprint
“The choice of meat or plant is very important,” says Erisman. “Plants’ nutrient-use efficiency is much higher than that of meat.” Plus, to produce meat you must first grow grain or other forage — whatever plant products the animals eat. As a result, many more times the amount of nitrogen is involved in producing meat than plant-based food. This means that stocking the fridge with meat plays a big role in contributing to the global reactive nitrogen burden.
“We’re growing meat,” says Tom Fisher, professor at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science’sHorn Point Laboratory. “Much of the agriculture on the Delmarva Peninsula, where I am, is growing grain for the poultry industry. … People have chosen to eat meat, and they’ve created a market for chickens, and the poultry industry created a market for grain.”
And it takes even more feed to produce beef and pork than it does chicken. The exact numbers vary depending on how resource use is estimated, but according to Erisman and other researchers it typically takes 6 kilograms (about 13 pounds) of reactive nitrogen to produce 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) of beef, about 3 kilograms (almost 7 pounds) for 1 kilogram of pork and about 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of nitrogen for 1 kilogram of chicken. Erisman also points out that, due to lopsided food choices, about 20 percent of the world’s population consumes about 80 percent of the fertilizer.
“When it comes to food choices, frequency and portion size of animal foods and the mix of animal products can have a big effect on the end [nitrogen] footprint,” says Eric Davidson, professor and director of the Appalachian Laboratory at University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.
A look at the N-Print project’s Nitrogen Footprint Calculator illustrates this well. According to its figures, the average U.S. nitrogen footprint for food — an estimate of all of the nitrogen involved in this food’s life cycle, production through consumption — is 61 pounds (28 kilograms) per year. A vegetarian who eats only two eggs a week and limits dairy products — including cheese — to no more than 15 one-cup servings a week reduces that load to 24 pounds (11 kilograms). For non-vegetarians, if meat consumption is limited to eating only poultry (no beef or pork) four times a week (based on 7-ounce [30-milliliter] servings), the nitrogen footprint would decrease by about one-third even with no other changes to “average” U.S. eating patterns (eating five eggs and 26 servings of dairy and cheese a week).
While raising livestock and poultry has a particularly large nitrogen footprint, another load comes when food is processed. “There’s a lot of waste in the food processing step,” Erisman explains, and food wasted means nitrogen lost because that food is not being consumed. Still more nitrogen is ultimately lost to the environment through food waste in retail and by consumers. Given that about one-third of the food produced globally each year is wasted or lost, this is significant since replacing that food means using and releasing still more reactive nitrogen. One recent estimate puts the amount of nitrogen lost to the environment because of global consumer food waste at 2.7 million metric tons (2.9 million tons) per year.
So along with increasing nitrogen-use efficiency in farming, reducing fossil fuel use and curbing urban runoff, changing food choices and reducing food waste can contribute significantly to reducing the global reactive nitrogen burden.
Average personal nitrogen footprints in the United States are larger than those in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands because of higher per capita meat consumption and transportation energy use, lower fuel efficiency, and less-advanced sewage treatment. Image courtesy of WWF
Leaving the Farm
Still, “the single largest source [of nitrogen pollution] is from cropland,” says Adam Chambers, leader of energy and environmental markets with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. When synthetic fertilizer or manure is applied to agricultural soil but not fully taken up by plants it will enter the environment, either by volatilizing or washing off fields, he explains: When it evaporates, this nitrogen typically enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas; when more fertilizer is applied than plants can use, excess nitrogen runs off with rain and irrigation water.
Certain farming practices and methods exacerbate this runoff, says Valerie Dantoin, who teaches sustainable agriculture at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and with her husband, Rick Adamski, runs an organic dairy farm. When fields get too heavily tilled, soil microbes that fix nitrogen are destroyed, she explains. “The solution is perennial roots and leaves in cover crops” along with building up soil’s organic matter, she says, which “encourages the microbial life of the soil.” This results in slow releases of nitrogen to plants, which is more effective and efficient than synthetic fertilizers that can be easily washed away.
Efficient nitrogen use — key to what’s sometimes called “precision agriculture” — reduces nitrous oxide emissions, Chambers says, and also runoff to streams and ultimately to places like Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. Timing of fertilizer application is also key to reducing runoff. Rainstorms play a big role in this, Chambers explains. If it “rains 2 inches [5 centimeters] one night and plants weren’t ready to take up the nitrogen, you can get a huge spike in emissions.” Even two such events in a year can make a difference, prompting big runoffs of nitrogen — some of which also evaporates, he says.
Nitrogen pollution is partly to blame for harmful algae blooms plaguing the Gulf of Mexico and other places that can create coastal dead zones. Image courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC
“In our region, 70 percent of our agricultural runoff occurs in 17 days of the year,” Dantoin says — during big spring rains, which typically happen at the time of year just before or just after the annual crop has been planted, when plants are not yet up and making full use of the nitrogen. The rains also come in the fall, when crops are no longer using nitrogen. To correct the problem, she says, “all we have to do is fix those 17 days.” This would mean applying fertilizer at the precise time plants can make the best use of it and — to avoid excess lingering in the soil to be washed off with those big rains — not applying any more than plants can use.
Some farmers, like Dantoin and those Fisher is working with in Maryland as part of a watershed-scale experiment to reduce nutrient runoff to Chesapeake Bay, are planting cover crops and setting up drainage systems that absorb water rather than let it careen off the land. Others are using products designed to help plants absorb nitrogen fertilizers more efficiently.
These include products that work with fertilizer in ways that stabilize or inhibit loss of nitrogen to the environment, explains Greg Schwab, director of agronomy at Koch Agronomic Services, one company in this market. “It helps farmers use fertilizer more efficiently,” he says — efficiency that can ultimately improve crop yield. Using fertilizer effectively and applying just the right amount at the right time is key, say Davidson and others, because such practices eliminate financially and environmentally costly waste and help crops.
There are now so many such nitrogen-efficiency products on the market that the Environmental Defense Fund has launched a program called NutrientStar to help farmers compare nitrogen management tools. Choosing correctly is important because “nitrogen is hard to manage,” says Steve Sibulkin, CEO of a company called Adapt-N that makes a nitrogen data management tool. “Lots of things affect how nitrogen behaves: crops, soil type, weather,” he says, so what works for one farm — or even a particular field on a single farm — might not work well elsewhere.
Large-scale Nitrogen Reduction — Still In the Works
While there are enforceable limits on many nitrogen-based pollutants in the U.S. — including under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act — efforts to decrease nitrogen releases do not currently include specific targets for comprehensive reductions.
U.S. and European efforts to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fossil fuel burning, however, have been remarkably effective. These measures include regulations requiring technology to reduce industrial smokestack emissions and clean-burning engines. They also include government and company policies on greenhouse gas emission reductions — some mandatory, some voluntary — that also reduce harmful nitrogen releases. And with the growing recognition of agriculture’s contribution to nitrogen-based air pollutants, policies are beginning to focus on these as well, but specific measures in the U.S. vary depending on farm size and location.
Polices in the Netherlands and Denmark that have effectively pushed farmers to implement measures that reduce emissions from manure — through agricultural waste containment and fertilizer application techniques — have succeeded in reducing ammonia releases by 70 percent in the Netherlands and 40 percent in Denmark, helping to significantly reduce overall reactive nitrogen releases. While there is nothing comparable in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency — and some individual states, including California — have programs to help states and farmers reduce nitrogen emissions and runoff. But right now, these efforts don’t yet take what might be described as a holistic approach to nitrogen releases throughout agriculture and food production.
“Denmark and the Netherlands are way ahead of the others in taking measures on nitrogen,” says Erisman, but Germany, Austria, France and Italy are beginning to follow this example. Public perception of the problem, he says, is still very low, though.
“We need solutions on both ends” — at the farm scale but also on the consumer end — says Leach. “It’s so critically important to talk to all the stakeholders in this, not just the producers but also the consumers,” says Galloway. But one way or another, the problem “is caused by humans, by the growing of food and disposal of waste,” says Fisher. Raising awareness of this issue is an important step in getting a grip on nitrogen footprints. Something to think about, perhaps, next time you contemplate a veggie versus a beef burger.
Elizabeth Grossman is a Portland, Oregon-based journalist specializing in environmental and science issues. She is the author of Chasing Molecules, High Tech Trash, Watershed and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Scientific American, Environmental Health Perspectives, Yale e360, Ensia, High Country News, The Pump Handle, Chemical Watch, Washington Post, TheAtlantic.com, Salon, The Nation, and Mother Jones.
|April 5, 2016||
Honeybees Are Being Killed off in Europe by 57 Different Pesticides, Study Finds
by Doug Bolton, Independent UK, AlterNet
Honeybees across Europe are being poisoned by up to 57 different pesticides, a scientific study has found.
The worrying discovery was made by a team from the National Veterinary Research Institute in Poland, who used a method more commonly used to detect pesticides in food to analyze poisoned bees for a range of substances.
The method can be used to detect up to 200 different pesticides, and by investigating more than 70 honeybee poisoning incidents, they detected 57 different types, the vast majority of which are approved for use in the European Union.
Tomasz Kiljanek, lead author of the study, which has been published in the Journal of Chromatography, said: "Bee health is a matter of public concern—bees are considered critically important for the environment and agriculture by pollinating more than 80 per cent of crops and wild plants in Europe."
Combinations of pesticides, levels of exposure and different environments are all factors that can affect bee health. And when so many pesticides are in use, it's difficult to find out which ones are responsible for harming the bees.
But finding out what pesticides are at which concentration levels in bees is vital to understanding the situation, so that measures can be taken in future to ensure their survival.
Kiljanek said: "This is just the beginning of our research on the impact of pesticides on honeybee health."
"Honeybee poisoning incidents are the tip of the iceberg. Even at very low levels, pesticides can weaken bees' defense systems, allowing parasites or viruses to kill the colony. Our results will help expand our knowledge about the influence of pesticides on honeybee health, and will provide important information for other researchers to better assess the risk connected with the mix of current used pesticides."
Bee decline isn't entirely due to pesticide use—other factors, like the decline of the UK's flower-rich grassland, climate change and the spread of diseases have all taken their toll on bee populations.
But when countries around the world are expecting future food security issues due to the decline of pollinating insects like bees, getting to the bottom of the pesticide problem is an important step.
Doug Bolton is a tech/science reporter at The Independent. Follow him on Twitter @DougieBolton.
|April 4, 2016||
How Mountain Streams Could Become a Safe Haven for Many Species Seeking Refuge From Climate Change
by U.S. Forest Service, AlterNet
landscape with mountains trees and a river in front
A new study offers hope for cold-water species in the face of climate change. The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, addresses a longstanding paradox between predictions of widespread extinctions of cold-water species and a general lack of evidence for those extinctions despite decades of recent climate change.
The paper resulted from collaborative research led by the U.S. Forest Service with partners including the U.S. Geological Survey, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, University of Georgia and the Queensland University of Technology.
The research team drew information from huge stream-temperature and biological databases contributed by over 100 agencies and a USGS-run regional climate model to describe warming trends throughout 222,000 kilometers (138,000 miles) of streams in the northwestern United States.
The scientists found that over the last 40 years, stream temperatures warmed at the average rate of 0.10 degrees Celsius (0.18 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. This translates to thermal habitats shifting upstream at a rate of only 300-500 meters (0.18-0.31 miles) per decade in headwater mountain streams where many sensitive cold-water species currently live.
Typical headwater mountain stream that will provide cold-water species climate refugia this century. Photo credit: D. Horan
The authors are quick to point out that climate change is still detrimentally affecting the habitats of those species, but at a much slower rate than dozens of previous studies forecasted. The results of this study indicate that many populations of cold-water species will continue to persist this century and mountain landscapes will play an increasingly important role in that preservation.
“The great irony is that the cold headwater streams that were believed to be most vulnerable to climate change appear to be the least vulnerable. Equally ironic is that we arrived at that insight simply by amassing, organizing and carefully analyzing large existing databases rather than collecting new data that would have been far more expensive,” said Dr. Daniel Isaak, lead author on the study with the U.S. Forest Service.
The results also indicate that resource managers will have sufficient time to complete extensive biological surveys of ecological communities in mountain streams so that conservation planning strategies can adequately address all species.
“One of the great complexities of restoring trout and salmon under a rapidly changing climate is understanding how this change plays out across the landscape. Dr. Isaak and his colleagues show that many mountain streams may be more resistant to temperature change than our models suggest and that is very good news. This provides us more time to effect the changes we need for long term persistence of these populations,” said Dr. Jack Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited.
Cutthroat trout, a species of conservation concern, finds shelter in mountain stream climate refugia. Photo credit: M. Young
This study is complementary and builds upon the Cold-Water Climate Shield. This new study is unique as it describes current trends rather than relying on future model projections and addresses a broad scope of aquatic biodiversity in headwater streams (e.g., amphibians, sculpin, trout, etc.).
In addition, the data density and geographic extent of this study is far greater than most previous studies because over 16,000 stream temperature sites were used with thousands of biological survey locations to provide precise information at scales relevant to land managers and conservationists.
The study, entitled “Slow climate velocities of mountain streams portends their role as refugia for cold-water biodiversity” was conducted by Daniel Isaak, lead author from the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Michael Young, Charles Luce, Dona Horan, Matt Groce and David Nagel of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station; Steven Hostetler, U.S. Geological Survey; Seth Wenger, University of Georgia; Erin Peterson, Queensland University of Technology; and Jay Ver Hoef, U.S. NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Additional funding for this research was provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Northern and North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperatives.
Miniature temperature sensors used to record hourly measurements in rivers and streams at thousands of sites to develop stream temperature climate scenarios. Photo credit: D. Isaak
States covered by this study: Idaho, Oregon, Washington, western Montana; and then small portions of western Wyoming, northern Nevada, northern Utah and northern California.
The Rocky Mountain Research Station is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development – the most extensive natural resources research organization in the world. RMRS maintains 12 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale.
|April 4, 2016||
How Do Ethical Considerations Inform the Debate on Climate Change?
by Frank P. Incropera, Cambridge University, AlterNet
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of the new book 'Climate Change: A Wicked Problem' by Frank P. Incropera (Caimbridge University Press, 2015):
The ethics of climate change
By now, you would probably agree that the issue of climate change is wrapped in science, technology, economics, and politics. But is there yet another dimension? Many would say “yes,” maintaining the existence of a moral imperative. To address climate change from such a perspective, we’ll examine some of the philosophical pillars of ethics, as well as foundations of ethical behavior derived from religious traditions. From both philosophical and theological perspectives, how do ethical considerations inform the debate on climate change?
Ethics involves reflection on human behavior and how to channel it in appropriate ways. A central question involves life and how it should be lived. Another involves the nature of good and standards by which an action is judged good or not. Such questions have been addressed by philosophers for millennia in attempts to delineate between right and wrong. But in applying these standards, difficulties often arise because many issues are multifaceted, complex, and nuanced.
10.1 Ethical dimensions of climate change
Technology has allowed humans to conquer space and time. Modern transportation systems provide movement of goods and people from one location to any other; modern communication systems enable ideas and knowledge to flow almost instantaneously across the world. Globalization has had an enormous impact on raising living standards throughout the world. But underpinning it all has been rising energy consumption, particularly from fossil fuels, and attendant environmental degradation. Some environmental damage is local, such as mining coal by mountaintop removal, or regional, such as acid rain. And most degradation is manifested over relatively short time scales, from immediate to months or years. But climate change is global and manifested over decades to millennia. Today’s
GHG emissions have consequences for all, anywhere on Earth, and for the unborn as well as the living. When I burn one gallon of gasoline, I discharge almost 9 kg-CO2 to the atmosphere, putting the entire planet at greater risk to the effects of climate change. When the U.S. transportation sector consumes 215 billion gallons of fuel, as it did in 2012 (Davis et al., 2014), it adds about 2 Gt-CO2 to the atmosphere, with Americans enjoying the benefits of consumption while calling upon the world to share the burdens.
For GHG emissions there are spatial and temporal separations of cause and effect. Spatial separation relates to the fact that richer nations have derived the greatest benefits and are the least vulnerable, while poorer nations have derived the least benefits and are the most vulnerable. Globally, benefits and vulnerabilities are asymmetrical. Countries that historically contributed disproportionately to emissions by building their economies using abundant and low-cost fossil fuels are wealthier for having done so and by virtue of their wealth are better able to adapt to the effects of climate change. In contrast, poorer countries that have contributed far less to legacy emissions are least able to adapt to climate change. This spatial separation of cause and effect adds a social justice implication to the dimensions of climate change.
The relevance of climate change to equity, fairness, and social justice is underscored in the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (2014c), which emphasized the threat it poses to the food security of the world’s poorest nations and its potential for exacerbating poverty and inequality in both developing and developed nations. The report also points to the increased frequency and intensity of extreme drought and flooding and their disproportionate effects on the world’s poor. Recognizing that “water is life, but too much or too little of it can become a threat to life,”
Shiva (2002) equates “climate injustice” to “water injustice” and provides many examples of how the world’s poorest have suffered from extreme weather events.
Garvey (2008, p. 67) associates justice and equality with a shared distribution of “goods, resources, burdens (and) benefits” – concepts that are well established in systems of civil and common law – while allowing for unequal distributions if “there are good reasons to the contrary.” Justice can be served if collective benefits are derived from the goods and services produced by people and nations disproportionately using a limited resource and if associated burdens are shared. But justice is not served if the fruits of disproportionate use are self-serving and the burdens are borne by others.
From the time of the Industrial Revolution to the end of the twentieth century, Western nations contributed disproportionately to the world’s annual GHG emissions. And when integrated over the last two centuries, Western nations contributed even more disproportionately to the atmosphere’s store of GHGs. The ethical issue is therefore the following. Should wealthy nations that contributed so much to the atmosphere’s inventory of
GHGs make the greatest efforts to reduce emissions and the largest contributions to assisting those most affected by and least able to adapt to climate change?
If richer nations have benefited from past GHG emissions, do they have a moral responsibility to reduce their emissions, while ceding a larger portion of future emissions to developing nations? To some extent redistribution is already occurring, albeit for other than ethical reasons. Although OECD nations have disproportionately contributed to and benefited from GHG emissions, developing nations are rapidly increasing their emissions, with China now the world’s largest contributor. Who bears the largest responsibility for reducing emissions – China which has yet to break the bonds of poverty for hundreds of millions of people, or a nation like the United States, which has achieved acceptable living standards for a large majority of its citizens and has far larger emissions per capita? Were a cap to be placed on global emissions, how would ethical considerations affect redistribution among the world’s nations? To what extent would some nations be expected to reduce and others to increase their emissions?
A temporal separation of cause and effect is a matter of intergenerational ethics, of weighing the needs of future generations and the natural environment against the needs and wants of current generations. I and other
Americans of my generation have been beneficiaries of living standards derived from industrialization enabled by fossil fuels. And we will likely live our remaining days without having to endure any of the more onerous effects of climate change. Can the same be said for our children and grandchildren and for those who follow?
Because of the inherent inertia of systems affected by GHG emissions (Section 3.5, Appendix D), adverse effects of past and current emissions are not borne as much by the emitters as by future generations. The long residence time of atmospheric GHGs and the long lag time associated with their full effect on warming and rising sea levels mean that, although the benefits of today’s emissions are realized immediately, adverse consequences will be progressively experienced by future generations. In the words of Gardiner (2011, p. 198), the consequences are “substantially deferred” and the problem is “seriously back-loaded.” The image is one of current and past generations of OECD nations as profligate consumers of fossil fuels, ergo wanton emitters of GHGs, leaving future generations with depleted fuel stocks and the adverse effects of climate change. By passing the burden to future generations, Gardiner (2011, p. 36) refers to the situation as a “tyranny of the contemporary.”1
Yet another ethical issue relates to the effect of climate change on the natural environment. Are actions that eliminate other species and entire ecosystems in the biosphere morally justified? Is it right to have an exclusively anthropocentric perspective, one concerned only with the effect of climate change on humankind? Or should we extend our thinking to include its effect on all species?
In summary, the central ethical challenges posed by climate change deal with its impact on (1) the poor, (2) future generations, and (iii) the natural environment. Can ethical theories and religious traditions provide guidance in dealing with the problems of climate change?
10.2 Ethical theories and principles
Ethical theories lie in the realm of moral philosophy. They are systems (frameworks) of thought that address moral rights, duties, and behavior, and three such frameworks will be considered in terms of their ability to guide moral judgments on climate change. One theory is based on obligations termed categorical imperatives. In the context of climate change, an imperative could simply be that it’s wrong to inflict the dangers of global warming on the poor, the unborn, and other species of the biosphere.
A second theory, termed utilitarianism, couches ethical behavior in terms of outcomes. Actions should bring about the greatest good for the greatest number, where good implies outcomes such as happiness, pleasure, and satisfaction. The third theory, termed virtue or Aristotelian ethics, delineates character traits that work for the benefit of society and hence the greater good.
Frank P. Incropera is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Notre Dame and Fellow of ASME and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He has authored or co-authored numerous books, including Fundamentals of Heat and Mass Transfer, which has become the premier textbook in it's field. In the past ten years, his interests have turned to the broad range of technical and nontechnical issues associated with transition to a sustainable energy future.
|April 3, 2016||
The Media’s Biggest 2016 Failure Isn’t Donald Trump: It’s Ignoring the ‘Profound Crisis’ of Climate Change
by Jack Mirkinson, Salon, AlterNet
Hey, did you hear the one about how the planet is dying quickly and we’re probably all doomed?
It’s true! Just this past week, the world got a fun update about just how much danger we’re in thanks to climate change. This one came courtesy of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is, well, a giant sheet of ice in Antarctica and which is potentially disintegrating at a pace that, in the words of the New York Times, could help send sea levels rising enough to cause “a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.”
That seems like kind of a big deal, right? It kind of puts all of the more immediate fights we’re having in an ominous perspective, no? It’s the sort of topic you might expect, say, a presidential campaign to be taking more seriously, wouldn’t you think?Forgive the heavy sarcasm. Anyone who’s been watching the 2016 race will know that climate change has taken the furthest of backseats to a host of other issues. It got an indirect injection into the whirl of the campaign on Thursday, when Hillary Clinton angrily accused Bernie Sanders of lying about the money she’s getting from members of the fossil fuel industry. (She wasn’t quite telling the truth in that moment, by the way.) Candidates accusing each other of lying—now that is something the political media can get behind! Summaries of the back-and-forth duly popped up everywhere. Politico even got around to mentioning Clinton’s record on environmental issues—in the last couple of paragraphs of its story. Besides that, any extensive discussion of climate change has been very difficult to find. The lack of attention paid to it at presidential debates has become something of a running joke.
This is all, to put it mildly, insane. At a certain point in this century, the rapid demise of the earth is going to be a problem that is much too difficult and dangerous to ignore. Alarm bells are everywhere—in frequent reports of record-breaking temperatures (it was just 71 degrees in Alaska!); in studies predicting the possibility of sudden, vast chaos and ruin; in pleas with the world to move even more aggressively to combat climate change than it has. The world has no wiggle room. Everyone needed to be freaking out at maximum speed a long time ago.
It would be too much, I suppose, to ask Republicans to discuss climate change with any seriousness, since they won’t even admit it exists. But Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have real, substantive differences in how they propose to handle the issue. There is much to debate between the two of them. They should be made to do it more often! More broadly, they should be made to answer bigger questions about climate change. Do they think that our modern global economy is really sustainable in its current form, given that it is almost certainly escalating the threat of climate change? What should American agricultural policy, which both affects and is affected by climate change, look like going forward? How can the relative pittance being given to poor nations that have contributed relatively nothing to climate change but will bear the brunt of its damage be justified?
And as for those Republicans: Shouldn’t it be a bigger deal that an entire political party has its head in the sand about an apocalyptic tsunami of death and destruction barreling down on the entire planet? A lot of people are going to be killed because of climate change. Wars will be fought. Cities are going to disappear. Whole islands are going to sink into the ocean. If presidential candidates said ISIS wasn’t real, there would be an uproar, but saying climate change doesn’t exist is somehow never deemed to be that important or significant a betrayal of reality.
The consequences of such indifference are easy to predict. If climate change isn’t pushed to the top of the agenda, there won’t be pressure on whoever becomes president to do anything further about it, and if that president doesn’t, then we’ll all pay an even higher price than we’re all already going to pay. So, you know, maybe we could make climate change more of a thing in 2016, please?
Jack Mirkinson is a writer living in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @jackmirkinson.
|April 8, 2016||
Meet the Nature-Loving Nuns Who Helped Stop a Kentucky Pipeline (Video)
by Laura Michele Diener, YES! Magazine, AlterNet
Sisters Kathy DiVaio (at left), Jan Barthel, and Diantha Daniels (with Lady Bear, one of the monastery dogs) at Mt. Tabor.
“The easiest way for me to find God is in nature,” Sister Ceciliana Skees explains. Born Ruth Skees, she grew up in Hardin County, Kentucky, during the 1930s. It’s a rural place of soft green hills, where her father farmed his entire life.
Now just a few months shy of her eighty-fifth birthday, she remembers feeling the first stirrings of a religious calling at the age of 10. Her peasant blouse and smooth, chin-length haircut don’t fit the popular image of a nun, but she has been a Sister of Loretto—a member of a religious order more than 200 years old—since she took vows at the age of 18.
Skees’ commitment to social activism goes back almost as far as her commitment to the church. She has marched for civil rights, founded a school for early childhood education, and taught generations of children.
Then, a few years ago, she heard about the Bluegrass Pipeline, a joint venture between two energy companies: Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners. The project would have transported natural gas liquids from fracking fields in Pennsylvania and Ohio southwest across Kentucky to connect with an existing pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico. Loretto’s land was directly in its path.
On August 8, 2013, Skees and other sisters from Loretto and several other convents attended an informational meeting held by representatives of the two companies. Frustrated with what they saw as a lack of helpful information, several of the sisters, including Skees, gathered in the center of the room and broke into song. A video of the sisters singing “Amazing Grace” was picked up by media outlets such as Mother Jones and reached hundreds of thousands of people.
Woodford county resident Corlia Logsdon remembers how a company representative asked the police to arrest the sisters for disrupting the meeting that day. But the officers, who were graduates of local Catholic schools, refused to arrest their former teachers.
Logsdon joined the campaign against the pipeline when she realized the proposed route would cut directly through her front yard. She says she found the sisters to be stalwart partners, who regularly accompanied her to negotiate with state lawmakers. “It was the first time I had ever done anything like that. And they came with me, persistently presenting a positive and yet quietly forceful presence in the legislature.”
Sellus Wilder, a documentary filmmaker, says he joined the campaign to stop the Bluegrass Pipeline after seeing the video of the nuns singing. His experiences led him to produce "The End of the Line," a documentary film about the pipeline and opposition to it. He called the sisters the glue that held the diverse group of protesters together and kept them focused.
“They all have really strong, glowing spirits,” Wilder says. “They brought their inherent qualities—energy, compassion, and education, as well as a certain ethereal element—to the whole campaign.”
Whatever the nuns brought, it worked. In March 2014, a circuit judge ruled against the pipeline, saying the companies had no right to use eminent domain against owners unwilling to sell their land. A few months later, the companies agreed to redraw their route to avoid Loretto’s grounds, but the sisters kept protesting to support their neighbors. The case eventually went to the state supreme court, which upheld the lower court’s decision. The pipeline was defeated—and the same coalition is now fighting another one.
In a way, Skees and the other nuns’ participation in the Bluegrass Pipeline fight was not that unusual. About 80 percent of American nuns are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is committed to environmental activism. Sister Ann Scholz, the LCWR’s associate director for social mission, says this position is a direct outcome of the way sisters interpret the gospel.
“No Christian can live the gospel fully unless they attend the needs of their brothers and sisters, including Mother Earth,” Scholz explains. “Our work for social justice grows out of the Catholic social teaching and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
But because the Sisters of Loretto are in rural Kentucky, their engagement with these issues takes on a regional flavor. Kentucky is a key battleground state in the debates over fracking and coal mining, and its eastern region is home to some of the poorest counties in Appalachia. The nuns are also rural, and help unify far-flung residents with diverse interests.
For example, the Sisters of Loretto joined with local advocates for coal miners’ rights in 1979 to sue the Blue Diamond Coal Company in order to expose what they saw as a record of poor safety, mining disasters, and environmental negligence in Kentucky.
Skees herself spent much of the 1960s and ’70s teaching in Louisville, where she marched against racial discrimination in housing and for the integration of schools. “At Loretto we tend to go with the flow,” she muses. “But we do not flow with injustice.”
Kentucky sisters have also been involved in protests across the United States. They have traveled to Alabama, Mississippi, and Washington, D.C., to march for civil rights, for universal health care, and against the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They hold annual protests at the controversial School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, a training program for Latin American military whose graduates have been accused of human-rights violations (the school is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).
These nuns and others like them have long formed part of the core of the nation’s activist population. But their numbers are decreasing, and those who remain are getting older. The same thing is happening all over the United States—there were only about 49,000 sisters in 2015, compared to nearly 180,000 in 1965.
Skees’ own life helps explain the decline. “Women had very few choices when I went to the convent,” she says. “We could be nurses, secretaries, teachers—or we could get married.”
Until the 1960s, convent life offered professional opportunities for women that other fields lacked—nuns could become high school principals, college deans, or administrators. But women today don’t need a habit to move into positions of leadership.
What will this decline mean for socially engaged nuns like the ones who helped defeat the Bluegrass Pipeline? Will it end their tradition? Or will their work simply evolve?
To find out, I spent several days at each of three convents in Kentucky. First, I headed east into the foothills of the Appalachian mountains to visit the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Tabor, an intimate community that has opened up its home to its neighbors as a space of contemplation. Next, I went to central Kentucky to visit the Sisters of Charity, a global order with convents in Africa, Asia, and Central America. Finally, I dropped by the motherhouse of the Sisters of Loretto, founded by pioneer women dedicated to teaching the children of Kentucky.
I came away thinking how deeply each convent was embedded in its community, and how precious was their wonder at the natural world. The sisters are too busy looking ahead to worry about dwindling numbers.
The motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity in Nazareth, Kentucky, serves as a retirement home for sisters who have spent their lives in ministry—although you might not know that from the energy of the women here.
“You keep going as long as you can,” Sister Joan Wilson explained cheerfully. Tall and slender, with close-cropped white hair and a gentle manner, she radiated kindness and concern.
I got to know Joan—along with Sisters Theresa Knabel, Frances Krumpelman, and Julie Driscoll—and all four expressed utter joy in their natural surroundings. “There’s such a beauty in nature that it’s such a spiritual experience,” Driscoll said. “Every time I see a deer, I think, ‘Oh, what a blessing! Thank you, God!’”
“Rainbows just turn the place upside down!” Krumpelman added.
Their pleasure in rainbows and sunsets at first struck me as childlike—odd to find among women in their 70s and 80s. But I soon realized it was deeply rooted in contemplation and prayer.
Their love of nature derived in part from the texts they have studied and prayed over, they said, especially the Psalms, the ancient Hebrew poems that utilize images of mountains, birds, and stars to express the glory of divine creation. “The Psalms rave about nature, so I probably imbibed the beauty of it when I prayed,” Knabel said.
They feel a similar delight in the work of Pope Francis, especially with his encyclical letter, Laudato Si, which calls for a universal awareness of climate change and its effects on the poor.
The community avidly read and discussed it, and couldn’t seem to order enough copies.
The beauty of their grounds is overwhelming, and as I explored them alongside Sister Joan, I found myself caught up in her wonder. The autumn leaves mirrored in the lakes, the shadowy corners with statues of long-ago saints, the bright paths dappled with sun, all brought forth a sense of peace. Judging by the number of other visitors strolling around, I wasn’t the only one drawn to the harmonious abundance of Nazareth. The sisters believe part of their mission is to share the beauty of their home with their neighbors, so they keep it open to the public and maintain walking trails and fishing lakes for the community. They also keep up a garden that anyone from Nelson County is welcome to use. The sisters prepare the soil, fence the land, and provide the water.
To improve their ability to care for this land, the sisters of Charity and Loretto have been working with the foresters at Bernheim Forest, an arboretum and research center in nearby Bullitt County. Forester Andrew Berry has walked though hundreds of acres at both campuses to find ways to make their lands more sustainable and friendly to wildlife. At Charity, for example, he helped pull out invasive species to help restore the native oak forestlands.
Berry says the sisters’ enthusiasm for “good eco-stewardship” has impressed him. “Together we manage the forests for both biodiversity and spiritual value.”
He has also been helping both convents create conservation easements— legal agreements that permanently limit the uses of a piece of land—for their land to ensure it will remain protected in perpetuity, should the sisters no longer be there.
This is a reality age and time has forced them to confront, as nearby convents have begun to shut down. In fall of 2015, with only one able-bodied sister left, the sisters of a Carmelite order in Louisville decided to close their convent. They went to the Sisters of Loretto for help.
“The Carmelite Sisters had so much stuff that they couldn’t take with them—all these habits and prayer books and statues that were too old to be of use to anyone, but to them were holy,” Susan Classen told me. Classen is not a sister but a Mennonite co-member who has lived at Loretto’s motherhouse for 23 years. Rather than simply throw away the sacred items, the Sisters of Loretto offered to bury them on their grounds and, in November 2015, held a ceremony at the edge of their forestlands. When I visited Loretto in December, the grave was still fresh, spilling over with golden dirt.
“One of the Carmelite Sisters spoke about how their life together wasn’t going to continue, and thus God must have something else for them, and that it was time to let go. And then we buried everything.” Susan’s voice broke, and it was obvious she was thinking not only of the Carmelites but her own order. It was impossible not to.
At 58, Classen is outdoorsy and active, but she is one of the youngest members of Loretto. Even though many of the women are incredibly active, the average age overall at the convent is 81. There are 169 vowed sisters, with only 23 under the age of 70, and only two under 50. The numbers are similar for the Sisters of Charity: There are 304 members in the United States and Belize, but only 22 are under the age of 65. Charity’s members are younger in its south Asian monasteries, where only 60 percent of the sisters are over 65, and women still join as young as 18.
Despite health concerns and the trials of old age, many sisters here remain committed activists.
“We see what we are doing with the pipeline as another way to be teachers,” says Sister Antoinette Doyle, referring to the classroom teaching all sisters of Loretto were required to do until 1968. Well into her eighties, Doyle is tiny and delicate, with white hair fluffed around her face. “We’re not classroom teachers as much now, but we teach in the broader way.”
New mountain traditions
Unlike the Sisters of Loretto, the Benedictine Sisters of Mt. Tabor don’t have vast grounds or scores of members. The community is small and intimate, with only eight nuns and one resident oblate—a person who recommits themselves to the Benedictine order every year, rather than taking permanent vows. There was a chore chart on the fridge. Although they work all over the county during the day, the sisters have communal dinners every night after their evening prayers.
Their story begins with a pastoral letter from three archbishops, entitled “This Land Is Home to Me.” The letter, published in 1975, encouraged religious people to move to Appalachia and build places of renewal for people of all faiths.
“Dear sisters and brothers,” the letter reads, “we urge all of you not to stop living, to be a part of the rebirth of utopias, to recover and defend the struggling dream of Appalachia itself.”
Sisters Eileen Schepers and Judy Yunker first read the call while teaching special education classes in a Catholic school in southern Indiana, and both felt inspired by its message. Together they moved to Kentucky in 1979 and founded Mt. Tabor. Originally it was a subsidiary of a larger monastery in Indiana, but it became independent in 2000.
While theirs wasn’t the only convent in the area, Schepers and Yunker found themselves among mainly non-Catholics in a close-knit mountain culture. To break down some of the barriers, they cast off their billowy black habits and took up jeans and flannel shirts. Over the years, the local people and the sisters have built up a mutual respect and maintain many close relationships.
When Sister Eileen Schepers considers the meaning of sustainability, she talks about the sisters taking their place in a cosmic balance between the community, the planet, and the supernatural.
I saw what that meant in practice one evening in October. In the quiet hour before evening prayer, Sister Eileen chopped onions and peeled potatoes for soup in the sun-swept kitchen. She scraped the veggie peelings into a Kay’s Ice Cream bucket by the sink, and sprinkled the potatoes from twin salt and pepper shakers in the shape of smiling nuns.
Around quarter to five, the other sisters started drifting in from jobs, throwing down their briefcases and grocery bags in the doorway before pouring themselves coffee from a thermos. Everyone leaned against the counter, chatting while Sister Eileen spooned biscuit dough onto a baking tray. Just before she put the biscuits in the oven, they all made their way into the chapel for evening prayer.
In the entryway to the chapel, each woman donned long white robes. The garments brought them into a ritual similarity, and it became harder to tell them apart.
Sister Judy officiated at vespers while the sunset over the mountains behind her shone through the glass walls of the chapel. A few men and women sat in the pews, visitors and friends who had wandered in to share the daily tradition. As the prayers ended, we all stood in a circle and Yunker anointed each of our foreheads. Her touch was warm, firm, and personal. We don’t touch each other enough anymore, I thought. I began to see how one touch full of loving intention could sustain someone throughout each day, and how that intention could spread outward to their neighbors and the world beyond.
As more and more of the sisters age, who will continue the orders’ missions and care for their grounds? Who will stand up for local people, advocate for sustainability, and offer a place of quiet in which to contemplate nature?Corlia Logsdon believes that local farmers, many of them Catholic, have embraced the nuns’ teachings. “I don’t think that is going to go away,” she said. “But I don’t think we could ever replace what they do because they do it with such passion.”Then again, the Kentucky orders may continue to serve their communities for a long time to come. Rather than relying on an influx of young girls graduating from Catholic schools, some of the convents are recruiting nontraditional members. Co-members at Loretto can be male or female, married or single, and Catholic or not, so long as they are committed to peace and justice. Like Susan Classen, co-members can be deeply integrated in the life of Loretto, living at the motherhouse, serving on committees, and fully participating in campaigns for social change.“Our philosophy of peace and justice will be carried on by the co-members,” said Skees, who worked side by side with Classen to fight the Bluegrass Pipeline.At Mt. Tabor, the community decided in 2005 to become ecumenical, meaning they accept women from all Christian denominations. They currently have six Roman Catholics, two Episcopalians, and one non-affiliated Christian woman. “It’s deepening our understanding of Jesus’ call to live in unity with one another,” Schepers said.Even as they reach out for new members, most of the women I spoke with looked forward to the future, whatever trials it may bring. They spoke of acceptance and transformation, bolstered by faith.“If God is still calling us to be here, then he will direct us as to how that will happen,” Schepers explained. Another sister added that the Benedictine Rule teaches them not to think in terms of permanence, referring to a guide for monastic living that Benedictine monks and nuns have followed for about 1,500 years.Susan Classen probably expressed Loretto’s attitude toward an uncertain future most succinctly. “We have a lot of letting go to do, and I don’t want to diminish that. But there’s also a sense that we’re part of something new.”
Laura Michele Diener teaches medieval history and directs the women’s studies program at Marshall University. She lives in Huntington, West Virginia.
|April 4, 2016||
How Global Water Standards Save Lives and Create Better Jobs
by Sandrine Tranchard, AlterNet
According to UN-Water, the United Nations’ water agency, almost half the world's workforce—1.5 billion people—is employed in water-related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those who ensure its safe delivery.
Yet the millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or protected by basic labor rights.
As a video from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) points out, "Every hour, 38 workers die from water-related diseases. But these deaths can be prevented with better water and sanitation. Water quality standards help by providing sampling methods to check water purity for the presence of bacteria and other characteristics."
Enough good-quality water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods, and even transform societies and economies.
To achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 on availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation by 2030, we will have to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally.
More than 700 ISO standards provide global tools to help us manage our shared water resources equitably and durably. They facilitate sustainable water management and increase water potential, helping to alleviate water scarcity.
Many new ISO standards are also under development in the field of water. Among them:
Watch the video to find out how ISO standards can help handle our global water challenge:
Sandrine Tranchard is a communication officer at the International Organization for Standardization in Geneva, Switzerland.
|March 22, 2016||
Erin Brockovich on Oklahoma Earthquakes: ‘It’s Fracking, Let’s Just Be Honest’
by Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch, AlterNet
|March 25, 2016||
Chomsky: 'Republicans Are a Danger to the Human Species'
by Patricia Lombroso, il manifesto, AlterNet
With terrifying clarity, the author and philosopher Noam Chomsky spoke to Il Manifesto about chaos, barbarism and destruction of human life. After so many years of giving alarming interviews, Chomsky is more cynical than ever that we can avert global disaster.
“The human species is facing a situation that is unprecedented in the history of Homo sapiens,” he said. “We are at the crossroads of a situation that has never occurred before, and very soon we will have to decide whether we want the human species to survive into something that has the appearance of existence as we know it, or if we want to create a planetary devastation so extreme that one cannot even imagine what could emerge.”
Il Manifesto: What is your opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, with Scalia’s final imprimatur, to block attempts by the Obama administration to limit the disastrous consequences of global warming?
Noam Chomsky: The decision is very important, and it is very serious. The five judges of the Supreme Court were well aware of the political value of that vote. In fact, even the press release issued after the vote underlines not by chance that “this decision is unprecedented in U.S. history.IM: You believe that this was a political decision that went beyond the constitutional balance of power?
NC: Certainly. The five Supreme Court justices are Republicans. And now with the death of Scalia nothing will change. The Republican majority vote eliminates any future legal step through a court of appeal and eliminates all the opinions of the courts that preceded this decision. Their message to the participants at the Paris conference is, in practice, “Go to hell.” Not that the Paris conference had achieved much in terms of limiting global warming, but it must be remembered that the most thorny and difficult problem was getting the agreements made between governments to be binding through an international treaty. And France knew well that the Republican Party in the Senate would never ratify agreements binding on the government. Consequently the five Republican judges on the Supreme Court virtually expressed, with their decision, what they think of the rapid advance toward the destruction of the planet and the human species.
IM: Can they ignore (at their expense) the serious economic and social repercussions of this choice?
NC: Republican leaders know the daily consequences of the epochal migrations of populations from one hemisphere to another, such as has never occurred in history. They also know of the destruction of that part of the world we know as civilized and the risks that this entails, but each candidate vying for the race for the White House in today’s presidential campaign denies any evidence of the effects of global warming and has no intention of doing anything. Today’s Republican Party, I would add, is one of the most dangerous organizations in human history.
IM: Why does the thinking of the extreme right in America scare you more than the far-right ideology spreading across Europe?
NC: The extreme right in Europe is indeed tremendous, but it does not have the support necessary to accelerate the destruction of life on the planet.
IM: The U.S. defense budget for 2016-17, approved last week without any debate in Congress, quadruples spending on NATO arsenals and to protect the security of Eastern European allies. What is the message?
NC: Certainly there are risks of an escalation of clashes and strategic tensions between the countries belonging to the sphere of Russian influence and those under American influence. But could the United States ever allow at its borders what is happening at those of Russia? Would it not be unthinkable to deploy NATO missiles on the border with Canada and Mexico? We’d all be incinerated. I think this further expansion of NATO constitutes a strategy, a very dangerous geopolitical provocation. I agree with what George Kennan argued during the Cold War, that a “nuclear deterrent” would lay the foundation for a final confrontation for the existence of all humanity. It is not an exaggeration. Ongoing tensions and recent examples, such as the downing of the Russian jet by Turkey, are events that could explode into a nuclear confrontation.
IM: Does this mean that more and more extended wars entail the risk of a Third World War?
NC: It would not be the first time we have been at the brink of a nuclear conflict. Mind you, wherever the origin of a nuclear attack, it means the end of the human species. A clash between two superpowers involves what is called nuclear winter. A tragedy of catastrophic proportions. It reminds me of what Einstein said when asked what weapons, after nuclear, would be used in war. He replied that the only weapon that would remain available to man was a stone ax. The risk of a world war is very serious.
IM: Do you believe the leaders of globalization have a strategy or attempted to create a controlled catastrophe that got out of hand?
NC: You’d have to live under a rock not to realize the damage they’ve caused. The fossil industry for decades has been aware of the devastating consequences of an industrial policy based on oil. The executives of Exxon-Mobil are not stupid, but rather dedicated to a specific ideology of the maximization of profits and stock prices. Everything else is of insignificant value compared to this. It’s like for believers in the various fundamentalisms, be they evangelical Christian or Islamic extremists. They are like religious dogma, before which there is neither doubt nor argument. We all know that it is very easy not to give credence to what we should believe as truth, but in this case the refusal to want to believe the evidence of historical facts involves lethal consequences.
IM: In this disastrous context, what risks do we run in 2016, the election year for the next president of the United States?
NC: The risks are very serious. If the comments of the Republican leaders vying for the presidency correspond to the reality of the future White House, we should expect a real disaster, and that is: We ignore global warming, we tear up the nuclear agreements with Iran, we increase our military power, we act with greater aggressiveness and determination in the rest of the world despite the risks of unleashing a world war. If a country with the power of the United States endorses these policy strategies, the chances of survival of the human species are minimized.
|March 22, 2016||
Toxic Traps: When These 7 Types of Plastic Are Dangerous
by Larry Schwartz, AlterNet
It’s all around us—in our houses, walls, plumbing pipes, bottles and cans, rugs, dental fillings, eyeglass lenses, phones, cars, garden mulch and much more. We are talking, of course, about plastic.
Aside from the devastating impact on the planet’s health, plastic’s impact on human health has been insidious. Decade after decade we have watched as prostate and breast cancer rates have risen, fertility rates in men have dropped, young girls have entered early puberty, young boys have become increasingly hyperactive, and children have become fatter. All of these conditions result from multiple factors, but the effects of plastic cannot be discounted.
Endocrine disruptors are the link between human health hazards and plastic. Some of the better publicized endocrine disruptors include dioxins and PCBs, which have polluted our nation’s waterways. In the human body, endocrine disruptors mimic the actions of the hormone estrogen. They upset the hormonal balance and can stimulate the growth of tumors in the breast, uterus or prostate. They can affect fertility, pregnancy, and worse, can affect the fetus by interfering with testosterone, disrupting normal sexual development. This disruption is not often apparent until adulthood and includes the increased risk of cancer.
One of the main chemicals used to produce plastics is bisphenol A, or BPA, an endocrine disruptor that is prevalent in a vast number of widely used products, not least of which are plastic food and beverage bottles and the lining of metal cans. Heat, repeated washing, acidity, and alkalinity cause the BPA in plastics to leach into our food and beverages. Further, BPA leaches into our groundwater from all the plastic sitting in landfills. And of course we ingest BPA from all the fish we eat that has previously ingested all that plastic floating around in the ocean.
In one study, the Centers for Disease Control found 95 percent of urine samples contained some amount of BPA. It’s in our blood, our amniotic fluid, our breast milk. Small children are most at risk because they put everything in their mouths, they breathe and drink more, relative to their size, and they excrete waste more slowly.
The health risks of BPA have been observed primarily through animal testing, and there is some controversy as to whether human risk can be extrapolated from animal testing. However, many of the adverse effects of BPA, such as reproductive cancers, obesity, type-2 diabetes and even autism, have been observed to be increasing in the human population in the past 50 years, mirroring the rise of plastic consumption. While correlation is not causation, the signs are certainly not encouraging.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has maintained that the levels of BPA are safe, Sarah Janssen of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Mother Earth News, “BPA should be considered a hazard to human development and reproduction with clear evidence of adverse effects.” Many countries, including the U.S., have banned the presence of BPA in baby bottles. Unfortunately, the common substitute is often Biphenol S (BPS), which is also an endocrine disruptor and seems to cause many of the same problems as BPA.
Polycarbonate water bottles, popular among those who seek to minimize plastic pollution, are a major source of human BPA exposure. Studies have shown that BPA leaches into water even at room temperature, and when exposed to boiling water, BPA leached 55 times more rapidly than it did prior to exposure to the heat.
Another class of endocrine disruptor called phthalates is also present in plastic products containing PVC. Phthalates are used to soften plastic and can be found in toys, deodorants and shampoos, shower curtains, raincoats, food packaging and a myriad of other products. Phthalates are loosely bound to plastic and easily absorbed into food, beverages and saliva, and like BPA, have been commonly detected in our bodies. Most concerning is the effect phthalates have on reproductive health in males. Exposure in fetuses has been linked to the malformation of the male reproductive system.
The dangers from plastic are not just from ingestion. During the industrial manufacturing of plastic, all manner of toxic chemicals are released, many of which are carcinogenic or neurotoxic. These would include vinyl chloride, from PVC; dioxins and benzene, from polystyrene; and formaldehyde, from polycarbonates. Many of these toxins are known as POPs, or persistent organic pollutants. They are highly toxic, and like plastic, they don’t easily go away.
Plastic comes in many variations, different combinations of resins and polymers creating plastics with different properties, and different types of plastic present different dangers. The numbers embedded on most plastic products identify the type of plastic it is made from, ostensibly so it can be properly recycled. (The reality is that barely 10 percent of plastic is recycled, or more accurately down-cycled, say from a soda bottle to winter coat insulation, so it still ends up in a landfill.)
Here are the most common plastics, by number, and some of the hazards they present.
1. PET: polyethylene terephthalate.
PET is commonly used in commercially sold water bottles, soft drink bottles, sports drink bottles, and condiment bottles (like ketchup). While it is generally considered a “safe” plastic, and does not contain BPA, in the presence of heat it can leach antimony, a toxic metalloid, into food and beverages, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and stomach ulcers. Some studies have shown up to 100 times the amount of antimony in bottled water than in clean groundwater. The longer the bottle is on the shelf or exposed to heat or sunshine, the more antimony is likely to have leached into the product.
2. HDPE: high-density polyethylene.
HDPE is commonly used in milk and juice bottles, detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, grocery bags, and cereal box liners. Like PET, it is also considered “safe,” but has been shown to leach estrogenic chemicals dangerous to fetuses and juveniles.
3. PVC: polyvinyl chloride.
PVC can be flexible or rigid, and is used for plumbing pipes, clear food packaging, shrink wrap, plastic children’s toys, tablecloths, vinyl flooring, children’s play mats, and blister packs (such as for medicines). PVC contains a phthalate called DEHP, which can cause male traits to become more feminized (DEHP-containing products have been banned in many countries, but not the U.S.). In some products, DEHP has been replaced with another chemical called DiNP, which has similarly been shown to have hormone disruption properties.
4. LDPE: low-density polyethylene.
LDPE is used for dry cleaning bags, bread bags, newspaper bags, produce bags, and garbage bags, as well as “paper” milk cartons and hot/cold beverage cups. LDPE does not contain BPA, but as with most plastics, it can leach estrogenic chemicals.
5. PP: polypropylene.
PP is used to make yogurt containers, deli food containers and winter clothing insulation. PP actually has a high heat tolerance and as such, does not seem to leach many of the chemicals other plastics do.
6. PS: polystyrene.
PS, also popularly known as Styrofoam, is used for cups, plates, take-out containers, supermarket meat trays, and packing peanuts. Polystyrene can leach styrene, a suspected carcinogen, especially in the presence of heat (which makes hot coffee in a Styrofoam container an unwise choice).
7. Everything else.
Any plastic item not made from the above six plastics is lumped together as a #7 plastic. Any plastic designated #7 is likely to leach BPA and/or BPS, both potent endocrine disruptors linked to interfering with proper mood, growth, development, sexual function, reproductive function, and puberty, among other essential human developmental processes. They are also suspected of increasing the risk of adult reproductive cancers, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
The Dangers of Outgassing
The danger from chemicals in plastic is not limited to leaching from bottles and food wraps. Another significant source of concern is from outgassing (also known as offgassing). That new-car smell, or the odor from a new synthetic-fiber carpet or new plastic toy is actually called outgassing.
What is chemically happening is that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are evaporating into the air around us. These gases are, in many cases, hazardous to human health.
These VOCs include aldehydes, alcohols, plasticizers, and alkanes. PVC is probably the worst outgassing offender and is prevalent throughout the household. A buildup of VOCs in the household (sometimes called sick building syndrome) can result in symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, allergies, skin/eye/nose/throat irritations, and asthma. Long-term damage can include cancer and heart disease. Heat can speed up the process of outgassing, so it may be helpful to put new products containing plastic out in the sun for a few hours to minimize the indoor VOC buildup.
The ABCs of Avoiding Plastics
The obvious solution to avoiding plastic toxicity is to avoid plastics, which, in a world awash in plastic, is pretty difficult. In the absence of this, it makes sense to limit your close encounters with plastic as best as you can.
|March 24, 2016||
Global Warming's Terrifying New Chemistry
by Bill McKibben, The Nation, AlterNet
Global warming is, in the end, not about the noisy political battles here on the planet’s surface. It actually happens in constant, silent interactions in the atmosphere, where the molecular structure of certain gases traps heat that would otherwise radiate back out to space. If you get the chemistry wrong, it doesn’t matter how many landmark climate agreements you sign or how many speeches you give. And it appears the United States may have gotten the chemistry wrong. Really wrong.
There’s one greenhouse gas everyone knows about: carbon dioxide, which is what you get when you burn fossil fuels. We talk about a “price on carbon” or argue about a carbon tax; our leaders boast about modest “carbon reductions.” But in the last few weeks, CO2’s nasty little brother has gotten some serious press. Meet methane, otherwise known as CH4.
In February, Harvard researchers published an explosive paper in Geophysical Research Letters. Using satellite data and ground observations, they concluded that the nation as a whole is leaking methane in massive quantities. Between 2002 and 2014, the data showed that US methane emissions increased by more than 30 percent, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of an enormous spike in methane in the entire planet’s atmosphere.
To the extent our leaders have cared about climate change, they’ve fixed on CO2. Partly as a result, coal-fired power plants have begun to close across the country. They’ve been replaced mostly with ones that burn natural gas, which is primarily composed of methane. Because burning natural gas releases significantly less carbon dioxide than burning coal, CO2 emissions have begun to trend slowly downward, allowing politicians to take a bow. But this new Harvard data, which comes on the heels of other aerial surveys showing big methane leakage, suggests that our new natural-gas infrastructure has been bleeding methane into the atmosphere in record quantities. And molecule for molecule, this unburned methane is much, much more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
The EPA insisted this wasn’t happening, that methane was on the decline just like CO2. But it turns out, as some scientists have been insisting for years, the EPA was wrong. Really wrong. This error is the rough equivalent of the New York Stock Exchange announcing tomorrow that the Dow Jones isn’t really at 17,000: Its computer program has been making a mistake, and your index fund actually stands at 11,000.
These leaks are big enough to wipe out a large share of the gains from the Obama administration’s work on climate change—all those closed coal mines and fuel-efficient cars. In fact, it’s even possible that America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years. The methane story is utterly at odds with what we’ve been telling ourselves, not to mention what we’ve been telling the rest of the planet. It undercuts the promises we made at the climate talks in Paris. It’s a disaster—and one that seems set to spread.
The Obama administration, to its credit, seems to be waking up to the problem. Over the winter, the EPA began to revise its methane calculations, and in early March, the United States reached an agreement with Canada to begin the arduous task of stanching some of the leaks from all that new gas infrastructure. But none of this gets to the core problem, which is the rapid spread of fracking. Carbon dioxide is driving the great warming of the planet, but CO2 isn’t doing it alone. It’s time to take methane seriously.
* * *
To understand how we got here, it’s necessary to remember what a savior fracked natural gas looked like to many people, environmentalists included. As George W. Bush took hold of power in Washington, coal was ascendant, here and around the globe. Cheap and plentiful, it was most visibly underwriting the stunning growth of the economy in China, where, by some estimates, a new coal-fired power plant was opening every week. The coal boom didn’t just mean smoggy skies over Beijing; it meant the planet’s invisible cloud of carbon dioxide was growing faster than ever, and with it the certainty of dramatic global warming.
So lots of people thought it was great news when natural-gas wildcatters began rapidly expanding fracking in the last decade. Fracking involves exploding the sub-surface geology so that gas can leak out through newly opened pores; its refinement brought online new shale deposits across the continent—most notably the Marcellus Shale, stretching from West Virginia up into Pennsylvania and New York. The quantities of gas that geologists said might be available were so vast that they were measured in trillions of cubic feet and in centuries of supply.
The apparently happy fact was that when you burn natural gas, it releases half as much carbon dioxide as coal. A power plant that burned natural gas would therefore, or so the reasoning went, be half as bad for global warming as a power plant that burned coal. Natural gas was also cheap—so, from a politician’s point of view, fracking was a win-win situation. You could appease the environmentalists with their incessant yammering about climate change without having to run up the cost of electricity. It would be painless environmentalism, the equivalent of losing weight by cutting your hair.
It’s possible that America’s contribution to global warming increased during the Obama years.
And it appeared even better than that. If you were President Obama and had inherited a dead-in-the-water economy, the fracking boom offered one of the few economic bright spots. Not only did it employ lots of people, but cheap natural gas had also begun to alter the country’s economic equation: Manufacturing jobs were actually returning from overseas, attracted by newly abundant energy. In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama declared that new natural-gas supplies would not only last the nation a century, but would create 600,000 new jobs by decade’s end. In his 2014 address, he announced that “businesses plan to invest almost $100 billion in factories that use natural gas,” and pledged to “cut red tape” to get it all done. In fact, the natural-gas revolution has been a constant theme of his energy policy, the tool that made his restrictions on coal palatable. And Obama was never shy about taking credit for at least part of the boom. Public research dollars, he said in 2012, “helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock—reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.”
Obama had plenty of help selling natural gas—from the fossil-fuel industry, but also from environmentalists, at least for a while. Robert Kennedy Jr., who had enormous credibility as the founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance and a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote a paean in 2009 to the “revolution…over the past two years [that] has left America awash in natural gas and has made it possible to eliminate most of our dependence on deadly, destructive coal practically overnight.” Meanwhile, the longtime executive director of the Sierra Club, Carl Pope, had not only taken $25 million from one of the nation’s biggest frackers, Chesapeake Energy, to fund his organization, but was also making appearances with the company’s CEO to tout the advantages of gas, “an excellent example of a fuel that can be produced in quite a clean way, and shouldn’t be wasted.” (That CEO, Aubrey McClendon, apparently killed himself earlier this month, crashing his car into a bridge embankment days after being indicted for bid-rigging.) Exxon was in apparent agreement as well: It purchased XTO Energy, becoming the biggest fracker in the world overnight and allowing the company to make the claim that it was helping to drive emissions down.
For a brief shining moment, you couldn’t have asked for more. As Obama told a joint session of Congress, “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
* * *
Unless, of course, you happened to live in the fracking zone, where nightmares were starting to unfold. In recent decades, most American oil and gas exploration had been concentrated in the western United States, often far from population centers. When there were problems, politicians and media in these states paid little attention.
The Marcellus Shale, though, underlies densely populated eastern states. It wasn’t long before stories about the pollution of farm fields and contamination of drinking water from fracking chemicals began to make their way into the national media. In the Delaware Valley, after a fracking company tried to lease his family’s farm, a young filmmaker named Josh Fox produced one of the classic environmental documentaries of all time, Gasland, which became instantly famous for its shot of a man lighting on fire the methane flowing from his water faucet.
This reporting helped galvanize a movement—at first town by town, then state by state, and soon across whole regions. The activism was most feverish in New York, where residents could look across the Pennsylvania line and see the ecological havoc that fracking caused. Scores of groups kept up unrelenting pressure that eventually convinced Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban it. Long before that happened, the big environmental groups recanted much of their own support for fracking: The Sierra Club’s new executive director, Michael Brune, not only turned down $30 million in potential donations from fracking companies but came out swinging against the practice. “The club needs to…advocate more fiercely to use as little gas as possible,” he said. “We’re not going to mute our voice on this.” As for Robert Kennnedy Jr., by 2013 he was calling natural gas a “catastrophe.”
In the end, one of the most important outcomes of the antifracking movement may have been that it attracted the attention of a couple of Cornell scientists. Living on the northern edge of the Marcellus Shale, Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea got interested in the outcry. While everyone else was focused on essentially local issues—would fracking chemicals get in the water supply?—they decided to look more closely at a question that had never gotten much attention: How much methane was invisibly being leaked by these fracking operations?
Natural gas was also cheap—so, from a politician’s point of view, fracking was a win-win situation.
Because here’s the unhappy fact about methane: Though it produces only half as much carbon as coal when you burn it, if you don’t—if it escapes into the air before it can be captured in a pipeline, or anywhere else along its route to a power plant or your stove—then it traps heat in the atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. Howarth and Ingraffea began producing a series of papers claiming that if even a small percentage of the methane leaked—maybe as little as 3 percent—then fracked gas would do more climate damage than coal. And their preliminary data showed that leak rates could be at least that high: that somewhere between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of methane gas from shale-drilling operations actually escapes into the atmosphere.
To say that no one in power wanted to hear this would be an understatement. The two scientists were roundly attacked by the industry; one trade group called their study the “Ivory Tower’s latest fact-free assault on shale gas exploration.” Most of the energy establishment joined in. An MIT team, for instance, had just finished an industry-funded report that found “the environmental impacts of shale development are challenging but manageable”; one of its lead authors, the ur-establishment energy expert Henry Jacoby, described the Cornell research as “very weak.” One of its other authors, Ernest Moniz, would soon become the US secretary of energy; in his nomination hearings in 2013, he lauded the “stunning increase” in natural gas as a “revolution” and pledged to increase its use domestically.
The trouble for the fracking establishment was that new research kept backing up Howarth and Ingraffea. In January 2013, for instance, aerial overflights of fracking basins in Utah found leak rates as high as 9 percent. “We were expecting to see high methane levels, but I don’t think anybody really comprehended the true magnitude of what we would see,” said the study’s director. But such work was always piecemeal, one area at a time, while other studies—often conducted with industry-supplied data—came up with lower numbers.
* * *
That’s why last month’s Harvard study came as such a shock. It used satellite data from across the country over a span of more than a decade to demonstrate that US methane emissions had spiked 30 percent since 2002. The EPA had been insisting throughout that period that methane emissions were actually falling, but it was clearly wrong—on a massive scale. In fact, emissions “are substantially higher than we’ve understood,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy admitted in early March. The Harvard study wasn’t designed to show why US methane emissions were growing—in other parts of the world, as new research makes clear, cattle and wetlands seem to be causing emissions to accelerate. But the spike that the satellites recorded coincided almost perfectly with the era when fracking went big-time.
To make matters worse, during the same decade, experts had become steadily more worried about the effects of methane in any quantity on the atmosphere. Everyone agrees that, molecule for molecule, methane traps far more heat than CO2—but exactly how much wasn’t clear. One reason the EPA estimates of America’s greenhouse-gas emissions showed such improvement was because the agency, following standard procedures, was assigning a low value to methane and measuring its impact over a 100-year period. But a methane molecule lasts only a couple of decades in the air, compared with centuries for CO2. That’s good news, in that methane’s effects are transient—and very bad news because that transient but intense effect happens right now, when we’re breaking the back of the planet’s climate. The EPA’s old chemistry and 100-year time frame assigned methane a heating value of 28 to 36 times that of carbon dioxide; a more accurate figure, says Howarth, is between 86 and 105 times the potency of CO2 over the next decade or two.
If you combine Howarth’s estimates of leakage rates and the new standard values for the heat-trapping potential of methane, then the picture of America’s total greenhouse-gas emissions over the last 15 years looks very different: Instead of peaking in 2007 and then trending downward, as the EPA has maintained, our combined emissions of methane and carbon dioxide have gone steadily and sharply up during the Obama years, Howarth says. We closed coal plants and opened methane leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.
Since Howarth is an outspoken opponent of fracking, I ran the Harvard data past an impeccably moderate referee, the venerable climate-policy wonk Dan Lashof. A UC Berkeley PhD who has been in the inner circles of climate policy almost since it began, Lashof has helped write reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and craft the Obama administration’s plan to cut coal-plant pollution. The longtime head of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, he is now the chief operations officer of billionaire Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America.
We closed coal plants and opened methane leaks, and the result is that things have gotten worse.
“The Harvard paper is important,” Lashof said. “It’s the most convincing new data I have seen showing that the EPA’s estimates of the methane-leak rate are much too low. I think this paper shows that US greenhouse-gas emissions may have gone up over the last decade if you focus on the combined short-term-warming impact.”
Under the worst-case scenario—one that assumes that methane is extremely potent and extremely fast-acting—the United States has actually slightly increased its greenhouse-gas emissions from 2005 to 2015. That’s the chart below: the blue line shows what we’ve been telling ourselves and the world about our emissions—that they are falling. The red line, the worst-case calculation from the new numbers, shows just the opposite.
Lashof argues for a more moderate reading of the numbers (calculating methane’s impact over 50 years, for instance). But even this estimate—one that attributes less of the methane release to fracking—wipes out as much as three-fifths of the greenhouse-gas reductions that the United States has been claiming. This more modest reassessment is the yellow line in the chart below; it shows the country reducing its greenhouse-gas emissions, but by nowhere near as much as we had thought.
The lines are doubtless not as smooth as the charts imply, and other studies will provide more detail and perhaps shift the calculations. But any reading of the new data offers a very different version of our recent history. Among other things, either case undercuts the statistics that America used to negotiate the Paris climate accord. It’s more upsetting than the discovery last year that China had underestimated its coal use, because China now appears to be cutting back aggressively on coal. If the Harvard data hold up and we keep on fracking, it will be nearly impossible for the United States to meet its promised goal of a 26 to 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from 2005 levels by 2025.
* * *
One obvious conclusion from the new data is that we need to move very aggressively to plug as many methane leaks as possible. “The biggest unfinished business for the Obama administration is to establish tight rules on methane emissions from existing [wells and drill sites],” Lashof says. That’s the work that Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to tackle at their conclave in March—although given the time it takes for the EPA to draft new rules, it will likely be long after Obama’s departure before anything happens, and the fossil-fuel industry has vowed to fight new regulations.
Also, containing the leaks is easier said than done: After all, methane is a gas, meaning that it’s hard to prevent it from escaping. Since methane is invisible and odorless (utilities inject a separate chemical to add a distinctive smell), you need special sensors to even measure leaks. Catastrophic blowouts like the recent one at Porter Ranch in California pour a lot of methane into the air, but even these accidents are small compared to the total seeping out from the millions of pipes, welds, joints, and valves across the country—especially the ones connected with fracking operations, which involve exploding rock to make large, leaky pores. A Canadian government team examined the whole process a couple of years ago and came up with despairing conclusions. Consider the cement seals around drill pipes, says Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes, who was a member of the team: “It sounds like it ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is ‘an unresolved engineering challenge.’ The technical problem is that when you pour cement into a well and it solidifies, it shrinks. You can get gaps in the cement. All wells leak.”
With that in mind, the other conclusion from the new data is even more obvious: We need to stop the fracking industry in its tracks, here and abroad. Even with optimistic numbers for all the plausible leaks fixed, Howarth says, methane emissions will keep rising if we keep fracking.
“It ought to be simple to make a cement seal, but the phrase we finally fixed on is ‘an unresolved engineering challenge.’” —Naomi Oreskes
And if we didn’t frack, what would we do instead? Ten years ago, the realistic choice was between natural gas and coal. But that choice is no longer germane: Over the same 10 years, the price of a solar panel has dropped at least 80 percent. New inventions have come online, such as air-source heat pumps, which use the latent heat in the air to warm and cool houses, and electric storage batteries. We’ve reached the point where Denmark can generate 42 percent of its power from the wind, and where Bangladesh is planning to solarize every village in the country within the next five years. We’ve reached the point, that is, where the idea of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a renewable future is a marketing slogan, not a realistic claim (even if that’s precisely the phrase that Hillary Clinton used to defend fracking in a debate earlier this month).
One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables, keeping us from putting up windmills and solar panels at the necessary pace. Joe Romm, a climate analyst at the Center for American Progress, has been tracking the various economic studies more closely than anyone else. Even if you could cut the methane-leakage rates to zero, Romm says, fracked gas (which, remember, still produces 50 percent of the CO2 level emitted by coal when you burn it) would do little to cut the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions because it would displace so much truly clean power. A Stanford forum in 2014 assembled more than a dozen expert teams, and their models showed what a drag on a sustainable future cheap, abundant gas would be. “Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” the principal investigator of the Stanford forum explained. “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”
Of course, if you’re a cookie company, that’s not what you want to hear. And the Exxons have a little more political juice than the Keeblers. To give just one tiny example, during his first term, Obama’s then–deputy assistant for energy and climate change, Heather Zichal, headed up an interagency working group to promote the development of domestic natural gas. The working group had been formed after pressure from the American Petroleum Institute, the chief fossil-fuel lobbying group, and Zichal, in a talk to an API gathering, said: “It’s hard to overstate how natural gas—and our ability to access more of it than ever—has become a game changer, and that’s why it’s been a fixture of the president’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy.” Zichal left her White House job in 2013; one year later, she took a new post on the board of Cheniere Energy, a leading exporter of fracked gas. In the $180,000-a-year job, she joined former CIA head John Deutch, who once led an Energy Department review of fracking safety during the Obama years, and Vicky Bailey, a commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under Bill Clinton. That’s how it works.
* * *
There was one oddly reassuring number in the Harvard satellite data: The massive new surge of methane from the United States constituted somewhere between 30 and 60 percent of the global growth in methane emissions this past decade. In other words, the relatively small percentage of the planet’s surface known as the United States accounts for much (if not most) of the spike in atmospheric methane around the world. Another way of saying this is: We were the first to figure out how to frack. In this new century, we’re leading the world into the natural-gas age, just as we poured far more carbon into the 20th-century atmosphere than any other nation. So, thank God, now that we know there’s a problem, we could warn the rest of the planet before it goes down the same path.
Except we’ve been doing exactly the opposite. We’ve become the planet’s salesman for natural gas—and a key player in this scheme could become the next president of the United States. When Hillary Clinton took over the State Department, she set up a special arm, the Bureau of Energy Resources, after close consultation with oil and gas executives. This bureau, with 63 employees, was soon helping sponsor conferences around the world. And much more: Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the secretary of state was essentially acting as a broker for the shale-gas industry, twisting the arms of world leaders to make sure US firms got to frack at will.
To take just one example, an article in Mother Jones based on the WikiLeaks cables reveals what happened when fracking came to Bulgaria. In 2011, the country signed a $68 million deal with Chevron, granting the company millions of acres in shale-gas concessions. The Bulgarian public wasn’t happy: Tens of thousands were in the streets of Sofia with banners reading Stop Fracking With Our Water. But when Clinton came for a state visit in 2012, she sided with Chevron (one of whose executives had bundled large sums for her presidential campaign in 2008). In fact, the leaked cables show that the main topic of her meetings with Bulgaria’s leaders was fracking. Clinton offered to fly in the “best specialists on these new technologies to present the benefits to the Bulgarian people,” and she dispatched her Eurasian energy envoy, Richard Morningstar, to lobby hard against a fracking ban in neighboring Romania. Eventually, they won those battles—and today, the State Department provides “assistance” with fracking to dozens of countries around the world, from Cambodia to Papua New Guinea.
So if the United States has had a terrible time tracking down and fixing its methane leaks, ask yourself how it’s going to go in Bulgaria. If Canada finds that sealing leaks is an “unresolved engineering challenge,” ask yourself how Cambodia’s going to make out. If the State Department has its way, then in a few years Harvard’s satellites will be measuring gushers of methane from every direction.
* * *
Of course, we can—and perhaps we should—forgive all that past. The information about methane is relatively new; when Obama and Clinton and Zichal started backing fracking, they didn’t really know. They could have turned around much earlier, like Kennedy or the Sierra Club. But what they do now will be decisive.
There are a few promising signs. Clinton has at least tempered her enthusiasm for fracking some in recent debates, listing a series of preconditions she’d insist on before new projects were approved; Bernie Sanders, by contrast, has called for a moratorium on new fracking. But Clinton continues to conflate and confuse the chemistry: Natural gas, she said in a recent position paper, has helped US carbon emissions “reach their lowest level in 20 years.” It appears that many in power would like to carry on the fracking revolution, albeit a tad more carefully.
Indeed, just last month, Cheniere Energy shipped the first load of American gas overseas from its new export terminal at Sabine Pass in Louisiana. As the ship sailed, Cheniere’s vice president of marketing, Meg Gentle, told industry and government officials that natural gas should be rebranded as renewable energy. “I’d challenge everyone here to reframe the debate and make sure natural gas is part of the category of clean energy, not a fossil-fuel category, which is viewed as dirty and not part of the solution,” she said. A few days later, Exxon’s PR chief, writing in the Los Angeles Times, boasted that the company had been “instrumental in America’s shale gas revolution,” and that as a result, “America’s greenhouse gas emissions have declined to levels not seen since the 1990s.”
The new data prove them entirely wrong. The global-warming fight can’t just be about carbon dioxide any longer. Those local environmentalists, from New York State to Tasmania, who have managed to enforce fracking bans are doing as much for the climate as they are for their own clean water. That’s because fossil fuels are the problem in global warming—and fossil fuels don’t come in good and bad flavors. Coal and oil and natural gas have to be left in the ground. All of them.
Bill McKibben is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, the founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign, and the winner of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award.
|March 21, 2016||
Thinking About an Ethical Travel Destination Off the Beaten Path? Here Are the Top 10 Places to Visit Now.
by Reynard Loki , AlterNet
The late travel writer Bruce Chatwin, an inveterate wanderer, described life as “a journey through a wilderness.” With a skyrocketing human population currently consuming the equivalent of 1.6 planets worth of resources and expected to reach a mindboggling 9.6 billion by 2050, that wilderness is rapidly disappearing, especially in the industrialized world.
Canada has been the world's leader in forest loss since 2000, accounting for more than a fifth of global deforestation. In the United States, even the Grand Canyon isn't safe, with an Italian mega-developer seeking to build a mall and resort, and a U.S. District Court judge recently approving a uranium mine at the canyon's edge. Both threaten aquifers that feed the area's flora and fauna, some species of which are found nowhere else in the world.
But there are still many wild places where industry hasn't yet strangled nature, particularly across the developing world. In some of those places, people are stepping up to protect the rights of humans, wildlife and nature. Those places want you to visit. But ethical tourism isn't just about travel destinations that operate ethically, it's also about travelers who make ethical decisions. Increasingly, people are more interested in tourist destinations, products and services that protect the environment and respect local people and cultures.
"The encouraging thing is that sustainable tourism is becoming more widely accepted," said Alex Blackburne, editor of Blue & Green Tomorrow, a magazine for ethical investment, in 2013. "So much so that UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, now believes it will go from 'alternative’ to ‘mainstream’ within a decade.” According to his company's Sustainable Tourism 2014 report, 43 percent of survey respondents said they would be considering the ethical or environmental footprint of their main holiday.
The ethics of air travel
One thing to consider is the ethical dilemma of air travel itself; for many of us, getting on a plane is likely our most serious ecological offense. “One roundtrip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person,” writes New York Times environment reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal. “The average American generates about 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year; the average European, 10.”
Nearly a decade ago, New York Times writer John Tierney put the impact of flying in terms of recycling plastic bottles. “To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger roundtrip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles” in coach (or up to 100,000 for business or first-class seats, adjusting for the additional space pricier seats take up). So if you’ve permitted yourself the significant upsizing of your carbon footprint that air travel will bring, choose coach. Your impact will be less than half that of someone in business or first class.
United launched the Eco-Skies CarbonChoice program, which provides customers the opportunity to reduce their air travel carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets. Writing in the Guardian last year, Lucy Siegle says carbon offsetting is a way to “assuage your feeling of guilt”:
Just like recycling’s “Reduce, reuse then recycle”, there’s a hierarchy: “Don’t fly, fly with the most efficient airline (always in economy), then offset.” So check efficiency first, using Atmosfair’s airline ranking (Air France comes top). Then choose your offset scheme — it must be verifiable, traceable and permanent. Only look at schemes that conform to the Verified Carbon Standard or Clean Development Mechanism.
But changes in behavior must also come from within the airline industry, and not just by offering customers the ability to purchase carbon offsets. In November, Nsikan Akpna, a digital science producer for PBS NewsHour, published an article that rounded up “seven simple airplane fixes [that] could cut carbon emission in half at little to no cost,” such as reducing tarmac idling (which resulted in 200 million gallons of excess fuel burn in 2010 alone) or using electric motors instead of jet fuel to drive planes on the ground (which could save nearly 80,000 gallons of fuel per aircraft per year).
Lawmakers can do their part by mandating industry-wide changes. In 2013, climate change regulation in the European Union went into effect, putting a cap on carbon emissions for airplanes arriving or departing from EU airports, so those airlines now trade in pollution permits on a carbon market specifically set up for the aviation industry, which Siegle notes in the Guardian is “an incentive for airlines to invest in eco-friendly fleets.”
We can offset the ecological impact of our own air travel, but where to go? Ethical Traveler has you covered. The nonprofit advocacy group, a project of the Berkeley-based Earth Island Institute, recently released its annual list of the 10 Best Ethical Destinations for 2016. By analyzing nations based on several criteria, including performance in the areas of human rights, social welfare, animal welfare and environmental protection, the group has determined the 10 most forward-looking countries across the developing world right now.
Ethical Traveler says visiting these countries is a way to "reward the good guys — and encourage humane practices worldwide.” So book your (carbon-offsetted, economy-class) tickets and pack your (sustainably sourced, locally made, eco-friendly) bags: Here are the Top 10 Most Ethical Travel Destinations for 2016.
1. Cabo Verde*
A kindergarten graduation on Santiago Island, Cabo Verde. (image: DuncanCV/Wikipedia)
Cabo Verde is on a roll, having been selected for Ethical Traveler’s Top 10 list last year. Spanning an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands in the central Atlantic Ocean about 350 miles off the coast of Western Africa, Cabo Verde is one of the most developed and democratic countries in Africa. A former Portuguese colony, the republic retains close ties to Europe: In 2014, the European Commission announced €55 million ($61 million) in support through the European Development Fund to help the nation’s efforts to combat poverty and develop sustainable, inclusive growth and responsible governance. By 2020, the government aims to draw 50 percent of all the country's energy from renewable sources.
Cabo Verde is also a leader in human rights. In its yearly report on civil and political rights, Freedom House, a Washington, D.C.-based NGO, granted a perfect score to the nation, which celebrated its third annual gay pride week last year. It also continues to move ahead in terms of gender equality, with an increasing number of women holding leadership positions. In addition, it boasts the second best educational system in Africa, after South Africa, with primary school education mandatory and free for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years. A famous surfing destination, Cabo Verde is also known for wave sailing and kiteboarding.
Carnival Queen aspirant dressed in a bird-inspired costume at the 2011 Dominica Carnival parade. (image: Andres Virviescas/Shutterstock)
Birders have long had a good reason to visit Dominica: The endangered Sisserou parrot, which is found only on this 290-square-mile island nation in the Caribbean. But these days, animal lovers—and ethical travelers—have many other reasons to go. Ethical Traveler points out that Dominica is “one of the few Caribbean nations to consistently stand against the whaling industry [and] has upped its efforts to protect those magnificent creatures by creating a nationwide, compulsory primary school curriculum aimed at teaching students to respect and care for whales, along with other marine life living in their coastal waters.”
In addition, the "Nature Isle of the Caribbean," as it is known, has been a regional leader in the development of geothermal electricity, with a goal to source its electricity fully from renewable energy. The island’s progress on this front has been so impressive it expects to become a net exporter of clean energy, eventually supplying its Caribbean neighbors. Education is also key in Dominica, which has a literacy rates of 94 percent, well above the global average of 84 percent.
Travelers to Dominica can rest assured that any health emergencies will be well managed, as the nation launched a hospital partnership with its neighbors to increase the quality of emergency care. “Access to healthcare is always an issue in countries with few resources,” notes Ethical Traveler, but Dominica offers “widespread, well-organized and free healthcare across the island.” Last year, the island was certified free of measles, mumps and rubella.
Make sure you bring your dancing shoes: Dominica is known for its rich history of music, a fusion of Haitian, African, Afro-Cuban and European traditions.
Grand Anse Beach, St. George's, Grenada (image: Vkap/Wikipedia)
Grenada made this year’s list in part due to its strong action on climate change and its efforts to protect and restore its coral reefs by constructing coral nurseries. Ethical Traveler says that while the Caribbean island nation didn’t make the 2015 list “due to its failure to respect or guarantee LGBT rights, it has made cautious progress on this front,” securing the second-highest score on Freedom House's annual report on civil and political rights. The issue of LGBT discrimination is being considered as part of the ongoing constitutional reform process, but Ethical Traveler notes that “the general view, however, is that the Constitution should not be amended to give protection to LGBT persons,” adding that its 2017 list “will take into account whether or not Grenada has made positive headway.”
Known for its many idyllic beaches—Grand Anse Beach on St. George's is considered to be one of world’s best—Grenada has a growing ecotourism industry that recognizes the connection between economic development and environmental sustainability. The Grenada Chocolate Company is a pioneer in organic cocoa cultivation. In addition to using solar energy to power its “tree-to-bar” factory, the company uses carbon-neutral, wind-powered Fair Transport to get its product to store shelves around the world and has made a commitment to empower cocoa farmers and their families to earn a living wage.
4. Micronesia (Federated States)
Islanders performing a welcome ceremony on Ulithi atoll (image: Nelson Hinds/Wikipedia)
This is the first year that the Federated States of Micronesia have made Ethical Traveler’s list. An independent sovereign island nation, FS Micronesia is a United States associated state consisting of four states—Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae—spread across the Western Pacific Ocean.
For those looking for the road less traveled, FS Micronesia could be the spot, as it is quite remote: about 1,800 miles north of Australia and nearly 2,500 southwest of Hawaii. That remoteness, along with a lack of adequate infrastructure and facilities, has hindered the development of tourism, but the potential is there. Micronesia could use the economic boost tourism brings, helping it realize its goal of increasing the share of renewable energy to at least 30 percent by 2020.
Reducing fossil fuel use will also help maintain and conserve the nation’s pristine natural beauty, something Micronesia has been keen on protecting. In 2014, the island of Kosrae announced the first conservation easement outside of the Americas. A legal tool that removes all development rights, the easement can easily be modeled by other island nations and will permanently protect a portion of a rare freshwater swamp forest in the Yela Valley that contains the world's largest stand of ka trees, a highly valued endemic tree used for timber, medicine and edible nuts.
Bactrian camels by the sand dunes of Khongoryn Els, Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park, Ömnögovi Province, Mongolia (image: Doron/Wikipedia)
Along with Uruguay and Cabo Verde, Mongolia has made the most progress in the Environmental Performance Index ranking over the last year. Maintained by NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center and hosted by Columbia University, the EPI uses indicators that focus on protecting ecosystems and human health. One key indicator is the use and availability of solar energy. According to Ethical Traveler, “Currently 500,000 people, including 70 percent of Mongolia’s herders, have modern electricity generated through solar power.”
Spanning over 600,000 square miles, the landlocked East Asian state, known as the "Land of the Eternal Blue Sky," is the 19th largest country in the world. The nation has set aside and protected almost 15 percent of its land—about 90,000 square miles—including Mongol Daguur, a steppe and wetland region listed as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Site of International Importance, and Khustain Nuruu National Park, home to several endangered and vulnerable species, including the Tarragon marmot and the great bustard.
But the mining industry, which accounts for more than a fifth of the country’s GDP, continues to threaten these sensitive ecological hotspots, as the protection laws are not properly enforced. “Fortunately, there is growing awareness in Mongolia about mining’s negative impact on the environment,” notes Ethical Traveler. “Mongolia’s mining activities and their impact will be monitored this year, and will play an important role in determining if Mongolia will keep its spot in 2017."
Of all the nations on the list, says Ethical Traveler, Mongolia faces “perhaps the most difficult animal welfare struggle,” as a softening of trade with China has led to an increased demand in animal parts that fuel traditional Chinese medicine. “Fortunately, both the UK government and the Zoological Society of London are helping to fund partnership projects in Mongolia aimed at enforcing the law and stemming the wildlife trade.”
Keel-billed toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus). Panama has the most wildlife diversity in Central America. (image: Eduardo Rivero/Shutterstock)
This is the first year Panama has made the list, securing the second-highest environmental protection score among the Top 10 ethical nations after Tonga. Along with Mongolia, Panama has the lowest unemployment rate of the nations on the list. Both countries have reported less than 5 percent of the workforce unemployed. Importantly, the Central American nation has ratified all six key international conventions concerning child labor.
Of the nations on the list, Panama also boasts the highest life expectancy at birth, with Panamanians having an average life expectancy of 79 years, about as long as Americans and Europeans. Panama also ranks No. 7 on the Happy Planet Index, which measures “perceived well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint.”
While almost 40 percent of Panama is still covered in woodland, deforestation remains a continuing threat. The nation has responded with intensive reforestation projects that incentivize local farmers to make sure the tropical ecosystems under their management are sustainable.
Panama has made impressive strides in animal rights. A new national animal welfare law bans dogfighting, greyhound racing, hare coursing and bullfighting, and regulates the use of performing animals in circuses.
A sovereign state in Polynesia encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, Samoa also made the 2015 list. The nation continues to push for strong action on climate change. Last year, Samoa launched new solar plants to achieve its goal of being 100 percent powered by sustainable energy by 2017.
Samoa is home to a number of endangered species, such as the critically endangered Samoan woodhen, an endemic flightless rail that may actually be extinct due to predation by introduced species such as rats and feral cats, as well as logging. Also endemic to Samoa is the endangered mao, a passerine bird known for its loud whistling and mewing calls. As of 2010, protected areas in the country cover 5 percent of the land, and the government has a goal to increase that number to 15 percent.
Samoa has been one of the worst offenders on the list in terms of domestic violence, but Ethical Traveler notes that the nation has “taken a step forward with a landmark ‘State of Human Rights’ report that aims at counteracting the widespread acceptance of domestic violence as a fact of life and increasing protections for women, people with disabilities and prisoners.” The report is the first of its kind in the country and also highlights the need for better safeguards for children.
A humpback whale swims off the coast of Pangai, Ha'apai, Tonga. Marine mammals like whales and dolphins as well as thousands of fish species call the waters surrounding Tonga home.
Renowned for its golden sand beaches and sculpted granite outcrops, Tonga scored highest in environmental protection among the nations on the list. In 2014, the nation designated Fafa Marine Reserve, which bans all fishing activities within the reef on Fafa Island, just north of the capital Nuku’alofa, “as a result of growing concerns of overfishing and destructive fishing practices.” That's good news for the 1,200 marine species who live in and around Tonga’s reefs.
The Polynesian archipelago has also committed to an ambitious goal of generating 50 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2020. Solar arrays are currently being constructed on nine of the nation’s outlying islands. Freedom House gave the state the second highest score in its annual civil and political rights report. Education is also a priority, with a literacy rate an impressive 99 percent.
But Tonga isn’t fully living up to its nickname, the Friendly Islands. As Ethical Traveler notes, it almost didn’t make the list this year due to the dubious distinction of being only one of seven countries in the world that has not ratified the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. “This stance underscores troubling cultural beliefs regarding the status of women in society,” says Ethical Traveler, “and we ask them to make significant improvements in the coming year.” A welcome sign that the nation is progressing in the right direction came last year when Tonga hosted its first Pacific Human Rights on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identification Conference.
A wharf and beach at Funafuti Atoll, Tuvalu. (image: mrlins/Wikipedia)
Comprised of three reef islands and six true atolls spread across 500,000 square miles west of the International Date Line in the South Pacific Ocean, Tuvalu has almost become synonymous with the rising sea level caused by climate change. The nation’s islands are so low-lying it is feared they will one day become submerged as the oceans rise. Just to be safe, plan to visit Tuvalu soon.
In 2012, the nation developed a National Water Resources Policy to improve access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In addition, the government has partnered with the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission to implement composting toilets and to improve the treatment of sewage sludge from septic tanks. To help combat overfishing due to a rising population, the government created the Funafuti Conservation Area to maintain sustainable fish stocks in the Funafuti lagoon.
On human rights, the nation has made excellent strides. In 2014, Tuvalu’s parliament unanimously passed the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Bill that criminalized all forms of domestic violence. Freedom House gave it the second highest score on its annual report on civil and political rights. The nation is also working to extend Internet access, which will have a powerful effect on education.
Maldonado Bay, Uruguay (image: ciiiiro/Wikipedia)
Along with Cabo Verde and Mongolia, Uruguay has made the most progress in the EPI ranking over the last year. Of all the nations on the list, Uruguay is the top green energy performer. The South American country, home to 3.3 million people, supplied 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in 2015, with a goal of powering all public transport with electric energy. Also in the works is the world’s first fully sustainable airport.
Among all the top 10 ethical destinations, Uruguay also scored highest on the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index, an indicator of social welfare that measures life expectancy, average time spent in school and standard of living based on the average gross national income.
And the superlatives don’t stop there. In Latin America, Uruguay is ranked first in democracy, peace, lack of corruption, quality of living and e-government, and first in South America in press freedom, size of the middle class and prosperity. So it should come as little surprise that the nation contributes more troops to UN peacekeeping missions than any other country. The UN lists Uruguay as a “high-income” country — the only one in Latin America. Uruguay was also one of the first countries to sign the new Inter-American Convention on Protecting the Human Rights of Older Persons.
Education is also a key area. According to Ethical Traveler, “Uruguay’s new administration is still focused on education, with plans to increase college scholarships, improve high-school dropout rates and continue the campaign to provide laptop computers to teachers and students—a plan that could propel Uruguay to the continent’s leadership position on education.”
Uruguay maintains a leadership position on marijuana legalization, having become, in 2013, the first country in the world to legalize pot. “Private citizens are allowed to cultivate up to six plants in their houses and can form private grow clubs that produce significantly more,” writes Tom McKay for Mic.com. Former Uruguayan president José Mujica is credited not only as being the law’s architect, but with advancing the debate over drug legalization across Latin America.
“The idea is to take away the market from drug traffickers,” said Mujica in 2012, shortly after submitting a bill to congress that was called “the boldest marijuana legalization proposal anywhere in the world.” The law treats cannabis use much like alcohol consumption, regulating the nation’s $40-million-a-year marijuana industry, decriminalizing use and giving treatment options to the most serious abusers. Uruguay today has one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America.
Ethical travel: changing hearts and minds
Bruce Chatwin also said that “travel doesn’t merely broaden the mind—it makes the mind.” As Ethical Traveler puts it, “The foundation of ethical travel is mindful travel.” Could visiting locales around the world that place a high value on ethics, human rights, animal welfare and sustainability help travelers change their own minds about such things back home? There’s only way to find out. Bon voyage.
Editor’s note: The section on the ethics of air travel was added later. Thanks to careful reader Alvaro Cook for pointing out this omission. The article also misstated that Abel Tasman National Park was located in Tonga; in fact, it is located on South Island, New Zealand. Thank you to close readers Jennie Crum and Amanda Hinkley for pointing out that error.
* Also appeared on Ethical Traveler’s 2015 list.
|March 21, 2016||
Your Water Could Be Worse Than Flint’s: America's Shameful National Public Health Crisis
by Laura Orlando, In These Times, AlterNet
Flint residents knew there was a serious problem with their water when it came out of the tap brown and foul-smelling after the city of Flint changed its source from Lake Huron to the Flint River two years ago.
They didn’t know, however, that lead levels were so high that the Environmental Protection Agency could classify it as hazardous waste. It took Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality more than 17 months to acknowledge the problem.
As a result, tens of thousands of Flint residents have been—and continue to be—poisoned.
The names of the people who made the decisions behind the poisoning are known. Snyder set the wheels in motion with a scheme that sacrificed the health of the people of Flint on the altar of austerity. In 2011, he ended public oversight by appointing his own man—an “emergency manager”—to cut costs and run the city. Flint went through a series of four emergency managers in as many years. When the extent of poisoning was known, Snyder did nothing. He failed to warn people against drinking the water and he failed to provide a safe alternative.
It’s infuriating. But anger is not action. What can we do to prevent the next municipal drinking water disaster? It is already here, flowing into the water glasses of millions of Americans. Chicago, Philadelphia and hundreds of other cities with old pipes have a lead problem. And that’s just the start of the municipal water pollution crisis.
In most of the country, once-clean drinking water sources are now profoundly polluted—by treated and untreated sewage, by chemical-intensive agriculture, by waste from confined animal feeding operations and by industrial discharges. Even in Flint, the story begins not with lead pipes but with failed attempts to “treat” the source of the city water supply: the open sewer that is the Flint River.
Pipes and fixtures can be replaced, but all of the chemical contaminants in our drinking water cannot be removed, no matter how advanced the technology. The solution is to prevent them from getting there in the first place.
Flint: The whole story
Just as there’s no mystery about the toxic combination of racism and neoliberalism that caused the Flint water crisis, there is no mystery about the chemistry that caused the lead to leach from Flint’s pipes. Lead rarely occurs naturally in water. It enters our drinking supply either from industrial or wastewater-treatment discharges or, more commonly, because it leaches out of lead pipes, solders and brass fixtures in the distribution network.
Some conditions make the lead leach faster. This is what happened in Flint when, under the control of an emergency manager, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River and then added chemicals that made the situation worse.
It’s not that the Flint River has elevated levels of lead in it. The trouble—besides the high bacteria levels and untold number of harmful chemicals—is that its water is corrosive. Depending on the rainfall conditions at the time of measurement, as much as half of the river is made up of wastewater from the city’s sewage treatment plant. Before it’s released into the river, the wastewater is treated with chlorine.
Pulling drinking water from a river of treated sewage is not unusual. A 1980 EPA study (the most recent one conducted) indicated that more than 24 major public water utilities got their water from rivers in which sewage treatment plant discharges constituted over 50 percent of the flow during low-flow conditions. In 1985, there were about 6,700 municipal wastewater treatment plants. Since then, an additional 10,000 have been built, which collectively disgorge 33,657 million gallons per day of effluent into rivers, lakes, streams and oceans. To give you an idea of how that compares to public water use, 23,800 million gallons per day are used for drinking water, landscaping, toilets, showers and sinks, and another 18,200 million gallons per day go to industry and commercial businesses.
The Flint sewage treatment plant, located on the banks of the Flint River, keeps 20,000 pounds of chlorine on hand. The wastewater leaving the plant—which averages 32 million gallons per day, but can be as high as 75 million gallons per day—is chlorinated before being dumped into the Flint River.
Disinfecting wastewater with chlorine is a common practice in wastewater treatment that helps the effluent stay below regulatory levels for coliforms— an indicator of fecal contamination. (This does not mean the Flint River is without coliform bacteria. Tests published by the city of Flint show high coliform levels in the river. Sewage treatment overflows, leaks and illegal sewer pipes dumping into the river could be the cause of this.)
Adding chlorine to water is an effective way to dramatically reduce pathogenic bacteria. But chlorine solves one problem only to create another: It helps create the chemical conditions that free up lead from pipes, solders and fixtures. The city could have lessened the corrosion by adding a corrosion inhibitor, such as orthophosphate, to the water—a measure that would have cost just $100 a day—but chose not to.
However, the city had another problem that couldn’t be so easily ignored. Chlorine mixed with water creates a class of chemicals called disinfection byproducts (DBPs). There is epidemiological evidence of a close relationship between DBPs and cancer. The EPA regulates just four of the more than 500 known DBPs, one of which, trihalomethanes (THMs), was already in the Flint River at concentrations in violation of EPA drinking water standards. The city needed to lower bacteria levels in its water, but couldn’t add more chlorine without raising concentrations of THMs, so it switched to chloramine (chlorine plus ammonia), which solves the problem of THMs but leaches lead even faster than chlorine. (Chloramine also creates its own DBPs, but these are not regulated.)
Chloramine’s highly corrosive effects are well-documented. In 2001, after a switch from chlorine to chloramine, tests showed Washington, D.C., water was leaching lead from the distribution system. Civil engineering professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, an expert on water treatment, sounded the alarm. Just like the whistleblowers in Flint, the municipality and the EPA ignored him. It took two years for the D.C. water authority to notify the public about high lead levels in the water. Then the city began partial lead pipe replacement—a solution that has been shown to, counterproductively, “result in significantly elevated levels of lead in tap water … for weeks and months,” as EPA chemist Michael Schock told Environmental Health Perspectives in 2010. (Scientists are still trying to figure out why this happens.)
The D.C. case was widely publicized. But if the city of Flint was to continue using Flint River water, it had to address the immediate problem of the cancer-causing THMs, the chlorine byproducts. So the city made the switch from chlorine to chloramine.
Flint, like all cities in the United States with pipes over 30 years old, has lead in its distribution system. The same story of chloramine corrosion unfolded in Flint as it had in D.C. In summer 2015, Dr. Mona HannaAttisha, a Flint-based pediatrician, got a tip from a friend at the EPA that Flint might have a leaching problem, and began studying hospital blood samples. A paper she co-authored in the February 2016 issue of American Journal of Public Health showed that incidence of elevated blood lead levels in Flint children doubled, and in some neighborhoods nearly tripled, after the city began using water from the Flint River.
Water distribution pipes in the United States were initially made of wood, then iron, then lead. Lead pipes, first manufactured in the mid-1800s, had almost completely displaced iron by the turn of the 20th century—they lasted longer and were easier to work with. But lead is also poisonous, especially to children, who absorb more lead than adults and are more susceptible to its irreversible health effects, such as nerve and brain damage.
It didn’t take long for press accounts of lead poisoning to surface. In 1890, the Massachusetts State Board of Health advised the state’s cities and towns to avoid the use of lead pipes. By the 1920s, cities across the country had banned them. But the lead mining and manufacturing industries pushed back, establishing the Lead Industries Association in 1928, which aggressively advocated for the continued use of lead solder and pipes. Against the mountains of data on illnesses and deaths, industry prevailed. It wasn’t until 1986 that federal regulations banned lead in new drinking water distribution systems.
But much of the old lead piping still remains. In the post-Reagan era, local governments pay for 95 percent of sewer infrastructure and 99 percent of public water infrastructure. Municipalities with money are slowly replacing pipes and investing in their water supply systems. The city of Madison spent $19.4 million to replace its lead pipes over an 11-year period, beginning in 2001. Flint, one of the most economically depressed cities in America, couldn’t afford new pipes. Reaganomics failed cities like Flint. Today, the city has 8,000 poisoned children to show for it.
EPA gone MIA
Where is the EPA in all of this? Eviscerated. It started when Reagan took office in 1981 and appointed Anne Gorsuch, a Colorado state representative who vocally opposed federal regulation of energy and the environment, as administrator. She cut the budget by 22 percent, hired people representing industry while firing long-time EPA staff, relaxed existing regulations and resisted new ones. She was cited for contempt of Congress in her involvement in the misuse of over a billion dollars in Superfund money. Her deputy, Rita Lavelle, went to jail over the scandal. The agency has been under assault by industry-friendly Democrats and Republicans ever since.
Current drinking water regulation has little to do with the realities of what is actually in our drinking water. Like all chemical regulation in the United States, regulatory responses happen—if at all—decades after health threats are documented. Regulators turn a blind eye to problems that can only be remedied through radical changes in how we do things (for example, where we source our drinking water or how we grow our food). As a result, drinking water regulations are inadequate, and those on the books are not being competently monitored or properly enforced.
Regulations to protect public health are set within the boundaries of what water treatment plants can do to address the many toxins in public drinking water supplies, like perfluorinated chemicals, herbicides, lead and DBPs. Most municipal water departments in the United States work very hard to keep the water coming out of the tap as safe as possible, but they do not have the authority or money to change pipes and fixtures or stop the more than 23 billion pounds of toxic chemicals generated annually by U.S. industry from entering their water supplies. The federal rules are meant to accommodate those limitations: Look at a few things, don’t look at many others, and set the thresholds at levels the treatment plant operators can consistently meet.
The stated regulatory goal for lead in drinking water is zero, but since the EPA doesn’t think water treatment authorities can meet this level, it set the acceptable concentration at 15 parts per billion. Test below that and you are not in violation of the drinking water regulations, but you are still poisoning children.
In Kirkwood, Mo., a leafy suburb of St. Louis that gets its drinking water from the Missouri River, people who drink tap water are drinking 2,4-D and atrazine—carcinogenic herbicides applied on farms located in the river’s watershed—every day. “Safe” is a moving target in the water business, though your body has some fixed ideas about it.
So who is tasked with protecting the public water supply? The EPA’s Office of Water oversees two deeply troubled divisions—the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW) and the Office of Wastewater Management (OWM)—both of which act to undermine U.S. drinking water safety. Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech professor who studied D.C.’s water, wrote in a blog post on January 22, “When we exposed cheating in Washington D.C., New Orleans, Durham and elsewhere, OGWDW officials stabbed us in the back, and supported wrongdoers in every single case.”
The Office of Water’s obfuscation, arrogance and anti-science orientation is documented by David Lewis in the book Science For Sale. The office is responsible for “biosolids”: sewage sludge that is dried or otherwise “treated.” The word biosolids was coined as part of a public relations effort to rebrand sewage sludge, a product of wastewater treatment, as safe for disposal on farmland. Hundreds of peer-reviewed papers show its toxicity, but the OWM uses every trick in the PR handbook to promote its use on farms, public land and in sludge-containing “compost,” which is sold at Home Depot and other garden supply centers. Why? The same reason Flint’s water was poisoned: It saves municipalities money to dump sludge on land rather than treat it as a hazardous waste.
When a California farmer questioned the EPA’s decision to allow disposal of sewage sludge on farms and public lands, OWM chemist Alan Rubin reportedly harassed her, writing in a note to her, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!”
We might begin cleaning up our water by cleaning house at the EPA. Departments like the Office of Water are often controlled by the industries they’re meant to regulate. Lock the revolving doors and give voice to the people who really care about environmental protection. Build a culture in the U.S.—and in the EPA—that supports biocompatible practices: chemicals and techniques that are in harmony with life. The developing field of “green chemistry” is looking for ways to do just this; but we need the public will and the policies to help put these ideas into practice.
Pollution is everywhere. Where do we start? How about the pollution sink for our discarded human and chemical wastes: the sewer. The more than 85,000 chemicals we use daily in our homes, hospitals and industries find their way to the sewer, making wastewater treatment plants sentinels for harm.
Go up the sewer pipe to stop toxic discharges. Then rethink the entire sewer juggernaut. It’s only 150 years old. We don’t use horses anymore to carry our goods into the city, maybe we should stop using water to carry our wastes out.
Privatization: The wrong solution
Of course, a systemic approach would involve fundamental changes that corporate capitalism will resist. Why not control the conversation—and the assets—by owning the water? In a 2007 paper, University of Minnesota sociologist Michael Goldman explained how the World Bank has changed the discourse on water privatization from nonexistent to the global status quo. Today, a country cannot get a World Bank loan unless it submits a plan for privatizing its water system. In 2008, Goldman Sachs called water “the petroleum for the next century” and estimated that it is a $425 billion “industry.”
Here in the United States, a Wisconsin bill was defeated earlier this year that would have made it easier to privatize water services. It was introduced at the request of Aqua America, a Pennsylvania company that owns water utilities in eight states.
Privatization could be on the horizon for Flint. The city went through what was essentially a dry run when citizen oversight was removed. Things didn’t work out so well. But at the right price, a private corporation might step forward to “rescue” the failed government effort.
The privatization narrative goes like this: The municipality fails at providing clean water in the necessary quantity, so the water service—along with its infrastructure—is sold, often at yard sale prices, to a private company.
But the failure of the municipal water system was caused by the same people selling off the water authority. The best-managed utilities have strong citizen oversight and an administration acting for the public good.
We’ve been down this road before. Private water companies date back to at least 1652, when “The Water Works Company” incorporated in Massachussetts. It is not a new idea, but it is one that has failed to provide safe and plentiful water to the public. Private companies come and go. They also are not compelled to provide services to those who cannot pay. The best example of a water privatization failure is in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Protests erupted in 2000 when the government privatized the city’s water, selling it to a private consortium dominated by an American company, Bechtel, and the cost of water skyrocketed. One person was killed and after three months of violence, Bechtel was sent packing and the privatization was reversed.
For inspiration on how to demand investment in public water, we can look to 19th-century Boston. In his 1826 inaugural address, Mayor Josiah Quincy III, namesake of Boston’s Quincy Market, said this about the city’s then-private drinking water:
Shortly after Quincy’s son, Josiah Quincy, Jr., became mayor of Boston in 1846, the city’s water became public.
The antidote to denial
Unimaginable quantities of toxins, in immeasurable combinations, have become part of our environment and part of us. Chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States and accounts for 86 percent of our healthcare costs.
One of the illnesses seems to be political paralysis. Sandra Steingraber, in her book Raising Elijah, addresses the subject of “well-informed futility”:
Her antidote to futility and denial? “To rise up in the face of the terrible knowledge and do something.” In other words, to act like “a member of the French Resistance.”
Since Flint, there’s been a new spotlight on lead in drinking water. But children in minority neighborhoods have been exposed to lead from water and other sources, like peeling lead paint, for a long time. The Centers for Disease Control consistently reports that black children have the highest risk of lead poisoning in the United States, sometimes two or three times more likely than white children to have elevated lead levels in their blood. It’s been this way for decades. Lead mitigation is well understood. Pipes can be changed. Filters can be used. Water authorities can influence how much lead is leached from pipes by influencing the chemistry of the water, by choosing safer water sources and by protecting those sources from contaminants like herbicides and pesticides from farm runoff and sewage outfalls.
What would it take to change our water supply lines? A New Deal for water infrastructure. Every four years the American Society for Civil Engineers issues a “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.” The last grade for drinking water, in 2013, was a D. The report said it would take $2.1 trillion to replace the nation’s aging pipes. The EPA has identified $335 billion in water supply infrastructure needs over a 20-year period. Whatever the number, it is going to be high. So, too, will be hopes for new and improved technological fixes at water and wastewater treatment plants.
But Flint serves as a warning that trying to “clean” polluted water will only take us so far. The demand should be for chemical policy reform that gets rid of harmful chemicals and invests in a new generation of biocompatible chemicals. It should include a radical shift in agricultural policies that support organic practices. And if there is to be a New Deal for water infrastructure, let it be for ecological infrastructure that is built on a framework of prevention.
Boston and New York are examples of cities that have gone to extraordinary lengths to get their water from clean sources, and it shows at the tap. Boston gets its water from the Quabbin Reservoir, 65 miles west of the city. The 39-square-mile public water supply was created in the 1930s. Development around it is restricted by the state. No industries and no sewers discharge into its waters. New York, for its part, has two massive tunnels, with a third almost completed, that bring in water from reservoirs and lakes on protected land in upstate New York.
Both cities discharge their wastewater far from their drinking water sources: Boston’s treated sewage goes 9.5 miles out into the ocean. New York’s outfall pipes are closer to shore, but the state is trying to raise the capital to build an extended ocean outfall pipe. These are not ecological solutions for the disposition of wastewater, but it is safer than dumping it into drinking water. The disposal of wastewater and sewage sludge will cause pollution problems wherever they go, but keeping them out of our drinking water and food while we back off of their production is fundamental to protecting human health.
Technological responses to the ecological catastrophe in Flint and in scores of other cities, like replacing lead pipe supply lines, are necessary, but palliative. Technology should be the servant of prevention.
Resistance to the systemic poisoning we are experiencing in the U.S. begins with saying: Enough! We are hearing this in Flint. Town halls and community meetings are filled with people raising their voices and demanding change. In February, Flint residents Beulah Walker and Justin Wedes went to the United Nations to talk about Flint and ask for a fact-finding mission from the U.N. to come to the beleaguered city.
Forging our connection to each other is as important as disconnecting our sewers from our drinking water. Water pollution at the scale we have in America feels insurmountable, and it will be if we do not organize for fundamental changes in where we get our water, what we put into it, and where it goes when we are done with it. Nobody lives upstream anymore.
Laura Orlando is a member of the Rural America In These Times Board of Editors and the executive director of the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems (RILES), a Boston-based nonprofit concerned with health and the environment.
|April 1, 2016||
The Future Could Be Pee-Powered: Researchers Design Revolutionary New Fuel Cell That Runs on Urine
by Robin Scher, AlterNet
Reducing the effects of climate change demands that we reduce emissions. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, three-quarters of “human-caused emissions” come from burning fossil fuels.
For the sake of the planet, we all need to do our part in promoting alternative energy. Outside of installing solar panels or wind turbines on your home, though, the big question is: How?
The key may soon be our pee.
Last week, researchers from the University of Bath, Queen Mary University of London and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory published their design of a new type of microbial fuel cell that turns urine into electricity. If manufactured, the new fuel cell, which is smaller, cheaper and more powerful than existing designs, would revolutionize bioenergy production.
For the uninitiated, microbial fuel cell devices use the natural processes of certain bacteria to turn organic matter into electricity. A key difference between these cells and other forms of bioenergy production is their ability to operate at room temperature, which makes for a cheaper and less wasteful process.
"Microbial fuel cells could be a great source of energy in developing countries, particularly in impoverished and rural areas," said Jon Chouler, a lead author of the study.
In large part, Chouler's confidence comes from his fuel cell's innovative design, which incorporates carbon cloth and titanium wire for the fuel cell's cathode, as opposed to previous versions that used platinum.
Another ingenious part of the team's design is the use of a glucose and ovalbumin catalyst (found in egg whites and other forms of food waste) to speed up the reaction and create more power.
Thanks to these additions, the new fuel cell could genuinely empower millions of people around the world.
Sounds pretty good, right? Bottoms up.
|March 30, 2016||
5 Million Nigerians Oppose Monsanto's Plans to Introduce GMO Cotton and Corn
by Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch, AlterNet
One-hundred organizations representing more than 5 million Nigerians, including farmers, faith-based organisations, civil society groups, students and local community groups, have submitted a joint objection to the country’s National Biosafety Management Agency (NABMA) expressing serious concerns about human health and environmental risks of genetically altered crops.
The groups’ petition follows Monsanto Agricultural Nigeria Limited’s own application to NAMBA that seeks to release GMO cotton (Bt cotton, event MON 15985) into the city of Zaria as well as surrounding towns. Another application seeks confined field trials of two GMO corn varieties (NK603 and stacked event MON 89034 x NK603) in multiple locations in Nigeria.
In a press release, the groups said they are particularly alarmed about the commercial release of Bt cotton into Nigeria, which is being phased out in Burkina Faso due to the “inferior lint quality” of the GMO cultivars.
“We are totally shocked that it should come so soon after peer-reviewed studies have showed that the technology has failed dismally in Burkina Faso,” Nnimmo Bassey, the director of theHealth of Mother Earth Foundation, one of the leading opposition groups, said in a statement. “It has brought nothing but economic misery to the cotton sector there and is being phased out in that country where compensation is being sought from Monsanto.”
He asked in the statement: “Since our Biosafety Act has only recently entered into force, what biosafety legislation was used to authorize and regulate the field trials in the past in accordance with international law and best biosafety practice?”
Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the National Biosafety Management Bill into law last year, basically opening the doors to GMOs cultivation in the country.
The groups noted Monsanto’s crops are genetically enhanced to tolerate the use of the herbicide glyphosate which was declared as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) last March.
“Should commercialization of Monsanto’s GM maize be allowed pursuant to field trials, this will result in increased use of glyphosate in Nigeria, a chemical that is linked to causing cancer in humans,” Mariann Orovwuje, Friends of the Earth International’s food sovereignty co-coordinator, said in a statement.
“Recent studies have linked glyphosate to health effects such as degeneration of the liver and kidney, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. That NABMA is even considering this application is indeed unfortunate and deeply regrettable, knowing full well about the uncontrolled exposure that our rural farmers and communities living close to farms will be exposed to.”
Besides the potential contamination of local maize varieties, the groups argued that the health risks of introducing GMO maize into Nigeria could be “enormous” considering that maize is a staple food in their diet.
Coupled with a lack of resources to adequately control and monitor the human and environmental risks of GMO crops and glyphosate, the groups argued that Nigeria doesn’t have a platform to test for glyphosate or other pesticide residues in food and food products, nor do they have an agency that can monitor the herbicide’s impact on the environment, including water resources.
On the flip side, GMO-advocates tout that biotechnology is not only safe for human consumption and the environment, it’s also a solution to malnutrition and global food security, as these crops have been genetically tinkered with to provide certain nutritional benefits and/or spliced-and-diced to resist certain pathogens and other roadblocks.
For instance, Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a five-year development project led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation, aims to develop a variety of drought-tolerant maize seeds. The project receives funding from the Gates Foundation, United States Agency for International Development and Howard G. Buffett Foundation.
“What are called GMOs are done by changing the genes of the plant, and it’s done in a way where there’s a very thorough safety procedure, and it’s pretty incredible because it reduces the amount of pesticide you need, raises productivity (and) can help with malnutrition by getting vitamin fortification
“And so I think, for Africa, this is going to make a huge difference, particularly as they face climate change … The U.S., China, Brazil, are using these things and if you want farmers in Africa to improve nutrition and be competitive on the world market, you know, as long as the right safety things are done, that’s really beneficial. It’s kind of a second round of the green revolution. And so the Africans I think will choose to let their people have enough to eat.”
But in the video below, Bassey objects to the argument that GMOs are necessary to ensure food security and nutrition in Africa and that the continent can feed itself without the aid of multinational biotech companies.
“Genetically engineered crops are not engineered to help anybody,” he says about six minutes into the video. “They are engineered to help the industry that produces the crops.”
|April 1, 2016||
Seismic Report Links Earthquakes to Fracking
by Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News, AlterNet
Officially linking a controversial natural gas-drilling method to earthquakes for the first time, the U.S. Geological Survey released a groundbreaking report documenting links between fracking and skyrocketing seismic activity.
Released on Monday, the agency's "2016 One-Year Seismic Hazard Forecast" contains no explicit reference to hydraulic fracturing, but the allusion to the process is unmistakable.
"Earthquake rates have recently increased markedly in multiple areas of the Central and Eastern United States (CEUS), especially since 2010, and scientific studies have linked the majority of this increased activity to wastewater injection in deep disposal wells," the 58-page report states.
"Such changes have caused concern to many, including residents, business owners, engineers, and public officials responsible for mitigating or responding to the effects of these earthquakes on nearby populations," it continues.
These "induced earthquakes," as the report calls them, "create seismic hazard to buildings, bridges, pipelines, and other important structures and are a concern for about 7.9 million people living in the vicinity of these events."
Colloquially known as "fracking," hydraulic fracturing extracts natural gas by pumping millions of gallons of a high-pressure slurry comprised of water, sand and chemicals to break apart shale deep in the Earth.
In lawsuits from Arkansas to California, its opponents have long alleged that the technique caused "thousands of quakes" near drilling areas.
Monday's report corroborates many of these allegations with several examples of earthquakes that rocked areas located near injection wells
In 2011, there was a 5.6-magnitude earthquake recorded near Prague, Okla., a 5.3-magnitude earthquake near Trinidad, Colo., and a 4.7-magnitude earthquake near Guy, Ark., as well as a 4.8-magnitude earthquake near Timpson, Texas.
Though the scientists noted "it is possible that natural earthquakes are ongoing and interspersed with the induced events," their numbers are "probably quite low compared to numbers of induced earthquakes."
"For example, from 1950 to 2005, Oklahoma recorded an average of 1.5 earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 3.0 per year, though some of these earlier earthquakes may also have been induced," the report states. "Over the past few years, however, Oklahoma has recorded several hundred M3.0+ earthquakes per year, many of which are thought to be related to wastewater injection."
The authors of the report include Mark Petersen, Charles Mueller, Morgan Moschetti, Susan Hoover, Andrea Llenos, William Ellsworth, Andrew Michael, Justin Rubinstein, Arthur McGarr, and Kenneth Rukstales.
Mark Peterson, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, said in a statement that the new study "shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced."
The agency typically provides 50-year forecasts of seismic activity, and this report marks its first one-year outlook supplementing the broader reports.
Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, said the report highlights one reason why the Vermont senator supports an all-out ban on fracking.
"Whether it's the disastrous impact of fracking on climate change, the risk of massive disasters like the Porter Ranch gas leak, or its role in inducing more frequent or intense earthquakes, there are lots of reasons to oppose fracking for oil and gas," Ganapathy said in an email. "Bernie Sanders knows that, which is why he's the only candidate in either party who would fight for a ban on fracking as president."
|March 31, 2016||
'Epidemic' of Premature Births Increasingly Linked to Air Pollution
by , Earth Island Journal, AlterNet
One in 10 babies in the United States is born prematurely, before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Preterm birth is the leading cause of death for children under five and is linked to numerous health problems that persist throughout life. Many factors can contribute to preterm birth but air pollution – particularly fine particulate pollution – is increasingly being linked to the incidence of premature birth in the US and elsewhere around the world. According to a study published today inEnvironmental Health Perspectives, the annual economic costs of the nearly 16,000 premature births linked to air pollution in the US each year has reached $4.33 billion.
A growing number of studies have linked particulate pollution with low birth weight and preterm birth.
These costs stem from both direct healthcare expenses and costs associated with lifelong health problems. “Preterm babies who survive often face a life of health complications, including chronic disease, asthma, cognitive and motor problems and psychological impairments,” explains Linda Franck, chair of family health care nursing at the University of California San Francisco School of Nursing.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time that such economic estimates are reported and suggest that considerable health and economic benefits can be gained through reductions in outdoor air pollution exposure in pregnancy,” write lead study author Leonardo Trasande and colleagues at New York University.
“For a long time we’ve known that air pollution contributes to cardiovascular disease in adults and to asthma and other respiratory conditions in children,” explains Trasande, New York University School of Medicine associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine and the study’s lead author. Now a growing number of studies have linked particulate pollution with low birth weight and preterm birth. These studies look both at where preterm births are occurring and also how air pollution can adversely affect pregnancy through inflammation, stress, and other biological mechanisms.
There is also increasingly precise information showing where particulate pollution is occurring. This includes information collected by US states and by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Using such data about air pollution and the number of premature births per county in a year, Trasande and colleagues were able to estimate how many preterm births could be traced to particulate matter.
Overall, the study looked at nearly 4 million births in the lower 48 US states, of which about 12 percent were preterm. Of those, the researchers found that 3.32 percent of all preterm births recorded in 2010 were attributable to exposure to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). The greatest number of these births occurred in urban areas, especially in Southern California, the Eastern US, and the heavily industrial Ohio River Valley.
The research team then linked those premature births to healthcare costs. Those associated with hospital stays and other immediate events related to preterm birth were estimated at $760 million. Added to these costs are an additional estimated $3.57 billion over the children’s lifetimes. These include medical expenses during the first five years of life and costs associated with long-term health implications — overall poor health, specific neurological, psychological, and physical problems, lost economic productivity due to lowered IQ, work absences, disabilities, and early death.
Children born prematurely “are prone to social isolation and anxiety and are less likely to attend college or obtain a well-paid job,” explains Franck, who did not work on this study but works with UCSF’s Premature Birth Initiative. “The emotional and financial toll on families and the country is enormous.”
And “medical costs are always an underestimate of the total costs,” adds Tracey Woodruff, UCSF School of Medicine professor of reproductive sciences, obstetrics and gynecology, whose research includes the relationship between pollution and preterm birth. “There are other issues beside hospital costs. These don’t value the emotional burden and all the other aspects of working with a sick child,” she says.
And while these additional costs are not included in the study’s estimates, which Trasande calls “conservative,” the study does acknowledge them, saying they should “be taken into account when considering the benefits that could be achieved” by reducing the pollution associated with increased preterm birth.
“We are seeing some of the worst, most alarming statistics we’ve seen in history,” says Larry Rand, assistant professor of reproductive sciences and principal investigator with UCSF’s Preterm Birth Initiative in a mini-documentary made for the program. California has some of the country’s highest rates of preterm birth, he says. Children born prematurely, he says, “face lifelong obstacles.” And while rates of premature birth have dropped somewhat in recent years, preterm birth remains so prevalent that Rand calls it “an epidemic.”
“The bottom line,” says Franck, “is that in industrialized countries, mortality has decreased fairly steadily over the last decade,” for babies born prematurely. But, she says, “The number of children with moderate or severe complications remains at a steady level. We’ve made incremental progress in saving babies but not done well with the outcomes.”
Asked if air pollution crosses the minds of parents of premature babies, Franck responds: “From looking at families for many years, the guilt that parents feel about why a baby would be born early, anything they might have done, it all runs through their minds… Unfortunately we can’t always give them any answers.”
And as the new study’s data shows, when it comes to air pollution and premature birth, these impacts aren’t distributed equally across the country. Additional data shows that low income and communities of color bear the burden of preterm birth disproportionately.
While the numbers in the study published today are startling, Trasande explains that it may actually be an underestimation of the actual number of premature births a year. The study’s estimates are limited to births technically categorized as preterm, those occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy. There may, however, be babies whose early births are not fully captured due to miscalculation during pregnancy. “Shift the curve to the right that way and it shifts a lot of people to preterm birth,” says Trasande. And such a shift, however small, could have enormous implications.
The study’s findings “speak to the ongoing need to limit fine particulate emissions,” says Trasande, whether from cars, coal fired power plants, or industry. We’re making some progress in air quality standards, but he says, “standards don’t mean action.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination.”
Elizabeth Grossman is a Portland, Oregon-based journalist specializing in environmental and science issues. She is the author of Chasing Molecules, High Tech Trash, Watershed and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Scientific American, Environmental Health Perspectives, Yale e360, Ensia, High Country News, The Pump Handle, Chemical Watch, Washington Post, TheAtlantic.com, Salon, The Nation, and Mother Jones.
|April 1, 2016||
Climate Disruption in Overdrive: Submerged Cities and Melting That 'Feeds on Itself'
by BDahr Jamail, Truthout, AlterNet
As the presidential campaign circus dominates headlines across the U.S., glaring signs the planet is undergoing abrupt anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) abound.
A major study published in Nature Climate Change shows that the planet is warming a stunning 50 times faster than when it comes out of an ice age. The implications of the rapidity of this warming, for those who care to digest it emotionally, are horrifying.
The study shows that even if carbon reduction targets are achieved and the planet's temperature is kept below the 2 degree Celsius warming threshold, sea-level rise will still inundate major coastal cities around the world, forcing one-fifth of the total world population of humans to migrate away from the coasts. New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta, Cairo, Kolkata and Shanghai will all be underwater.
As though to reinforce this point, NASA recently released data confirming that February was the warmest month ever measured globally, at 1.57 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial baseline temperature average. The new record easily smashed the old global temperature record, which was set just one month before, in January.
This means that while it took from the advent of the industrial age until October 2015 to warm the planet 1 degree Celsius, humans have managed to warm the planet another .57 degrees Celsius in just the next four months since then.
Let that sink in for a moment before reading further.
As if that isn't enough, a study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience revealed that carbon emissions are now the highest they have been since the age of dinosaurs, 66 million years ago. According to the study, the current pace of emissions is even beyond the highest-known natural surge of carbon that exists in fossil records, an event that occurred 56 million years ago that was believed by many to be caused by the release of frozen stores of greenhouse gases from the seabed.
That ancient release, which drove temperatures up 5 degrees Celsius, is now surpassed by our current surge of carbon release. "Given currently available records, the present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years," the scientists of the new study wrote.
Another ominous sign of escalating ACD: The entire Northern Hemisphere surpassed the 2 degree Celsius mark for the first time since human civilization began. Bear in mind that 2 degrees Celsius is the arbitrary, politically agreed-upon warming limit, above which warming is considered "dangerous" to humanity. Former NASA scientist James Hansen debunked that goal over two years ago, when he published a paper showing that 1 degree Celsius was the scientifically proven point of no return.
Parts of the Arctic were 29 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal in February, which even brought large portions of the Arctic above freezing and into temperature levels more common in June.
Dozens of countries across Europe and Asia set or tied all-time temperature records, and cities across the United States saw record warm temperatures, in which the 2015-2016 winter was the warmest ever recorded.
Winter in the US, according to meteorologists, technically takes place from December through February. This year, that winter was 4.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, breaking the previous record, which was set in 1999-2000. This winter, all six of the states that comprise New England had their warmest winters ever. Meanwhile, every single US state had winters nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, and Alaska's winter was an incredible 10.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal.
Underscoring the severity of what is clearly a planetary warming crisis, the New Scientist reported in early March that earth had its highest-ever annual increase in carbon dioxide levels ever recorded, with atmospheric levels breaching 404 parts per million.
The Arctic is where warming continues to be the most blatantly obvious. In early March, the start of the famed Iditarod sled dog race looked more like something out of a dystopian science fiction movie, as snow-starved Anchorage had snow hauled hundreds of miles down from Fairbanks to cover the dry streets upon which the dogs would run. Then, the typically 11-mile long ceremonial start was shortened to three miles.
Meanwhile, melting in Greenland is occurring so intensely and quickly that it is "feeding on itself," according to a recently published scientific study. Greenland alone contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 20 feet.
This information is emotionally challenging to take in. It is understandable that people prefer to distract themselves with the minute-to-minute antics of the political and media charade that is the US election cycle, yet it has never been more important to understand what the planet upon which we live and depend is undergoing.
There are several indicators this month of how rapidly the planet is changing under increasing stressors from ACD.
In North America, millions of acres of forests are struggling and under increasing threat, due to the fact that the speed at which the planetary climate is changing is now far, far ahead of the forests' ability to adapt to the hotter and drier conditions ACD has ushered in across vast areas of the United States and Canada. New research shows that all of the forests in the US are officially under threat from ACD.
And it's not just forests that are being impacted. The agricultural sector is in big trouble, as crops are being impacted dramatically by the rapidly changing climate.
For example, in Montana, a recent study shows that agricultural losses due to ACD could total up to $736 million annually.
Panning out, another recent study shows that food scarcity caused by ACD would cause at least half a million deaths across the world by 2050, due to food production being impacted by the effects of ACD.
Making matters worse, a group affiliated with the UN recently released a study showing that an ongoing decline of pollinating species now poses a very dire threat to the global food supply. The report warns that the species responsible for pollinating and promoting the growth of hundreds of billions of dollars worth of crops are facing extinction.This one published in Nature Climate Change, shows that high-latitude insects, like those in Scotland, face severe declines in population from ACD, due to the fact that they are far more sensitive to warmer temperatures than previously believed.
Even as far north as the Arctic, ACD's growing impact on insects is obvious. A recent study published in PLOS ONE shows that warming temperatures are impacting beetle populations, and hence the entire biodiversity of the Arctic. The temperature change is causing the insects to migrate into new habitats, which is having a domino effect that is upsetting the natural balance.
For humans in the far north, ACD's impacts are even more obvious. Intensifying heat is threatening the way of life of the Indigenous population in the Arctic. With the ice disappearing and temperatures continuing to rise, the life cycles and numbers of fish, marine mammals, caribou and polar bears are being altered, which is causing Indigenous communities to face food shortages.
The leaders of First Nations and Inuit communities in the Arctic are now also speaking out about the mental health cost of ACD. The Native populations of the Arctic are dealing with growing despair over the effects of ACD on their lives and communities, and observers are connecting this to a growing array of mental health and social problems.
In addition to this, ACD has caused the onslaught of rising sea levels, melting permafrost and other impacts that have positioned residents of the Arctic in a losing battle to stay in their homes. Housing shortages are now the norm as land is washing and melting away into the rising seas.
Meanwhile, across the lower latitudes, recent satellite images show that tropical rain forests ranging from the Amazon to the Philippines are vanishing far more abruptly than was previously believed, according to recent research. As usual, ACD, drought, wildfires and deforestation are to blame.
As usual, ACD-induced extremes of water, either far too much or far too little, are stark this month.
In Africa, at least 36 million people are facing hunger due to record-high temperatures and drought, which have had a catastrophic impact on crops across the eastern and southern regions of that continent.
Meanwhile in the Arctic, February saw alarming melting of Arctic sea ice, where record-high temperatures brought with them other records—including record lows for that month's extent and area of Arctic sea ice.
Until this year, the previous records for sea ice extent and area for February were set in 2011. Moreover, the total volume of the Arctic sea ice, which many scientists see as the most important factor determining the health of Arctic sea ice, reached its second-lowest level ever recorded that same month. The record low for sea ice volume was set in 2012, a record that could fall this year or next, according to scientists.
Global rainfall extremes continue to be elevated by ACD. A new study published in Nature Climate Change basically warns us to get ready for rain, and lots of it. The study shows that ACD is already driving increases in rainfall and snowfall extremes around the world, even in arid regions. This trend, according to the study, will continue, and likely amplify further.
In the oceans, things continue to look grim.
Recent research shows that coral growth is already being weakened by increasingly acidifying oceans. One-quarter of the carbon dioxide released as a result of human activities is absorbed into the world's oceans, where it alters their chemistry and reduces coral growth.
Meanwhile, a severe coral bleaching event in the most pristine portions of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has caused authorities there to raise an alarm over severe local coral bleaching, caused by warm ocean temperatures.
Another study shows how ACD is pushing fish toward both poles, which means that traditionally poorer countries near the equator have even less access to one of their primary food sources. The fish migrations are due to global temperature increases in the oceans.
Meanwhile, sea levels continue to rise ahead of worst-case predictions. A study recently published in Nature Climate Change warns that in the continental United States alone, millions of people are already at risk of being forced out of their homes because of sea-level rise. The study shows that sea-level increases will cause the homes of 4 million Americans to be inundated during high tides with three feet of sea-level rise by 2100, although the pace of sea-level rise is consistently ahead of that projection.
"Once you take into account growth of population, the numbers end up being two to three times more in terms of overall population that's going to be impacted than if you just look at current populations," said Stetson University landscape ecologistJason Evans, who contributed to the study. "Florida really pops out."
With six feet of sea-level rise, which many scientists believe is inevitable, more than 4 million people, in Florida alone, will lose their homes.
In the Southern Hemisphere, ACD-fueled wildfires continue to burn apace.
In Tasmania, bushfires have grown so severe that 1,000-year-old trees are burning to ash while dried-out peat bogs are on fire. Experts there are warning that what is happening in Tasmania is a human-caused calamity as severe as the razing of the temples in Palmyra by ISIS.
It's also worth noting that in the United States, wildfire season is already underway (albeit earlier than normal of course), with one massive wildfire having already burnt more than 72,000 acres across Oklahoma and Kansas.
This month, there are many bright neon warning signs in the Air category.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have reached new heights, signaling an alarming increase. February 2015 to February 2016 saw the highest year-to-year growth ever recorded.
Pieter Tans, lead scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, said the new record accompanied four straight years of increases of over 2 parts per million in the atmosphere. Of this, Trans said, "We've never seen that. That's unprecedented."
Temperatures across the globe continue to escalate.
Melbourne, Australia, saw its hottest March night ever recorded, breaking the previous record by more than 1 degree Celsius. The previous record was set only three years prior.
Moving northward, the rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic prompted climate scientist Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in California, to warn that this accelerated increase could have a "catastrophic" effect on the planet's climate. He explained that the higher temperatures are driving the creation of dangerous storms across the Northern Hemisphere, and that since early February, the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice has been lower this year than any of the last 30 years.
Gleick posted a graph of the diminishing sea ice on Twitter with the message: "What is happening in the Arctic now is unprecedented and possibly catastrophic."
In parts of the Arctic, February shattered all previous temperature records as the entire month reached a staggering 18 degrees Fahrenheit above normal in some regions. Fort Yukon, Alaska, a place that has recorded the lowest temperature on record in that state, is experiencing record warm temperatures, causing people there to say that the warming trends "have robbed the Arctic of its winter."
To make matters worse, methane, a greenhouse gas 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 20-year time scale, spiked in February to more than 3,000 parts per billion in the atmosphere. This was the largest spike of methane ever recorded.
Denial and Reality
Apparently, impending catastrophe doesn't mean much to some of the United States' wealthiest people. Once again a report has arisen documenting how fossil fuel millionaires pumped more than $100 million into Republican presidential super PACs last year. That means that $1 out of every $3 donated to Republican candidates coming from hyper-rich individuals came from people who made their fortunes from fossil fuels. In boosting GOP politicians, these funders were simply acting to protect their cash cows from those of us who happen to give a damn about the planet.
A recent report by the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows that more than six out of every 10 Americans are represented by someone in Congress who denies the reality of ACD. According to the report, 59 percent of the Republican House caucus and an amazing 70 percent of the Republicans in the Senate deny ACD is real. The report also reveals that, according to the US Census, 202,803,591 Americans are represented by an ACD denier.
Florida, a state notorious for having a government led by ACD deniers, faces yet another reality check from ACD. Fort Lauderdale, which is a boomtown of growth and construction, and also expects its population to grow by one-third in the next 15 years, is hurtling headfirst toward the reality of ACD. Sea-level rise will eventually cause the city to be abandoned to the ocean.
Another blow for deniers came in the form of recent polling data, which shows a record number of Americans now see ACD as a threat. According to Gallup polling, 41 percent of US adults believe ACD poses a "serious threat" to them during their lifetimes—a 4 percent increase over 2015, and the highest level ever recorded by Gallup.
Gallup data also shows that 64 percent of those polled worried about ACD "a great deal" or at least "a fair amount," which is the highest level recorded since 2008. Meanwhile, only 36 percent of Americans said they did not worry about it, or only worried about it a little. Additionally, 65 percent of Americans now believe ACD is due to greenhouse gases released by human activity, a 10 percent increase on this topic over last year.
Another reality check came from Dr. James Hansen, who declared recently, "We have a global emergency" due to ACD. Hansen noted that ACD is poised to render large parts of the world essentially uninhabitable by 2100 due to extremely hot temperatures.
Recent data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that the planet saw an "explosive" amount of annual carbon dioxide growth in the atmosphere during 2015, as the amount of carbon dioxide saw its largest single annual increase since record-keeping began.
A recent study by the University of Queensland gave yet another sobering warning, stating that global temperatures could rise much faster than expected, possibly even breaching the 2 degree Celsius mark much sooner than predicted (thus missing the politically agreed-upon goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius).
The final reality check for this month's dispatch comes in the form of a cruise ship. For the first time ever, the Arctic passage that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is going to be opened up to cruise liners this summer. The first of them, the Crystal Serenity, will take more than 900 passengers paying over $100,000 each through the perilous route that at one time foiled most explorers, due to there being too much thick ice throughout the summer—given that it is, after all, the Arctic.
|April 1, 2016||
20 Years in the Making, Great Bear Agreement Protects World’s Largest Temperate Rainforest
by Valerie Schloredt, YES! Magazine, AlterNet
A great swath of primeval forest runs 250 miles up the coast of British Columbia, from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the southern tip of Alaska. The area includes a rare and endangered ecosystem of cedars, spruce, and Douglas fir, a habitat for salmon, wolves, cougars, grizzlies, and the rare white Spirit Bear. It is also home, livelihood, and sacred place to 27 First Nations, the indigenous people whose ancestors have lived there for 10,000 years.
This is the Great Bear Rainforest (GBR), recently protected under what has been widely hailed by environmentalists as a model agreement to conserve 85 percent of old growth in the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.
It has taken 20 years, intensely dedicated work, and worldwide support to forge the agreement, an impressive achievement that looked highly unlikely when efforts to save the GBR began in the mid-1990s. Back then, less than 10 percent of the rainforest was protected from logging, and it was common practice to saw magnificent cedars into decking planks, and pulp ancient timber for newsprint.
Jody Holmes of the Rainforest Solutions Project is a scientist by training who spent much of the past 20 years at the table negotiating for the protection of Great Bear. Lately, she’s been reflecting on the many changes that contributed to reaching the final agreement, and why it took two decades.
“It took quite a long time—even with environmentalists creating big splashy stories in the New York Times and elsewhere—to wake people up to the fact that there was a global treasure here,” she says. But bringing environmental groups, forest industry companies, 27 First Nations and the government to a land-use agreement that would allow a logging industry while protecting enough old growth forest on 6.4 million hectares of land was no simple task.
The market campaign
The process started in 1993 with efforts to save old growth forest on Vancouver Island’s Clayoquot Sound—soon to be dubbed the “War in the Woods.” Environmentalists and members of First Nations chained themselves to bulldozers and blocked roads in an effort to stop logging of a unique and pristine ecosystem. The protests and direct actions resulted in a record number of arrests and generated media images that caught the world’s attention, but the logging industry attempted to carry on as usual. There appeared to be no areas for compromise.
When conservation efforts moved on to Great Bear in 1995, the conflict between loggers and environmentalists seemed ready to boil over. Then Greenpeace launched a worldwide campaign to boycott products made from GBR old-growth timber.
“It became controversial to invest in companies operating in the Great Bear or to buy products coming out of it,” says Eduardo Sousa, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace, “to the degree that $600 million worth of paper contracts with a German publishing company were almost cancelled. Because the companies themselves were global, the issue and campaign went global, and everything escalated up a few notches.”
Under pressure from consumers and public opinion, the forest industry launched its own media and PR counterstrategies. But the protests were having an impact and the boycott created market uncertainty.
Patrick Armstrong, a solutions consultant for the forestry industry who was in the thick of Great Bear negotiations, sounds weary when he describes those years. “It became clear that industry needed a different approach,” he says, “and it began to engage with the environmental community. At the same time, I think the environmental community realized that they needed to engage with industry.”
In 2000, that realization resulted in the Joint Solutions Project, an initiative to use conflict resolution and a multi-interest approach in GBR negotiations. It was sealed with a deal that environmental groups would halt the market campaign if companies agreed not to log in 100 pristine valleys. The interested parties also agreed to use scientific evidence to determine if and how logging could continue while conserving the forest—a system known as ecosystem-based management (EBM), which analyzes land-use proposals to minimize impact, preserve habitat, and repair damage.
“Twenty years ago, nobody thought twice about just going into a valley and clear-cutting forest up to the top of a mountain and scooping the whole thing out,” Holmes says. In contrast, the final GBR agreement boasts the strictest standards for controlled logging in North America. What that will look like on the ground, says Holmes, will vary according to area and a list of priorities.
“Some of the logging will be lighter touch and some heavier touch,” she says, going on to describe how, in the southern region, which has already been heavily impacted, there will be a reserve network to restore old-growth characteristics—a long-term effort. An exceptionally light touch will be used on the north coast, with buffers along the major river systems and protections for grizzly bear trails. Patches of harvesting will occur higher up, with protections for the monumental cedars and anything of cultural significance to First Nations. “You’ll also see little tiny streams and things like goshawk nests protected,” Holmes says.
Harvests will occur and some areas will appear to be clear-cut, she says, but there will be fewer of them and they will be built around key ecological features in the landscape. Overall there will be a slowing of the amount of harvest on the landscape over time.
First Nations decide
When the GBR agreement was announced in Vancouver on February 1, it marked a major accomplishment for indigenous land rights. First Nations leaders, environmentalists, timber CEOs, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark walked down a passage lined with totem poles, in a ceremony that included traditional regalia, drumming and song.
The years of the GBR negotiations were also a period of land rights activism in general for First Nations in B.C. The Canadian Supreme Court made several rulings in favor of aboriginal title, which contributed to a process of rebalancing power. In the final stages of the agreements, First Nations and the provincial government of B.C. were joint decision-makers. Industry and environmental groups acted as stakeholders, recommending solutions to the “government-to-government” decision-makers.
“It wasn’t always like that,” Sousa says. “There should have been a lot more First Nations engagement throughout the entire solutions-making process.” That lack of direct engagement, he says, was a historical issue related to colonialism. Environmentalists and industry had more power early in the process. However, “It is now enshrined in various mechanisms through the government-to-government process that First Nations can no longer be marginalized.”
Marilyn Slett, Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, is one of the First Nation leaders who was present to usher in the GBR agreement. She reflects on the days when the B.C. government granted logging tenures in First Nation traditional territories “without our consent—without our knowledge, there were no consultations. All of this led to a lot of frustration among the communities that make up the Great Bear. … We were tired of being excluded from decision-making processes that directly impacted our traditional territories.”
Slett attributes major progress to the organizing efforts of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of communities along B.C.’s coast, to develop a sustainable economy while preserving the cultural and ecological diversity of the GBR.
“I do think having our communities be able to demonstrate that we are organized, that we have our own stewardship principles, made a difference. For us it’s about taking care of our land, having proper stewardship over our land,” Slett says.
Douglass Neasloss remembers how logging companies started putting roads through his Kitasoo/Xai’xais community when he was in high school. The province had issued industry permits without consulting the people who lived there, he says. Now, as resource stewardship director for the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Integrated Resource Stewardship Authority, he says that decision-making authority for First Nations resulted in a GBR plan that protects culturally important areas and jobs.
“Provincial government and environmental groups needed to understand that there are people still living here, who have always lived here, who need livelihoods,” he says. “And when the enviros came up with recommendations for areas to protect for the 2007 agreement, the First Nations saw that there were many culturally important areas left out—so there was a lot of back and forth to make sure those areas were included.”
That back and forth is not quite over, according to Neasloss. “We think the agreement is a huge step in the right direction. But my community has always said the agreement is only as good as governance and enforcement for environmental protection. We’re in some fairly remote areas that need monitoring, where a lot of illegal activities were going on back in the day, so every First Nations community along the coast from Haida Gwaii to the north of Vancouver Island has its own Guardian Watchmen to monitor and protect their lands and waters.”
Currently, GBR is managed by the B.C. parks system, but it’s severely underfunded, Neasloss says. “I run a six-person Watchmen program on $210,000. B.C.’s Central Parks manages an area the size of Switzerland on $20,000.”
A model agreement?
Appropriately for the unique ecosystem it protects, the GBR agreement has been described as something special, a new standard for comprehensive land-use plans. That’s significant at a time when multiparty agreements are critically important to save not just endangered ecosystems but our imperiled atmosphere.
Old-growth forests like Great Bear sequester enormous amounts of carbon, a significant factor for slowing global warming. The agreement’s most recent conservation measures alone will lock up an additional 640,000 metric tons of carbon pollution per year.
This month, a delegation from the Cree First Nation of Waswanipi in Quebec, which wants to protect the forests of its traditional lands, traveled to B.C. to learn more about the Great Bear Forest Carbon Project, the offset program established through GBR negotiations. And the Great Bear agreement is being noted even further afield. Slett has already received an invitation to speak to Maori colleagues in New Zealand about eco-based land management through Great Bear.
Every region faces its own cultural, economic, and political challenges, but environmentalists are cautiously optimistic that Great Bear can provide a model, and hope, for other environmental struggles, especially those where indigenous land rights are a factor.
“There was no blueprint for this,” Sousa says of the two decades of efforts to conserve Great Bear. “We’re in a different era now in terms of climate change, First Nations, and indigenous land rights than we were 20 years ago. If anything else like this was to be attempted here now, it probably go much quicker.”
|March 28, 2016||
What You Need to Know About the Irreparable Harm of Climate Change (VIDEO)
by Dr. James Hansen, Huffington Post, AlterNet
We made a video discussing some of the main points in our “Ice Melt” paper, which is about to be published in Atmos. Phys. Chem.
The main point that I want to make concerns the threat of irreparable harm, which I feel we have not communicated well enough to people who most need to know, the public and policymakers. I’m not sure how we can do that better, but I comment on it at the end of this transcript.
From the video:
Hi, I’m Jim Hansen, Director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia University Earth Institute. I want to discuss some implications of the paper Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms that is being published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, a paper on which I have 18 exceptional American and international co-authors.
We have uncovered information and a partial understanding of feedbacks in the climate system, specifically interactions between the ocean and the ice sheets. These feedbacks raise questions about how soon we will pass points of no return, in which we lock in consequences that cannot be reversed on any time scale that people care about.
Consequences include sea level rise of several meters, which we estimate would occur this century or at latest next century, if fossil fuel emissions continue at a high level. That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history.
A more immediate threat is the likelihood of shutting down the oceans overturning circulations in the North Atlantic and Southern oceans. That’s where superstorms come in. Let me explain.
We use global climate modeling, paleoclimate data — that’s Earth’s ancient climate history — and modern observations of the ocean and ice sheets to study effects of ice melt on Greenland and the Antarctic ice shelves (tongues of ice extending from Antarctica into the Southern Ocean).
Greenland and Antarctica are beginning to melt because of global warming. So far it is just a tiny, tiny fraction of the ice sheets that has melted. However, this fresh meltwater spilling out onto the North Atlantic and into the Southern Ocean already is having important effects.
We conclude that light freshwater added to upper layers of the ocean is already beginning to shut down North Atlantic Deep Water formation and Antarctic Bottom Water formation. This will have enormous consequences in future decades, if full shutdown is allowed to occur.
United Nations IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, does not report these effects, for two reasons. First, most models used by IPCC simply exclude ice melt. Second, we conclude that most models, ours included, are less sensitive than the real world to added freshwater, because most models have excessive small scale ocean mixing, which reduces the effect.
The surface manifestation of slowdown of the deep circulations is cooling in the North Atlantic southeast of Greenland and in the Southern Ocean. These coolings are prominent in our model by the middle of the 21st century. However, on multiple grounds, we conclude that the real world responds faster to freshwater than the models do.
First, let’s note that North Atlantic cooling, if the overturning circulation shuts down entirely, will have large effects. The tropics continue to warm as CO2 increases. If Greenland freshwater shuts down deepwater formation and cools the North Atlantic several degrees, the increased horizontal temperature gradient will drive superstorms stronger than any in modern times. All hell would break loose in the North Atlantic and neighboring lands.
Such a situation occurred in the last interglacial period, 118 thousand years ago. The tropics were about 1°C warmer than today because Earth’s spin axis was tilted less than today. Ocean core data show that deepwater formation shut down, the North Atlantic cooled, and there is evidence of powerful superstorms at about that time, powerful enough for giant waves to toss 1000 ton megaboulders  onto the shore in the Bahamas. Some scientists think these boulders may have been tossed by a tsunami, but we present multiple lines of evidence that the boulders and other geologic features are best explained as the result of superstorms.
An important point is that if we let ice melt from Greenland become large enough to fully shut down the AMOC, the Atlantic overturning circulation, it will be permanent as far as the public is concerned. It takes several centuries for AMOC to get moving again.
However, superstorms will not be the most important consequence of global warming, if it continues to grow. The most important effect will be sea level rise. Here too, the most complete analysis must account for paleoclimate data, which shows that ice sheets, when they disintegrate, can go quickly, non-linearly, yielding multi-meter sea level rise in a century, even when the climate forcing is weaker than the human-made climate forcing.
 We show from paleoclimate data that most ice sheet models are more lethargic than the real world, in which sea level is known to have risen rapidly many times. So instead of using an ice sheet model, we simply assume that when warming occurs driven by a growing climate forcing the rate of ice melt will grow nonlinearly. We test several alternative growth rates.
What we find are amplifying feedbacks, just what is needed to feed nonlinear ice melt growth. Greenland meltwater reduces the density of surface water, thus reduces sinking of water to the deep ocean. As meltwater grows it shuts down the ocean conveyor, as Wally Broecker calls it.
More important, for sea level, is what is happening around Antarctica. Sinking of heavy, salty cold water near the Antarctic coast normally forms Antarctic Bottom Water, thus also bringing relatively warm water to the surface, where it releases heat to the atmosphere and space.
Now, as fresh meltwater from Antarctic ice shelves increases, it tends to put a cold low density lid on the Southern Ocean. This reduces exchange with the surface, so the heat stays in the ocean, raising the temperature of ocean water at the depth of ice shelves, an amplifying feedback.
In a global perspective, cold freshwater lenses around Antarctica increase the planet’s energy imbalance. The added energy goes into the ocean where it is available to melt ice shelves.
These feedbacks support our conclusion that melt in response to strong forcing will be nonlinear. These feedbacks, with meltwater driving subsurface warming, also help us understand and gain a consistent picture of rapid nonlinear climate oscillations in the paleoclimate record.
 Paleoclimate data makes clear that when ice sheets melt, they can go fast. However, we do not know the characteristic time for the nonlinear ice sheet response to growing climate forcing. Eventually ice sheet models may give us an answer, but for now our best guide is observations.
Unfortunately records of growing annual mass loss by the ice sheets are short. The Greenland data can be fit as well by 10-year or 20-year doubling times, but already Greenland is losing several hundred cubic kilometers of ice per year. Feedbacks for Greenland, with its surface melt, are different than for Antarctica, but there are several amplifying feedbacks. Greenland response to global warming will be nonlinear, but likely with a different characteristic doubling time.
Antarctic mass loss is smaller. Most melting so far is ice shelves, which does not show up in gravity satellite measurements of mass change. However, as ice shelves disappear, the discharge of non-floating ice will accelerate.
If ice sheet mass loss has a 10-year doubling time, meter-scale sea level rise would be reached in about 50 years, and multi-meter sea level rise a decade later. 20-year doubling time would require about 100 years.
The data records are too short. But if we wait until the real world reveals itself clearly, it may be too late to avoid sea level rise of several meters and loss of all coastal cities. I doubt that we have passed a point of no return, but frankly we are not certain of that.
There’s an analogous, but I believe more imminent, situation with shutdown of overturning ocean circulations. The cold regions southeast of Greenland and around Antarctica are signs of the beginning of shutdowns of the AMOC, in the North Atlantic, and the southern Ocean SMOC.
We note that effects of meltwater seem to be occurring 1 or 2 decades earlier in the real world than in our model. Why would models be less sensitive to today’s moderate meltwater amounts? We present evidence for excessive small scale ocean mixing in many models, including ours.
One key diagnostic is the climate response time. In 100 years our model achieves only 60% of its equilibrium response. I have checked three other major climate models, two American and one British, finding similar slow response. However, we have shown that Earth’s measured energy imbalance requires the 100-year climate response to be about 75% if equilibrium climate sensitivity is about 3°C, as paleoclimate data show to be the case.
The explanation for why the surface response is so slow in the model is that the model ocean mixes heat too rapidly into the deeper ocean. This same excessive mixing causes the models to be less sensitive to the freshwater lens on the ocean surface, which also tends to mix too fast.
There is other data, besides Earth’s energy imbalance, supporting this interpretation, including the sensitivity of paleoclimate to freshwater forcing. However, there is one recent paper that is especially important, by Winton et al. (2014), who show that a model with 0.1° resolution, fine enough to resolve small scale ocean motions and avoid parameterized mixing, yields a surface temperature response about a quarter larger after 50-100 years, consistent with our interpretation.
It would be valuable if all models would report their surface climate response function as well as their equilibrium climate sensitivity, and examine the model sensitivity to a standard rapidly increasing rate of meltwater injection.
The relevance is that I believe we are already witnessing the beginning of this cooling southeast of Greenland and cooling around Antarctica in response to freshwater from ice melt.
In that case observed cooling southeast of Greenland and the extra warming along the United States East Coast are not natural fluctuations — when AMOC slows down it causes both of those. This interpretation implies that Greenland meltwater is already having significant effects. The warm water along the East Coast is the reason that “Sandy” retained hurricane force winds all the way up to the New York City area — the nearby Atlantic was about 3°C warmer than normal. This unusually warm ocean water has also been able to provide the moisture for record snowstorms in recent years.
These are small effects compared to what happens if AMOC shuts down entirely.
So the question arises again: have we passed a point of no return, is ice melt sure to increase so that AMOC shutdown is a foregone conclusion? I doubt it, but it’s conceivable, depending on how fast we slow down human-made climate forcing.
I think the conclusion is clear. We are in a position of potentially causing irreparable harm to our children, grandchildren and future generations.
This is a tragic situation — because it is unnecessary. We could already be phasing out fossil fuel emissions if only we stopped allowing the fossil fuel industry to use the atmosphere as a free dumping ground for their waste.If we collected a gradually rising fee from fossil fuel companies, we could phase over to clean energies — if done right it would spur the economy and create jobs.
One final point. This is a complex story, but one with important practical implications. I find that the public sometimes misinterprets our science discussions, how research is done. Skepticism is the lifeblood of science. You can be sure that many scientists, indeed most scientists, will find some aspects in our long paper that they would interpret differently. That’s entirely normal. It takes time for conclusions to be agreed upon and details sorted out.
So after you have talked to a scientist about this topic, ask him or her a final question. Do you agree that we have reached a dangerous situation? Do you think we may be approaching a point of no return, a situation in which our children inherit a climate system undergoing changes that are out of their control, changes that will cause them irreparable harm? That’s the bottom line.
Thanks for listening.
|March 22, 2016||
PAR LA PAIX The peace… Paz ... Мир ...
by Ambassadeur de la Paix Marga Mangione Argentine ,
PAR LA PAIX The peace… Paz ... Мир ... La Paz…
Es la Paz una palabra
con tres letras solamente,
tan pequeña que la gente, la usa solo para hablar.
Pero si hay que ejecutar lo que ella significa,
mil excusas se adjudica para no hacerle lugar,
y así nunca ha de encontrar
esa Paz que dignifica.
Esa Paz que ejemplifica
a los hombres de la tierra,
para que nunca la guerra que viene a causar el mal
que con odio sin igual, arruina, mata, destruye,
y con la virtud concluye sea tan solo una historia
y no se marche la gloria
como agua que se diluye.
El que con bases construye
su morada y su camino,
y le suma a su destino, la humildad y la decencia
el que educa a su conciencia, en el respeto al hermano,
y tiende siempre la mano al que más lo necesita,
tendrá su vida bendita
al ser mejor ser humano.
El paraíso lejano
llegará presto a su mundo,
no será cual vagabundo que abandonado a su suerte
tan solo espera la muerte pues no le importa la vida.
No habrá en su alma una herida y en su pecho un gran dolor,
por culpa del sinsabor,
de la batalla perdida.
Y aquella Paz tan querida,
tan lejana y tan ausente,
que habita tanto en la mente, como en el buen corazón,
no será solo ilusión que se marcha indiferente,
sumiendo a toda la gente en el más cruel sinsabor,
porque reinará el amor
que jamás estará ausente.
La paix est un mot
avec seulement trois lettres,
si petit que les gens l’utilisent juste pour parler.
Mais si vous devez exécuter ce que cela signifie,
Il gagne mille excuses pour ne pas donner lieu,
et il n'a jamais trouvé la Paix qu'il ennoblit.
Qui illustre la paix
les hommes de la terre,
pour la guerre à venir causer le mal
avec la haine inégalée, des ruines, tue, détruit,
et il conclut avec la vertu est seulement une histoire
et la gloire ne marche que l'eau est diluée.
Qui construit des bases
son domicile et sur son chemin,
et ajoute à votre destination, l'humilité et la décence
qui éduque la conscience, le respect du frère,
et atteignant toujours les personnes les plus dans le besoin,
Vous aurez la chance de votre vie à être mieux être humain.
Le paradis lointain
viendra rapidement à son monde,
est pas que vagabond abandonné à leur sort
juste en attente de la mort parce que la vie ne se soucie pas.
Il y aura une blessure dans son âme et dans sa poitrine une grande douleur,
à cause du mauvais goût, la bataille perdante.
Et que la paix si chère,
si lointaine et si absente,
qui habite l'esprit et le bon cœur,
pas seulement l'illusion qui laisse indifférent,
plongeant toutes les personnes dans la plus cruelle sensation,
car l’amour doit régner et cela ne sera jamais absent.
Peace is a word
with only three letters,
so small that people use just to talk.
But if you need to run what it means,
He earns a thousand excuses not to give rise,
and he never found the peace that ennobles.
men of the earth,
for the coming war cause harm
with unmatched hatred, ruins, kills, destroys,
and concludes with virtue is only a story
and glory only works water is diluted.
Who built bases
his home and on his way,
and adds to your destination, humility and decency
which educates the conscience, respect for the law,
and always reaching those most in need,
You'll get your life to be better human being.
The distant paradise
come quickly to his world,
not that vagrant abandoned to their fate
just waiting for death because life does not care.
There will be a wound in his soul and in his chest a big pain,
because of the bad taste, the losing battle.
And that peace so dear,
so distant and if absent,
that inhabits the mind and good heart,
not just the illusion that leaves no one indifferent,
plunging all the people in the most cruel sensation,
because love must prevail and it will never be lacking.
A paz é uma palavra
com apenas três letras,
tão pequeno que as pessoas usam apenas para falar.
Mas se você precisa executar o que significa,
Ele ganha mil desculpas para não dar origem,
e ele nunca encontrou a paz que enobrece.
ilustrando a paz
homens da terra,
para a guerra causa danos
de ódio incomparável, ruínas, mata, destrói,
e conclui com a virtude é apenas uma história
e glória só funciona a água é diluída.
Quem construiu bases
sua casa e no seu caminho,
e acrescenta ao seu destino, a humildade e decência
que educa a consciência, o respeito pela lei,
e sempre alcançar os mais necessitados,
Você terá a sua vida seja melhor ser humano.
O paraíso distante
chegar rapidamente ao seu mundo,
Não que errante abandonados à sua sorte
apenas esperando a morte porque a vida não se importa.
Haverá uma ferida em sua alma e em seu peito uma dor grande,
por causa do mau gosto, a batalha perdida.
E que a paz tão querida,
tão distante e se ausente,
que habita a mente eo coração bom,
não apenas a ilusão de que não deixa ninguém indiferente,
mergulhando todas as pessoas na sensação mais cruel,
porque o amor deve prevalecer e ele nunca vai faltar.
Copyright 2016: © Global Community, Global Parliament, Federation of Global Governments