Politics and Justice without borders





Global Community Newsletter

Volume 10 Issue 5 May 2012
Theme this month:

Canadian tar sands oil a living insanity

President Obama
A) Thank you letter to President Obama concerning your decision not allowing the world dirtiest oil, tar sands oil from Alberta, to enter on American soil.
a) Animation movie in (.swf)
b) Animation movie in (.wmv)
c) Canadian tar sands oil a living insanity.
B) Letter to President Barack Obama concerning your re-election as President of the United States of America

Canadian tar sands oil a living insanity: click on the following file to open all animations and game of this monthly Newsletter.
Tar sands oil








Global Peace Village is a project of the Global Community. Global Peace Village

The theme of this Newsletter has been written by Global Peace Village.

Video games Listing and showing of all our animations so far Website of the Global Community Global Information Media main website Global Dialogue 2012 iconGDmain Current News Proceedings since 1985 Global Constitution Global Parliament Justice without borders Global Law Global Peace Movement Global Peace Earth Global Peace Village Ministry of Global Peace Scale of Global Rights Protection of the global life-support sustems Soul of all Life


Game: Uncover Soullife message.

Use your keyboard arrow keys and mouse to uncover the message.

Uncover Message

The list and links of all of our videos so far are found here.  The list and links to all of Global Community animations.
The list of all Global Community video games so far are found here.  The list and links to all of Global Community video games.



Read about the introductory text concerning Global Peace Village: the way forward. Read about the introductory text concerning Global peace Village: the way forward.
Short list of previous articles and papers on Global Peace
Short list of previous articles and papers on Energy and the protection of the global life-support systems

See the following artboards of
"Thank you letter to President Obama concerning your decision not allowing the world dirtiest oil, tar sands oil from Alberta, to enter on American soil".

Artboard #1 Thank you President Obama Artboard #2 Artboard #3 Artboard #4 Artboard #5 Artboard #6

Dear reader,

May 26 of each year is a very special day.
Global Community celebrates

1. Life Day,
2. Global Disarmament Day and,
3. Global Peace Movement.

For these reasons I have created the following animations. Let us all celebrate the events.


Tar Sands Oil videos

1) Canadian tar sands oil

a) swf file
b) html file
c) mp4 file

2) Soullife message to life

a) html file
b) mp4 file
c) swf file

3) Stop emissions from tar sands

a) swf file
b) html file
c) mp4 file

4) Game: use your keyboard arrow keys and mouse to uncover Soullife message

a) swf file
b) html file

Text found in this month theme tar sands oil animations.


Something very odd happened in the world over the past few years!

What is very odd about this?

What is odd about all this? I am coming to that!

  1. Impact of human activity on global climate, agriculture, wealth, health, security and all life on Earth Impact of human activity on global climate, agriculture, wealth, health, security and all life on Earth
  2. Climate change prelude Climate change prelude
  3. Climate change: responsibility and accountability of cities (Part I)  Climate change: responsibility and accountability of cities (Part I)
  4. Authors of research papers and articles on issues of Earth management:
    A) energy worlwide and,
    B) concerns about the protection of the global life-support systems  Authors of research papers and articles on issues of Earth management

This is what happens when leaders are not true leaders but selfish opportunists.

chaos.

This is what we observe in the air above today. Greenhouse gases alone are as high as 390 parts per million.

If we continue to allow further tar sands oil development and production in Alberta, the following chemical emissions will continue to increase beyond repairs.

CFCsCH4 FFCs HFCs N2O PFCs SF6 CO2

Those gas emissions from the tar sands oil eventually reach the global stage and pollute all life on the planet. Emissions affect every person on Earth.

Global warming is very real and already causing terrible disasters worldwide.

Parts per million in 2012: 390 ppm

Global warming is causing devastating climate change happening right now:

rising sea levels, droughts, floods, heat waves, forest fires, species extinction.

Parts per million after all Tar Sands oil has been used: 600 ppm

which would mean the end of civilization and of most life species on Earth.

Stop tar sands oil development.

Save the coming generations, the Global Community.

I am Soullife, God's Spirit.

What will happen when all the tar sands oil has been used up?

What will happen?
All life species on the planet will be dangerously affected and most will be extinct, including all civilizations.

Tar sands oil will make life species extinct along with most civilizations on the planet.

What will the planet be whitout civilizations?

Make life on the planet a good place to be.

Life is not a rose garden but it can be good for everyone.

Life over the entire Universe is my message to you.

Life is my way to communicate with you, and you with me.

Life is the global common amongst all galaxies.

What have you done to life on the planet?

What have you done to your civilizations?

What will you do to make things better?

Make Global Community values your values. Fear not!


Authors of research papers and articles on issues of Earth management:

A) energy worlwide and,
B) concerns about the protection of the global life-support systems

Germain Dufour
Spiritual Leader of the Global Community
May 1st, 2012



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 2012, no fees. Participate now in Global Dialogue 2012
Global Dialogue 2012 Introduction.Global Dialogue 2012 Introduction
Global Dialogue 2012 Program Global Dialogue 2012 Program
Global Dialogue 2012 OVERVIEW of the process.  Global Dialogue 2012 OVERVIEW of the process
Global Dialogue 2012 Call for Papers.Global Dialogue 2012 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
Global Community Days of Celebration and Remembrance during the year.Global Community Days of Celebration and Remembering during the year


Top of the page

GIM Proclamations

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

Lisa Kaas Boyle, Mijin Cha, Common Dreams Staff (2), John Bellamy Foster, Andrew Glikson (2), Rein Haarsma, Brad Johnson, Michael T. Klare, David Korten, William Lazonick, Christopher Mims, Joy Merwin Monteiro, Chris Mooney, Chandra Muzaffar, Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, Lynn Parramore, Joe Romm, Ismail Salami, Vandana Shiva, Pablo Sol'n, World Watch Institute, Gary Weiss

Lisa Kaas Boyle, Help for a Plastic Planet: New Report Focuses on Solutions to Global Plastic Pollution Help for a Plastic Planet: New Report Focuses on Solutions to Global Plastic Pollution
Mijin Cha, Obama Picks Sides on Keystone XL: TransCanada Wins. Earth, Everyone Else Loses Obama Picks Sides on Keystone XL: TransCanada Wins. Earth, Everyone Else Loses
Common Dreams Staff, Humanity Must Stabilize Population, Consumption Or Face 'Downward Vortex' Of 'Ills' Humanity Must Stabilize Population, Consumption Or Face 'Downward Vortex' Of 'Ills'
Common Dreams Staff, Arctic Methane In Vicious Cycle Of Global Warming Arctic Methane In Vicious Cycle Of Global Warming
John Bellamy Foster, The Four Laws Of Ecology And The Four Anti-Ecological Laws Of Capitalism The Four Laws Of Ecology And The Four Anti-Ecological Laws Of Capitalism
Andrew Glikson, The deep time blueprints of anthropogenic global change The deep time blueprints of anthropogenic global change
Andrew Glikson, On Arctic Sea ice melt and coal mine canaries On Arctic Sea ice melt and coal mine canaries
Geert Jan van Oldenborgh & Rein Haarsma Global Warming According To Scientific Projections Global Warming According To Scientific Projections
Brad Johnson, Obama Announces He Will Expedite Construction of Part of Keystone XL Pipeline Obama Announces He Will Expedite Construction of Part of Keystone XL Pipeline
Michael T. Klare, A New Energy Third World In North America? A New Energy Third World In North America?
David Korten, Nature Is Not A Commodity: The Path to Rio+20 Nature Is Not A Commodity: The Path to Rio+20
William Lazonick, How American Corporations Transformed from Producers to Predators How American Corporations Transformed from Producers to Predators
Christopher Mims, It's Probably Too Late To Stop Warming It's Probably Too Late To Stop Warming
Joy Merwin Monteiro, Expanding Our Moral Universe Expanding Our Moral Universe
Chris Mooney, The Strange Conservative Brain: 3 Reasons Republicans Refuse to Accept Reality About Global Warming The Strange Conservative Brain: 3 Reasons Republicans Refuse to Accept Reality About Global Warming
Chandra Muzaffar, Worsening Trends In Global Arms Transfers Worsening Trends In Global Arms Transfers
Geert Jan van Oldenborgh & Rein Haarsma Global Warming According To Scientific Projections Global Warming According To Scientific Projections
Lynn Parramore, Capitalism's Dirty Secret: Corporations Don't Create Jobs, They Destroy Them Capitalism's Dirty Secret: Corporations Don't Create Jobs, They Destroy Them
Joe Romm, Past Extreme Warming Events Linked To Massive Carbon Release From Thawing Permafrost Past Extreme Warming Events Linked To Massive Carbon Release From Thawing Permafrost
Ismail Salami, West Stonewalling Democracy in Bahrain West Stonewalling Democracy in Bahrain
Vandana Shiva, GM And The PM GM And The PM
Pablo Sol'n It's The Time Of The Rights Of Mother Earth It's The Time Of The Rights Of Mother Earth
World Watch Institute, Economic Recovery Brings Return To Growth Of CO2 Emissions Economic Recovery Brings Return To Growth Of CO2 Emissions
Gary Weiss, The Horrors of an Ayn Rand World: Why We Must Fight for America's Soul The Horrors of an Ayn Rand World: Why We Must Fight for America's Soul


Articles and papers of authors
 Data sent
 Theme or issue
 Read
 April 27, 2012  
Washington, D.C.----Although global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) declined slightly in 2009, the beginnings of economic recovery led to an unprecedented emissions increase of 5.8 percent in 2010. In 2011, global atmospheric levels of CO2 reached a high of 391.3 parts per million (ppm), up from 388.6 ppm in 2010 and 280 ppm in pre-industrial times. According to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute (www.worldwatch.org) for its Vital Signs Online project, energy use represents the largest source of global CO2 emissions.

More than 70 percent of CO2 emissions result from the burning of fossil fuels for energy use, such as electricity generation, transportation, manufacturing, and construction. In 2009, electricity generation and heating alone accounted for 41 percent of all energy related CO2 emissions.

"Unfortunately for the future of climate, the global economy remains tightly coupled to fossil fuel combustion and carbon dioxide emissions," said Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. "We gained a short respite from increases in CO2 emissions----but only at the cost of an economic downturn. Now we are rebounding economically----at the cost of once again accelerating the approach of a high-risk warming that the world's nations have so far been unable to address."

The report highlights emissions increases in both industrialized and developing economies. Member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of industrialized countries, increased their emissions by 3.4 percent in 2010, while countries outside the OECD saw an increase of 7.6 percent. Although China was the world's largest overall emitter in 2010 (followed by the United States, India, and Russia), an examination of emissions per capita tells a different story. China ranks only 61st in terms of the CO2 emitted per person. In India----the world's third largest emitter----emissions per capita rank far below the world average. The United States, in contrast, ranks second overall and 10th in per capita emissions.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has long stressed the urgent need for cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, according to the Worldwatch report, national governments have largely failed to bring about the needed reductions.

"The Kyoto Protocol is an important achievement because it is the only international instrument that sets legally binding targets, yet it is increasingly becoming symbolic as it now only regulates around 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions," says author and Worldwatch's Climate and Energy Research Associate, Xing Fu-Bertaux. Global CO2 levels are now 45 percent above the 1990 level, which serves as the reference base year for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Several Annex I countries----including the United States, which signed but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol----will be unable to meet their original reductions targets. Since December 2011, Canada, Japan, and Russia, have chosen not to take on additional emissions targets within the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol in the coming decade.

Further highlights:

>> In 2010, coal combustion accounted for 40 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions, while oil and natural gas represented 37 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Coal generates roughly twice as much CO2 as gas and oil.

>> Carbon intensity----or the CO2 emissions released per unit of gross domestic product----varies significantly worldwide, reflecting disparities in economic reliance on fossil fuels in various countries. The highest carbon intensities occur in the Middle East, but low-carbon economies such as Japan highlight the possibility of achieving high living standards with lower CO2 emissions.

>> In 2009, more than 70 percent of global CO2 emissions resulted from burning fossil fuels for electricity generation, transportation, manufacturing, and construction.

Worldwatch is an independent research organization based in Washington, D.C. that works on energy, resource, and environmental issues. The Institute's State of the World report is published annually in more than 18 languages. For more information, visit www.worldwatch.org

  Read Economic Recovery Brings Return To Growth Of CO2 Emissions
 April 27, 2012  

It is urgent that humanity work towards equity of consumption and slow the growth of the world's population or we'll head towards a "downward vortex" of ruin, according to a report published today.

People and the Planet, the report from the Royal Society, is the result of a nearly two-year study. It emphasizes that global population and consumption are linked and must be seen as such to work for the health of humankind and the planet.

Sir John Sulston, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the report working group, said, "We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices. Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future."

Among the report's key findings is that developed countries must decrease material consumption, and that reproductive healthcare and family planning must be funded. "To not provide family planning is an infringement of human rights," Sulston noted.

* * *

BBC: Population and consumption key to future, report says

Over-consumption in rich countries and rapid population growth in the poorest both need to be tackled to put society on a sustainable path, a report says.

An expert group convened by the Royal Society spent nearly two years reading evidence and writing their report.

Firm recommendations include giving all women access to family planning, moving beyond GDP as the yardstick of economic health and reducing food waste.

The report will feed into preparations for the Rio+20 summit in June.

"This is an absolutely critical period for people and the planet, with profound changes for human health and wellbeing and the natural environment," said Sir John Sulston, the report's chairman.

"Where we go is down to human volition - it's not pre-ordained, it's not the act of anything outside humanity, it's in our hands."

* * *

Royal Society calls for a more equitable future for humanity

The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise consumption levels, then reduce them, to help the poorest 1.3 billion people to escape absolute poverty through increased consumption. Alongside this, education and voluntary family planning programmes must be supported internationally to stabilise global population. The new report, People and the Planet, is the result of a 21 month study by the Royal Society, the UK’s 350 year-old national academy of science, on the issues around global population.

Sir John Sulston, Fellow of the Royal Society and Chair of the report working group, said: "The world now has a very clear choice. We can choose to address the twin issues of population and consumption. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption, to reframe our economic values to truly reflect what our consumption means for our planet and to help individuals around the world to make informed and free reproductive choices. Or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward vortex of economic, socio-political and environmental ills, leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future."

"We call on all governments to consider the issue of population carefully at the Rio+20 meeting and to commit to a more just future based not on material consumption growth for their nations, but on the needs of the global community, both present and future." [...]

In addition to concluding that the consumption by those that consume most must be reduced and that health and voluntary family planning must be supported, the report features numerous other recommendations including:

>> Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues and demographic changes and the influences on them should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning.

>> GDP is a poor measure of social well-being and does not account for natural capital. New comprehensive wealth measures should be developed that better reflect the value of a country’s assets.

>> New socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth must be developed, which will lead to better targeted governmental policies that are not based on consumption of resources without consideration of wider impact.

>> Increasing population will lead to developing countries building the equivalent of a city of a million people every five days from now to 2050. Governments should plan for urban growth with reduced material consumption and environmental impact through the provision of well organised services.

* * *

The Guardian: World needs to stabilise population and cut consumption, says Royal Society

The authors acknowledge that it would take time and massive political commitment to shift consumption patterns in rich countries, but believe that providing contraception would cost comparatively little. "To supply all the world's unmet family planning needs would be $6-7bn a year. It's not much. It's an extremely good investment, extremely affordable. To not provide family planning is an infringement of human rights", said Sulston.

The authors declined to put a figure on sustainable population, saying it depended on lifestyle choices and consumption. But they warned that without urgent action humanity would be in deep trouble. "The pressure on a finite planet will make us radically change human activity", said Pretty [,one of the working group of 22 who produced the report].

"The planet has sufficient resources to sustain 9 billion, but we can only ensure a sustainable future for all if we address grossly unequal levels of consumption. Fairly redistributing the lion's share of the earth's resources consumed by the richest 10% would bring development so that infant mortality rates are reduced, many more people are educated and women are empowered to determine their family size – all of which will bring down birth rates", said an Oxfam spokeswoman.

  Read  Humanity Must Stabilize Population, Consumption Or Face 'Downward Vortex' Of 'Ills'
 April 23, 2012  
As the Arctic warms due to global warming, the Arctic Ocean itself may be releasing vast amounts of methane, contributing to even more global warming, according to a study published today in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The researchers in the study led by Eric Kort of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., recorded higher levels of methane above cracks in Arctic sea ice and areas of partial sea ice cover. The openings allowed Arctic seawater to interact with the air and methane in the surface waters to escape into the atmosphere. Higher methane readings were not found above solid ice.

“It’s possible that as large areas of sea ice melt and expose more ocean water, methane production may increase, leading to larger methane emissions,” Kort said.

“As Arctic sea ice cover continues to decline in a warming climate, this source of methane may well increase," he added.

* * *

Agence France-Presse: Arctic Ocean could be source of greenhouse gas: study

"We suggest that the surface waters of the Arctic Ocean represent a potentially important source of methane, which could prove sensitive to changes in sea-ice cover," [the study] says.

If so, the Arctic Ocean would add to several identified "positive feedbacks" in Earth's climate system which ramp up the greenhouse effect.

One such vicious circle is the release of methane from Siberian and North American permafrost.

The thawing soil releases methane that has been locked up for millions of years, which adds to global warming -- which in turns frees more methane, and so on.

But this is the first evidence that points to a methane contribution from the ocean, not the land, in Arctic latitudes.

* * *

NASA: Study Finds Surprising Arctic Methane Emission Source

The fragile and rapidly changing Arctic region is home to large reservoirs of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As Earth’s climate warms, the methane, frozen in reservoirs stored in Arctic tundra soils or marine sediments, is vulnerable to being released into the atmosphere, where it can add to global warming. Now a multi-institutional study by Eric Kort of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has uncovered a surprising and potentially important new source of Arctic methane: the ocean itself. [...]

Kort said previous studies by others had measured high concentrations of methane in Arctic surface waters, but before now no one had predicted that these enhanced levels of ocean methane would find their way to the overlying atmosphere.

So how is the methane being produced? The scientists aren’t yet sure, but Kort hinted biological production from living things in Arctic surface waters may be a likely culprit. “It’s possible that as large areas of sea ice melt and expose more ocean water, methane production may increase, leading to larger methane emissions,” he said. He said future studies will be needed to understand the enhanced methane levels and associated emission processes and to measure their total contribution to overall Arctic methane levels.

“While the methane levels we detected weren’t particularly large, the potential source region, the Arctic Ocean, is vast, so our finding could represent a noticeable new global source of methane,” he added. “As Arctic sea ice cover continues to decline in a warming climate, this source of methane may well increase. It’s important that we recognize the potential contribution from this source of methane to avoid falsely interpreting any changes observed in Arctic methane levels in the future.”

* * *

New Scientist: Arctic methane leaks threaten climate

The findings will need to be replicated, says Euan Nisbet, an earth scientist at Royal Holloway, University of London. But if the leak is widespread across the Arctic, this mechanism could prove to be a significant source of greenhouse gas.

"We know the Arctic is warming very fast indeed," Nisbet says. And as the warming climate leads to more breaks in the sea ice, more ice-surrounded patches of open water will be able to release their methane, further accelerating global warming.

The question now is: how significant will this new effect on warming be? "It might be small," Nisbet says, "or it could be another serious problem."

  Read Arctic Methane In Vicious Cycle Of Global Warming
 April 7, 2012  

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

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.

Nature is not a thing, a source of resources. Nature is a system, a home, and a community of living and interdependent beings.

Nature has rules that govern its integrity, interrelationships, reproduction and transformation.

States and society are not 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.

Green Economy is an attempt 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.

For 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 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 in that way limit environmental degradation by bringing the laws of capitalism to bear on nature.

Green Economy is absolutely wrong and bad because it thinks that the transfusion of the rules of market will save nature.

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 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 can’t watch the destruction of Mother Earth and our selves. This is the time to begin to recognize the intrinsic laws of Nature. This is the time to respect and promote the rights of Mother Earth.

[1] Based on my speech as 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, New York, April 20th, 2011.

Pablo Solón Romero served as Ambassador of the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations from February 2009 to July 2011. As Ambassador to the UN, Solón spearheaded successful resolutions on the Human Right to Water, International Mother Earth Day, Harmony with Nature, and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He was very active in climate change negotiations under the UNFCCC, and helped organize the World People's Conference on Climate Change in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010. Before becoming Ambassador to the United Nations, Pablo Solón Romero worked as an activist for many years with different social organizations, indigenous movements, workers’ unions, student associations, human rights and cultural organizations in Bolivia.

  Read Itís The Time Of The Rights Of Mother Earth
 April , 2012  

Between about 55.5 and 52 million years ago, Earth experienced a series of sudden and extreme global warming events (hyperthermals) superimposed on a long-term warming trend. The first and largest of these events, the Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), is characterized by a massive input of carbon, ocean acidification and an increase in global temperature of about 5°C [9°F] within a few thousand years.

So begins an article in the journal Nature that offers an unsettling explanation for one of the great climate mysteries: What caused the PETM?

The article’s title gives away the answer: “Past extreme warming events linked to massive carbon release from thawing permafrost” (subs. req’d).

The lead author, climate scientist Rob DeConto, explains in a news release:

“The standard hypothesis has been that the source of carbon was in the ocean, in the form of frozen methane gas in ocean-floor sediments,” DeConto says. “We are instead ascribing the carbon source to the continents, in polar latitudes where permafrost can store massive amounts of carbon that can be released as CO2 when the permafrost thaws.”

The new view is supported by calculations estimating interactions of variables such as greenhouse gas levels, changes in the Earth’s tilt and orbit, ancient distributions of vegetation, and carbon stored in rocks and in frozen soil.

While the amounts of carbon involved in the ancient soil-thaw scenarios was likely much greater than today, implications of the study appear dire for the long-term future as polar permafrost carbon deposits have begun to thaw due to burning fossil-fuels, DeConto adds. “Similar dynamics are at play today. Global warming is degrading permafrost in the north polar regions, thawing frozen organic matter, which will decay to release CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. This will only exacerbate future warming in a positive feedback loop.”

Indeed, the recent scientific literature suggests that the permafrost is poised to be a major amplifying feedback if we are self-destructive enough to ignore yet another dire warning and stay anywhere near our current path of unrestricted carbon pollution:

>> Nature: Climate Experts Warn Thawing Permafrost Could Cause 2.5 Times the Warming of Deforestation!

>> NSIDC: Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s, releasing 100 billion tons of carbon by 2100

A 2010 study found our oceans are acidifying 10 times faster today than 55 million years ago when a mass extinction of marine species occurred.

In short, whatever we do, we don’t want to duplicate the conditions of the PETM. But, tragically, we are. Indeed, a 2011 study that found humans are releasing carbon to the atmosphere 10 times faster now than during the PETM. “Rather than the 20,000 years of the PETM which is long enough for ecological systems to adapt, carbon is now being released into the atmosphere at a rate 10 times faster,” one of the authors of that study explained. “It is possible that this is faster than ecosystems can adapt.”

Here’s more on this important new study:

[DeConto] and colleagues at Yale, the University of Colorado, Penn State, the University of Urbino, Italy, and the University of Sheffield, U.K., designed an accurate model―elusive up to now―to satisfactorily account for the source, magnitude and timing of carbon release at the PETM and subsequent very warm periods, which now appear to have been triggered by changes in the Earth’s orbit.

Earth’s atmospheric temperature is a result of energy input from the sun minus what escapes back to space. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere absorbs and traps heat that would otherwise return to space. The PETM was accompanied by a massive carbon input to the atmosphere, with ocean acidification, and was characterized by a global temperature rise of about 5 degrees C in a few thousand years, the researchers point out. Until now, it has been difficult to account for the massive amounts of carbon required to cause such dramatic global warming events.

To build the new model, DeConto’s team used a new, high-precision geologic record from rocks in central Italy to show that the PETM and other hyperthermals occurred during periods when Earth’s orbit around the sun was both highly eccentric (non-circular) and oblique (tilted). Orbit affects the amount, location and seasonality of solar radiation received on Earth, which in turn affects the seasons, particularly in polar latitudes, where permafrost and stored carbon can accumulate.

They then simulated climate-ecosystem-soil interactions, accounting for gradually rising greenhouse gases and polar temperatures plus the combined effects of changes in Earth orbit. Their results show that the magnitude and timing of the PETM and subsequent hyperthermals can be explained by the orbitally triggered decomposition of soil organic carbon in the circum-Arctic and Antarctica.

This massive carbon reservoir at the poles “had the potential to repeatedly release thousands of petagrams of carbon to the atmosphere-ocean system once a long-term warming threshold was reached just prior to the PETM,” DeConto and colleagues say. Until now, Antarctica, which today is covered by kilometers of ice, has not been appreciated as an important player in such global carbon dynamics.

In the past, “Antarctica and high elevations of the circum-Arctic were suitable locations for massive carbon storage,” they add. “During long-term warming, these environments eventually reached a climatic threshold,” with permafrost thaw and the sudden release of stored soil carbon triggered during the Earth’s highly eccentric orbits coupled with high tilt….

Overall, they conclude, “an orbital-permafrost soil carbon mechanism provides a unifying model accounting for the salient features of the hyperthermals that other previously proposed mechanisms fail to explain.” Further, if the analysis is correct and past extreme warm events can be attributed to permafrost loss, it implies that thawing of permafrost in similar environments observed today “will provide a substantial positive feedback to future warming.”

The time to slash emissions was a long time ago but now is still much, much better than later, which may, as this study suggests, simply become too late.

© 2005-2011 Center for American Progress Action Fund

  Read Past Extreme Warming Events Linked To Massive Carbon Release From Thawing Permafrost
 April 3, 2012  

The United Nations University International Human Dimensions Programme recently ran a writing contest with a focus on the human dimensions of the Green Economy. Young scholars from all over the world were invited to submit their articles, with those from developing countries particularly encouraged to take part. Our World 2.0 is pleased to share the winning entry by Joy Merwin Monteiro who is currently completing his Ph.D. at the Centre for Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

• • •

Energy is a fundamental necessity for life, let alone a vigorous society or civilization. This fact has been recognized by humans for a very long time — Sun, Wind, Fire and Water (in the form of rivers and waterfalls and rain), worshipped by most cultures, are manifestations of energy in one form or the other. The main difference between pre-industrial times and the present day is that we have restricted our worship only to Fire, neglecting the others almost entirely. Why this became the case, and as humanity again pays due attention to the other Gods again, what entities must again return into our moral equations, is what this essay tries to describe.

Sun, Wind and Water are, by nature, non-constant but rhythmic entities. The sun is up every day, but disappears during the night, winds change according to seasons, some rivers dry up in the summer and others flood during the rains and still nobody understands perfectly how the rains come and go.

Other important aspects of these sources of energy are that they are diffuse and not easy to store. Sunlight, wind and flowing water cannot be stored by themselves, but must be converted to some other form that can be stored. Such entities are normally called “fluxes”, and they are the most natural form in which energy is present around us. Even the purest form of energy that we know, electricity, is a flux and has to be converted to chemical energy in batteries before it can be stored.

The fact that these sources were hard to handle and diffuse (or not concentrated) was counterbalanced by the fact that they are, for all practical purposes, eternal. A European sailor planning to come to India to trade had to plan his visit to catch the monsoon winds, but he did not need to fear that these winds would stop some day. If today is cloudy, you can sun-dry your vegetables tomorrow. Pre-industrial society’s entire existence revolved around recognizing this variability and developing means to “harvest” this energy. Economic, social and cultural activity revolved around this ebb and flow of energy. Agriculture, wind/water mills were among the primary methods of harvesting this flux of energy, converting it into stocks of energy (in food grains) or using it immediately.

The main issue with these “gods”, as mentioned above, is that they are quite moody. Thus, those human activities that had to happen without break, everyday, like cooking for example, could not depend on them. It was Fire that came to our rescue.

Constant movement

Before moving onto the miracle of fire, it is necessary to analyse the moral universe of a person in a pre-industrial society. By necessity, a lot of objects in the world needed to be incorporated into her moral decision-making, the way she would decide something was “good” or “bad”. The rhythms of nature that manifest themselves in the movement of the sun, the seasons, flowering of plants, migration of animals, fruiting of trees were very important. Any activity that did not fit into this rhythm was not desirable. Restrictions on grazing, fishing, hunting, leaving land fallow, plucking flowers and fruits at certain times in the year are all indicators of the consciousness that humans depend to a very large extent on natural cycles over which they have no control. Therefore, any decision on the goodness or badness of any activity depended on the season, the time and the natural environment we found ourselves in. This was not due to altruism or an abstract love for nature, but due to sheer necessity.

Fire is unlike others in this pantheon. Rather than being energy in itself, it is a signature of a source of energy. Not only that, it indicates the presence of a highly concentrated source of energy. Sunlight in itself cannot become fire, but when concentrated through a lens or a mirror, it can become a very destructive fire as Archimedes discovered. Fire also yields easily to his worshippers, you can switch him on and off at will, once you have mastered the art. Therefore, it was but natural that those human activities that required constancy were built upon the foundation of fire. As long as there was fuel available, fire was there, regardless of time, region or season.

It is therefore not surprising that Prometheus, the one who gave fire to mankind in Greek mythology, is treated as a great champion of mankind. If gods are defined to be the masters of humanity, then fire, in giving us greater control over our own destiny, made us gods. The fundamental reason for this capacity of fire is that it depends on stocks of energy already stored and not the eternal fluxes that surround us at all times.

Not only was constancy attractive to the trader, but also to every section of humanity: constancy implied security and it increased the natural capacity of humans to build upon their ancestor’s work.

As humanity grew from being primarily agricultural to also indulging in trade and commerce, the prominence of fire grew very rapidly. The reason for this lies in the very nature of trade and commerce — it is the movement of things, people, ideas and cultures and all movement requires energy in one form or the other.

Controlling trade to some extent means controlling the energy that drives it. For this reason, initial trade (and, by implication, industry) was driven by animal and human (slave) power, firewood and sail boats. Mankind was making the move from harvesting energy to “mining” it from forests, animals and other, more unfortunate humans.

From the point of view of the enterprising businessman or trader, constant movement (of something or other) was required — movement implied trade and trade implied profit. Not only was constancy attractive to the trader, but also to every section of humanity: constancy implied security and it increased the natural capacity of humans to build upon their ancestor’s work. In this sense, it is a hallmark of civilization itself. This demand for constancy was at odds with what we had to work with — seasonal winds, disobedient labourers, lazy slaves and rapidly depleting forests that simply did not grow back as fast as we wanted.

It is from this point of view that the shift to coal (and later to oil) must be seen. It reduced the necessity to include the multitude of objects that previously entered our moral equations. Mankind could finally look inward and achieve magnificent progress without too many worries about what was happening in the non-human world. This was the era in which both the pessimists and the optimists, when discussing the future of the world, were simply discussing the future of the human species. Nature did not matter, for sooner or later we would completely conquer it anyway.

Fossil fuel-based transport, electricity to drive industries and homes, pesticides and fertilizers, which made agriculture less of a gamble, all combined together to provide the constancy we wanted and ensured a period of unparalleled prosperity and population growth. A mining civilization had more or less replaced the harvesting one. Fire was now our one and true God.

With fire came a profound shift in the way we worked and viewed the world. Farmers who could previously grow certain crops only at certain times of the year, could now grow them all around the year. People who previously aligned work and leisure with the sun and seasons now relied on casual leave, medical leave and government holidays. We began to work all year round, eat strawberries all year round and live in houses that were maintained at 27°C all year round. Corporations set up branches all over the world, so that the sun never set on their empires, forcing people to stay awake when they are supposed to sleep and vice-versa. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, we had to keep running to stay in the same place. Constancy was showing us that it was not all great, after all.

The severe jolt

It is therefore not surprising that, gradually, what was “good” and “bad” was decided by taking ever fewer objects into consideration, the logical conclusion of which came to be enshrined in the Homo economicus. To be fair, a life driven by coal and oil does not provide one with the time to do otherwise. Nothing but a severe jolt to the sensibility of humans could shake them out of their breathless but optimistic race towards an ever-receding perfection.

One by one, every resource that humanity has mined over the past few hundred years has either withered away or stood up in revolt. The first signs came when the humans being mined for their energy and skill revolted under the banners of communism and socialism. The frenetic movement that characterises our era moved diseases, plants and animals to places where they were not known, not always with good results. Agriculture is currently under siege by stubborn insects that simply refuse to be eradicated, no matter what is thrown at them. The oceans are nearly empty of fish, and the sky full of gases that threaten to heat our planet beyond the capacities of our best air-conditioners. When you play with fire, it is unlikely you won’t get burnt.

Slowly but surely, and somewhat reluctantly, humanity is beginning to realize that an inward looking civilization simply cannot survive forever. Those unsightly trees and insects will always have to be part of our culture, no matter what we do. The first few steps towards this consciousness have been taken (somewhat ironically) by identifying the rhythms of the Sun, Wind, Water and Life itself. Scientists are mapping out what are the best places to harvest solar energy, what areas of the world have high wind energy potential, hydroelectric potential and what places have large biodiversity. Modifying crops to suit local circumstances, using biological control for pests, understanding the response of ecosystems to our activities are under way. In essence, what was known before, and conveniently forgotten, is being painfully relearnt in a more “scientific” manner. Our moral universe is slowly but surely being reclaimed from the wasteland to which it was condemned for the past few hundred years.

The survival and prosperity of all life must be embodied within our notions of justice.

However, as we are making this shift, a very fundamental contradiction arises — our civilization, still predominantly a mining one, wants to be driven by technologies that belong to a harvesting civilization. We demand the constancy that we have been used to for many generations, and which we idolize as the epitome of civilization, but we hope this constancy will be driven by technologies that are moody, uncontrollable and unanswerable to anyone.

This contradiction is manifesting itself in many contemporary debates and concerns: Can organic farming feed the world as it is designed today? How can solar thermal plants run round the clock? How can we design an electricity grid that is smart enough to provide constant power supply when connected to solar and wind installations? How can we design newer batteries and fuel cells to shelter us against the vagaries of the Sun, Wind and Water? What are the “sustainable” pollution levels that our skies and oceans can tolerate?

That we can go back to a completely harvesting society is a pipe dream, similar to the nineteenth century dreams of infinite progress and complete social equality. But it is equally apparent that unless our moral decision-making does not encompass at least a larger part of our natural and social environments, we cannot achieve what we cherish and aspire toward. The energy industry has always sought to modify consumer behaviour through prices. However, given that the largest consumers are those that are also the most affluent, it is questionable how effective this strategy will be in the future. It is unlikely that a person living in a house with an A/C, goes to work in an office with an A/C and travels in a car with an A/C will even relate to the symptoms of global warming.

Moral decision-making must include a notion of duties towards other beings, human, non-human and even non-living. Some actions must be performed simply because we consider them to be our duty towards others. Our moral universe must not be one forged in Fire, but also kissed by the Sun and caressed by the Winds and Water. Most importantly, as these elements come together in the glorious phenomenon called Life, the survival and prosperity of all life must be embodied within our notions of justice. Our happiness and survival depend on an intricate web of causality that encompasses everything from simple molecules to the well-being of the vast oceans. May it never be thought of otherwise.

  Read Expanding Our Moral Universe
 April 3, 2012  
Climateandcapitalism.com

This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of The Vulnerable Planet by John Bellamy Foster In the first part of the chapter, Foster discusses the “qualitative transformation in the level of human destructiveness” that characterized capitalist production after World War II. This transformation included massive increases in the use of synthetics that could not be readily reabsorbed by nature, accompanied by a radical expansion in the use of all forms of energy, particularly fossil fuels. These changes in the patterns of production, he writes, are “the chief reason for the rapid acceleration of the ecological crisis in the postwar period.”

In the rest of the chapter, published here, he discusses the factors that underlie capitalism’s ever-growing conflict with nature.

In order to understand the ecological impact of these trends, it is useful to look at what Barry Commoner and others have referred to as the four informal laws of ecology:

1. Everything is connected to everything else,

2. Everything must go somewhere,

3. Nature knows best, and

4. Nothing comes from nothing.

The first of these informal laws, everything is connected to everything else, indicates how ecosystems are complex and interconnected. This complexity and interconnectedness, Haila and Levins write, “is not like that of the individual organism whose various organs have evolved and have been selected on the criterion of their contribution to the survival and fecundity of the whole.” Nature is far more complex and variable and considerably more resilient than the metaphor of the evolution of an individual organism suggests. An ecosystem can lose species and undergo significant transformations without collapsing. Yet the interconnectedness of nature also means that ecological systems can experience sudden, startling catastrophes if placed under extreme stress. “The system,” Commoner writes, “is stabilized by its dynamic self-compensating properties; these same properties, if overstressed, can lead to a dramatic collapse.” Further, “the ecological system is an amplifier, so that a small perturbation in one place may have large, distant, long-delayed effects elsewhere.”[1]

The second law of ecology, everything must go somewhere, restates a basic law of thermodynamics: in nature there is no final waste, matter and energy are preserved, and the waste produced in one ecological process is recycled in another. For instance, a downed tree or log in an old-growth forest is a source of life for numerous species and an essential part of the ecosystem. Likewise, animals excrete carbon dioxide to the air and organic compounds to the soil, which help to sustain plants upon which animals will feed.

Nature knows best, the third informal law of ecology, Commoner writes, “holds that any major man-made change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system.” During 5 billion years of evolution, living things developed an array of substances and reactions that together constitute the living biosphere. The modern petrochemical industry, however, suddenly created thousands of new substances that did not exist in nature. Based on the same basic patterns of carbon chemistry as natural compounds, these new substances enter readily into existing biochemical processes. But they do so in ways that are frequently destructive to life, leading to mutations, cancer, and many different forms of death and disease. “The absence of a particular substance from nature,” Commoner writes, “is often a sign that it is incompatible with the chemistry of life.”[2]

Nothing comes from nothing, the fourth informal law of ecology, expresses the fact that the exploitation of nature always carries an ecological cost. From a strict ecological standpoint, human beings are consumers more than they are producers. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that in the very process of using energy, human beings “use up” (but do not destroy) energy, in the sense that they transform it into forms that are no longer available for work. In the case of an automobile, for example, the high-grade chemical energy stored in the gasoline that fuels the car is available for useful work while the lower grade thermal energy in the automobile exhaust is not. In any transformation of energy, some of it is always degraded in this way. The ecological costs of production are therefore significant.[3]

Viewed against the backdrop offered by these four informal laws, the dominant pattern of capitalist development is clearly counter-ecological. Indeed, much of what characterizes capitalism as an ecohistorical system can be reduced to the following counter-ecological tendencies of the system:

1. The only lasting connection between things is the cash nexus;

2. It doesn’t matter where something goes as long as it doesn’t reenter the circuit of capital;

3. The self-regulating market knows best; and

4. Nature’s bounty is a free gift to the property owner.

The first of these counterecological tendencies, the only lasting connection between things is the cash nexus, expresses the fact that under capitalism all social relations between people and all the relationships of humans to nature are reduced to mere money relations. The disconnection of natural processes from each other and their extreme simplification is an inherent tendency of capitalist development. As Donald Worster explains,

“Despite many variations in time and place, the capitalistic agroecosystem shows one clear tendency over the span of modern history: a movement toward the radical simplification of the natural ecological order in the number of species found in an area and the intricacy of their interconnections…. In today’s parlance we call this new kind of agroecosystem a monoculture, meaning a part of nature that has been reconstituted to the point that it yields a single species, which is growing on the land only because somewhere there is a strong market demand for it.”[4]

The kind of reductionism characteristic of “commercial capitalism,” Indian physicist and ecologist Vandana Shiva states, “is based on specialized commodity production. Uniformity in production, and the unifunctional use of natural resources, is therefore required.” For example, although it is possible to ‘use rivers ecologically and sustainably in accordance with human needs, the giant river valley projects associated with the construction of today’s dams “work against, and not with, the logic of the river. These projects are based on reductionist assumptions [of uniformity, separability, and unifunctionality] which relate water use not to nature’s processes but to the processes of revenue and profit generation.”[5]

All of this is reflects the fact that cash nexus has become the sole connection between human beings and nature. With the development of the capitalist division of nature, the elements of nature are reduced to one common denominator (or bottom line): exchange value. In this respect it does not matter whether one’s product is coffee, furs, petroleum, or parrot feathers, as long as there is a market.[6]

The second ecological contradiction of the system, it doesn’t matter where something goes unless it re-enters the circuit of capital, reflects the fact that economic production under contemporary capitalist conditions is not truly a circular system (as in nature) but a linear one, running from sources to sinks-sinks that are now overflowing. The “no deposit/no return” analogue, the great ecological economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen has observed, “befits the businessman’s view of economic life.” The pollution caused by production is treated as an “externality” that is part of the costs to the firm.[7]

In precapitalist societies, much of the waste from agricultural production was recycled in close accordance with ecological laws. In a developed capitalist society, in contrast, recycling is extremely difficult because of the degree of division of nature. For instance, cattle are removed from pasture and raised in feedlots; their natural waste, rather than fertilizing the soil, becomes a serious form of pollution. Or, to take another example, plastics, which have increasingly replaced wood, steel, and other materials, are not biodegradable. In the present-day economy, Commoner writes, “goods are converted, linearly, into waste: crops into sewage; uranium into radioactive residues; petroleum and chlorine into dioxin; fossil fuels into carbon dioxide…. The end of the line is always waste, an assault on the cyclical processes that sustain the ecosphere.”[8]

It is not the ecological principle that nature knows best but rather the counter-ecological principle that the self-regulating market knows best that increasingly governs all life under capitalism. For example, food is no longer viewed chiefly as a form of nutrition but as a means of earning profits, so that nutritional value is sacrificed for bulk. Intensive applications of nitrogen fertilizer unbalance the mineral composition of the soil, which in turn affects the mineral content of the vegetables grown on it. Transport and storage requirements take precedence over food quality. And in order to market agricultural produce effectively, pesticides are sometimes used simply to protect the appearance of the produce. In the end, the quality of food is debased, birds and other species are killed, and human beings are poisoned.[9]

Nature’s bounty is a free gift to the property owner, the fourth counter-ecological tendency of capitalism, expresses the fact that the ecological costs associated with the appropriation of natural resources and energy are rarely factored into the economic equation. Classical liberal economics, Marx argued, saw nature as a “gratuitous” gain for capital. Nowhere in establishment economic models does one find an adequate accounting of nature’s contribution. “Capitalism,” as the great environmental economist K. William Kapp contended, “must be regarded as an economy of unpaid costs, ‘unpaid’ in so far as a substantial portion of the actual costs of production remain unaccounted for in entrepreneurial outlays; instead they are shifted to, and ultimately borne by, third persons or by the community as a whole.” For example, the air pollution caused by a factory is not treated as a cost of production internal to that factory. Rather it is viewed as an external cost to be borne by nature and society. [10]

By failing to place any real value on natural wealth, capitalism maximizes the throughput of raw materials and energy because the greater this flow-from extraction through the delivery of the final product to the consumer-the greater the chance of generating profits. And by selectively focusing on minimizing labor inputs, the system promotes energy-using and capital-intensive high technologies. All of this translates into faster depletion of nonrenewable resources and more wastes dumped into the environment. For instance, since World War II, plastics have increasingly displaced leather in the production of such items as purses and shoes. To produce the same value of output, the plastics industry uses only about a quarter of the amount, of labor used by leather manufacture, but it uses ten times as much capital and thirty times as much energy. The substitution of plastics for leather in the production of these items has therefore meant less demand for labor, more demand for capital and energy, and greater environmental pollution.[11]

The foregoing contradictions between ecology and the economy can all be reduced to the fact that the profit-making relation has become to a startling degree the sole connection between human beings and between human beings and nature. This means that while we can envision more sustainable forms of technology that would solve much of the environmental problem, the development and implementation of these technologies is blocked by the mode of production-by capitalism and capitalists. Large corporations make the major decisions about the technology we use, and the sole lens that they consider in arriving at their decisions is profitability. In explaining why Detroit automakers prefer to make large, gas-guzzling cars, Henry Ford II stated simply “minicars make miniprofits.” The same point was made more explicitly by John Z. DeLorean, a former General Motors executive, who stated, “When we should have been planning switches to smaller, more fuel-efficient, lighter cars in the late 1960s in response to growing demand in the marketplace, GM management refused because ‘we make more money on big cars.’”[12]

Underlying the general counter-ecological approach to production depicted here is the question of growth. An exponential growth dynamic is inherent in capitalism, a system whereby money is exchanged for commodities, which are then exchanged for more money on an ever increasing scale.

“As economists from Adam Smith and Marx through Keynes have pointed out,” Robert Heilbroner has observed, “a ‘stationary’ capitalism is subject to a falling rate of profit as the investment opportunities of the system are used up. Hence, in the absence of an expansionary frontier, the investment drive slows down and a deflationary spiral of incomes and employment begins.”

What this means is that capitalism cannot exist without constantly expanding the scale of production: any interruption in this process will take the form of an economic crisis. Yet in the late twentieth century there is every reason to believe that the kind of rapid economic growth that the system has demanded in order to sustain its very existence is no longer ecologically sustainable.[13]

John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review. His recent books include The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace with the Planet and (with Fred Magdoff) What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism.

Notes

[1] Commoner, The Closing Circle, pp. 29-42; Edberg and Yablokov, Tomorrow Will Be Too Late, p. 89; Haila and Levins, Humanity and Nature, pp. 5-6. Although Commoner refers to the fourth law as “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” the Russian scientist Yablokov has translated this more generally as “nothing comes from nothing.”

[2] Commoner, Closing Circle, pp. 37-41; and Making Peace with the Planet, pp. 11-13. Commoner’s third law should not be taken too literally. As Haila and Levins write, “The conception that ‘nature knows best’ is relativized by the contingency of evolution.” Haila and Levins, Humanity and Nature, p.6.

[3] Ibid., pp. 14-15; Herman E. Daly and Kenneth Townsend, eds., Valuing the Earth (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1993), pp. 69-73.

[4] Donald Worster, The Wealth of Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 58-59.

[5] Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive (London: Zed Books, 1989), pp. 23-24, 186.

[6] Haila and Levins, Humanity and Nature, p. 201.

[7] Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, The Entropy Law and the Economic Process (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 2.

[8] Commoner, Making Peace, pp. 10-11.

[9] Haila and Levins, Humanity and Nature, p. 160.

[10] Georgescu-Roegen, Entropy Law, p. 2; K. William Kapp, The Social Costs of Private Enterprise (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 231.

[11] Chandler Morse, “Environment, Economics and Socialism,” Monthly Review no. 11 (April 1979): 12; Commoner, Making Peace, pp. 82-83; and The Poverty of Power (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), p. 194.

[12] Ford and DeLorean quoted in Commoner, Making Peace, pp. 80-81.

[13] Robert Heilbroner, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: W.W. Norton, 1980), p. 100.

  Read The Four Laws Of Ecology And The Four Anti-Ecological Laws Of Capitalism
 April 4, 2012  
The deep time blueprints of anthropogenic global change
by Andrew Glikson, Countercurrents.org
ďIt is unthinkable that that a civilization which placed a man on the moon and explored the solar system cannot find the will to protect its own planet. No human tribal, national, religious faith or political system appears to be able to resolve the climate crisis, nor can the rationale of ongoing $trillions-scale wars around the globe, which can only culminate in nuclear war, amount to more than a suicide pact.Ē
  Read The deep time blueprints of anthropogenic global change
 April 2, 2012  
Worsening Trends In Global Arms Transfers
by Chandra Muzaffar, Countercurrents.org

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has in its 2011 Report highlighted trends in global arms transfers which any sane human being would describe as “worsening.”

SIPRI shows that “the volume of international transfers of major conventional weapons was 24 per cent higher in the period 2007-11 than in 2002-2006.” The top supplier of arms during both periods was the United States of America. Its exports increased by 24 per cent in the latter period. The US accounted for 30 per cent of all arms exports between 2007 and 2011.

The US was followed by Russia whose exports increased by 12 per cent between 2002-2006 and 2007-2011. Russia accounted for 24 per cent of all exports. Germany, France and Britain were the other three big arms suppliers.

The top 5 suppliers accounted for 75 per cent of the total volume of all global arms exports.

The 5 biggest arms importers in 2007-2011 were India, South Korea, Pakistan, China and Singapore in that order. India was also the top importer in 2002-2006. Asia as a whole was the biggest importer of arms in 2007-2011, accounting for 44 per cent of imports.

However, the largest arms deal for “at least two decades was Saudi Arabia’s order for 84 new and 70 rebuilt F-15SG combat aircraft.” The beneficiary of this purchase concluded in 2011 was the US.

What is the larger significance of these worsening trends in global arms transfers?

One, global security has not increased one iota as a result of increased arms transfers. Wars and armed conflicts continue unabated. The underlying causes of conflicts and tensions in West Asia and North Africa (WANA), the Korean Peninsula, East Asia, South Asia and parts of sub-Saharan Africa remain unresolved. If anything, escalating export and import of arms may even have exacerbated tensions between states within a region---- tensions arising from a relentless arms race between neighbours.
Two, increased arms transfers are happening at a time when the global economy is mired in deep crisis. It is a crisis that has caused massive unemployment in some parts of the world, compounded national debts, aggravated inflationary trends, increased food and fuel prices, and reduced growth rates worldwide. To focus upon buying and selling arms when economies are crumbling and collapsing, and millions of people are without jobs or are struggling to make ends meet, is utterly, despicably, immoral and unconscionable. Governments and elites everywhere, including those who reap huge profits from the arms industry, should be concentrating upon those economic activities that conduce towards life, dignity and justice---- not an enterprise that promotes death, violence and destruction.

Given this conjuncture between an increase in arms transfers, on the one hand, and a global economy in crisis, on the other, citizens the world over should persuade and pressure governments and elites to reduce and eventually eliminate the production and consumption of all major conventional weapons. It goes without saying that this cannot be done on a national or regional basis. It has to be a truly global endeavour. Governments should come together and formulate a timetable for global disarmament. This is one of humankind’s time-honoured, much cherisheddreams---- a world free from all weapons of death and destruction.Translating it into reality we realise is a monumental challenge which goes beyond the cessation of the production and consumption of conventional weapons. But let the citizens of the world at least demand that those who rule in their name put disarmament on the global agenda as an urgent itemthat requires immediate attention.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

  Read Worsening Trends In Global Arms Transfers
 April 2, 2012  
Global Warming According To Scientific Projections
by Geert Jan van Oldenborgh & Rein Haarsma, Countercurrents.org

1981 climate projection by Jim Hansen et al shows pretty good match with observations of past 30 years

Sometimes it helps to take a step back from the everyday pressures of research (falling ill helps). It was in this way we stumbled across Hansen et al (1981) (pdf). In 1981 the first author of this post was in his first year at university and the other just entered the KNMI after finishing his masters. Global warming was not yet an issue at the KNMI where the focus was much more on climate variability, which explains why the article of Hansen et al. was unnoticed at that time by the second author. It turns out to be a very interesting read.

They got 10 pages in Science, which is a lot, but in it they cover radiation balance, 1D and 3D modelling, climate sensitivity, the main feedbacks (water vapour, lapse rate, clouds, ice- and vegetation albedo); solar and volcanic forcing; the uncertainties of aerosol forcings; and ocean heat uptake. Obviously climate science was a mature field even then: the concepts and conclusions have not changed all that much. Hansen et al clearly indicate what was well known (all of which still stands today) and what was uncertain.

Next they attribute global mean temperature trend 1880-1980 to CO2, volcanic and solar forcing. Most interestingly, Fig.6 (below) gives a projection for the global mean temperature up to 2100. At a time when the northern hemisphere was cooling and the global mean temperature still below the values of the early 1940s, they confidently predicted a rise in temperature due to increasing CO2 emissions. They assume that no action will be taken before the global warming signal will be significant in the late 1990s, so the different energy-use scenarios only start diverging after that.

The first 31 years of this projection are thus relatively well-defined and can now be compared to the observations. We used the GISS Land-Ocean Index that uses SST over the oceans (the original one interpolated from island stations) and overlaid the graph from the KNMI Climate Explorer on the lower left-hand corner of their Fig.6.

 

Given the many uncertainties at the time, notably the role of aerosols, the agreement is very good indeed. They only underestimated the observed trend by about 30%, similar or better in magnitude than the CMIP5 models over the same period (although these tend to overestimate the trend, still mainly due to problems related to aerosols).

To conclude, a projection from 1981 for rising temperatures in a major science journal, at a time that the temperature rise was not yet obvious in the observations, has been found to agree well with the observations since then, underestimating the observed trend by about 30%, and easily beating naive predictions of no-change or a linear continuation of trends. It is also a nice example of a statement based on theory that could be falsified and up to now has withstood the test. The “global warming hypothesis” has been developed according to the principles of sound science.

References

1. J. Hansen, D. Johnson, A. Lacis, S. Lebedeff, P. Lee, D. Rind, and G. Russell, "Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide", Science, vol. 213, 1981, pp. 957-966. DOI.

Geert Jan van Oldenborgh & Rein Haarsma are scientists at Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut - KNMI

  Read Global Warming According To Scientific Projections
 April 2, 2012  
A New Energy Third World In North America?
by Michael T. Klare, Countercurrents.org

How the Big Energy Companies Plan to Turn the United States into a Third-World Petro-State

The “curse” of oil wealth is a well-known phenomenon in Third World petro-states where millions of lives are wasted in poverty and the environment is ravaged, while tiny elites rake in the energy dollars and corruption rules the land. Recently, North America has been repeatedly hailed as the planet’s twenty-first-century “new Saudi Arabia” for “tough energy” -- deep-sea oil, Canadian tar sands, and fracked oil and natural gas. But here’s a question no one considers: Will the oil curse become as familiar on this continent in the wake of a new American energy rush as it is in Africa and elsewhere? Will North America, that is, become not just the next boom continent for energy bonanzas, but a new energy Third World?

Once upon a time, the giant U.S. oil companies -- Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco -- got their start in North America, launching an oil boom that lasted a century and made the U.S. the planet’s dominant energy producer. But most of those companies have long since turned elsewhere for new sources of oil.

Eager to escape ever-stronger environmental restrictions and dying oil fields at home, the energy giants were naturally drawn to the economically and environmentally wide-open producing areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America -- the Third World -- where oil deposits were plentiful, governments compliant, and environmental regulations few or nonexistent.

Here, then, is the energy surprise of the twenty-first century: with operating conditions growing increasingly difficult in the global South, the major firms are now flocking back to North America. To exploit previously neglected reserves on this continent, however, Big Oil will have to overcome a host of regulatory and environmental obstacles. It will, in other words, have to use its version of deep-pocket persuasion to convert the United States into the functional equivalent of a Third World petro-state.

Knowledgeable observers are already noting the first telltale signs of the oil industry’s “Third-Worldification” of the United States. Wilderness areas from which the oil companies were once barred are being opened to energy exploitation and other restraints on invasive drilling operations are being dismantled. Expectations are that, in the wake of the 2012 election season, environmental regulations will be rolled back even further and other protected areas made available for development. In the process, as has so often been the case with Third World petro-states, the rights and wellbeing of local citizens will be trampled underfoot.

Welcome to the Third World of Energy

Up until 1950, the United States was the world’s leading oil producer, the Saudi Arabia of its day. In that year, the U.S. produced approximately 270 million metric tons of oil, or about 55% of the world’s entire output. But with a postwar recovery then in full swing, the world needed a lot more energy while America’s most accessible oil fields -- though still capable of growth -- were approaching their maximum sustainable production levels. Net U.S. crude oil output reached a peak of about 9.2 million barrels per day in 1970 and then went into decline (until very recently).

This prompted the giant oil firms, which had already developed significant footholds in Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, to scour the global South in search of new reserves to exploit -- a saga told with great gusto in Daniel Yergin’s epic history of the oil industry, The Prize. Particular attention was devoted to the Persian Gulf region, where in 1948 a consortium of American companies -- Chevron, Exxon, Mobil, and Texaco -- discovered the world’s largest oil field, Ghawar, in Saudi Arabia. By 1975, Third World countries were producing 58% of the world’s oil supply, while the U.S. share had dropped to 18%.

Environmental concerns also drove this search for new reserves in the global South. On January 28, 1969, a blowout at Platform A of a Union Oil Company offshore field in California’s Santa Barbara Channel produced a massive oil leak that covered much of the area and laid waste to local wildlife. Coming at a time of growing environmental consciousness, the spill provoked an outpouring of public outrage, helping to inspire the establishment of Earth Day, first observed one year later. Equally important, it helped spur passage of various legislative restraints on drilling activities, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. In addition, Congress banned new drilling in waters off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida.

During these years, Washington also expanded areas designated as wilderness or wildlife preserves, protecting them from resource extraction. In 1952, for example, President Eisenhower established the Arctic National Wildlife Range and, in 1980, this remote area of northeastern Alaska was redesignated by Congress as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Ever since the discovery of oil in the adjacent Prudhoe Bay area, energy firms have been clamoring for the right to drill in ANWR, only to be blocked by one or another president or house of Congress.

For the most part, production in Third World countries posed no such complications. The Nigerian government, for example, has long welcomed foreign investment in its onshore and offshore oil fields, while showing little concern over the despoliation of its southern coastline, where oil company operations have produced a massive environmental disaster. As Adam Nossiter of the New York Times described the resulting situation, “The Niger Delta, where the [petroleum] wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface, has endured the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every year for 50 years by some estimates.”

As vividly laid out by Peter Maass in Crude World, a similar pattern is evident in many other Third World petro-states where anything goes as compliant government officials -- often the recipients of hefty bribes or other oil-company favors -- regularly look the other way. The companies, in turn, don’t trouble themselves over the human rights abuses perpetrated by their foreign government “partners” -- many of them dictators, warlords, or feudal potentates.

But times change. The Third World increasingly isn’t what it used to be. Many countries in the global South are becoming more protective of their environments, ever more inclined to take ever larger cuts of the oil wealth of their own countries, and ever more inclined to punish foreign companies that abuse their laws. In February 2011, for example, a judge in the Ecuadorean Amazon town of Lago Agrio ordered Chevron to pay $9 billion in damages for environmental harm caused to the region in the 1970s by Texaco (which the company later acquired). Although the Ecuadorians are unlikely to collect a single dollar from Chevron, the case is indicative of the tougher regulatory climate now facing these companies in the developing world. More recently, in a case resulting from an oil spill at an offshore field, a judge in Brazil has seized the passports of 17 employees of Chevron and U.S. drilling-rig operator Transocean, preventing them from leaving the country.

In addition, production is on the decline in some developing countries like Indonesia and Gabon, while others have nationalized their oil fields or narrowed the space in which private international firms can operate. During Hugo Chávez’s presidency, for example, Venezuela has forced all foreign firms to award a majority stake in their operations to the state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. Similarly, the Brazilian government, under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, instituted a rule that all drilling operations in the new “pre-salt” fields in the Atlantic Ocean -- widely believed to be the biggest oil discovery of the twenty-first century -- be managed by the state-controlled firm, Petróleo de Brasil (Petrobras).

Fracking Our Way to a Toxic Planet

Such pressures in the Third World have forced the major U.S. and European firms -- BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and Total of France -- to look elsewhere for new sources of oil and natural gas. Unfortunately for them, there aren’t many places left in the world that possess promising hydrocarbon reserves and also welcome investment by private energy giants. That’s why some of the most attractive new energy markets now lie in Canada and the United States, or in the waters off their shores. As a result, both are experiencing a remarkable uptick in fresh investment from the major international firms.

Both countries still possess substantial oil and gas deposits, but not of the “easy” variety (deposits close to the surface, close to shore, or easily accessible for extraction). All that remains are “tough” energy reserves (deep underground, far offshore, hard to extract and process). To exploit these, the energy companies must deploy aggressive technologies likely to cause extensive damage to the environment and in many cases human health as well. They must also find ways to gain government approval to enter environmentally protected areas now off limits.

The formula for making Canada and the U.S. the “Saudi Arabia” of the twenty-first century is grim but relatively simple: environmental protections will have to be eviscerated and those who stand in the way of intensified drilling, from landowners to local environmental protection groups, bulldozed out of the way. Put another way, North America will have to be Third-Worldified.

Consider the extraction of shale oil and gas, widely considered the most crucial aspect of Big Oil’s current push back into the North American market. Shale formations in Canada and the U.S. are believed to house massive quantities of oil and natural gas, and their accelerated extraction is already helping reduce the region’s reliance on imported petroleum.

Both energy sources, however, can only be extracted through a process known as hydraulic fracturing (“hydro-fracking,” or just plain “fracking”) that uses powerful jets of water in massive quantities to shatter underground shale formations, creating fissures through which the hydrocarbons can escape. In addition, to widen these fissures and ease the escape of the oil and gas they hold, the fracking water has to be mixed with a variety of often poisonous solvents and acids. This technique produces massive quantities of toxic wastewater, which can neither be returned to the environment without endangering drinking water supplies nor easily stored and decontaminated.

The rapid expansion of hydro-fracking would be problematic under the best of circumstances, which these aren’t. Many of the richest sources of shale oil and gas, for instance, are located in populated areas of Texas, Arkansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. In fact, one of the most promising sites, the Marcellus formation, abuts New York City’s upstate watershed area. Under such circumstances, concern over the safety of drinking water should be paramount, and federal legislation, especially the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, should theoretically give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the power to oversee (and potentially ban) any procedures that endanger water supplies.

However, oil companies seeking to increase profits by maximizing the utilization of hydro-fracking banded together, put pressure on Congress, and managed to get itself exempted from the 1974 law’s provisions. In 2005, under heavy lobbying from then Vice President Dick Cheney -- formerly the CEO of oil services contractor Halliburton -- Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which prohibited the EPA from regulating hydro-fracking via the Safe Drinking Water Act, thereby eliminating a significant impediment to wider use of the technique.

Third Worldification

Since then, there has been a virtual stampede to the shale regions by the major oil companies, which have in many cases devoured smaller firms that pioneered the development of hydro-fracking. (In 2009, for example, ExxonMobil paid $31 billion to acquire XTO Energy, one of the leading producers of shale gas.) As the extraction of shale oil and gas has accelerated, the industry has faced other problems. To successfully exploit promising shale formations, for instance, energy firms must insert many wells, since each fracking operation can only extend several hundred feet in any direction, requiring the establishment of noisy, polluting, and potentially hazardous drilling operations in well-populated rural and suburban areas.

While drilling has been welcomed by some of these communities as a source of added income, many have vigorously opposed the invasion, seeing it as an assault on neighborhood peace, health, and safety. In an effort to protect their quality of life, some Pennsylvania communities, for example, have adopted zoning laws that ban fracking in their midst. Viewing this as yet another intolerable obstacle, the industry has put intense pressure on friendly members of the state legislature to adopt a law depriving most local jurisdictions of the right to exclude fracking operations. “We have been sold out to the gas industry, plain and simple,” said Todd Miller, a town commissioner in South Fayette Township who opposed the legislation.

If the energy industry has its way in North America, there will be many more Todd Millers complaining about the way their lives and worlds have been “sold out” to the energy barons. Similar battles are already being fought elsewhere in North America, as energy firms seek to overcome resistance to expanded drilling in areas once protected from such activity.

In Alaska, for example, the industry is fighting in the courts and in Congress to allow drilling in coastal areas, despite opposition from Native American communities which worry that vulnerable marine animals and their traditional way of life will be put at risk. This summer, Royal Dutch Shell is expected to begin test drilling in the Chukchi Sea, an area important to several such communities.

And this is just the beginning. To gain access to additional stores of oil and gas, the industry is seeking to eliminate virtually all environmental restraints imposed since the 1960s and open vast tracts of coastal and wilderness areas, including ANWR, to intensive drilling. It also seeks the construction of the much disputed Keystone XL pipeline, which is to transport synthetic crude oil made from Canadian tar sands -- a particularly “dirty” and environmentally devastating form of energy which has attracted substantial U.S. investment -- to Texas and Louisiana for further processing. According to Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the preferred U.S. energy strategy “would include greater access to areas that are currently off limits, a regulatory and permitting process that supported reasonable timelines for development, and immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.”

To achieve these objectives, the API, which claims to represent more than 490 oil and natural gas companies, has launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to sway the 2012 elections, dubbed “Vote 4 Energy.” While describing itself as nonpartisan, the API-financed campaign seeks to discredit and marginalize any candidate, including President Obama, who opposes even the mildest of version of its drill-anywhere agenda.

“There [are] two paths that we can take” on energy policy, the Vote 4 Energy Web site proclaims. “One path leads to more jobs, higher government revenues and greater U.S. energy security -- which can be achieved by increasing oil and natural gas development right here at home. The other path would put jobs, revenues and our energy security at risk.” This message will be broadcast with increasing frequency as Election Day nears.

According to the energy industry, we are at a fork in the road and can either chose a path leading to greater energy independence or to ever more perilous energy insecurity. But there is another way to characterize that “choice”: on one path, the United States will increasingly come to resemble a Third World petro-state, with compliant government leaders, an increasingly money-ridden and corrupt political system, and negligible environmental and health safeguards; on the other, which would also involve far greater investment in the development of renewable alternative energies, it would remain a First World nation with strong health and environmental regulations and robust democratic institutions.

How we characterize our energy predicament in the coming decades and what path we ultimately select will in large measure determine the fate of this nation.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author of The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources just published by Metropolitan Books. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses his new book and what it means to rely on extreme energy, click here, or download it to your iPod here. Klare can be followed on Facebook.

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Copyright 2012 Michael T. Klare

  Read A New Energy Third World In North America?
 March 30, 2012  
West Stonewalling Democracy in Bahrain
by Ismail Salami, Countercurrents.org

Google Bahrain and you will see how inexcusably the popular uprising in the Persian Gulf sheikhdom is being blacked out by the mainstream media and how discriminatingly the Western leaders ignore the vociferous demands of a nation for democracy and social justice.

Bahraini protesters are arrested and systematically tortured on a daily basis. The head of a fact-finding mission Cherif Bassiouni set up by the Bahraini government to investigate reports of torture has said Manama uses the systematic policy of torture against protesters.

Cherif Bassiouni said on November 2, 2011 that he had found 300 cases of torture during his investigation.

"It is not possible to justify torture in any way, and despite the small number of cases, it is clear there was a systematic policy," Bassiouni said in an interview with Egyptian daily Almasry Alyoum.

"I investigated and I found 300 cases of torture and I was helped in that by legal experts from Egypt and America," he added.

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First gives a painful account of the ordeals the Bahraini protesters arrested by the Bahraini forces. He also talks about teenage boys severely beaten by the Saudi-backed forces:

“They beat us until they got tired, then other policemen would take over and beat us more,” said one boy.

On March 22, 2012, Bahraini activists released a footage detailing the rape of a child at the hands of the Saudi-backed forces in Bahrain. The footage which was enough to chill the spine and curdle the blood showed a handcuffed child with his pants down. He was badly beaten and left unconscious with his hands tied behind his back. He was discovered lying in a street in the village of Sanabis, outside of Manama.

Kangaroo courts are rampant in Bahrain. In a 94-page report titled No Justice in Bahrain: Unfair Trials in Military and Civilian Courts in February 2011, the Human Rights Watch blasted the grotesquely Kafkaesque trials in the country, saying such trials were crass and politically motivated.

"Grossly unfair military and civilian trials have been a core element in Bahrain's crackdown on pro-democracy protests," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

"The government should remedy the hundreds of unfair convictions of the past year by dropping the cases against everyone convicted on politically motivated charges and by adopting effective measures to end torture in detention," he noted.

The group also demanded Western countries suspend all military and security-related sales to the regime until the government fully addresses the violations.

"These violations reflect serious, systematic problems with Bahrain's criminal justice system and the role of the military and intelligence services in state oppression," the report pointed out.

Western governments shamelessly help the autocratic regime of Al Khalifa to quell the protests by providing weapons and military equipment to the government. New official figures disclose that Britain continues to sell arms to Bahrain. According to the figures, the British government approved the sale of “military equipment valued at more than £1m in the months following the violent crackdown on demonstrators a year ago. They included licenses for gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for military training aircraft” (The Guardian 14 February 2012). Also, in July and September, naval guns and components for detecting and jamming improvised explosive devices were exported to the monarchy.

In 2010, the US which has its Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, sold over $200 million worth of weapons to the country. In September 2011, the United States delayed a US$53 million arms sale to Bahrain for its possible concerns for the human rights violations in the country and the severe criticism by human rights groups. For instance, Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch said, “This is exactly the wrong move after Bahrain brutally suppressed protests and is carrying out a relentless campaign of retribution against its critics. By continuing its relationship as if nothing had happened, the US is furthering an unstable situation."

However, in a January 27, 2012 statement, the US State Department said it was planning to push ahead with the sale of approximately $1 million of equipment to Bahrain. All of a sudden, the US decided that Bahrain is an “important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East” and that they should do their best to provide the regime with all sorts of military equipment including 44 Humvees, more than 50 bunker-buster missiles and night-vision technology.

In reaction to the opposition of human rights activists, a US State Department official said that Washington “weighs the economic, national security, foreign policy and human rights implications of any proposed transfer of arms very carefully”.

The official who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter added, “We view the proposed sale as one that would help Bahrain’s defense force develop its capabilities against external threats and would ensure interoperability with our forces” (The Washington Post September 29, 2011).

Apart from having at his disposal UK and US weapons, Bahrain's king Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has reportedly received some bezels of wisdom in cracking down on the protesters from the notorious British Colonel Ian Henderson AKA the Butcher of Bahrain. Ian Henderson is an enigmatic personality who is well-versed in military tactics and torture. A British citizen whose very name conjures up images of appalling torture methods, he used torture to crush the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, and later the 1990s uprising in Bahrain. It is widely speculated that Henderson has orchestrated the crackdown in Bahrain. He is charged with torturing Bahrainis while he served as the head of state security in Bahrain for approximately 30 years. According to political dissidents, he resorted to torture as a means to quell the opposition movement in Bahrain back in the nineties.

What seems to be of paramount importance is that he must have acted under the guidance of the British government. The complicity of the British government in the torture of the Bahraini dissidents has long been a matter of controversy. On 3 June 1997, at a parliamentary session, former MP George Galloway described Ian Henderson as “Britain's Klaus Barbie” and said, “Henderson might have walked from the fevered pages of a Graham Greene novel. He was an interrogator of the Mau Mau during colonial rule in Kenya in the bitter struggle for independence. So brutally efficient were his methods that, on obtaining independence for Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta tried to re-engage him in his own security apparatus. So notorious was Henderson that a demonstration was mounted by his victims and the whole affair became so scandalous that Kenyatta was forced to deport him. Via Ian Smith's Rhodesia, he ended up as the right hand man of the Al-Khalifa. In the Gulf, Henderson is known as the butcher of Bahrain. He is the head of the security services and director of intelligence and has gathered around him the kind of British dogs of war, mercenaries, whose guns and electric shock equipment are for hire to anyone who will pay the price” (www.publications.parliament.uk).

Ian Henderson was honored by Queen Elizabeth II with the title “Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” (CBE) in 1986. He was also honored by Government of Bahrain with Order of Bahrain 1st Class and Bahrain Meritorious Service Medal 1st Class.

The West blatantly pontificates about democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and shuts its ears to the excruciating cry for social justice in Bahrain. To crown it all, it provides the regime with every means to carry out its brutality and crackdown.

Dr. Ismail Salami is an Iranian writer, Middle East expert, Iranologist and lexicographer. He writes extensively on the US and Middle East issues and his articles have been translated into a number of languages.

  Read West Stonewalling Democracy in Bahrain
 March 28, 2012  

To impose a failed technology with high social and ecological costs in the name of ‘science’ is anti-science and anti-democracy

In an interview to the journal Science (Feb. 24 edition), Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chose to focus on two hazardous technologies — genetically engineered seeds and crops in agriculture and nuclear power — as vital to the progress of science in India and the “salvation for finding meaningful new pathways of developing our economy”. He also talked about foreign-funded NGOs that were blocking this development.

What Dr Singh said in the interview saddened me because he seems out of touch with science as well as the people of India whose will he is supposed to represent in a democracy. To label the democratic voices of the citizens of India as “foreign” and unthinking is an insult to democracy, to the people of India and to the scientific community. The scientific community is dedicated to developing science in public interest and to understanding the safety aspects of hazardous technologies like nuclear and genetic engineering.

Dr Singh’s statements also trivialised the regulatory framework for biosafety and nuclear safety. Biotechnology and nuclear science have safety implications in the context of the environment and public health. We have national and international laws on biosafety in the context of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and nuclear safety in the context of nuclear power and Dr Singh should be legally bound by these frameworks. The debate on safety is vital to our science, our democracy and our ecological food and health security.

Dr Singh is misleading the nation by making it appear as if the voices raising caution are only of “foreign-funded NGOs”. The most significant voice on biosafety is of Dr Pushpa Bhargava, the father of molecular biology in India and Supreme Court Appointee on the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, which is the statutory body that regulates GMOs for biosafety under the 1989 Environment Protection Act. The most important voice for nuclear safety is of Dr A. Gopalakrishnan, the former chairman of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. Dr Singh should listen to these eminent experts for developing a responsible and democratic science rather than creating the bogey of “foreign interference” and starting a witch hunt of public interest groups which are the very life and blood of a democracy.

This attack on movements engaged in safety issues of genetic engineering and nuclear power needs to be viewed in the larger context of the megabucks foreign corporations pushing GMOs and nuclear power plants are looking at in India. Dr Singh has succumbed to these pressures and has sacrificed India’s food and energy sovereignty. He signed the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement and the deal got the approval of Parliament only through the “cash for votes” scandal. Dr Singh also signed the Indo-US Agriculture Initiative which seeks to put India’s food and agriculture systems in the hands of global corporate giants like Monsanto, Cargill and Walmart, though the push for foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail was stopped by Parliament.

The recent Uttar Pradesh and other Assembly election results show that the people have rejected those policies of the UPA that focus on the interests of global corporations while trampling on the livelihood and democratic rights of the people of India.

We still haven’t recovered from the huge price we had to pay when our seed sovereignty in cotton was destroyed after the entry of Monsanto: Seed costs jumped 8,000 per cent, use of pesticides increased, as did crop failure, and that in turn increased farmers’ debt. And with debt came the epidemic of farmers’ suicides. Today, 95 per cent of our cotton seed is owned and collected by Monsanto through licensing agreements with 60 Indian seed companies.

Dr Singh talks of the “double whammy” of disease but he describes it as an “opportunity”. He fails to address the “double whammy” in the food and agriculture crisis — 250,000 farmer committed suicide and half of India’s children are malnourished. The GMOs are not a solution to this double whammy. They are aggravating and deepening the crisis of debt linked to capital intensive, non-sustainable agriculture based on seed monopoly, which destroys food systems that produce nutritious food. The solution to farmers’ suicide and children’s malnutrition is the science of agro-ecology and the development of ecologically intensive, low-cost agriculture that increases the production of nutritious food as we have shown in the Navdanya report titled, “Health Per Acre”.

Navdanya’s report “The GMO emperor has no clothes” provides empirical evidence about the performance of GMOs in farmers’ fields. The GMOs have failed to increase yields or reduce the use of pesticides. The prevalence of pests and weeds hasn’t decreased either. GMOs have, in fact, increased chemical use and led to the emergence of super pests and super weeds.

To impose a failed technology with extremely high social and ecological costs undemocratically on India in the name of “science” is anti-science and anti-democracy. It is anti-science because real science is based on the new disciplines of agro-ecology and epigenetics, not the obsolete idea of genetic determinism and genetic reductionism. The latest science in energy is renewable energy and not nuclear.

Yet, the Prime Minister, under the influence of global corporations, will stop at nothing to destroy the nation’s seed, food and energy sovereignty, as well as health and nutrition security. His attack on NGOs should be seen along with the attack on Biosafety Regulatory Framework in India. There is an attempt to dismantle the biosafety rules and replace them with the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (Brai), which would rob states of the powers they have under the Constitution and in the current biosafety laws. After all, 13 states stopped the Bt brinjal. To blame the moratorium on Bt brinjal on NGOs “funded from the US and Scandinavian countries” is to turn a blind eye to the concerns of the states. The proposed Brai will also rob citizens of their right to justice and biosafety by blocking them from approaching civil courts. The corporations will be deregulated and citizens will be policed.

Dr Singh’s attack on NGOs is part of this larger attack on democracy and people’s rights, to undemocratically promote global corporations in the vital sectors of food and energy.

The debate on genetic engineering and nuclear power is a test case of the intense conflict between corporate rule and democracy, between corporate science pushing hazards and public science calling for safety. It is a contest between science and democracy on one hand and propaganda and dictatorship on the other.

Vandana Shiva is a philosopher, environmental activist, and eco feminist.Shiva, currently based in Delhi, has authored more than 20 books and over 500 papers in leading scientific and technical journals.She was trained as a physicist and received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Western Ontario, Canada. She was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 1993. She is the founder of Navdanya http://www.navdanya.org

  Read GM And The PM
 March 27, 2012  

If you like cool weather and not having to club your neighbors as you battle for scarce resources, now’s the time to move to Canada, because the story of the 21st century is almost written, reports Reuters. Global warming is close to being irreversible, and in some cases that ship has already sailed.

Scientists have been saying for a while that we have until between 2015 and 2020 to start radically reducing our carbon emissions, and what do you know: That deadline’s almost past! Crazy how these things sneak up on you while you’re squabbling about whether global warming is a religion. Also, our science got better in the meantime, so now we know that no matter what we do, we can say adios to the planet’s ice caps.

For ice sheets — huge refrigerators that slow down the warming of the planet — the tipping point has probably already been passed, Steffen said. The West Antarctic ice sheet has shrunk over the last decade and the Greenland ice sheet has lost around 200 cubic km (48 cubic miles) a year since the 1990s.

Here’s what happens next: Natural climate feedbacks will take over and, on top of our prodigious human-caused carbon emissions, send us over an irreversible tipping point. By 2100, the planet will be hotter than it’s been since the time of the dinosaurs, and everyone who lives in red states will pretty much get the apocalypse they’ve been hoping for. The subtropics will expand northward, the bottom half of the U.S. will turn into an inhospitable desert, and everyone who lives there will be drinking recycled pee and struggling to salvage something from an economy wrecked by the destruction of agriculture, industry, and electrical power production.

Water shortages, rapidly rising seas, superstorms swamping hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure: It’s all a-coming, and anyone who is aware of the political realities knows that the odds are slim that our government will move in time to do anything to avert the biggest and most avoidable disaster short of all-out nuclear war.

Even if our government did act, we can’t control the emissions of the developing world. China is now the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet and its inherently unstable autocratic political system demands growth at all costs. That means coal.

Meanwhile, engineers and petroleum geologists are hoping to solve the energy crisis by harvesting and burning the nearly limitless supplies of natural gas frozen in methane hydrates at the bottom of the ocean, a source of atmospheric carbon previously considered so exotic that it didn’t even enter into existing climate models.

So, welcome to the 21st century. Hope you packed your survival instinct.

Christopher Mims’s dystopian non-fiction is sought after by an ever-growing roster of publications.

© 1999-2012 Grist Magazine, Inc.

  Read Itís Probably Too Late To Stop Warming
 March 21, 2012  
On Arctic Sea ice melt and coal mine canaries
by Andrew Glikson, Countercurrents.org
Despite peak global temperatures in 2005 and 2010, unprecedented in the instrumental record, a recent sharp plunge in volume of the Arctic Sea ice and a spate of extreme weather events, coal mining, coal exports and carbon emissions continue to grow, overwhelming any mitigation attempted by schemes such as the Australian carbon price. http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/thick-melt.html
  Read On Arctic Sea ice melt and coal mine canaries
 April 3, 2012  

Corporations are not working for the 99 percent. But this wasn’t always the case. In a special five-part series, William Lazonick, professor at UMass, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, and a leading expert on the business corporation, along with journalist Ken Jacobson and AlterNet’s Lynn Parramore, will examine the foundations, history and purpose of the corporation to answer this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?

For the last four decades, U.S. corporations have been sinking our economy through the off-shoring of jobs, the squeezing of wages, and a magician’s hat full of bluffs and tricks designed to extort subsidies and sweetheart deals from local and state governments that often result in mass layoffs and empty treasuries.

We keep hearing that corporations would put Americans back to work if they could just get rid of all those pesky encumbrances – things like taxes, safety regulations, and unions. But what happens when we buy that line? The more we let the corporations run wild, the worse things get for the 99 percent, and the scarcer the solid jobs seem to be.

Yet the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants us to think that corporations – preferably unregulated! – are the patriotic job creators in our economy. They want us to think it so much that in 2009, after the financial crash, they launched a $100 million campaign, which, among other things, draped their Washington, DC building with an enormous banner proclaiming “Jobs: Brought to you by the free market system.”

But the truth is that unfettered corporations are just about the worst thing for creating decent jobs. Here’s a look at why, and where the good jobs really come from.

Taming the Wild Horses

Corporations are kind of like wild horses. They can run you down. Or sweep you around in circles till you’re exhausted. And in today’s world, they’ll surely run off and take your jobs to China or someplace else if you don’t learn how to tame them.

Bad things happen when corporations are unconstrained by strong national policies that force players to think long term, behave decently, and refrain from dumping their short-term costs on the rest of us. They tend to focus single-mindedly on maximizing profits for shareholders at the expense of all else – including jobs. Executives set their sights on a path to short-term boosts in share prices paved with layoffs, wage cuts, and jobs moved overseas, while slashing research and development and investing in the skills of their employees.

The U.S. Department of Commerce found that from 2000 to 2009, U.S. transnational corporations, which employ about 20 percent of all American workers, cut their domestic employment by 2.9 million even as they boosted their overseas workforce by 2.4 million. The result was an enormous loss of jobs nationally, as well as a net loss globally.

In the 1990s, these companies added more jobs at home than abroad. What changed? 1) The rise of India and China, with 37 percent of the world’s population, as hotspots for off-shoring; and 2) the availability of tens of millions of workers in these places, many with college degrees, to do the jobs previously done by American workers.

In India, indigenous companies like TCS, Infosys and Wipro along with transnationals like IBM, HP and Accenture, employ hundreds of thousands of college-educated workers to perform IT services, in large part for American firms. In China, the electronics contract manufacturer Foxconn (headquartered in Taiwan) barely existed a decade ago, but now employs about 1.2 million workers, with Apple its single biggest customer.

And yet Big Business still trumpets itself as the American Job Creator Fairy. Apple has released a report claiming to have created half a million domestic jobs – a highly dubious number which takes credit for everything from the app industry to FedEx delivery jobs (never mind that drivers would be hauling someone else’s gadgets if Apple went out of business). It’s true that in the U.S. managers, engineers and other professionals have found good jobs at Apple. But the non-professional employees are just barely scraping by. A study of the iPod value chain in 2006 calculated that among Apple’s domestic employees, professionals earned around $85,000, not counting stock options, but the retail workers in Apple’s stores earned only $26,000. This is troubling because as Apple has grown in size, most of the employees it has hired in the U.S. work in retail. Are these jobs paths to long-term, stable careers? Quite likely they are not.

While a company like Apple whistles "God Bless America", executives are not going to talk about the job losses induced by off-shoring, nor the horrifically abused foreign workforce that moving jobs to China has produced. And they’re not going to tell us about Apple’s preference for hiring part-time employees who can’t afford to buy health insurance. When such uninsured people have health emergencies, someone has to pay, and the burden falls on the taxpayers.

Here is what Apple executives tell us instead: “We don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

The Real Deal

Corporate executives have lost the sense that they owe anything to the public. They have forgotten that the 99 percent, as taxpayers, have made huge investments in them. They fight to lower taxes as if all the money “belongs” to the companies. They fight regulations as if the public doesn’t have the right to interfere in their business.

All nonsense.

Despite the anti-government rhetoric from conservative leaders, the truth is that the government, elected by the people, plays a critical role in creating the conditions in which companies can succeed and good jobs can flourish. The government is able to invest in human capital through key services like education. What’s the point of a job if you don’t have an educated worker to fill it? The government also creates job-friendly conditions by investing in infrastructure. How can you get to work if your roads and bridges are falling apart? And it boosts job creation through investing in technology. How could Google create its amazing search engine without state investment in the creation of the Internet? When the government invests in the knowledge infrastructure, businesses can then employ and train people who can, in turn, engage in the kind of organizational learning that leads to that wondrous thing called "innovation."

We learned this once before. After Wall Street financiers ran amok to cause the Great Depression in the 1930s, the government responded by putting in place regulations on banks and corporations, a highly progressive tax system, and a robust social safety net. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the conditions in which good jobs were possible with programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps and other New Deal initiatives. He focused on the development of highways, railways, airports and parks, investing in the future rather than focusing solely on short-term profits. The GI Bill, rather than leaving graduates with big debts, left them well educated and therefore with a chance of to provide a middle-class life for their families and to retire with dignity.

After victory in World War II, America was able to emerge as the world’s most powerful nation because it had a large middle-class and a strong industrial and technological base. The horses of Big Business were tamed, and they could be harnessed to do useful things for society. Then came the Reagan Revolution and Big Business freed itself from the regulations, unions and taxes that had curbed its worst instincts and it began to shred the nation’s economic and social safety net. The gap in income inequality grew, and jobs were eliminated and outsourced. Long-term investment in innovation and human capital slowed down, while fraud and financial speculation took off.

Today, corporate executives ask for more special treatment and freer rein in calling the shots in our economy, and they threaten to pack their bags if we don’t agree. Some politicians and policy makers respond to this blackmail by saying that we have to create a “friendly business climate” to convince them to stay. But what makes a "friendly business climate"–low wages, minimal taxes and so on -- creates a very hostile climate for the 99 percent, which is ultimately bad for everyone – business included. The state of Mississippi and Rick Perry’s Texas, where city and state officials bent over backwards to lure Big Business with subsidies and other perks, are hardly bursting with good jobs.

Many researchers have concluded that tax rates are actually not terribly important to where a company locates. Further, a common rule of thumb for business headquarters location is that quality of life for key personnel is decisive. True, vastly different levels of regulation in the U.S. and China is a problem for which there are no easy answers. But there are real costs to ignoring the environment and keeping workers in a state of misery. If you want job growth, you have to have demand growth: profits and consumption go hand in hand.

That’s why the best way to unleash America’s job-creating potential is to support rights and protections for ordinary people. A climate friendly to the 99 percent is not just fair, it makes the best sense for the economy. We need to remember the complementary roles that government and business have to play in creating well-paid, stable employment opportunities and then ensuring that people can access these opportunities over the course of their careers. To get corporations working for the 99 percent on the job front, we have three major challenges:

1) Education: Young people from low-income groups (especially blacks and Hispanics) need schooling and training to move to good career jobs.

2) Incentives: Corporations must have incentives to retain educated and experienced workers instead of laying them off or off-shoring their jobs. (To do so forces valuable workers into low-skill jobs and wastes their human capital, which was expensive to acquire.)

3) Investment: Executives of financialized corporations who want the government to invest in the knowledge base have to make complementary investments in people that can keep the U.S. economy innovative and generate good jobs. That would mean changing the single-minded focus on boosting company stock prices through buybacks and other financial manipulations that serve the 1 percent but no one else.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet contributing editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of 'Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.' Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.
  Read Capitalism's Dirty Secret: Corporations Don't Create Jobs, They Destroy Them
 April 3, 2012  

Corporations are not working for the 99 percent. But this wasn’t always the case. In a special five-part series, William Lazonick, professor at UMass, president of the Academic-Industry Research Network, and a leading expert on the business corporation, along with journalist Ken Jacobson and AlterNet’s Lynn Parramore, will examine the foundations, history and purpose of the corporation to answer this vital question: How can the public take control of the business corporation and make it work for the real economy?

In 2010, the top 500 U.S. corporations – the Fortune 500 – generated $10.7 trillion in sales, reaped a whopping $702 billion in profits, and employed 24.9 million people around the globe. Historically, when these corporations have invested in the productive capabilities of their American employees, we’ve had lots of well-paid and stable jobs.

That was the case a half century ago.

Unfortunately, it’s not the case today. For the past three decades, top executives have been rewarding themselves with mega-million dollar compensation packages while American workers have suffered an unrelenting disappearance of middle-class jobs. Since the 1990s, this hollowing out of the middle-class has even affected people with lots of education and work experience. As the Occupy Wall Street movement has recognized, concentration of income and wealth of the top “1 percent” leaves the rest of us high and dry.

What went wrong? A fundamental transformation in the investment strategies of major U.S. corporations is a big part of the story.

A Look Back

A generation or two ago, corporate leaders considered the interests of their companies to be aligned with those of the broader society. In 1953, at his congressional confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Defense, General Motors CEO Charles E. Wilson was asked whether he would be able to make a decision that conflicted with the interests of his company. His famous reply: “For years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.”

Wilson had good reason to think so. In 1956, under the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the U.S. government committed to pay for 90 percent of the cost of building 41,000 miles of interstate highways. The Eisenhower administration argued that we needed them in case of a military attack (the same justification that would be used in the 1960s for government funding of what would become the Internet). Of course, the interstate highway system also gave businesses and households a fundamental physical infrastructure for civilian purposes– from zipping products around the country to family road trips in the station wagon.

And it was also good for GM. Sales shot up and employment soared. GM's managers, engineers and other male white-collar employees could look forward to careers with one company, along with defined-benefit pensions and health benefits in retirement. GM’s blue-collar employees, represented by the United Auto Workers (UAW), did well, too. In business downturns, such as those of 1958, 1961 and 1970, GM laid off its most junior blue-collar workers, but the UAW paid them supplemental unemployment benefits on top of their unemployment insurance. When business picked up, GM rehired these workers on a seniority basis.

Such opportunities and employment security were typical of most Fortune 500 firms in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. A career with one company was the norm, while mass layoffs simply for the sake of boosting profits were viewed as bad not only for the country, but for the company, too.

What a difference three decades makes! Now mass layoffs to boost profits are the norm, while the expectation of a career with one company is long gone. This transformation happened because the U.S. business corporation has become in a (rather ugly) word “financialized.” It means that executives began to base all their decisions on increasing corporate earnings for the sake of jacking up corporate stock prices. Other concerns -- economic, social and political -- took a backseat. From the 1980s, the talk in boardrooms and business schools changed. Instead of running corporations to create wealth for all, leaders should think only of “maximizing shareholder value.”

When the shareholder-value mantra becomes the main focus, executives concentrate on avoiding taxes for the sake of higher profits, and they don’t think twice about permanently axing workers. They increase distributions of corporate cash to shareholders in the forms of dividends and, even more prominently, stock buybacks. When a corporation becomes financialized, the top executives no longer concern themselves with investing in the productive capabilities of employees, the foundation for rising living standards for all. They become focused instead on generating financial profits that can justify higher stock prices – in large part because, through their stock-based compensation, high stock prices translate into megabucks for these corporate executives themselves. The ideology becomes: Corporations for the 0.1 percent -- and the 99 percent be damned.

The 99 percent needs to understand these fundamental changes in the ways in which top executives have decided to make use of resources if we want U.S. corporations to work for us rather than just for them.

The Financialization Monster

The beginnings of financialization date back to the 1960s when conglomerate titans built empires by gobbling up scores and even hundreds of companies. Business schools justified this concentration of corporate power by teaching that a good manager could manage any type of business -- the bigger the better. But conglomeration often became simply a method of using accounting tricks to boost earnings in the short-run to encourage speculation in the company’s stock price. This focus on short-term financial manipulation often undermined the financial conditions for sustaining higher levels of earnings over the long term. But the interest of stock-market speculators was (as it always is) to capitalize on short-term changes in the market’s evaluation of corporate shares.

When these giant empires imploded in the 1970s and 1980s, people began to see the weakness of the model. By the early 1970s the downgraded debt of conglomerates, known as “fallen angels,” created the opportunity for a young bond trader, Michael Milken, to create a liquid market in high-yield “junk bonds.” By the mid-'80s, Milken (who eventually went to jail for securities fraud) was using his network of financial institutions to back corporate raiders in junk-bond financed leveraged buyouts with the purpose of extracting as much money as possible from a company once it was taken over through layoffs of workers and by breaking up the company to sell it off in pieces.

Wall Street changed the way it made its money. Investment banks turned their focus from supporting long-term corporate investment in productive assets to trading corporate securities in search of higher yields. The great casino was taking form. In 1971, NASDAQ was launched as a national electronic market for generating price quotes on highly speculative stocks. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 encouraged corporate pension funds to get into the game since inflation had eroded household savings. In 1975, competition from NASDAQ led the much more conservative New York Stock Exchange, which dated back to 1792, to end fixed commissions on stock transactions. This move only further encouraged stock market speculation by making it less costly for speculators to buy and sell.

In 1980, Robert Hayes and William Abernathy, professors of technology management at Harvard Business School, wrote a widely read article that criticized executives for focusing on short-term profits rather than investments in innovation. But in 1983, two financial economists, Eugene Fama of the University of Chicago and Michael Jensen of the University of Rochester, co-authored two articles in the Journal of Law and Economics which extolled corporate honchos who focused on “maximizing shareholder value” -- by which they meant using corporate resources to boost stock prices, however short the time-frame. In 1985 Jensen landed a higher profile pulpit at Harvard Business School. Soon, shareholder-value ideology became the mantra of thousands of MBA students who were unleashed in the corporate world.

Proponents of the Fama/Jenson view argue that for superior economic performance, corporate resources should be allocated to maximize returns to shareholders because they are the only economic actors who make investments without a guaranteed return. They say that shareholders are the only ones who bear risk in the corporate economy, and so they should also get the rewards. But this argument could not be more false. In fact, lots of people bear risks of investing in the corporation without knowing if they will pay off for them. Governments in the U.S., funded by the body of taxpayers, are constantly making investments in physical infrastructures and human capabilities that provide benefits to businesses, but without a guaranteed return to taxpayers. An employer expects workers to give time and effort beyond that required by their current pay to make a better product and boost profits for the company in the future. Where’s the worker’s guaranteed return? In contrast, most public shareholders simply buy and sell shares of a corporation on the stock market, making no contribution whatsoever to investment in the company’s productive capabilities.

In the name of this misguided philosophy, major U.S. corporations now channel virtually all of their profits to shareholders, not only in the form of dividends, which reward them for holding shares, but even more importantly in the form of stock buybacks, which reward them for selling shares. The sole purpose of stock buybacks is to give a manipulative boost to a company’s stock price. The top executives then benefit when they exercise their typically bountiful stock options and cash in by selling the stock. For 2001-2010, 459 companies in the S&P 500 Index in January 2011 distributed $1.9 trillion in dividends, equivalent to 40 percent of their combined net income, and $2.6 trillion in buybacks, equal to another 54 percent of their net income. After all that, what was left over for investments in innovation, including upgrading the capabilities of their workforces? Not much.

Falling to the Challenge

Big changes in markets and technologies since the 1980s have given U.S. corporations serious competitive challenges. Confronted by Japanese and then Korean competition, companies closed plants, permanently displacing blue-collar workers from what had been middle-class jobs. Meanwhile, the open systems technologies that characterized the microelectronics revolution favored younger workers with the latest computer skills. In the name of shareholder value, by the 1990s U.S. corporations seized on these changes in competition and technology to put an end to the norm of a career with one company, ridding themselves of more expensive older employees in the process. In the 2000s, American corporations found that low-wage nations like China and India possessed millions of qualified college graduates who were able and willing to do high-end work in place of U.S. workers. Offshoring put the nail in the coffin of employment security in corporate America.

In response to these challenges, U.S. corporations could have used their profits to upgrade the capabilities of the U.S. labor force, laying the foundation for a new prosperity. Instead, the same misguided financialized responses have meant big losses for taxpayers and workers while the top 1 percent has gained. Instead of rising to the challenge, they’ve fallen into greed and short-sightedness that chips away at our chances for a prosperous economy.

Yet properly governed, corporations can be run for the 99 percent. In fact, that’s still the case in many successful economies. The truth is that it’s possible to take back the corporations for the 99 percent in the U.S. if we can really wrap our heads around the problem and the solutions. Here are three places to start:

1) Ban It. Ban large established companies from buying back their own stock, and reward them instead for investing in the retention and training of their employees.

2) Link It. Link executive pay to the productive performance of the company, with increases in executive pay being tied to increases for the corporate labor force as a whole.

3) Occupy It. Recognize that taxpayers and workers bear a significant proportion of the risk of corporate investment, and put their representatives on corporate boards where they can have input into the relation between risks and rewards.

William Lazonick is professor of economics and director of the UMass Center for Industrial Competitiveness. He is president of the Academic-Industry Research Network. His book, "Sustainable Prosperity in the New Economy? Business Organization and High-Tech Employment in the United States" (Upjohn Institute, 2009) won the 2010 Schumpeter Prize.
  Read How American Corporations Transformed from Producers to Predators
 March 26, 2012  

Note: These are notes for remarks that I gave recently. Tucson Festival of Books, where I was asked to talk about my new book The Republican Brain on a panel entitled "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?

So the question before us on this panel is, "Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?" And I want to focus on one particular aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense -- namely, their brains.

What I've spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that makes facts such odd and threatening things why we sometimes double down on false beliefs when they're refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.

And of course, the new book homes in on the brains -- really, the psychologies -- of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that reality has a well-known liberal bias. And essentially what I'm arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it's factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.

Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of "truthiness," and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness -- which is what I'm going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.

I almost called the book The Science of Truthiness but The Republican Brain turns out to be a better title.

The Facts About Global Warming

So first off, let's start with the facts about climate change -- facts that you'd think (or you'd hope) any human being ought to accept.

It turns out that the case for human-caused global warming is based on simple and fundamental physics. We've known about the greenhouse effect for over one hundred years. And we've known that carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas, a greenhouse gas. Some of the key experiments on this, by the Irishman John Tyndall, actually occurred in the year 1859, which is the same year that Darwin published On the Origin of Species.

We also know that if we do nothing, seriously bad stuff starts happening. If we melt Greenland and West Antarctica, we're looking at 40 feet of sea level rise. This is, like, bye bye to key parts of Florida.

Enter the Denial

So then, the question is, why do people deny this? And why, might I add, do Republicans in particular deny this so strongly?

And if your answer to that question is, "oh, because they're stupid" -- well, you're wrong. That's what liberals to think, but it doesn't seem be correct. In fact, it seems to be precisely the opposite -- smarter (or more educated) Republicans turn out to be worse science deniers on this topic.

This is a phenomenon that I like to call the "smart idiot" effect, and I just wrote about it for AlterNet and Salon.com.

Let me tell you how I stumbled upon this effect -- which is really what set the book in motion. I think the key moment came in the year 2008 when I came upon Pew data showing:

  • That if you're a Republican, then the higher your level of education, the less likely you are to accept scientific reality -- which is, that global warming is human caused.

This is actually a consistent finding now across the social science literature on the resistance to climate change. So, for that matter, is the finding that the denial is the worst among conservative white males -- so it has a gender aspect to it -- and among the Tea Party.

So seriously: What's going on here? More education leading to worse denial, but only among Republicans? How can you explain that?

A Three-Level Explanation

Well, I think we need to understand three points in order to understand why conservatives act this way. And I will list them here, before going into them in more detail:

  1. Conservatism is a Defensive Ideology, and Appeals to People Who Want Certainty and Resist Change.
  2. Conservative "Morality" Impels Climate Denial -- and in particular, conservative Individualism.
  3. Fox News is the Key "Feedback Mechanism" -- whereby people already inclined to believe false things get all the license and affirmation they need.

So let's go into more detail:

Conservatism is a Defensive Ideology, and Appeals to People Who Want Certainty and Resist Change.

There's now a staggering amount of research on the psychological and even the physiological traits of people who opt for conservative ideologies. And on average, you see people who are more wedded to certainty, and to having fixed beliefs. You also see people who are more sensitive to fear and threat -- in a way that can be measured in their bodily responses to certain types of stimuli.

At the extreme of these traits, you see a group called authoritarians -- those who are characterized by cognitive rigidity, seeing things in black and white ways -- "in group/out group," my way or the highway.

So in this case, if someone high on such traits latches on to a particular belief -- in this case, "global warming is a hoax" -- then more knowledge about it is not necessarily going to open their minds. More knowledge is just going to be used to argue what they already think.

And we see this in the Tea Party, where we have both the highest levels of global warming denial, but also this incredibly strong confidence that they know all they need to know about the issue, and they don't want any more information, thank you very much.

Conservative "Morality" Impels Climate Denial -- in particular, Conservative Individualism.

But, you might say, "well, Tea Party conservatives don't deny every aspect of reality." And it's true. Presumably, they still will accept a factual correction if they have, say, the date of Mother's Day wrong. Presumably they're still open minded about that... we hope.

So why deny this particular thing? Why deny that global warming is caused by humans? And here, I think you've got to look at deep seated moral intuitions that differs from left to right. And it's important to note at the outset that whatever your moral intuitions are, they push you emotionally to reason in a particular direction long before you are actually consciously thinking about it.

So, conservatives tend to be "individualists"-- meaning, essentially, that they prize a system in which government leaves you alone -- and "hierarchs," meaning, they are supportive of various types of inequality.

The individualist is threatened by global warming, deeply threatened, because it means that markets have failed and governments -- including global governments -- have to step in to fix the problem. And some individualists are so threatened by this reality that they even spin out conspiracy theories, arguing that all the world's scientists are in a cabal with, like, the UN, to make up phony science so they can crash economies.

So now let's look at what these individualist assumptions do to the denial of science. In one study by Yale's Dan Kahan and colleagues:

  • Individualist-hierarchs and egalitarian-communitarians are asked: Who's an expert on global warming?
  • Only 23 percent of H-I's agree that a scientist who thinks GW is human-caused is a "trustworthy and knowledgeable expert," vs. 88 percent of E-Cs.

In another study, meanwhile, Kahan showed that if you frame the science of global warming as supporting nuclear power, then conservatives are more open to accepting it, presumably because it does not insult their values any longer.

Fox News is the Key "Feedback Mechanism" -- whereby people who want to believe false things get all the license they need.

So clearly, there are some deeply rooted attributes that predispose conservatives towards the denial of global warming.

But there are also "environmental" factors -- things that have come to exist in our world that did not exist before, that interact with these things about conservatives, and make all this much worse.

And here, Fox News is undeniably at the top of the list. There are now a host of studies here showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed about various aspects of reality, including two such studies about global warming.

So if you've got Fox News, you've got a place to go to reaffirm your beliefs. And that serves this psychological need for certainty and security. So conservatives opt in, they get the misinformation, their beliefs are reaffirmed, and they're set to argue, argue, argue about why they're right and all the scientists of the world are wrong.

Conclusion

So in sum, we need a nature-nurture, or a combined psychological and environmental account of the conservative denial of global warming. And only then do we see why they are so doggedly espousing a set of beliefs that are so wildly dangerous to the planet.

Chris Mooney is the author of four books, including "The Republican War on Science" (2005). His next book, "The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality," is due out in April.

  Read The Strange Conservative Brain: 3 Reasons Republicans Refuse to Accept Reality About Global Warming
 March 26, 2012  

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Ayn Rand Nation: the Hidden Struggle for America's Soul, by Gary Weiss. Click here for a copy of the book. 

The whole damned history of the world is a story of the struggle between the selfish and the unselfish! . . . All the bad around us is bred by selfishness. Sometimes selfishness even gets to be a cause, an organized force, even a government. Then it’s called Fascism.
—Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday



There is no real doubt what an Objectivist America would mean. We may not be around to see it, but it’s likely we’ll be here for its earliest manifestations. They may have already arrived.

The shape of a future Objectivist world has been a matter of public record for the past half century, since Ayn Rand, the Brandens, Alan Greenspan, and other Objectivist theoreticians began to set down their views in Objectivist newsletters. When he casually defended repeal of child labor laws in the debate with Miles Rapoport, Yaron Brook [President of the Ayn Rand Institute] was merely repeating long- established Objectivist doctrine, summarized by Leonard Peikoff as “Government is inherently negative.” It is a worldview that has been static through the decades, its tenets reiterated endlessly by Rand and her apostles:

No government except the police, courts of law, and the armed services.
No regulation of anything by any government.
No Medicare or Medicaid.
No Social Security.
No public schools.
No public hospitals.
No public anything, in fact. Just individuals, each looking out for himself, not asking for help or giving help to anyone.

An Objectivist America would be a dark age of unhindered free enterprise, far more primitive and Darwinian than anything seen before. Objectivists know this. What perhaps they do not always appreciate, given their less than fanatical approach to reality, is what turning back the clock would mean. Or perhaps they do not care.
When Alan Greenspan spoke out against building codes, he knew perfectly well what a lack of adequate building and fire codes would mean. Fifteen years before his birth, 146 people, mostly young women, were burned alive or leaped to their death from the fire at the Triangle Waist Factory just east of Washington Square Park in New York City. There was no requirement for employers to provide a safe workplace, so none was provided. Triangle’s owners crammed their employees into crowded workspaces without proper exits, and inadequate fire codes meant that the fire stairways were insufficient. The result was that dozens of workers’ corpses piled on the sidewalk on March 25, 1911. Anywhere in the world where building codes are inadequate or absent, the result is always the same: Dead people.

In an Objectivist world, the reset button would be pushed on government services that we take for granted. They would not be cut back, not reduced -- they would vanish. In an Objectivist world, roads would go unplowed in the snows of winter, and bridges would fall as the government withdrew from the business of maintaining them -- unless some private citizen would find it in his rational self-interest to voluntarily take up the slack by scraping off the rust and replacing frayed cables. Public parks and land, from the tiniest vest-pocket patch of green to vast expanses of the West, would be sold off to the newly liberated megacorporations. Airplane traffic would be grounded unless a profit-making capitalist found it in his own selfish interests to fund the air traffic control system. If it could be made profitable, fine. If not, tough luck. The market had spoken. The Coast Guard would stay in port while storm- tossed mariners drown lustily as they did in days of yore. Fires would rage in the remnants of silent forests, vegetation and wildlife no longer protected by rangers and coercive environmental laws, swept clean of timber, their streams polluted in a rational, self-interested manner by bold, imaginative entrepreneurs.

With industry no longer restrained by carbon-emission standards, the earth would bake in self-generated heat, ice cap melting would accelerate, extreme weather would become even more commonplace, and seacoasts would sink beneath the waves. Communities ravaged by hurricanes, floods and tornadoes would be left to fend for themselves, no longer burdening the conscience of a selfish, guilt-free world.

The poor and elderly, freed from dependence on character-destroying, government-subsidized medical care, would die as bravely and in as generous quantities as in the romantic novels of a bygone era.

Minimum wage laws would come to an end, providing factory owners and high- tech startups alike with a pool of cheap labor competitive with any fourth-world kleptocracy.

All laws protecting consumers would be erased from the statute books.

Mass transit would grind to a halt in the big cities as municipal subsidies come to an end.

Corporations would no longer be enslaved by antitrust laws, so monopolies and globe-spanning, price-fixing cartels would flourish. The number of publicly held corporations would be reduced to a manageable, noncompetitive few. Big Pharma would manufacture drugs without adequate testing for safety and efficacy—deterred only by concern for their reputation, as described by Greenspan in 1963. Except that with competition reduced by mergers and legal price-fixing, the market would be a feeble substitute for even the FDA.

Securities laws and stock market regulations would be eliminated.

Corporations would operate in secret if they so desired, or with only selective, cursory disclosures to their investors and customers. Only outright fraud would be prosecuted; otherwise the public— a concept no longer recognized as valid— would be on its own.

Insider trading, now legal, would become the norm. Wall Street now would truly be a sucker’s game. “Let the buyer beware” would replace the fifty state regulators and the SEC.

Income taxes would end, so the lowest-paid, ten-cent-an-hour, non-OSHA-supervised factory workers would enjoy wages taxed at the same rate—zero—as their billionaire bosses in distant cities and foreign lands. Dynasties of American royalty would arise, as fortunes pass from generation to generation, untaxed.
Nonprofit organizations, apart from those serving the egos and social calendars of the self-indulging rich, would see their funding dry up as government support vanished. The super-wealthy, having repudiated their “giving pledge,” would now enjoy their riches without guilt, no longer motivated to share their billions with the poor. Philanthropy would be an obsolete relic of discarded moral codes and forgotten history.

Such is the Ayn Rand vision of paradise: an America that would resemble the lands from which our ancestors emigrated, altruism confined to ignored, fringe texts, grinding poverty and starvation coexisting alongside the opulence of the wealthy. Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York would become like Cairo and Calcutta, with walled enclaves protecting the wealthy from the malnourished, uneducated masses outside.

Yaron Brook was right. What’s at stake is not a political issue, but a moral, philosophical issue. In large numbers, Americans have, sometimes unwittingly, abandoned the moral code upon which they were raised. They have done so because of a master storyteller.

Ayn Rand’s stories of noble steel barons, fierce railroad magnates and sniveling government bureaucrats formed the basis of her ideology. It is a compelling narrative, and Oliver Stone’s abortive approach to The Fountainhead suggests a remedy to the Rand narrative: a counternarrative—one that celebrates a creator with a conscience; government not as a Soviet gun but as a builder, a benefactor. It is an optimistic vision, born in an America of hope and not a Russia of despair and privation. This counter-narrative can recognize the merit of individuality and self- interest, while rejecting her celebration of the darker impulses— greed and selfishness.

That kind of thinking is required to meet the challenge presented by Rand and her ideas, as they spread from libertarian and Objectivist think tanks to the Tea Party to Congress and, perhaps, the White House.

Those of us who oppose Rand’s vision of radical capitalism need to read Rand and understand the flaws in her assumptions and illogic of her vision, just as people during the Cold War studied Communism so as to more effectively oppose it. Having read and understood her books and essays, one is in a better position to identify and then to respond to the right’s extremist agenda, and to recognize her ideology when it becomes manifest in society.

We need to understand the basis of her morality, not just its origins but where it doesn’t originate—the three great monotheistic religions, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the other writings and actions of the Founding Fathers. The words “capitalism,” “markets,” and “free enterprise” appear in none of the founding documents of America. The natural enemies of Ayn Rand are not only Lenin and Roosevelt but Jefferson, Rousseau, and Paine. The Founders were not defenders of oligarchy and selfishness. They sacrificed. They were altruists, and proud of it.

My Objectivist friends are right that morality needs to become part of the national dialogue. However we feel about Rand, we need to ponder her views and think more philosophically. We need to evaluate our own core values, and understand the moral foundations of the social programs and government agencies that are targeted by the right. Why do we pay for medical care of the poor and elderly? Why do we regulate business? Why do we pave roads and maintain parks and build public schools? Why do we subsidize public radio, mass transit, family planning clinics, and a host of other programs that don’t always benefit ourselves?We may conclude that we shouldn’t do any of those things. Or we may conclude that we cherish those institutions and will sustain them, not because of the clout of special interest groups and the senior vote, not because we can do it if the Democrats control both houses of Congress, but because it’s the right thing to do. It’s right if we hold a different concept of right and wrong than Objectivists and their allies on the right. It’s a question of fundamental moral values, as defined by our national and religious traditions—or by Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead, The Virtue of Selfishness, and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

We need to choose—our heritage or Ayn Rand.

Click here for a copy of Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul 

Gary Weiss is an investigative journalist and the author of "Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle for America's Soul," to be published by St. Martin's Press in February 2012. More More Gary Weiss.
  Read The Horrors of an Ayn Rand World: Why We Must Fight for America's Soul
 April 26, 2012  

 With these three words, Karma Tshiteem, Secretary of the Bhutan Gross National Happiness Commission, ended his brief description of Bhutan’s distinctive approach to economic development. It caught my attention because of the striking contrast to our common Western phrase, “Time is money.”

“Time is life.”

The event I was attending was a small international gathering primarily of indigenous environmental leaders. I was privileged to be among the few nonindigenous writer-activists invited to join them.

Tshiteem was seated to my left. Winona LaDuke, program director of Honor the Earth and a celebrated Native American environmental author and activist, was on my right. Tom Goldtooth, global environmental leader and executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, sat directly across from me. Next to him was Pablo Solón, former Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations. Pablo was a principal driver behind the 2010 World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Herman Daly, the father of ecological economics, has aptly observed, “There is something fundamentally wrong in treating the Earth as if it were a business in liquidation.”

We were there to share perspectives on the work of building green economies based on the principles of indigenous wisdom. Several of the participants are involved in bringing an indigenous voice to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June—the 20-year follow-up to the 1992 UN Earth Summit.

Our venue was Pocantico, the former New York estate of John D Rockefeller, the legendary icon of ruthless capitalist expansion and extraction. We enjoyed the irony of meeting in the setting of this grand estate in our search for a different path.

A Prophetic Choice

On the plane I had read LaDuke’s report Launching a Green Economy for Brown People. Its opening paragraph set the frame for our discussions:

“Ojibwe prophecies speak of a time during the seventh fire when our people will have a choice between two paths. The first path is well-worn and scorched. The second path is new and green. It is our choice as communities and as individuals how we will proceed.”

Recognizing the need for a new path, indigenous peoples around the world are revisiting the wisdom teachings of their respective traditions as a guide to their survival in a world dominated by institutional forces that have long sought to wipe those teachings from our collective memory.

We, the peoples of modern Western societies, face the same choice referred to in the prophecy. Some among us are realizing that we, too, have much to learn from the traditional indigenous understanding of what Goldtooth referred to as “The Original Instructions.”

Our deliberations at Pocantico brought into sharp relief the contrast between money-centered Western and life-centered indigenous views of the proper purpose and structure of a high-performing economy.

The Original Instructions call us to recognize Earth as our living mother and to honor and care for her as she cares for us. In the West we have forsaken the Original Instructions in favor of an economic theory that calls us to treat Earth’s resources as saleable commodities.

Rio +20

A number of the Pocantico participants were involved in negotiations leading up to Rio+20, a UN global environmental conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They informed us that the document being prepared for approval by the world’s governments in Riowill fall far short of identifying and addressing the source of global environmental failure. Rather it will recommend that to save our Earth mother, we must put an estimated price on her waters, soils, air, forests, fisheries, and gene pool and offer them all for sale on the thoroughly disproven theory that whomever is able to pay the highest price for her will have a natural incentive to care for her.

  Read Nature Is Not A Commodity: The Path to Rio+20
 April 23, 2012  
In the most remote places on Earth with few or no humans present... (o)ne can find substantial quantities of plastic debris.

These discouraging words introduce a new report from an international scientific and technical advisory panel entitled "Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem: Introducing a Solutions Based Framework Focused on Plastic." But the report is encouraging for several reasons. First, the report clearly identifies the problem so it can be the focus of solutions: the problem is plastic:

Man-made debris in the oceans is now found from the poles to the equator and from shorelines, estuaries and the sea surface to ocean floor. While the types and absolute quantities vary, it is clear that plastic materials represent the major constituents of this debris, and there is no doubt about the ubiquity of such debris on a truly global scale.

Many conferences and documents on the subject of "Marine Debris," especially those funded by industry, have been evasive about plastic: the single most destructive and overwhelmingly most common substance of concern in the waste material that washes from our shores to oceans and back onto shores around the globe. The significance of plastics being singled out as the main source of marine debris around the globe is that plastic production continues to increase at a rate of about 9 percent annually and the waste from it is cumulative: "Since most plastic items will not biodegrade in the environment it seems inevitable that quantities of debris will increase over time..." (Andrady 2011). 

The second reason for hope is that the report offers real solutions, and a methodology to choose them, in addition to an excellent scientific accounting of the many threats posed by plastic pollution to the environment, wildlife, humans and our economies. The solutions specified in the report take account of the fact that the vast majority of communities around the globe are not able to manage non-biodegradable plastic waste because there is no plastic recycling infrastructure or market, and the volume of plastic waste overwhelms landfill capacity. Furthermore, the report acknowledges that plastics are produced and marketed around the globe by corporations that must take part in effective management of the resulting plastic waste. United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner is quoted in the report with a message he delivered to the 5th International Marine Debris Conference in 2011:

Marine debris -- trash in our oceans -- is a symptom of our throw-away society and our approach to how we use our natural resources. It affects every country and every ocean and shows us in highly visible terms the urgency of shifting towards a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy... However, one community or one country acting in isolation will not be the answer. We need to address marine debris collectively across national boundaries and with the private sector, which has a critical role to play both in reducing the kinds of wastes that can end up in the world's oceans, and through research into new materials. It is by bringing all these players together that we can truly make a difference.

Significantly, the report focuses on pre-consumer solutions that have been largely ignored in the governmental discourse on marine plastic pollution to date. The report states:

Current awareness and implementation of best practices in addressing the causes of marine debris are primarily centered on end-of-pipe solutions. However, a substantial, but relatively neglected, underlying cause that results in plastic debris entering the sea from the land lies within unsustainable production and consumption patterns. This includes the design and marketing of products internationally without appropriate regard for their environmental fate or ability to be recycled in the locations where sold, inadequate waste management infrastructure, and inappropriate disposal. Often there is geographical separation between production in relatively developed economies and consumption/disposal which is global. From a life-cycle perspective, the current linear use of most plastics from production, through a typically short-lived usage stage to disposal, is a major barrier as well as a major opportunity to tackling the challenge of marine debris.

The report recommends the following itemized strategies be implemented to choose solutions on a regional basis, taking into account the types of plastic waste accumulating in the specific region and regional capacity to manage the waste:

1. An appropriate starting point is to identify a specific problem in terms of the types of marine debris of concern (e.g., consumer waste, industrial waste, and packaging), including volumes and flows. It is essential that this evidence base considers all stages in the supply chain relating to the item(s) of debris: e.g. where and in what quantities are they made, for what purpose, how best to achieve their primary purpose, what is the lifespan and what are the local options at the end-of-life. This effort should be based on the perspectives and priorities of those in the affected region. 

2. The next step is to bring together the key players in the supply chain, and organize an evidence-based dialogue aiming at the identification of ways to reduce the accumulation of debris. This could be a reduction in production of the waste, a reduction in the need for the material that becomes waste, and/or a better approach to dealing with end-of-life material in order to prevent it from accumulating. It is worthwhile establishing what can be done straight away together with any potential gaps in the evidence base requiring research and development and time needed to address such gaps. 

3. The next step would be to facilitate the most desirable immediate and long-term options via a range of implementation strategies such as public awareness, development incentives and regulation.

4. Finally, it is crucial to measure success via monitoring of both changes in the scale of the marine debris problem identified at the outset, and assessment of the effectiveness of the individual implementation strategies and action plans. Raising awareness is a cross-cutting activity that will facilitate the development and implementation of all elements of the framework.

Key Pre-Consumer methods of reducing plastic pollution, identified in the report, that can be integrated into regional solutions include:

1. Molecular redesign of plastics through "green" chemistry incorporated into the production of goods and packaging so that they will be safer to use and less harmful to the environment when they become waste. In this context, the design of products ensures they are (i) fully effective; (ii) have little or no toxicity or endocrine disrupting activity; (iii) break down into innocuous substances if released into the environment after use; and/or (iv) are based upon renewable feedstock, such as agricultural wastes. 

2. Design criteria to develop new polymers and products including specifications to enhance reusability, recyclability or recovery of plastic once it has been used; and

3. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) to help redistribute the burden of handling end-of-life plastic from governments and individuals who may be impacted by the waste, to producers whose interests would then be aligned with those of the region. Under an EPR approach, producers have the responsibility to bear the costs of managing their waste products. This in turn incentivizes innovation to find ways to reduce the amount of plastic packaging used, as well as to ensure it is properly recovered when the product has reached the end of its useful life. In an EPR oriented system, the costs of running programs and building new infrastructure, including recycling and other waste management facilities, are redistributed away from national governments. EPR allows for design flexibility--bounded by clear performance standards-- so innovative companies rather than those that push costs off onto regional governments can succeed in the marketplace, and programs can be tailored to the governance, capacity, and institutional realities of any given nation.

Finally, the report offers a pragmatic approach to combating an environmental crisis even as research continues. After listing several knowledge gaps that call for increased study, the report cautions that lack of a complete accounting of every impact and/or methodology to control plastic pollution should not be used to delay immediate efforts to halt the accumulation of plastic pollution in our environment. "The authors believe that sufficient empirical knowledge exists to support progress on this issue now. The knowledge gaps outlined...should be considered as means of refining actions, rather than defining or delaying them." It is only with this type of rational approach to environmental protection that we can hope to make significant and timely reductions in any of the pollutants threatening our environment, from plastic pollution to the carbon that is warming our planet, so that we can avert disaster before all systems are overwhelmed.

Marine Debris as a Global Environmental Problem: Introducing a solutions based framework focused on plastic was prepared on behalf of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) by Richard C. Thompson (University of Plymouth, United Kingdom), Bruce E. La Belle (California Environmental Protection Agency, United States), Hindrik Bouwman (STAP, North-West University, South Africa), and Lev Neretin (STAP).

The authors of the report give thanks for input from experts in the field including the United Nations Environmental Programme, Natural Resources Defense Council and Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Lisa Kaas Boyle is an environmental attorney based in Los Angeles. Lisa is a Vanderbilt and Tulane Law School alum, former Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney, long time Heal the Bay Board Member, Co-Founder of Plastic Pollution Coalition, and frequent blogger on environmental and human rights issues.
  Read Help for a Plastic Planet: New Report Focuses on Solutions to Global Plastic Pollution
 March 22, 2012  

Speaking in  Cushing, OK, President Barack Obama touted his administration’s record of a huge boom in the U.S. oil and gas industry, dismissing concerns about accelerating climate change:

We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We have quadrupled number of operating rigs to a record high. We have added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the earth and then some. So we are drilling all over the place, right now. That’s not the challenge. That’s not the problem.

Obama announced that he is expediting the construction of the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which will connect tar sands and oil shale production from the north to Gulf Coast refineries for tax-free export to foreign markets. Obama concluded by saying that the “future I want for our kids” is one in which “we’re going to keep on drilling. Climate scientists have warned that the prevention of catastrophic climate change would require that 80 percent of known fossil-fuel reserves will have to remain unburned.

  Read Obama Announces He Will Expedite Construction of Part of Keystone XL Pipeline
 March 25, 2012  

A lesson in how not to reduce gas prices: the White House is backing TransCanada’s bid to build the southern portion of the controversial pipeline Keystone XL pipeline. The section to be built will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Texas and carry crude oil pumped in the Midwest to refineries in Texas and be completed by late 2013—so it will have virtually no impact on the current high gas prices.

Nor is there any evidence that it will have any impact on future gas prices. As we’ve highlighted continually, there is no guarantee that any of this refined oil will stay in the U.S. In fact, most likely, Keystone will be an export pipeline that will send oil to whoever pays the most for it, like India or China. Building the southern part of it certainly sets the stage for the full pipeline to be built. TransCanada says it will reapply for the cross-border permit soon and the decision to reapply has been welcomed by the White House.

President Obama’s move may be an attempt to fight back against Republican criticism but in doing so, he is sending a signal to environmentalists that despite his rhetoric on clean energy, it really is business as usual and dirty fossil fuels will continue to receive support and preference. On the issue of Keystone, there is no middle ground. The negative environmental and economic consequences outweigh any gains. The construction of the pipeline will not create permanent jobs. The portions already built have spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil. Tar sands spills on the Kalamazoo River cost over $700 million to clean up, not to mention the impact on residents’ health and the local economy.

Cornell’s Global Labor Institute has released two excellent reports on the pipeline that further detail the damage the pipeline could bring. The first definitively debunks TransCanada’s hyper-inflated jobs number, as well as the claims that the pipeline will be an economic boost to local areas. The most recent report looks at the impact of tar sands spills on local economies. The report highlights the strong evidence that tar sands oil pipelines have more spills that conventional crude oil pipelines. It also points out that agricultural and rangeland comprises nearly 80 percent of the land affected by the pipeline. Pipeline spills would not only cause severe economic damage to the actual land but begin to impact our food chain.

Like I said, there is no middle ground on Keystone. In addition to all the environmental and economic consequences of the actual pipeline, tar sand mining is incredibly water intensiveand releases three times the emissions as regular mining. By supporting tar sands, the President has chosen who he sides with and the winner is big oil and gas companies, not a clean energy future.

Mijin Cha is a Senior Policy Analyst for the Sustainable Progress Initiative at Demos.
  Read Obama Picks Sides on Keystone XL: TransCanada Wins. Earth, Everyone Else Loses