Politics and Justice without borders

Global Community Newsletter

Volume 9 Issue 6 June 2011
Theme this month:

Global Peace Earth

Global Peace Earth is a project of the Global Community.

Table of Contents

As we have all done on May 26, along with the Celebration of Life day, the Global Community celebrated Global Peace Day .

Today we are introducing Global Peace Earth as a complement to both Global Peace Village and the Ministry of Global Peace. These are all projects well on their way. We will keep everyone updated of new developments as they are ready for publishing. Let us say a few words about Global Peace Earth, and how it is a part of the Global Peace Mouvement Global Peace Mouvement initiated by the Global Community. First, let us take a look at the following animation which was created to express the most important goal of Global Peace Earth: creating Peace everywhere. This is what the Global Community has been doing over the past two decades. But our emphasis about creating Peace is different than that of other organizations. Well known organizations will try to create Peace by getting leaders of "interested nations" in a special place and show off on the world scene. That is not our way. Peace is a value based on principles you live by and not a Hollywood cliche of the day.

Click to see the animation

Our Global Peace Mouvement is about the courage to live a life in a harmonious peace order and showing by example, thus preventing poverty, wars, terror and violence. We need to educate the coming generations with good principles, being compassionate, social harmony and global sustainability being some of them.

The responsibility of a peacemaker is to settle differences through compromise and negotiation before they erupt into violence. Conflicting views do not have to bring about fighting. War is an irreversible solution to a problem. War is never an appropriate solution to resolve a conflict. In order to bring about the event of peace, the Global Community is offering other good organizations around the world to work together to bring warring parties to peace.

Peace in the world and the survival and protection of all life on our planet go hand-in-hand. Asking for peace in the world means doing whatever is necessary to protect life on our planet. Protecting life implies bringing about the event of peace in the world. Let our time be a time remembered for a new respect for life, our determination to achieve sustainability, and our need for global justice and peace.

From now on, building global communities for peace require understanding of global problems this generation is facing. There are several major problems: conflicts and wars, no tolerance and compassion for one another, world overpopulation, unemployment, insufficient protection and prevention for global health, scarcity of resources and drinking water, poverty, Fauna and Flora species disappearing at a fast rate, global warming and global climate change, global pollution, permanent lost of the Earth's genetic heritage, and the destruction of the global life-support systems and the eco-systems of the planet. We need to build global communities that will manage themselves with the understanding of those problems. All aspects are interrelated: global peace, global sustainability, global rights and the environment. The jobless is more concerned with ending starvation, finding a proper shelter and employment, and helping their children to survive. Environmental issues become meaningless to the jobless. In reality, all concerns are interrelated because the ecology of the planet has no boundaries. Obviously, as soon as our environment is destroyed or polluted beyond repair, human suffering is next.

Our goal for peace in the world can only be reached by resolving those global problems. Those problems have brought up a planetary state of emergency Planetary State of Emergency. In view of the planetary state of emergency, shown and declared by the Global Community, we all must change, we must do things differently to give life on Earth a better survival chance and bring about the event of peace amongst us all.

Our first objective was to find statements from all religions, all faiths, that promote ethical and moral responsibility to life and a responsible Earth management. This was assumed to work well within the context of the global civilization of the 3rd Millennium and after defining the Global Community criteria of symbiotical relationships. In this context, we have defined that any symbiotical relationship is for the good of all. It is based on a genuine group concern and unconditional support for the individual's well-being ~ a giant leap in human behaviour. Symbiotical relationships are needed today for the long term future of humanity, for the protection of life on our planet, and to bring about the event of peace amongst us all.

The fundamental criteria of any symbiotical relationship is that a relationship is created for the good of all groups participating in the relationship and for the good of humanity, all life on Earth. The relationship allows a global equitable and peaceful development and a more stable and inclusive global economy.

Religious rituals now support the conservation efforts and play a central role in governing the sustainable use of the natural environment.

The Global Movement to Help Global Mouvement to Help, an initiative of the Global Community and of the Federation of Global Governments, is now applying more emphasis on the urgent need from the people of all nations to give everyone essential services. The urgent need to give all Global Citizens essential services was made obvious in the past few years after the occurrence of natural disasters, and the global destruction created by the military.

The very first step of the Federation, and maybe the only one for several decades ahead of us, is the approval of essential services amongst the participating member nations. To that effect, new global ministries will be established to guide us onto the path of global sustainability. Through these new global ministries, we want each Global Government to take a larger share of responsibility of the specific region where it operates, and be more accountable to the people of that region. Be compassionate. Essential services to the people of each member nation are now the most important global rights on the Scale of Global Rights and are protected by the Global Protection Agency (GPA) of each member nation. The GPA will train and lead a global force, bypassing traditional peacekeeping and military bodies such as the United Nations and NATO. The GPA is a short term solution, an immediate and efficient response to help.

There are also long term solutions. The Scale of Global Rights is the fundamental guide to Global Law. Global Law includes legislation covering all essential aspects of human activities.

The GPA will enforce the law. And that is a long term solution to the planetary state of emergency. And that is also how we can solve the global problems facing this generation, thus largely improving the quality of life of the next generations, and that is how we will bring about the event of peace amongst us all.

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


Daily reminder

This is the way     Message from the Spiritual Leader of the Global Community
Message from the Editor    GIM  Message from the Editor
Politics and Justice without borders: what we stand for Politics and Justice without borders: what we stand for
Message from the President of Global Parliament, the Federation of Global Governments    Message from the President of Earth Government
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
Global Community days of celebration or remembering during the year Global Community Days of Celebration
A reminder of her passing away. Virginie was a great global citizen, and we all owe her something that's forever. GIM  Message from the Editor
Life Day Celebration on May 26. Participate. Life Day Celebration May 26. Participate.
Participate now in Global Dialogue 2011, no fees  Participate now in Global Dialogue 2011
Global Dialogue 2011 Introduction Global Dialogue 2011 Introduction
Global Dialogue 2011 Program  Global Dialogue 2011 Program
Global Dialogue 2011 OVERVIEW of the process   Global Dialogue 2011 OVERVIEW of the process
Global Dialogue 2011 Call for Papers Global Dialogue 2011 Call for Papers
We seek more symbiotical relationships with people and organizations We seek more symbiotical relationships
Note concerning personal info sent to us by email Note concerning personal info sent to us by email
We have now streamlined the participation process in the Global Dialogue We have now streamlined the participation process in the Global Dialogue

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

Sharon Astyk, Shannon Biggs, Paul Chefurka, Noam Chomsky, Alister Doyle, Brad Johnson, Pastor Don Mackenzie, Vi Ransel, Paul Rosenberg, Steve Salmony,Pablo Solon, Catherine Traywick

Sharon Astyk, Will We Pass 10 Billion? Will We Pass 10 Billion?
Shannon Biggs, If Nature Had Rights, Would We Need Earth Day?  If Nature Had Rights, Would We Need Earth Day?
Paul Chefurka, Bearing Witness To Collapse Bearing Witness To Collapse
Noam Chomsky, The Dice Are Stacked Against Humanity The Dice Are Stacked Against Humanity
Alister Doyle, Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels Five Feet Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels Five Feet
Brad Johnson, Top Scientists Explain How Deadly Tornadoes in the South May Be Influenced by Climate Change Top Scientists Explain How Deadly Tornadoes in the South May Be Influenced by Climate Change
Pastor Don Mackenzie, Violence Disguised As Religion Violence Disguised As Religion
Vi Ransel, Population Growth, Pollution and the Global Environment "People Are Not Pollution" Population Growth, Pollution and the Global Environment People Are Not Pollution
Paul Rosenberg, The Link Between Deadly Weather and Global Warming Is Real -- and Conservatives Can't Just Wish It Away The Link Between Deadly Weather and Global Warming Is Real -- and Conservatives Can't Just Wish It Away
Steve Salmony, Willfully Ignoring The Science Of Human Population Dynamics Willfully Ignoring The Science Of Human Population Dynamics
Pablo Solon, We Cannot Command Nature Except By Obeying Her We Cannot Command Nature Except By Obeying Her
Catherine Traywick, US Landowners Preserving the Future: Indigenous Women in the U.S. and Canada are Taking on Big Oil ? and Winning US Landowners Preserving the Future: Indigenous Women in the U.S. and Canada are Taking on Big Oil ? and Winning

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Articles and papers of authors
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 May 9 , 2011   The Dice Are Stacked Against Humanity
by Noam Chomsky , Countercurrent

I'll begin with an interesting debate that took place some years ago between Carl Sagan, the well-known astrophysicist, and Ernst Mayr, the grand old man of American biology. They were debating the possibility of finding intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. And Sagan, speaking from the point of view of an astrophysicist, pointed out that there are innumerable planets just like ours. There is no reason they shouldn’t have developed intelligent life. Mayr, from the point of view of a biologist, argued that it’s very unlikely that we’ll find any. And his reason was, he said, we have exactly one example: Earth. So let’s take a look at Earth.

And what he basically argued is that intelligence is a kind of lethal mutation. And he had a good argument. He pointed out that if you take a look at biological success, which is essentially measured by how many of us are there, the organisms that do quite well are those that mutate very quickly, like bacteria, or those that are stuck in a fixed ecological niche, like beetles. They do fine. And they may survive the environmental crisis. But as you go up the scale of what we call intelligence, they are less and less successful. By the time you get to mammals, there are very few of them as compared with, say, insects. By the time you get to humans, the origin of humans may be 100,000 years ago, there is a very small group. We are kind of misled now because there are a lot of humans around, but that’s a matter of a few thousand years, which is meaningless from an evolutionary point of view. His argument was, you’re just not going to find intelligent life elsewhere, and you probably won’t find it here for very long either because it’s just a lethal mutation. He also added, a little bit ominously, that the average life span of a species, of the billions that have existed, is about 100,000 years, which is roughly the length of time that modern humans have existed.

With the environmental crisis, we’re now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right or not. If nothing significant is done about it, and pretty quickly, then he will have been correct: human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we’ll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us.

So is anything going to be done about it? The prospects are not very auspicious. As you know, there was an international conference on this last December. A total disaster. Nothing came out of it. The emerging economies, China, India, and others, argued that it’s unfair for them to bear the burden of a couple hundred years of environmental destruction by the currently rich and developed societies. That’s a credible argument. But it’s one of these cases where you can win the battle and lose the war. The argument isn’t going to be very helpful to them if, in fact, the environmental crisis advances and a viable society goes with it. And, of course, the poor countries, for whom they’re speaking, will be the worst hit. In fact, they already are the worst hit. That will continue. The rich and developed societies, they split a little bit. Europe is actually doing something about it; it’s done some things to level off emissions. The United States has not.

In fact, there is a well-known environmentalist writer, George Monbiot, who wrote after the Copenhagen conference that “the failure of the conference can be explained in two words: Barack Obama.” And he’s correct. Obama’s intervention in the conference was, of course, very significant, given the power and the role of the United States in any international event. And he basically killed it. No restrictions, Kyoto Protocols die. The United States never participated in it. Emissions have very sharply increased in the United States since, and nothing is being done to curb them. A few Band-Aids here and there, but basically nothing. Of course, it’s not just Barack Obama. It’s our whole society and culture. Our institutions are constructed in such a way that trying to achieve anything is going to be extremely difficult.

Public attitudes are a little hard to judge. There are a lot of polls, and they have what look like varying results, depending on exactly how you interpret the questions and the answers. But a very substantial part of the population, maybe a big majority, is inclined to dismiss this as just kind of a liberal hoax. What’s particularly interesting is the role of the corporate sector, which pretty much runs the country and the political system. They’re very explicit. The big business lobbies, like the Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, and others, have been very clear and explicit. A couple of years ago they said they are going to carry out—they since have been carrying out—a major publicity campaign to convince people that it’s not real, that it’s a liberal hoax. Judging by polls, that’s had an effect.

It’s particularly interesting to take a look at the people who are running these campaigns, say, the CEOs of big corporations. They know as well as you and I do that it’s very real and that the threats are very dire, and that they’re threatening the lives of their grandchildren. In fact, they’re threatening what they own, they own the world, and they’re threatening its survival. Which seems irrational, and it is, from a certain perspective. But from another perspective it’s highly rational. They’re acting within the structure of the institutions of which they are a part. They are functioning within something like market systems—not quite, but partially—market systems. To the extent that you participate in a market system, you disregard necessarily what economists call “externalities,” the effect of a transaction upon others. So, for example, if one of you sells me a car, we may try to make a good deal for ourselves, but we don’t take into account in that transaction the effect of the transaction on others. Of course, there is an effect. It may feel like a small effect, but if it multiplies over a lot of people, it’s a huge effect: pollution, congestion, wasting time in traffic jams, all sorts of things. Those you don’t take into account—necessarily. That’s part of the market system.

We’ve just been through a major illustration of this. The financial crisis has a lot of roots, but the fundamental root of it has been known for a long time. It was talked about decades before the crisis. In fact, there have been repeated crises. This is just the worst of them. The fundamental reason, it just is rooted in market systems. If Goldman Sachs, say, makes a transaction, if they’re doing their job, if the managers are up to speed they are paying attention to what they get out of it and the institution or person at the other end of the transaction, say, a borrower, does the same thing. They don’t take into account what’s called systemic risk, that is, the chance that the transaction that they’re carrying out will contribute to crashing the whole system. They don’t take that into account. In fact, that’s a large part of what just happened. The systemic risk turned out to be huge, enough to crash the system, even though the original transactions are perfectly rational within the system.

It’s not because they’re bad people or anything. If they don’t do it—suppose some CEO says, “Okay, I’m going to take into account externalities”—then he’s out. He’s out and somebody else is in who will play by the rules. That’s the nature of the institution. You can be a perfectly nice guy in your personal life. You can sign up for the Sierra Club and give speeches about the environmental crisis or whatever, but in the role of corporate manager, you’re fixed. You have to try to maximize short-term profit and market share—in fact, that’s a legal requirement in Anglo-American corporate law—just because if you don’t do it, either your business will disappear because somebody else will outperform it in the short run, or you will just be out because you’re not doing your job and somebody else will be in. So there is an institutional irrationality. Within the institution the behavior is perfectly rational, but the institutions themselves are so totally irrational that they are designed to crash.

If you look, say, at the financial system, it’s extremely dramatic what happened. There was a crash in the 1920s, and in the 1930s, a huge depression. But then regulatory mechanisms were introduced. They were introduced as a result of massive popular pressure, but they were introduced. And throughout the whole period of very rapid and pretty egalitarian economic growth of the next couple of decades, there were no financial crises, because the regulatory mechanisms interfered with the market and prevented the market principles from operating. So therefore you could take account of externalities. That’s what the regulatory system does. It’s been systematically dismantled since the 1970s.

Meanwhile, the role of finance in the economy has exploded. The share of corporate profit by financial institutions has just zoomed since the 1970s. Kind of a corollary of that is the hollowing out of industrial production, sending it abroad. This all happened under the impact of a kind of fanatic religious ideology called economics—and that’s not a joke—based on hypotheses that have no theoretical grounds and no empirical support but are very attractive because you can prove theorems if you adopt them: the efficient market hypothesis, rational expectations hypothesis, and so on. The spread of these ideologies, which is very attractive to concentrated wealth and privilege, hence their success, was epitomized in Alan Greenspan, who at least had the decency to say it was all wrong when it collapsed. I don’t think there has ever been a collapse of an intellectual edifice comparable to this, maybe, in history, at least I can’t remember one. Interestingly, it has no effect. It just continues. Which tells you that it’s serviceable to power systems.

Under the impact of these ideologies, the regulatory system was dismantled by Reagan and Clinton and Bush. Throughout this whole period, there have been repeated financial crises, unlike the 1950s and 1960s. During the Reagan years, there were some really extreme ones. Clinton left office with another huge one, the burst of the tech bubble. Then the one we’re in the middle of. Worse and worse each time. The system is instantly being reconstructed, so the next one will very likely be even worse. One of the causes, not the only one, is simply the fact that in market systems you just don’t take into account externalities, in this case systemic risk.

That’s not lethal in the case of financial crises. A financial crisis can be terrible. It can put many millions of people out of work, their lives destroyed. But there is a way out of it. The taxpayer can come in and rescue you. That’s exactly what happened. We saw it dramatically in the last couple of years. The financial system tanked. The government, namely, the taxpayer, came in and bailed them out.

Let’s go to the environmental crisis. There’s nobody around to bail you out. The externalities in this case are the fate of the species. If that’s disregarded in the operations of the market system, there’s nobody around who is going to bail you out from that. So this is a lethal externality. And the fact that it’s proceeding with no significant action being taken to do anything about it does suggest that Ernst Mayr actually had a point. It seems that there is something about us, our intelligence, which entails that we’re capable of acting in ways that are rational within a narrow framework but are irrational in terms of other long-term goals, like do we care what kind of a world our grandchildren will live in. And it’s hard to see much in the way of prospects for overcoming this right now, particularly in the United States. We are the most powerful state in the world, and what we do is vastly important. We have one of the worst records in this regard.

There are things that could be done. It’s not hard to list them. One of the main things that could be done is actually low-tech, for example, the weatherization of homes. There was a big building boom in the post–Second World War period, which from the point of view of the environment was done extremely irrationally. Again, it was done rationally from a market point of view. There were models for home building, for mass-produced homes, which were used all over the country, under different conditions. So maybe it would make sense in Arizona, but not in Massachusetts. Those homes are there. They’re extremely energy-inefficient. They can be fixed. It’s construction work, basically. It would make a big difference. It would also have the effect of reviving one of the main collapsing industries, construction, and overcoming a substantial part of the employment crisis. It will take inputs. It will take money from, ultimately, the taxpayer. We call it the government, but it means the taxpayer. But it is a way of stimulating the economy, of increasing jobs, also with a substantial multiplier effect (unlike bailing out bankers and investors), and also making a significant impact on the destruction of the environment. But there’s barely a proposal for this, almost nothing.

Another example, which is kind of a scandal in the United States—if any of you have traveled abroad, you’re perfectly aware of it—when you come back from almost anywhere in the world to the United States, it looks like you’re coming to a Third World country, literally. The infrastructure is collapsing transportation that doesn’t work. Let’s just take trains. When I moved to Boston around 1950, there was a train that went from Boston to New York. It took four hours. There’s now a highly heralded train called the Acela, the supertrain. It takes three hours and forty minutes (if there’s no breakdown—as there can be, I’ve discovered). If you were in Japan, Germany, China, almost anywhere, it would take maybe an hour and a half, two hours or something. And that’s general.

It didn’t happen by accident. It happened by a huge social engineering project carried out by the government and by the corporations beginning in the 1940s. It was a very systematic effort to redesign the society so as to maximize the use of fossil fuels. One part of it was eliminating quite efficient rail systems. New England, for example, did have a pretty efficient electric rail system all the way through New England. If you read E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime, the first chapter describes its hero going through New England on the electric rail system. That was all dismantled in favor of cars and trucks. Los Angeles, which is now a total horror story—I don’t know if any of you have been there—had an efficient electric public transportation system. It was dismantled. It was bought up in the 1940s by General Motors, Firestone Rubber, and Standard Oil of California. The purpose of their buying it up was to dismantle it so as to shift everything to trucks and cars and buses. And it was done. It was technically a conspiracy. Actually, they were brought to court on a charge of conspiracy and sentenced. I think the sentence was $5,000 or something, enough to pay for the victory dinner.

The federal government stepped in. We have something that is now called the interstate highway system. When it was built in the 1950s, it was called the national defense highway system because when you do anything in the United States you have to call it defense. That’s the only way you can fool the taxpayer into paying for it. In fact, there were stories back in the 1950s, those of you who are old enough to remember, about how we needed it because you had to move missiles around the country very quickly in case the Russians came or something. So taxpayers were bilked into paying for this system. Alongside of it was the destruction of railroads, which is why you have what I just described. Huge amounts of federal money and corporate money went into highways, airports, anything that wastes fuel. That’s basically the criterion.

Also, the country was suburbanized. Real estate interests, local interests, and others redesigned life so that it’s atomized and suburbanized. I’m not knocking the suburbs. I live in one and I like it. But it’s incredibly inefficient. It has all kinds of social effects which are probably deleterious. Anyway, it didn’t just happen; it was designed. Throughout the whole period, there has been a massive effort to create the most destructive possible society. And to try to redo that huge social engineering project is not going to be simple. It involves plenty of problems.

Another component of any reasonable approach—and everyone agrees with this on paper—is to develop sustainable energy, green technology. We all know and everyone talks a nice line about that. But if you look at what’s happening, green technology is being developed in Spain, in Germany, and primarily China. The United States is importing it. In fact, a lot of the innovation is here, but it’s done there. United States investors now are putting far more money into green technology in China than into the U.S. and Europe combined. There were complaints when Texas ordered solar panels and windmills from China: It’s undermining our industry. Actually, it wasn’t undermining us at all because we were out of the game. It was undermining Spain and Germany, which are way ahead of us.

Just to indicate how surreal this is, the Obama administration essentially took over the auto industry, meaning you took it over. You paid for it, bailed it out, and basically owned large parts of it. And they continued doing what the corporations had been doing pretty much, for example, closing down GM plants all over the place. Closing down a plant is not just putting the workers out of work, it’s also destroying the community. Take a look at the so-called rust belt. The communities were built by labor organizing; they developed around the plants. Now they’re dismantled. It has huge effects. At the same time that they’re dismantling the plants, meaning you and I are dismantling plants, because that’s where the money comes from, and it’s allegedly our representatives—it isn’t, in fact—at the very same time Obama was sending his Transportation Secretary to Spain to use federal stimulus money to get contracts for high-speed rail construction, which we really need and the world really needs. Those plants that are being dismantled and the skilled workers in them, all that could be reconverted to producing high-speed rail right here. They have the technology, they have the knowledge, they have the skills. But it’s not good for the bottom line for banks, so we’ll buy it from Spain. Just like green technology, it will be done in China.

Those are choices; those are not laws of nature. But, unfortunately, those are the choices that are being made. And there is little indication of any positive change. These are pretty serious problems. We can easily go on. I don’t want to continue. But the general picture is very much like this. I don’t think this is an unfair selection of—it’s a selection, of course, but I think it’s a reasonably fair selection of what’s happening. The consequences are pretty dire.

The media contribute to this, too. So if you read, say, a typical story in the New York Times, it will tell you that there is a debate about global warming. If you look at the debate, on one side is maybe 98 percent of the relevant scientists in the world, on the other side are a couple of serious scientists who question it, a handful, and Jim Inhofe or some other senator. So it’s a debate. And the citizen has to kind of make a decision between these two sides. The Times had a comical front-page article maybe a couple months ago in which the headline said that meteorologists question global warming. It discussed a debate between meteorologists—the meteorologists are these pretty faces who read what somebody hands to them on television and says it’s going to rain tomorrow. That’s one side of the debate. The other side of the debate is practically every scientist who knows anything about it. Again, the citizen is supposed to decide. Do I trust these meteorologists? They tell me whether to wear a raincoat tomorrow. And what do I know about the scientists? They’re sitting in some laboratory somewhere with a computer model. So, yes, people are confused, and understandably.

It’s interesting that these debates leave out almost entirely a third part of the debate, namely, a very substantial number of scientists, competent scientists, who think that the scientific consensus is much too optimistic. A group of scientists at MIT came out with a report about a year ago describing what they called the most comprehensive modeling of the climate that had ever been done. Their conclusion, which was unreported in public media as far as I know, was that the major scientific consensus of the international commission is just way off, it’s much too optimistic; and if you add other factors that they didn’t count properly, the conclusion is much more dire. Their own conclusion was that unless we terminate use of fossil fuels almost immediately, it’s finished. We’ll never be able to overcome the consequences. That’s not part of the debate.

I could easily go on, but the only potential counterweight to all of this is some very substantial popular movement which is not just going to call for putting solar panels on your roof, though it’s a good thing to do, but it’s going to have to dismantle an entire sociological, cultural, economic, and ideological structure which is just driving us to disaster. It’s not a small task, but it’s a task that had better be undertaken, and probably pretty quickly, or it’s going to be too late.

Questions and Answers

WHAT POLITICAL process is needed to loosen the control of corporations that profit from the status quo and resist regulation and change?

THAT’S A question that goes way beyond climate change. It also has to do with a whole range of very serious problems which are not as lethal as the environmental crisis but are nevertheless serious, like, for example, the financial crisis, which is not just financial, it’s an economic crisis. There are millions of people unemployed. They may never get jobs back. The fact of the matter is, the U.S. is not all that different from other industrial societies, but it’s somewhat different.

Europe, for example, developed out of a feudal system. In feudal systems everybody had a place, maybe a lousy place, but you had some kind of place. And the society guaranteed you that place. The U.S. developed as a kind of a blank slate. The indigenous population was exterminated, a small fact that we don’t like to think about. Immigrants came. The country had huge economic advantages. The government massively supported the development of the society. Contrary to what’s claimed, we have always had substantial state intervention in the economy. And what developed was a business-run society, to an unusual extent. That shows up in all kinds of ways, like the fact that we’re about the only industrial society, maybe the only one, that doesn’t have some kind of semi-rational health care system, and that benefits in general are pretty weak as compared with other industrial societies. Labor is weak. That’s just a fact. There have been all kinds of developments, protests, and so on. There have been changes, a lot of progress, often regression. But it remains a society that is very much under the control of the concentrated corporate sector. It happens to have increased substantially in the last years. It’s getting increased right before our eyes, so, for example, the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court is another very severe blow to democracy, and it should be understood as that.

So what do we do about it? What’s been done in the past? These are not laws of nature. The New Deal made a dent, a significant dent, but it didn’t come just because Roosevelt was a nice guy. It came because after several years of very serious suffering, much worse than now, five or six years after the Depression hit, there was very substantial organizing and activism. The CIO was formed, sit-down strikes were taking place. Sit-down strikes are terrifying to management, because they’re one step before what ought to be done—the workers just taking over the factory and kicking out the management. If you look back at the business press at that time, they were really terrified by what they called the hazard facing industrialists and the growing power of the masses and so on.

One consequence was that the New Deal measures were instituted, which had an effect. I’m old enough to remember. Most of my family was unemployed working class. And it had a big effect, as I mentioned, a lasting effect. Out of it came the biggest growth period in American history, probably world history, extended growth and egalitarian growth. Then it started getting whittled away, as all of this began to recede. It’s now changed very radically. The 1960s was another case where substantial popular activism was the motive force that led to Johnson’s reforms, which were not trivial. They didn’t change the social and economic system to the limited extent that the New Deal did, but they had a big effect then and in the years that followed: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, all kinds of things. That’s the only way to change. If anybody has another idea, it would be nice to hear it, but it’s been kept a secret for a couple of thousand years.

ARE WE further along in global warming than it is politically possible for scientists to say?

IN THE sciences, you’re always going to find some people out at the fringes, maybe with good arguments but kind of at the fringes. But the overwhelming majority of scientists are pretty much agreed on the basic facts: that it’s a serious phenomenon that’s going to grow even more serious, and we have to do something about it. There are divisions. The major division is between the basic international scientific consensus and those who say it doesn’t go far enough, it’s nowhere near dire enough. So, for example, this study that I mentioned, which is one of the major critical studies, saying it’s much too optimistic, they point out that they’re not taking account of factors that could make it very much worse. For example, they didn’t factor into the models the effect of melting of permafrost, which is beginning to happen. And it’s pretty well understood that it’s going to release a huge amount of methane, which is much more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide is, and that could set off a major change for the worse. A lot of the processes that are studied are called nonlinear, meaning a small change can lead to a huge effect. And almost all the indicators are in the wrong direction. So I think the answer is that scientists can’t say anything in detail, but they can say pretty convincingly that it’s bad news.

HOW CAN philosophers advance environmental responsibility?

PRETTY MUCH the same way algebraic topologists can. If you’re a philosopher, you don’t stop being a human being. These are human problems. Philosophers, like anybody else—algebraic topologists, carpenters, others—can contribute to them. People like us are privileged. We have a lot of privilege. If you’re an academic, you’re paid way too much, you have a lot of options, you can do research, you have a kind of a platform. You can use it. It’s pretty straightforward. There are no real philosophical issues that I can see. There is an ethical issue, but it’s one that is so obvious you don’t need any complicated philosophy.

HOW CAN human beings and food production be reformed to promote ecological stability? Is agriculture inherently destructive to our planet?

IF AGRICULTURE is inherently destructive, we might as well say good-bye to each other, because whatever we eat, it’s coming from agriculture, whether it’s meat or anything else, milk, whatever it is. There is no particular reason to believe that it’s inherently destructive. We do happen to have destructive forms of agriculture: high-energy inputs, high fertilizer inputs. Things look cheap, but if you take in all the costs that go into them, they’re not cheap. And if you count in environmental destruction, which is a cost, then they’re not cheap at all. So are there other ways of developing agricultural systems which will be basically sustainable? It’s kind of like energy. There’s no known inherent reason why that’s impossible. There are plenty of proposals how it could be done. But, again, it involves dismantling a whole array of economic, social, cultural, and other structures, which is not an easy matter. The same problems with green technology.

I should say another word about the green technology issue, which is, again, basically ideological. If you look at the literature on this, when people make the point, as they do, that the green technology is being developed in China but not here, a standard reason that’s given is, well, China is a totalitarian society, so that government controls the mechanisms of production. It has what we call an industrial policy: government intervenes in the market to determine what’s produced and how it’s produced and to set the conditions for it and to fix conditions of technology transfer. And they do that without consulting the public, so therefore they can set the conditions which will make investors invest there and not here. We’re democratic and free and we don’t do that kind of thing. We believe in markets and democracy.

It’s all totally bogus. The United States has a very significant industrial policy and it’s highly undemocratic. It’s just that we don’t call it that. So, for example, if you use a computer or you use the Internet or you fly in an airplane or you buy something at Wal-Mart, which is based on trade, which is based on containers, developed by the U.S. Navy, every step of the way you’re benefiting from a massive form of industrial policy, state-initiated programs. It’s kind of like driving on the interstate highway system. State-initiated programs where almost all the research and development and the procurement, which is a big factor in subsidizing corporations, all of this was done for decades before anything could go on to the market.

Take, say, computers. The first computers were around 1952, but they were practically the size of this room, with vacuum tubes blowing up and paper all over the place, I was at MIT when this was going on. You couldn’t do anything with them. It was all funded by the government, mostly by the Pentagon, in fact, almost entirely by the Pentagon. Through the 1950s, it was possible to reduce the size and you could get it to look like a big bunch of filing cabinets. Some of the lead engineers in Lincoln Labs, an MIT lab which was one of the main centers for development, pulled out and formed the first private computer company, DEC, which for a long time kind of was the main one. Meanwhile, IBM was in there learning how to shift from punch cards to electronic computers on taxpayer funding, and they were able to produce a big computer, the world’s fastest computer, in the early 1960s. But nobody could buy these computers. They were way too expensive. So the government bought them, meaning you bought them. Procurement is one of the major techniques of corporate subsidy. In fact, I think the first computer that actually went on the market was probably around 1978. That’s about twenty-five years after they were developed. The Internet is about the same. And then Bill Gates gets rich. But the basic work was done with government support under Pentagon cover. The same with most of these things—virtually the entire IT revolution. The Internet was in public hands for, I think, about thirty years before it was privatized.

So that’s industrial policy. We don’t call it that. Was it democratic? No more democratic than China. People in the 1950s weren’t asked, “Do you want your taxes to go to the development of computers so maybe your grandson can have an iPod, or do you want your taxes to go into health, education, and decent communities?” Nobody was told that. What they were told was, “The Russians are coming, so we have to have a huge military budget. So therefore we have to put the money into this. And maybe your grandchild will have an iPod.” It’s as undemocratic as the Chinese system is, and it goes way back. We just don’t give it that name. It doesn’t have to be done undemocratically, but to do it democratically requires cultural changes, understanding. On the computers, maybe it was the wrong decision. Maybe they should have done other things, make a more decent life. Maybe it was the right decision. But on things like green technology and sustainable energy, I don’t think there’s much question what’s the right decision, if you get people to understand it and accept it. And that has great barriers, like the kind I mentioned.

WHAT ROLE do you see cooperatives and community-based enterprises having in the United States as compared to other countries, like Argentina?

I THINK it’s a very positive development. It’s kind of rudimentary. There are some in Argentina, which developed after the crisis. They had a huge crisis. What happened in Argentina was that for years Argentina followed the advice of the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. In fact, they were the poster child for the IMF. They were doing everything right. And it totally collapsed, as, in fact, almost always happens. At that point, about ten years ago Argentina dismissed the advice of the IMF and the economists, rejected it totally, violated it, and went on to have pretty successful economic development, probably the best in South America. But out of the crisis did come cooperatives, some of them remain, and remain viable worker-controlled enterprises. There are some in the United States, too, more than you might imagine. There is a book about it, if you’re interested, by one of the main activists who works in this movement. His name is Gar Alperovitz. He reviews a lot of initiatives that have been taken, and there are surprisingly many of them. None of them exist on a very large scale, but they exist.

Let’s go back to the one example that I mentioned, of the closing the GM plants and getting contracts in Spain. One of the things that could happen is that the workers in those plants could simply take over the factories and say, Okay, we’re going to construct and develop, we’re going to reconvert, we’re going to develop high-speed rail, which they have the capacity to do. They would need help: they would need community support and other support. But it could be done. In that case, the community and the industry wouldn’t be destroyed. The banks wouldn’t make as much money, but we would have home-grown, high-speed rail. Those things are all possible.

In fact, sometimes they’ve come pretty close. Around 1980, U.S. Steel was going to close its main facilities in Youngstown, Ohio. That’s a steel town. It was kind of built out of the steel industry, but whoever owned it at that time figured they could make more profit if they destroyed it. There were big protests—strikes, community protests, others. Finally there was an effort to take it over by what are called the stakeholders, the workforce and the community. There are some legal questions, so they tried to fight through the courts to gain the legal right to do it. Their lawyer was Staughton Lynd, an old radical activist who was also a labor lawyer. They made it to the courts, and they had a case. But the courts turned it down. The courts aren’t living in some abstract universe. They reflect what’s going on in society. If there had been enough popular force behind it, they probably could have won, and the steel industry would still be here. Except it would be worker-controlled, community-controlled. These things are just at the verge of happening many times. And I don’t think it’s at all a utopian conception. It’s perfectly consistent with the basic legal system, the basic economic system. And it could make big changes.

Noam Chomsky is the internationally renowned Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT. He is the author of scores of books including Failed States, What We Say Goes and Hopes and Prospects. This is the text of a speech delivered at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, on September 30, 2010.

  Read The Dice Are Stacked Against Humanity
 April 23 , 2011   Population Growth, Pollution and the Global Environment "People Are Not Pollution"
by Vi Ransel,

One of the most divisive arguments within the environmental movement is population growth, whether by increasing births, or via immigration. 

But population figures conceal more than they reveal.  They seem to suggest that the cause of climate change is too many people, and that a growing population means growing greenhouse gas emissions.  Therefore, we should encourage people to have smaller families because it's "a lot easier than retooling our economic system." (1)   And further, that we must slow population growth where it's greatest, e.g. the "Third" World, where population is "exploding."

In Chapter Three of his "Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography," David Harvey gets to the bottom of this argument by dissecting the three pillars on which it stands - subsistence, resources, and scarcity.


The argument first posits an absolute and unchanging subsistence level, the bare minimum people need to stay alive.  But this level has been defined differently over time, according to the society in which people were living.  The subsistence level in Europe's Dark Ages was defined very differently from that in the European Union today.  And today's subsistence level is defined very differently in Uganda than it is in the United States.


This argument further categorizes nature as a "supermarket" of resources available to be made useful to humans.  But this perception has also varied according to the level of historical, technological, and cultural development within particular societies.


The third absolute in this argument is scarcity, defined as intrinsic to nature.  But this, too, is rooted in views of particular societies and modes of production.  Societies seek particular goals/ends, and it's these goals/ends and the means used to achieve them, as much as a lack of natural resources, that define, even manufacture, scarcity.


Much scarcity is, in fact, created by the activities humans choose to engage in, according to the way their societies have been organized.  The scarcity of available land in cities like New York and London is a result of human activity, not nature's.  And if this scarcity were not manufactured, the rents in London and New York would not be so wildly lucrative.


In such a scenario, a "crisis of overpopulation" happens when the scarcity of available resources no longer meets the subsistence needs of most of the population.  In other words, there are too many people in the world to allow "us" to continue to live in the way in which we've organized our society, based on available natural resources that we could be using to continue to live the way we've been living - if only it weren't for all those people making subsistence demands and potentially preventing us from living in the way to which we've become accustomed.  (Think "non-negotiable American way of life.")


But there are things we could do to change this scenario and adapt, which has been the hallmark of our species across millions of years.  We could redefine our goals by changing the societal organization that creates scarcity.  We could change our view of nature as a resource supermarket with value only insofar as we can make use of it.  We could change the things to which we've become accustomed.  Or we could try to reduce the number of people with subsistence needs to be met.


All of these options would be explored in relation to each other if there were real concern with environmental issues. 


But it's easiest by far to focus on population, especially other people's population, and further, their overpopulation in view of the "scarcity" of resources we've created as a result of the way we've organized our society and how we go about implementing its goals. 


"Somebody, somewhere is redundant, and there is not enough to go round.  Am I redundant?  Of course not.  Are you redundant?  Of course not.  So who's redundant?  Of course, it must be them.  And if there's not enough to go round, then it is only right and proper that they, who contribute so little to society, ought to bear the brunt of the burden."  "And if we hold that there are certain of us who, by virtue of our skills, abilities, and attainments, are capable of 'conferring a signal benefit on mankind' through our contributions to the common good and who, besides, are the purveyors of peace, freedom, culture, and civilization, then it would appear to be our bound duty to protect and preserve ourselves for the sake of all mankind."(2)  (emphasis added)   


The population growth argument starts and ends with one idea - Earth with lots of people is bad, and Earth with more people is worse.  The argument goes that one person's carbon footprint is X, two people's, 2X, three people's, 3X, and so on.  In this way we arrive at the conclusion that the effect of population on the environment is proportional to the number of people. 


The whole of a country's emissions are represented as the sum of each person's, or per capita, emissions.  This makes it look like total emissions are a function of the total amount of people in that country.  But unless you know before hand what the total emissions are, you cannot calculate per capita emissions.  Per capita emissions can only be determined when total emissions are already known, not the other way around.  Total emissions are not arrived at by adding up each individual's contribution. 


Per capita is simply total emissions divided by total population.  The total remains the same whether every individual creates an equal amount of emissions, or one person generates them all.  It's impossible to tell how much of the total each individual is responsible for when only the total is known.  Per capita reveals nothing about individual contributions.


In the US, each individual's per capita share includes a share of the emissions created by commercial air travel, the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas, factory farms, the military, and the manufacture and use of pharmaceuticals and oil-based fertilizers and pesticides.  If one-third of the population of the US moved to Canada overnight, the per capita share of the remaining population would shoot up in the US and fall in Canada without any change in individual consumption or total emissions having occurred overnight in either country.  But US citizens would still be held responsible for the rise in per capita emissions which was created primarily by industry.    


So that per capita math magic, those numbers examined in a vacuum, tell us next to nothing, and need to be looked at in context.  Ian Angus did just that with his article, "Dissecting Those 'Overpopulation' Numbers."  In "Part One: Population Where?" he worked with actual global population and emissions figures for 2006 - and shredded the "more people equal more pollution" argument with the facts.  


The population growth argument ignores what the total fertility rates in the G-20 countries, which describe themselves as "the systematically significant industrial and emerging-market economies," and the total fertility rates in the world's nineteen countries with the lowest levels of CO2 emissions illustrate. 


The total fertility rate is the average number of children each woman in a country will have in her lifetime.  The higher this number, the faster the population is growing.  A stable population, that is, one that's neither growing nor declining, has a total fertility rate of about 2.3 children per woman. 


In the G-20 countries, which generate 90% of the world's Gross National Product, this rate is as low as 1.21.  The G-20 includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US.  (The "twentieth" is the European Union.) 


In the world's nineteen countries with the lowest CO2 emissions, however, the total fertility rate is as high as 7.75.  All of these countries, with the exception of Afghanistan, are in Africa.  They include Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda.      


Let's contrast total fertility rate with total CO2 emissions per country for 2006.  These range from a high in China of 6103.49 million tonnes* to a low of 273.71 million tonnes in Turkey.  The G-20 total was 22566.76 million tonnes.  (*These are British 'long' tons.)  The nineteen countries with the lowest rate of CO2 emissions range from a high of 6.01 million tonnes in Ethiopia to a low of 0.2 million tonnes in Burundi.  Their total was 29.3 million tonnes.  In other words, the countries with the lowest population growth rates are producing the bulk of C02 emissions, more than a whopping 770 times as much as the nineteen countries with the highest rates of population growth. 


Angus has done the math.  Per capita, each American's CO2 emissions were 132 times more than a person's in Madagascar, 197 times more than a person's in Mozambique, and 400 times more than someone who lived in Mali or Burkina Faso.    And these amounts don't include the concentration of CO2 emission sources in G-20 countries like their militaries, extractive and agricultural industries, and commercial air travel.


Total emissions do not depend on population density.  The high-emitting G-20 includes densely-populated countries like Japan and India, but also the sparsely-populated countries of Canada and Russia.  This is equally true of the nineteen countries with the lowest emission rates.  Rwanda and Burundi are densely populated.  Chad and Niger are not.  So it's obvious that low population density can co-exist with high emissions, and high population density with low emissions. 


If emissions are dependent on population density, it would appear that high emissions cause low population growth (G-20), or that high population growth causes low emissions (the nineteen countries with the lowest rates of CO2 emissions).  These statements are equally absurd.  Both population growth and CO2 emissions depend on socioeconomic factors, not biological ones.


So there's something not right about the "more people cause more emissions" argument, and something very wrong with promoting the idea that birth control for the "Third" World will slow climate change.  Focus on population growth distracts attention from issues like production and consumption, policies of technology and globalization, poverty and women's status in world societies, and the boom and bust of our economic system's cycle itself.  But the population control argument keeps reappearing as the solution to poverty, hunger, and now climate change.  The simple theory: more people equal more pollution.  


In "Peoplequake," Fred Pearce makes the point that the poorest three billion of us emit only 7% of CO2 worldwide, while the richest half billion of us create 50% of them.  (There are 6.9 billion of us.)  He says that a woman in rural Ethiopia with ten children does less damage, and uses fewer resources than one middle class family of four in the US, the UK or Germany.  And even if all ten of that Ethiopian woman's children reach adulthood, which is highly unlikely, her entire extended family of over 100 people would still emit only about as much CO2 every year as one American.


So to suggest that the greatest threat to escalating climate change is too many children in Ethiopia, Somalia or Uganda is both disingenuous and dangerous.  The population "bomb" of the 20th century has been defused.  In fact, the rate of global population growth is slowing down.  According to the US Census Bureau International Data Base (December 2008), it peaked in the 60s and has fallen consistently ever since.  Yet the rate of greenhouse gas emissions is skyrocketing out of control. Some however, continue to claim this increase in emissions is a function of population growth, though the rise in energy and resource use has vastly outstripped population growth. 


In September of 2009, the journal "Environment and Urbanization" showed that the places where population is growing the fastest are those where carbon emissions have been growing most slowly.  Between 1980 and 2005, 63% of the world's population growth took place in countries with very low emissions. (3)  


But by the end of the 60s, "reducing the population growth of poor countries had become an essential element of US foreign policy.  The main motive was not environmental: rather, population growth was seen as retarding economic growth and fomenting political instability, making countries more susceptible to Communist influence." (4) 


Detailed population growth statistics are easily available.  This allowed population control advocates to place them side-by-side with rising pollution statistics and draw a biological conclusion.  They divided the total pollution by the total population and came up with an individual, per capita, "carbon footprint" for every person on Earth.


So overconsumption and transnational corporate plunder were swept under the rug and the wombs of poor women became the reason for deforestation, water pollution, and desertification. This diverted the environmental movement and shifted blame to the "Third" World, allowing the countries of the "developed" world to avoid looking in the mirror at their own consumption and that of their governments, their militaries, and their transnational corporations, which were trashing the environment both at home and abroad.    


The population growth argument is just old wine in a new bottle.  Those who advocate population control are pretending to address climate change so they can avoid focusing on replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.  They prefer to believe there's a biological solution to problems created by the way society is structured.  Population growth has been made the scapegoat for the real social and economic causes of "poverty, hunger, famine, disease, war, racism, and unemployment."  (5)  


But population control has never had an acceptable environmental outcome.  Witness China.  "China's one child policy has been hailed as an environmental measure... (but this)...ignores that China's population control has hardly solved that country's growing environmental problems." (6)


Population control is a euphemism for eugenics.  It employs "us vs. them" in order to blame those least responsible for climate change by focusing on the quantity of human beings, rather than on the quality of their lives, when, in fact, it's not so much the what of those population numbers, but the how of the way those numbers live that matters.  Those most responsible for the escalating threat of climate change are those who profit most from polluting and poisoning, and they're desperately resisting change. (7)   That's because they know that most greenhouse gases aren't caused by individuals, but "by industrial and other processes over which individuals have no control." (8) 


Ian Angus and Simon Butler have pointed out that no reduction of Canada's population (via fewer births or curtailed immigration) would have any effect on the oil industry's extraction of oil from the Alberta Tar Sands.  Neither would such reductions in the US have any effect on the massive military spending of the Pentagon, the world's number one oil consumer.  


They further assert that there is no means of reducing population that will change either of those things.  In fact, reducing the population would have the effect of increasing the per capita emissions of the remaining population.  You just get a larger number (or individual carbon footprint) when you divide the reduced population into the same total emissions output.


The anti-immigrant wing of the population control argument says it's better to keep poor people in poor countries so they consume less (and we can continue to consume more) than if they came "here" and adopted "our" lifestyle.  In 1974, Garett Hardin's essay "Lifeboat Ethics" suggested throwing the poor majority overboard to allow the "elite" to survive.  He blamed immigration for "speeding up the destruction of the environment of the rich countries."  This just diverts attention from the threat to the environment of overconsumption. For instance, US consumers, with only 5% of the world's population, use 20% of the world's resources.


Anti-immigrationists claim that immigrants will consume a lot more energy in the US than if they stayed in their home country, so they and their families are responsible for growing carbon  emissions.  So instead of conserving energy, switching to renewables, and adopting a sensible climate policy, we should just build bigger fences and continue to burn fossil fuels, which sustain not only that non-negotiable American lifestyle, but the escalating degradation of the environment. (9) 


Both the immigration and population-growth wings of the populationist argument have only one "solution" - STOP!!!  Either stop immigration or stop population growth.   But climate change is a socioeconomic and political problem, not a biological problem.  And because of the way in which the globalized economic system is structured, it doesn't matter how many people there are.  The environment will continue to be beaten down, and inequality will continue to be ratcheted up as a result of the way the dominant peoples on the planet have chosen to organize their societies and go about achieving their goals.


"Blaming climate change on human numbers is itself founded on denial - denial of the real causes of the problem and denial of our potential to forge positive solutions."  "Instead of buying into the 'more people=more emissions' equation, we should put the blame for climate change squarely where it belongs: on fossil fuels and the vested interests that seek to perpetuate dependence on them." (10)


These vested interests have the power to shift the true cost of their environmental and social degradation onto society as a whole, simply by ignoring their toxic waste.  It's easier to just pour it into the air, into rivers, and discharge it along deserted rural roads by night.  Society pays the real costs of production, or "externalities," by cleaning up the mess, or by enduring its effects and its costs on both the environment and health.  And if pushed, the vested interests just export their externalities en masse to the "Third" World. (11)


"Many of the emissions for which poorer countries are blamed should in fairness belong to us.  Gas flaring by companies exporting oil from Nigeria, for example, has produced more greenhouse gases than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa put together.  Even deforestation in poor countries is driven mostly by commercial operations delivering timber, meat and animal feed to rich consumers." (12) 


The estimated damage to the environment in 2008 by the "externalities" of the 3,000 largest public companies in the world topped $2.2 trillion, more than the economies of all but seven countries in the world.  The heads of major corporations at the 2010 economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, were worried about the effect on their bottom lines if they have to stop damaging the environment, or if they are forced to pay for the pollution they create.  (13)  They were not, however, worried about environmental damage or the effects on human health of continuing to pollute with impunity.  


"Keeping fossil fuels in the ground will mean defeating the world's most powerful corporations and institutions." (14 )  "Rather than rise to this challenge, populationists fear that it's too difficult." (15)   Population control has one big advantage:  it seems easier. 


In 2009, Ross Gittins wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that "Since the rich countries are reluctant to countenance a decline in living standards, to put it mildly, and the poor countries most assuredly won't abandon their quest for affluence, there's one obvious variable that could be used to limit global economic activity's deleterious impact on the ecosystem: population growth."  "Limiting population growth in the developing world and allowing population to continue on its established path of decline in the developed world wouldn't be easy, but it would be easier than trying to prevent rising living standards among those already living."   (emphasis added) 


He links "serious action on climate change with a 'decline in living standards' - as if a high quality of life depends on trashing the planet." (16)


Katie McKay Bryson, who coordinates the US-based Population and Development Program asks "Why is it easier for those who use and waste the most to imagine fewer people than less stuff?"


Population control shifts the focus off changing the social status quo.  Rather than adapting to change, population control advocates prefer to make people the problem, particularly other people.  But people are the solution.  We exist on Earth today because people adapted to change.  People who are willing to change are the key to continued human existence on the planet.



Vi Ransel is a frequent contributor to online political newsletters.  She can be reached at rosiesretrocycle@yahoo.com.




(1)  Hayden. Thomas.  "Environmental books suggest save-the-Earth Climate may be entering a new phase," Washington Post, 4/20/10.

(2)  Harvey, David.  "The Political Implications of Population - Resources Theory," Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography," Routledge, 2001.

(3)  Satterthwaite, David.  "The Implications of Population Growth and Urbanization for Climate Change," Environment & Urbanization, Sept. 2009.

(4)  Hartmann, Betsey.  "The Greening of Hate," Special Report: Southern Poverty Law Center," 7/20/10. 

(5)  Butler, Simon.  "Population Control: 10 Reasons Why It's the Wrong Answer,"  Green Left Weekly, 5/30/09.

(6)  Butler, Simon.  Ibid.

(7)  Butler, Simon.  Ibid.

(8)  Angus, Ian, and Butler, Simon.  "Should Climate Activists Support Limits on Immigration?" Climate and Capitalism, 1/24/2010.   

(9)  Hartmann.   Ibid.

(10)  Boyce, James K.  "Climate Change: Are People the Problem?" TripleCrisis.com, 7/6/10.

(11) Townsend, Terry.  "Individual Versus Social Solutions to Global Warming," Links, 4/17/08.       

(12)  Monbiot, George.  "The Population Myth," Monbiot.com, 9/29/09.

(13)  Jowitt, Juliette.  "3,000 Companies Cause $2.2 Trillion in Environmental Damage - Every Year," The Guardian, 2/18/10. 

(14)  Boyce, James K.  Ibid.  

(15)  Butler, Simon.  "Population Control - A Political Weapon for Conservatives,"  Green Left Weekly, 6/24/10.

(16)  Butler, Simon.  Ibid.






 Angus, Ian.  "Dissecting Those 'Overpopulation' Numbers. Part One - Population Where?" Climate and Capitalism, 4/28/10.

 Angus, Ian.  "Dissecting Those 'Overpopulation' Numbers. Part Two - The Perils of Per Capita," Climate and Capitalism, 7/2/10.

 Angus, Ian.  "Dissecting Those 'Overpopulation' Numbers:  Appendix to Part Two:  Rate versus Ratio," Climate and Capitalism, 7/27/10.

 Angus, Ian.  "Do Consumers Cause Climate Change?" Climate and Capitalism, 2/20/10.

 Angus, Ian, and Butler, Simon.  "Should Climate Activists Support Limits on Immigration?" Climate and Capitalism, 1/24/2010.

 Berkowitz, Bill.  "Right Wing Front Organizations Use Progressive Sounding Names to Promote Anti-Immigration and Anti-Environmental Agendas," The Smirking Chimp, 7/23/10.

 Boyce, James K.  "Climate Change: Are People the Problem?" TripleCrisis.com, 7/6/10.  

 Butler, Simon.  "Population Control - A Political Weapon for Conservatives,"  Green Left Weekly, 6/24/10.

 Butler, Simon.  "Population Control: 10 Reasons Why It's the Wrong Answer,"  Green Left Weekly, 5/30/09.

 Conner, Steve.  "We need a global debate on population,"  The Independent, 7/14/10.

 Hartmann, Betsey.  "The Greening of Hate" Special Report: Southern Poverty Law Center, 7/20/10.

 Harvey, David.  "The Political Implications of Population - Resources Theory," "Spaces of Capital: Towards a Critical Geography," Routledge, 2001.

 Hayden, Thomas.  "Environmental books suggest save-the-Earth Climate may be entering a new phase," Washington Post, 4/20/10.

 Hildyard, Nicholas.  "Too Many for What? The Social Generation of Food 'Scarcity' and 'Overpopulation'," The Corner House, 11/1/96.

 Jowitt, Juliette.  "3,000 Companies Cause $2.2 Trillion in Environmental Damage - Every Year," The Guardian, 2/18/10.

 Monbiot, George.  "The Population Myth," Monbiot.com, 9/29/09.

 Mutavallli, Jim.  "Birth Control or Border Patrol," E Magazine.com, July/Aug 1998.

 Pearce, Fred.  "Population Isn't the Problem," Grist, 7/13/10.

 Ransel, Vi.  "Manufacturing Poor People"  Op Ed News, 6/20/09.

 Ransel, Vi.  "The Population Bomb," Shared Sacrifice, 4/09.

 Satterthwaite, David.  "The Implications of Population Growth and Urbanization for Climate Change," Environment & Urbanization, Sept. 2009.

 Townsend, Terry.  "Individual Versus Social Solutions to Global Warming," Links, 4/17/08.

 Walker, Robert.  "Of Course Population Is Still a Problem," Grist, 7/13/10

  Read Population Growth, Pollution and the Global Environment People Are Not Pollution
 May 13 , 2011   Willfully Ignoring The Science Of Human Population Dynamics
by Steve Salmony, Countercurrent

If human population numbers are a primary causative agent of the global predicament looming before humanity, then we certainly need to examine all the available scientific evidence of the population dynamics of the human species. It makes no sense to keep ignoring this vital subject. How are we to confront the global challenges humankind appears to be precipitating if we will not rigorously scrutinize extant scientific research regarding human population dynamics? With all due respect, it appears to me that something continues to be missing from public discourse about the human-driven aspects of the colossal predicament the human family could soon confront.

How are we to begin talking about real issues regarding the human population, much less meaningfully acknowledge the formidable, emerging and converging global problems posed to the human family by skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers if experts consciously refuse to speak out about either the science of human population dynamics or the unscientific theory of the demographic transition? The former is assiduously ignored, even though it appears to explain why human population numbers have been exploding in our time, while the latter has been broadcast ubiquitously during my lifetime, even though demographic transition theory could be misleading all of us by giving rise to a false promise that human population growth is somehow about to come benignly to an end soon. The silence with regard to human population science as well as the broadcasts of preternatural thought regarding the demographic transition in the foreseeable future are significant forces with which we have to reckon, I suppose.

Let us consider that we are currently confronting the denial of science as well as the steady, relentless broadcasts of what is pseudoscientific thought. We note that desire-driven, ideologically based, logically contrived, unscientific thought is seen and heard everywhere, thanks to a mainstream media that defends political convenience, economic expediency and the status quo. We also see that science is eschewed. Is this not the sum and substance of mass media 'ecology'?

How is it possible for top rank experts with responsibilities to science and duties to humanity to be adamantly advocating for more "food production to feed a growing population" and yet be failing to mention the profound implications of skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers? For such a thing to be occurring in 2011 appears preposterous. It is morally outrageous and dangerous both to future human well being and environmental health, I believe, for well established experts to be reporting ubiquitously in high-level discussions and the mass media such things as are directly contradicted by unchallenged scientific research of human population dynamics and human overpopulation. Is it possible that population experts are not aware of peer-reviewed, published research in their area of expertise which indicates the food supply is the independent variable and human population numbers is the dependent variable in the relationship between human population numbers and food supply? It appears to me that many too many experts are regularly reporting attractive preternatural theory regarding the human population that is directly contradicted by scientific evidence.

According to consciously ignored research of two outstanding scientists, Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel, the food supply is the independent variable not the dependent variable. Human population numbers is the dependent variable not the independent variable. The advocates of demographic transition theory and the idea that "we must increase food production to feed a growing population" could be mistaken. The false promises of the demographic transition theory, that population stabilization will somehow occur naturally and automatically a mere four decades from now as well as the upside down thinking that human population numbers is the independent variable and food supply is the dependent variable, present crucial misunderstandings which are being deployed by self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us for the purpose of protecting their self interests as well as for directing the human community down a patently unsustainable "primrose path" no human being with feet of clay would ever choose to go, much less send unaware and unprepared children.

The uncontested scientific finding of the relationship between food supply and human population numbers is being obscured and denied by the very experts upon whom the human community relies for guidance and direction. Denial by 'the brightest and best' of what appears to be the best available science regarding the relationship between food supply and human population numbers has been occurring for too long a time. This failure of many experts has to be acknowledged and put behind us so that momentum can gather to move the human family in a new direction; so that we can begin making necessary changes toward sustainability.

Steve Salmony is a self-proclaimed global citizen, a psychologist and father of three grown children. Married 39 years ago. In 2001 Steve founded the AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population to raise consciousness of the colossal threat that the unbridled, near exponential growth of absolute global human population numbers poses for all great and small living things on Earth in our time. His quixotic campaign focuses upon the best available science of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth, in order to save the planet as a place fit for habitation by children everywhere. He can be reached at SESALMONY@aol.com

  Read Willfully Ignoring The Science Of Human Population Dynamics
 May 7 , 2011   Will We Pass 10 Billion?
by Sharon Astyk , Countercurrent,
Casaubon's Book

The fact that the mid-range projections for world population rose by nearly a billion people this week should have garnered a lot more attention than it did. The UN offers biennial updates of its world population estimates, and for the last few years, the mid-range (ie, the most likely scenario) has suggested that the world will peak around 9.2 billion people near the middle of this century, and then slowly begin to decline. The 2010 estimate, however, found that the decline is no longer considered likely, and that by 2100, the world may have as many as 10.1 billion people.

This raises a whole host of issues, which I'm going to consider over the next month. Raj Patel has already usefully offered one answer (which I don't wholly agree with, but it is interesting) to the question of whether we could feed 10 billion people. But first I want to ask whether the population estimates themselves are realistic.

Now it is important to remember that these aren't flat numbers and this isn't a census. It is an estimate, with a range of possible outcomes based on a whole host of variables, including behaviors, death rates, education, etc.... Moreover, the longer range (2050-2100) numbers are more speculative, because the people who will be giving birth then have not yet been born. On the other hand, many of the people who will be having children between now and 2050 already are born - so we have a sense of those people. It is certainly possible they could choose to have more or fewer children than demographers estimate, but the basic number of potential parents is close to being fixed.

Much of the change predicted is projected to occur in Africa, where the demographic transition has been taking place, but more slowly than in parts of Asia and South America. The other major factor that is expected to shift African demographics is a continued expansion of access to HIV drugs, thus shifting lifespans from in the 40s and 50s back towards the 70s. Globally, the report finds:

Life expectancy is projected to increase in the three groups of countries considered. In 2005-2010, average life expectancy at birth was lowest among the high-fertility countries, at 56 years, mainly because many of them have generalized HIV/AIDS epidemics. Nevertheless, given the advances made in reducing the spread of the disease and the expansion of antiretroviral treatment, the projections assume a continued decline in mortality rates from HIV/AIDS as well as from other major causes of death. Therefore, the expectation of life among high-fertility countries rises to 69 years in 2045-2050 and to 77 in 2095-2100.

Among intermediate-fertility countries, average life expectancy was 68 years in 2005-2010 and is projected to rise to 77 years in 2045-2050 and 82 in 2095-2010. Lowfertility countries tend to have, as a group, higher average life expectancy. It was estimated at 74 years in 2005-2010 and is projected to rise to 80 years in 2045-2050 and to 86 years in 2095-2100. Globally, life expectancy is projected to increase from 68 years in 2005-2010 to 81 in 2095-2100.

One of the things to know about this report is that while it does in a limited way take climate change into account, it does not take resource limits into consideration in a serious way, and it generally presumes levels of economic growth and globalization will continue. As much as I would love to see anti-retroviral drug access expand in Africa, and continued lifespan increases across the globe, I'm not at all sure that I think these presumptions, particularly the assumption of continued economic expansion and access to the trappings of middle class life for more people are realistic. To the extent that population growth has depended on fossil fuel growth and the economic expansion it fuels, we must ask what the future of population is in a world of material limits.

We should note, for example, that while lifespans have continued to increase in the Global North, poor areas of the US have for the very first time in recent years show signficant declines in overall lifespan in its poorest areas. Other poor areas have seen no increase in lifespans. It would suggest that if there is an era of economic stagnation or decline, projections for the Global North or parts of it may be inaccurate. Indeed, we have seen the ways that collapse affects lifespans after the Soviet collapse, where lifespans for men dropped back into the 50s.

Access to anti-retrovirals, so desperately needed in much of Africa, has expanded dramatically. It is hard to write this, because this has been such a necessary gift to societies being destroyed from the inside out - suggesting it might not last is actively painful to me. And yet, access to HIV drugs depends heavily on industrial supply chains, on a nascent pharmaceutical industry in Africa that relies heavily on imported raw materials, and on the importation of generic drugs in quantity over long distances. More fundamentally, they rely heavily on international aid.

I am not expert enough in the issues of drug manufacture and distribution to argue that the drugs will not be available in an era of economic decline - indeed, I can't but hope they are - but it is certainly a vulnerable spot, because it depends heavily on both the affluence of the Global North, which has a long history of abandoning its aid commitments when life gets inconvenient or economic crisis hits (consider the abandonment of the commitment to alleviate the emergent food crisis of 2007-8) and also on manufacture, shipping and transportation that are heavily energ intensive. If I were queen of the world, manufacturing HIV drugs in Africa would be one of those best use things that one reserves oil and other resources for. Historically speaking, Africa's needs have often come last, and when oil prices spiked in 2007, many African nations saw disruptions of needed supplies.

If lifespans are in question in some measure, are birth rates? Again, there are many variables here, but what we can say is that periods of cultural and economic crisis do tend, at least in the Global North and often in the South as well, to send birthrates rapidly downwards. Consider the drop in TFR in the US during the Great Depression, which was dramatic - couples couldn't afford to marry, married couples delayed childbearing. Moreover, the most economically productive people in any economy tend to be those of childbearing age - massive economic stress on them tends to result in reduced childbearing at least in nations where children represent an economic burden.

The situation is more complicated in poor nations with high fertility, where often children are one of the few economically valuable assets a family has. In Nigeria, for example, a child begins to produce more than he consumes by eating by the time he is six years old, and by 12, may produce as much economically as an adult. Add to this the high death rates and lack of security for the elderly and for women and you see that economic value of children in difficult times is somewhat different - for example Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies point out in _Ecofeminism_ that an Indian Woman in the rural areas has to have five children in order to be sure that when she is 60, she will have a living child able to support her. But even in the world's poorest places, the demographic transition is ongoing and crises tend to have a negative effect on overall childbearing.

The one thing we can be nearly certain of is that this will be a century of crises - and while the exact nature of the economic, climate and energy crises we face is up in the air, and I do not make any claims about what effect they will have on human fertility, it is worth asking at least why the UN analysis presumes the rates of growth it does, and whether this analysis would more wisely include the problems of resource limitation.

Resource limits are a lousy way to solve the population problem, obviously, and no one advocates for them. But we need good data on population, and the problem with the UN projections is that they leave out large parts of the puzzle. It is certainly possible that we will reach 10 billion people - but we are not making our assumptions based on the real underlying ecological, energy and economic limits we are facing, so we simply don't know.


Sharon Astyk is a writer, teacher, blogger, polymath and farmer who covers issues that range from agiculture to energy policy, from food preservation and cooking to religious life and democracy, while trying to live a life that corresponds with her principles. She is the author of three books: Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, which explores the impact that energy depletion, climate change and our financial instability are likely to have on our future, and what we can do about it. Depletion and Abundance won a Bronze Medal at the Independent Publishers Awards. A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil co-authored with Aaron Newton, which considers what will be necessary for viable food system on a national and world scale in the coming decades, and argues that at its root, any such system needs a greater degree of participation from all of us; and Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Preservation and Storage which makes the case for food storage and preservation as integral parts of an ethical, local, healthy food system and tells readers how to begin putting food by. All three books were published by New Society Publishers. Sharon is a member of the board of directors of The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO-USA) and the editor of the Peak Oil Review’s Commentary Section.

  Read Will We Pass 10 Billion?
 May 5 , 2011   Violence Disguised As Religion
by Pastor Don Mackenzie , Countercurrent,
YES! Magazine

The purpose of religion is to carry forward the teachings of spiritual traditions that support healing for humanity and for the planet. If it is not doing that, it must be challenged and transformed

In his last blog, Rabbi Ted Falcon asked, “If compassion in the context of Oneness and unconditional love is meant to help with the healing of the world, why is religion so often associated with violence and hatred and suffering?” As he said, this is a question we are often asked when we are presenting our programs on interfaith dialogue and collaboration.

The authority of religion has as much power as just about anything in human experience. I think that is because it points to something as ultimate as we can imagine. It deals with why we are here on Earth, what we are supposed to be doing, and what is responsible for our being here.

A sense of purpose is essential for any person’s well-being, and religion often helps to supply that sense of purpose. But why has religion been associated with and used to justify so much suffering?

Religions are institutions, things made by people to be the “containers” for the spiritual teachings that seek to help us understand that sense of the ultimate and give us that sense of purpose. So religions are human constructions. But, at the same time, they are made with the inspiration of spiritual teachings and spiritual stories.

It helps to think of religions as egos, mechanisms that are needed to manage people as well as institutions. Institutions are like big egos. That is not to say they are bad. But if egos are not monitored to be sure they are carrying out their purposes, they can, over time, be emptied of purpose and end up as empty shells. This is a pattern in human history. Institutions come into being, they function according to their structures, and then they begin to “leak” their substance. When they are empty, not only is their usefulness over—in their emptiness they can contribute to evil.

So, just as it is important for us as people to monitor our own thinking and behavior concerning ourselves and our relationships to each other and to the Earth, it is also important to monitor the thinking and behavior of religious institutions concerning the extent to which they are fulfilling the functions for which they were created. The failure to monitor our religious institutions has resulted in suffering and violence and, today, increasing disillusion with the efficacy of religion in general.

About five years ago, I saw a film entitled Water, part of a three part series of films about India: Earth, Fire and Water. Water is about widowhood. Widows in India often become either beggars or prostitutes or both. At one point in the film someone, trying to justify this reality, says, “It is about our religion.” Another says, “It is not about religion. It is about money, disguised as religion.”

We stand behind the authority of religion to justify actions that contribute to our needs for money or for power. Ironically, both of these needs are related to the deep desire to have our worth as people affirmed—and all our spiritual traditions affirm the inviolable value of persons.

We all have equal value and it cannot be taken away. But what makes us different from each other is not our essential value, but rather the things that we do and the things that we have. So, for example, people are not evil; people simply are. Yet they can have evil things and do evil things. But our tendency is to demonize the Other by saying that they are evil. To eradicate that evil, that person, or those people, we use religion to justify their murder or enslavement. This is one of the ways that religion emptied of substance can be used for negative purposes.

Governments have found it useful to call upon the authority of religion to justify violence and brutality. The Crusades, the Inquisition in Spain, and the Holocaust stand out as examples. This is religion at its worst, collaborating with a domination system in the form of a government. But the repudiation of Judaism by Christians and the rejection of Islam by Christians has had less dramatic but equally hurtful consequences for Jews and Muslims, simply by projecting a sense that they are less than they would be if they were Christian. This form of violence is not as visible, but more insidious—and is also a form of violence supported by religion.

Keep in mind that a religion is an institution. The purpose of religion is to carry forward the teachings of spiritual traditions that support healing for humanity and for the planet. If it is not doing that—and often it does fail in this purpose and become an agent of evil—it must be challenged and transformed.

Religion is not, by itself, bad. It was after all, created for intensely good purposes. But when it is left unmonitored, it can contribute to evil in this world. We forget that at our peril.

Pastor Don Mackenzie wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. He retired in June of 2008 as Minister and Head of Staff of University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle. Previously, he served congregations in Hanover, New Hampshire, and Princeton, New Jersey.

YES! Magazine encourages you to make free use of this article by taking these easy steps. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

 May 3 , 2011   We Cannot Command Nature Except By Obeying Her
by Pablo Solon, Countercurrent

Speech of Ambassador Pablo Solón, permanent representative of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations, on the occasion of the General Assembly interactive dialogue on harmony with nature, April 20, 2011

Victor Hugo, the author of Les Misérables, once wrote: “How sad to think that nature speaks and mankind doesn’t listen.”

We are here today to attempt to have a dialogue not just among States, but also with nature. Although we often forget it, human beings are a force in nature. In reality, we are all a product of the same Big Bang that created the universe, although some only see wood for the fire when they walk through the forest.

These three questions are the point of departure for our discussion today:

First, what is nature? Is it a thing, a source of resources, a system, a home, a community of living and interdependent beings?

Second, are there rules in nature? Are there natural laws that govern its integrity, interrelationships, reproduction and transformation?

And third, are we as States and as a society recognizing, respecting and making sure that the rules of nature prevail?

The philosopher Francis Bacon said that we cannot command nature except by obeying her. The time for superheroes and superpowers is coming to an end.

Nature cannot be submitted to the wills of the laboratory. Science and technology are capable of everything including destroying the world itself.

It is time to stop and reaffirm the precautionary principle in the face of geo-engineering and all artificial manipulation of the climate. All new technologies should be evaluated to gauge their environmental, social and economic impacts.

The answer for the future lies not in scientific inventions but in our capacity to listen to nature.

The green economy considers it necessary, in the struggle to preserve biodiversity, to put a price on the free services that plants, animals and ecosystems offer humanity: the purification of water, the pollination of plants by bees, the protection of coral reefs and climatic regulation.

According to the green economy, we have to identify the specific functions of ecosystems and biodiversity that can be made subject to a monetary value, evaluate their current state, define the limits of those services, and set out in economic terms the cost of their conservation to develop a market for environmental services.

For the green economy, capitalism’s mistake is not having fully incorporated nature as part of capital. That is why its central proposal is to create “environmentally friendly” business and green jobs and in that way limit environmental degradation by bringing the laws of capitalism to bear on nature.

In other words, the transfusion of the rules of market will save nature.

This is not a hypothetical debate, since the third round of negotiations of the World Trade Organization will be about the trade in services and environmental goods.

Humanity finds itself at a crossroads: Why should we only respect the laws of human beings and not those of nature? Why do we call the person who kills his neighbor a criminal, but not he who extinguishes a species or contaminates a river? Why do we judge the life of human beings with parameters different from those that the guide the life of the system as a whole if all of us, absolutely all of us, rely on the life of the Earth System?

Is there no contradiction in recognizing only the rights of the human part of this system while all the rest of the system is reduced to a source of resources and raw materials – in other words, a business opportunity?

To speak of equilibrium is to speak of rights for all parts of the system. It could be that these rights are not identical for all things, since not all things are equal. But to think that only humans should enjoy privileges while other living things are simply objects is the worst mistake humanity has ever made. Decades ago, to talk about slaves as having the same rights as everyone else seemed like the same heresy that it is now to talk about glaciers or rivers or trees as having rights.

Nature is ruthless when it goes ignored.

It is incredible that it is easier to imagine the destruction of nature than to dream about overthrowing capitalism.

Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

We have not come here to watch a funeral.

  Read We Cannot Command Nature Except By Obeying Herr
 May 3 , 2011   Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels Five Feet
by Alister Doyle , Countercurrent,

OSLO - Quickening climate change in the Arctic including a thaw of Greenland's ice could raise world sea levels by up to 1.6 meters by 2100, an international report showed on Tuesday.

Such a rise -- above most past scientific estimates -- would add to threats to coasts from Bangladesh to Florida, low-lying Pacific islands and cities from London to Shanghai. It would also, for instance, raise costs of building tsunami barriers in Japan.

"The past six years (until 2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic," according to the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), which is backed by the eight-nation Arctic Council.

"In the future, global sea level is projected to rise by 0.9 meters (2ft 11in) to 1.6 meters (5ft 3in) by 2100 and the loss of ice from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet will make a substantial contribution," it said. The rises were projected from 1990 levels.

"Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice sheet contributed over 40 percent of the global sea level rise of around 3 mm per year observed between 2003 and 2008," it said.

Foreign ministers from Arctic Council nations -- the United States, Russia, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland -- are due to meet in Greenland on May 12. Warming in the Arctic is happening at about twice the world average.


The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its last major report in 2007 that world sea levels were likely to rise by between 18 and 59 cm by 2100. Those numbers did not include a possible acceleration of a thaw in polar regions.

"It is worrying that the most recent science points to much higher sea level rise than we have been expecting until now," European Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard told Reuters.

"The study is yet another reminder of how pressing it has become to tackle climate change, although this urgency is not always evident neither in the public debate nor from the pace in the international negotiations," she said.

U.N. talks on a global pact to combat climate change are making sluggish progress. The United Nations says national promises to limit greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from burning fossil fuels, are insufficient to avoid dangerous changes.

The AMAP study, drawing on work by hundreds of experts, said there were signs that warming was accelerating. It said the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice free in summers within 30 to 40 years, earlier than projected by the IPCC.

As reflective ice and snow shrink, they expose ever bigger areas of darker water or soil. Those dark regions soak up ever more heat from the sun, in turn stoking a melt of the remaining ice and snow.

"There is evidence that two components of the Arctic cryosphere -- snow and sea ice -- are interacting with the climate system to accelerate warming," it said.

The AMAP report was due for release on Wednesday but AMAP officials released it a day early after advance media leaks.

(Additional reporting by Pete Harrison in Brussels; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

  Read Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels Five Feet
 April 28, 2011   Bearing Witness To Collapse
by Paul Chefurka, Countercurrent,

Once I understood and accepted that the disintegration of our civilization is already underway, I spent a number of years trying to get people to change their beliefs and their behaviour. I felt that if they made the changes I was proposing they could make a “good” outcome more likely. I was disappointed when my exhortations and hectoring fell on mostly deaf ears – whenever I wasn’t just preaching to the choir, that is. It was Cassandra’s dilemma too.

The more I tried to promote change, however, the more I suffered. But the suffering didn’t spring simply from the pain of disappointment. It went much deeper than that, and eventually precipitated my Dark Night of the Soul. The Buddha was right when he taught that all suffering springs from attachment. In my case the attachment was to a particular outcome – my vision of a sustainable, just, ecologically conscious society that made room for all living things on the planet, not just our relatives and friends. When that outcome was thwarted through public indifference and even hostility, I suffered mightily.

Fortunately, I went through a transformation about three years ago. The shift was complete enough that it enabled me to detach from outcomes while still remaining committed to the awareness of what’s going on. At the same time I adopted the position that this reality is co-created by all its participants, and that at some level the nature of reality and our individual roles in it have been consciously chosen by us all. At that point, I realized that I had been working at cross purposes to the reality that was unfolding. The ongoing transformation, even if it becomes a collapse of civilization, is not meant to be stopped. Rather, it is the vessel within which our conscious awareness is being nurtured, developed and annealed. This leads to the rather uncomfortable conclusion that the collapse is not to be lamented or prevented, but rather to be celebrated and engaged. It will come as no surprise to those on similar journeys that when I surrendered to this understanding, my suffering ceased.

From that perspective, I decided that the most useful thing I can do – something that is aligned with the point of the exercise rather than in opposition to it – is simply to contribute my little bits of awareness to the field. I try to do it without expectation or attachment, without trying to elicit a particular response or outcome. Just put the awareness out there. Those who aren’t ready for it yet will ignore or reject it, those who don’t yet see it but are ready may awaken a bit more, those who are already aware may find some fresh nuance to play with. Whatever role my observations and discussions play in the unfoldment is the part they are meant to play. This is what I call “vocal witnessing”.

I still care very deeply about what’s happening, but I now remain relatively unattached to how it might unfold in the future. As a result I avoid talking about solutions as much as possible, largely because I don’t think there are any – at least at the level most people think of “solutions” (like new policies or new technologies) The point of all this apparently catastrophic unfoldment is not for us to “solve the problem”, but for for us to wake up.

I agree completely with the writer Charles Eisenstein (“The Ascent of Humanity”) and other observers – we do not have a soluble problem, we have an insoluble predicament. Because of that, our most useful response will be at right angles to the problem space. That means that the door out of this mess isn’t going to be opened by a new version of our old ways (new legislation, clean energy and more recycling) although that will play a role. The real doorway out will be found by shifting into a completely new way of being – the revolution of consciousness that so many of us know in our bones is just around the corner.

These days I’m putting all my chips on abetting that r/evolution of human consciousness, by acting as a vocal witness to the unfolding collapse.

Within the community of the environmentally and ecologically aware, this is an uncommon position, although perhaps less so among those who have chosen a spiritual response to their apprehension of collapse. Within the mainstream of activist thought it is still viewed as fatalism and defeatism.

How does thinking about this perspective make you feel? Do you think it is a useful point of view or not? Is it helpful or dangerous? Is it an approach you have taken, or could see yourself taking? Or does it feel like sophistry – simply a tricky justification for fiddling while Rome burns?

Paul I believe you are still thinking surrounded by a deep cloud, and you are trying to see the light that is plenty full on the other side. Sorry! But that is true. Not sure how to explain because there is so much to understand. Look at the stars in the sky. Look at the Sun rising. Look at all life still on our planet. Most people miss the obvious because it is staring at them too strongly. There is hope! Perhaps looking as far back as you can will make someone see the obvious. Life has it all. Ask yourself why are there billions of stars and galaxies in the sky? But then ask yourself why are there trillions of life forms on one single planet, Earth? There is obviously a path, a connection between these astronomically high facts. Also true is the fact there exists an astronomically high number of planets with life of different forms and also quite intelligent life forms. Life with consciousness. And they are staring at us but we have not yet found a way to stare back at them.

There is a comparison I found interesting. When you look at a digital photograph on your computer screen you observe pixels. If you ZOOM as far deep as your computer can do you will see individual pixels, not the image. That is the stage of your thinking at the moment. On the other hand, if instead of an image with pixels you use an image made of vector graphics, the image maybe scaled to different sizes without losing quality. You will see as far back as you can and the different parts of the image will be exactly as they are in reality. Think of the Universe as the image with vector graphics. If we knew how to observe deep into the Universe that is if we had the "proper tool" to do so, then we could be staring at these other intelligent life forms already staring at us from down deep into the Universe. We could live through a new age of communications and rapid evolution of our civilizations on Earth, and consciousness of course. How would you like to have the tool?

  Read Bearing Witness To Collapse
 May 6 , 2011   The Link Between Deadly Weather and Global Warming Is Real -- and Conservatives Can't Just Wish It Away
Paul Rosenberg , AlterNet

When a winter blizzard buried Washington, DC, in snow early last February, global warming denialists crowed that it "proved" global warming was hokum, even as forecasters were predicting the warmest Winter Olympics ever in Vancouver, which had just recorded its warmest January ever -- seven degrees Fahrenheit hotter than normal.  

"It's going to keep snowing in DC until Al Gore cries 'uncle,'" tweeted Sen. Jim DeMint, R-South Carolina, while Fox News did a segment featuring Gore's book, An Inconventient Truth, slowly being covered by falling snow. "Sixty-three percent of the country is now covered in snow and it's breaking Al Gore's heart because the snow is also burying his global warming theory, and outside our offices, his book," chortled Eric Bolling, sitting in for Neil Cavuto on his Feb 10 show.  

Climate scientists struggled to be heard with their message that yes, global warming could actually make such extreme snowstorms more common, at the same time that average global temperatures continue to rise.  

It was a counter-intuitive argument for the man or woman on the street, but this year, the shoe's on the other foot. It's the denialists suddenly arguing that people shouldn't jump to conclusions based on the weather right in front of them, after the most deadly spate of tornadoes since the 1930s swept across the southern United States the last week in April. Questions immediately arose about whether the intense spike in the number and intensity of tornadoes could be due to global warming. It's a natural question to ask, since most of us tend to think of climate in terms of what we experience directly ourselves?which is weather. But climate scientists said the same things this year that they said last year--repeatedly telling us that climate and weather are two different things.

"Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get," said climate scientist Brenda Ekwurzel, of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The two are intimately related, but the relationship is statistical, not causal. That doesn't make it any less real, however. 

How Climate Scientists Think About Extreme Weather 

Global warming makes certain kinds of weather events increasing more likely, but it doesn't cause them, because no one thing ever does. Think of the seasons and air temperature as an example. Summer means the air is hotter, on average. Winter means the opposite. But that doesn't automatically make a summer midnight on an Alaskan mountaintop hotter than a winter mid-day in South Florida at the beach. There are multiple factors: Season, time of day, geographical location, altitude. Still, the fact that the season/air temperature relationship is not a causal relationship doesn't lead people to ignore it?especially when planning ahead. Winter clothes may differ from place to place, but they still regularly go on sale at roughly the same time. And the first cold snap generally reminds those who have put off shopping.  When it comes to global warming, extreme weather is like that cold snap: The important thing is not whether the coming of winter “caused” it. The important thing is that it's a harbinger of what's to come. 

What's more, any store that ignored the season/air temperature relationship?on the grounds that the two aren't causally related?would quickly go out of business. Something similar is happening with global warming; the costs of ignoring the climate/weather relationship are getting harder and harder on more and more bottom lines. No clothing store ever made a killing by waiting for absolute proof it was summer before putting swimsuits on sale. 

In order to understand what is or is not happening with tornadoes and global warming, we first need to understand the broader category of extreme weather events and how climate scientists think about them. Take the example of Russia's extraordinary heat wave and drought last summer, which set the stage for vast wildfires and resulted in tremendous wheat shortages, helping to drive up world food prices. As Adam Voiland of NASA's Earth Science News Team explained in an online article, “How warm was this summer?” this was a truly unprecedented event: 

The Russian heat wave was highly unusual. Its intensity exceeded anything scientists have seen in the temperature record since widespread global temperature measurements became available in the 1880s. Indeed, a leading Russian meteorologist asserted that the country had not experienced such an intense heat wave in the last 1,000 years. And a prominent meteorologist with Weather Underground estimated such an event may occur as infrequently as once every 15,000 years. 

This was far more exceptional than the devastating tornadoes just experienced in the southern US. Yet, even with such an extreme example, climate scientists would not directly attribute it to global warming, as Voiland went on to explain:

    In the face of such a rare event, there’s much debate and discussion about whether global warming can "cause" such extreme weather events. The answer ? both no and yes ? is not a simple one. 

Weather in a given region occurs in such a complex and unstable environment, driven by such a multitude of factors, that no single weather event can be pinned solely on climate change. In that sense, it's correct to say that the Moscow heat wave was not caused by climate change. 

In short, the question “did global warming cause X extreme weather?” will always result in a negative answer, no matter what “X” may be?which can be highly misleading. It is simply the wrong question. Instead, Voiland suggested a different question, which he posed to James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS):

    However, if one frames the question slightly differently: "Would an event like the Moscow heat wave have occurred if carbon dioxide levels had remained at pre-industrial levels," the answer, Hansen asserts, is clear: "Almost certainly not." 

Equally illuminating is the question, “Does this extreme weather foretell the kind of climate that global warming is bringing us?” When I asked this of  Ekwurzel, she said, “I think we're already seeing it. We've already had global warming occurring since the 1950s.  We're already experiencing it, the extreme weather, and it's only going to get worse.”  

“Projected future changes in extreme weather and climate events in a warmer world are sobering,” said climate scientist Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in testimony submitted to Congress last year. “The cost and impacts of even small increases in the severity of these phenomena can be large. More severe heat waves, more intense precipitation events, longer and more severe drought and more intense hurricanes are all likely to be experienced in the United States as the global climate warms.” 

“We have very good evidence that the most extreme events are becoming more extreme, and that does apply to the intense flooding, the various droughts,” said  Ekwurzel, even “the area of lands that are prone to droughts are expanding.”  One the flip side, “We also know that the ice is decreasing on lake levels, and especially the ice, cryosphere, we have really, really good data that is very definitely linked to global warming.”  This bleeds into the more general well-documented evidence of global warming. “There's about ten indicators out there--snow cover lasts more than 30 days, to the warming of the lower atmosphere, the oceans, the warming of the oceans--it's so clear.” 

Extreme Storms 

Extreme storms on the one hand and heatwaves and droughts on the other are the most widespread forms of extreme weather related to global warming. People have little trouble understanding the connection with heatwaves and droughts (along with the wildfires they can spawn), but extreme storms often throw them off?as when global warming denialists pointed to heavy blizzards in the winter of 2010 as supposedly disproving global warming. However, the connection isn't hard to grasp: storms are a function of energy in the earth-sea-atmospheric system. No energy, no storms. More energy, more storms, or more commonly, more intense ones. And global warming is all about increasing the heat energy in the earth-sea-atmospheric system. A second reinforcing factor is that more heat also means more water in the atmosphere. That's why global warming really does contribute to more intense snowstorms, much to the consternation of folks like Rush Limbaugh. 

Extreme events are, almost by definition, relatively rare, and thus not the best place to look for strong scientific evidence. So the fact that they do produce such evidence ought to be more alarming. There are, for example, a growing number of studies showing increased hurricane intensity linked to global warming. These have been appearing for years now, with remarkably little notice in the corporate media, even when the timing and connections are stunning.  

For example, on July 31, 2005?a month before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans?in the online edition of Nature, MIT meteorologist Kerry Emanuel reported dramatic increases in the amount of energy released in hurricanes in both the North Atlantic and the North Pacific oceans since the mid-1970s. Emanuel found that both the duration and highest wind speeds had increased by about 50 percent over the past 50 years. "My results suggest... a substantial increase in hurricane-related losses in the 21st century," he said.  

Then, shortly after Katrina, in the September 16 issue of Science, four researchers published a study showing "A large increase... in the number and proportion of hurricanes reaching categories 4 and 5," over the previous 35 years. While American attention was focused on the North Atlantic, the study found that "The largest increase occurred in the North Pacific, Indian, and Southwest Pacific Oceans, and the smallest percentage increase occurred in the North Atlantic Ocean."  

Of course, hurricanes are extremely large, relatively infrequent storms.  There may be two or more at one time near maturity in any given oceanic region during their respective hurricane seasons, but that's about it. Ordinary rainstorms are vastly more common, but evidence concerning increased rainfall in the most intense one percent of such storms is equally compelling, according to Ekwurzel. For U.S. as a whole, there's “an average of 20 percent more extreme precipitation in your heaviest one percent” of rainstorms. But the increases are most significant in two regions: “the Northeast would be 57 percent  more, and in the Midwest about 31 percent on average heavier for the heaviest rainfall,”Ekwurzel said. “So essentially, the flood risk has gone up.” 

With all this in mind, tornadoes are different from other extreme storm events in at least two main respects. First, the data for them is a good deal more sketchy than for other storms.  Rainfall data is amongst the most basic and long-recorded of any form of weather observation. Tornado data is far sketchier, though much more comprehensive than it used to be?which makes comparing recent data to that of 50 years ago a bit dodgy at best. Second, unlike other extreme storms, global warming doesn't just increase their likelihood by increasing temperature and humidity. Global warming also has an opposite effect: by heating polar regions faster than the tropics, it reduces windshear on average.   

While this dampens the relationship with global warming, it remains to be seen by how much. A 2007 modeling study lead by Anthony D. Del Genio of NASA's GISS, found that “For the central-eastern United States, stronger updrafts combined with weaker wind shear suggest little change in severe storm occurrence with warming, but the most severe storms occur more often.” 

The Challenges of Tornadoes and Modeling 

There's another challenge in studying the relationship between global warming and tornadoes: current climate models don't have the small scale resolution needed to predict tornadoes, or other severe storms on the same scale. The best that can be done is to look at preconditions, and compare those with observational data and smaller-scale high-resolution models. Still, even with these uncertainties, the future predictions are troubling.  

Jeff Trepp, of Perdue University, is the leading researcher in the field.  In 2007, he published a study which combined a a high-resolution regional climate model with a suite of global climate models. The study found “a net increase during the late 21st century in the number of days in which these severe thunderstorm environmental conditions (NDSEV) occur” with the largest increases “during the summer season, in proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastal regions.”  Increases of 100 percent or more were predicted “in locations such as Atlanta, GA, and New York, NY.”  Follow-up research has strengthened the case for expecting increased tornadoes in the century ahead, but there's still a great deal of work to be done, given the uncertainties that remain. 

“The most that we can say at this point is that increases in human-induced greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere will likely lead to increases in the frequency (and intensity) of the meteorological conditions that foster severe thunderstorms,” Trapp told AlterNet. “Here, a severe thunderstorm is one that produces large hail, damaging straight-line winds, and/or tornadoes.” 

“We're limited to this conclusion on 'conditions' because our climate model simulations could not explicitly resolve thunderstorms, let alone tornadoes,” Trapp explained. “Thus, the research that we're pursing at the moment involves the use of a high-resolution (also known as "convective storm permitting) model, which is providing us information about the characteristics of individual storms, as well as how the storms form.” 

As a result, Trapp said, “This leads to the question regarding uncertainty: One of the greatest uncertainties (in addition to the basic uncertainty of the climate model) is whether or not storms will form and realize the favorable meteorological conditions.  Formation -- also known as initiation or triggering -- is often linked to weather fronts, terrain, etc., and these processes were not explicitly included in our analysis.” 

Still, for all these present limitations?similar to ones that climate researchers have overcome in the past?the picture that emerges should cause concern. “Under the climate change scenario we considered, our results did show more frequent conditions in the future for certain regions,” Trapp said. “For example, the southeast U.S. and Atlantic Coastal regions might have twice as many future days with severe thunderstorm conditions, especially during their peak season.  But again, this applies to the collective hazards of hail, wind, and tornado.” 

Confronting Doubt and Denial 

Until last month, 2008 stood out as a tornado high-point. A study headed by Trapp's Purdue colleague, Noah Diffenbaugh found that “In 2008, there were 2176 preliminary tornado reports logged through mid-December, with 1600 'actual counts' (duplicate reports removed) through September, the highest total in the past half century." But April saw over 600 tornadoes, compared to an average of 160 for the month over the past decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The previous one-month record was 542, in May 2003.  

But a NOAA meteorologist figured prominently in a Fox News story that rightwing climate change denialists used to attack global warming activists:  

Greg Carbin, the warning coordination meteorologist at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, said warming trends do create more of the fuel that tornadoes require, such as moisture, but that they also deprive tornadoes of another essential ingredient: wind shear. 

“We know we have a warming going on,” Carbin told Fox News in an interview Thursday, but added: “There really is no scientific consensus or connection [between global warming and tornadic activity]….Jumping from a large-scale event like global warming to relatively small-scale events like tornadoes is a huge leap across a variety of scales.” 

Asked if climate change should be “acquitted” in a jury trial where it stood charged with responsibility for tornadoes, Carbin replied: “I would say that is the right verdict, yes.” Because there is no direct connection as yet established between the two? “That’s correct,” Carbin replied. 

“'We know we have a warming going on,' Carbin told Fox News”--and yet, Carbin was used to attack those concerned about global warming!  Hardly surprising, since the story began by contrasting his views with “environmental activists” rather than climate scientists, such as Dr. Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who told Think Progress, "It is irresponsible not to mention climate change. … The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences.”  Or Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who added that “climate change is present in every single meteorological event.” 

But what about the rest of what Carbin said? 

Shaye Wolf, Climate Science Director with the Center for Biological Diversity, pointed to the work headed by Trapp and Del Genio, saying, “NOAA is ignoring a series of scientific studies that suggest a connection between rising greenhouse gas emissions and tornado activity--namely, that rising emissions are predicted to increase the frequency of conditions that spawn severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Although scientific research is still developing, the record number of tornadoes that devastated the US this year and in recent years is consistent with studies suggesting that global warming increases the conditions that fuel tornado development.” 

Trapp himself seemed to go out of his way to minimize the conflict. “Greg's comments likely regard the observed tornado record,” he said.  “This historical record shows an increasing number of tornado reports (literally, eyewitness reports, and/or reports of damage) over the past 50 years.”  However, he warned, “The problem is that we currently don't have a way to remove the non-physical influences on these reports:  these include increases in human population and thus in population density; an improved awareness of the tornado phenomenon, and thus on tornado reporting; an organized storm spotter program, and a proliferation of amateur tornado chasers; etc.”  Such factors were discussed in the 2008 study headed by Diffenbaugh, for which Trapp was a co-author. 

Trapp went on to say that the next steps his research group has on its agenda include trying to resolve some of the uncertainty.  This involves “trying to find ways to 'bias correct' the historical record by (1) extracting tornado information from NEXRAD [doppler radar] data, and (2) using high-resolution model simulations of the current climate.”

In short, what I said in the beginning holds true: the connections between global warming and tornadoes are statistical, not causal, but altogether real nonetheless, even though there's a lot of work to be done by scientists like Trapp and his colleagues to make the picture as clear as possible.  But it's even more true that it would be foolish to wait for absolute certainty?just as it would be foolish for a store to wait for a heatwave before ordering swimsuits.  And that's a subject that deserves a lot more scrutiny than it's received so far, since it makes a mockery of the usual narratives pitting “business” against “the environment.” 

The Mounting Costs of Global Warming 

Following Hurricane Katrina, I wrote a story about global warming, hurricanes and the broader issue of the economic costs of global warming. I interviewed Gary Lemcke, a climatologist working for Swiss Re, a large re-insurance company, which is to say, a insurance company for insurance companies. He told me then that global warming was “pretty clear on our radar screen,” but “it's on a long-term perspective, ten to twenty-five years,” But that didn't mean it wasn't already a concern.  

“How long does it take to set up power lines, or build dikes? It take 10, 15, 20 years. In that sense it has an impact [now], and you see the need to educate people,” he told me. “We are in business for well over a hundred years and want to stay in business a lot longer.” 

What's more, Swiss Re was quite aware that losses from “extreme weather” did not have to involve dramatic events. Their publication, “Opportunities and Risks of Climate Change” cited a study of the unusually warm summer of 1995, which cost a total of about 1.5 billion British pounds. Thus, “even unspectacular climactic anomalies...can cause losses on a scale normally associated only with natural catastrophes,” the study warned. 

Fast forward from 2005 to 2010, and not only were reinsurance companies deeply concerned about losses from global warming, so was the SEC.  On January 27, 2010, the SEC issued what it called "Interpretive Guidance on Disclosure Related to Business or Legal Developments Regarding Climate Change".  It made no new rules or regulations, but merely clarified how its existing rules and regulations related to the issue of risks related to global warming.  Less than two months later,  Dale Wannen wrote a about the immediate impacts for Barrington Invesments, “SEC Climate Change Guidelines Lead to New Shareholder Resolutions":  

If recent talk about climate change hasn’t already rattled every CEO’s corporate cage, then yesterday’s news regarding shareholder resolutions should do the trick.  It was announced during a phone-based news conference today that investors filed a record 95 climate change resolutions against companies ranging from coal mining to big box retailers.  That’s a 40 percent increase over last year. 

He went on to explain: 

This is mostly due to the SEC’s recent guidance talk on climate change disclosure. As the SEC starts to keep a closer eye on these behemoth companies and their long-term impact on the environment, investors are clawing at an opportunity to voice themselves and have the SEC standing co-pilot.  And these investors have big money in the game. Jack Ehnes, CEO of CalSTRS [California State Teacher's Retirement System], which manages $131 billion (yes, billion) in assets says, “We want our companies to closely look at the impact climate change legislation and regulation have on them, to realistically assess those risks, and to consider the indirect consequences of climate change-driven regulation and business trends on their activities.  The SEC’s interpretive guidance outlines exactly the kind of action we have been asking our portfolio companies to take with regards to the issues raised by climate change.” 

For decades now, rightwing narratives have set the agenda for public discussions of climate change, setting up false debates, false dichotomies, and impossible levels of truth.  As climate change worsens, and extreme events make it ever harder for them to maintain their hold, they grow ever more desperate, projecting their own hysteria and denial onto others.  They are still quite powerful, as shown by the significant drop in the number of Republicans who think global warming is a real problem between 2008 and now.  But in the long run, Mother Nature bats last, and she doesn't just change the physical environment, she changes the business environment as well.  And that's precisely what's begun to happen, even if it's not dominating headlines yet. 

“Our study adds to the list of related studies that do indeed suggest increases in the extremes, which includes droughts, floods, and damaging thunderstorms,” Trapp said. “Knowing the possible impact of the high-end events -- or a high-end month like April 2011 -- will help in adaptation measures and other long-term planning.”   

Regardless of what global warming denialists may say, more and more people are now listening to what scientists like Trapp have to say?including those with a lot to lose in the world of business if they don't start paying attention.   

  Read The Link Between Deadly Weather and Global Warming Is Real -- and Conservatives Can't Just Wish It Away
 May 1 , 2011   Top Scientists Explain How Deadly Tornadoes in the South May Be Influenced by Climate Change
Brad Johnson , AlterNet, ThinkProgress

Throughout human history, the climate system has been a source of life and death, the sun and rain capable of feeding our crops and bringing us comfort, or unleashing terrible devastation in wind, fire, drought, storm, and flood. Each tragedy that occurs — such as the terrible outbreak of tornadoes and flooding storms this week in the South — reminds us of that awesome power, which is beyond our control and at the limits of our comprehension. We have also learned that humanity is meddling with that power, primarily through the burning of coal and oil that increases the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere and oceans. Scientists have been warning our leaders for decades that this interference with the climate system is dangerous, and have worked tirelessly to explain how these threats are now coming to pass.

However, the Republican Party is now dominated by ideologues who deny the threat of polluting our climate, even when faced with direct evidence of what the climate system can do to the people they are sworn to protect.

Conservatives attack any discussion of climate policy within the context of the killer tornadoes as “grotesque,” saying that to do so is blaming the victims.

In an email interview with ThinkProgress, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s top climate scientists, who has been exploring for years how greenhouse pollution influences extreme weather, said he believes that it is “irresponsible not to mention climate change” in the context of these extreme tornadoes. Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, added that the scientific understanding of how polluting our atmosphere with billions of tons of greenhouse gases affects tornadic activity is still ongoing:

It is irresponsible not to mention climate change.The environment in which all of these storms and the tornadoes are occurring has changed from human influences (global warming). Tornadoes come from thunderstorms in a wind shear environment. This occurs east of the Rockies more than anywhere else in the world. The wind shear is from southerly (SE, S or SW) flow from the Gulf overlaid by westerlies aloft that have come over the Rockies. That wind shear can be converted to rotation. The basic driver of thunderstorms is the instability in the atmosphere: warm moist air at low levels with drier air aloft. With global warming the low level air is warm and moister and there is more energy available to fuel all of these storms and increase the buoyancy of the air so that thunderstorms are strong. There is no clear research on changes in shear related to global warming. On average the low level air is 1 deg F and 4 percent moister than in the 1970s.

Climate scientist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, explains further that “climate change is present in every single meteorological event”:

The fact remains that there is 4 percent more water vapor–and associated additional moist energy–available both to power individual storms and to produce intense rainfall from them. Climate change is present in every single meteorological event, in that these events are occurring within a baseline atmospheric environment that has shifted in favor of more intense weather events.

Climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, climate modeller at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, concurred:

It is a truism to say that everything has been affected by climate change so far and therefore this latest outbreak must in some sense have been affected, but attribution is hard and the further down the chain the causality is supposed to go, the harder this is. For heat waves it is easier, for statistics on precipitation intensity it easier – there are multiple levels of good modelling, theory and observations to back it up. But we have much less to go on with tornadoes.

Those who deny the threat of polluting our climate system are not to blame for its fury — but none of us can shirk our responsibility to end our interference with the weather.

To find out if loved ones are okay, use safeandwell.org. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to relief efforts.

  Read Top Scientists Explain How Deadly Tornadoes in the South May Be Influenced by Climate Change
 April 21, 2011   US Landowners Preserving the Future: Indigenous Women in the U.S. and Canada are Taking on Big Oil � and Winning
Catherine Traywick , AlterNet

The following article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Ms. Magazine.

“Most people don’t know what a subsistence way of life is,” says Faith Gemmill, an environmental activist from the Gwich’in territories in northern Alaska. “In other places, if you need anything you just go to the grocery store. Here, it’s not like that. We hunt for our food; we fish; we gather. It’s the cost of survival for us.”

On Alaska’s North Slope, where below-zero temperatures and underlying permafrost preclude agricultural development, indigenous communities necessarily rely on caribou and fishing for sustenance. But this subsistence way of life, which for many also bears a deep historical and cultural significance, is daily threatened by encroaching industries bent on extracting the region’s abundant fossil fuels—at any cost.

As a site of major oil exploration since the 1970s, Alaska now produces about 13 percent of the nation’s domestically sourced oil, with production steadily expanding across the Arctic. The cumulative effects of this development have impacted local communities in myriad ways. While a 2002 study by the National Academy of Sciences found that industry development displaced subsistence animals, damaged the tundra and exacerbated climate-change effects,Gemmill argues that the long-term impacts on humans are even worse.

“One community that has been surrounded by oil and gas development reported higher rates of asthma, pneumonia and other upper respiratory illnesses,” she explains, adding that potential risks are even greater. “If there were ever an oil spill, there is no way they could clean it up. They admit they don’t have the technology to clean up oil on ice.”

As executive director of Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Gemmill is part of a growing network of indigenous women organizing against oil extraction on their lands, both in the U.S. and Canada. In recent years she has focused on halting Shell Oil’s plans to develop offshore drilling in the Chukchi Sea, which borders Alaska’s northwestern coast. Shell leased the area from the U.S. government in 2008 for $2.7 billion, but Gemmill has repeatedly frustrated their attempts to begin exploration. Last year, REDOIL won a lawsuit against Shell, effectively halting production until more studies are completed on the potential environmental impacts of offshore drilling.

The oil industry wields incredible power in communities where exploration is taking place, often dividing residents by offering them economic opportunities—thus complicating activism against the destructive side of the industry’s activities.

“The industry comes into these communities when people are in high school and starts paying men huge amounts of money just to go to trainings—to get them hooked,” says Kandi Mossett, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network. “It causes tension in the community, because while they’re destroying our water supply, they’re also providing jobs.”

While men have jobs in the industry, women have taken on the task of leading the activist fight. “My guess is that 98 percent of the leadership in the activist communities we work with are women,” Mossett says. “It’s not to say that men aren’t worried, but typically they will be the ones working in the industry, on the oil rigs. …I think women recognize that there is an inherent need to do something, because our children are sick and our future is in trouble.”

In Canada, indigenous women leaders have been facing off with the oil industry in communities perhaps even more gravely threatened than Gemmill’s.

Canada is the single largest source of American oil consumption, with the lion’s share of that oil procured from bituminous tar sands on or near indigenous territories—an effort widely considered to be the largest industrial project in the world. Yet the extraction of tar-sands oil is easily the most destructive of all oil production methods: Not only does it routinely involve clearing ancient boreal forests and strip-mining the soil, it also leaves behind enormous toxic lakes—visible from space—that have been linked to abnormally high rates of cancer among residents of nearby communities.

“The First Nations folks right downstream from the huge oil project in Alberta are definitely sick, and get more and more sick all the time,” says Mossett, who has seen firsthand the public-health impacts of tar-sands oil production.

“There are pictures of all of these deformities in fish—cancers, pus,” she explains. “In the moose, they are finding so many cancers. In women, there are reproductive problems.”

The human impacts of tar-sands oil production is terribly understudied, but a 2009 report by the Alberta Cancer Board confirmed that cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan community, downstream from the Alberta mining project, were 30 percent higher than average. Another study, conducted in 2007, revealed dangerously high levels of arsenic, aluminum, mercury and other toxins in Fort Chipewyan’s water, sediment and fish.

The pipeline that carries tar-sands oil into the U.S., moreover, crosses numerous indigenous territories, threatening those lands and water supplies with increasingly common oil spills. What’s more, plans are underway to triple tar-sands oil refining and transportation by 2015.

It’s no coincidence that the communities most endangered by oil production are indigenous, according to Caitlin Sislin, the North America director of Women’s Earth Alliance.

“People of color and low-income communities are systematically targeted for fossil-fuel development and waste dumping,” she explains. “Federal laws often ease the way for mining and toxic dumping on tribal lands, resulting in widespread contamination and public-health impacts.”

A bulk of the battle, then, is building up the political power of indigenous communities, ensuring that they have the resources necessary to combat big business and bad public policy.

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

“We’re not inventing or imposing any solutions,” says Sislin. “Instead, we are responding to the vision articulated by women leaders like Faith and do our best to bring advocacy resources to support the realization of those visions. Our work is about bridging that access gap.”

While these collaborative efforts have produced great victories—from the halting of Shell’s offshore-drilling project to the recent delay of an expansive pipeline that would carry tar-sands oil across six states—there is much work left to be done. And the duty of indigenous women to undertake that work, says Gemmill, runs even deeper than simple community obligation.

“As a woman and a mother I have a sacred responsibility to uphold and nurture life,” she says. “And as an indigenous woman, I strongly object to the notion that our children’s future can be compromised for short-term economic gain. …I will do everything in my power to protect and preserve that future.”

Catherine Traywick is a contributing editor at Hyphen magazine.
  Read Preserving the Future: Indigenous Women in the U.S. and Canada are Taking on Big Oil � and Winning
 April 21, 2011   If Nature Had Rights, Would We Need Earth Day?
Shannon Biggs , AlterNet

What if nature had rights and the Gulf Coast could bring BP to court for the disastrous oil spill that gutted the gulf one year ago?

Utter madness? A utopian scheme cooked up by elements of an enviro-extremist fringe to give legal rights to individual bugs and trees.

Not so fast: in fact from major cities like Pittsburgh, PA to the politically conservative rural heartland, where nearly two-dozen US communities have passed local laws recognizing nature's rights to "exist, flourish and evolve"-- the idea that the eco-systems deserve the protection of law.

Once the epicenter of steel production, Pittsburgh was dubbed "hell with the lid off" for its soot-filled skies and rivers that occasionally caught fire. By the 1970s, Big Steel had fled, and residents undertook two-decades of social and environmental revitalization known as the "Renaissance." But just about the time it was safe to drink the tap water for the first time in 50 years, along came hydro-fracturing. To the horror of residents, in a corporate quest to release hidden deposits of natural gas, "fracking" injects millions of gallons of pressurized water and toxic chemicals deep underground. Unfortunately for residents, the highly flammable gas and chemicals travel easily to the surface via aquifers, wells, rivers and soil.

And, like blowing the tops off of mountains for coal, or launching toxic chemical into passing clouds to "create" rainwater for hydropower corporations to control--it's all perfectly legal.

In the eyes of the law, nature isn't a system governing our own wellbeing, its property--like a slave--to be owned and used by humans. Property can't have rights, which means it lacks the legal standing necessary go to court to halt devastating projects, or sue for restoration once the damage has been done. Meanwhile, corporations (which actually are property) use the Constitutional rights of people and bevy of other federal and state protections in order to force our communities, oceans, streams, forests and prairies to become sacrifice zones for profit.

To the residents of Pittsburgh, and a growing number of other communities, it is this kind of sanctioned corporate invasion that seems like utter madness.

Last November, the city council of Pittsburgh unanimously passed a cutting-edge law banning fracking while elevating community decision-making--and the rights of nature--above corporate "rights." They join over 125 communities in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Maine, and Virginia who, with the assistance of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), have passed rights-based ordinances in order to take local control of their destinies.

The idea for rights of nature isn't new, and most species of the planet observe it naturally: Take what you need without destroying the ecosystem that sustains you. Laws recognizing the rights of nature do not protect individual bugs or trees, rather they stop the kind of development that interferes with the existence and vitality of local ecosystems. They create a welcome environment for sustainable enterprise, and empower decimated ecosystems to seek legal damages for restoration.

This week marks not only Earth Day, but the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Thousands of miles of killer dispersants and oily goo remain, yet offshore oil drilling ventures farther and deeper than before. Under current law, only those with legal claim to personal damages from the spill could take BP to court. But just how different would environmental protection look if say, the Gulf ecosystem itself had rights and could sue to undo all of the damage done?

Emerging everywhere, a new set of rules is being put into place. A dozen California communities are developing laws to recognize nature's rights, so too in New Mexico and Washington State. In 2008, the nation of Ecuador enshrined the rights of Pachamama (Mother Earth) into the national Constitution, and this year Bolivia is passing pass 11 separate laws.

There is a growing movement led by Indigenous peoples worldwide to support and foster the cultural and legal shift necessary to transform our human relationship with everything else from one of dominance, to one of balance. This week Bolivia is sponsoring the first ever dialog on nature's rights before the United Nations General Assembly, perhaps toward the eventual adoption of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

While climate change is telling us we have lived beyond the limits of nature's law, our culture and laws places humans not just apart from, but actually above nature. Utter madness, you say?


Shannon Biggs directs the Community Rights Program at Global Exchange, assisting citizens to craft new laws that subordinate corporate interests to community priorities, and to recognize nature's rights. She is the author of the book Building the Green Economy: Success Stories from the Grassroots (Polipoint Press, Fall 2007). Previously, she was a senior staffer at the International Forum on Globalization, and a lecturer of International Relations at San Francisco State University. She holds a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics (LSE): Economics/Empire.

  Read If Nature Had Rights, Would We Need Earth Day?
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