Politics and Justice without borders

Global Community Newsletter

Volume 9 Issue 8 August 2011
Theme this month:

Lesson1: the world now

Global Peace Earth is a project of the Global Community.

Table of Contents

Perhaps the most important step towards achieving societal sustainability this century is to control our population growth. World overpopulation is now at the turning point and requires from each and every one of us of agreeing about the statement of rights and belonging to the Global Community, the human family. Statement of rights abd belonging to the Global Community

Comprehensive population policies are an essential element in a global development strategy that combines access to reproductive health services, education and economic opportunities, improved energy and natural resource technologies, and to healthyer models of consumption and the good life.

Authors of research papers and articles on issues of overpopulation worldwide
Introduction to issues of overpopulation worldwide
Authors of research papers and articles on issues of Global Peace Authors of research papers and articles on issues of Global Peace

In this Lesson #1, as part of our Global Peace Earth project, Soullife describes the world now, today, with all its important challenges we all face and must do something about. Overpopulation is certainly the major challenge we need to resolve. The text only of the following animation is also made available. Text only of Lesson 1 animation: the world now

The following animation is Lesson #1 to the process of Peace as taught by Soul of all Life (Soullife). Tweeta is a symbol of global learning from Soullife.

Click to see the animation

Short list of previous articles and papers on Overpopulation

Animation movie of Lesson #1 in .swf Animation movie of Lesson #1: the world now  in swf

Animation movie of Lesson #1 in .html Animation movie of Lesson #1: the world now   in HTML

Animation movie of Lesson #1 in .wmv on the Internet Animation movie of  Lesson #1: the world now in wmv

See the following artboards promoting Lesson #1: the world now and feel free to use them. The artboards have dimensions 2880x1800.


Artboard #1 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Soullife: Time for your first lesson Tweeta.
Tweeta: Yes Soullife. To educate the world is most important  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #2 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Soullife walking with Tweeta to the University of Global Learning where Soullife will be teaching to the Global Community  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #3 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Soullife and Tweeta walking in hallway just before entering the Amphitheatre of the University.  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #4 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Soullife entering the Amphitheatre  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #5 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Tweeta is the symbol of the thousands of students, university staff & professors; government from all nations; E.U. and U.N. officials; and religious and business people from all over the world waiting for the arrival of Soullife. Tweeta is also the symbol of the billions of people watching and learning Soullife teaching over the Internet and TV media.  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #6 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Tweeta sitting down and Soullife getting ready to speak  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #7 of Lesson #1 the world now:

The title page of Lesson #1: the world now  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #8 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Soullife beginning to speak about the three different faces of warfare that cause instabilities worldwide:
1. The military and its armament industry
2. Uncontrolled economics and overconsumption
3. Overpopulation
 Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #9 of Lesson #1 the world now:

An overpopulated planet is the cause of instabilities.  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #10 of Lesson #1 the world now:

4 areas most affected are: 1. Food, 2. Water, 3. Urbanisation, 4. Energy  Lesson #1: the world now artboard

Artboard #11 of Lesson #1 the world now:

Today signs of stress to the Earth's ecosystem
Today signs of stress to society worldwide
 Lesson #1: the world now artboard


All our Global Peace animation projects are listed here.

Germain Dufour
Spiritual Leader of the Global Community
August 1st, 2011


Daily reminder

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History of the Global Community organization, Earth Government and the Federation of Global Governments History of the Global Community Organization and Interim Earth Government Since its beginning in 1985, many accomplishments can be claimed by the Global Community: History of the Global Community organization and Earth Government
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Soul of all Life teaching about Peace: Introduction

Global Peace Earth introduction

Animation of Global Peace Village

This animation is concerned about explaining some aspects about the theme of this year Global Dialogue.

This animation is the message from the Soul of all Life

GIM Proclamations

Authors of research papers and articles on global issues for this month

Cynthia Boaz, Jeremy Brecher, Michelle Chen, Geoff Dembicki, Robert Engelman, Michael T. Klare, Bill McKibben, Dr. Charles Mercieca, Thomas C. Mountain, Brendan Smith, Scott Thill

Cynthia Boaz, 14 Propaganda Techniques Fox 'News' Uses to Brainwash Americans, 14 Propaganda Techniques Fox 'News' Uses to Brainwash Americans
Jeremy Brecher, Why Unions Should Reconsider Support for Tar Sands Oil Pipeline, Why Unions Should Reconsider Support for Tar Sands Oil Pipeline
Michelle Chen, The Globe is Not Only Getting Hotter. It is More Unjust and Unstable, Too , The Globe is Not Only Getting Hotter. It is More Unjust and Unstable, Too
Geoff Dembicki, How the Toxic Tar Sands Industry Fuels the Ubiquitous Aluminum Can , How the Toxic Tar Sands Industry Fuels the Ubiquitous Aluminum Can
Robert Engelman, The World at 7 Billion People: How Much More Growth Can the Planet Support? , The World at 7 Billion People: How Much More Growth Can the Planet Support?
Michael T. Klare, The New 30-Years' War: Who Will Be the Winners and Losers in the Great Global Energy Struggle to Come?, The New 30-Years' War: Who Will Be the Winners and Losers in the Great Global Energy Struggle to Come?
Bill McKibben, A Climate-Killing Oil Pipeline May Make North America the New Middle East, A Climate-Killing Oil Pipeline May Make North America the New Middle East
Dr. Charles Mercieca, Divine Versus Human Mind-Set  Divine Versus Human Mind-Set
Dr. Charles Mercieca, One Proclaimed Objective: Two Different Motives One Proclaimed Objective: Two Different Motives
Dr. Charles Mercieca, Fast Way to Eliminate America’s Phenomenal Debt  Fast Way to Eliminate America’s Phenomenal Debt
Dr. Charles Mercieca, Methodical Insanity at Work  Methodical Insanity at Work
Thomas C. Mountain, Libya War Lies Worse Than Iraq Libya War Lies Worse Than Iraq
Brendan Smith, Why Unions Should Reconsider Support for Tar Sands Oil Pipeline, Why Unions Should Reconsider Support for Tar Sands Oil Pipeline
Scott Thill, The UN Is Aiding a Corporate Takeover of Drinking Water , The UN Is Aiding a Corporate Takeover of Drinking Water

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Articles and papers of authors
 Data sent  Theme or issue  Read
 July 22, 2011  
Libya War Lies Worse Than Iraq
by Thomas C. Mountain , Countercurrents.org

Asmara, Eritrea: The lies used to justify the NATO war against Libya have surpassed those created to justify the invasion of Iraq. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both had honest observers on the ground for months following the rebellion in eastern Libya and both have repudiated every major charge used to justify the NATO war on Libya.

According to the Amnesty observer, who is fluent in Arabic, there is not one confirmed instance of rape by the pro-Gadaffi fighters, not even a doctor who knew of one. All the Viagra mass rape stories were fabrications.

Amnesty could not verify a single “African mercenary” fighting for Gaddafi story, and the highly charged international satellite television accounts of African mercenaries raping women that were used to panic much of the eastern Libyan population into fleeing their homes were fabrications.

There were no confirmed accounts of helicopter gun ships attacking civilians and no jet fighters bombing people which completely invalidates any justification for the No-Fly Zone inSecurity Council resolution used as an excuse for NATO to launch its attacks on Libya.

After three months on the ground in rebel controlled territory, the Amnesty investigator could only confirm 110 deaths in Benghazi which included Gadaffi supporters.

Only 110 dead in Benghazi? Wait a minute, we were told thousands had died there, ten thousand even. No, only 110 lost their lives including pro-government people.

No rapes, no African mercenaries, no helicopter gun ships or bombers, and only 110 ten deaths prior to the launch of the NATO bombing campaign, every reason was based on a lie.

Today according to the Libyan Red Crescent Society, over 1,100 civilians have been killed by NATO bombs including over 400 women and children. Over 6,000 Libyan civilians have been injured or wounded by the bombing, many very seriously.

Compared to the war on Iraq, these numbers are tiny, but the reasons for the Libyan war have no merit in any form.

Saddam Hussein was evil, he invaded his neighbors in wars that killed up to a million. He used Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD’s) in the form of poison gas on both his neighbors and his own people, killing tens of thousands. He was brutal and corrupt and when American tanks rolled into Iraq the Iraqi people refused to fight for him, simply put their weapons down and went home.

Libya under Col. Gadaffi hasn’t invaded their neighbors. Gadaffi never used WMD’s on anyone, let alone his own people. As for Gadaffi being brutal, in Libya’s neighbor Algeria, the Algerian military fought a counterinsurgency for a decade in the 1990’s that witnessed the deaths of some 200,000 Algerians. Now that is brutal and nothing anywhere near this has happened in Libya.

In Egypt and Tunisia, western puppets like Mubarak and Ben Ali had almost no support amongst their people with few if anyone willing to fight and die to defend them.

The majority of the Libyan people are rallying behind the Libyan government and “the leader”, Muammar Gadaffi, with over one million people demonstrating in support on July 1 in Tripoli, the capital of Libya. Thousands of Libyan youth are on the front lines fighting the rebels and despite thousands of NATO air strikes authentic journalists on the ground in western Libya report their morale remains high.

In Egypt the popular explosion that resulted in the Army seizing power from Mubarak began in the very poorest neighborhoods in Cairo and other Egyptian cities where the price of basic food items like bread, sugar and cooking oil had skyrocketed and lead to widespread hunger. In many parts of Egypt's poor neighborhoods gasoline/benzene is easier to find then clean drinking water. Medical care and education is only for those with the money to pay for it. Life for the people of Tunisia is not that much better.

In contrast, the Libyan people have the longest life expectancy in the Arab world. The Libyan people have the best, free public health system in the Arab world. The Libyan people have the best, free public education system in the Arab world. Most Libyan families own their own home and most Libyan families own their own automobile. Libya is so much better off then its neighbors every year tens of thousands of Egyptians and Tunisians migrated to Libya to earn money to feed their families, doing the dirty work the Libyan people refused to do.

When it comes to how Gadaffi oversaw a dramatic rise in the standard of living for the Libyan people despite decades of UN inSecurity Council sanctions against the Libyan economy honest observers acknowledge that Gadaffi stands head and shoulders above the kings, sheiks, emirs and various dictators who rule the rest of the Arab world.

So why did NATO launch this war against Libya?

First of all Gadaffi was on the verge of creating a new banking system in Africa that was going to put the IMF, World Bank and assorted other western banksters out of business in Africa. No more predatory western loans used to cripple African economies, instead a $42 billion dollar African Investment Bank would be supplying major loans at little or even zero interest rates.

LIbya has funded major infrastructure projects across Africa that have begun to link up African economies and break the perpetual dependency on the western countries for imports have been taking place. Here in Eritrea the new road connecting Eritrea and Sudan is just one small example.

What seem to have finally tipped the balance in favor of direct western military intervention was the reported demand by Gadaffi that the USA oil companies who have long been major players in the Libyan petroleum industry were going to have to compensate Libya to the tune of tens of billions of dollars for the damage done to the Libyan economy by the USA instigated “Lockerbie Bombing” sanctions imposed by the UN inSecurity Council throughout the 1990’s into early 2000’s. This is based on the unearthing of evidence that the CIA paid millions of dollars to witnesses in the Lockerbie Bombing trial to change their stories to implicate Libya which was used as the basis for the very damaging UN sanctions against Libya. The government of the USA lied and damaged Libya so the USA oil companies were going to have to pay up to cover the cost of their governments actions. Not hard to see why Gadaffi had to go isn't it?

Add the fact that Gadaffi had signaled clearly that he saw both Libya’s and Africa’s future economic development linked more to China and Russia rather than the west and it was just a matter of time before the CIA’s contingency plan to overthrow the Libyan government was put on the front burner.

NATO’s war against Libya has much more in common with NATO’s Kosovo war against Serbia. But one still cannot compare Gadaffi to Saddam or even the much smaller time criminals in the Serbian leadership. The Libyan War lies are worse than Iraq.

Thomas C. Mountain is the only independent western journalist in the Horn of Africa, living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006. He was a member of the 1st US Peace Delegation to Libya in 1987 . thomascmountain at yahoo dot com

  Read Libya War Lies Worse Than Iraq
 July 20, 2011  

With global population expected to surpass 7 billion people this year, the staggering impact on an overtaxed planet is becoming more and more evident.

Demographers aren't known for their sense of humor, but the ones who work for the United Nations recently announced that the world's human population will hit 7 billion on Halloween this year. Since censuses and other surveys can scarcely justify such a precise calculation, it's tempting to imagine that the UN Population Division, the data shop that pinpointed the Day of 7 Billion, is hinting that we should all be afraid, be very afraid.

We have reason to be. The 21st century is not yet a dozen years old, and there are already 1 billion more people than in October 1999 — with the outlook for future energy and food supplies looking bleaker than it has for decades. It took humanity until the early 19th century to gain its first billion people; then another 1.5 billion followed over the next century and a half. In just the last 60 years the world's population has gained yet another 4.5 billion. Never before have so many animals of one species anything like our size inhabited the planet.

And this species interacts with its surroundings far more intensely than any other ever has. Planet Earth has become Planet Humanity, as we co-opt its carbon, water, and nitrogen cycles so completely that no other force can compare. For the first time in life's 3-billion-plus-year history, one form of life — ours — condemns to extinction significant proportions of the plants and animals that are our only known companions in the universe.

Did someone just remark that these impacts don't stem from our population, but from our consumption? Probably, as this assertion emerges often from journals, books, and the blogosphere. It's as though a geometry text were to propound the axiom that it is not length that determines the area of a rectangle, but width. Would we worry about our individual consumption of energy and natural resources if humanity still had the stable population of roughly 300 million people — less than today's U.S. number — that the species maintained throughout the first millennium of the current era?

It is precisely because our population is so large and growing so fast that we must care, ever more with each generation, how much we as individuals are out of sync with environmental sustainability. Our diets, our modes of moving, and our urge to keep interior temperatures close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit no matter what is happening outside — none of these make us awful people. It's just that collectively, these behaviors are moving basic planetary systems into danger zones.

Yet another argument often advanced to wave off population is the assertion that all of us could fit into Los Angeles with room to wiggle our shoulders. The image may comfort some. But space, of course, has never been the issue. The impacts of our needs, greeds, and wants are. We should bemoan — and aggressively address — the gross inequity that characterizes individual consumption around the world. But we should also acknowledge that over the decades-long span of most human lifetimes, most of us are likely to consume a fair amount, regardless of where and how we live; no human being, no matter how poor, can escape interacting with the environment, which is one reason population matters so much. And given the global economic system and the development optimistically anticipated in all regions of the world, we each have a tendency to consume more as that lifetime proceeds. A parent of seven poor children may be the grandparent of 10 to 15 much more affluent ones climbing up the ladder of middle-class consumption.

This, in fact, is the story of China, often seen not as an example of population's impact on the environment but that of rapid industrialization alone. Yet this one country, having grown demographically for millennia, is home to 1.34 billion people. One reason the growth even of low-consuming populations is hazardous is that bursts of per-capita consumption have typically followed decades of rapid demographic growth that occurred while per-capita consumption rates were low. Examples include the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, China at the turn of the 21st, and India possibly in the coming decade. More immediately worrisome from an environmental perspective, of course, is that the United States and the industrialized world as a whole still have growing populations, despite recent slowdowns in the growth rate, while already living high up on the per-capita consumption ladder.

Many of the impacts of this ubiquitous multiplication of per-capita resource consumption by the number of individuals are by now well documented. Humanity started to overwhelm the atmosphere with greenhouse gases not long after the Industrial Revolution began, a process that accelerated along with population and consumption growth in the 20th century. Fresh water is now shared so thinly that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) projects that in just 14 years two thirds of the world's population will be living in countries facing water scarcity or stress. Half of the world's original forests have been cleared for human land use, and UNEP warns that the world's fisheries will be effectively depleted by mid-century. The world's area of cultivated land has expanded by about 13 percent since its measurement began in 1961, but the doubling of world population since then means that each of us can count on just half as much land as in 1961 to produce the food we eat.

For the rest of life on Earth, the implications of all this are obvious. Where we go, nature retreats. We are entering an epoch scientists have begun calling the Anthropocene, a break with the geologic past marked by humanity's long-term alteration of the natural world and its biota. We are inadvertently bringing on the sixth mass extinction not just because our appetites are vast and our technologies powerful, but because we occupy or manipulate most of the land in every continent except Antarctica. We appropriate anywhere from 24 percent to nearly 40 percent of the photosynthetic output of the planet for our food and other purposes, and more than half of its accessible renewable freshwater runoff.

Given these facts, it's hardly surprising that wildlife conservation faces an uphill battle globally and in every nation, while ambitious concepts like the creation of wildlife corridors to help species escape the ravages of development and climate change proliferate despite their impracticality in a world of growing human impacts.

So should we be afraid on the day we gain a 7 billionth living human being, especially considering UN demographers are now projecting anywhere between 6.2 billion and 15.8 billion people at the end of the century? Fear is not a particularly productive response — courage and a determination to act in the face of risk are the answer. And in this case, there is so much to be done to heal and make sustainable a world of 7 billion breathing human beings that cowering would be not just fatalistic but stupid.

Action means doing a lot of different things right now. We can't stop the growth of our numbers in any acceptable way immediately. But we can put in place conditions that will support an early end to growth, possibly making this year's the last billion-population day we ever mark. We can elevate the autonomy of women to make life-changing decisions for themselves. We can lower birth rates by assuring that women become pregnant only when they themselves decide to bear a child.

Simultaneously, we need a swift transformation of energy, water, and materials consumption through conservation, efficiency, and green technologies. We shouldn't think of these as a sequence of efforts — dealing with consumption first, because population dynamics take time to turn around — but as simultaneous work on multiple fronts. It would be naïve to believe we will arrive at sustainability by wrestling shifting technologies and lifestyles while human population grows indefinitely and most people strive to live as comfortably as Americans do. Nor should we take comfort in the illusion that population growth is already on a path to end soon. Demographers can no more tell us when that will happen (or through what combination of lower birth rates or higher death rates) than economists can predict when robust global economic growth will resume. Both expert groups are mocked by the many surprises the future holds in store.

Rather than forecast the future, we should work to secure it. More than two in five pregnancies worldwide are unintended by the women who experience them, and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth. Clearly there is vast potential to slow that growth through something women want and need: the capacity to decide for themselves when to become pregnant. If all women had this capacity, survey data affirm, average global childbearing would immediately fall below the "replacement fertility" value of slightly more than two children per woman. Population would immediately move onto a path leading to a peak followed by a gradual decline, possibly well before 2050.

Despite the obvious barriers to women's rights in today's world, such a vision rests on a set of straightforward and achievable conditions: Women must be able to make their own decisions free from fear of coercion or pressure from partners, family, and society. They must not depend on prolific motherhood for social approval and self-esteem. And they must have easy access to a range of safe, effective, and affordable contraceptive methods and the information and counseling needed to use them.

For those who care about the environment, the future of human civilization, or both, the Day of 7 Billion should prod us to face and address the risks of continued population growth. By the sheer scale of our presence and activity we are putting ourselves and all life at risk. No human being has the right to consume forever more than any other. Yet if we could somehow close the global consumption gap, the importance of our numbers would be even more obvious as the limits of natural systems were crossed. It scarcely lessens the importance of reducing both consumption and inequity to celebrate the fact that population growth can end without policies that restrict births, without coercion of any kind, without judgments on those who choose large families. We are not far from a world in which the number of births roughly balances the number of deaths, based on pregnancies universally welcomed by women and their partners.

The transition to this world may not be entirely painless. Nations will have to adjust to rising average ages as birth rates descend further. In China and India, smaller families may contribute to artificially high ratios of baby boys, with possible risks to future social stability. But these problems are the kind that societies and institutions are generally good at handling. Stopping climate change, reducing water scarcity, or keeping ecosystems intact, by contrast, don't yet seem to be in our skill set. Working now to bring population growth to an end through intentional childbearing won't solve such problems by itself, but it will help — a lot. And such an effort, based on human rights and the dignity and freedom of the world's childbearers, is in the interest of all who care about a truly sustainable environment and human future.

Robert Engelman is executive director of the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C. The Population Institute awarded his book, More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want, the Global Media Award for Individual Reporting in 2008.

  Read The World at 7 Billion People: How Much More Growth Can the Planet Support?
 July 6, 2011  

The future of a warming planet holds more than just melting ice--it will see a lot more conflict over resources, food, and living space as well.

Over the next few decades, tens of millions of people will be driven from their homes. Braving violence and poverty, they’ll roam desperately across continents and borders in search of work and shelter. Unlike other refugees, though, their plight won’t be blamed simply on the familiar horrors of war or persecution; they’ll blame the weather.

If you haven’t heard about the rising tide of environmental migrants, that’s because throngs of displaced black and brown people don’t evoke the same public sympathy as photos of polar bear cubs. The governments of rich industrialized nations will scramble to shut the gates on the desperate hordes with the same self-serving efficiency with which they’ve long ignored the social, ecological and economic consequences of their prosperity. But both efforts at blissful ignorance will fail, because climate change is forcing society to confront the mounting natural and man-made disasters on the horizon.

In 2010, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, “more than 90 percent of all disasters and 65 percent of associated economic damages were weather and climate related (i.e. high winds, flooding, heavy snowfall, heat waves, droughts, wildfires). In all, 874 weather and climate-related disasters resulted in 68,000 deaths and $99 billion in damages worldwide.”

Those numbers look worse on the ground. In rural Bangladesh, where some of South Asia’s major riverways converge, rising waters are threatening to swallow vulnerable coastal communities and leave millions without homes. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the sea level need only rise by a few feet to turn a cultivated area of 1,000 kilometers squared into sopping marsh. The frequency and intensity of floods continues to escalate exponentially, pushing young workers into the cities to earn a living and eroding rural communities and their cultures.

While some places soak, others bake. An ongoing drought crisis in East Africa has created massive hunger and aggravated conflict between groups vying for dwindling resources in an increasingly barren terrain. The United Nations estimated that in 2009, conflicts over cattle grazing and water resources led to several hundred deaths.

It’s hard to pinpoint climate as a decisive factor in this sort of social upheaval, but the evidence grows more pronounced with each violent storm, ruined harvest and tribal clash: the cumulus of natural calamities makes it harder to live and thus harder to coexist with our neighbors.

On “Democracy Now!”, Christian Parenti, author of “Tropic of Chaos,” described how climate-driven warfare brings the environmental toll of imperialism full circle.

From 1945 to 1990 the U.N. said there were 150 or so armed conflicts that killed 20 million people, displaced 15 million, 16 million were wounded. That all happened in the “global south” in this belt of states. And so now that’s where climate change is kicking in and that was also the same terrain where the last 30 years of IMF and World Bank-backed structural adjustment of privatization, deregulation of economies, cutting state support for farmers and fishermen—that program affected those states most intensely.


And now the weather associated with climate change, extreme weather such as the drought, punctuated by flooding in East Africa, is adding to this. And there’s this catastrophic convergence.

Grassroots environmental groups have rallied around the concept of “climate debt” to demand justice for the ecological destruction of the Global South. Still, the immediate humanitarian threats posed by climate change reveal the difficulty of thinking long term in the face of intense scarcity.

Trickle-Down Effect

A warming planet is a thirsty one.

Water is one reason why Southern Sudan’s new independence could just be a temporary respite in a raging struggle for ecological wealth. The world’s youngest nation is at the heart of the Nile River Basin, which supports several economies and ecosystems and fuels toxic tensions among them. Last year, economics professor Paul Sullivan of National Defense University, predicted that without equitable management of precious water, Sudan’s partition would merely pave the way for more turmoil:

Water, land, food, energy and development are tightly and importantly interlinked. Water is also very much linked to the potential for peace in the country. The tensions and potentials for peace in Darfur, between the north and the south—and amongst many other in other regions, including between local tribes and clans—can be, in part, determined, by the availability, quality, sharing, management and maintenance of water sources in the country.

A recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee report offered similar warnings about Afghanistan and Pakistan, where “water scarcity… triggers human insecurity, which can intensify potentially explosive tensions among neighboring countries or regions.” Alarmingly, the report recommended that the U.S. government integrate water management into its occupation of the region, which would expand Washington’s control over civilian resources in an arena of unending conflict.

And long before popular uprisings in Egypt, analysts were predicting that climate change would feed intogeopolitical instability in the Middle East.

Al Jazeera reports that water shortages could tip Yemen’s political turmoil toward full-blown civil war.


Yemen’s capital Sanaa, from where president Ali Saleh left the country after he was injured during protests, could effectively run out of water by 2025, hydrology experts say.

Water shortages could cost the unstable country 750,000 jobs, slashing incomes in the poorest Arab country by as much as 25 per cent over the next decade….

Commentators frequently blame Yemen’s problems on tribal differences, but environmental scarcity may be underpinning secessionist struggles in the country’s south and some general communal violence.


One of the perverse intersections between the water and climate crises is a misguided attempt to solve both through the energy industry.


For instance, while hydroelectricity has been touted as a “clean” power source, activists point out that energy-intensive mega-dam projects may actually ruin ecosystems and belch even more carbon into the atmosphere—and strengthen oppressive regimes as well. The government of Burma has used dam construction as a pretext for driving out indigenous groups and crushing political dissent. The military has repeatedly cracked down on isolated minority villages to clear the way for lucrative dam-building projects, which are typically designed to funnel electricity to energy-hungry consumers in China at the expense of Burma’s poorest communities.

One 85 year-old who fled to Thailand from his homeland in 2008, whose story was recorded by the Shan Sapawa Environment Organization, couldn’t imagine life in exile:

My spirit is here; I am connected to this land…. When the military burned our village and forced us out from our homeland, we still hand the land. If the water floods over, we will have nothing left.”

Frustrated by political gridlock in international negotiations on carbon emissions, the climate justice movement sees the link between climate and conflict as a call for broad-based solutions that blend the environmental with the social. That can start with the political enfranchisement of indigenous groups and securing food and water sovereignty for the poor. From there, the people most impacted by climate change can work toward inclusive development to heal the damage and move toward more sustainable energy.

But environmental migrants have a long way to go before they reach justice. Meanwhile, whether displaced by nature’s wrath or civil war, the new refugees are running out of places to run.


Michelle Chen has written for ColorLines, In These Times, South China Morning Post, Clamor, INTHEFRAY.COM and her own zine, cain.

  Read The Globe’s Not Only Getting Hotter. It’s More Unjust and Unstable, Too
 July 2, 2011  

The good news is that the more conscious you are of these techniques, the less likely they are to work on you.

There is nothing more sacred to the maintenance of democracy than a free press. Access to comprehensive, accurate and quality information is essential to the manifestation of Socratic citizenship - the society characterized by a civically engaged, well-informed and socially invested populace. Thus, to the degree that access to quality information is willfully or unintentionally obstructed, democracy itself is degraded.

It is ironic that in the era of 24-hour cable news networks and "reality" programming, the news-to-fluff ratio and overall veracity of information has declined precipitously. Take the fact Americans now spend on average about 50 hours a week using various forms of media, while at the same time cultural literacy levels hover just above the gutter. Not only does mainstream media now tolerate gross misrepresentations of fact and history by public figures (highlighted most recently by Sarah Palin's ludicrous depiction of Paul Revere's ride), but many media actually legitimize these displays. Pause for a moment and ask yourself what it means that the world's largest, most profitable and most popular news channel passes off as fact every whim, impulse and outrageously incompetent analysis of its so-called reporters. How did we get here? Take the enormous amount of misinformation that is taken for truth by Fox audiences: the belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and that he was in on 9/11, the belief that climate change isn't real and/or man-made, the belief that Barack Obama is Muslim and wasn't born in the United States, the insistence that all Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are terrorists, the inexplicable perceptions that immigrants are both too lazy to work and are about to steal your job. All of these claims are demonstrably false, yet Fox News viewers will maintain their veracity with incredible zeal. Why? Is it simply that we have lost our respect for knowledge?

My curiosity about this question compelled me to sit down and document the most oft-used methods by which willful ignorance has been turned into dogma by Fox News and other propagandists disguised as media. The techniques I identify here also help to explain the simultaneously powerful identification the Fox media audience has with the network, as well as their ardent, reflexive defenses of it.

The good news is that the more conscious you are of these techniques, the less likely they are to work on you. The bad news is that those reading this article are probably the least in need in of it.

1. Panic Mongering. This goes one step beyond simple fear mongering. With panic mongering, there is never a break from the fear. The idea is to terrify and terrorize the audience during every waking moment. From Muslims to swine flu to recession to homosexuals to immigrants to the rapture itself, the belief over at Fox seems to be that if your fight-or-flight reflexes aren't activated, you aren't alive. This of course raises the question: why terrorize your own audience? Because it is the fastest way to bypasses the rational brain. In other words, when people are afraid, they don't think rationally. And when they can't think rationally, they'll believe anything.

2. Character Assassination/Ad Hominem. Fox does not like to waste time debating the idea. Instead, they prefer a quicker route to dispensing with their opponents: go after the person's credibility, motives, intelligence, character, or, if necessary, sanity. No category of character assassination is off the table and no offense is beneath them. Fox and like-minded media figures also use ad hominem attacks not just against individuals, but entire categories of people in an effort to discredit the ideas of every person who is seen to fall into that category, e.g. "liberals," "hippies," "progressives" etc. This form of argument - if it can be called that - leaves no room for genuine debate over ideas, so by definition, it is undemocratic. Not to mention just plain crass.

3. Projection/Flipping. This one is frustrating for the viewer who is trying to actually follow the argument. It involves taking whatever underhanded tactic you're using and then accusing your opponent of doing it to you first. We see this frequently in the immigration discussion, where anti-racists are accused of racism, or in the climate change debate, where those who argue for human causes of the phenomenon are accused of not having science or facts on their side. It's often called upon when the media host finds themselves on the ropes in the debate.

4. Rewriting History. This is another way of saying that propagandists make the facts fit their worldview. The Downing Street Memos on the Iraq war were a classic example of this on a massive scale, but it happens daily and over smaller issues as well. A recent case in point is Palin's mangling of the Paul Revere ride, which Fox reporters have bent over backward to validate. Why lie about the historical facts, even when they can be demonstrated to be false? Well, because dogmatic minds actually find it easier to reject reality than to update their viewpoints. They will literally rewrite history if it serves their interests. And they'll often speak with such authority that the casual viewer will be tempted to question what they knew as fact.

5. Scapegoating/Othering. This works best when people feel insecure or scared. It's technically a form of both fear mongering and diversion, but it is so pervasive that it deserves its own category. The simple idea is that if you can find a group to blame for social or economic problems, you can then go on to a) justify violence/dehumanization of them, and b) subvert responsibility for any harm that may befall them as a result.

6. Conflating Violence With Power and Opposition to Violence With Weakness. This is more of what I'd call a "meta-frame" (a deeply held belief) than a media technique, but it is manifested in the ways news is reported constantly. For example, terms like "show of strength" are often used to describe acts of repression, such as those by the Iranian regime against the protesters in the summer of 2009. There are several concerning consequences of this form of conflation. First, it has the potential to make people feel falsely emboldened by shows of force - it can turn wars into sporting events. Secondly, especially in the context of American politics, displays of violence - whether manifested in war or debates about the Second Amendment - are seen as noble and (in an especially surreal irony) moral. Violence become synonymous with power, patriotism and piety.

7. Bullying. This is a favorite technique of several Fox commentators. That it continues to be employed demonstrates that it seems to have some efficacy. Bullying and yelling works best on people who come to the conversation with a lack of confidence, either in themselves or their grasp of the subject being discussed. The bully exploits this lack of confidence by berating the guest into submission or compliance. Often, less self-possessed people will feel shame and anxiety when being berated and the quickest way to end the immediate discomfort is to cede authority to the bully. The bully is then able to interpret that as a "win."

8. Confusion. As with the preceding technique, this one works best on an audience that is less confident and self-possessed. The idea is to deliberately confuse the argument, but insist that the logic is airtight and imply that anyone who disagrees is either too dumb or too fanatical to follow along. Less independent minds will interpret the confusion technique as a form of sophisticated thinking, thereby giving the user's claims veracity in the viewer's mind.

9. Populism. This is especially popular in election years. The speakers identifies themselves as one of "the people" and the target of their ire as an enemy of the people. The opponent is always "elitist" or a "bureaucrat" or a "government insider" or some other category that is not the people. The idea is to make the opponent harder to relate to and harder to empathize with. It often goes hand in hand with scapegoating. A common logical fallacy with populism bias when used by the right is that accused "elitists" are almost always liberals - a category of political actors who, by definition, advocate for non-elite groups.

10. Invoking the Christian God. This is similar to othering and populism. With morality politics, the idea is to declare yourself and your allies as patriots, Christians and "real Americans" (those are inseparable categories in this line of thinking) and anyone who challenges them as not. Basically, God loves Fox and Republicans and America. And hates taxes and anyone who doesn't love those other three things. Because the speaker has been benedicted by God to speak on behalf of all Americans, any challenge is perceived as immoral. It's a cheap and easy technique used by all totalitarian entities from states to cults.

11. Saturation. There are three components to effective saturation: being repetitive, being ubiquitous and being consistent. The message must be repeated cover and over, it must be everywhere and it must be shared across commentators: e.g. "Saddam has WMD." Veracity and hard data have no relationship to the efficacy of saturation. There is a psychological effect of being exposed to the same message over and over, regardless of whether it's true or if it even makes sense, e.g., "Barack Obama wasn't born in the United States." If something is said enough times, by enough people, many will come to accept it as truth. Another example is Fox's own slogan of "Fair and Balanced."

12. Disparaging Education. There is an emerging and disturbing lack of reverence for education and intellectualism in many mainstream media discourses. In fact, in some circles (e.g. Fox), higher education is often disparaged as elitist. Having a university credential is perceived by these folks as not a sign of credibility, but of a lack of it. In fact, among some commentators, evidence of intellectual prowess is treated snidely and as anti-American. The disdain for education and other evidence of being trained in critical thinking are direct threats to a hive-mind mentality, which is why they are so viscerally demeaned.

13. Guilt by Association. This is a favorite of Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart, both of whom have used it to decimate the careers and lives of many good people. Here's how it works: if your cousin's college roommate's uncle's ex-wife attended a dinner party back in 1984 with Gorbachev's niece's ex-boyfriend's sister, then you, by extension are a communist set on destroying America. Period.

14. Diversion. This is where, when on the ropes, the media commentator suddenly takes the debate in a weird but predictable direction to avoid accountability. This is the point in the discussion where most Fox anchors start comparing the opponent to Saul Alinsky or invoking ACORN or Media Matters, in a desperate attempt to win through guilt by association. Or they'll talk about wanting to focus on "moving forward," as though by analyzing the current state of things or God forbid, how we got to this state of things, you have no regard for the future. Any attempt to bring the discussion back to the issue at hand will likely be called deflection, an ironic use of the technique of projection/flipping.

In debating some of these tactics with colleagues and friends, I have also noticed that the Fox viewership seems to be marked by a sort of collective personality disorder whereby the viewer feels almost as though they've been let into a secret society. Something about their affiliation with the network makes them feel privileged and this affinity is likely what drives the viewers to defend the network so vehemently. They seem to identify with it at a core level, because it tells them they are special and privy to something the rest of us don't have. It's akin to the loyalty one feels by being let into a private club or a gang. That effect is also likely to make the propaganda more powerful, because it goes mostly unquestioned.

In considering these tactics and their possible effects on American public discourse, it is important to note that historically, those who've genuinely accessed truth have never berated those who did not. You don't get honored by history when you beat up your opponent: look at Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln. These men did not find the need to engage in othering, ad homeinum attacks, guilt by association or bullying. This is because when a person has accessed a truth, they are not threatened by the opposing views of others. This reality reveals the righteous indignation of people like Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity as a symptom of untruth. These individuals are hostile and angry precisely because they don't feel confident in their own veracity. And in general, the more someone is losing their temper in a debate and the more intolerant they are of listening to others, the more you can be certain they do not know what they're talking about.

One final observation. Fox audiences, birthers and Tea Partiers often defend their arguments by pointing to the fact that a lot of people share the same perceptions. This is a reasonable point to the extent that Murdoch's News Corporation reaches a far larger audience than any other single media outlet. But, the fact that a lot of people believe something is not necessarily a sign that it's true; it's just a sign that it's been effectively marketed.

As honest, fair and truly intellectual debate degrades before the eyes of the global media audience, the quality of American democracy degrades along with it.

Dr. Cynthia Boaz is assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University. She is also vice president of the Metta Center for Nonviolence and on the board of Project Censored and the Media Freedom Foundation. Dr. Boaz is also a contributing writer and adviser to Truthout.org and associate editor of Peace and Change Journal.

  Read 14 Propaganda Techniques Fox 'News' Uses to Brainwash Americans
 July 14, 2011  

One in six of the 100 billion soda, beer and juice cans we use each year owe their existence to Alberta’s tar sands. The result is an environmental disaster.

Driving south from Vancouver, Canada, towards Seattle, the scenery is perfectly pastoral with rolling hills and grazing cows. But suddenly, dominating the horizon, the view is interrupted by a phalanx of refinery towers shooting white-gray plumes into the sky. These industrial spires of BP's Cherry Point refinery loom high over Whatcom county, a lush border region a little more than 100 kilometers north of Seattle.

Washington State's largest refining complex provides jet fuel, gasoline and diesel to markets up and down the west coast of North America. I had driven there on a rainy morning last month, hoping to learn more about the economic alchemy that transforms crude oil from Alberta's oil sands and elsewhere into ever ubiquitous aluminum beverage cans.

Cherry Point plays a little known but critical role in the manufacture of these cans -- in fact one-sixth of the world's output would not be possible without an industrial substance produced here in massive volumes each day.

Every year 100 billion soda, beer, and juice cans are cracked open by North Americans each year, almost one can for every person every day. That vast market suggests that transitioning off fossil fuels to halt climate change will be more complicated than the oft-proclaimed solution of switching to a greener forms of transportation.

From Alaska to Alberta

Inside a low brick building at the front of the BP refinery, I shook hands with Bill Kidd, BP's local director of external affairs. “How're you doing?” he exclaimed with a broad smile that made lines appear at the corners of his eyes.

The 52-year-old Kidd, dressed smartly in sleeveless black sweater, slacks and white dress shirt, led me to what passes here as a spacious corner office. Here he explained how Cherry Point is a showcase of North America's oil-boom past and its more troubled future. With the dwindling of easy oil that has gushed from the ground for the last century, the energy industry is in a full-bore search for rich, new reserves, including the oil sands of western Canada.

Built by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) in 1971 specifically to process crude oil shipped from Alaska's North Slope, Cherry Point was acquired by British Petroleum after the two companies merged in 2000. Today BP (the company dropped the original name in 2001) has become North America's largest oil and gas producer. The company generated profits of US$16.6 billion in 2010 even after a deadly explosion at its offshore Gulf of Mexico Macondo rig created the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

For over a decade, the massive Prudhoe Bay reserves and other frigid deposits nearby helped supply refineries on the west coast. Indeed Cherry Point still memorializes those early glory days with a four-foot tall sculpture of a flower with sheet metal petals surrounding an old Prudhoe Bay drill bit.

But production, which peaked at 2.1 million barrels per day in 1989, “has fallen off a cliff,” Kidd told me. Today, daily yield has plummeted to just over 600,000 barrels.  

The refinery now sources only half its oil from Alaska, with places as varied as West Africa and Russia helping make up the difference, Kidd said. Most significantly, up to 14 percent of Cherry Point's current crude supply can be traced back to Alberta's vast oil sands reserves, according to trade research conducted by the Borealis Centre for Environment and Trade Research, based on data from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“How much we use specifically is sensitive information,” Kidd told me when I asked him about the figure. “But that is not an outlandish number.”

From Crude to Can

About 90 percent of the crude oil that gets pumped into Cherry Point comes out as gasoline, diesel and jet fuel -- the bread and butter of North America's refining industry. But the Washington state complex is unique in that it is one of the world's leading providers of a substance essential to the aluminum industry.

When transportation fuels are separated from crude oil, they leave behind a tarry residue. Break down that substance with high temperatures and pressure, and it becomes petroleum coke, a valuable industrial solid. Petcoke, as it is known, gives off intense heat when it burns, making it ideal for the production of cement, steel and certain specialty chemicals. It is also extremely carbon-intensive, releasing almost double the greenhouse emissions of natural gas.

At Cherry Point, some of this petcoke is sent via conveyor belt to the calciner, a collection of large hearths that Kidd compared to a “2,300F degree coffee roaster.”

The finished product, “calcined coke,” is then loaded onto tankers and shipped to aluminum smelters in Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, according to Borealis. Those smelters in turn outsource their metal to beverage can producers around the world.

When you follow the supply chain all the way back, “one in six aluminum cans is made using BP Cherry Point's calcinated coke,” the company's website brags.

It used to be that most of the refinery's output stayed onshore, Kidd said. Only a generation ago, the U.S. aluminum industry was thriving, shipping 7.3 million tons of metal in 1973, up 21 percent from the year before.

But a booming trend toward global trade hit domestic smelters fast and hard. “Nearly all our aluminum in the next century is probably going to come from offshore countries,” a spokesperson from Ferndale's smelter, only a few kilometers south of Cherry Point, lamented in 1986. The industry could not escape the same economic factors that killed off domestic steel production: relatively high labor and energy costs.

Energy Security

Tune into any discussion on the future of U.S. oil supply and you're going to hear the phrase “energy security” an awful lot. The debate's gained even more urgency since the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) announced late last year that world conventional oil production likely peaked in 2006.

Critics of continued reliance on fossil fuels argue that these dwindling conventional oil reserves mandate a switch to renewable or even nuclear power. The oil industry however is banking on a different strategy. Notably Republican legislators in the U.S., oil industry lobbyists and Canada's own prime minister, Stephen Harper, have seized onto this fear as a way to promote the oil sands business.

Cherry Point, by relying on the oil sands for up to 14 percent of its crude supply, is helping push the shift from crude oil to unconventional sources. And though the refinery isn't currently considering the pricey upgrades that would let it process even more, BP's Kidd said the prospect isn't too hard to imagine.

“This refinery was built when you had a huge pool of crude in Alaska, the biggest gasoline markets in the world in California and we were right in between. Now you're just moving the supply a little bit east,” he said. “I think it's reasonable to think that more [oil sands] will come this way.”

The refinery's supply-chain narrative -- once mighty oil fields in decline, greater reliance on higher-carbon unconventional sources -- is being replayed globally. Other North American refineries --  such as BP's Whiting complex in Indiana -- have invested billions of dollars to handle fast-growing shipments of oil sands crude.

The plan to bring the oil industry into line with changing conditions also includes Keystone XL, a proposed 3,200 kilometer mega-pipeline that travels south from the Canadian province of Alberta to refineries lining the Gulf coast of Texas.

Supporters such as TransCanada, the company proposing to build it, say Keystone XL would “reduce dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East and Venezuela,” and thereby “improve U.S. energy security.”

Toxic “Mordor”

One of the main reasons why environmental activists oppose this strategy is the impact that the extraction of oil sands have on the province of Alberta, a thousand kilometers to the north west of Cherry Point.

There are up to an estimated 2.5 trillion barrels of crude waiting to be extracted in Alberta. This makes the oil sands North America's largest single source of petroleum, far surpassing Saudi Arabia. But developing those reserves is not an easy -- or pretty -- task. Each barrel of oil sands crude must either be clawed from frigid muskeg bogs with industrial-scale shovels, or melted out of underground formations with high-pressure steam and toxic chemicals.

A United Nations water adviser in 2008 compared the region's strip-mined panoramas and sprawling toxic lakes to Mordor, the fictional dark realm of Middle Earth created by J. R. R. Tolkien.

“The air is foul, the water is being drained and poisoned and giant tailing ponds line the Athabasca River,” Canadian environmentalist and author Maude Barlow said at the time.

Alberta's oil sands industry also produces 23 percent more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel than more conventional operations such as those in Prudhoe Bay, a recent European Union report estimated.

The provincial government has argued that report is “unfair” because it uses out-of-date figures. And in 2009 outgoing premier Ed Stelmach told an economic forum in Geneva, Switzerland, that “no matter which extraction method is used, Alberta has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the world.”

Climate Change Threat

The other reason that critics cite in opposing the oil sand industry is global warming. Only days after I drove to Cherry Point, delegates from more than 180 countries were gathering in Bonn, Germany, for two weeks of climate talks. The mood on day one was sombre as they were confronted by an IEA report showing that greenhouse gases were at record highs, despite 20 years of attempts to control them.

“A serious setback,” is how the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, described the figures.

Part of the reason is that global oil consumption is not going down even though supplies of easy-to-access conventional oil, the very commodity that made a global trade in aluminum cans possible, likely peaked five years ago, as the IEA pointed out last November.

Instead the IEA expects that oil sands, oil shale and extra heavy crude -- among the most greenhouse gas-intensive fuel sources on the planet -- are filling the gap and are projected to make up roughly 11 percent of global supply by 2030.

This trend “risks tipping the world over the brink in terms of climate damage,” according to a 2010 report by Friends of the Earth Europe.

Yet a radical shift in global efforts to fight climate change -- one of the most pressing crises in human history -- seems less and less likely each year. If the world's nations can't limit the Earth's average temperature rise to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, scientists predict that everything from global agriculture to the world's coastal cities will be in peril.

Many environmentalists believe the Obama administration can make a difference by canceling TransCanada's Keystone XL proposal, a pipeline that would pump 800,000 barrels of high-carbon Alberta oil sands crude into the U.S. every day.

“The best way to build energy security in America is through clean, home-grown sources of energy that won't run out -- such as wind and solar for electric vehicles and fuel efficiency and smart growth to reduce our dependence on oil,” Natural Resources Defense Council's Susan Casey-Lefkowitz wrote earlier this year.

Yet switching power and transportation sources are only part of the answer. Closing up my interview at the Cherry Point refinery, I asked Kidd how North America can possibly square its global warming goals with a fossil fuel industry so ubiquitous it's difficult to imagine life without it.

“Obviously,” he replied, the smile now gone from his face, “we're going to have to do something radically different.”

I asked Kidd one final question: “Could we have a global pop, beer and juice can industry without crude oil?”

“Nope,” he replied. “Hydrocarbons in general are incredibly ubiquitous in our economic engine. It isn't just transportation fuel that will be the issue.”

On my drive back to Vancouver I saw crude oil wherever I looked -- like an invisible coating on every concrete overpass, 18-wheeler semi-truck and pop can discarded on the side of the road.

The question of “energy security” had never seemed so complex.

Geoff Dembicki reports extensively on the growing political influence of Alberta's oil sands industry and other climate change-related issues for TheTyee.ca.

  Read How the Toxic Tar Sands Industry Fuels the Ubiquitous Aluminum Can
 July 14, 2011  

Unless we can convince Obama to say no to the tar sands pipeline, we're going to be igniting a massive carbon bomb.

The climate problem has moved from the abstract to the very real in the last 18 months.  Instead of charts and graphs about what will happen someday, we’ve got real-time video: first Russia burning, then Texas and Arizona on fire.  First Pakistan suffered a deluge, then Queensland, Australia, went underwater, and this spring and summer, it’s the Midwest that’s flooding at historic levels.

The year 2010 saw the lowest volume of Arctic ice since scientists started to measure, more rainfall on land than any year in recorded history, and the lowest barometric pressure ever registered in the continental United States.  Measured on a planetary scale, 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year in history.  Jeff Masters, probably the world’s most widely read meteorologist, calculated that the year featured the most extreme weather since at least 1816, when a giant volcano blew its top.

Since we’re the volcano now, and likely to keep blowing, here’s his prognosis: “The ever-increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases humans are emitting into the air put tremendous pressure on the climate system to shift to a new, radically different, warmer state, and the extreme weather of 2010-2011 suggests that the transition is already well underway.”

There’s another shift, too, and that’s in the response from climate-change activists. For the first two decades of the global-warming era, the suggested solutions to the problem had been as abstract as the science that went with it: complicated schemes like the Kyoto Protocol, or the cap-and-trade agreement that died in Congress in 2010.  These were attempts to solve the problem of climate change via complicated backstage maneuvers and manipulations of prices or regulations.  They failed in large part because the fossil-fuel industry managed, at every turn, to dilute or defang them.

Clearly the current Congress is in no mood for real regulation, so -- for the moment anyway -- the complicated planning is being replaced by a simpler rallying cry. When it comes to coal, oil, and natural gas, the new mantra of activists is simple, straightforward, and hard to defang: Keep it in the ground!

Two weeks ago, for instance, a few veteran environmentalists, myself included, issued a call for protest against Canada’s plans to massively expand oil imports from the tar sands regions of Alberta.  We set up a new website, tarsandsaction.org, and judging from the early response, it could result in the largest civil disobedience actions in the climate-change movement’s history on this continent, as hundreds, possibly thousands, of concerned activists converge on the White House in August. They’ll risk arrest to demand something simple and concrete from President Obama: that he refuse to grant a license for Keystone XL, a new pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico that would vastly increase the flow of tar sands oil through the U.S., ensuring that the exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands will only increase.

Forget the abstract and consider the down-and-dirty instead. You can undoubtedly guess some of the reasons for opposition to such a pipeline.  It’s wrecking native lands in Canada, and potential spills from that pipeline could pollute some of the most important ranchlands and aquifers in America. (Last week’s Yellowstone River spill was seen by many as a sign of what to expect.)

There’s an even bigger reason to oppose the pipeline, one that should be on the minds of even those of us who live thousands of miles away: Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb.  Indeed, they’re the second largest pool of carbon on planet Earth, following only Saudi Arabia’s slowly dwindling oilfields.

If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature. It won’t happen overnight, thank God, but according to the planet’s most important climatologist, James Hansen, burning even a substantial portion of that oil would mean it was “essentially game over” for the climate of this planet.

Halting that pipeline wouldn’t solve all tar sands problems.  The Canadians will keep trying to get it out to market, but it would definitely ensure that more of that oil will stay in the ground longer and that, at least, would be a start.  Even better, the politics of it are simple. For once, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives can’t get in the way.  The president alone decides if the pipeline is “in the national interest.” There are, however, already worrisome signs within the Obama administration.  Just this week, based on a State Department cable released by WikiLeaks, Neela Banerjee of the Los Angeles Times reported that, in 2009, the State Department's "energy envoy" was already instructing Alberta's fossil-fuel barons in how to improve their "oil sands messaging," including "increasing visibility and accessibility of more positive news stories." This is the government version of Murdochian-style enviro-hacking, and it leads many to think that the new pipeline is already a done deal. 

Still, the president can say no.  If he does, then no pipeline -- and in the words of Alberta’s oil minister, his province will be “landlocked in bitumen” (the basic substance from which tar-sands oil is extracted). Even energy-hungry China, eager as it is for new sources of fossil fuels, may not be able to save him, since native tribes are doing a remarkable job of blocking another proposed pipeline to the Canadian Pacific.  Oil, oil everywhere, and nary a drop to sell. (Unfortunately that’s not quite true, but at least there won’t be a big new straw in this milkshake.)

An Obama thumbs-down on the pipeline could change the economics of the tar sands in striking ways. “Unless we get increased [market] access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary.

Faced with that prospect, Canada’s oilmen are growing desperate. Earlier this month, in a classic sleight of hand, they announced plans for a giant “carbon capture and sequestration” scheme at the tar sands. That’s because when it comes to global warming, tar sands oil is even worse than, say, Saudi oil because it’s a tarry muck, not a liquid, and so you have to burn a lot of natural gas to make it flow in the first place.

Now, the oil industry is proposing to capture some of the extra carbon from that cooking process and store it underground.  This is an untested method, and the accounting scheme Alberta has adopted for it may actually increase the province's emmissions.  Even if it turns out to work perfectly and captures the carbon from that natural gas that would have escaped into the atmosphere, the oil they’re proposing to ship south for use in our gas tanks would still be exactly as bad for the atmosphere as Saudi crude. In other words, in the long run it would still be “essentially game over” for the climate.

The Saudis, of course, built their oil empire long before we knew that there was anything wrong with burning oil. The Canadians -- with American help, if Obama obliges the oil lobby -- are building theirs in the teeth of the greatest threat the world has ever faced. We can’t unbuild those Saudi Arabian fields, though happily their supplies are starting to slowly dwindle. What we can still do, though, is prevent North America from becoming the next Middle East.

So there will be a battle, and there will be nothing complicated or abstract about it.  It will be based on one question: Does that carbon stay in the earth, or does it pour into the atmosphere?  Given the trillions of dollars at stake it will be a hard fight, and there’s no guarantee of victory. But at least there’s no fog here, no maze of technicalities.

The last climate bill, the one the Senate punted on, was thousands of pages long. This time there’s a single sheet of paper, which Obama signs… or not.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of 350.org. His most recent book, just out in paperback, is Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

  Read A Climate-Killing Oil Pipeline May Make North America the New Middle East
 June 30, 2011  

Presidents of several unions have come out in support of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But the damage the pipeline will do far outweighs its benefits.

More than two million American construction workers -- nearly one in five -- are currently unemployed. Factories that produce building materials are operating at only half their capacity. So when a private company proposes a project it claims will spur the creation of 118,000 new jobs, it is hardly surprising that unions representing construction, transportation and related workers pricked up their ears.

The project is the Keystone XL Pipeline. It will take oil produced from tar sands in Alberta, Canada 1,959 miles to Nederland, Texas.

The general presidents of the Teamsters, Plumbers, Operating Engineers, and Laborers unions say the project will "pave a path to better days and raise the standard of living for working men and women in the construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries." It will allow American workers to "get back to the task of strengthening their families and the communities they live in." 

It sounds good. But before supporting the project, we need to take a deeper look at whether this project -- and the energy practices it will make possible -- will really lead to "better days" for working men and women, their families, and their communities. We need to know whether there are dangers that make the project more of a threat than a promise. And we need to know whether the claims made for its benefits are really true.

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Under the forest in northern Alberta, Canada lie the world's largest deposits of so-called "tar sands," sand mixed with thick, tar-like oil. To produce one barrel of heavy crude oil from tar sands requires strip mining the forest, extracting four tons of earth, contaminating two to four barrels of fresh water, burning large amounts of natural gas, and creating vast holding ponds of toxic sludge. Production of this oil is increasing and a growing amount of it is already being shipped to the US.

The Keystone XL will be a 36-inch crude oil pipeline stretching nearly 2,000 miles from Hardisty, Alberta through Saskatchewan, Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma to terminals at Nederland, Texas on the Gulf of Mexico. Tar sands oil will be heated to more than 150 degrees and pumped through it at high pressure. It is designed to carry more than 800,000 barrels of crude oil extracted from oil sands to refineries in the US.

Does the Keystone XL hold a hidden threat?

The Keystone XL pipeline is a key link in an energy path that will lead to devastation for American working families. Here's why.

We've all heard about global warming caused by the emission of carbon and other "greenhouse gases" into the atmosphere. Despite the claims of a political faction that it is a myth, there is a near-total consensus among climate scientists that it is real and that it will cause devastating climate change. That means rising sea levels, an ever-increasing number of extreme weather events like droughts, floods, and heat waves, and consequences like forest fires and species extinction.

We can see these effects emerging right now. 2010 was tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record. Rising sea levels, heat waves, forest fires, tornadoes, floods -- their rising frequency and destructiveness are not in some distant future, but happening right now. As Scientific American recently noted

In this year alone massive blizzards have struck the U.S. Northeast, tornadoes have ripped through the nation, mighty rivers like the Mississippi and Missouri have flowed over their banks, and floodwaters have covered huge swaths of Australia as well as displaced more than five million people in China and devastated Colombia. And this year's natural disasters follow on the heels of a staggering litany of extreme weather in 2010, from record floods in Nashville, Tenn., and Pakistan, to Russia's crippling heat wave.

Scientists calculate that the safe level for carbon in the atmosphere is 350 parts per millions. But we are already significantly over that level -- which is why we are already facing devastating climate change. Only by drastically limiting our carbon emissions can we limit still greater devastation.

Why is a single pipeline -- the Keystone XL -- so important to this story? Because it is the key link in an energy strategy that will radically escalate carbon emissions still further.

The energy strategy is to introduce large quantities of oil from Canadian tar sands. According to the US Department of Environmental Protection, the greenhouse gas emissions from Canadian oil sands crude oil will be more than 80 percent greater than oil refined in the US. Independent estimates run up to three times more global warming pollution than conventional oil.

Once the Keystone XL is in place, a wide area of the US will become dependent on oil from Canadian tar sands. With no available alternative, pressure will grow to import more and more of it. Even more dangerous, the pipeline will lock in dependence on fossil fuels for decades to come and remove the pressure to convert to renewable alternatives.

The Alberta tar sands are estimated to contain enough carbon to raise carbon emissions in the atmosphere by 200 parts per million. That would increase the current level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by more than half. It would be more than enough to create more climate change than in the entire history of humanity on earth. It would also render pointless all other efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

As leading climate scientist James Hanson put it, "If the tar sands are thrown into the mix, it is essentially game over. There is no practical way to capture the co2 while burning oil." We "cannot get back to a safe CO2 level" if "unconventional fossil fuels, like tar sands are exploited."

There are also a multitude of other problems with the project. Tar sands extraction is already devastating native lands in Alberta. Other recently built pipelines are leaking and spilling large quantities of oil into the US environment. The pipeline threatens the aquifer that is critical for Midwestern agriculture and drinking water. The tar sand oil carries some of the deadliest chemicals, including nickel, vanadium, lead, chromium, mercury, arsenic, selenium, and benzene.

But isn't the Keystone XL pipeline part of a balanced energy policy?

The trade union leaders' letter to Secretary Clinton acknowledges the criticism that "further development of Canada's oil sands puts in jeopardy U.S. efforts aimed at capping carbon emissions and greenhouse gases." It presents as an answer a position that has often been stated by spokespeople for US labor: "Comprehensive energy and environmental policy should strive to address climate concerns while simultaneously ensuring adequate supplies of reliable energy and promoting energy independence and national security."

Such a "balanced policy" sounds reasonable. But the problem is that in practice it means putting off the necessary sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions for further decades, guaranteeing that the climate catastrophe will grow worse and worse.

Indeed, the letter goes on to say, "Alternative energy sources are generally still in developmental stages; therefore it is likely the U.S. consumer will remain substantially dependent on carbon fuels for the next several decades."

Any policy based on the assumption that the US will "remain substantially dependent on carbon fuels for the next several decades" is condemning American working people, all Americans, and indeed the entire world to a fate worse than humanity has ever known.

Are the job claims real or fraudulent?

The letter to Hilary Clinton states that the pipeline will "spur the creation of 118,000 jobs." The headline of a statement by the American Petroleum Institute reads "API: Keystone XL Pipeline bill will create hundreds of thousands of new American jobs." The It quotes an API official that "US jobs supported by Canadian oil sands development could grow from 21,000 jobs today to 465,000 jobs by 2035."

How many jobs will the pipeline really produce? The US State Department examined that question in its draft environmental impact statement on the project. Here's what it found, based on information supplied by the pipeline builder TransCanada: 

Construction of the proposed project, including the pipeline and pump stations, would result in hiring approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers over the 3 year construction period. As indicated above, it is expected that roughly 10 to 15 percent of the construction workforce would be hired from local labor markets, thus 500 to 900 local workers throughout the entire region of influence would be hired.

After the State Department issued its report, TransCanada commissioned a consultant named the Perryman Group. The job estimates it came up with were roughly 13 times greater than those from the environmental impact study. 

The Perryman Group figures added in estimates for "indirect job creation." How reliable are these figures? Take just one example: The State Department, based on figures supplied by TransCanada, said that the pipeline would create 938-1560 construction jobs in Nebraska. The Perryman Group study claimed that this would create 7,551 "indirect" jobs, including more than 800 retail jobs. So every every pipeline worker is expected to create from one-half to one full job for a retail worker! No wonder the Perryman Group study includes -- in fine print -- the following disclaimer: "This news release may contain certain information that is forward looking and is subject to important risks and uncertainties. . . . Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on this forward looking information."

What should labor do?

In the midst of the Great Recession, workers and their unions are desperate for jobs. Knowing this, and faced with strong public opposition, TransCanada dangled what appeared to be a sweet deal before major unions: a "project labor agreement" that would provide the hiring of union workers under union conditions on much of the project. They also loudly trumpeted their study claiming that the project would create 118,000 jobs -- when the company's own figures showed that the project would actually hire only 5,000 to 6,000 workers over the three-year construction period, a large proportion of them not high-paid, high-skill jobs but low-skilled, low-paid pick and shovel jobs.

For a long time, many American unions -- including the Teamsters' -- similarly supported oil drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. But then the Teamsters' went through a reappraisal and withdrew from the coalition that supported the drilling. Union president James Hoffa explained why:

Global warming is for real. Air pollution is killing people and making our children sick. And you know what? We share some of the blame. In the past, we were forced to make a false choice. The choice was: Good Jobs or a Clean Environment. We were told no pollution meant no jobs. If we wanted clean air, the economy would suffer and jobs would be sent overseas. Well guess what? We let the big corporations pollute and the jobs went overseas anyway. We didn't enforce environmental regulations and the economy still went in the toilet. The middle class got decimated and the environment is on the brink of disaster. Well I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! No more false divides. The future, if we are to prosper as a nation, will lie in a green economy.

Clean renewable energy and energy conservation are cheaper than new, unconventional fossil fuels. They are available right now. Many studies have shown that dollar for dollar they produce far more jobs -- including jobs for the very workers who might find jobs on the Keystone XL pipeline.

Labor should reconsider the pipeline the same way the Teamsters' reconsidered oil drilling in the Arctic. If labor is to use its political clout to secure more jobs, the best way to do so is to fight for a new energy economy that rapidly phases out carbon-emitting fossil fuels and even more rapidly replaces them with renewable energy and conservation. That is the only real way to provide "better days" for American workers.

[For more on green jobs, see Blue-Green Alliance Jobs21 campaign and Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy.]


Brendan Smith and Jeremy Brecher are co-founders of the Labor Network for Sustainability. They are also co-authors of "Globalization From Below" and "In the Name of Democracy."

  Read Why Unions Should Reconsider Support for Tar Sands Oil Pipeline
 July 3, 2011  

Billions of dollars are being given out to the most ardent promoters of water privatization.

Early last month, pharmaceutical titan Merck became the latest multinational to pledge allegiance to the CEO Water Mandate, the United Nations' public-private initiative "designed to assist companies in the development, implementation and disclosure of water sustainability policies and practices."

But there's darker data beneath that sunny marketing: The CEO Water Mandate has been heavily hammered by the Sierra Club, the Polaris Institute and more for exerting undemocratic corporate control over water resources (PDF) under the banner of the United Nations. It even won a Public Eye Award for flagrant greenwashing from the Swiss non-governmental organization Berne Declaration. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

"There is no admission of problems with the Water Mandate, or the United Nations Global Compact itself" -- the strategic policy initiative committed to human rights, labor and the environment -- Blue Gold and Blue Covenant author and activist Maude Barlow, who also chairs the National Council of Canadians and Food & Water Watch, explained to AlterNet. "These initiatives continue to flourish, not least because the most powerful member states of the United Nations are fully behind them. This also means that the United Nations is not funded fully. Programs and agencies often rely on private sponsorship to function, and are often barely getting their core administrative budgets funded."

Another major problem is that routinely compromised and controversial institutions like World Bank, International Monetary Fund and regional development banks in general are in control of the United Nations' biggest projects. In April, the World Bank assumed control of the United Nations Climate Conference's new $100 billion Green Fund, which is the opposite of a comforting proposition, considering the World Bank's repeatedly noxious financing of oil and coal projects.

"That gives control of billions of dollars to those who have been the most ardent promoters of water privatization," added Barlow, whose foreword for the Council of Canadians' recently damning report on private sector influence over the United Nations (PDF) argued that the planet is on the verge of a water crisis of terrifying proportions. "We're also seeing the IMF forcing indebted nations to sell off public assets, including water systems, as a condition of receiving financial support. The whole system is rigged for these corporations, and they still are losing contracts, not meeting their obligations and watching as remunicipalization moves forward in France and other core markets."

That kind of illogical corporate performance would logically lead to less control, not more. But the United Nations continues to hand over the reins to multinationals like its new cosigner Merck, which has repeatedly settled in court over everything from carcinogenic pollution to deceptive marketing. Despite the fact that the United Nations' own Joint Inspection Unit stated in a 2010 report (PDF) that the Global Compact's corporate partnerships were an unregulated mess.

"The lack of a clear and articulated mandate has resulted in blurred focus and impact," the report stated. "The absence of adequate entry criteria and an effective monitoring system to measure actual implementation of the principles by participants has drawn some criticism and reputational risk for the Organization, and the Office’s special set up has countered existing rules and procedures. Ten years after its creation, despite the intense activity carried out by the Office and the increasing resources received, results are mixed and risks unmitigated."

The report suggested that not only was a clearer mandate from Member States required to "rethink and refocus" the Compact's corporate partnerships, but that the United Nations' General Assembly must better direct the Secretary-General to delineate the Compact's overall functions "in order to prevent a situation whereby any external group or actor(s) may divert attention from the strategic goals agreed to promote interests which may damage the reputation of the United Nations." The short version? It's not working, and won't work in its current form for the foreseeable future.

But the United Nations' own advice to itself has evidently fallen mostly on deaf ears.

"Unfortunately, the United Nations appears to be embracing more and more partnerships with the corporate sector across the board," Corporate Accountability International campaign director Gigi Kellett told AlterNet. "Civil society has been raising concerns about this flawed approach for over 10 years. There are strong voices within the United Nations, including some Member states, who are questioning the partnership paradigm adopted by the UN and calling for more transparency and accountability."

But they are voices in the wilderness without the concerted support of a motivated public, as well as the usual civil society champions who make stopping this strain of corporate abuse their life's work. Power truly respects only one thing, and that is equally exercised power. And the public is fully empowered to make all the change it wants, provided it can unplug itself from distracting sex scandals and mainstream media marketing primarily designed to nurture its collective complacency.

"Corporations rely on people's tacit support and willingness to look the other way when they engage in conduct that harms people or the environment and undermines democratic governance and decision-making," Kellett said. "When people come together in coordinated fashion and withhold their support from a corporation, that relationship is turned on its head. Boycotts are one powerful way that individuals can withhold their support, but there are range of other strategies. When activists come together and raise questions about a corporation's actions and tie them to its brand and image, the resulting media exposure can greatly impact how the corporation is perceived by consumers, investors or even government regulators."

But how do you boycott a multinational that controls your water supply? Can you shame a mammoth corporation into abdicating control over a lucrative commodity that should instead be regarded as a universal human right? Talk about your Sisyphean tasks.

"Boycotts are much more difficult with water than a product like Coke," said Barlow. "There are no substitutes for water, and when these corporations are given monopoly power over water systems, boycotts are very unrealistic. Suez, Veolia and others are very concerned about their corporate image, but there is no effective means to hurt them financially except to end or block the contracts before they are signed. Boycotts have been very effective as public awareness campaigns, but citizens need to apply pressure on their governments as the first step in stopping the proliferation of voluntary initiatives."

Demanding regulation of the private sector's products -- from water and natural resource commodification to inscrutable financial instruments and beyond -- as well as the public's political electives appears to be the paramount first principle. Because the problem is getting worse and going nowhere, especially now that our dystopian climate crisis has permanently disrupted business, and existence, as usual. From escalating warming and extreme weather to destabilized nations and environments, Earth is already precariously balanced on the tipping point. And giving profit-minded corporations voluntary control over their power and procedures is a 20th century anachronism best left behind.

"We have not proven to have what it takes to deal with the climate crisis," argued Barlow, "and this is because it is all seen as a giant political and financial game, rather than the best and only chance to head off a catastrophe like we have never before imagined. Climate change is upon us, but we will never admit it fully, nor invest in stopping it, if our governments continue to represent corporate interests above others. It is up to us to challenge our states, and make sure they know we are engaged and aware."

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.

  Read The UN Is Aiding a Corporate Takeover of Drinking Water
 June 26 , 2011  

A 30-year war for energy preeminence? You wouldn’t wish it even on a desperate planet. But that’s where we’re headed and there’s no turning back.

A 30-year war for energy preeminence? You wouldn’t wish it even on a desperate planet. But that’s where we’re headed and there’s no turning back.

From 1618 to 1648, Europe was engulfed in a series of intensely brutal conflicts known collectively as the Thirty Years’ War. It was, in part, a struggle between an imperial system of governance and the emerging nation-state.  Indeed, many historians believe that the modern international system of nation-states was crystallized in the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, which finally ended the fighting.

Think of us today as embarking on a new Thirty Years’ War.  It may not result in as much bloodshed as that of the 1600s, though bloodshed there will be, but it will prove no less momentous for the future of the planet.  Over the coming decades, we will be embroiled at a global level in a succeed-or-perish contest among the major forms of energy, the corporations which supply them, and the countries that run on them.  The question will be: Which will dominate the world’s energy supply in the second half of the twenty-first century?  The winners will determine how -- and how badly -- we live, work, and play in those not-so-distant decades, and will profit enormously as a result.  The losers will be cast aside and dismembered.

Why 30 years?  Because that’s how long it will take for experimental energy systems like hydrogen power, cellulosic ethanol, wave power, algae fuel, and advanced nuclear reactors to make it from the laboratory to full-scale industrial development.  Some of these systems (as well, undoubtedly, as others not yet on our radar screens) will survive the winnowing process.  Some will not.  And there is little way to predict how it will go at this stage in the game.  At the same time, the use of existing fuels like oil and coal, which spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is likely to plummet, thanks both to diminished supplies and rising concerns over the growing dangers of carbon emissions.

This will be a war because the future profitability, or even survival, of many of the world’s most powerful and wealthy corporations will be at risk, and because every nation has a potentially life-or-death stake in the contest.  For giant oil companies like BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, an eventual shift away from petroleum will have massive economic consequences.  They will be forced to adopt new economic models and attempt to corner new markets, based on the production of alternative energy products, or risk collapse or absorption by more powerful competitors.  In these same decades, new companies will arise, some undoubtedly coming to rival the oil giants in wealth and importance.

The fate of nations, too, will be at stake as they place their bets on competing technologies, cling to their existing energy patterns, or compete for global energy sources, markets, and reserves.  Because the acquisition of adequate supplies of energy is as basic a matter of national security as can be imagined, struggles over vital resources -- oil and natural gas now, perhaps lithium or nickel (for electric-powered vehicles) in the future -- will trigger armed violence.

When these three decades are over, as with the Treaty of Westphalia, the planet is likely to have in place the foundations of a new system for organizing itself -- this time around energy needs.  In the meantime, the struggle for energy resources is guaranteed to grow ever more intense for a simple reason: there is no way the existing energy system can satisfy the world’s future requirements.  It must be replaced or supplemented in a major way by a renewable alternative system or, forget Westphalia, the planet will be subject to environmental disaster of a sort hard to imagine today.

The Existing Energy Lineup

To appreciate the nature of our predicament, begin with a quick look at the world’s existing energy portfolio.   According to BP, the world consumed 13.2 billion tons of oil-equivalent from all sources in 2010: 33.6% from oil, 29.6% from coal, 23.8% from natural gas, 6.5% from hydroelectricity, 5.2% from nuclear energy, and a mere 1.3% percent from all renewable forms of energy.  Together, fossil fuels -- oil, coal, and gas -- supplied 10.4 billion tons, or 87% of the total.

Even attempting to preserve this level of energy output in 30 years’ time, using the same proportion of fuels, would be a near-hopeless feat.  Achieving a 40%increase in energy output, as most analysts believe will be needed to satisfy the existing requirements of older industrial powers and rising demand in China and other rapidly developing nations, is simply impossible. 

Two barriers stand in the way of preserving the existing energy profile: eventual oil scarcity and global climate change.  Most energy analysts expect conventional oil output -- that is, liquid oil derived from fields on land and in shallow coastal waters -- to reach a production peak in the next few years and then begin an irreversible decline.  Some additional fuel will be provided in the form of “unconventional” oil -- that is, liquids derived from the costly, hazardous, and ecologically unsafe extraction processes involved in producing tar sands, shale oil, and deep-offshore oil -- but this will only postpone the contraction in petroleum availability, not avert it.  By 2041, oil will be far less abundant than it is today and so incapable of meeting anywhere near 33.6% of the world’s (much expanded) energy needs.

Meanwhile, the accelerating pace of climate change will produce ever more damage -- intense storm activity, rising sea levels, prolonged droughts, lethal heat waves, massive forest fires, and so on -- finally forcing reluctant politicians to take remedial action. This will undoubtedly include an imposition of curbs on the release via fossil fuels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, whether in the form of carbon taxes, cap-and-trade plans, emissions limits, or other restrictive systems as yet not imagined.  By 2041, these increasingly restrictive curbs will help ensure that fossil fuels will not be supplying anywhere near 87% of world energy.

The Leading Contenders

If oil and coal are destined to fall from their position as the world’s paramount source of energy, what will replace them? Here are some of the leading contenders.

Natural gas:  Many energy experts and political leaders view natural gas as a “transitional” fossil fuel because it releases less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases than oil and coal.  In addition, global supplies of natural gas are far greater than previously believed, thanks to new technologies -- notably horizontal drilling and the controversial procedure of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) -- that allow for the exploitation of shale gas reserves once considered inaccessible.  For example, in 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) predicted that, by 2035, gas would far outpace coal as a source of American energy, though oil would still outpace them both.  Some now speak of a “natural gas revolution” that will see it overtake oil as the world’s number one fuel, at least for a time.  But fracking poses a threat to the safety of drinking water and so may arouse widespread opposition, while the economics of shale gas may, in the end, prove less attractive than currently assumed.  In fact, many experts now believe that the prospects for shale gas have been oversold, and that stepped-up investment will result in ever-diminishing returns.

Nuclear power:  Prior to the March 11th earthquake/tsunami disaster and a series of core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in Japan, many analysts were speaking of a nuclear "renaissance," which would see the construction of hundreds of new nuclear reactors over the next few decades.  Although some of these plantsin China and elsewhere are likely to be built, plans for others -- in Italy and Switzerland, for example -- already appear to have been scrapped.  Despite repeated assurances that U.S. reactors are completely safe, evidence is regularly emerging of safety risks at many of these facilities.  Given rising public concern over the risk of catastrophic accident, it is unlikely that nuclear power will be one of the big winners in 2041. 

However, nuclear enthusiasts (including President Obama) are championing the manufacture of small “modular” reactors that, according to their boosters, could be built for far less than current ones and would produce significantly lower levels of radioactive waste.  Although the technology for, and safety of, such “assembly-line” reactors has yet to be demonstrated, advocates claim that they would provide an attractive alternative to both large conventional reactors with their piles of nuclear waste and coal-fired power plants that emit so much carbon dioxide.

Wind and solar: Make no mistake, the world will rely on wind and solar power for a greater proportion of its energy 30 years from now.  According to the International Energy Agency, those energy sources will go from approximately 1% of total world energy consumption in 2008 to a projected 4% in 2035.  But given the crisis at hand and the hopes that exist for wind and solar, this would prove small potatoes indeed.  For these two alternative energy sources to claim a significantly larger share of the energy pie, as so many climate-change activists desire, real breakthroughs will be necessary, including major improvements in the design of wind turbines and solar collectors, improved energy storage (so that power collected during sunny or windy periods can be better used at night or in calm weather), and a far more efficient and expansive electrical grid (so that energy from areas favored by sun and wind can be effectively distributed elsewhere).  China, Germany, and Spain have been making the sorts of investments in wind and solar energy that mightgive them an advantage in the new Thirty Years’ War -- but only if the technological breakthroughs actually come.

Biofuels and algae:  Many experts see a promising future for biofuels, especially as “first generation” ethanol, based largely on the fermentation of corn and sugar cane, is replaced by second- and third-generation fuels derived from plant cellulose (“cellulosic ethanol”) and bio-engineered algae.  Aside from the fact that the fermentation process requires heat (and so consumes energy even while releasing it), many policymakers object to the use of food crops to supply raw materials for a motor fuel at a time of rising food prices.  However, several promising technologies to produce ethanol by chemical means from the cellulose in non-food crops are now being tested, and one or more of these techniques may well survive the transition to full-scale commercial production.  At the same time, a number of companies, including ExxonMobil, are exploring the development of new breeds of algae that reproduce swiftly and can be converted into biofuels.  (The U.S. Department of Defense is also investing in some of these experimental methods with an eye toward transforming the American military, a great fossil-fuel guzzler, into a far “greener” outfit.)  Again, however, it is too early to know which (if any) biofuel endeavors will pan out.

Hydrogen:  A decade ago, many experts were talking about hydrogen’s immense promise as a source of energy.  Hydrogen is abundant in many natural substances (including water and natural gas) and produces no carbon emissions when consumed.  However, it does not exist by itself in the natural world and so must be extracted from other substances -- a process that requires significant amounts of energy in its own right, and so is not, as yet, particularly efficient.  Methods for transporting, storing, and consuming hydrogen on a large scale have also proved harder to develop than once imagined.  Considerable research is being devoted to each of these problems, and breakthroughs certainly could occur in the decades to come.  At present, however, it appears unlikely that hydrogen will prove a major source of energy in 2041.

X the Unknown: Many other sources of energy are being tested by scientists and engineers at universities and corporate laboratories worldwide. Some are even being evaluated on a larger scale in pilot projects of various sorts.  Among the most promising of these are geothermal energy, wave energy, and tidal energy.  Each taps into immense natural forces and so, if the necessary breakthroughs were to occur, would have the advantage of being infinitely exploitable, with little risk of producing greenhouse gases.  However, with the exception of geothermal, the necessary technologies are still at an early stage of development.  How long it may take to harvest them is anybody’s guess. Geothermal energy does show considerable promise, but has run into problems, given the need to tap it by drilling deep into the earth, in some casestriggering small earthquakes.

From time to time, I hear of even less familiar prospects for energy production that possess at least some hint of promise.  At present, none appears likely to play a significant role in 2041, but no one should underestimate humanity’s technological and innovative powers.  As with all history, surprise can play a major role in energy history, too.

Energy efficiency:  Given the lack of an obvious winner among competing transitional or alternative energy sources, one crucial approach to energy consumption in 2041 will surely be efficiency at levels unimaginable today: the ability to achieve maximum economic output for minimum energy input.  The lead players three decades from now may be the countries and corporations that have mastered the art of producing the most with the least. Innovations in transportation, building and product design, heating and cooling, and production techniques will all play a role in creating an energy-efficient world. 

When the War Is Over

Thirty years from now, for better or worse, the world will be a far different place: hotter, stormier, and with less land (given the loss of shoreline and low-lying areas to rising sea levels).  Strict limitations on carbon emissions will certainly be universally enforced and the consumption of fossil fuels, except under controlled circumstances, actively discouraged.  Oil will still be available to those who can afford it, but will no longer be the world’s paramount fuel.  New powers, corporate and otherwise, in new combinations will have risen with a new energy universe.  No one can know, of course, what our version of the Treaty of Westphalia will look like or who will be the winners and losers on this planet.  In the intervening 30 years, however, that much violence and suffering will have ensued goes without question. Nor can anyone say today which of the contending forms of energy will prove dominant in 2041 and beyond.

Were I to wager a guess, I might place my bet on energy systems that were decentralized, easy to make and install, and required relatively modest levels of up-front investment.  For an analogy, think of the laptop computer of 2011 versus the giant mainframes of the 1960s and 1970s.  The closer that an energy supplier gets to the laptop model (or so I suspect), the more success will follow.

From this perspective, giant nuclear reactors and coal-fired plants are, in the long run, less likely to thrive, except in places like China where authoritarian governments still call the shots.  Far more promising, once the necessary breakthroughs come, will be renewable sources of energy and advanced biofuels that can be produced on a smaller scale with less up-front investment, and so possibly incorporated into daily life even at a community or neighborhood level.

Whichever countries move most swiftly to embrace these or similar energy possibilities will be the likeliest to emerge in 2041 with vibrant economies -- and given the state of the planet, if luck holds, just in the nick of time. 


Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and the author of Blood and Oil: The Dangers and Consequences of America's Growing Petroleum Dependency.

  Read The New 30-Years' War: Who Will Be the Winners and Losers in the Great Global Energy Struggle to Come?
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